Bangkok. The city has been frequented by so many young people on their Southeast Asian walkabout that I truly felt like I was the last person on planet earth to make it there. Yes, that’s a bit dramatic, but once you’ve lived in Asia for almost five years and still haven’t made it to its biggest hub, we’ll talk.
I had very few expectations and even fewer plans for once I arrived, but being so tourist friendly, I knew I would get by just fine making decisions on the fly. Bangkok was my first stop on my four week trip, and I thought it would be a good place to get my feet wet at the start of an adventure. I only scheduled three days to spend there, as per advice from a friend, which ended up being a good amount of time for me. I’ve been to so many big cities, and although I like the vibe I got from Bangkok and I’m sure you could spend much more time exploring and getting to know the real Bangkok, for what I wanted out of the trip, I did it all in those few days. I booked my accommodation at Good Day Hostel in Rajthevee, and area I knew had good public transport and easy access to any supplies I may need at the start of my trip.
Upon arrival at the airport I immediately began looking for the metro that was to take me from the airport to about a block from my hostel. Where were the signs? I had been a good little researcher and had planned out my entire transportation situation ahead of time. But WHERE was the metro?! Alas, I realized I Bangkok in fact has two airports, one of which is further out and has far less options beyond a taxi to get you from point A to point B. And that, my friends, is where I found myself. How I overlooked that tiny detail, I’ll never know. For your own reference: Suvarnabhumi International is most likely the more desirable airport option as opposed to Don Muang, although everything worked out in the end. I got in the taxi line and although it took about and hour and a half to get to my hostel due to traffic, I still made it and it wasn’t and exorbitant amount of money.
My hostel was really nice. I stayed in a four bunk female dorm with privacy curtains and a large locker. Make sure you always bring your own padlock because you never know what kind of locker you’ll end up with and many hostels don’t provide locks. I arrived in the late afternoon and because I was still dealing with a bit of sickness that began in Indonesia, I decided to take it easy for the night. I walked over to Bangkok’s most popular mall, Central World, and grabbed a crepe for dinner (yes, due to illness I didn’t really have much of an appetite for Thai food – truly tragic) and went to the cinema to watch Finding Dory. I don’t know if this is a Bangkok thing but the film had, no joke, 30 minutes of previews! The short film at the beginning of every Pixar movie started 30 minutes after the showtime was to begin. What the actual poop. I made my way back to my hostel through the very crowded weekend night market. I personally didn’t buy anything but if you are in the market for anything resembling something that could be entitled “hipster” then you should make the Pratunam Market a priority. But I did make a purchase of my favorite Mango & sticky rice and watermelon juice. Delish.
Anyway, once back at my hostel I had to decide what to do the next day. I had no concrete plans but decided to try and make my way to the Old City and see the Grand Palace and Wat Pho etc. After some time on google I decided my best option was to take a water taxi down the river to the final stop and walk from there. The next morning I walked to the water taxi stop – that was a first, and climbed on board. You don’t give money as you embark, once the boat is moving they come around and collect your payment. I had asked how much it would be at my hostel and they informed me it would be 10 baht so I was ready with my money. I thoroughly enjoyed my fifteen minute boat ride down the river, gazing thoughtfully at the homes built over the water and imagining what their owner’s lives must be like.
Once the boat coasted to a stop I got off and started walking in the direction that google maps was pointing me. My advice is to “star” locations you are heading to, it is much easier to follow along and point out to taxi drivers. It would be very easy to hire a tuk tuk from there but being used to extremely hot weather and loving to walk, I decided to take the journey on foot.
SCAM ALERT: Beware of tuk tuk drivers who tell you the Grand Palace and such are closed and offer to take you to another temple nearby. They are LYING!! Many drivers have deals with local businesses and they get commission when they bring tourists to shops and what not. They’ll take you to a temple and a shop or two and you’ll have missed out on the most spectacular place in Bangkok while also feeding a scam. Don’t do it. I had two different drivers try to pull this over on me, and although I was happy to walk anyway, it would have sucked if I had actually wanted to use their service to get me to the Palace complex.
It took me about 30 minutes to walk to the Grand Palace from the water taxi stop and, man, it was hot. I arrived looking like a drowned puppy but I had arrived. There is a dress code, knees and shoulders must be covered, although they seemed very lenient on the shoulders rule. If you show up in shorts just buy a pair of elephant pants outside the gate for cheap or you can rent something to cover your nakedness near the ticket area.
Once inside, buy yourself a ticket for 500 baht, grab a map/guide, opt for the audio tour or personal tour guide for extra cost if you so wish, and head on in. The place is massive, so be prepared to spend a couple of hours roaming around. If you really want to glean all you can from it grab an audio tour, I kinda wish I had done it. The complex is pretty much free to roam with very few restrictions. Definitely go inside the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, it is very beautiful. It’s the biggest temple, you can’t miss it. There was a special ceremony going on the day I was there and so the entire complex was filled with the voices of hundreds of Buddhists chanting, it was quite atmospheric. I have been to many, many temples in my years living in Asia and the Grand Palace was most definitely worth a trip. Golden and extravagant and shiny. Very, very shiny.
Next door is Wat Pho which, although costs another hundred baht or so, is totally worth a trip. (You also get a free water bottle with the entry fee.) What Pho is home to the world famous Reclining Buddha. It’s the largest reclining Buddha statue in the world, don’t cha know? It’s quite the site to see and a photographer’s challenge to try and capture it. The temple is lined with hundreds of bronze bowls which some people choose to drop one coin into each because it apparently brings good fortune. It also produces hundreds of clinks as each coin hits another – also atmospheric. Wat Pho is home to much more than the reclining Buddha, however. Take time to walk the area and view the intricate stupas and statues.
Pro-Tip: Along with appropriate dress, make sure you wear shoes that are pretty easy to remove and put on. You will be taking off your shoes quite a few times during your day at the complex to enter the temples.
After that I head back towards the water taxi dock and stopped by The Golden Mount. (Another entrance fee btw) The Golden Mount is basically another temple, but built at the top of a hill and offers lovely views of Bangkok. By this time I was hot, sweaty, and severely dehydrated so I may have made a mistake with this little detour. The GM has a lot, (a lot) of stairs. Does it give you a good vantage point of the city? Yes. Is the temple at the top a bit disappointing? Hells yeah. But overall, it’s about the experience, right? If you aren’t on the brink of passing out due to dehydration then definitely you should go, but if death is near, maybe give this one a pass.
The next day I decided on a tour because I desperately wanted to see the famous Bangkok floating markets and had no idea how to do it myself. Honestly, unless you have a Thai friend, I don’t really think it’s possible to do them alone, well the ones I had heard about at least. So, tour time it was. This honestly was one of the most disappointing aspects of my entire trip, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
I booked my tour through my hostel and was promptly picked up at 7:30am the next morning. There were about 12 others on my tour and I was the only solo. Go figure. Apparently there are a few floating markets around Bangkok and the further out you go the more authentic they become. Well, we drove two hours outside of the city to the market so you would think it would be pretty authentic, right? Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. When we arrive we boarded a speed boat to get to the area where the market was located. This ended up being my favorite part of the day. Since I was alone, I was placed in the front and enjoyed myself thoroughly as we sped past the floating houses and shops. Once at the market we payed another 150 baht to clamber onto a rowboat, the only boat allowed in the marketplace. We then proceeded into a glorified tourist trap where most of the things being sold we magnets, knick knacks, and other cheap souvenirs. If you’re looking to buy souvenirs then this is a unique place to pick them up, but if you are wanting an authentic experience, like me, I would look elsewhere.
I think that’s my main gripe with Thailand in general, it is so touristy now that it’s a real challenge to see what is truly Thai anymore and not just what’s exaggerated for the tourists. I had the same problem in Chiang Mai/Chiang Rai with the “tribes” and such. Disappointing. Even our guide told us not to buy anything at the market because you could get everything for much cheaper back in Bangkok. The only thing I can totally recommend is the fresh coconut ice cream. That was delicious and well worth the price, but negotiate the price. Once off the boat there is plenty of market shopping to do on land as well, so even if you missed that chance to buy that tiny wooden elephant, you can do so at the end on solid ground.
It’s here in the story where my disappointment reached a whole new level. We ended our time at the market a little early so ignored to kill the remaining time we made two *bonus* stops on the way home. I’m fairly certain they make these stops every time, but just made it sound like we were so lucky!
First was a stop for a nearby elephant ride. Now, word is finally getting out about many of the ill practices and abuse towards elephant at these such parks so I was not excited about this in the least. Before we arrived our guide went on and on about how much the Thai people love elephants and how it is a symbol of their country. Now, I don’t doubt this, but it was kind of painful to hear as we pulled up to a place where the animals are most likely treated harshly and unfairly. Please check out my post on my visit to Patara Elephant Farm, and ethical rescue/reserve in Chiang Mai. If you go to Thailand please, please do your research and don’t participate in the elephant chair rides. Anyway, I chose not to take a ride but most of the people of my tour did, so I had to sit and wait for 30 minutes.
But, we still weren’t done! Next, we made a stop at a snake show. Yep, after hearing about the show and seeing the enclosures for the animals there, including a huge crocodile in a tank not much bigger than him, I sat for another 30 minutes as I waited for my tour group again.
We then made one more stop at a wood carving facility, which was actually interesting and zero animal abuse to be seen. We finally made it back to Bangkok, in the pouring rain, and I went to my room, disappointed and a bit regretful. Yes, I saw the floating markets. Would I do it again? No.
Overall, Bangkok is inexpensive and easy to get around. There is a plethora of things to do from history to shopping. Is it a completely unique city that everyone on earth should get to before they die? Nah, not really. I still think Hong Kong is more of a must see. I’m glad I went, and may go back someday, but I’m going to stay away from tours and you should too.