Retro Trip Post: This is article 3 of 3 articles reflecting on our first trip to Thailand taken in 2011.
Before leaving the country we had to travel through Bangkok. We are very luck to have had friends living in the city at the time who provided us with a wealth of suggestions and a home base to return to.
DAY 1 – Sunday March 20, 2011
We arrived in Bangkok mid-day, having flown into Bangkok from Chiang Mai. At this point in our trip, the group of friends visiting for the wedding had lessened again and we were with one other couple from DC as well as one couple who were currently living in Bangkok. We went straight to our friend’s condo and cleaned up a bit.
For the afternoon, our friends took us to a bustling market. After wandering into the center of the market we sat down at a food booth and had noodles.
Dinner later that evening was at a Korean BBQ restaurant, So Ra Bol, that is a favorite of our friends in Bangkok. We sat in a private room (we did have 6 people) on cushions at a table sunken into the floor.
DAY 2 – Monday March 21, 2011
This was our first full day in Bangkok and it was time to visit all of the major tourist attractions. Although our friends who were hosting us had to work, they left us with a battery of information on how to visit the sites efficiently. Throughout our time in Bangkok, we used the public transportation; the MRT (subway) and BTS (elevated train) are both cheap and efficient. We took the trains to the dock where we bought a ferry pass to go up and down the Chao Phraya River.
Our first stop of the day was the Grand Palace. The Grand Palace is a large complex of buildings with temple-like roofs and ornately decorated in traditional images. It was already crowded, but most of the buildings are towering which allow for upward photos without too much of the crowd. We spent over an hour walking around and taking photos of the beautiful and interesting decorations.
Inside of the Grand Palace is Wat Phra Kaew, or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Visitors can steal a glance at the emerald Buddha through a door as it sits high above the crowd.
On our way out to the Grand Palace we pasted slightly more modern buildings, still beautifully decorated, which are the current government buildings. The buildings were on meticulously landscaped grounds.
Our next stop was the nearby Wat Pho. Wat Pho is famous for its Reclining Buddha; a stature of Buddha laying down. The Reclining Buddha was a very large statue. Columns required to support the building made it impossible to see the entire Buddha at one time. Also amazing is how decorated the Buddha was from its head to its toes.
We knew our next stop would be across the river so we started for the boat docks. Hungry for lunch, we ate at a small restaurant along the water close to the boat docks.
The ferry then took us across the river to Wat Arun. Wat Arun is the type of temple that Jon and I find more interesting; old stone work like you’d hope to find exploring the jungle. Around the base of Wat Arun were more buildings housing statues and murals. Wat Arun can be climbed from the outside to about halfway up the building. The climb was steep and I remember it took me a while to finally decide to climb it.
After Wat Arun, we crossed the river again to visit Bangkok’s Chinatown. I don’t think there are too many places in the entire world like Bangkok’s Chinatown. Alley’s are filled with stores selling souvenirs and junk (like dollar store type items) whose displays spill out into the streets on tables while hundreds of people try to browse moving up and down through the alley. Oh yeah, and occasionally everyone had to move aside for a motorbike squeezing its way down the alley. For us, Chinatown is a sight to see, however there is nothing for sale there that would interest us. Our one purchase however was durian, the pungent smelling (to put it lightly) fruit with a spiked shell. Duran’s odor is so off putting and strong that it is not allowed in many stores or on public transportation. We found the fruit itself to have a creamy, marshmallow like texture but it was too difficult to get past the smell and enjoy it.
When our friends returned from work, they took us to another restaurant they enjoy, Baan Khanitha Thai Cuisine.
DAY 3 – Tuesday March 22, 2011
Tuesday was our last full day in Bangkok already, and a day to try some more tourist stuff that wasn’t as high on our list, starting with Cabbages and Condoms. Cabbages and Condoms is a restaurant that was recommended to us by several friends and can be found mentioned in guidebooks as well. I seem to recall some friends recommending it for the food. I remember the food as being alright, but the real draw being its quirky theme of promoting family planning and displays made of condoms.
In walking distance from Cabbages and Condos is The Jim Thompson House Museum. Jim Thompson is a western entrepreneur who is credited with introducing the western world to Thai silk and starting the booming silk trade industry in Thailand. Besides for silk, Jim Thompson was said to be a student and lover of architecture which is why his custom designed house in Thailand is an attraction. Jim Thompson house is more of an oasis in the middle of Bangkok. A series of traditional looking, wooden structures among lush green landscaping. (Also if neither silk nor architecture interest you, Jim Thompson is also notorious for the way he went missing in 1967 and has never been found).
Next we made our way to Khaosan. Khaosan Road is the street backpackers in Bangkok seem to congregate. Our friend met us there and we enjoyed dinner and a tower of beer. More than anything Khaosan would be the place to go if you wanted to find the cheap ironic t-shirts backpackers and hipsters wear.
Our friends recommended that we take a biking tour by Grasshopper Adventures. The tour gave each of us a bike and helmet. Apparently it is not a requirement that you know how to ride a bike, as others in our tour group asked for training wheels (which they didn’t have) and then spent the majority of the tour crashing into things and slowing down the group by insisting on walking instead. Luckily for us, at one point we crossed paths with another tour group and our guide let us switch groups to the faster tour.
Anyway, back to the tour; We started by boarding a ferry and crossing the river. The tour took us past some sights which we had already seen, like Wat Arun, but now it was lit up for night. For me, one of the highlights of the tour was when we were taken off of the main road and through small neighborhoods of Bangkok. Even though we were moving quickly on the bikes, the neighborhoods were unlike anything I’d seen. We rode in narrow alleys, on wooden boards, and to each side of us were small apartments with dim lights and families sitting down to dinner. The ride ended at the night flower market. A market with sellers offering flower lays and petals which could be taken to the temples and put on altars.