In Thailand, most exchanges begin and end with a wai, a small bow of the head with the palms together. This simple gesture reflects the people’s gracious charm and courteous nature. The Thais’ relaxed, calm temperament is a testament to their adherence to the Buddhist faith and it carries over to all aspects of their life—no rushing to pass someone on the streets, no sighing in lines at the market, and no honking despite maddening traffic that would make most Westerners scream.
First time visitors to Bangkok should be warned that this 18th century city was built with no real planning. Their streets or sois are not in a grid-like pattern, but rather are a bewildering maze that makes navigating–even with a map–difficult. Despite this chaos, the eight million residents reside harmoniously, and locals are always willing to point travelers in the right direction. Thailand’s biggest industry is tourism and its capital Bangkok, with its cosmopolitan feel, endless shopping options, and unique cultural excursions, is a great starting point in exploring this colorful country.
A must-see destination: The Grand Palace and its Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Keow), a Buddha carved entirely from one piece of Jade. The grandeur of the temple and the intricate details of the Buddha truly mesmerize visitors. The best way to approach The Grand Palace is by a riverboat, an exceptional experience unique to Bangkok. For many locals, life in Bangkok revolves around the Chao Phraya River. For an unforgettable journey and a sense of the city’s traditions, take a ride on one of the long-tail boats that navigate the river and its surrounding canals, passing floating markets, traditional stilt houses, fisherman, and young Thai children playing in its murky waters.
For sunset, head towards the ornate Wat Arun temple, known as the Temple of the Dawn, that is actually best viewed from across the river. After touring the temples, save some energy for shopping, as Bangkok’s Chatuchack Market is one of the largest in the world. Thousands of stalls run down narrow alleys selling everything from exotic birds to gorgeous silk scarves for $5. Try to get there before 9am, not only to beat the blistering afternoon heat, but also the crowds—the market can receive up to 200,000 visitors over one single weekend.
Another alluring aspect: Bangkok’s luxurious 5 star hotels offer incomparable service for a fraction of the cost of most cities. One of our favorites is the recently revamped, 60-floor Banyan Tree Bangkok that blends Banyan Tree’s signature Asian charm with New Age luxury. The hotel’s modern suites provide a much needed respite from the scorching hot streets outside, and the rooftop restaurant and lounge, Vertigo, offers 360 degree views of this sprawling metropolis.