If you have booked a gap year to south-east Asia, make sure you stop at Bangkok. The Thai capital is bustling and chaotic on the outside, but step inside one of its hundreds of temples, and you will be greeted with monks, calm, and peace and quiet.
Thailand is a fantastic place to visit on a gap year in the region. Not only is it conveniently located from countries including India, Vietnam and Cambodia, but Bangkok has an international airport that will allow you to take flights to pretty much anywhere in the world. This means you can book cheap flights not only to neighbouring countries, but also to and from your home nation.
You will find Thailand's robust transport network, which also includes trains, means you will likely pop back and forth to the capital as you explore the rest of the country. For example, a flight up to Chiang Mai in the north takes only an hour, or you can board an overnight train there from Bangkok. Likewise, you can catch a train or plane to the south, in order to head out to one of the stunning islands.
When you first arrive in Bangkok, you will be taken aback by the sheer number of tuk-tuks whizzing about on the roads and locals going about their daily business. Head to the famous backpacker district of Khaosan Road, and you will be greeted with stall, bar and restaurant owners trying to get you into their premises to spend some of your gap year money. Don't worry though - the Thai people are very polite, so you won't be harassed or followed down the street! Sitting with a drink and a Pad Thai - a stir fried rice noodle dish - at a street food stall is a great way to familiarise yourself with bustling Bangkok. You will soon want to seek some calm and quiet, however, and the best place to do this is in one of the city's beautiful Buddhist temples.
There are 400 functioning Buddhist temples in Bangkok and it's important to remember to follow the rules in place. These include taking your shoes off, being quiet and, in some cases, not photographing the inside. As they are working temples, you will often notice monks with shaved heads dressed in orange robes tending to the temple and worshipping. This is a humbling sight to see, but remember to be respectful if your visit coincides with a prayer session.
Perhaps the top three temples in Bangkok are:
Also known as the Temple of the Dawn, Wat Arun is best seen in the late afternoon, as you will catch a beautiful sunset with the Chao Phraya River in the foreground. The main Buddha image inside the temple is thought to have been designed by King Rama II.
You will certainly spot the 67 m tower as you approach the Temple of the Dawn, along with the four smaller ones that surround it. The main tower is decorated with Chinese porcelain and tiny pieces of glass and as the sun's rays bounce off it, you will truly appreciate the craftsmanship.
The Wat Pho temple - also known as the Reclining Buddha - offers plenty to keep you enthralled for hours. Perhaps the most famous feature of the structure is the 46 m reclining golden Buddha with mother of pearl feet. It really is beautiful to look at and when you first see it, you'll be surprised by just how big it is.
Buddhist temples are peaceful and at Wat Pho there is a traditional massage and meditation centre. For a small sum of money you can enjoy a treatment in the serene surroundings. It is located behind the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, which is next on the list.
Wat Phra Kaew
After booking your flights to Bangkok, your research of the city's attractions will have no doubt led you to this temple. Also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, it is located within the Grand Palace and is viewed as one of the most important Buddhist places of worship in the whole of Thailand.
The Buddha image is carved from a single block of jade and is in a meditating position. No one is allowed to go as near to it as the King of Thailand can. A very strict dress code is in place here, especially for ladies, but there is clothing available to help cover your shoulders.