Bangkok is a breath of fresh air…well metaphorically. Literally, it is a breath of spicy, salty, stinky, sweet, gingery, sweaty, cilantro-y air. (And a bunch of other smells that I don’t have the culinary vocabulary to describe.) View from sky train platform at the Silom stop
Most people I meet tend to treat Bangkok as a layover city. People often spend just one day, or even half a day, on their way from Chang Mai to the islands of the South…but Bangkok is so much more than that! There are so many places to explore and after three days, I had not seen everything I’d wanted to see. I will say that the heat of Bangkok allows for the already slightly disoriented, rookie travelers to become easily exhausted. If you are going to thailand for just a week or two, I suggest you do a sandwich. A couple full days in Bangkok, then some time in the islands, and then back to Bangkok for your last hurrah.
Honestly, I feel like I waisted a lot of time on my first day because I didn’t really have a plan and couldn’t decide what to do first. Here I will share with you which areas and activities I feel are worth seeing and doing, as well as the ones I don’t think are worth it.
CHAO PRAYA RIVER BOAT
You totally have to take the boat at least once! It can seem kind of crowded and stressful beforehand, as you probably don’t know which way you’re going etc, but it’s a cool experience that offers some great views of Bangkok that you wouldn’t get otherwise. Take the boat with the orange flag as it stops at every pier and costs 15 THB (50¢). And not going to lie…they only end up charging you half the time. If you take the boat to pier 0 it connects with the sky train and once you’re on that you can go any where! By the end of the day, you will feel proud and accomplished for mastering the art of navigating Bangkok like a local, rather than taking taxis everywhere. Click here for an awesome river guide.
TEMPLES There are sooo many! You have to decide which 2 or 3 you really want to see and then just move on because it could suck up your whole trip if you let it.
-The Grand Palace is a must (pier 9) $14 / 500 THB -Wat Pho, largest Buddha statue in the world (pier 8) $3 / 100 THB
After that I would just go to whatever ones are free or 50 THB unless there are particular ones that interest you.
CHINA TOWN Definitely worth a visit. Take the boat down the Chao Praya river and get off at pier 5.
I accidentally got off at pier 4…which ended up being the outskirts of China Town. It’s an industrial area, the road is more like a really long alleyway with people working on metal parts everywhere. After wandering for 20 minutes I came to a street of literally only shoes and then finally the main road and heart of China Town. It is a place of much energy, much street food and much trinkets. I got some kind of street food…I have no idea what it was. It was kind of mushy…couldn’t tell if it was meat or not…I’m hoping it wasn’t cat brains…but I don’t even care because it was delicious!
TAKE THE TRAIN DOWNTOWN
Siam is a really popular shopping area, but for walking around and exploring, it was not my favorite. I’d recommend getting off the train at Silom because not only is there shopping but also a nice park. I could see someone bringing a towel and napping under a tree during the hottest part of the day. There are also some great streets for food. You have to get off the main road and explore the side streets. I stumbled upon an area littered with street venders and most of them had the little plastic tables that you can sit at on the sidewalk. The prices there where cheaper than the Koah San Road area for sure. See what other ares of Bangkok you might want to check out here.
KAOH SAN ROAD / BANGLAMPOO
If you want to party go to Kaoh San Road. This street is like a 24/7 365 spring break but instead of ages 18-25…it’s ages 5-70! You’ll meet all kinds of people here from hippy backpackers to families with little kids. This street doesn’t sleep so I’d recommend you stay a few streets over in the Banglampoo area so that you can retreat to saner areas when necessary. Like when you want to sleep.
My favorite street in this area is actually Rambutri which is the first street North East of Kaoh San Road. It still has plenty of loud pockets with outdoor bar areas but it has a lot of quieter, more chill areas as well. There are also great food and massage places everywhere. There is a place on the corner of Rambutri and Chakrabongse where I got probably my favorite meal in Thailand for 25 THB (70 ¢)! It was this yellow sauce with chicken and I don’t even know what vegetable over rice. I had never before had a single dish including so many different flavors at once! The flavor was really spicy, sweet, salty and cilantro infused and maybe minty too?
It’s very easy to get stuck in this area. You can hangout, eat, drink, get massages and browse through touristy knick-knacks all while being located near your hostel, convenient for bathroom trips and afternoon naps involving air conditioning. BUT DON’T GET STUCK! There is so much more to see in Bangkok than you will ever have time for! You can’t waste it all…looking at elephant-printed sarongs and Chang beer tank tops while sipping on your ridiculously cheap fruit smoothie. Which brings us to the next point…
GO TO A FLOATING MARKET
Before coming to Bangkok, a journey to the floating market was number one on my to-do list. It wasn’t until I arrived at my hostel that I realized there is not just one floating market but there are several! I ended up going to Damnoen Saduak, which is the biggest and most touristy floating market, and I would definitely advise you to go to a different one! I mainly went because my hostel made it so easy for me to go. I inquired about this market as I checked into Feel At Home Backpackers around 1:30am, (just after getting of the Lompraya bus from Koh Tao). With in about five minutes I had a reservation for the 7:00am shuttle bus to Damnoen Saduak, which only cost 270 THB or $7.56 USD round trip for an hour and a half drive…not bad!
Honestly though, this market was a bit of a rip off and full of only tourists. Originally, I was told that the shuttle bus price also covered the boat ride, but when I got to the market I was told I needed to pay extra if I wanted to take a boat that would go through the side canals. Of course, that boat ended up only going up and down the main canal once or twice…and then it was over, no side canals! So if you go, don’t pay the extra money. Also, there were all the normal, tacky trinkets being sold…but not as much food! I think some of the other floating markets have more food-boats, which is what I was really most interested in. It was also just so crowded that our boat could hardly move. I would recommend picking one of the smaller markets off of this list here.
There are only two main scams I want to highlight, and they both involve transportation.
DO NOT go to the taxi counter in the airport after stepping off the plane. I know it’s tempting, especially if you get there at night and you just want to get to your hostel, but they will rip you off so badly. I paid 800 THB or $22.00 USD, which in the U.S. is not a bad price for a half hour taxi ride in a big city. In Thailand however, that’s a horrible price. On the way back to the airport two weeks later, I paid 350 THB.I’m not sure what the best way of going about this upon arrival is…maybe just walk outside the airport and get a taxi yourself? On the way back to the airport I was actually supposed to take an airport shuttle arranged by my hostel, however that shuttle never showed up. The hostel’s night-clerk then helped me get a taxi and negotiate a price.
Tuk-tuks can be great sometimes, and really annoying other times. You just have to be able to recognize when things are starting to get ridiculous and then just leave.
The good: Tuk-tuk drivers will offer to drive you around from temple to temple, (or whatever touristy places you want to visit), for a very cheap price. For 30 THB, (under $1 USD), a tuk-tuk took me to as many different temples as I wanted to see in the area. The driver will sit there and wait for you while you wander around the temple, for as long as you want, and then take you to the next one when you’re done. Plus, it’s just a fun experience if it’s your first time in Thailand.
The bad: Tuk-tuk drivers will lie and tell you that certain places are not within walking distance, when they totally are. Then there is the most annoying aspect of tuk-tuk transportation, being that some drivers repeatedly take you to shops that you are not interested in and then beg you to just look for five minutes…I am going to assume they receive some kind of commission if you buy something. The driver I had kept taking me to fancy stores offering custom made suits and fine silks. I would tell him I have no need for these things and then he would beg me to just look before we go to the next temple. I humored him a couple times but then finally just put my foot down and demanded to be taken back to my hostel area. If the driver won’t take you back then just leave. You don’t have to pay them until the end of the ride so…you can always use that 30 baht to pay a different tuk-tuk driver who will cooperate.