After touching down in Bangkok it looked like any other city airport, the vast number of tired and jetlagged faces you usually see once you have got past the border control were just another common sight. But it was until we stepped onto the rather impressive airport city link train that took us directly into the city centre when I realised Bangkok was unlike any other city I’ve ever been to. Now having just arrived in Chiang Mai, with my jetlag finally coming to rest I can actually now reflect upon our busy 3 days we just spent there.
First off, Bangkok is huge, I mean seriously big, from both sides of the train, looking out of the window at the giant modern city skyscrapers which contrasted with old Asian charmed houses, flats and full of colour, I knew straight away we were somewhere special. I was naive to think the city would lack a good transport system so I was pleasantly surprised to find the skytrain that connects most of the main city points together was very simple and convenient to use. Every ticket officer spoke a little English so purchasing a ticket was straightforward enough. The other thing that instantly hits you other than the sheer size of the place is the heat. It’s hot but also very humid and as we visited during monsoon season, that humidity was very intense – I was sweating everywhere! But the skytrain and anywhere indoors is very well air conditioned so you would easily forget about the heat whilst sitting in a coffee shop before stepping back outside where it hits you again quickly.
So with around 35 degrees heat, each carrying our 40 litre osprey backpacks was pretty hard going to begin with but eventually, after a bit of a walk and getting slightly lost, we made it to our accommodation for the duration of our stay here – Hide Bangkok hostel. The place was cute, hidden down an alleyway, approx 10mins walk from the nearest skytrain st – On Nut, which was very close to a large Tesco Lotus shop where you could eat yourself silly in the food market there. You can pay around $1-2 dollars for a good portion sized tasty meal. And if you want some snacks then 7-Eleven is just round the corner for ham and cheese toasties and other quick meals when you get desperate. The hostel was clean but small, and the room itself was fine for a place to rest our heads at the end of each day.
The best thing to do with a first stay in Bangkok is to embrace the chaos here. You just have to dive in and you’ll soon fall in love with the place. We only got one taxi due to the rain but other than that it’s not worth it when the skytrain is so cheap and easy to use, and tuk tuks are also great if you don’t mind whizzing around the city, just hold on tight and get good at practising how to negotiate down the prices. They will always start off higher than what the cost should be and if they won’t budge then just move on because there will always be another nearby. Also keep your bags close between your legs, as it is known for people to have their bags grabbed from tuk tuks.
Once we had got used to the transport systems we often jumped onto the skytrain and took it right into the heart of Silom or the city centre area, then took a tuk tuk from there to wherever else we wanted to go. One of the first things we did was hit Khosan road – yes it’s known for being a bit tacky and yeah… it was to be honest. We did find it great for bagging some cheap bargain clothes though – for example we knew to get into the Grand Palace we would need long trousers and as I didn’t bring any I opted for some black and white stretchy elephant trousers which made me look like some sort of gap year student, but everyone else was wearing them so I didn’t feel too bad. Another thing to add is as well as wearing trousers, shoulders also need to be covered for both men and women. After spending not very long in the area, we exchanged some more money and got approached by a friendly Thai chap who told us that the Palace was closing at 4pm and that we would be better off going to Wat Arun (another popular temple). Now before I’d left the UK i’d read a lot on scams and that to ignore these types of people, so what did we do? Yep we fell for his charm and ended up on a private long tail boat cruise soon after, paying about $100 for an hour trip on the chao Praya river. You laugh but I honestly don’t know how we fell for it; they are unbelievably good at it. Despite overpaying though, we ended up on a nice boat all to ourselves and our driver was quite a funny and charismatic Thai and the boat trip was a real Bangkok experience; we spent around an hour going down the river looking at wooden shacks where the locals lived and we also saw a one man floating market as he called himself, and saw all the temples and skyscrapers from the boat which was a real spectacle. So although we knew we got scammed we still had a great trip.
We got off the boat at Wat Arun and it was beautiful, so much colour and detail goes into the buildings and the grounds were just as lovely. Sometimes you have to squint and pinch yourself that you’re actually here and looking at these marvels and that is one of the best feelings of travelling and going to new places. We were about to walk around the grounds and grab our entry ticket before the heavens above literally opened up and soon we were cowering under a small cafe marquee in the grounds of the temple so I decided to grab a coffee. It was annoying but also quite relaxing in a weird way watching the rain bashing down. It showed no signs of stopping so we had to make a run for it. Luckily we’d brought rain jackets unlike the German girls near us who were soaked through to their bones.
The rain had been lashing down for over an hour so we opted to jump in a taxi this time and he took us to the Siam area where we randomly came by a giant shopping mall called the MBK centre which houses 8 levels of esculators and over 2000 shops with a dining hall. you could get lost in here and we did a bit of night time shopping to get out of the rain. There is a cinema within the complex too which is always an option when the weather is crazy outside. The outside has a cool bridge that connects the two sides of the road outside it where there are pretty canopys decorated with Asian designs and a breathtaking photo point with Bangkok’s manic scenery in the background so it is well worth a visit.
After scoffing down some more pad thai in the mall and grabbing a rereshing drink we made our way back to our hostel for a well deserved rest.
Our second day revolved around the Grand Palace. The palace is a complex set of buildings at the heart of the city and has been the official residence of the Kings of Siam since the late 1700’s. It was a must do for both of us so we headed straight there via another tuk-tuk earlier in the morning with the hope to avoid the crowds. Trouble is, like many big tourist wonders you can never really avoid crowds and it was busy. However, despite this and the seething heat that day, it was well worth it. The palace was incredible, the grounds too with so many colours and artwork and history your eyes are drawn left, right and centre constantly. I would hands down say this is the best thing to do in Bangkok if you visit. Just pack the sunscreen and buy water before you enter! There are no options for these once inside.
Later that same day we decided to head back to the Siam area which we now loved and after reading a few other options online, I had wanted to visit the Jim Thompson house. This was a museum in central Bangkok, housing the art collection of American businessman and architect Jim Thompson. The house itself is surrounded by pretty jungle foliage and the house is made of teak. He was a former spy and moved to Bangkok where he also started a silk company. When you enter you buy a ticket there which is about $12 or so and then you get given a time slot for an English speaking tour of the house. The tour takes you around many of the rooms which are unique and house many fine artistic elements and designs. You also get to hear about the history of the man himself and afterwards you can admire the beautiful grounds or sit in the restaurant overlooking the giant koi fish pond, and then ponder the silk shop which has many designer handbags, purses and clothes all made by handcrafted silk makers. There are also Thai dancing shows in the grounds and you can also witness some locals making silk by hand. All in all we really enjoyed this experience and I can easily see why it is so popular with tourists.
Our evening ended by buying a pot noodle style dinner from 7-Eleven and eating it back at our hostel after having to make a run for it before the thunder and lightning above us turned into another lashing of rain! Classy travel as they call it!
Our last day turned into a bit of a frenzied last minute packing and checking out of our hotel, so we could navigate our way across the city to the train station Hua Laphong, to pickup our train tickets for the night train later that evening to Chiang Mai in the North of Thailand. Once collected though and after a quick stop in a little luxury cafe for a coffee and cake, we braved the city metro line underground which turned out to be more clean and organised than the London underground, I was very impressed indeed, especially the security check of the whole train they do before anyone gets on it and the proper queue system.
We headed over to Lumphini park which is like Bangkok’s version of central park. With a huge lake surrouded by walking trails and palm trees it was a nice place to spend an hour or so before we eventually made our way back to the train station via another impressive shopping mall to catch our evening sleepover train to Chiang Mai. I will also be writing about our experince on the train soon!
All in all, if you embrace the chaos of Bangkok, you will find a beautiful city and people that inhabit it.