Bangkok has become one of my favourite cities: amazing temples, floating markets, sky bars for a chill out drink at night, unforgettable street food and drinks. The metropolis is as peaceful and slow-paced as it is dynamic, depending if you are willing to go around exploring, even the less touristy places. I go around on a bike, trying out various street food, drinking Thai Chai, loving the vibes of the city, imprinting the smiles of the local people into my heart.
Bangkok – Hua Ta Khe Market and Wat Saket
Bangkok combines Western comfort and luxury (including amazing medical service – and world renowned dentistry and plastic surgery) with the “traditional, local and special”.
I met a Western person the other day who asked me why I love Bangkok so much when I cannot drink water from the tap, cannot throw toilet paper into the loo, when the city is so busy and hectic and when it’s so difficult to get around… Well… in many European countries you have to pay for drinking water in a restaurant while in Bangkok you get it for free with your food… bum showers at loos are not a common thing in Europe while they are in Bangkok… and as for the “hectic and busy” – not necessarily, if you just get out of the tourist track…
I have a friend living near Suvarnabhumi airport in a great area of Lat Krabang, with whom I stay when in Bangkok. She is incredible! At the age of 25 she works for the government, travels the world, has her own apartment in Phuket, the most beautiful areas of Thailand, which she rents out, another apartment in Bangkok and is currently planning a project for the next ten years – another university degree (this time from Europe) and opening a guest-house or a small hotel in Bangkok… her name is Dream and it was not given to her by mistake…
She not only allows me to use her bicycle, but also discovered some amazing places in Bangkok for me, such as the lovely Hua Ta Khe market, an old community along the Prawet Burirom canal in Eastern Bangkok. It has recently been revived with an arts and craft market on the first weekend of every month.
To get there, you need to pass through a transition from a busy urban scene to the quiet life along a canal in old Bangkok. There are old two-story wooden houses and a market with shops selling provisions, dresses, cakes and various types of food. There are cool little restaurants and cafés, as well as a TV repair shop and a beauty salon. The shopkeepers live here all their lives and some have their food stalls located just by the banks of the canal outside their homes. They don’t mind you taking pictures of them and their work, they actually like to smile and you and make you feel truly welcome. To me that place is like a soul-healing place.
Another one of those where I feel at peace is Wat Saket. Sometimes forgotten by tourists who prefer to see the Royal Palace or the Reclining Buddha Temple, this one is a real treasure. Located on the Golden Mount, the only natural elevation spot in Bangkok, it offers a marvellous view over the metropolis.
To get to the top, you will find an unusual cemetery built into the base of the Golden Mount, pass along a beautiful zen fountain and climb up circa 300 steps, which encircle the chedi (stupa) like a loosely coiled snake. There is a belief that if you sweep the ground of the temple, you will become beautiful, so you might see people with brooms cleaning up as you walk up the stairs.
You will be passing many prayer bells and even gongs on the way and there are hundreds of good luck bells hanging from the roof of the temple too, so it is quite a sound healing therapy walking up, as the bells chime in the breeze, unless some silly tourists hit the big prayer bells around the path hard – which does happen.
The 58-metre chedi houses a Buddha relic and welcomes worshippers all year round. There is the traditional Kau Chim (Chinese Fortune Sticks) altar too, a fortune telling practice that originated in China in which the querent (person asking the question) requests answers from a sacred oracle (The Oracle of Kuan Yin). The practice is often performed in a Taoist or Buddhist temple. There are also two metallic elephants located by the altar: you make a wish and if you can lift them, the wish will come true…
The origins of the temple can be traced back to the Ayutthaya period (1350- 1767 AD) and it underwent major renovations during King Rama I’s reign (1782-1809). The temple also hosts an annual temple fair in November, which lasts a week during Loy Krathong.
In the late 18th century, Wat Saket served as the capital’s dumping ground for some 60,000 plague victims so there is still a memorial place on one side of the temple dedicated to all the victims of the disease and the vultures who used to come to the place to feed on the dead.
Bang Kachao and Bang Nam Phueng
An artificial island formed by a bend in the Chao Phraya River and a canal at its western end, Bang Kachao is a place oyu are bound to love. It lies south of Bangkok in Phra Pradaeng District of Samut Prakan Province. The island, covering 16 square kilometres, is sometimes referred to as the “green lungs of Bangkok” as this “urban oasis” includes nature trails and is frequented by nature lovers and cyclists.
You can get here easily by a van from the Suvarnabhumi airport (and then a taxi). There are also ferries running and of course, you can get a Grab Taxi.
Except for the many temples, the area includes some cute local villages, community forests (which attract bird and firefly watchers), nature education boardwalks, tree and plant nurseries and the lively Bang Nam Phueng floating market, which is only open on weekends and (like many other so-called floating markets in the immediate outskirts of Bangkok) is more a market located next to a canal that a real floating market.
Bang Nam Phueng in Thai can be translated as “town of honey”. The origin of the name dates back to hundreds of years ago when honey could easily be harvested within this area. Honey is highly valued among Thai Buddhists as something pure, so they provided honey as offerings to the monks – which is a tradition which lasts up until today known as Tak Batr Nam Phueng.
The market offers a local vibe where most of the visitors are local. The market hasn’t been as advertised to foreigners as other markets such as Damnoen Saduak or Amphawa. Being surrounded by a residential neighbourhood though, it is a special place to visit. You can also rent a canoe by the side of the market to explore the bigger parts of the canal which will allow you to see a vivid rainforest as well as local houses along the canal.
The most sold products in the market are simply foods, coming in all different forms including fresh vegetables, meat, seafood, dried shrimps, ready-to-eat dishes, and fruits. One of the most famous products is mango.
Though you can rent a bike at the Bangkachao Pier and cycle through the area of Bang Kachao, you need to leave your bike at a stand when at the market.