For all that has been written about Bangkok being a filthy cesspool of go-go bars and crowded markets, this visit to Bangkok has given me a new respect for this powerhouse of SE Asia. I last visited Bangkok 15 years ago, and it has changed massively since that visit. Depending on where you stay in this massive city, your experience will vary quite dramatically, so I very much doubt that any single reviewer or travel writer will ever be able to sum Bangkok up in a single article. Bangkok is very much a fusion of old and new and my advice to traveller is not to confine your stay to only one part of the city if you’d like to get a real feel for Bangkok and all of its facets.
As I had to collect spares for my drone from the local distributor in Bangkok, I booked us into a serviced apartment in the Sathorn district for our first night, which was within easy walking distance to the distributors office. We caught a metered taxi from the airport by joining the queue at the far end of the arrivals hall, so avoided the overpriced ‘airport taxi’ scam charging B850 with a desk just as you exit customs. We did foreign exchange and bought a Thai sim card before jumping in the taxi for our 45min journey at a cost of B300.
The area we stayed in was not at all touristy, and was more of a residential area with a small local mall serving bad KFC. After I had collected my drone spares we caught a taxi across to the massive MBK mall about 5km away to shop for a few much needed essentials, including a new camera bag for me to replace my bag which had broken in Cambodia. Eight levels of shops awaited us, as well as a massive food court which we ate at for supper. We managed to find a replacement camera bag, screen protector for Akhona’s phone, watch battery for my watch as well as converting the last of our old US dollar bills into local currency.
The following day we took a taxi to the Qiu Hotel in Sukhumvit, which is a far more central area of Bangkok. At $ 35/night it was a great find on Booking.com, and was 5 min walk from the Skytrain, which is Bangkok’s version of the underground and runs on an elevated track connecting the major areas of the city. This seemed to be an area where many working Thai’s lived, and was also not that touristy. We loved it! There was a food court at the local Tesco’s serving task meals for B60 ($2) which became our restaurant 🙂
On our third day in Bangkok we spend half the day making our way out to the Immigration Department near the Don Meueng airport to extend our visa exemption by 30 days so that we could spend 60 days in Thailand. It was an easy process which took around 4 hrs including traveling. It would have been less if our taxi driver had not taken us to the regional bus station instead of the Skytrain because of his lack of English 🙂 The cost was $55/person for the additional 30 days. The initial 30 days was free.
After doing all of our shopping and relaxing for the two days in Sukhumvit we made the move to the tourist Mecca of Khao San Rd in the Old City. The difference between modern Bangkok and the old Bangkok is quite dramatic. Gone are the modern malls and Skytrain – this is the land of tuk tuks, taxi’s and canal boats….We stayed at the Rambuttri Village Hotel, home to many, many backpackers. Located about 150m from the famous Khao San RdRoad, the location was great, but the constant call of ‘tuk, tuk mister’, ‘Floating Market tour’ and bizarrely ‘Suit for you mister’ got annoying very quickly. You can we walking along eating an ice-cream and the touts will still try and sell you services or items you clearly have no need for.
We did enjoy some great food in this area, including the famous Pad Thai, coconut ice-cream, fried rice with chicken, etc…There are also great fresh fruit stalls lining the road selling peeled mango’s, pineapples and fresh coconuts.
Unfortunately the range of food on offer in the tourist area is limited the fried noodles, fried rice and stir fry at most restaurants. Favorite Thai meals from our local Sawadee restaurant in Gardens were nowhere to be seen in this part of Bangkok. So much rice is starting to make both of us chubby, so we are now constantly looking for fruit options to substitute for at least one meal a day.
We had decided to go sightseeing on our last day in Bangkok before catching an overnight bus to Chiang Man, so we set off bright an early for the famous War Pho, located about 2.5km from our hotel. What a disaster! Firstly we ran into literally hundreds of Chinese tourists en route to the National Palace which made for heavy going. As we got closer to the area we then encountered thousands of mourners in black who were also on their way to the palace to pay their respects to the Thai King, who has been lying in state for several months. We decided to change our plans….After a very good smoothie at the canal boat station we jumped in a taxi and headed for the famous Golden Buddha….which is really made from solid gold 🙂
The temple that houses the Golden Buddha is in itself quite impressive as well, and after removing our shoes as a sign of respect we climbed the many stairs to get into the shrine itself, which was filled with devout Buddhists from all over the world.
Bangkok can make a great starting point for an adventure through SE Asia which could extend further out to China and India, as it is a major transport hub. Try and choose the area’s you stay in Bangkok in order to experience the many sides to this global city – don’t be scared to move around a few times during a stay of 5 – 10 days.
We decided to hang out in the street adjacent to our hotel on our last night in Bangkok, and ate at Max’s Magic Thai Food. Simple, tasty Thai dishes made for a great meal, as did the company of four young guys from the UK who were sitting at the table next to us. Check out the one guy eating a scorpion bought from a passing vendor 🙂