Rough Guide: Green curries, golden Buddhas and orange monks

Lucy Ridout, author of the 'Rough Guide to Bangkok', found a city bursting with colour

Best reason to rise early

Bangkok looks great in the early morning. The dawn light glints beautifully on the many gold-leaf stupas (Buddhist shrines), the air is cool and not yet clogged with fumes, and the streets are enlivened by groups of saffron- robed monks collecting their daily alms from generous neighbours. At Wat Benjamabophit temple, this morning ritual is reversed, and the generous neighbours come to them. Every day between 6am and 7.30am the Benjamabophit monks line up outside their temple gate, their begging bowls ready to receive donations of curry and rice, lotus buds, incense, even toilet paper and Coca-Cola. It's quite acceptable for tourists to turn up and observe this traditional start to the day, and it is a sight well worth getting up early for.

Most ideal home

One of Bangkok's most famous expats was Jim Thompson, an American adventurer, entrepreneur and art collector who mysteriously disappeared in 1967. He lived on the banks of a canal in what is now one of Bangkok's smarter residential districts and his house - preserved as a museum - was designed as a perfect blend of Asian elegance and Western comfort. Artfully assembled from six traditional teak houses, it is a rare chance to see how wealthy Bangkokians used to live before tower-block chic took over. It is set in a pretty tropical garden and is still furnished with the antiques that Thompson collected on his travels around South-east Asia.

Prettiest feet

Bangkok is full of mega-sized statues of Buddha - including one five- and-a half-ton beauty made of solid gold, and another less attractive concrete giant which towers 32 metres from head to toe. But the image that really sticks in the memory is the 45-metre-long Reclining Buddha at Wat Po temple. Its beaming five-metre smile is a cheerful sight, but its finest features are the extra-large feet, complete with beautifully lacquered soles which are delicately inlaid with dozens of little mother- of-pearl designs.

Favourite foodstall

May Kaidee's is down an alley running off Tanao Road. She serves food every day until about 9pm, selling cheap but scrumptious veggie meals to her customers. She has established her little alleyway "restaurant" - three tables and a gas burner - literally on her front doorstep, and likes to sit down for a chat with customers if she has the time. Her piece de resistance is a fiery green curry with tofu and coconut, although she likes to think that one day she will convert tourists to the delights of sticky black-rice pudding.

Best nightlife

Forget the go-go bars and strip clubs of the notorious Patpong district. For a really sensual after-dark experience, there is nothing better than a 3am visit to the Pak Khlong Talat wholesale flower market. This is when the capital's choosiest hoteliers and florists arrive to buy their freshly picked blooms, and the market halls are awash with the purples, pinks and oranges of sweet-scented tropical beauties.

Biggest irritation

Taking a bus from one end of Bangkok to the other really is a nightmare, and it's often a nightmare that lasts a good three hours. City authorities are addressing the problem, but their much-awaited solution, a combination of elevated expressways and underground train networks, is currently making traffic congestion even worse. Meanwhile, the most pleasant way to get from one place to another is by boat. Bangkok used to be known as the "Venice of the East" because of its network of canals and rivers and many of these are still served by ferries and longtail boats. It's a cooler, calmer and more scenic way to travel - and you can cross from the eastern suburbs to the western edge of the city in less than 60 minutes.

FACT FILE

bangkok

Getting there

Quest Worldwide (tel: 0181-547 3322) offers return flights from London to Bangkok from pounds 350.

What to experience

Jim Thompson's house is just off Siam Square at 6 Soi Kasemsan 2, Rama 1 Road. It opens Monday to Saturday from 9am-4.30pm and costs Bt100 (about pounds 1.65), including a compulsory guided tour.

May Kaidee's foodstall is in Banglamphu, down an alley which runs off the Tanao Road. She serves food every day until about 9pm.

The Chao Phraya Express ferries ply several kilometres of the Chao Phraya River at 15 minute intervals in both directions, and have useful stops at the Oriental Hotel, the central post office, the Grand Palace, Wat Po and Banglamphu.

Chatuchak Market operates every Saturday and Sunday between 7am-6pm. It is about an hour's bus ride north of Banglamphu or Sukhumvit on air-conditioned buses, numbers 2, 3, 9, 10 or 13.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
i100

Other places that have held independence referendums
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
news

Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'
film

Actors star in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur
film

It scooped up an unprecedented 11 Academy Awards when it was first remade in 1959

News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

Arts and Entertainment
Maxine Peake plays Hamlet at Manchester's Royal Exchange
theatreReview: Maxine Peake brings emotional ferocity to Shakespeare's starring part
Travel
travel

...and the perfect time to visit them

Sport
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)
football

Newcastle winger reveals he has testicular cancer - and is losing his trademark long hair as a result

Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week