Los Angeles is not the only City of Angels. There is another, on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, with millions of people, thriving arts and intrigue.
In Thailand, the historic city of Bangkok is known as Krung Thep – “City of Angels.” The urban-magnet, sometimes also labeled the Venice of Asia, hugs a sinewy S-shaped section of the Chayo Phraya River. It’s a memorable metropolis to visit, whether you want a great city-fix across the ocean, a gateway to Thailand, or a desirable stop-over place to catch-up on time zones before continuing West to less- traveled realms like Bhutan.
Bangkok bustles with the best of the 21st century and takes you back to the architectural graces of Thailand centuries before. It’s mere 14 degrees of separation from the equator offers all the tropical plants and fruits you can imagine, as well as wet and warm days.
I chose to stay at The Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel and Towers on the river instead of in downtown Bangkok. I wanted to hop riverboats and walk to the Grand National Palace, which really is “grand.” The extensive grounds, highlighted with gleaming gold roofs, include a temple with the renowned Emerald Buddha (really made of Jade). Less than a ten minute walk from there, I enjoyed seeing the “world’s largest reclining Buddha,” then hopped a riverboat with the locals for some great moving scenery and people watching.
On the west bank of the river, two stops provided worthy pilgrimages. One was the Temple of Dawn (or Wat Arun), which dramatically dominates the skyline. Climbing to the top of the tallest pagoda is a great way to take in the panoramas of Bangkok. The open doors of several temples there invite foreigners to be soothed by the Buddhist chanting and prayers and even be blessed.
The other west bank destination is for anyone enamored with western literature, The Author’s Room at the Mandarin Oriental is an inspiring respite. Hemingway, Kipling, Tolstoy, Conrad, Ibsen, Colette, Shaw, Zola, Wharton, Waugh, and a dozen other literary luminaries are all there – at least in photographs serving as reminders of when they were there in person. I took my own pen and hopped a boat back to my chosen nest in the sky across the river.
The Royal Orchid provides a front row balcony seat of the pagodas and ferries, under the changing sky. This Starwood resort lovingly combines all the modern comforts of high-rise commanding views and high-end amenities with respect for the local past. The hotel’s 100-year-old plus Banyan tree is protected in an inner courtyard. The tree’s branches are wrapped in colorful cloths to “protect its spirit,” as it, in turn, shades “grandfather and grandmother spirit houses.”
For a tasty start to the day in a tasteful setting, the hotel’s buffet breakfast spans multiple cuisines and great river-viewing, with the international soundtrack of multiple languages. The hotel offers two swimming pools (a salt water one, and a swim-up bar pool courtesy of the neighboring Portuguese Embassy.) And to make sure you are really refreshed before heading back to sightseeing, back to a business meeting, or back to the airport, the Royal Orchids Mandara Spa offers wonderful massages for your own back, so you can definitely feel like you are in a City of Angels.
My circadian rhythms, senses and spirit were all glad that I let Bangkok be more than an airport transfer on my way to the mysteries and magic of Bhutan.
(c) Lisa Sonne, www.WorldTouristBureau.com