I like to think that I’m a seasoned traveler. That I’ve been around and am somewhat “cultured.” But nothing could have prepared me for the culture shock upon arriving in Asia. I mean that in a good way. It’s good to step out of your comfort zone and experience radically different cultures and customs.
My husband Michael and I flew from Nashville to Houston to meet up with our friends. We then flew from Houston to Moscow, Moscow to Singapore, and then finally arrived in Bangkok, Thailand. The weather was sticky hot and the streets were filled with taxis, mopeds, and the largest billboards I’d ever seen.
As far as researching before-hand, we looked online and carried along a trusty guidebook for recommendations. Bangkok is a big city where we planned to see the main attractions as well as get lost in the hopes of finding some unique spots. We did.
We stayed in three different places in Bangkok, all very nice and I would recommend all three.
First, we spent two nights at Hotel Intercontinental. As backpackers, we stuck out like sore thumbs in this upscale hotel. But one of our friends had hotel points and graciously offered to use them.
Our room served up great views and our location gave us convenient access to lots of fancy shopping, a grocery store, and the transit Skytrain station, making it easy to get around.
The third day we decided to treat ourselves by staying in Hotel Okura, a 5-star Japanese style hotel. This place definitely lived up to its reputation, with an extremely attentive staff and a beautiful infinity pool overlooking Bangkok. They specially opened their business center so we could print out boarding passes and Cambodian visas beforehand.
Between plane rides from Cambodia and traveling to Vietnam, we stayed in the Amari Don Muang. Connected directly to the airport, this hotel turned out to be one of my favorites of the whole trip. The spacious room with free bottles of water, comfortable beds, modern decor, and easy airport access was exactly what we needed.
Since we arrived on a Sunday we headed directly to the weekend market, “Chatuchak,” before it closed. This provided a perfect introduction to Thailand with bustling street vendors selling bowls of noodles and meat, colorful clothing, textiles, and fake sunglasses. One of the world’s largest weekend markets, it covers 27 acres and has more that 15,000 booths.
Michael and I bought straw hats, while the guys bought traditional Thailand pants, aka Aladdin pants. We ate with the locals at tiny tables filled with exotic foods, never exactly sure what we were eating. I also tried coconut ice cream (pictured above) complete with mango, green sticky rice, and peanuts.
That night we went to a boxing match for traditional Muay Thai boxing at Rajadamnern. It’s the oldest boxing stadium in the world, complete with live music and betting on the match.
Monday we explored near the hotel, walked around the shops and various displays — a huge Christmas tree and the thousands of pink flowers. We also visited the beautiful Erawan Shrine, also the scene of a horrible terrorist attack in August 2015.
Luckily, we arrived just as a traditional religious Thai dance was being performed. We were told that this usually only happens inside of temples but was outside for a special occasion.
After taking the Skytrain (only a few dollars to ride) we took the River Express Boat to explore Bangkok’s biggest attraction: the Grand Palace. Hundreds of boats taxi people across the Chao Phyra River. You can see why Bangkok is called the “Venice of the East.”
I highly recommend taking at least one ride to get a great view of the city.
I wore a long-sleeve t-shirt and leggings, hoping that this would suffice and I wouldn’t have to cover up further upon entering The Grand Palace. I was wrong. They hand out free skirts and shirts if you aren’t wearing appropriate clothing. I threw on a long skirt over my leggings. Yeah, I really blended.
The Grand Palace has been the official residence of the Kings of Siam since 1782. It consists of ornate buildings, gardens, lawns, and courtyards. The interior walls feature intricate inlaid murals showing how King Rama I came to reign and create the Grand Palace. Each King Rama thereafter has made new additions to the Palace.
After what felt like walking through the set of “The King and I,” we turned in our clothes and went to Wat Po, a Buddhist temple containing a HUGE gold reclining Buddha.
So big, in fact, I couldn’t fit the whole thing in my picture. Wat Pho is named after a monastery in India where Buddha is believed to have lived. This temple is one of the oldest and largest Buddhist temples in Bangkok.
We ate at a highly recommended Thai restaurant: The Coconut Palm near the Palace and temple. The food is delicious and very cheap. I noticed that almost everyone eating there had a similar tourist book.
After lunch we headed out to tour the India Market, and took our first “Tuk Tuk” ride. This motorized three-wheeler seats four plus the driver – barely. This was our first and last Tuk Tuk ride in Bangkok, as we learned they don’t have a meter and the price has to be negotiated. Our driver didn’t want to take us where we wanted to go. Instead he kept telling us about a market with “high fashion” and “free gas”… for his Tuk Tuk.
We also had a hard time negotiating with cab drivers. Most didn’t want to have a set price rather than using the meter. Be careful, you can get scammed very easily.
We didn’t end up going to Wat Arun, aka Temple of Dawn, since it was under construction. Instead, we went to Wat Saket or “Golden Mountain,” which contains a relic of Buddha brought from India. This spot provided a great view of Bangkok.
We then stoped in Wat Mahathat, with its rows and rows of Buddhas.
After our fill of temples, we went to the market where the guys tried bugs (I declined). We wandered through a maze of streets and back alleys, where vendors sold spices, dried sea life, and tea.
Monday night we ventured down Khao San road, well known as a hub for backpackers. We peered into the markets and ate at Buddy’s (TripAdvisor named this among the top 10 best restaurants in the area) where I had fabulous green curry.
We then ventured into the seedier side of Bangkok called “Patpong.” This is known as the red light district and a hub of the sex industry. Streets are filled with scantily clad women (girls), markets, and “ladyboys” who are mixed gender. It was interesting and eye-opening, to say the least.
Back to our hotel we went the hotel night club. The hotel clerk warned that it was filled with prostitutes. He wasn’t exaggerating. Almost every woman there (besides myself) was openly soliciting for sex. It served as a stark reminder of the completely different worlds we weaved in and out of during our trip.
We spent the earlier part of the day exploring China Town and the markets there. I had the weirdest dish of my life — “black chicken,” which came out very, very black and included a chicken foot. I hesitated to post the picture, but I thought you needed the visual…
Next, we went to Wat Traimit which contains a 5.5-ton solid golden Buddha! This was discovered in 1954. At that time it was covered in plaster. When moving it to its new location, the movers couldn’t figured out why it was so heavy. As they tried to move it, the ropes broke and the statue fell on the ground, cracking the plaster and revealing its solid gold surface.
Next we stumbled upon Sikh temple and ventured inside. We were greeted with offers of free food and the people talked to us about their religion and beliefs.
We were blown away by their kindness.
We toured Dusit Park, which King Rama V designed after visiting Europe. The European influence is evident in the architecture and the beautiful grounds.
On our last night we went to Le Bua to the Sky Bar (also the scene from The Hangover 2) for an incredible view of the city. Be aware, drinks are incredibly overpriced.
Other Bangkok recommendations/observations:
• Before entering a cab, ask if they will run the meter. If not, either don’t take it or negotiate heavily.
• Prices are negotiable on almost anything.
• Be careful of the street food. You never know what you might get.
• Don’t just stick to the guide book. Walk around and explore. Each street offers something new.
• Notice the wires on the street. How there isn’t an electrical fire every hour, I don’t know.
• We went during November, the coolest time of year, which also avoids the rainy season. But it’s still HOT.
• Try something new. If you’re like me, going to Thailand is completely out of your element. But I’m glad I did it. So embrace it!
What are your suggestions for three days in Bangkok? Ever been to Thailand?
Up next: Exploring Chiang Mai!