Bangkok – Hot, Humid & Happy!
Bangkok is loud, hot and humid, peaceful and polluted. It’s a really vibrant, characterful capital city, full of happy locals and we loved it! It makes a perfect stopover for a long-haul destination, as we did. It has a real buzz and feels like rush-hour all the time. Downtown around the Sukhumvit Road felt like something out of a Mad Max/Sci-fi movie, somewhat futuristic with miles of electricity poles and masses of wires decorating the streets, overhead walkways, subway trains whizzing by and the chaos of people, cars and Tuk Tuks all crossing each other. As we arrived we heard on the news of political unrest and major demonstrations, which there always seem to be in Thailand, but it didn’t spoil our visit.
Our first night in Bangkok and we had to watch a ladyboy show, as had planned a full day of cultural sightseeing the next day. We chose Calypso Cabaret located at Asiatique mainly because it was just a short river taxi ride from our hotel – The Chatrium. The theatre venue is quite nice, like something out of 1930s Las Vegas show bar.
After watching in awe how good the ladyboys look, the actual show itself was ok, without sounding disrespectful it’s brilliantly kitsch, and cheesy with lip syncing to various American tunes. On the way out the ladyboys line up and you can have your photos taken with them for the equivalent of a couple of quid.
Asiatique where the show is based, makes for a nice evening too. Built on converted docklands, Asiatique features a contemporary styled night market and quality restuarants housed in historic warehouses. It’s all quite modern, has a nice atmosphere and surroundings. We had our first Thai meal here from a basic food stall, and ordered 4 dishes to try. Including a Kaeng Khiao Wan and Papaya Salad, which the salad turned out to be Garth’s staple Thai dish wherever we went!
Wat Arun – Temple of the Dawn
The iconic landmark of Bangkok, Wat Arun is opposite The Grand Palace, and sits on the river of the Chao Phraya River. It’s pretty much on the opposite side of the river to Wat Pho, so really easy to get to, just a short river taxi ride (just 3 baht), It’s one of the best photo spots here, so make sure you get a shot of its tower and the river before you cross.
It’s a remarkable temple decorated with tiny pieces of coloured porcelain and glass, and looks more like a Cambodian temple than a traditional Thai styled one. We decided to climb up to the central level, the stairs are incredibly steep! hard on your knees, but you are rewarded with great views of the Grand Palace and riverscape, getting back down was the hardest bit, Phil was knackered! Sadly we didn’t get time to see it at night, there’s lots of little bars all opposite where you can sit, must be a really pleasing sight all lit up.
The Grand Palace – Phra Barom Maha Rajjawang
The Grand Palace built in 1782 is a must see, once home to the King, but still used for offical ceremonies. It is an incredible sight with ornate pagodas, spires and towers covered in gold and tiles, creating a unique skyline. This vast site is home to numerous buildings.
That age old adage of visiting a popular tourist site early morning is true here. Vast numbers of tourists, heat and humidity could spoil your day if you visit too late, plus the Palace closes daily at 3.30pm
Wat Phra Kaew
Wat Phra Kaew temple is really the main sight in the Palace grounds. It is considered to be the most sacred Buddhist temple in the whole of Thailand. The temple has various buildings inside, including the Golden Chedi, a beautiful library and lots of gold and ceramic guardian statues. You can’t helped but be wowed by the incredible detail and craftsmanship of these buildings, the aroma of incense is everywhere too.
The Temple of the Emerald Buddha is the star attraction of Wat Phra Kaew. It houses the sacred Emerald Buddha, who’s tiny for such a big temple, and only the King is allowed to get close to. It’s carved from a single block of Jade and has 3 sets of seasonal clothes which can only be changed by the King or Crown Prince.
Wat Pho – Temple of the Reclining Buddha
The Reclining Buddha is 46 metres in length and 15 metres high. It’s so tall, Buddha’s head dress pokes through the top of the temple. Its mother of pearl eyes symbolise Buddha’s entry to Nirvana. Phil loved the wonderful calming sounds of coins being dropped into lines of prayer bowls.
Outside here are rows upon rows of multiple Buddhas sitting in the lotus position – great for photos. Note all temples have strict dress code wear long trousers and shirts, basically no sleeveless T-shirts. And in all temples you must remove your shoes as a sign of respect to Buddha.
Bangkok Canals – Asia’s Venice
We took a long tail boat through the canals of Bangkok. It felt like we were in a scene right out of Mission Impossible as we zipped past colourful residential homes raised on stilts which line the canals. It was a wonderful hour or so as we passed by the odd floating restaurant and glimpses into local life. The breeze was also great, away from the humidity amongst the skyscrapers, it felt like we had found hidden Bangkok.
Getting around Bangkok
In the evenings we took the elevated metro called the BTS Skytrain, its safe and convenient way of getting around, although Phil managed to take us right to the area of political unrest trying to find a station!
We had to do a Tuk Tuk ride, when in Thailand and all that! It was hair raising but great fun – a real adventure, perfect for small distances, but absolutely essential to the bargain the price before you get in.
OMG the food!! You only have to walk a few steps anywhere in Bangkok and their legendary street food is around every corner. We headed to Chinatown, as it’s really characterful at night, the area is full of food stalls with people of all ages sat at tables that line the streets. It has a great atmosphere because it’s really busy, Chinatown is gritty and some restaurants advertise birds nest and shark fin soup! we skipped that for Thai food.
Thai food is sweet, salty, sour and HOT! very HOT! Lots of places asked us if we wanted ‘foreginer’ hot, which is the wimps version, which is what we chose. Phil is a real foodie and tried the street food favourite Pad Kra Pao, delicious! oh and did we mention street food is incredibly cheap. Try Chang beer too, we preferred it slightly to Singha beer. Out of all the countries we’ve visited Thai food is easily our favourite, we didn’t have a bad meal anywhere in Bangkok.
Eat at Cabbages and Condoms
When we told our friend Helen we were going to Bangkok, she told us we must go to this restaurant (we love getting recommendations from friends) this place didn’t disappoint. So we’d like to pass on our recommendation too! Cabbages and Condoms is a restaurant whose proceeds fund sexual health projects. The place is decorated with condoms, very creative and makes for a good giggle. When we went they even had a Christmas display made from them! The restaurant is quite big, get a table outside which has the best atmosphere, lines of fairy lights hang from tree branches and Phil’s favourite of live music makes for a great atmosphere.
The food is mid ranged price, whilst the drinks are cheap. We had various dishes which were excellent, and all Spicy!! Located off the Sukhumvit Road, it took us a little while to find it, (should have used google maps Phil!) but well worth it, fun and a worthy cause. Finally most resaurants serve your bill with mints – this one served theirs with condoms! Which was embarrassing when it fell out of Phil’s wallet later that evening getting change for journey home.
Shopping the Night Markets
Bangkok is a paradise for shoppers – there’s everything for all tastes from high end shopping malls to night markets. We couldn’t come to Bangkok without trying one of famous late night markets to wander around. So we took the BTS to Silom Road where Patpong Market is located right in the middle of the red light district. The stall holders sell tons of clothes, leather goods, electronics, and counterfeit branded products too. Yes it’s seedy walking past the bright neon lit bars, as foreign tourists weigh up the ‘ping pong’ menus outside, but great fun wandering the stalls. If we had time, would have tried the vintage train market, as we’d heard good things about that one.
Day Trip from Bangkok
The next day was our day trip! We booked and paid in advance for a private guided tour with Tour With Tong We can both agree was the highlight of our few days in Bangkok. Jerry promptly met us in our hotel reception at the appointed time. He even rang the night before to check we would be ready. The car we had was clean and very comfortable. After about an hours drive, we stopped and got out of the car and walked down the fish market in the town of Samut Sakhon.
Samut Sakhon Market
The smell of the area was soon forgotten once we started to spot the unusual fish and food and vast numbers of flowers on display.
It was a real insight into real Thai life and made even more real when the Thai national song was played and everyone including cars, workers and us stopped and stood for a few seconds.
A short hop over the river and we were met, as if by magic, and with out any fuss by 3 rickshaws with drivers, one for each of us. It was by now that we were beginning to think we were in a James Bond movie with the slick way that Jerry had organised our tour. All our transport just appeared by magic. We were then driven around the small area where the fishermen lived, followed by a our own opportunity to have a go at riding the trike, the guys must have strong legs as we only managed to go about 10 meters and nearly drove the thing off the road!
Maeklong Train Market
Again our car appeared by magic, to take us to a dirt track rail station called Lao Yai, where we boarded the train to the Maeklong Train Market, The ride was great passing through farming countryside and tropical forests, very hot onboard, but you just stick your head out of a window for a bit of AC! After a short journey the big moment arrived, Jerry even arranged for us to sit in the drivers cab to take photos of the parting market stalls and tourists desperate to get a pic! a unique perspective!
The market has to be the most ridiculous sight we’ve ever seen. The train really does go right through the centre of it and over the produce laid right up to the track. The stall holders pull back their canopies just as the train approaches with seconds to spare. The moment the train has passed through, the canopies go back and the stalls pushed back to the train tracks, absolutely crackers!!
Once inside the market you’d never know you’re walking on a train track. We love foreign markets as you are treated to unusual smells, sights and experiences, they’re great for photos too. This place was a feast for the eyes – cooked and raw frogs, pink eggs, ladies despatching eels, to name a few! Out of the market we tried some more street food, this time Thai pancakes, which were an acquired taste. A savoury milky waffle with a hint of coconut, Phil loved, Garth hated. The magical car appeared again and whisked us off to our last stop, the Damnoen Floating Market
Ok so the Daemon Floating Market is a bit of a tourist thing, some of you will love it, others may think it a long journey for what it is, but if you tie it in with other things, then do it. If we go back to Bangkok we’ve since been told to go to Klong Lat Mayom, an authentic floating market for locals and Thai tourists. Have you been there? Photo Tip – after you’ve done the floating market don’t forget to go to the bridge above it to get some great photos looking down on the boats that pass under.
After a ride down through the tourist market, Jerry then took us further down the river through banana plantations and finally to a coconut farm nearby and showed us how the coconuts were harvested and how palm sugar is made from the coconut sap. He even showed us his skills in tree climbing!
I don’t know how we fitted all this in within the four hours we had with Jerry, but we would definitely recommend this tour. It’s a bit of an early start, but well worth the effort. I’m not sure how many times Jerry has done this tour but he made it so fresh for us. This is a must and thank you Tong and Gerry for give us a fantastic 5 star trip to remember.
Phil & Garth’s Top 5 Bangkok Tips:
- Tip #1: Don’t buy any street food unless you can see it being cooked infront of you.
- Tip #2: We loved Tour With Tong – highly recommend, takes a while to get a reply, she’s obviously incredibly popular.
- Tip #3: Bangkok is a sprawling city, so it’s not easily walkable. Make a plan of how you are going to get from one place to another.
- Tip #4: Don’t bother with the Khao San Road it’s full of western restaurant chain restaurants, go to Chinatown instead.
- Tip #5: Finally make sure you have enough money with you to pay for transport and entry to the temples etc. most of the temples are very cheap but the Golden Palace at the end of the trip was 500baht. We only just had enough.