Wat's Left to do in Bangkok?

18th October, Bangkok, Thailand

Ian writes:

OK, you'll have to excuse the cheesy 'wat' pun in the heading. It must be at least a week since I last used that one. But the point is, what do we have left to do in the centre of Bangkok?

It is a luxury that we've got the time here to cover most things, rather than trying to squeeze everything in to a few days, and whenever we get bored of Bangkok, or just get worn out from the pace of things here, it's easy enough to have a lazy day or jump on a bus and go to one of the provinces outside Bangkok.

Today, though, we decided to tick off another of the city's attractions from our ever-changing list: Wat Arun. Getting to Wat Arun would be quite difficult if we were to bus it or hop in a taxi or tuk-tuk, given its location quite far south-west in the city, and across the water (we are staying in a location known as Bang Su, in the northern suburbs, and Bangkok is not known for its speedy cross-town journies!). However, we took a slightly different route in today, catching a taxi to the Mo Chit Skytrain Station, very near to Bang Su. From there we were able to take the Skytrain all the way through the centre of the city and right up to the water, aka the Chao Praya River. Then we caught the Chao Praya Express boat (express is something of a misnomer, I have to say) heading north, past all of the most expensive city hotels up to Tha Thien (Thien Pier). From there, we just had to pay out the 2 baht fee for the cross-river ferry to Wat Arun.

Many of the temples we've seen in Thailand have been truly spectacular, and Wat Arun (which means the Temple of Dawn) is no exception. And like many of those we'd seen before, Arun just looked better from a distance. In fact, for the best view, we needn't have crossed the river at all, really (and if we hung around long enough, we'd get an even better view of the temple at night, when the huge central chedi gets the floodlight treatment). Up close, we got to appreciate the finer details of the temple, to see how it was decorated (it looked like a collage of broken crockery, to be honest!) and also to look skyward and get a sense of scale. This must surely be one of the biggest chedis of all Thailand's many wats, I would guess.

Wat Arun on the west bank of the Chao Praya River, Bangkok.

We took a walk around the central chedi, although we were only allowed to walk up to the first level (maybe 10 feet above ground level), and also wandered around the nearby temple buildings, then we went back on the cross-river ferry and back into the madness of Bangkok's tourist centre. Well, one of them, at least - Tha Thien is right next to the point where Wat Pho and the Grand Palace meet, and our experience from being here before suggested that we would be immediately pounced upon by tuk-tuk drivers who would like to drive us anywhere but our desired location, and would prefer to charge us anything but our desired price. Thankfully, we managed to flag down an honest taxi driver. This means that he agreed to switch on the meter without any fuss and without trying to agree a set fee for our next location, which was Baiyoke Tower 2.

What looks like a short distance on our map was, as ever, ridiculously misleading, and the usual traffic snarl-ups ensured that we had a good 25-minute 'ride' in the taxi. But hey, it was air-conditioned, so I wasn't complaining! It was also pretty easy to keep tabs on this taxi driver, to make sure he didn't give us the 'grand tour' of Bangkok just to up the fare - Baiyoke Tower stands head and shoulders above every other building in the city - actually, the whole of Thailand - and is the world's tallest hotel. In short, we knew we were heading the right way. Regardless, a 25-minute taxi journey doesn't have to cost a fortune here - the fare came to the equivalent of £1.10. When was the last time a taxi ride cost that little in England?!

We took the lift up. Well, 79 floors was just a little too much for my legs!

We've been up a few tall buildings during the world tour, notably AMP Tower in Sydney (Aus), the Skytower in Auckland (NZ) and the Rialto Tower in Melbourne (Aus), but this was the first time that the height has really blown me away. Perhaps there's not so much difference in height (I haven't checked) but somehow the views here seemed all the more impressive, despite the fact that visibility was hampered by the ever-present Bangkok smog. Or maybe the smog itself served to make the place look bigger? Heck, this place is bigger - it's huge!

The view over Bangkok from 83 floors up Baiyoke Tower.

I walked around the revolving observation deck on the 83rd floor, checking out the landmarks as best as I could, matching up the actual locations with the map in front of me. In every direction, there were skyscrapers of various sizes, and I surmised that beyond the smog blanket there probably were countless more. Herein lies the difference between this tower and those others we'd been up - Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland have very concentrated areas of high-rise buildings, small areas where you could almost draw a parabola curve over the profile of main buildings and say "That's the CBD right under there." Not so in Bangkok. Now I really know what the term metropolis means.

Manda vents her frustration about the traffic ... up here on the 79th floor of the Baiyoke tower (the tuk-tuk was just one of a few props placed here for photo ops).

So, that was another two 'things to do in Bangkok' done, so we ventured back down the tower and then down the road towards the shopping centres near World Trade Centre, just killing time until, once again, we would brave taking a bus back to Bang Su. This is the fun part of the day when we try to explain to the conductor where we want to get off, and invariably it's a different spot each time, as various people on the bus try to help us out. Tonight, though, we struck gold! A girl on the bus demystified the anonymous spot that we had got out at before (each time necessitating a ride in a tuk-tuk to complete our journey) by showing us a shortcut through a market. It lead right through to Tesco Lotus, the shopping complex just around the corner from Stef and Am's place. At last! No more jumping off the number 505 late at night and wondering "Now, where the heck did we get off this time?!"