Bangkok is a delight to the senses. Everywhere I look, something is happening. Color is omnipresent, and incredibly varied as street vendors sell apparel, accessories, and kitsch in every imaginable shade and hue. Temples glitter as each is adorned with thousands of tiny golden mirrors and glass gems of brilliant primary colors. As I walk the streets, the scents of a thousand street stalls fill the air, smelling of exotic oils, spices, and herbs. The roar of traffic mingles with the cries of vendors selling their wares and the quiet murmur of birds I’ve never before heard.
And yet, it’s a place everyone seems to want to leave. It’s the cheapest place to fly into in all of South East Asia, but very few people I met stay there for any real length of time. It’s a hub that everyone is trying to escape. Some people go south, others go north. Some catch a bus or a train to another country. But travelers almost never stay.
It’s a shame, though. There is so much to see in do in Thailand’s biggest city. From beautiful parks to the royal palace to bustling markets, no matter the day of the week, there is something interesting to do.
I didn’t take my own advice, though. I got out after a few days myself, having already planned to head north for mountains and food.
While I was in Bangkok, I had a blast. I met fantastic people, saw wonderful things, and ate fantastic meals.
I arrived early in the morning, and was greeted with cool weather, though the rising sun promised to change that. I booked a hostel while waiting in line for customs, and was soon through the line, and in search of a train to take me to my temporary home. As it turned out, I needed two trains to get to my hostel, though the total cost was less than US$2. As I exited the train, I walked in the entirely wrong direction, and took about two hours to find the place. As the day warmed, I became less comfortable, and was thankful for the presence of A/C when I finally arrived in my bed.
After cooling down a bit, I decided to find the Indian Embassy, and got lost. As I described in my last post, the embassy presented issues, but since I’ve already discussed that, let’s move on.
For dinner, I crossed the street from my hostel to an outdoor dining establishment furnished with old Singer foot-powered sewing machines for tables, and a pickup truck blasting old country music from a sound system in the bed. Looking at the menu, I decided to try the “spicy shrimp,” and pointed at the menu to order my meal. The man who took my order grinned broadly, grabbed the menu, and ran to the cook, enthusiastically pointing at my order. I can only assume that they decided to play a bit of a joke on me, because when my order got back to me, there was about four times the chili paste other patrons recieved. Being someone who enjoys his food quite spicy, I dug in. The tears flowed freely, but I finished the plate, and actually ordered another dish. This time, the food was not nearly so spicy, and I was able to finish it without as much bodily discomfort.
I woke up early the second day, immediately met another hostel guest, and began a conversation. Before long, another two guests showed up, and we all decided to head to Wat Pho, one of the few destinations I wanted to visit during my time in Bangkok.
A side note on getting around Bangkok: the trains in Bangkok are not as useful as they are in a lot of other large cities around the world. Except for the airport, they don’t exactly take you where you need to go, especially if you’re headed into the city center. If you want to get around this city, your best bet would be to grab a metered taxi. These are awesome, inexpensive, and air conditioned. If you end up taking the tollway, you’ll have to pay for the convenience, but entrance to these roads is only about 50 THB, and you’ll save at least that on the meter by avoiding most of the traffic down below. Tuk tuks are another option, but they aren’t the cheapest unless you hire one for the entire day. If you do this, they’ll wait around for you outside attractions while you explore, saving you the pain of finding another lift once you’re done sight-seeing. If you’re on a major budget, you could always grab a bus (about 7 THB) provided you can figure out which one you need to get where you’re going.
We grabbed a meter-taxi, piled in, and headed into the city center. About a kilometer from our destination, traffic came to a standstill, and we decided we would rather walk the rest of the way than pay for the privilege of waiting in Bangkok’s often absurd traffic.
Entry to the wat, for foreigners, runs 100 THB (about US$3), and this allows you access to the entire (quite sizable) temple complex.
It’s easy to spend a couple hours exploring this 22 acre wat, and that we did. There is a circuit around the complex that offers lots to see and take pictures of, but the main attraction is in the central structure. The Reclining Buddha, built in 1832, towers over visitors to the wat. The gold-plated statue stands over 15m high, and 46m long. It is the most impressive depiction of Buddha I’ve ever seen. Unfortunately, the most beautiful part of this buddha, the feet, were undergoing renovation while I was there, so I didn’t get to see the 3x4.5m of mother-of-pearl inlay. Luckily, I had seen it before on my first trip to Thailand.
The only issue with exploring Wat Pho is the number of visitors it gets on a daily basis. Upon entering the temple, visitors are pressed into tight lines to either side of the figure, and it gives one the feeling of being herded like cattle to the slaughter. Luckily, the room is large enough that it doesn’t feel stuffy inside, and there are plenty of spots where you can jump out of the crowd, and take a moment to admire the giant idol.
After exiting the wat, my new friends and I decided that food was a priority, so we set off in search of a good place to eat. Sadly, because this complex is so popular, it is difficult to find food at reasonable prices within close proximity. We didn’t realize that finding food farther away would be an issue. As we wandered farther and farther from the complex, we found plenty of trinkets to purchase, but nothing edible came along until we had walked a few miles away. If you leave this temple hungry, bite the bullet, and just buy some food while you’re there. It’ll set you back a couple extra dollars, but it really is the best option.
To end the day, we took a tuk tuk up to the Pat Pong night market in the middle of one of Bangkok’s red light districts. Every night, this market appears in the middle of the street. You can find just about anything you might want here, from a fake Rolex to touristy shirts to brass knuckles and more. On either side of the market, men stroll up and down offering entrance to ping pong shows, waving placards listing the various talents and tricks on display in their establishment. I don’t recommend taking these men up on their offers. If you leave the main road around the market, there are ample opportunities to drink in more conventional establishments. If you’re there around happy hour, the drink prices are reasonable, and the people watching is excellent.
At the end of the night, tired, slightly poorer, and considerably more drunk, we piled into another cab, and made our way back to the hostel on the south side of town.
The next day I took a load off, tried to get some work done, failed to secure a visa, and decided to call it a day early. One fantastic thing about staying in hostels is that, provided there’s a good common area, there’s almost always someone to talk to. I planned to spend the evening relaxing with a beer, but met some other travelers in the hostel, and the one beer turned into many.
The next day, I woke up quite a bit later than I had expected, and, not unexpectedly, with quite the headache. For the last time, I failed to secure a visa, but decided to walk around for a while and explore the city. I didn’t find much in the area I explored, but it was pleasant to relax and take in the sights.
That night, I decided to pay a visit to Chatuchak Market in the north of the city. While the market is technically a weekend market, certain areas open Friday nights so visitors can explore without the midday heat. To my surprise, the market was still packed with people wandering around shopping, and enjoying the abundant street food. But it wasn’t the same as the weekend proper.
If you visit Chatuchak market on the weekend, be prepared to spend an entire day there. Chatuchak market is a massive winding maze with over 8,000 stalls selling everything from knockoff handbags to designer pets, it’s quite the experience, even if you have no plans to purchase anything. If you do want to purchase something, do it at once. Many tourists want to price-compare, and will wander off from one stall to check prices elsewhere, only to be unable to find the first place again. If you like it, buy it. Everything here is cheap, and while you may want to save a couple bucks by wandering, you may just miss out entirely.
After exploring for a while, and taking some pictures, I took my leave, headed home, and began planning for the next day.
Of course, my idea of a plan is to make it up as I go. When I woke up, I decided to head to Chaing Mai, a city nine hours north by bus, because a few friends from Korea were staying up there. I took my time getting to the bus station the next day, and caught a night bus up to my next destination.
Until next time, travel safe!