1. Gazing across the river at Wat Arun (the Temple of Dawn) as day is breaking. Watch the Buddhist monks in their bright saffron robes silently going about their morning chores. See the sun dancing on the millions of pieces of glass and ceramic on the stone walls of the temple, making it change color and sparkle as if alive.
2. Feeling the mystic serenity of a Buddhist temple. My favorite is Wat Ratchanatda, where monks sweep leaves in the courtyard while others fetch water from a well or meditate in the temple. In a 24/7 city of more than 10 million people where the noise and heat are often exhausting, the sea of calm that washes over me as soon as I enter a temple never fails to impress.
3. Lounging around the Mandarin Oriental hotel on the lookout for celebrities. It is the most famous hotel in the world, after all! Perhaps if I wear a Panama hat and sip tea in the lobby, someone will wonder if I’m a famous star or the reincarnation of Joseph Conrad, Oscar Wilde, or W. Somerset Maugham. Keep dreaming….
4. Listening to travelers’ tales at a cafe on Khao San Road. Bangkok is a magnet for wanderers visiting from every corner of the world. Swap stories of journeys through the jungle, bus rides from hell, snakes and scorpions under mattresses, and the myriad other adventures that always happen when you are traveling in faraway lands.
5. Getting lost among the chaos at Chatuchak Weekend Market—known simply as JJ. It’s easy to do for hours on end—without finding a postcard to send home to grandma. You’d better leave a trail of breadcrumbs as you wander the maze of shops and stalls at the biggest market in the world, because you’ll never find your way out! Still, you’re sure to find other treats—from parakeets to copper pots, DVDs to Buddhist antiques, and silk scarves to moonshine snake whiskey . . . but I’ve never seen any postcards.
6. Watching the sunset while sipping martinis at Sky Bar. The view from the 63rd floor is spectacular, but no matter how many times I’ve met friends for cocktails at Sky Bar, my heart still leaps into my throat when I look over the edge. I don’t know any other city that would even allow a bar such as this to exist.
7. Getting a hot herbal massage at Wat Po, then falling asleep and awakening to find your body has turned to jelly. I’m not sure how I survived before I came to Bangkok and started the simple weekly ritual of getting all the tension and knots wrung from my body. Perhaps the most physically and mentally relaxing activity a person can do, massage is cheap, it’s good for you, and feels great. What more can you ask for?
8. Getting up at dawn to watch Buddhist monks collecting alms from local Bangkokians. Rich and poor alike line the roadsides with freshly cooked pots of rice and curry to offer the monks in exchange for a prayer. The parade of robed monks walking the streets barefoot and single file each morning is one of the most photogenic scenes in Asia.
9. Taking in the aromas of food and spices down the backstreets of Chinatown. You’ll find woks full of sizzling chilis, boiling pots of coconut soup, skewered fish barbecuing on grills, and row upon row of cardamom, coriander, ginger, ginseng, colorful fruit, and exotic herbs.
10. Practicing Tai Chi with nimble octogenarians in Lumphini Park at dawn. I just join in at the back and follow the slow and controlled movements of the class as it flows to the rhythm of an old Chinese soundtrack. Various groups gather in the park every day for a 1-hour session of this graceful martial art. Afterwards, they sit and chat and laugh and drink green tea. I’m sure this is the secret to living over 100.
11. Lazing in the Jacuzzi at the Anantara Bangkok Riverside Resort & Spa on a sunny day. Sunbathing in Bangkok is usually a no-go: with the humidity, it’s more like poaching yourself. The Marriott Anantara is just far enough from the city center that the air is a bit fresher and a breeze comes off the river. With a day pass you can lie by the tropical pool and bask in the outdoor Jacuzzi.
12. Screaming down the backstreets in a tuk-tuk, zigzagging through the traffic, mounting the kerbs, and squeezing down alleys. No trip to Bangkok is complete without a heart-stopping ride around the city’s streets with a hysterical tuktuk driver (for more thrills, try a motorbike taxi!).
13. Wining and dining on a Manohra dinner cruise under the moonlight. When romance beckons, an evening dinner on a small cruise boat is the perfect option. It’s intimate and exotic and the food is delicious. The Chao Phraya River is glorious at night, and what better way to see it than over an intimate dinner for two?
14. Smiling back at Thais—the friendliest people in the world. Thailand is not known as the “Land of Smiles” for nothing. A big beaming smile is as much part of a traditional greeting as a wai—the pressing of palms and little bow that Buddhists use to say ‘hello’. Even if a Thai slips and falls and bangs his head, he will smile, maybe even laugh, and brush it off with the phrase "mai pen rai," meaning 'it doesn’t matter'.
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