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There are two Bangkoks, the ancient soul of Thailand with its long and fascinating history and the frantic, modern metropolis that embraces the latest trends both Eastern and Western. The two blend together remarkably well-even the most jarring juxtapositions of old and new somehow make sense. Bangkok is not only the biggest city in Thailand, but also the most mesmerizing, with some of the country's most beautiful temples and shrines. The city's energy is palpable, especially at night, when traffic opens up a bit, its famous markets get going, and everything seems lit up-from its proudest monuments to its seediest streets.
 
Most cruise ships call on the port of Laem Chabang on the Gulf of Thailand, which is two hours south of Bangkok, the nation's capital, though smaller ships often dock at Klong Toey on the Chao Phraya River, right on the outskirts of the big city. Known as the Venice of the East, due to the many canals slicing through the city, Bangkok lies at the mouth of the Chao Phraya River and has been wowing tourists with its exotic temples, lavish palaces and teeming markets for decades.
 
If your cruise is embarking from Laem Chabang, you'll want to fly into Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport and explore the city for several days before joining your ship. If you're merely calling upon Laem Chabang, your best bet is to consider shore excursions to Bangkok, although there are a few spots near Laem Chabang -- like the beach resort of Pattaya or the Jack Nicklaus-designed Laem Chabang International Country Club golf course -- that could be explored by those who have visited Bangkok extensively in the past and don't wish to make the two-hour trip north.
 
No matter where your travels take you, the people of Thailand will greet you with genuine smiles and a respectful wai (hands pressed together, as if in prayer, accompanied by a gentle bow of the head).
 
Where You're Docked
When visiting Bangkok, most cruise ships either embark from or call upon Laem Chabang is a large commercial port with not much in the area about two hours south of the capital. You can buy souvenirs and get a massage at the cruise terminal and there is a shopping center, Harbor Mall, on the main road by the entrance to the port with a Tesco/Lotus supermarket
 
Smaller ships often dock at Klong Toey, right on the Chao Phraya River on the outskirts of the big city. relatively close to Bangkok's city center. Khlong Toei Port relatively close to Bangkok's city center. Khlong Toei also is the site of a large food market.
 
Hanging Around
There really isn't much to do or see at the Laem Chabang cruise terminal, located in the Chonburi Province. This is Thailand's busiest commercial port, and there's not much to do in the immediate vicinity. In fact, passengers have to travel by shuttle or taxi just to go between their ship and the front gates. If you're a golfer, you may be interested in playing at the Laem Chabang International Country Club (www.laemchabanggolf.com), or head to the resort area of Pattaya for the beaches -- not nearly as good as Phuket, though -- and shopping. The same goes for Klong Toey -- there are no services for travelers.
 
When ships overnight in Laem Chabang, it's a long day to visit Bangkok; depending on traffic conditions, it could take two hours or longer to get there. On the other hand, while those smaller ships lucky enough to dock at Klong Toey are surrounded by the same industrial portage, town is only a 15- to 20-minute ride.
 
Getting Around
To/From Laem Chabang: If you're embarking from Laem Chabang, your cruise line will offer an air/hotel/transfer package. Most lines will also allow you to buy the ground transfer a la carte. Moving around most parts of Bangkok is relatively easy. Use the Skytrain, the subway, and the river express boats to avoid the city's massive gridlock. Taxis and tuk-tuks (small, open, three-wheeled taxis) are inexpensive, but drivers may not speak much English.
 
 
If you'd prefer to go it alone, you can do so in a number of ways. The easiest is to book a transfer with a taxi or limousine service, like Image Limousine (www.imagelimo.com). A one-way, private sedan transfer from Bangkok to Laem Chabang should cost approximately 2,000 to 2,800 baht (per carload). If you're a bit more adventurous, take the bus from Bangkok's Eastern Bus Terminal to the cruise port for just 100 baht per person. The roads between Bangkok and Laem Chabang are paved and modern, and you'll travel south, along Asian Highway route AH19.
 
If your cruise stops at Laem Chabang on a one- or two-day visit, most lines will offer roundtrip motor coach service from the cruise port to downtown Bangkok. Once dropped off in the city, you're on your own for several hours to explore at your leisure. Alternately, you may arrange for a car service from the port, but the cruise lines' DIY options are often cheaper.
 
To/From Klong Toey: We pre-hired a car to take us from the airport to the cruise port. The cost was about $45 for the 45-minute ride. While docked there, our ship operated a complimentary shuttle into the center of the city; it departed on an hourly schedule.
 
In Bangkok: Bangkok traffic can be horrendous, but you'll be able to get around easily and cheaply in the following ways:
 
Via Taxi. Taxis are easily hailed just about anywhere in Bangkok. The meter starts once you hop in; if the driver wishes to negotiate a fee, ask him to put the meter on, or get out and find another taxi. Various surcharges are levied when traffic is heavy. A note for those whose ships are in Klong Toey: only the pink cabs are actually allowed inside the port gates -- and it's actually quite a hike to berth 22A.
 
Via Tuk-tuk. Motorized, three-wheeled carts called tuk-tuks are a popular and quick way to get around town. Just be aware that this mode of transportation isn't the safest, and you can get a bit dirty as dust is kicked up from the road. Negotiate a fee with the driver before accepting a ride.
 
Via Skytrain. The Bangkok Transit System's Skytrain (www.bts.co.th) offers two lines, the Sukhumvit and Silom, which run between 6 a.m. and midnight. You can buy one-day or three-day, unlimited-use passes at many hotels and at all stations. Via Subway. You can ride the subway (www.bangkokmetro.co.th) for 14 to 36 baht, depending on the distance traveled.
 
Via Bus. Various types of buses (air-conditioned and without A/C) travel across the city and are run by Bangkok Mass Transit Authority (www.bmta.co.th). Chao Phraya Express Boat. For about 10 baht, you'll be able to get to a variety of tourist attractions, via this ferry service. Many Riverside hotels have piers for easy, hop-on, hop-off access.
 
Attractions
Old City and Thonburi. When Ayutthaya was besieged and pillaged by the Burmese in 1766, Thonburi became Thailand's capital. The Thais call Bangkok Krung Thep (City of Angels), and in 1782 King Rama I moved his capital to the Old City, just across the Chao Praya River.
 
Grand Palace. This is Thailand's most revered spot and one of its most visited. The palace and adjoining structures only got more opulent as subsequent monarchs added their own touches. The grounds are open to visitors, but none of the buildings are-they're used only for state occasions and royal ceremonies. Just east of the Grand Palace compound is the City Pillar Shrine, containing the foundation stone (Lak Muang) from which all distances in Thailand are measured. The stone is believed to be inhabited by a spirit that guards the well-being of Bangkok. Beware the ubiquitous local con men, often dressed in official-looking clothes, who will try to convince you that the palace is closed and that you need to buy tickets from them. Don't pay attention to anyone until you're practically already in the palace, as this is where the real entrance is. Proper attire (no flip-flops, shorts, or bare shoulders or midriffs) is required, but if you forget, they loan unflattering but more demure shirts and shoes at the entrance. Sana Chai Rd., Old City. Admission charged.
 
Wat Po (Temple of the Reclining Buddha). The city's largest wat has what is perhaps the most unusual representation of the Buddha in Bangkok. The 150-foot sculpture, covered with gold, is so large it fills an entire viharn. Especially noteworthy are the mammoth statue's 10-foot feet, with the 108 auspicious signs of the Buddha inlaid in mother-of-pearl. Many people ring the bells surrounding the image for good luck. Bangkok's oldest open university is behind this viharn. A century before Bangkok was established as the capital, a monastery was founded here to teach traditional medicine. Around the walls are marble plaques inscribed with formulas for herbal cures, and stone sculptures squat in various postures demonstrating techniques for relieving pain. The monks still practice ancient cures, and the massage school is now famous. At the northeastern quarter of the compound there's a pleasant three-tier temple containing 394 seated Buddhas. Usually a monk sits cross-legged at one side of the altar, making himself available to answer questions (in Thai, of course). Chetuphon Rd., Old City. Admission charged.
 
National Museum. There's no better place to acquaint yourself with Thai history than the National Museum, which also holds one of the world's best collections of Southeast Asian art. Most of the masterpieces from the northern provinces have been transported here, leaving up-country museums looking a little bare. You have a good opportunity to trace Thailand's long history, beginning with the ceramic utensils and bronze ware of the Ban Chiang people (4000-3000 BC). Na Phra That Rd., Old City.Admission charged.
 
National Gallery. Although it doesn't get nearly as much attention as the National Museum, the gallery's permanent collection (modern and traditional Thai art) is worth taking the time to see; there are also frequent temporary shows from around the country and abroad. Chao Fa Rd., Old City. Admission charged.
 
Royal Barge Museum. These splendid ceremonial barges are berthed on the Thonburi side of the Chao Phraya River. The boats, carved in the early part of the 19th century, take the form of mythical creatures in theRamakien. The most impressive is the red-and-gold royal vessel calledSuphannahongse (Golden Swan), used by the king on special occasions. Carved from a single piece of teak, it measures about 150 feet and weighs more than 15 tons. Fifty oarsmen propel it along the river, accompanied by two coxswains, flag wavers, and a rhythm-keeper.Tip:Khlong Bangkok Noi, Thonburi. Admission charged.
 
Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn). If this riverside spot is inspiring at sunrise, it's even more marvelous toward dusk, when the setting sun throws amber tones over the entire area. The temple's design is symmetrical, with a square courtyard containing five Khmer-style prangs. The central prang, which reaches 282 feet, is surrounded by four attendant prangs at each of the corners. All five are covered in mosaics made from broken pieces of Chinese porcelain. Energetic visitors can climb the steep steps to the top of the lower level for the view over the Chao Phraya; the less ambitious can linger in the small park by the river, a peaceful spot to gaze across at the city. Arun Amarin Rd., Thonburi. Admission charged.
 
Dusit. More than any other neighborhood in the city, Dusit-north of Banglamphu-seems calm and orderly. Its tree-shaded boulevards and elegant buildings truly befit the district that holds Chitlada Palace, the official residence of the king and queen.
 
Wat Benjamabophit (Marble Temple). Built in 1899, this wat is a favorite with photographers because of its open spaces and light, shining marble. Statues of the Buddha line the courtyard, and the magnificent interior has crossbeams of lacquer and gold. It's also a seat of learning that appeals to Buddhist monks with intellectual yearnings. Nakhon Pathom Rd., Dusit. Admission charged.
 
Vimanmek Palace. The spacious grounds within Dusit Park include 20 buildings you can visit, but the Vimanmek Palace, considered the largest golden teak structure in the world, is truly the highlight. The mansion's original foundation remains on Koh Si Chang two hours south of Bangkok in the Gulf of Thailand, where it was built in 1868. In 1910 King Rama V had the rest of the structure moved to its present location and it served as his residence for five years while the Grand Palace was being fixed up. The building itself is extensive, with more than 80 rooms. The other 19 buildings include the Royal Family Museum, with portraits of the royal family, and the Royal Carriage Museum, with carriages and other vehicles used by the country's monarchs through the ages. Admission includes everything on the grounds and the classical Thai dancing shows that take place mid-morning and mid-afternoon. Proper attire is required (no shorts, tank tops, or sandals). Ratchawithi Rd., Dusit. Admission charged.
 
Chinatown. This bustling area is filled with many markets, teahouses, little restaurants tucked here and there, and endless traffic. Like much of the Old City, Chinatown is a great place to wander around. Yaowarat Road is the main thoroughfare, and it's crowded with jewelry shops. Pahuraht Road, which is Bangkok's Little India, is full of textile shops; many of the Indian merchant families on this street have been here for generations.
 
Wat Traimit (Temple of the Golden Buddha). The actual temple has little architectural merit, but off to its side is a small chapel containing the world's largest solid-gold Buddha, cast about nine centuries ago in the Sukhothai style. Weighing 5½ tons and standing 10 feet high, the statue is a symbol of strength and power that can inspire even the most jaded person. It's believed that the statue was brought first to Ayutthaya. When the Burmese were about to sack the city, it was covered in plaster. Two centuries later, still in plaster, it was thought to be worth very little; when it was being moved to a new Bangkok temple in the 1950s it slipped from a crane and was simply left in the mud by the workmen. In the morning, a temple monk who had dreamed that the statue was divinely inspired went to see the Buddha image. Through a crack in the plaster he saw a glint of yellow, and soon discovered that the statue was pure gold. There is also an excellent museum that follows the history of the Tha Chinese that is highly worth visiting. Tri Mit Rd.,
Chinatown. Admission charged.
 
Downtown Bangkok. Bangkok has many downtowns that blend into each other-even residents have a hard time agreeing on a definitive city center.
 
Jim Thompson's House. Formerly an architect in New York City, Jim Thompson ended up in Thailand at the end of World War II, after a stint as an officer of the OSS (an organization that preceded the CIA). After a couple of other business ventures, he moved into silk and is credited with revitalizing Thailand's moribund silk industry. The success of this project alone would have made him a legend, but the house he left behind is also a national treasure. Thompson imported parts of several up-country buildings, some as old as 150 years, to construct his compound of six Thai houses (three are still exactly the same as their originals, including details of the interior layout). With true appreciation and a connoisseur's eye, Thompson then furnished them with what are now priceless pieces of Southeast Asian art. Adding to Thompson's notoriety is his disappearance: in 1967 he went to the Malaysian Cameron Highlands for a quiet holiday and was never heard from again. Soi Kasemsong 2, Rama I Road, Pathumwan. Admission charged.
 
Suan Pakkard Palace. A collection of antique teak houses, built high on columns, complement undulating lawns and shimmering lotus pools at this compound. Inside the Lacquer Pavilion, which sits serenely at the back of the garden, there's gold-covered paneling with scenes from the life of the Buddha. Academics and historians continue to debate just how old the murals are-whether they're from the reign of King Narai (1656-88) or from the first reign of the current Chakri Dynasty, founded by King Rama I (1782-1809). Other houses display porcelain, stone heads, traditional paintings, and Buddha statues. 352-354 Sri Ayutthaya Rd., Phaya Thai. Admission charged.
 
M.R. Kukrit Pramoj Heritage House. Former Prime Minister Kukrit Pramoj's house reflects his long, influential life. After Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932, he formed the country's first political party and was prime minister in 1974 and 1975. (Perhaps he practiced for that role 12 years earlier, when he appeared with Marlon Brando as a Southeast Asian prime minister in The Ugly American.) He died in 1995, and much of his living quarters-five interconnected teak houses-has been preserved. Throughout his life, Kukrit was dedicated to preserving Thai culture, and his house and grounds are monuments to a bygone era; the place is full of Thai and Khmer art and furniture from different periods. The landscaped garden with its Khmer stonework is also a highlight. It took Pramoj 30 years to build the house, so it's no wonder that you can spend the better part of a day wandering around. S. Sathorn Rd., 19 Soi Phra Pinit, Silom. Admission charged.
 
Don't Miss
In 1782, King Rama I decided to move Thailand's capital to Bangkok from Thonburi, just across the river. TheGrand Palace was built to serve as the official royal residence and has served in this capacity ever since, although the current king (Rama IX) makes Chitralada Palace his home these days. Easily toured on foot, the palace is most interesting for its unique Thai architecture, but be aware that you cannot enter any of the government buildings. On the grounds of the Grand Palace, you will also find Wat Phra Keo, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.
 
Bangkok is, in fact, home to a plethora of temples and shrines, and there are several you should visit, no matter how crunched you are for time. Once you've seen the Emerald Buddha, visit Wat Arun, Temple of Dawn (www.watarun.org); Wat Po, Temple of the Reclining Buddha; and Wat Traimit, Temple of the Golden Buddha.
 
 If you're intrigued by Thai architecture, silk and a good mystery, a visit to Jim Thompson's House(www.jimthompsonhouse.com) is in order. Jim Thompson was the "best known foreigner in Southeast Asia" from the late 1940's through the 1960's. An architect by trade, he joined the U.S. Army during World War II and was the OSS station chief in Bangkok as the war ended. He decided to stay in Thailand and founded the Jim Thompson Thai Silk Company. He also purchased land in the city and built an exquisite Thai-style home. In 1967, he mysteriously disappeared, while on vacation in the jungle of Cameron Highlands, Malaysia. Today, you may tour his fascinating home.
 
Been There, Done That
If you've seen and done all there is to do in Bangkok, take a break and visit one of the city's many skyscrapers, which house rooftop bars. Enjoy a drink and an eye-popping view. A few of our favorites include the Sky Bar (tel: 66-2-6249999) at Sirocco restaurant at the top of the State Tower, the Long Table (tel: 66-2-3022557) on the 25th floor of the Column Tower, and Vertigo (tel: 66-2-6791200) on the 61st floor of the Banyan Tree Hotel. Beware: you're paying for those views! Our bill for four cocktails at the Sky Bar, about $95, was as lofty as the 64th-floor view. It was worth every penny ... once.
 Bangkok is an incredible metropolis, but it's important to understand that many Thais still live the old ways in various fishing villages outside the city. Take a "Tour With Tong" (tourwithtong.com) to a typical fishing outpost, where you'll spend the day with a local fisherman and his family. You'll arrive by Thai long-tail boat, visit the fisherman's bamboo stilt home, eat a traditional seafood lunch and meet a local monkey troop along the way.
 
You will either love or hate Tiger Temple (www.tigertemple.org), a Buddhist monastery that's also home to tigers and other wildlife. Here, you can pet a tiger and have your picture taken with creatures that probably shouldn't be close to humans. The monks say they are saving these wild tigers from poachers; conservationists say the monks' methods are not sound. You'll need to decide for yourself.
 
 If you've got time on a Saturday or Sunday, take the Skytrain to the Mo Chit station, and head directly to theChatuchak Weekend Market. This place throbs with action, as 15,000 vendors hawk their wares to over 200,000 visitors each day. Spread over 35 acres, stalls are organized according to the merchandise sold -- housewares, clothing, ceramics, amulets and antique Buddhas, live animals, etc. Prices are fair, and bargaining is encouraged and expected. If you're looking for Thai crafts (bronzeware, lacquerware, silk items), you'll find them here. Chatuchak can be chaotic, so do yourself a favor and purchase Nancy Chandler's Map of Bangkok (www.nancychandler.net), which charts, stall by stall, each vendor at this market, as well as those on Sukhumvit Road and in Chinatown, Greater Bangkok, Central Bangkok and Banglamphu.
 
 The Damnoen Saduak floating market is a must-visit for any newcomer to Bangkok. About an hour and a half outside of the city (in Ratchaburi Province), you'll find this busy khlong, clogged with long-tail boats that are piled high with every type of fruit and vegetable imaginable. This is mainly a produce market, but you'll also find typical souvenir items -- albeit nicer and less expensive options can be had directly in Bangkok. Take a taxi, or hire a private car, and spend a few hours exploring. It's a typical tourist trap, but you'll get some amazing photographs to show your friends and family back home.
 
 You'd be hard-pressed to find a Bangkok visitor who didn't stop in at least one jewelry store. There, you'll find excellent deals on sapphires and rubies, and Thai jewelers are very adept at custom-designing or copying pieces of jewelry. Shop at reputable stores -- not those recommended by your tuk-tuk driver -- and know how much similar gems or gold would cost here at home. Try SJ International (www.sjjewelry.com; tel: 66-2-2432446; 125/8 Sawankhalok Road) or Venus Jewelry (www.venus-thailand.com; tel: 66-2-2539559; 167/1/2 Withayu Road).
 
Day Trips from Bangkok
If Bangkok is your turnaround port and you have several days, there are good day trips from Bangkok.
 
Floating Market - the most popular floating market, Damnoen Saduak, is also the least authentic. There are other markets as well. Damnoen Saduak can be visited on a half day tour and is 100km southwest of the city.
Bridge on the River Kwai - though not the original bridge built by prisoners, this bridge is still a popular attraction
Tiger Temple - A unique experience where you can have your picture taken with tigers raised by monks. VIP experience available as well. 600 Baht entry includes pictures taken with your camera for you and for an extra 1000 baht, you can have a tiger rest it's head on your lap.
Ayutthaya - Thailand's ancient temple city is 76km to the north and only an hour away.
Events
If you're lucky to be in Thailand during Songkran (Thai New Year), you can participate in what's considered the world's largest water fight. Occuring in April, dates celebrated for Songkran differ in Pattaya than for Bangkok. In Pattaya, most of the action takes place by the beach bars on the northern end of Beach Road. In Bangkok, head to Central World or Khaosan Rd to take part. Some may consider being in Thailand during Songkran not good since many businesses are closed and it may be hard to avoid getting wet. Street vendors sell waterproof bags to protect your mobile phone.
 
Dining Out
Gourmands will tell you that Bangkok offers a heavenly array of restaurants and bars, with something delectable in every price range. Thai cuisine is a spicy blend of flavors, based on lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, basil, garlic, onion, ginger, coriander, mint, chili peppers, curry and eggplant. Popular menu items include vegetarian or shrimp spring rolls; chicken, beef or pork satay skewers, served with a coconut and peanut dipping sauce; pineapple fried rice; and Pad Thai, stir-fried noodles with eggs, tamarind, fish sauce, bean sprouts and red chili peppers, plus chicken, shrimp or tofu.
 
 Have you tried the deep-fried banana flower or crispy morning glories? If not, head to Tongue Thai Restaurant(tel: 66-2-6399189), just around the corner from the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on Chareoun Krung Road. You'll find traditional Thai dishes, such as pad Thai, green and yellow curry, fish balls and lemongrass soup. The chef prepares each dish to be a spicy treat. If you require a milder version, just ask. The waitstaff can also provide photo menus if you're new to Thai food.
 
Want to mix some serious shopping with an outstanding lunch? Head to the Jim Thompson café (tel: 66-2-2559813) at Japanese department store Isetan on Rajadamri Road. If you've got some picky eaters in your group, this is a good bet, since they offer traditional Thai cuisine, Western dishes and sumptuous desserts.
 
For an upscale seafood buffet with a knockout river view through floor-to-ceiling windows, Lord Jim's (tel: 66-2-6599000 ext. 7680-1) at the Mandarin Oriental is the place. With an emphasis on seafood, you'll gorge yourself with scallops, tiger prawns, lobster, crab, mussels, clams, snapper and more. Meat lovers take note: Lord Jim's also serves succulent Wagyu beef.








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