Jocelyn Gecker, The Associated Press, May 24, 2012
BANGKOK (AP) — Chaos is part of Bangkok's charm. But the savvy traveler quickly learns how to navigate Bangkok's legendary traffic jams and discover its soul, a mix of urban jungle and Buddhist serenity where shopping and eating are national pastimes.
Despite the weak dollar, Bangkok remains one of the best deals in Asia. Some of the world's tastiest street food sells for as little as 25 baht (80 cents) a plate. Beat traffic by zipping down side streets in a tuk-tuk or cruising up the Chao Praya on public express boats for stunning views of the city's premier attractions — both for about a dollar. Other favorite outings are free:
LUMPINI PARK: An oasis of tropical gardens and paved jogging paths in the middle of the city. Beat the heat by avoiding the park in midday. There are early morning tai chi classes and after work aerobics classes. You can rent paddle boats, take the kids to one of Bangkok's best outdoor playgrounds or marvel at the massive monitor lizards in the lake.
CHATUCHAK MARKET: Browsing is free at the largest outdoor market in Thailand, and it's a sight to see whether or not you take something home. Chatuchak's thousands of stalls are divided into sections that include antiques, home decor, clothing and food. You can find everything from Buddha statues and Thai handicrafts to handmade jewelry and the occasional endangered species in the live animal section. For upscale, air-conditioned window shopping, head to shopping malls Siam Paragon, Emporium or Central World.
TEMPLE HOPPING: Catch some karma at Bangkok's many Buddhist temples, known in Thai as "wats." Some of the most popular, Wat Po and Wat Arun, ask foreigners to pay a minimal entrance fee but hundreds of others are free, including the impressive Temple of the Golden Mount, also known as Wat Saket. A temple compound's shaded walkways and quiet corners are a perfect place to escape the sensory overload on Bangkok's busy streets.
FLOWER MARKET: Bangkok's largest flower market, Pak Klong Talat, is open 24 hours but it's busiest just after 2 a.m. when traders unload their fresh-cut blossoms in bulk. It's a kaleidoscope of colors with an incredible selection of orchids at jaw-droppingly cheap prices. The market is just south of Wat Pho and not far from the Grand Palace in the historical section of old Bangkok.
PATPONG: For a walk on Bangkok's wild side, take an evening stroll along Patpong Road. It offers the incongruous mix of go-go bars and evening shopping. A thriving night market selling T-shirts, pirated DVDs and other souvenirs runs through the red-light district and spills onto the adjacent Silom Road, which is packed with street food vendors, restaurants and bars.