Thailand

Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in Thailand.

thailand-romantic

Be An Incurable Romantic in Thailand

If you’ve got romance on your mind, Thailand offers wonderful options for private moments on beaches and in coves or for exploring new experiences together, Koh Tao is considered one of the best places in the world to learn scuba diving. Although diving is possible almost all year round, the waters are clearest from July to September.

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Beautiful Koh Kood Island

The reefs are calm and shallow, perfect for novice divers, and this is one of the few places where you can spot a whale shark as well as tropical fish, reef sharks and barracudas. You could stay in accommodation offered by your scuba-diving school or in a bungalow or in one of the growing number of upscale resorts that line the shores of this turtle-shaped island.

With hotels suffering limited communication networks and electricity cuts, Koh Tao still has the feel of being off the tourist trail, and, if off beat adventure is what you want, this is probably the perfect place (fly into Koh Samui Airport, and take a high-speed ferry to Koh Tao).

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Five Smart-Choice Places To Stay Bangkok – Thailand

With long-tail boats floating down the Royal River, and streets lined with food carts selling everything from spicy to sweet bites, old Bangkok is full of pretty sights and sounds.

Here are some of our favourite stays:

PHARANAKORN NORNLEN HOTEL

PHARANAKORN NORNLEN HOTEL

Learn about the local culture, eat organic food and surround yourself with the sounds of frogs and birds. Located in old Bangkok, close to the Reclining Buddha Temple and the Grand Palace, this is a charming stay decorated with rustic furnishings and wall paintings. Sign up for one of its weekly workshops like natural soap-making or Thai cooking or take the Khlong Tour in a long-tail boat.

PRAYA PALAZZO

PRAYA PALAZZO

Set along the banks of the Chao Phraya River, Praya Palazzo is an Italian-style mansion turned into a boutique hotel. Have a relaxed day by the pool that overlooks the river or take the hotel’s private barge to Phra Athit where you can shop for handmade souvenirs or hang out at local cafes. Feast on authentic Thai and Mediterranean cuisine at the hotel, or delve into Thai history and culture in the library. Accessible only by boat, the hotel provides free transfers from Rajathiwas Temple Pier and Phra Athit Pier.

THE YARD HOSTEL

THE YARD HOSTEL

Sited far from touristy Bangkok in a hipster area filled with eateries and boutiques, The Yard Hostel makes you feel right at home. Lounge in the backyard, kick back with a beer, meet people from around the world, or rent a bicycle and explore the hip Ari neighbourhood.

ARIYASOMVILLA  WORDS SARIKA NERURKAR

A peaceful garden oasis in bustling Bangkok, this hotel, with its 1940s Thai decor, outdoor pool and spa, makes for a rejuvenating retreat.

The stylish rooms are spacious and done up in warm colours and floral artworks. The Som Sen spa offers relaxing massages while the in-house Na Aroon restaurant serves a healthy, organic variety of vegetarian and seafood meals (the pomelo salad is fantastic!), and mixes fine cocktails.

THE BHUTHORN

THE BHUTHORN

Travel back in time to experience Bangkok as it used to be in a bygone era. With its antique furniture and wooden floor, this comfortable B&B was once a century-old shophouse, but, today offers three guestrooms, each with a distinct character.

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A Culinary Tour through Bangkok’s Best Restaurants

IT’S THAI-M TO EAT!

There are two things you’ll notice in Bangkok – one, someone is always eating and two, the food is so delicious that pretty quickly, that someone is you. Apart from the freshest fruit ever, satay sticks on the street, that international bestseller pad Thai and wholesome beefy stews with noodles (burp!), Bangkok also has a list of must-eat dishes and must-visit joints.

Let’s start with the lazy gourmet’s shortcut – the Bangkok Food Tours. Let someone tell you to eat, repeatedly, and constantly, through the city for at least four hours. Offering over 10 tours across options like day and night, walking, floating and tuk-tuk, meals at local homes, modern and ancient cuisine and more, these tours are value for stomach.

If a tour is not for you and you’d rather soak in the city (and the flavours) on your own, start with Rosabieng, a local place blissfully devoid of the more vapid kind of tourist. Come here for a huge range of authentic cuisine, with stand-out dishes like the best fried chicken wrapped in pandan leaves, fantastic tomyum, and green curry. This rustic wooden-house-turned restaurant is famous for its fresh, coconut-based dishes and homemade custard apple ice cream.

Or you could dabble in the new wave of Thai cooking at Paste Bangkok.

Paste specialises in artisanal Thai food, with traditional, locally-sourced produce and modern presentation. Be warned: the sea bass curry and duck salad with banana flowers has reduced many a critic to happy tears – luckily, the service is excellent, so at least napkins are at hand.

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The Blue Elephant offers great royal Thai cuisine, current faves as well as fusion dishes

During your stay, you must plan to eat at The Blue Elephant once.

Billed as a bastion of outstanding royal Thai cuisine, it offers a fine-dine experience across Thai curries, sauces, seafood, meats and more. Located in a lovely century-old heritage building, this is where your tastebuds die and go to heaven. Luckily, the Thais believe in reincarnation – and your tastebuds will come alive at your next meal, with the aroma of tomyum soup at Saw Nah Wang.

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Saw Nah Wang’s tom yum soup is the stuff of legend

Beloved Thai staple lemongrass is married with lime leaves, soy sauce and coconut milk to produce a union that every beaming mama will approve of. Frequently ordered with shrimp, Saw Nah Wang’s tomyum soup can also be spiced up or down with fresh chilli and garlic. Feel free to also slip an order of meephat krachet into your meal. These angel-hair­like rice flour noodles make for a slurpy accompaniment or even combine into a noodle-y broth, khowsuey-style – or can be dipped into your soup.

Contrast the multi-course wonders of these restaurants with the romantically- named The Never Ending Summer, another justly famous Thai restaurant, located by the Chao Phraya River.

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The Never Ending Summer Restaurant

With its rustic-industrial-chic ambience, this restaurant is a melange of traditional and modern, offering both familiar classics and reinterpreted favourites.

Meat dishes, like the grilled pork collar and seafood dishes, like the deep-fried soft shell crab spicy salad, are the most acclaimed, seen on quite a few tables.

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In bangkok, people enthusiastically follow the “live to eat” mantra

And, finally, for those for whom it’s always duck season, there’s Charoeng Wiang Pochana Restaurant. Play safe with traditional, roasted lean duck on steamed rice, with cucumber and ginger on the side. Or roasted duck sticks with egg noodles. Or take home a vacation story to beat all, with juicy, flavourful fried duck feet wrapped in intestine – clear proof that, sometimes, foot in mouth can be a good thing.

FACT SHEET

GETTING THERE: Closest city: Suvarnabhumi Airport (23km) Air India, IndiGo, Jet Airways, Spicejet, Malindo, Bangkok Airways, Thai Airways and Malaysia Airlines fly to Bangkok from Mumbai and New Delhi.

GETTING AROUND: Private cars, taxis or tuk-tuks can be hired in Bangkok. Negotiate, negotiate and negotiate before you get into either. Radio taxis are also a convenient and affordable option to get around.

WHERE TO EAT

  • Bangkok Food Tours
  • Paste Bangkok
  • The Blue Elephant
  • Saw Nah Wang
  • The Never Ending Summer
  • Charoeng Wiang Pochana Restaurant
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Get Wet, Wet, Wet at Thailand’s Water Festival Chiang Mai, Thailand

Buddhist New Year is the time to see Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second city, at its most animated, from the religious processions to the wet’n’wild antics of the local residents

For long months summer has been building to a crescendo in northern Thailand, slowly filling the bowl of mountains that surrounds Chiang Mai with soupy heat. By the middle of April, a sticky, wilting haze dulls the glint from the gilded Buddhas that gaze serenely out from the city’s 300 temples. The scents of frangipani, mango and hyper-spiced street food have been slow-cooked to a ripe miasma; the contents of the four-mile moat that girdles the Old City simmered to a green broth. Something has to give and it can’t wait until the rains come down in late May. At dusk on 12 April, the downtown pavements begin to mass with excitable water warriors, fingers on plastic triggers, thumbs pressed over hose tips, buckets abrim. Ahead lies a four day, man-made monsoon, which will saturate the city’s streets and all who sail in them.

By tradition officially stretching from 13 to 16 April, Songkran is the spray-and-pray festival that marks the Buddhist New Year on 15 April. It’s a bewildering, but glorious fusion of dignified religious faith, familial devotion and deafening, technicolour aquatic madness. As a celebration of towering national importance, Songkran is like a Western Christmas and New Year rolled into one, with a soggy side order of trick-or-treat Halloween mayhem. Every dawn, families file soberly into temples with offerings and votive decorations. Every afternoon, rather less soberly, they rush through the streets toting triple-chamber water pistols. The first activity endows good karma and the second good luck. Though it might not seem so at the time, ahead-to-toe slapstick soaking is the best start a year could bring.

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Temporary pumps are installed to suck water from Chiang Mai’s city moats, but any water source will be raided during the Songkran Festival

Around 95 per cent of Thais are Buddhist and Chiang Mai — for 500 years capital of the old Lanna kingdom, the nation’s rural heartland — prides itself as a repository of spiritual and communal tradition. Nowhere is Songkran celebrated so wholeheartedly: here, the festivities are strung out for an extra day and with an enthusiasm that draws crowds from right across the land. Initiate conversation on the street — ideally during the buckets-down ceasefire that tentatively holds from 8pm to 10am — and you’ll often find yourself talking to one of the countless northerners who’ve relocated to Thailand’s more prosperous south, returning to their ancestral homeland for a uniquely profound New Year experience. It’s an opportunity to renew and reaffirm traditions, and the family bonds that Thais hold so dear. Even at Songkran, blood is much thicker than water.

“We just don’t have temples like this in Bangkok,” says Chiang Mai-born Kompun, admiring the weathered dragons that guard the 19th-century Wat Ton Kwen. “And the people up here are more kind and respectful, they always have time for you.” With its sombre dark-wood gables and scattering of silent, orange-robed monks, the temple is a model of ascetic restraint, just a few miles outside the city, but a world away from the power-shower delirium. Only the colourful and intricately cut paper flags that sprout from towers of sand acknowledge the festivities. Kompun and her son Wasin have already added their contributions: the flags are themed to their respective zodiac signs, and an enshrined Songkran tradition is to bring a bucket or bag of sand to the temple, replacing the earth that worshippers have carried out on their feet over the previous year. Now, she sprinkles saffron perfumed, jasmine-petalled water on the golden head of the temple’s Buddha.

“It’s a blessing, to wash away the old year and make a good start for the new one.” With a nervous smile, she admits she won’t be participating in the super-soaked anarchy that has burst forth from this graceful, symbolic act.

Clean-slate renewal and ritualised ‘merit making’ are the twin spiritual cornerstones of this festival. The former manifests itself in the redecorating of temples, intensive spring cleaning and the wearing of garish new clothes: families congregate in matching Hawaiian shirts and drape floral garlands around each other’s necks. The latter, the earning of good karma for the coming year, begins in earnest on the penultimate dawn of the old one, on 13 April, when a long line of monks files through the red-brick columns of Tha Phae gate, one of the four entrances to Chiang Mai’s lath-century Old City.

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It’s a Thai Break – Phuket, Thailand

Most beach-aimed flights from the UK head to the Med or the Caribbean, but Phuket is a rare example of an Asian airport reachable nonstop from British shores that sits by a stretch of balmy sand rather than a busy metropolis.

The beach in question, Hat Mai Khao, is Phuket’s longest, and is undisturbed enough to be a nesting ground for sea turtles each winter. Further down the sunset-facing coast you’ll find Ao Bang Thao and Kata, whose beaches are more geared to visitors, but also very easy on the eye. February sees the dry season in its penultimate month, and is less busy than December or January.

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Ao Bang Thao beach – Phuket, Thailand

MAKE IT HAPPEN

  • Thomson flies direct to Phuket from London Gatwick and Manchester in 111/2-13 hours.
  • Sawasdee Village is a compact resort in classic Thai style, one street back from Kata’s beach.
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Satiating The Thirst for Wine In Asia and Australia

HOKKAIDO

hokkaido winery

This northern prefecture maybe better known for its abundance of seafood and dairy but wine production in Hokkaido has been around since the 19605. Although considerably still a young wine-producing region, a number of Hokkaido wineries have won international accolades and many restaurants in the area are beginning to serve local wine to be paired with Hokkaido’s fresh cuisine. The Sorachi district in Hokkaido in particular experiences similar weather and soil conditions of various wine-growing regions in France. Housui Winery is one of the more established wineries in Hokkaido with its own vineyard that plants a variety of grapes, including Pinot Noir and Chardonnay varieties.

On a tour here, visitors can sample the Yuki no Keifu series of premium wines that are completely made with grapes harvested from its own vineyard. In summer, a specialty ice cream is served where its syrup topping is made from the discarded grape skins after wine production (alcohol-free so kids can have some too).

MAKE IT HAPPEN

Housui Winery is open daily except for Wednesdays from January to March. Reservations are necessaryto tour the winery or field.The cellar is well stocked and tasting sessions can also be arranged (housu i-winery.co.jp).

KHAO YAI

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Thailand is one of the last places anyone would think of to be a wine-growing region. The tropical and humid climate has always been considered unsuitable for wine production but vineyards in Thailand are changing this notion. One of the first to gain world recognition is GranMonte Family Vineyard, which was founded by the Lohitnavy family in 2009 and is under the sole direction of Nikki Lohitnavy, Thailand’s first and only fully qualified oenologist. Wines from the GranMonte Estate are the most decorated in Thailand, having won more than a hundred awards in the past four years. There are a few varieties available and it is the whites, such as its Spring Chenin Blanc, Sole Chenin Blanc Viognier and GranMonte Viognier that are the most renowned.

The whites from GranMonte often feature notes of topical fruits like papaya, pineapple, and lime, which make them popular for wine pairing, especially with spicy Thai cuisine. Nikki continues to challenge herself in creating new varieties and has since developed Sabina Rosé Syrah, Bussaba Natural Sweet Wine Chenin Blanc Semillon and Muscat, and GranMote Cremant.

MAKE IT HAPPEN

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A Granmonte wine barrel

OT here are daily tours that include a lap around thevineyard and winery, ending with wine tasting and a set lunch of dinner at the in-house VinCotto restaurant. February 2017 is GranMonte Harvest Month and tours booked during the month will also include a learning experience about tropical winemaking the by direction of Nikki Lohitnavy.The Annual Harvest Festival on 18-19 February also promises to be lots of fun for oenophiles with its buffet, free flow of wine and mini concert. Book a tour by emailing reservation@granmonte.com or visiting granmonte.com

YARRA VALLEY

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It is impossible to write about winemaking regions without at least mentioning Yarra Valley, the Australian wine region located east of Melbourne. Its cool climate is best known for producing Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz wine varieties. The undulating topography of the area divides the valley into two distinct subregions — Valley Floor and Upper Yarra, with each experiencing distinct soil and climate conditions.

Valley Floor is located nearer sea level and experiences warmer temperatures, while Upper Yarra has younger, fertile red soils and a cooler climate, which aid in the production of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Wine producers in Yarra Valley take their wine seriously and many will be hard-pressed to find any winery without an accolade. One of the most exceptional in Yarra Valley is Dominique Portet Winery, where the Portet family has been making wine for ten generations. Even more impressively, their beginnings c an be traced to Chateau Lafite-Rothschild in Bordeaux where founder Dominique had his first whiff of wine. Dominique moved to Yarra Valley when he discovered how similar the conditions were to that of his home in France. For decades since then, the winery has enjoyed great success, especially with its Fontaine Rosé, a wine described to be the bottled essence of summer berries.

MAKE IT HAPPEN

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Dominique Portet Winery

The cellar door is open daily, where visitors can order simple lunches with farm-to-table produce paired with their wines. There are also wine tastings, and tours of the barrel room and winery, as well as social events with the Portet family available throughout the year (dominiqueportet.com).

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Enjoy Your Holiday Like You’re a Thai-Born

Thai cooking classes

The piquant and aromatic traits of Thai cuisine are well loved all over the world. Its notable use of spice, fish sauce, kaffir limes and sugar cover a full spectrum of taste on the tongue that whets appetites and gets diners reaching for more. This explosion of flavour might seem complex but the keys to good Thai cooking are easier than you think. For return visitors to Thailand, signing up for a Thai cooking class might just be the activity needed to inject a renewed love for the country.

  • Blue Elephant Cooking School and Restaurant

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This school was set up by Chef Nooror and her husband, who both set up the popular Blue Elephant restaurants in Europe. The duo decided to open the Blue Elephant Cooking School and Restaurant in hopes of developing and training chefs to understand Royal Thai cuisine. Classes here involve a trip to a local market to learn more about local ingredients before a head chef conducts cooking demonstrations back in the kitchen. Guests will then be able to try their hand at preparing the dishes they’ve learnt just minutes ago as well. The popularity of the school in Bangkok spurred the couple to open a second school in Phuket as well, which specialises in Baba Phuket cuisine-Thai food influenced by the Thai Peranakans in the area.

  • Silom Thai Cooking School

silom-thai-cooking-school

The classes here follow a similar format to that of Blue Elephant but the emphasis is placed more on creating the dishes from scratch so that travellers can take home the recipe and add them to their repertoire. There are seven courses to choose from that cover a diverse variety of familiar Thai dishes and the basics of Thai cooking. For those with a keen interest in cooking, the school also has an intensive seven-day course where students would have learnt a total of 40 recipes by the end of the week.

Thai boxing classes

‘The art of eight limbs’ is the nickname given to the traditional Thai combat sport of Muay Thai. The mental and physical discipline is a full body workout that has attracted a strong following all over the world. There are many gyms in places like Bangkok, Phuket and Khao Lak that are open for foreigners to try out this stimulating and challenging sport and even train full time like a professional.

  • Tiger Muay Thai & MMA

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Considered the Number 1 training facility in Phuket, Tiger Muay Thai has become the training ground for the world’s most elite athletes. But despite its portfolio of top Muay Thai fighters, Tiger Muay Thai caters to all levels of boxers — for the holidaymaker to professional fighters who would like to learn the basics of the sport or hone their skills in the ring. The trainers take the tradition of Muay Thai seriously and hope to impart the same respect for the sport in all who join them. Tiger Muay Thai also has other MMA, fitness, yoga and body conditioning disciplines as well.

  • Rawai MuayThai Khao Lak

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This training camp that faces the Andaman Sea was set up by Tuk, who fought professionally in the spot for 15 years. Its new Khao Lak facilities are best suited for serious trainees of Muay Thai who would like to work on individual moves. There are two two-hour classes daily that work on specific techniques like Clinching, Low Kick, and Wai Kru. Apart from trainings, guests can also make use of the swimming pool, massage and restaurant facilities for a break.

Dinner cruise

The early morning might see vendors on long boats selling fruits, vegetables, souvenirs and more at the floating markets on the Chao Phraya River but the river turns into a channel of romance in the evening as dinner cruises take sail Experience another side of the river with the sights of Bangkok’s skyline while tasting fine Thai cuisine onboard a dinner cruise.

  • Apsara Dinner Cruise by Banyan Tree

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This luxurious dining experience by Banyan Tree Resort will make for an extra special night out and is perfect for couples hoping to add romance on their trip to Thailand. Guests get to enjoy elegant restaurant cruising along the river on a converted vintage rice barge through the night. The barge comes to rest in front of famous sights, such as Wat Arun Temple, the Grand Palace and the golden Rama VIII Bridge while guests dine on Royal Thai cuisine prepared fresh onboard.

  • White Orchid River Cruise

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Be entertained on this two-hour evening cruise along the Chao Phraya River onboard the White Orchid River Cruise. Feast on a Thai/Western buffet and enjoy ‘live’ music, as well as watch performances of Thai classical dancing as the boat cruises from Si Phraya Pier towards the Rama VIII Bridge. Guests can also head up to the open-air deck to soak in the warm atmosphere and catch the sun setting in the distance.

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Wat Arun – Bangkok, Thailand

Named after Aruna, the Indian god of dawn, Wat Arun temple is one of Bangkok’s best-known landmarks. Legend says that King Taksin arrived here from the sacked capital, Ayutthaya, in 1767. He enlarged the temple that stood on the site into a royal chapel to house the most revered image of the Buddha in Thailand: the Emerald Buddha. Rama I and Rama II were responsible for the size of the current temple: the central prang, or tower, is 260ft (79m) high and circumference of its base is 768ft (234m). In the late 19th century, Rama IV added ornamentation created with broken pieces of porcelain. The monument’s style is derived mainly from Khmer architecture.

THE CHAKRI DYNASTY

In 1782, Chao Phraya Chakri (later King Rama I) established the Chakri dynasty in Krung Thep (Bangkok). The reigns of Rama I, II and III were a time of stability. Rama II was a literary man, while Rama III was a staunch traditionalist.

King Mongkut (Rama IV) modernized Siam (Thailand), and opened it up to foreign trade and influences. His son, King Chulalongkorn, or Rama V (r. 1868-1910), was perhaps the greatest Chakri king. He furthered modern­ization by introducing financial reforms and abolishing slavery. He was idealized by his subjects, and his funeral was a grand state affair. Even today, he is commemorated on Chulalongkorn Day (October 23).

KHMER ARCHITECTURE

Thailand’s stone temple complexes, or prasats, were built by the Khmers, who ruled much of Southeast Asia in the 9th-13th centuries. Prasats were built to symbolize kingship and the universe. Most have staircases or bridges lined with nagas (a seven-headed serpent thought to be the keeper of life’s force), leading to a central monument. This is usually decorated with carved stone reliefs and topped by a prang (tower). Prangs symbolize Mount Meru, the abode of the gods in Hindu-Buddhist cosmology. Lintels and pediments over the entrances depict Hindu and Buddhist deities.

ARUNA, INDRA, AND VAYU

Worshiped in India from the early Vedic age (1500 BC), the Hindu deities Aruna, Indra, and Vayu personify nature and the elements. Aruna, the god of dawn, is the charioteer of Surya, the Sun god. Red-skinned, he stands on the chariot in front of the Sun, sheltering the world from its fury with his body. Indra, the god of the sky and the heavens, rides a golden chariot drawn by horses and is armed with a vajra, or thunderbolt. Indra sends the rain and rules the weather, and is often depicted sitting on Airavatta, the four-trunked white elephant who represents a rain cloud. Vayu (Phra Pai in Thai) is the god of the winds and messenger of the gods. He is also the regent of the northwest quarter of the heavens and is depicted with white skin, seated on an antelope.

CENTRAL MONUMENT OF WAT ARUN

The monument’s design symbolizes Hindu-Buddhist cosmoloy. The central prang is the mythical Mount Meru, and its ornamental tier are worlds within worlds. The layout of four minor prangs around a central one is a symbolic mandala shape.

Chinese Guards

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Eight sets of steps lead up to the first terrace, and each set is guarded by Chinese figures that were once used as ballast on Chinese trading ships.

Stair on the Central Prang

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The steep steps represent the difficulties of reaching higher level of existence.

The Bot

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In the temple complex are the usual buildings found in a wat. This image of the Buddha in the bot (ordination hall) contains the ashes of Rama II.

River View of Wat Arun

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This popular view of Wat Arun, seen from the Chao Phraya River, appears on the 10-baht coin and in the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) logo.

Devaphum

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The top represents the peak of Mount Meru, rising above four subsidiary peaks. It denotes six heavens within seven realms of happiness.

Tavatimsa

The central section where all desires are fulfilled, is guarded at the four cardinal points by the Hindu god Indra.

Small Cove

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On the second level of the central prang are small coves, inside which are kinnari, mythical creatures that are half-bird, half-woman.

Traiphum

The base represents 31 realms of existence across the three worlds (Desire, Form and Formless) of the Buddhist universe.

Decoration of the Four Minor Prangs

Inside the niches of each minor prang are statues of Phra Pai, the god of wind, on horseback.

Mondops

Between each of the minor prangs is a square-based mondop (altar). Each holds a Buddha statue.

Ceramic Details

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Around the base of the prangs are rows of yaksha or demons, that lend support to the structure. They are decorated with colorful pieces of porcelain donated by the local people.

ROYAL BARGE PROCESSION

Every five or ten years, the king of Thailand takes robes and gifts to the monks at Wat Arun, traveling inside a splendid royal barge on the Chao Phraya River.

KEY DATES

1700s: King Taksin remodels Wat Arun temple to house the Emerald Buddha.
Early 1800s: Rama II restores the temple and increases the height of the central prang.
1971: Wat Arun undergoes minor repairs after lightning splits a section of the spire.

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Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo – Bangkok, Thailand

This remarkable site was built in the late 18th century to mark the founding of the new capital, to provide a resting place for the sacred Emerald Buddha, and a residence for the king. Surrounded by 1.2 miles (1.9 km) of walls, the complex was once a self-sufficient city within a city. The Thai royal family now lives in Dusit, but Wat Phra Kaeo, a subcomplex within the Grand Palace complex, is still Thailand’s holiest temple and a stunning piece of Buddhist architecture.

THE EMERALD BUDDHA

In 1434, lightning struck Wat Phra Kaeo temple in Chiang Rai and cracked it open, revealing a simple stucco image that encased a jadeite image: the Emerald Buddha. Chiang Mai’s king sent an army of elephants to bring the image to him, but as the animal bearing it refused to take the road to Chiang Mai, it was enshrined at Lampang. After several moves, the Buddha was taken to Laos in 1552, where it remained until King Rama I brought it back to Thailand in 1778. It was kept in Wat Arun before being moved to its current resting place in 1785.

THE RAMAKIEN

The Ramakien is an allegory of the triumph of good over evil. Rama, heir to the throne of Ayodhya, is sent into a 14-year exile with his wife Sita and brother Lakshman. Tosakan, the demon-king of Longka, abducts Sita from the forest. Hanuman, the monkey god, helps rescue Sita and defeat Tosakan, and Rama returns triumphantly to Ayodhya.This epic tale was probably established after the Thais took Angkor in the 15th century. All the Chakri kings adopted Rama as one of their names, and the 14th-century kingdom of Ayutthaya was named after the fictional Ayodhya. The legend has also been a great inspiration for Thai painting, classical drama, and puppetry.

EXPLORING WAT PHRA KAEO

When Rama I established his new capital, he envisioned a temple that would surpass its Sukhothai and Ayutthaya predecessors. The result was the splendid Wat Phra Kaeo. The bot houses the surprisingly small image of the Emerald Buddha, seated in a glass case high above a gilded altar. Opposite, the Upper terrace has several structures, the most striking of which is the Phra Si Rattana Chedi, built by king Mongkut (Rama IV) in 1855 to house sacred Buddha relics. The adjacent Phra Mondop was initially used as a library. Its exterior has Javanese Buddha images on the four outer corners. To its north is a model of Cambodia’s Angkor Wat. On the Northern terrace, the Ho Phra Nak enshrines the ashes of minor royals, while the Wihan Yot contains the Nak Buddha rescued from Ayutthaya.

Ramakien Gallery

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Extending clockwise all the way around the cloisters are 178 panels depicting the complete story of the Ramakien.

Bot of the Emerald Buddha

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The bot is the most important building in Wat Phra Kaeo.

Emerald Buddha

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Displayed in the bot, the buddha is carved from a single piece of jade.

Temple Skyline

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Sanam Luang provides a fine view of the decorative spires of Wat Phra Kaeo .

Pra sat Phra Thep (Royal Pantheon)

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Built by King Ram a IV to house the Emerald Buddha, the building was later considered too small.

Apsonsi

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A mythical eature (half-woman, half-lion), Apsonsi is one of the beautiful gilded figures on the upper terrace of Wat Phra Kaeo.

Phra Si Rattana Chedi

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This contains a piece of the Buddha’s breastbone.

Decorative Gilt Figures

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Encircling the exterior of the bot are 112 garudas (mythical beasts that are half-man, half-bird). They are holding nagas (serpents) and are typical of Wat Phra Kaeo’s dazzling decorative details.

HIS MAJESTY THE KING’S BIRTHDAY

On December 5, Thais venerate their king. Buildings all over Thailand are decorated, including the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo. In the evening, there are fireworks.

KEY DATES

1783: Work begins on Wat Phra Kaeo, Dusit Throne Hall, and Phra Maha Monthien.
1809: Rama II remodels the building and introduces new Chinese details.
1932: The Chakri dynasty’s 150th year in power is celebrated at the Grand Palace.
1982: The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo are restored.

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Get It Up In Thailand – Bangkok

Give the Iron Fairies a miss on your next visit to Bangkok, because there’s a whole new crop of bars taking inspiration from Prohibition-era American speakeasies. For the most part, the Twenties vibe has been updated, and at places like Track 17, the drinks menu – influenced by cities from around the world – changes regularly.

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Track 17 Bar – Bangkok, Thailand

Taking its name from the area, Thonglor 17, the interiors are reminiscent of a railway cabin, and for the next few months, drinks are inspired by Chicago. Another option is UNCLE aka United Nations of Cocktail Lovers Everywhere, which has two locations in the city. Visit the newer outpost at 72 Courtyard in Thonglor, where home-infused syrups are used in cocktails that pack a punch.

For those who prefer their watering holes with a veneer of secrecy, J Boroski Mixology, also in Thonglor, serves up pricey drinks (made with exotic ingredients) behind an unmarked door. Because some nights you need to drink like a baron.