Tuesday, 22 March 2016

A few hours spare... in Bangkok

I used to hate that last day of travelling - a day when I have to check out of my hotel, when I have a bit of spare time before going to the airport, but not really much, when I don't know what to do with myself. Just a few hours spare. Or the little bit of a day after I've checked in, and before I have to do anything or go to the trade show... What on earth to do with that bit of spare time?

Now, I find that most cities offer interesting small delights that can make a few spare hours into an intriguing voyage. So I've started writing up a few of the "side dishes" for cities I know reasonably well.

I'm kicking off with Bangkok. It's a city you're more than likely to have a bit of spare time in, since it's an airport hub for much of South-East Asia, not just Thailand. What can you do with not much time?

  • Take a trip to Suan Pakkad Palace museum. It's a sweet little museum which makes its home in a number of old wooden Thai houses around a lawn, in the shadow of the skyscrapers. You can watch a battle from the Ramayana played by miniature dolls of Thai actors in their traditional masks, or be dazzled by the reflections in the lacquered pavilion. It's just enough of a museum to fill an hour or two, with a nicely relaxed atmosphere and friendly curators. It's not too far from Phaya Thai station, so quite easy to reach.
  •  Feed the turtles and koi carp at Wat Prayoon.  The Wat is on the Thonburi side of the Memorial Bridge, a brisk ten minute walk over the bridge from the boat station. The pond surrounds a miniature mountain, a little mound built up as a landscape with tiny temples and Buddha statues in niches, and despite the traffic roaring by outside always seems peaceful and secluded. There's also a fascinating Buddha museum and a huge white stupa like a wedding cake, which can be climbed up (and into; on the way out, you have to crawl through a tiny doorway).
  • Another really strange stupa is the Loha Prasat, just off Ratchadamnoen Road. This construction's metal spires give it a prickly, spiky outline quite different from anything else in Bangkok, but it's the inside that is really weird, with its maze of vaulted passages and spiral stairway. 
  • Take the boat up to Nonthaburi and back. Nothaburi has a huge, sprawling wooden museum (originally a public school) that's one of Bangkok's great unsung architectural wonders, a garish Chinese temple on the waterfront, and huge numbers of seafood stalls on the riverside promenade.
  • Visit Wat Kalayanamit over in Thonburi (there's a cross-river ferry from the Ratchinee boat station). The courtyards are filled with Chinese pagodas and statues  - originally ballast in Chinese trading ships, but adopted as objets d'art by the Thais - and the oversize Buddha has almost outgrown the temple.
  •  If you're based anywhere near Khao San Road, make your way to Wat Bowoniwet and stroll through the grounds. This is one of my favourite temples in Bangkok; it's a packed site, and there's always something happening (the first time I was there, people were visiting to pay their respects to the Supreme Patriarch, presiding in his funeral urn; he wasn't cremated till two years later), yet it never seems crowded. and I often have the chance to chat to one of the monks or caretakers.

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