Suffocating heat, crowded markets, congested streets and traffic – welcome to the capital of Thailand, Bangkok.
If you couldn’t tell by the opening line, I didn’t really care for Bangkok. I was hoping to skeet by this bustling city and find my way to the beautiful islands and jungles I see on the brochures of Thailand, or those #wanderlust Instagram posts. You know, the pictures with the clear blue water and breathtaking beaches? Yeah, those.
However, Bangkok showed it was much less hectic, and more alive than anything. It was a city with a pulse, and I grew to enjoy it just over a short time.
My visit here was extremely unprepared and unplanned in my typical fashion. However, I flew away from Bangkok with great memories, happy taste buds and a fun story to tell.
I stayed in Bangkok for one week, and I have to say I was lucky enough to come across some comfy places to stay in, some tasty food to stuff my belly with and some intricate and beautiful attractions to learn from.
Thailand is known as, “the land of smiles,” and when you walk down the street you will soon understand why. People are friendly and down to earth, and it won’t stop them from stopping you to share directions, sights and restaurants you must visit. Most of the attractions I visited were from the helpfulness of locals on the streets.
The Grand Palace – An intricate, colorful and awe-inspiring group of buildings in the heart and soul of Bangkok. This may be the city’s most famous landmark, and something I couldn’t miss out on while in Bangkok, especially because many locals were encouraging me to go. However, I almost didn’t get in!
Make sure to dress modestly with long pants and with your shoulders covered as a strict dress code does apply. If you do so happen to forget, street vendors located on the opposite side of the street sell shawls and elephant pants for a cheap price. This is Thailand’s most sacred site, so you must dress appropriately. I was told it would be around 500 Baht to get inside, however no one was accepting money that I was aware of. They have donation boxes around the palace for you to show your appreciation.
The Golden Mount – Another sight I was told to visit by the locals was Wat Saket, or Temple of The Golden Mount. I have to say I almost enjoyed this sight more than The Grand Palace, it was less crowded and it didn’t feel as touristy.
Housing a Buddha relic, this temple welcomes worshippers all year round. There are several Buddhist structures within the temple and bells chiming as you make your way around. It appeared as though many people brought mementos to pay their respects for past loved ones, and some visitors were purchasing some form of an offering, like a candle or flower to worship. This was neat to see, but I also wanted to be respectful to those who saw this as more than a tourist attraction. The price to get in and walk up to the gold chedi overlooking Bangkok (which is actually a really nice view) was 50 Baht.
China Town – If you’ve gotten your fair share of temples and palaces for a while, you may want to explore China Town. I thought Bangkok had many street vendors and an overwhelming amount of people, but when you step into this quarter, you will immediately notice this amplified to another level.
Gold jewelry shops, crazy foods and dozens of stores (almost like the souks in Morocco) will keep your head on a constant swivel.
Visiting China Town is a free experience and may even give you a glimpse inside of what China is like. There aren’t many restaurants, just a whole lot of street food which I was too scared to try. You aren’t going to find the American orange chicken and fried rice I so desperately desired, but when you do find a restaurant you will be surprised at the food options they have. Rolled rice noodles, liver, intestine and other unfamiliar animal parts is what’s for dinner.
When we finally found a restaurant, I sat down and actually felt culture shocked. I’m not a city girl, but there weren’t any open spaces, and I felt like I needed a breath of fresh air away from the hustle and bustle. Nevertheless, it was an enlightening experience and it wasn’t close to something I had ever experienced before.
GEM Productions – We originally wanted to check out the MBK shopping mall (which was filled with designer clothing and handbags way above my budget), but we were quickly redirected to visit this souvenir shop. A curious, yet friendly older lady wrote down directions to this tourist hub as we were waiting for the MBK shopping mall to open. She was interested in us Americans and wanted to help share her knowledge of the city and what she knew tourists liked; cheap and memorable souvenirs.
Without further or do, we navigated our way to this shop and were greeted by courteous store workers. Straight away they escorted us to the back room packed full of sparkly jewelry. They of course took us to the most expensive part of the store first, but we quickly navigated to the much cheaper wooden elephants. If you do want a meaningful souvenir or want to get a special someone a special something, I would recommend giving this shop a visit.
Khao San Road – This is where all the action happens. Compiled of street vendors, restaurants, drinks and people of almost every nationality, Khao San road is a famous destination. Completely over saturated with souvenirs and sparky salespeople, this makes for a noteworthy stroll. More on this on my previous blog post.
Walking – I find that walking allows you to capture more of any city, and gives you more opportunities to speak with locals on the streets. Sorry mom and dad, sometimes I put myself in positions to talk to strangers. However, you get exercise and all, and in Bangkok you sweat through your clothes so it’s like triple the calories, right? I think walking through a city is somewhat like walking through a museum, and although at times you want to call up that taxi, it saves money and it opens you up to more experiences.
Train – Apart from walking, we took the train. The cost was $1.50 USD both ways. Sometimes it was jam-packed and you could smell the lunch on the guy next to you, and other times you were graced by God and got a seat by the air conditioner. It was a hit or miss on the comfortable chart. I like taking the train because of its convenience and efficiency. I didn’t have to worry about the motion sickness I’d get from the stop and go traffic in a taxi per se, but we did take the taxi.
Taxi – Taking the taxi was something we were pretty much forced to do in order to haul around our luggage from one Airbnb to the next. I wasn’t excited about this because I get motion sickness like nobody’s business. I’ve puked in a Uber before, and not from a night out, but because of the driving, so yeah not my first choice. Taking the taxi requires you to pay for toll charges if you take the highway, and you do want to take the highway because it can add about an hour or so to your trip. However, it is fairly cheap.
Tuk Tuk – A very affordable way to get around are the Tuk Tuks. You get to sit back and feel the ginger and chili flake breeze in your hair when you travel in these fun motorbike taxis. I think everyone should experience this at least once while in Southeast Asia, and they’re only about 20 Baht for a short ride.
For a little more than half the week I stayed at Viman-1 Guest House. This Airbnb is about a 10 minute walk from Khao San road. With much-needed air-conditioning, Wi-Fi and a clean and comfy bed, this place satisfied all my needs. Plus, it was in a prime location and only added up to about $20 per night.
The other half of the week we stayed in a more quiet and comfy Airbnb in the Khet Phra Khanong area for $16 per night. This was extremely close to the Phaya Thai train station stop in what seemed to be like a family neighborhood. The people are friendly, there are coffee shops such as Amornsuk and a fun bar named Moo Bar near.
Most everyone’s favorite topic, food. With my weak stomach, I did feel sick after the first day eating in Bangkok. Plus, the water isn’t safe to drink. However, that didn’t stop me from trying as much food and drink as my body was able to handle during the course of my time in Bangkok, it’s so cheap it’s almost a crime not to. From pad Thai to Thai boiled rice, the food here was authentic and pleasing to the taste buds.
Thai iced tea and Thai iced coffee are now my new favorite drinks and accompanied almost every meal I had. Most meals, even complete with a drink, are only around $1.50 and you walk out with a food baby, which is awesome. The only somewhat expensive item was beer. Leo, Chang and Singha are the beers of choice here. They are light and clean tasting, comparable to like a Bud Lite or something similar back home (maybe not as good).
Bangkok isn’t the London or Paris to most tourists, but it has its own unique rhythm no other city has. The rich culture, cheap and authentic food, kind people and crazy traffic make it a city worth visiting. Although I’m not sure I’ll make it back, unless it’s for a layover to Phuket per se;), I am glad I experienced a piece of Southeast Asia.