Effectively, Bangkok was a holiday. 11 days is a long time to spend in one place when you are backpacking. The thing is, Bangkok is such a hub of activity and has great transportation links, so it’s a good place to base yourself. Apart from everything we got up to inside the city, we took 2 excursions to nearby locations during our Bangkok stay. One to Ayutthaya and one to Khao Yai National Park (you can read about our time in the park, here).
We were exceptionally lucky that a friend from our university offered us a room in their apartment for the duration of our time in Bangkok. Even luckier, the apartment was based in a really ‘cool’ swanky part of town, called Ari. There are loads of modern cafes and restaurants serving delicious food and drinks around. It also has an area with tasty street food AND we had a 360 degree panoramic view from the apartment which looked out across the city. Plus it is connected to the overground BTS train service making it easy to get around. Our favourite restaurant was probably Jim’s Burgers and Beers – not Thai but AMAZING.
Bangkok made such a change from the craziness of India. Everything is cleaner in Thailand, people are warmer and the food (to me at least) is way tastier! Bangkok is still a major city though and smog was blanketed over the city when we arrived. Traffic is also pretty bad, particularly in central areas. Plus, due to a booming tourism industry, scams are prevalent and smart. Within 2 days of being in Bangkok one of our debit cards were cloned, just from using an ATM. Just bad luck, but still it was a reminder not to become too relaxed!
Bangkok has several key must-visit areas around the city. Most of which are related to food and eating. I think it’s fair to say I probably put a few pounds on over the last couple of weeks. But there is just so much delicious food waiting to be eaten!
An absolute hub of energy, people and amazing food! We visited the famous Yarowat Road twice (once in the daytime and once in the evening). During the day there are still plenty of snack-y street food vendors. Mostly though, we found a huge market of groceries (so much seafood!) and a selection of other random tat. Being our first day we held back a little on buying any food, having come from India where we ate a mostly vegetarian diet and have been extra cautious of street food. Arriving in Thailand where street food is everywhere, you’ll probably starve if you are a vegetarian (meat and seafood in practically every dish). I did however, buy a longan juice. I didn’t drink it since the lady scooped out 3 dead wasps from a cup I had assumed was catching drips from the spout, then served it to me. Gross.
At night time this road completely changes! Street food vendors/restaurants line the pavements. Many of which had huge queues of people waiting for a seat at the 3 or 4 tables set up next to each cart. So much atmosphere and with everything lit up, flaming woks and crowds shuffling along, it creates a great setting for some street photography! We basically just picked a cart with a reasonable queue and ate there (holy duck it was delicious). Another street food favourite that we had eaten the previous day and couldn’t resist again, Thai sweet pancakes! Super thin and crispy batter filled with a sweet light cream and a mysterious sweet, orange topping (6 for 40 baht).
You could probably head to Chinatown everyday for 2 weeks, eat somewhere different each day and have a fantastic meal every time.
Khao San Road
From what I’ve read, Khao San was created for tourists by the government. It used to have a good atmosphere, from what I have seen on other travel blogs. However, now I really wouldn’t waste your time in visiting. We went as we were already close by and because I desperately wanted to try crickets which I knew I could find down there. It’s effectively the strip of Bangkok but only for western 18 year old backpackers. It felt a bit trashy in all honesty.
Drinks and food are actually pretty expensive in comparison to other areas of the city. The whole street is aimed at rinsing tourists of their money. If you are 18 and want a party atmosphere every night and can survive off of no sleep, this is your place. I’m just glad we could leave after one drink!
The crickets though – delicious! Think chicken skin but drier. Insects are the future.
Probably one of the most famous roads in the city? Located in the Sukhumvit area of Bangkok, Soi Cowboy is one of the roads that makes up the red light district. I had no idea what to expect of this road!
Honest to God, if you want to have a beer somewhere with an atmosphere and lots of bars – just head to Soi Cowboy. Yes, they are all strip clubs. But no one is forcing you to go into the clubs. Sitting outside and soaking in the flashing neon lights whilst doing a bit of people watching is a great way to spend an evening! Not that I have anything to compare it to, but it just felt like a row of clubs with some girls dressed in skimpy outfits – not too dissimilar to Maidenhead on a Friday night? It definitely was much better than Khao San, perhaps that’s because there were no groups of 18 year old boys though.
There are no girls in windows trying to entice you over or anything seedy like that. We enjoyed spending a few hours just having a couple of drinks outside one of the bars.
For food one bar even had a pretty tasty looking hog roast! Though we decided to eat on the road next door which has loads of restaurants to pick from!
Talin Chan Floating Market
Bangkok is famous for its floating markets! There are countless canals criss-crossing their way through the city and getting around by boat is a part of Thai culture in this area. In a previous time these markets would have been used for local people to buy produce or meals. Nowadays, all of them are geared up for tourists with little to no originality left. That’s not to say it’s not worth heading to one though! There is so much tasty food waiting to be eaten and although not totally authentic, the floating aspect of the market is still something different to experience.
The two largest markets (Damnoen Saduak and Amphawa) are actually situated about 2-3 hours outside of Bangkok. We chose to head over to Taling Chan which is within the city (it was apparently the one Phil visited in Somebody Feed Phil).
We obviously had our wires crossed somewhere since the market wasn’t what we had expected. The visitors are not on boats, buying from the vendors on boats, they are on the sidewalk. It’s effectively a walking market, with 5 or 6 vendors sitting on boats cooking some food. Then there is a decent sized ordinary market attached on land, just to the side. Once we had gotten over the slight disappointment we sat down and ate some noodle soup and gyozas from one of the boats.
The market is still good for a quick wander around (I mean quick as it isn’t big). If you are wanting a market that encompasses the image of you on a boat drifting past numerous vendors, this is not the place for you. Canal boat rides are on offer if you just fancy getting on the water anyway though!
This GINORMOUS market is only open on weekends and has absolutely anything and everything you could ever want. Chatuchak isn’t just full of useless crap like most markets (although you can still find useless crap too), it has everything from designer homewear to crocodile skin handbags. The market is busy all day long so we didn’t bother arriving at the crack of dawn. Better to just turn up and get lost in the maze of stalls!
The market is actually very well organised and most stalls are in sections that relate to what they’re selling. Food isn’t the main event here but, of course, there is a food area where you can rest up for a little while. On the whole I would say prices are scaled up within the market. Brad bought a packet of Penang curry paste for 85 baht, only to find it for 20 baht at a shop just outside the market. But also there are some good deals to be found including some cheap clothes (perfect for travellers!). We actually ended up coming to Chatuchak both weekends that we were in Bangkok. It’s just the easiest place to buy something (anything) that you need!
Unfortunately, Chatuchak is a huge market for the exotic pet trade. Brad and I actually made a point of finding and walking through the ‘live pet’ section of the market. We knew it would make us sad/angry but we had to see with our own 2 eyes the circumstances these animals are sold in. To start with the market is incredibly hot. It’s covered in many places with hoardes of people walking around creating a hot and muggy atmosphere. All of the animals looked like they were overheating to some degree. Not all of them had any access to water and only a few had fans blowing on them.
There are tons of fish in bags of water (sometimes only deep enough for the fish to be lying on their side) just laid out on the ground waiting to be trodden on. The sound of birds is prominent and the cages are piled on top of each other. Many birds showed signs of distress with feathers missing which is to be expected. We saw huge macaws and other parrot species for sale. Then of course there are the kittens and puppies (no Mummy and Daddy around) that are in cages on display. Some being sold for about £12! Most were ‘trendy’ species like husky or Pomeranian.
Then, as if selling domestic animals isn’t bad enough, there were the wild animals being sold as pets. We saw monkeys (several species including macaque), bush babies, tons of exotic species of squirrels, fennec fox, prairie dogs, turtles (loads of babies and some big adults) and heaps of reptiles. The list goes on and on really.
There were signs up everywhere threatening people that took photos of some of the animals, clearly due to either them being illegal or the conditions they’re in. We were also told pangolins have been seen in the market. This is a species facing a serious possibility of extinction due to the exotic pet trade. The whole area was shocking and upsetting. Another situation that leaves passers by feeling helpless and pessimistic. Is there any hope at all when there are people alive that think treatment of animals in this way is OK?
If you avoid this part of the market though, Chatuchak is great and a definite visit when in Bangkok!
Located just over an hour from Bangkok, Ayutthaya is Thailand’s answer to Angkor Wat. It’s super easy to access with tons of trains heading in that direction everyday. Upon arrival we needed to jump in a tuk tuk or songthaew (think van cross tuk tuk) a short 15 minutes to the first temples. There are loads of drivers, but none of them want to take you unless you agree to a whole day tour.
As soon as we said we wanted to cycle they would reply ‘no huge distance, too much to cycle’ which is a massive lie! Cycling is probably the best way to see these impressive temples!
We followed the cycle route that I found on this blog which was brilliant. The whole route took about 4 hours which was definitely long enough in the scorching heat!
Ayutthaya used to be the capitol of Siam and was a massive trading partner for colonies across the world (including China, Portugal and the U.K.).
Unfortunately, it was largely destroyed by the Burmese in 1767. Then later that year abandoned altogether as the Burmese withdrew back to Burma to defend from the Chinese! Sounds like a whole lot of trouble for nothing to me. What remains are pretty cool to wander around and a couple have been restored to their former glory. The humongous gold Buddha inside Wat Phanan Choeng is probably the most impressive thing you’ll see all day.
There are a good sized group of Buddhist temples inside the city of Bangkok itself. Most are situated in one area of the city making logistics a breeze! Simply holla a passing tuk tuk and tell them which temples you want to see and agree a price.
Wat Saket sits on top of a small hill and gives awesome views of the city. We visited the ‘lucky Buddha’ and took part in a small ceremony whereby you kneel and shake a pot with lots of sticks that have numbers on. Whilst you are doing this you pray for something e.g wealth or happiness. Check the number on the first stick to come out the pot and pick up the paper which tells you a sort of fortune. Weirdly enough both Brad and myself had fortunes which matched up to what we had wished for! Just superstition but pretty cool!
Wat Pho is another temple complex not to be missed. It is absolutely stunning. The colours and the spires everywhere with beautiful patterns are so picture worthy. It’s also home to the famous recline Buddha! Literally the size of a double decker bus, or bigger. Impossible to get a picture of the whole thing but very impressive.
I genuinely find that Buddhist temples do have a calming atmosphere about them. They make me feel very different to the Hindu temples in India. I think it’s probably down to respecting the simplicity of the monks and the sacrifice they make to be monks. I think very few of us could give up so much in return for what is essentially inner peace!
Other AMAZING Places to Eat
- Thip Samai Pad Thai. This restaurant is famous for its shrimp pad Thai! Like seriously, there is at least a 30-40 minute queue outside this place EVERY SINGLE NIGHT from the moment it opens at 5pm. It absolutely lived up to the hype. Especially with the added theatre of the chef cooking out front so you can watch in the queue! Don’t miss out on the orange juice. I don’t like orange juice, but I liked this – says it all I think?
- The Deck. Ok, not really somewhere to eat but it should still be on your list! Get there an hour before sunset to ensure you get a good table on the top deck. Grab a cocktail (or a coke which was more in our budget) and wait for the show! Overlooking the dramatic Wat Arun from across the river you’ll get to witness an insane sunset! We were especially lucky with our display of colour but honestly sunsets in Bangkok are insane most nights.
- Jim’s Burger and Beer. I have already mentioned this eatery. Definitely not cheap food (expect to pay £10 or more for a burger) but hella delicious! Proper comfort food with great music (old school rock) and a wide selection of craft beers, ciders and stouts.
We celebrated two festivities in Bangkok; Christmas and New Year! Christmas was spent just Brad and myself cooking up a (pretty decent) chicken roast and playing lots of games. I think I’ll stick to cold Christmas’ in the future though!
For New Year’s Eve we headed on down to CentralWorld mall. Every year they put on a fireworks display and have vendors selling food and drinks at the cross roads. It was absolutely heaving with people – literally hundreds of thousands! Fireworks display had nothing on London but it was still a great night.
Bangkok has really made us fall in love with Thailand. For someone that doesn’t like the craziness of cities I really enjoyed the vibes in Bangkok. I would largely put that down to the people and how friendly and kind they are. I can see why there is such a big expat community here!
2 or 3 days in Bangkok is definitely not enough. Rushing this city would be a crime and you really wouldn’t get to take in its energy. You can visit one place during the day and think it’s perfectly pleasant, then go back in the evening and it has a totally different vibe! But both are great and it just gives the city a sort of split personality feel which is so intriguing.
Thank you Bangkok! I can’t wait to explore the rest of Northern Thailand.