First stop: Bangkok. Our first look at Thailand. P and I have a love/hate relationship with this city. We loved everything about Bangkok … except the “getting around the city” part. For us, transportation was a nightmare. The subway system and the skytrain system were incomplete and thus, incohesive, and didn’t cover much of the city. The buses ran on “Thai” time due to the perpetual traffic within the city. The scooters and tuk tuks (auto rickshaws) seemed unsafe, tended to be stinky due to the exhaust of all the vehicles in the standstill traffic, and were pricey (my bartering skills were no good here).
And, then there were taxis. Taxis were a good option because we were two people, it got us to our destination faster (if there isn’t traffic that is) and the fare was relatively cheap. With taxis, you can ask for the meter to be turned on or negotiate the fare for a flat rate. Generally, meter is always better than the flat fare, so P and I always requested the meter when we get into a taxi. However, during peak traffic hours, taxi drivers refused to use the meter, instead, charging an absurd fare like 300 Baht to go a few miles, especially after seeing that we were tourists. There was no room for negotiation and if we refused to pay the high rate, they just drove off. Sometimes, it would take five taxis to pass us before we found one driver who was willing to use the meter. It was all very frustrating… but I guess it’s all just part of the experience here.
Other than the transportation issue, Bangkok was fantastic! I compiled a list of our favorite things to do here:
1. Massages, massages, massages: This applies to all of Thailand. If you like massages, this is the place for it. We love massages… ALOT… so, we got them almost every other day. As the locals say, “a massage a day, keeps the doctors away.” We tried the Thai massages, but they weren’t really for us. It was too aggressive for me. I felt stressed instead of relaxed after a session. We preferred the foot massages, which usually included a 15 minute shoulder/neck massage. It was perfect after a full day of site seeing. Massage parlors are everywhere, so it’s not difficult to find one when you’re itching for a nice food rub.
2. Evening river cruise on the Chaophraya River: There are multiple companies that provide an evening river cruise through the city. Most were pricey, but included a fancy Thai / Western dinner buffet. We opted for a cheaper cruise through Yok Yor because we really only wanted the cruise portion of the evening, not the food. We were told that we would pay a low flat rate to take the cruise, and that we could just order some beers, snacks, and fruit onboard, which was exactly what we did. We made the boat cruise literally right before they closed the boat doors because we didn’t anticipate the traffic (thank goodness they were running on “Thai” time…). Bangkok at night is pretty spectacular!
3. Grand Palace / Wat Phra Kaew or ‘The Temple of the Emerald Buddha”: This is the probably the most popular tourist site in Bangkok. To be honest, I’m not even sure if we saw all of it. We didn’t join a tour group, so we were left on our own wandering the ginormous property. Tons of tourists and hot stuffy weather were not a great combination, but the architectural designs and art work were pretty darn amazing.
4. Wat Pho: There are plenty of temples all around Bangkok, but Wat Pho is a must see. It’s close to the Grand Palace, so you can walk over after visiting the palace. There’s a small food and art market between the palace and Wat Pho, where you can find souvenirs and street food. I couldn’t help myself and bought three bags of sliced watermelon, mangos, and this red spongey tropical apple equivalent (I have yet to find the English name for this fruit…). So refreshing on a hot and humid day!
5. Wat Arun: This is my favorite temple in Bangkok so far. The steep stairs are not for the faint of heart, but the views are impressive. More impressive is the architecture and design. It’s also gorgeous at night when lit up (It’s a highlight if you take an evening river cruise).
6. Jim Thompson House: When initially doing travel planning on Bangkok, P and I weren’t too interested in the Jim Thompson House because we thought it was going to be another boring silk museum. But, it’s so much more! The site itself was the home of Jim Thompson, an American businessman who helped revitalize the Thai silk industry in the 1950s and 1960s. The home was a perfect fusion of Western and Thai elements, and the gardens were breathtaking. The guided tour lasted only 30 minutes, was informative and funny, and was less about silk and more about Mr. Thompson’s life in Thailand. He loved broken antiques and Asian artwork, which was displayed throughout the property. There were no large outside tour groups, and the atmosphere was such a stark contrast to chaotic Bangkok. A hidden gem in Bangkok and a must see! P and I also had an early dinner at the Jim Thompson House Cafe after our tour. We sat outside overlooking the koi pond with a view of the house itself. The food was the best we had in Bangkok, and the higher prices were worth every Baht.
7. Damnoen Saduak Floating Market: This is the most popular floating market near Bangkok and is located about an hour outside of the city. Despite it being filled with tourists, it’s definitely worth a look when visiting Bangkok. We found a deal online, which included transportation, an hour and a half of leisure time at the market, and a speed boat tour of the surrounding local neighborhood. We opted not to take a boat ride through the market because we thought it limited us in terms of seeing everything and being able to make purchases. Instead, we walked along the canal, sampling as many food merchants as we could while window shopping the souvenir stalls.
8. Chinatown: This is a fun place for dinner and street shopping. With the Lunar New Year approaching at the time that we visited, the street stalls were filled with Chinese lanterns, red envelopes, and red and gold decor. We found a fun spot on a side street with an outdoor stall with fresh seafood and veggies, serving Thai/Chinese cuisine. It really hit the spot!
9. Street food: Speaking of street food, there’s tons of it throughout the city. We decided to check out Sukhumvit Soi 38. They had everything from pad thai, to sweet mango sticky rice, to fresh fruit juices, to our new favorite Thai noodle soup, Khao soi. The street food only spans about 3 blocks, but there were plenty of yummy goodies to try. Both locals and tourists flooded these streets after dark.
10. Khao San Road: It’s over-rated and a bit underwhelming if you’ve experienced other night markets. But, if you’re staying close by, it’s worth checking out. Plenty of bars with happy hour deals and street shopping consisting of your usual Thai souvenir fare.
11. Shopping: We didn’t do any shopping at all in Bangkok, aside from purchasing some Thai silk scarves from the Jim Thompson House. But, there are plenty of large shopping malls, whole sale shopping, and markets, the most popular being Chatuchak Weekend Market. If we had more time, P would have been dragged through aisles and aisles of shopping stalls. Lucky for him, we only had 4 days in Bangkok.