Bangkok or Kualalumpur ? Two years ago, I went through this dilemma to choose the first backpacking destination outside India. Both are immensely popular destinations on tourist maps because of its ancient history, multicultural society, old temples,mouth-watering cuisines and shopping experiences. Then, I made a choice and went to Bangkok on my first backpacking trip abroad. I preferred Bangkok over Kualalumpur because I found it more closer to my heart in terms of cultural, spiritual and traditional values. It is arguably the most exotic destination of South East Asia. From its breathtaking sky-scrappers to dirty slums, glittering malls to weekend markets, jam packed roads to water canals, it is dynamic, vibrant, fascinating and equally stressful. I selected Bangkok as my dream destination based on these 10 points:
1. Visa-on-Arrival: Bangkok is the nearest and most conveniently accessible popular destination for the Indians. Indian citizens do not require any prior visa approval to enter in Thailand. They are eligible for Visa-on-Arrival at certain Immigration Checkpoints in Thailand. Availability of visa-on-arrival was a strong reason to choose Bangkok as the first backpacking destination of my foreign trip.
2. Affordability: The currency of Thailand, Thai Baht, was the another reason to choose Bangkok. One Thai Baht is equal to approx. Two Indian Rupees, while other currencies like Malaysian Ringgits, Hong Kong Dollar or Singapore Dollar have much higher values. So, whenever I spent money in Bangkok on Hotels Bills, Restaurants Bills or Shopping Bills, I never had the feelings of paying more Indian Rupees on those bills. ( A general tendency is that whenever we buy something in another currency, we immediately convert that price in the Indian Rupees, then we think..Ohhh this ice-cream will cost me 2 SGD i.e. 100 INR. But in India, its only 40 INR. Result, that ice-cream seems very expensive in Singapore). At least, in Bangkok, we can’t have this type of feeling.
3. Cheap Flights: When I checked the flight fare to Bangkok, it only took me 5 minutes to book the tickets on AirAsia. I mean, who would not book a return air ticket to Bangkok from Delhi in 10000 INR only. Although AirAsia stopped its operation from Delhi now, still it offers one of the World’s Best Online Travel Fair , where you can book amazingly cheap air tickets from other Indian Cities like Kolkata and Chennai to Bangkok.
4. Buddhist Trails: I am an avid follower of Lord Buddha’s spiritual presence. I believe that, if you wish to travel more and more in your life, just follow the Buddhist Trails, specially in South East Asia. The presence of Lord Buddha can draw you to Ancient Caves (Ajanta), Cold-Deserts (Spiti Valley, Laddakh), Beautiful Hill Stations (McLeodganj), Ancient Cities (Sarnath, Bodhgaya), Modern World Cities (Big Buddha, Hong Kong) and then places like Bangkok and nearby Ayutthaya. There are many amazing temples of Lord Buddha in Bangkok like Wat Phra Kaeo, Wat Pho and Wat Arun. Its nearby city Ayutthaya also has a great legacy of Buddhist Temples and Sculptures. The rich heritage of Buddhist Spirituality was another reason to visit Bangkok.
Wat Phra Kaew ( Temple of Emerald Buddha): It is the most sacred Buddhist Temple in Thailand. The Emerald Buddha is a Buddha image in the meditating position in the style of the Lanna school of the north, dating from the 15th century AD. This image statue is raised on a series of high platforms and except the King, no one is allowed near the statue. A seasonal cloak covers the statue and it changes three times a year to correspond to the summer, winter and rain season. The changing of the robes is performed only by the King to bring good fortune to the country and considered as a very important ritual.
Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha): The image of reclining Buddha is 15 m high and 43 m long with his right arm supporting his head. The foot of Buddha is also very long and displaying the auspicious symbols like flowers, white elephants, tigers, dancers etc. Over the statue is a seven tiered umbrella representing the authority of Thailand. The whole atmosphere surrounding the Buddha statue was very divine.
Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn): It is situated on the another bank of The Chao Phraya River, opposite to The Grand Palace and Wat Pho. It has been the Royal Temple dedicated to the 2nd reign of Chakkri Dynasty. Built in a typical Khmer Art Style with a central prang (tower) in the middle, this temple tower symbolizes Mount Meru, the center of the world, in Indian Cosmology. The four-corner prang of Wat Arun, which house images of the guardian gods of the four directions, reinforces this mystical symbolism.
5. Grand Palace: This palace was the official residence of the Kings of Siam (now, Thailand) since 1782, until they moved to the new Chitralada Palace (Dushit Palace Complex) in 1925, where they still reside. It is a very popular tourist destination in Bangkok. It also houses The Wat Phra Kaew ( Temple of Emerald Buddha), inside its premises.
6. Chao Phraya River: Chao Phraya River is the lifeline of Bangkok and it keeps moving this city from morning to evening by providing the best mode of transport to avoid the notorious traffic jams of Bangkok. Numerous ferry boats run along the Chao Phraya Express Ferry Network at frequent intervals. Moving on the Chao Phraya River in a ferry gave me a real taste of stilt houses and life along the river at very cheap prices.
7. Markets: From MBK Mall to Siam Paragaon Mall and From Chatuchak Weekend Market to Taling Chan Floating Market, Bangkok is a shopper’s paradise. These shopping destinations is a place of excellent bargains and also offer a great way to experience the local life and local foods. The shopping malls are just like another shopping malls in a big city, but the street markets are a real experience, often jam packed with shoppers, street food carts and transport dollies all scurrying through the narrow aisles.
8. Nightlife: Nightlife in Bangkok is equally awesome. Walking in the markets like Pak Khlong Talad, Khao San Road, Silom Road etc in the middle of local pubs, neon signs, massage centers and local vendors was a memorable experience. But the best thing available there were the stalls selling the street foods. Choices were many from insect foods to delicious fishes, soft drinks to beer bottles..there’s something to suit every mood, taste and budget at these markets.
9. Relatively closer to Angkor Wat Temples: Angkor Wat…These temples along-with The Great Pyramids of Egypt and The Great Wall of China, were my biggest travel fascinations apart from The Himalayas. When I started backpacking to Bangkok, it was clearly on my mind to visit Angkor Wat at least. So, I choose Bangkok as the base to reach there by a single day train plus road journey.
10. Connectivity to Other Places: Bangkok has a good connectivity to other popular destinations of South East Asia. It is also connected to all major cities of the world on the global airlines network. Being a hub of low cost airlines Thai AirAsia (Joint venture of AirAsia and Asia Aviation), it offers a great connectivity across South East Asia at very reasonable prices.
At the first look, Bangkok looks like a city full of traffic, pushing vendors, unprofessional taxi and tuk-tuk drivers, But once you spend few days in Bangkok, it seems like a city of good food, friendly people, peaceful and colorful temples, great shopping destinations etc. These interesting characteristics of Bangkok always inspire me to choose it as my dream destination.