Currency:Thai Baht (THB)
1 Baht = 2.2p. £1 = 46.1 Baht
Time Zone: GMT +7 (6 hours ahead of UK summer time)
11th – 14th September
Bangkok is a huge metropolis with stark contrasts between old and new. We were based in the old town and spent pretty much all of our time in it. The first thing we noticed on our way in was just how flat this place is, which made strolling around the city much more bearable in the humid heat.
3 nights was easily enough to see the main sites (our Lonely Planet South East Asia guide only listed 5 sights) but too short to really soak everything in. We plan on coming back though, most likely to fly home, so we will have more time then, hopefully to try and experience some more of modern Bangkok.
Our first day we saw Khaosan road and it’s surrounding area. This is the heart of the tourism trade in Bangkok and everything it’s infamous for. In the early evening the crowds were sparse and we had plenty of room to manouvre the main roads and small alleyways. We quickly grew tired of the offers of tuk tuk rides and suits and so got ourselves some food in the heart of Khaosan road itself. Thai food at home is one of my favourites but Thai food in Thailand, even the touristy offerings, is phenomenal! My chicken massaman curry went down a treat, and partly down my top. After food we walked north back to an area just off Samsen road (near our hostel) that’s popular with backpackers and grabbed some drinks including some ciders for Kate, something of a luxury when outside the UK.
Day 2 we walked around the 3 temples Lonely Planet recommended us. They had also warned us of various scams such as tuk tuk trips sold as cheap tours of attractions but are actually focussed around shops where the driver gets a huge commission. Or being told attractions are shut to entice you different ones that just so happen to be a short tuk tuk ride away, often accompanied with scenario A. I thought it would be something useful to be aware of in case it happened but within minutes we were approached by a friendly stranger who told us the Grand Palace was closed due to it being happy Buddha day and we should get a cheap tuk tuk tour of all the other sites because they were all free. We thanked this kind passerby, next to a group of tuk tuk drivers, and walked to the Grand Palace.
The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew are contained within the same complex and are the premier attraction in Bangkok. At 500 baht it was by far our most expensive attraction. Wat Phra Kaew is the supposedly the most sacred temple in Thailand and contains the Emerald Buddha, a little green dude on a giant throne who gets dressed up in 1 of 3 gold outfits depending on the season. The decor and architecture inside and the surrounding building is so colourful and intricate it’s hard not to be blown away, especially as you emerge from the covered walkway for the first time.
After this we went to go to the Siam museum but it is genuinely closed on Mondays, which a local tuk tuk driver took great delight in telling us. Instead we went to Wat Pho (temple number 2). Wat Pho’s coup de grace is a 45m long reclining Buddha. As we got in to the temple the heavens opened so we spent a lot of time admiring this big chap. His position is supposed to represent his death and passage into nirvana.
We explored the compound a little more but, as impressive as everything is, it gets a little samey and I feel someone with a greater knowledge of the Buddhist faith would appreciate it all far more than we did.
Our third and final temple of the day was Wat Arun. It’s a short boat ride across the Chao Phraya and, for the princely sum of 3 baht, it was probably the best bit about Wat Arun. During our visit it was covered in scaffolding and it had just finished raining so everything was rather wet, but it is an impressive sight to sail towards on the river. It’s an imposing structure with a huge central prang (spire) and 4 smaller ones around the outside. We walked up and down the 4 sets of steep steps around the circumference, with each prang containing a depiction of Buddha’s life from birth to death.
We walked back to our hostel via some monuments (the giant swing and the democracy monument), both on super busy roundabouts. I think these could have been happily missed.
In the evening we went to Phra Athit Road, about 15 minutes from our hostel. It’s another area similar to Samsen Road of backpacker bars with a more chilled out vibe than Khaosan road. We had a lovely meal in a bar called “Good Story” with live music including a cover of Incubus’ Drive with some adjustments to the lyrics for when he couldn’t remember/pronounce the original words.
After dinner we went to see what Khaosan road was like after dark. It’s crazy. Just mental. Like magaluf with scorpions on sticks. We headed for a bar that still had seats and didn’t have the volume knob stuck on full. Halfway through our quiet evening drinks a hoard of Thai folk came rushing in bit by bit. It turned out it was a wedding party for a young Thai couple and we were fully encouraged to join in the celebration with plenty of drinks offered to us. At one point the police showed up and everything went quiet for a minute or 2. After being satisfied nothing illegal was going on at this illegal after hours party he left and the DJ put on ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’ to a rapturous reception. We ended up staying out pretty late but it was well worth it.
Day 3 we weren’t feeling 100% so after breakfast we went back to bed. Till 3pm… After our late lunch we headed north to a statue of a standing Buddha. Unfortunately, as the pattern seemed to be with us seeing big Buddhas, it rained. A lot. Luckily Bangkok are aware of their weather difficulties and put awnings everywhere so we waited for it to ease before walking the last couple of minutes to see this behemoth.
Whilst gazing up at him we met a German guy who had luckily found himself in Bangkok on lucky buddha day and for a mere 20 baht he was being driven round to all the sites, including a couple of excellent tailors.
Our next and final sight was Golden Mountain. A man-made mound (because Bangkok has no hills) with a temple on top. The views from the only hill for miles are incredible and the giant golden prang on the top is surrounded by beautiful decorations.
After all this fun we had a drink at a bar just along the canal from our hostel before our final Bangkok meal the other end of the canal path. The walk between the 2 was filled with houses/businesses (most were both) and it was packed with joyous customers and some wonderful sights and smells.
We headed back to our hostel for our last nights sleep before we headed off to our next stop – Taipei
We stayed at a lovely hostel called Baan Nampetch. When choosing hostels my top 3 priorities tend to be price, location and Hostelworld rating, the latter backed up with the reviews and why exactly it deserved it’s score (I’ve seen reviews of 4 for cracked bathroom furniture). We needed somewhere with a double room and within walking distance to the main sites but not slap bang on top of a night club. For all our necessary boxes they were comfortably ticked. And free breakfast!