Backpacking South East Asia: Walking Around Rattanakosin Island, Bangkok

Bangkok is known here in the Philippines, and perhaps in many other countries, as a place to do your bargain shopping. Little do people know that it is in Bangkok where they will be introduced to Buddhism, whether it was their intention or not. As for me, I think Bangkok was my first official Buddhist induction—with Khao San Road, the backpackers mecca where I stayed (well, the next street), and Rattanakosin Island (as in the tourist area) being very Wat (temple) sections of Bangkok.

Backpacking SEA - Bangkok - Grand Palace Grounds

Don’t worry though, as being overloaded with Buddhism and Thai architecture is something that you should look forward to. I think the Buddhism and IndoChina-rooted/based architecture, religious and cultural heritage is something that is very different from other countries, especially the Philippines. So, without further ado, I give you an overview (so as not to spoil your personal discovery) of what Bangkok is beyond shopping. These photos were selected among the hundreds I took while walking from Thanon Khao San towards the tourist sites of Rattanakosin Island.

Backpacking SEA - Bangkok - Thanon Khao San

I did not take any tuktuk ride while I was in Bangkok. My reason is that I love walking around as it lets me explore more and see things, places and people in a closer perspective. Of course, it’s also because I find the tuktuks either expensive or a total sham (low price but they will take you to several souvenir shops/stopovers).

Backpacking SEA - Bangkok - Directional Arrows

I suggest that upon arriving at your hotel, or even at the airport, grab a copy of the free city maps. These are very helpful. While some of the streets have been written in English names, more Thai are familiar with the Thai names of the streets and temples. No, it’s mainly in the English alphabet and not in Thai script.

Backpacking SEA - Bangkok - Tourist Trap birds

Another thing you should be wary of are scams and tourist traps in Bangkok (and everywhere else) like tuktuk drivers telling you that this or that temple is closed for repair, festival, prayer/worship time, etc. Please refer to official websites or your hotel’s reception/concierge for these information.

Backpacking SEA - Bangkok - Defense Building

During my Rattnakosin Island walkabout, it was sunny in the morning and then became partly cloudy until it had several moments of light rain towards the end.

Backpacking SEA - Bangkok - First Glimpse of the Royal Palace (from outside)

So, apart from your hat, sunglasses and sunblock, also bring your umbrella (especially for Pinoys!) to be prepared for any weather condition you might experience while walking.

Backpacking SEA - Bangkok - Inside the Palace Complex

Also keep in mind that most of the tourist spots here in Bangkok have entry fees. In October 2011, which is when I went, I paid 500 Thai baht to get inside the Grand Palace complex and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Note that the price I paid for the ticket is actually good for 3 other places: the Pavilion of Regalia: Royal Decorations and Coins; Vimanmek Mansion Museum (Teakwood mansion), and, at the time, the Arts of the Kingdom Exhibition at Ananta Samakhon Throne Hall (both places are outside of Rattanakosin Island but also fairly easy to get to by bus).

Backpacking SEA - Bangkok - Garudas at the Temple of the Emerald Buddha

During the Grand Palace tour, I would encourage you to be observant of the structures, temples, stupas, sculptures, wall paintings, and even the plants! It is a different kind of grandiosity, one that does not seek to boast of its richness but one that simply impresses you with its beauty.

Backpacking SEA - Bangkok - White Stupa at the back of the Palace complex

From the details of the walls and posts to the massive “guards”, the intricate patterns and materials used for each temple or structure, to the reverence that most people (mainly Buddhists and tourists who fully understand and respect the sanctity of the place)—the Grand Palace complex seem like a different world altogether. And being in this state of wonder is one of the many reasons why I keep wandering!

Backpacking SEA - Bangkok - The Grand Palace

The thing is, though, spending time admiring these architectural delight has unintentionally caused rumbling in my stomach. I forgot to take a bit of food with me so by the time I was done being mesmerized, I was hungry! I think I found some food-to-eat-on-the-go nearby upon leaving the Grand Palace complex but by the time I got to eat, the moment has already passed. I know you know what I am talking about, I just can’t put it into exact/correct words!

Backpacking SEA - Bangkok - The Grand Palace neighbor

From the Grand Palace, I moved to Wat Pho or the Temple of the Sleeping Buddha, another of the most visited tourist attractions in Bangkok.

Backpacking SEA - Bangkok - a temple in Wat Pho complex

In this temple complex, a massive reclining Buddha awaits each traveler. While to most tourists it’s nothing but a big golden sculpture with huge feet that have several designs using mother-of-pearl materials, to Buddhists and followers of Buddhism, it is so much more than that.

Sleeping Buddha at Wat Pho

The reclining or sleeping position is said to be the final stage Buddha went through before reaching Nirvana. My later encounters of Buddhism in Cambodia and India showed me more versions of this sleeping/reclining position/stage of Siddharta Gautama.

Backpacking SEA - Bangkok - Standing Buddhas at Wat Pho Complex

Around the complex, you will also find other temples which has several Buddha statues in it. From standing to sitting, gold to black, small to big. Before coming to Bangkok or Thailand, I have not seen as much Buddha statues in my life!

Backpacking SEA - Bangkok - Sitting Buddhas at Wat Pho complex

From the Wat Pho, I proceeded to the Chao Phraya river (I can’t recall if I took a bus or just walked). If you would remember, it was in October 2011 that Bangkok experienced the worst flooding in history. (I was there just a few days before that happened.) This is why the Chao Phraya river was already overflowing to the park by its edge, almost drowning the benches!

Backpacking SEA - Bangkok - Wat Arun by the Chao Phraya River

It was still a good view to see with the Wat Arun or the Temple of the Dawn in the background. If you’re a sunset fanatic like me, you’d like the scene I saw when the setting sun was trying to break through the clouds for a final display before signaling the beginning of the night at Rattanakosin.

Backpacking SEA - Bangkok - Chao Phraya River sunset

After Chao Phraya river, I returned to home base at Khao San road and was ‘blinded’ by the lights and amused by the life it now breathes. Tourists, especially backpackers, everywhere, 7-11 almost every 25m or so, food, booze, bars—the works!

Backpacking SEA - Bangkok - Khao San at Night

So, in true backpacker fashion, I got myself a chicken pad thai from the street for 30 baht, sat of the stall’s stool chairs, had my people watching moment and returned to my hostel (Merry V, 150 baht per night for a solo fan room with shared T&B) feeling great about my Rattanakosin Island walkabout and the discoveries that came with it!


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