Bangkok’s mix of modern and traditional keeps boredom at bay, making it a great destination for dynamic families touring southeast Asia.
People are praying to a statue of Buddha built on the street, with their hands pressed together and knees on the sidewalk. Candles are lit around the statue and the ornamental flowers are beautiful. So calm and sacred it sounds, yet right beside the statue, vehicles including tuk-tuk (taxis with three wheels) create noise and traffic congestion. Tourists from all over the world walk around with maps in hands, eyes confused.
Temples and the statues of Buddha are ubiquitous in this “City of Angels,” creating a placid air. However, a few blocks’ walking would take you to gigantic modern shopping malls, where you can shop at Gucci and drink cappuccino at Starbucks, or to a nightclub, or to the shanties that form a queue along the canals.
Such contrasts exist simultaneously in Bangkok, Thailand, but the discrepancies do not seem to irritate anyone, for they form a great harmony together. The coexistence of both the old and the new, the sacred and the lively, is what attracts people so much, making the city one of the most popular spots in Southeast Asia.
People usually plan a package trip of two to three weeks to Southeast Asian countries from the States. If you do not have the time, however, a short stay in one place may be a better choice than attempting to visit various sites, racing against time. The four-day family trip I took with my mother, aunt and cousin to Bangkok was a great one, although, “It is never enough to see and experience all of Bangkok,” as my aunt, Mee-Sun Ahn says. She has traveled the city twice before, and says, “Every time it presents different facets.”
Right after our arrival at the Bangkok Airport, we changed into sleeveless shirts and short pants. It felt good to wear them in January. One intention for the trip was to get some sunshine, in addition to refreshing ourselves by learning about another culture.
Day 1: Bangkok Streets
The first place we visited was the Khao San Road, lined with cheap inns, street cafes and boutiques. It has also won a cult status among young student backpackers. Wearing a long Thai skirt, my hair partially braided by a woman on the street, eating a papaya stick bought from a shabby stall, I walked down the street and tried to experience life as a native. At no time did I feel isolated as a foreigner because I heard so many different languages from international visitors in this unique street.
Day 2: Bangkok’s Royal Attractions
On the second day, we inquired more into the city’s historic remains. The Grand Palace is a “must-see” for its stunning architecture. It is nowadays used only for occasional ceremonies and is no longer the royal residence. Within the palace complex are several impressive buildings, including Wat Phra Kaeo that contains an Emerald Buddah. Its very Thai style, sumptuously decorated with shimmering gold and gems, demonstrates a distinct style contrast from the Grand Palace, which is more European-inspired. The fact that such an elaborate structure dates back to the 14th century reveals how advanced the Thais were at the time. The Grand Palace opens daily from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., with a small admission fee. As a solemn place, a strict dress code applies – meaning you will be turned away wearing shorts, sleeveless shits, singlets, or sandals with no backs.
It is recommended to stop at the Vimanmek Mansion by 3p.m. after exploring The Grand Palace in the morning, as the admission fee for The Grand Palace also includes admission to the mansion. The Vimanmek Masion was built by King Chulalongkorn (Rama V), and used to be a royal residence. Recently, H.M. Queen Sirikit renovated the house into a museum in commemoration of the late King. It is the largest wooden house made from golden teak in the world and contains more than 80 rooms, beautiful Thai, Khmer, Burmese, and Western artifacts, and exquisitely carved teak and mahogany furniture.
Day 3: Bangkok from the River
Overwhelmed by the serenity and holiness of the city, the next day, we headed to discover more about the ordinary lives of local people by taking a klong (canal) tour to the floating market. At our visit, it cost about US$50 per person for a full day (7:30-18:00) including lunch. The tour offers a glimpse into another side of Bangkok, where the past charms of Thailand remain largely unchanged. A network of narrow canals lined with old wooden houses divide the villages, and the only transportation is by boat. The floating market in Damnoen Saduak with merchants selling rice, fish, vegetables, fruits and coconut-juice from their boats and bargaining with visitors seems chaotic, but it is a very fun, energetic and real Thai experience.
The Rose Garden Resort, a stop that was included in the klong tour, has thousands of rose bushes and hundreds of exotic birds. “Having a snake wound around my neck was really a never-to-forget moment,” said my 17-year-old cousin, Hyun-Ji Lee. It is also frequently visited for cultural shows like hilltribe dancing, sword fighting, Muay Thai, elephants performing, and monks ordination ceremonies.
A city that contains both the old and the new simply has too much more to explore. We definitely could understand why my aunt had said “it is never enough,” for each one of us felt a great sorrow upon departure, all revived by a foot massage after four days of long walking.
Day 4: Away in Ayutthaya
We learned more about Thai history by taking a full day (7:30-17:00) river cruise tour to Ayutthaya, which is located about two hours upriver from Bangkok. It used to be the prosperous capital of Thailand from 1350 to 1767, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Ayutthaya with its ruins from the Burmese invasion in 1767, provides a historic insight into old Siam. Its calm atmosphere is a complete contrast to the frantic pace of the present-day capital. Tours go by bus and return by boat or vice versa. The temples we saw while cruising back across the river, added a special element to the trip. The price is approximately US$58 per person, including buffet lunch served on board plus tea and snacks.
Trip Planning Details
We received all the information about sightseeing and reserved tours through the reception desk at the Rembrandt Hotel, where we stayed during the amazing four days. It was ranked one of the Top 5 Hotels in Bangkok at the time. For 2017, room rates start from US$70/N, and there is no additional room charge for children under 12-years sharing a room with parents, if no extra bedding is required. There are other qualified family-friendly hotels in Bangkok with a playground, proximity to recreation sites, child care service, cribs and multi-room accommodations.
The official Tourism Authority of Thailand has many local offices at the airport and in Bangkok, and a helpful, comprehensive website. You can find more details about each of the tours we took, and general information about this exciting place, by calling 0/2250-5500 within Thailand or +66 2 250 5500 outside. The site also offers many kid-friendly places to go and things to do.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.