Bangkok was the last stop on our seven-week tour of South-East Asia, and we were pleasantly surprised to find a charming atmosphere waiting for us in the Thai capital. If anything, there was no sign of Bangkok’s infamous seedy personality, but we admittedly spent much of our time relaxing before a long flight home. Even though we only just scratched the surface of Bangkok, the city has an appeal that will definitely see me return.
As one of South-East Asia’s biggest cities, Bangkok is well-connected by road and air. We arrived on coach from the incredible Angkor Wat temples in Siem Reap, Cambodia (check out my blog on Angkor here).
The journey from Siem Reap is a long one – around 12 hours – with lots of stopping and starting, especially at the Thai border. Give yourself time to get into the country, because the border crossing from Cambodia was one of the busiest we passed through.
Where to stay:
The main backpacker area is Banglamphu, which includes the popular Th Khao San road. We spent our first two nights in Bangkok at the quiet Feung Nakorn Bakery, which includes well furnished dorm rooms and a good breakfast. It’s tough to find though, as our taxi driver discovered, so make sure you have good directions before arriving. It’s also nowhere near an MTR stop, but taxis are a cheap alternative for getting around.
As Bangkok was our last stop before heading home, we booked our final two nights in the Novotel in Silom. After staying in hostels and guesthouses for seven weeks, a private room with a TV and comfy bed was probably one of the best choices we made throughout the whole trip! The Silom neighbourhood is nice, with a good mix of commercial and authentic Thai surroundings – grab a coffee and spend a morning walking around.
What to do:
Bangkok’s main attractions are the Grand Palace and Wat Pho temples. We’d seen many temples during our trip, so decided against a visit. The National Museum, Museum of Siam, Siam Square, and Amulet Market also come well-recommended.
If, like us, you don’t want to exert a huge amount of energy in Bangkok, there are plenty of laid back activities to experience Thai culture. There are plenty of shopping areas, cooking classes and good quality night markets without endless stalls of tourist t-shirts. There are also lots of tailors around, where you can get a shirt tailored in a day for around $15-20.
You can’t walk around Bangkok without seeing a massage parlour on every block. I decided to take a massage before flying home, and my only advice is to be clear what you’re asking for. I asked for a ‘foot and shoulder’ massage, which actually covered most of the body (perilously close to all of it at one stage!), and involved some slightly painful positions. I admittedly felt quite relaxed afterwards, but in hindsight I’m fairly sure the massage parlour wanted me to ‘upgrade’ my massage in a back room…
After my interesting massage experience, we met up with our cousin who happened to be in Bangkok on work at the same time as our visit. It was slightly strange to be meeting somewhere so far from home, but the free meal we had on his expenses was definitely welcome!
For that meal, we spent the evening at Asiatique – a huge night market in an old warehouse. The area has been transformed into a modern market with a big wheel, upmarket restaurants, cheaper food stalls, bars, and hundred of traders selling everything from handmade clothes to general tourist souvenirs. If you’re looking to get presents for friends and family back home, Asiatique is a good option, and requires taking a shuttle boat from Tha Sathon (Central Pier).
Eating and Drinking:
Bangkok was our only chance to experience Thai cuisine, so we took full advantage by ordering Pad Thai and Thai curry while we were in the country. I’ve had both at home, but nothing compared to the real thing in Thailand. Asiatique also has a nice range of food stalls and restaurants, but these restaurants are pricey.
We found that most of Bangkok’s sights are spread out, but taxis are cheap and all have meters. The elevated BTS (Skytrain) and MTR Metro are useful but don’t cover the whole city. They’re also incredibly busy during rush hours – I found Bangkok’s public transport to be busier than both Shanghai and Hong Kong! The shuttle boats used to reach Asiatique are a nice way to travel, but do involve a lot of queuing and waiting around.
Bangkok is easily accessible from all over Thailand by coach. Make sure you know where you’re leaving from, as there are three coach stations in the city.
The city is also a common start or end point for travellers in South-East Asia. Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport is accessible by taxi (arrange a fee beforehand), and by Rail Link which starts at Phaya Thai BTS station.
Elephant sculpture at Asiatique. [Note – all photos taken in 2015, not 2014 as indicated on photos.]
Maybe Bangkok has an unfair reputation, or maybe we didn’t explore the full city, but as our last stop on a long trip Bangkok gave us everything we needed. As an introduction to Thailand, the capital left me wanting more and I hope I can finish exploring this intriguing country one day.
Instead, we headed home after seven weeks of exploring some incredible cities and countries. Check out my ‘Top 5’ Highlights Blog, where I look at the best places we visited, stayed, ate and drank over the course of our trip.