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Bangkok is one chaotic mess.
It never sleeps, its energy hits you in the face and the madness grows on you over time, and we’ve come to love it.
Having lived in Bangkok for six months Teaching English back in 2003 we sometimes struggled with the intensity. Everywhere you turn in Bangkok there is blocked traffic, crowded sidewalks, street carts and smoggy air.
Trying to find a quiet space to think is not always easy, but, it can be done.
The Golden Mountain is one of my favourite places in Bangkok for calm. When we lived next door in Wat Saket High School, I’d often take my students there for walks; the grounds were also our short cut home from the madness of Khao Sahn Road.
Phu Khao Thong is a jungle oasis in the middle of Bangkok: waterfalls, birds chirping, Thai music quietly playing, flowering plants, frangipanis, and thick vines.
No traffic can be seen or heard in here, the stupa is surrounded by the Wat Saket Temple and a couple of blocks of monks quarters. (Get up early enough and you’ll see the monks move out in the city to collect their morning alms of sticky rice.)
The tranquility follows you to the top of the mountain, past rows of bells to ring for blessings and prayer. Once there you have beautiful views of the city, you’ll be surprised by how much greenery Bangkok can have, especially in the area around Phu Khao Thong and Banglampoo.
There is a small cafe halfway up the Golden Mountain – a cute spot for a coffee.
As soon as we walk through the gates of Bangkok’s biggest city park, I hear quiet. The noise of the traffic that sits just outside on some of Bangkok’s busiest highways suddenly dies away.
A few more steps in I hear birds. Birds!! In downtown Bangkok!
Soon I hear the pounding of feet on the pavement; groups of runners go by laughing and waving to friends who are running in the opposite directions. A lady on a bicycle with her grin wide as her head moves from side to side absorbing the greenery that cannot be found amongst the chaos that sits outside.
School students sit on the chairs looking out over the lake watching as cat fish jump and somersault out of the water and water monitors slither out from the bushes to dip in for a cooling swim.
Expats in a pile of sweat line up for a massage from an elderly Thai man, who grins wide as he digs deep into the muscles of a man’s shoulder, asking if we would like a massage too.
“This guy is so good and so cheap, I come nearly every day.” an Englishman tells me.
“I so wish we could, but we have no time, we fly out today.”
Over on the gravelled area a group practice qijong, their sticks dancing to the music. Opposite a couple are engrossed in Thai Chi, spreading the energy without to calm from within.
My girls play in the playground, giggling so happy to be climbing and running free from honking tuk tuks, buses puffing out choking smoke and rickety footpaths waiting to trip them up.
Lumphini Park is the perfect way to start your day, gathering the strength you need for the madness of the streets outside. (p.s It can get hot here too, so morning is the best time for a cool reprieve).
Just across the canal from Phu Khao Thong is this early 19th Century temple built to represent a castle by King Rama III . There are 37 turrets each representing a way of happiness. A Spiral staircase in the middle of the wat, takes you to the top, again for green views of the area.
If you want solitude and a place to reflect, Loha Prasat is it. Whilst everyone visits the Grand Palace in Bangkok, we were basically the only ones here at Loha Prasat.
Not many tourists venture here, surprisingly, as it is a unique and intricately designed temple. As I walked the temple halls in meditative silnece I rued the fact that this was my first visit, especially since we used to live around the corner!!
The temple is designed as a rectangle with intersecting halls, making it almost maze like. Each hall has a plaque outlining a way to practice happiness, there are 37 plaques to match the number of turrets.
The cool, clean halls open up lots of space, light and free flowing energy, bringing harmony to your walking meditation.
A statue of an orange robed Buddha sits at the end of each hall acting as a guide reminding you how to be and encouraging you to go one more step forward.
Loha Prasat is a harmonious place that will help you connect to the peace within, so you can handle the chaos of the streets of Bangkok without.
Opposite Maharas Pier on Chaya Praya River, a shuttle boat starts up and crosses the wide expanse of water towards us. We had just come from the Grand Palace, where the heat and the crowds caused us to have meltdowns.
The Supatra River House gave us the quiet oasis we needed to regroup. A large deck invites you to sit and admire the views and pretty lights of a night time, or the AC inside will refresh you from Bangkok’s stickiness.
The river house is a restaurant and, although it will require a little more of your budget, it is a pretty place to escape. We arrived early, but by the time our lunch had finished more tourists began to filter in off the shuttle for a relaxing lunch.
They serve a set banquet menu or A la carte and the food is delicious and authentic Thai.
This is the most authentic of Bangkok’s floating markets and is frequented mostly by the locals and Thai tourists. We were so happy to discover a place that is not overrun by falangs where we could find amazing Thai food for incredibly cheap prices.
Arrive early for a peaceful walk around the markets that sit on the edge of the canal. If you want a little more tranquility, jump on a long tail boat for a 20 min ride to a nearby village.
This small dose of traditional village life in Bangkok made me want to pack up and move to the Bangkok burbs.
A few of the locals open their homes and gardens for you to wander through. Vibrant pink lilies sit on their pads in garden ponds, swinging seats invite reflection under flowering trees, and wooden sun beds convince you to have a lie down, listen to the birds and watch the ambling of a small number of people.
In one home a sweet stall is set up and you can watch Grandma sit over a hot fire stirring a pot of pandan. 30 minutes later she’ll turn that into noodles, creating a green worm dessert doused with sweet coconut milk and freshened with ice.
It was the perfect thing to eat on a hot Bangkok day in the gardens by a small canal.
Another home is opened for overnight stays. We wander into the living room and tiny bedrooms, the interior decorating and wood panelling design funky and eclectic.
A breeze cools us down as we wander down the village paths to explore more of the village. An old man with a Ho Chi Minh beard rhythmically chops up dead wood, left overs from the great flood of 2011. He’s turning it into charcoal.
The postman beeps us on his motorbike to pass by; Kalyra stops mid-dance trying to understand why there is a motorbike riding on a footpath. He zips off up a garden path to the nearest house to spread the good news.
Cyclists wave and smile as they cycle by and we stop to show Kalyra and Savannah the banana, mango and papaya growing from the overhanging trees. Before we board the boat to return to the village again, we snack on cheap fishcakes, desserts and snacks sold on the side of the footpath.
And then we arrive back at the markets in time for lunch and stuff ourselves silly on every Thai dish you can imagine for cheap prices.
Soi Rambuttri is one of my favourite streets in Bangkok. It is so quiet and peaceful here. But be warned it is full of backpackers and so of an evening the tempo might pick up (it’s right around the corner from Khao San Road).
Pull up a triangle pillow under a fan in a cafe during the day. Make sure it is in front of the TV screen and watch movies all day long. Grab yourself a coconut water, a bowl of delicious Thai curry and just relax.
Get bored with the movie? Read a book, have a beer or wander outside for some really great shopping. Soi Rambuttri also has fantastic street food.
They have really prettified this street since we lived in Bangkok. It used to be called Dog Shit Alley – yep plenty of mangy dogs roaming around and rats running over your feet as you ate outside on rickety plastic tables and chairs.
Now there are a lot of bamboo plants and trees lining the sidewalk and it has a clean, fresh, hipster energy to it.
Much better option for families traveling in Thailand than the craziness of nearby Khao San Road.
Where do you escape the madness?
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