I feel like the city of Bangkok is a rite of passage when one visits Southeast Asia. It offers an array of activities for any type of traveler: From the humble backpacker to those craving over the top luxurious accommodations. Foodies fall in love with the street food scene and shopaholics will find everything from high-end knock-offs to actual high-end goods. I traveled to Bangkok as a backpacker and unknowingly, I found myself in this colorful city on the eve of the Loy Krathong festival.
I arrived in Bangkok and spent my first few days touring around the city in a tuk-tuk. I was in awe of the giant Buddha statues, spent time meditating in the temples, took full advantage of the many Thai massage locations, and ate more Pad Thai than I care to admit.
On my last day in Bangkok, I joined a tour heading out of the city center to visit a few of Thailand’s famous markets. The first was the Maeklong Railway market. At first glance, it appears to be like any other market with vendors selling various fish, fruits, and vegetables. Walking along the railroad tracks I was admiring the exotic fruits taking pictures when I was suddenly alerted to move to the sides. I quickly found a spot and watched as each vendor rather rapidly and efficiently pulled down their tarps and rolled in their goods. Within minutes of their takedown, you could hear the sound of the train approaching. And there in the middle of the market, the train passed through. And just as quickly as the train had come it was gone and when I turned to look back at the market it was as if nothing had happened, it was back to business as usual.
The next stop was a visit to the Damnoen Saduak floating market. This market has shops and restaurants that are clearly for the large crowds of tourists that seemed to be arriving every hour on the hour. Some would say it is a tourist trap with vendors selling things at higher prices than you could find in the night markets in the city center. Sure it was crowded and hot, but I still found it fascinating. I walked around, picked up souvenirs, had lunch and for a couple of bucks took a long-tail boat ride further out onto the river to see what life is like for the locals who live in the surrounding area.
The tour group I was traveling with that day ended the evening with a boat ride out on the river to see the fireflies lighting up the trees. As we were floating along I could see what appeared to be floating lights off in the distance. Our guide began explaining that it was the night of the Loy Krathong festival. On this night locals gather around the lakes and rivers to pay respect to the Goddess of Water for providing water, as well as to ask for forgiveness for polluting the water. The floating lights were handmade lotus shaped rafts with a candle, flower, and stick of incense burning inside. We sat there in the middle of this river in our boat surrounded by hundreds of these floating flowers. The incense filled the air with the sweetest aroma and up in the night sky, we began to see fireworks. It was a magical way to end my visit.
It’s been over 3 years since I was in Bangkok. I have traveled to many other cities and countries throughout Southeast Asia, yet that first experience is ingrained in my memory as if it was yesterday. Whenever I am asked, “of all your travels, what is your favorite place?”, I never ever hesitate to say, Thailand!