Bangkok is one of the largest business centers in Southeast Asia. The city is a huge, bustling metropolis filled with luxury malls and skyscrapers. However, Bangkok retains its character with food carts, street markets, and red roofed temples scattered throughout the city.
We’ve been lucky enough to know several people living in Bangkok and have visited the city previously. During our first visit to Bangkok we took in the most popular tourist sites; The Royal Palace, Wat Pho (the reclining buddha), Jim Thompson’s house, and more. This visit we were able to enjoy the local character of the city more with our friends.
DAY 1 – Friday, January 16, 2015
We arrived at the Bangkok International Airport after a short flight from Siem Reap, Cambodia. There are two major airports in Bangkok, Suvarnabhumi (BKK) and Don Mueang (DMK). Suvarnabhumi is the bigger of the two and has a light rail which takes passengers to the heart of Bangkok, which in general makes that airport more convenient. We passed through customs and immigration and took the light rail, known as the Airport Rail Link into the city. The City Line – Airport Rail Link has 8 stops and the entire line can be traveled for about 29B. From the end of the airport link we transferred to the BTS skytrains.
The public transportation in Bangkok has always been impressive to us. They have a skytrain and a metro system and both are cheap, easy, and reliable. Trains run often and only cost a few bhat to ride. The ticket machines have English on them and are quick and easy.
We reached our friends’ apartment in the late afternoon and had a great time catching up and playing with their two kids. In Bangkok labor is cheap, so they employee a local nanny three days a week who cooked us a Thai Basil Chicken dinner which was delicious. After dinner, once the kids were asleep, we started to watch a movie… but our day of traveling had worn us out and Jon and I didn’t make it through the movie.
DAY 2 – Saturday, January 17, 2015
We woke up to a wonderful breakfast prepared by our friends and got cleaned up for a day out in the city. Our friends took us to Lumphini Park. Lumphini is a large and rare green space in the city within walking distance of our friend’s condo. It was beautifully maintained with a 2.5km walking track and ponds with fountains and paddle boats. We saw half a dozen monitor lizards basking in the sun, including two that were huge.
On a typical day, the highlights of the park are the monitor lizards in the southeastern corner of the park or the weekly free concerts. However, we happened to be in town during the Thailand Tourism Festival which was enjoyable for us. Booths selling goods were set up and we enjoyed Thai iced teas and coffees. We also got to watch traditional dances, listen to music, and see the large exhibits that had been erected for the festival.
After walking a full loop around the park, Jon and I separated from our friends so we could go buy train tickets for later in the week. Once again we found navigating Bangkok and public transportation to be easy. After getting our train tickets, we found that we were close to a few popular sites. First we went to Wat Traimit. Wat Traimit (40B to enter) houses what is called the Golden Buddha. The Golden Buddha is a solid gold statue of Buddha almost 10 feet tall and weighing over 5.5 tons.
From Wat Traimit we walked to Chinatown where we enjoyed wandering around the streets. When you get to the heart of Chinatown the streets are small and packed with pedestrians, motorbikes, and food carts. Some streets seem to sell mostly produce while others sell souvenirs and others still sell plastic home goods. Jon and I decided we would each pick out a street food to try. I picked a fried sweet rice cake. The fried rice paddies were cut into bite sized pieces and coated in a sweet mixture of sugar, sesames, and other spices. They reminded me of churros. Jon chose a fried wonton type item filled with a pork mixture. The pork wontons were served with vinegar and soy sauce. Eventually we made our way back to our friends’ apartment.
That evening our friends got a babysitter so we could enjoy a night out. For dinner we ate at Din Tai Fung. A growing chain of world famous soup dumplings. Besides for the spectacular soup dumplings, we had crispy duck, morning glory vegetables, and spicy pork buns. As we expected, it was an enjoyable and memorable meal.
After dinner we took skywalks across part of the city to the Centara Grand Hotel, which is on floor 23 of a large skyscraper. On floor 55 is the Centara Grand’s Red Sky Bar. The Red Sky Bar is open air and pure luxury. I was amazed at how accessible it was; if this bar was in DC it would have a waitlist for hours. The bar was open air, which the Bangkok weather was perfect for. We enjoyed cocktails while seated next to a glass railing overlooking the city.
DAY 3 – Sunday, January 18, 2015
The morning started as another lazy day. For lunch our friends ordered Soi Polo Fried Chicken. We had heard about Soi Polo from another friend and saw it mentioned in a guidebook, so we were excited to try it. The meal was good, but by far the stand out item is the side of fried garlic that comes with the chicken. It was so delicious that I could eat it by the spoonful.
Midway through the day, Jon and I decided that we would regret sitting around all day and decided to go explore the city. We didn’t have any real destination. We began by walking towards the Chit Lom BTS (lightrail) station because our map showed the icon of a statue there. When we arrived there was a room sized shrine called the Erawan Shrine and a small statue of the Hindu god Brahma. It was a bit of a disappointment to see it wasn’t as large as other statues indicated on the map.
From there we took the BTS to Victory Monument and walked towards the Suan Chitralada Palace and Dusit Zoo. The walk was further than we realized and with little pay off. The Palace is a complex of buildings that are not just completely fenced off, but also surrounded by a moat. The roofs we could see from the road looked modern. The Dusit Zoo was also fenced off from the public and cost a fee to enter. We continued around the area and past the Throne Hall. The Throne Hall looked like a beautiful building but it was almost closing time when we arrived. Close by was also the Royal Elephant Museum, but we somehow missed that too. While we were in the area, everyone was made to stand back from the road briefly when a motorcade came past. Exhausted, we took a cab back to our friends’ condo.
For dinner we went to a small food-court in a mall near our friends’ place. It was good, but was definitely a different experience.
DAY 4 – Monday, January 19, 2015
Monday was our last day in Bangkok and there was a lot we wanted to do, starting with the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. We previously spent some time researching how to get there as it was far outside of the city. Lot of places suggest spending the night near by in Samut Sakhon and/or taking a train that passes through the umbrella market, a market on the train tracks whose venders roll away their carts when the train comes through. We ended up settling for a public bus (details of our trip are below in the Travel Information section). If I had to do it over again, I would probably join a private tour company to visit the market, or find an alternative floating market.
We took a long boat from the pier to the floating market. Instantly our boat pulled a long side huts selling souvenirs. After a while our driver figured out that we wouldn’t be purchasing anything and stopped guiding us to the souvenir stands. We did purchase food while we were at the market. Mango, Pad Thai, pomelo, and soup. Our boat guide offered to take us back to the pier or to let us to walk around the market and make our own way back. We decided to walk around and I really enjoyed it. There were lots of great sights, smells, and sounds of the bustling market. When we’d had enough we walked back to the pier to look for a bus to Bangkok.
As usual, we got back to our friends’ condo and were exhausted. Jon decided to check out the Touch Spa across the street and got a massage. I stayed in and helped Lisa cook dinner. At 7pm we had to leave to catch our overnight train to Laos. It was really great seeing our friends and very reassuring to know if we ever needed something while traveling, we have friends within a short flight away.
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market: The public bus #78 runs every 40 minutes starting at 6:00am. We decided to catch a bus early and try to beat most of the tourists to the market. The buses depart from the Southern Terminal, also called Sai Tai Mai. The bus terminal cannot be reached using the metro lines, so we caught a taxi there. The taxi drivers did not know the name Sai Tai Mai and we had to show them a map. Once at the bus terminal, we boarded the #78 bus. The fares are collected inside the bus, so do NOT go to the ticket counter in the terminal. Our bus ride ended up being almost 2 hours to the market and cost 73B each. We were dropped off at a pier. Instantly people directing us to boats showed up. We were told it was 2000B for foreigners, but they would give us a deal of 800B. We talked them down to 500B and probably still overpaid. Alternatively, you can walk west 2km to reach the floating market and hire a long boat there for much less.
The return trip was also difficult. We walked to the same pier which the public bus #78 had let us out at. However, public bus #78 does not pick up from there and the locals won’t be helpful telling you where to catch it. Instead they offer an hourly minivan service for 150B per person. The minivan service will take you to Victory Monument inside the city, instead of the Southern bus terminal. Seeming to be the only option, we accepted and took the minivan, followed by a short skytrain ride back to our friends.
For more about the public bus #78, this link has some good advice and diagrams: http://www.diytraveltips.com/2012/07/damnoen-saduak-floating-market-bangkok.html
Money: The local currency in Thailand is the Baht. Credit cards are more widely accepted in Thailand, however cash is needed in smaller stores, for taxis, and street food. The exchange rate was 34 Baht = $1.00 .
Visa Information: For American tourists traveling to Thailand for less than 30 days, the need for a visa is waived. Simply wait at Thai immigration and have your passport stamped. There is no fee if you are staying less than 30 days. In our case, we are traveling through Thailand several times and because it is a transportation hub, each time we leave Thailand and reenter, our 30 day counter restarts.
Transportation: The public transportation in Bangkok has always been impressive to us. They have a skytrain (BTS) and a metro system (MRT) and both are cheap, easy, and reliable. Trains run often and only cost a few bhat to ride. The ticket machines have English on them and are quick and easy. However, I’ve heard to avoid the public buses as they are confusing and unreliable.
Taxis are also readily available and are inexpensive. If you take a taxi, make sure you have the price clear with the driver before getting in or that the driver will be turning on the meter.
Water: Don’t drink it. Bottled water is widely available.
Malaria: Unless you are traveling to remote areas of northern Thailand, there is no need for malaria pills. We still wear bug spray often though.
Pharmacies: Our friends living in Bangkok told us they find Boots Pharmacy and Watsons Pharmacy to be reliable. Once I knew to look for these names, they were everywhere. Many medicines requiring prescriptions in the US are available over-the-counter in Thailand.