There’s something about Bangkok that never fails to get the blood pumping. This big, crowded, polluted and seemingly chaotic Asian mega-city is many things to many people, but no-one calls it boring.
For the visitor, the impact is immediate. Your first move is likely to be joining the cacophonous arteries of metal that pump – just barely – almost 8 million people around the region’s biggest city. Everywhere you look the streets and waterways are alive with commuters. Schoolkids run without sweating, smiling vendors create mouth-watering food in push-away kitchens, monks rub bare shoulders with fashionistas in air-conditioned malls… Whether it’s in one of Bangkok’s famous golden temples, riding in the back of a speeding túk-túk or just walking down the street, something odd and inexplicable will happen at the most unexpected time. Hey, was that an elephant with a tail light?
Bangkok's urban chaos can be pretty intimidating. For the sake of simplicity it makes sense to divide the city into two areas: ‘old Bangkok’, which has most of the royal palaces and historic temples, and ‘new Bangkok’, which is dominated by towering skyscrapers, shopping malls and a growing number of luxury hotels.
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Claiming to be the world’s largest ‘open zoo’, Safari World is divided into two parts, a drive-through Safari Park and a Marine Park. In the Safari Park, visitors take a bus tour (windows remained closed) through an ‘oasis for animals’ separated into different habitats. Hundreds of animals roam through the park, including giraffes, lions, zebras, elephants and orangutans. The Marine Park focuses on stunts by dolphins and other trained animals; if that’s not your thing you can go to the Safari Park only. Safari World is 45km northeast of Bangkok, and best reached by taxi.
Children’s Discovery Museum
Through hands-on activities, learning is well-disguised as fun at this museum opposite Chatuchak Weekend Market. Kids can stand inside a bubble, see how an engine works, role-play as a firefighter or jump into the music room to play on traditional instruments. Most activities are geared to primary school age. There is also a toddlers’ playground at the back of the main building.
Originally a private botanic garden for Rama V, Dusit Zoo (Suan Sat Dusit or kŏw din) was opened in 1938 and is now one of the premier zoological facilities in Southeast Asia. That, however, doesn’t mean all the animal enclosures are up to modern zoological standards, with one endlessly pacing tiger being particularly heart-rending. Squeezed into the 19 hectares are more than 300 mammals, 200 reptiles and 800 birds, including relatively rare indigenous species. The shady grounds feature trees labelled in English plus a lake in the centre with paddle boats for rent. There’s also an interesting WWII air raid shelter, a small children’s playground and, on the far side of the lake where the exotic birds are kept, a theme-park atmosphere that assumes said birds enjoy Thai pop and, on the day we visited, the beating drums of a Kenyan dance troupe. If nothing else, the zoo is a nice place to get away from the noise of the city and observe how Thais amuse themselves – mainly by eating. There are a few lakeside restaurants that serve good, inexpensive Thai food.
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