Thailand’s capital Bangkok is famous for its nightlife and shopping malls. It is a mixture of the new and the old with modern buildings and ancient temples. It is consistently ranked one of the best cities in the world to visit because of its diverse offerings.
Getting into Bangkok via air
Bangkok has two airports the newer and larger Suvarnabhumi airport and the older Don Mueang airport. If you are travelling to Bangkok by air then you’ll be getting in to either airport depending on your carrier.
Getting around Bangkok
Bangkok is one of the most if not the most well connected Thai cities. You won’t have any trouble finding transportation all through the day and into the late hours of night.
Tuk-Tuks: All though there aren’t as many tuk-tuks as taxi’s you’ll still find plenty driving around in Bangkok. They can only comfortably seat three people. The drivers are notorious for charging ridiculous prices, hence negotiate the price before you embark.
Taxis: There are plenty of taxis to go around at all times. Taxi drivers will also try to charge you more and refuse to turn on the meter. Hence a good alternative is to make use of apps such as Uber or Grab taxi, they will definitely give you better deals.
Busses: They are by far the cheapest option, however it is not recommended for short term tourists as the signage is predominately in Thai. Hence it can be quite difficult to get around unless you are aware of which bus number to take and which stop to go to.
Motorcycle Taxi: There are bikes that can be hailed as well. It’s a good option for a solo traveler. This is an option frequented by the locals.
Metro: There are two types of metro services that run in Bangkok. The sky train or the BTS and the underground MRT. There are a few stations where you can switch from one to the other. The Metro systems are extremely easy to use with clear English signage. Many metro stations are also directly linked to malls.
Boat: Boats are a cheap option for travelling to destinations along the Chao Praya River
Where to stay in Bangkok
The best areas to stay in Bangkok are Silom and Sukhumvit. Silom is at the heart of the city close to all the action. Sukhumvit on the other hand is a quieter residential area. I would recommend Silom as it is closer to most attractions and malls in comparison to Sukhumvit. Hence you won’t waste as much time and money travelling back and forth.
What we saw in Bangkok
I’m continuing this post from where I left off in my previous blog about Pattaya . We arrived in Bangkok at around 2:00 pm just in time for our hotel check in. After lunch the plan was to go on a Chao Praya river cruise. However owing to the fact that it had been drizzling all day we decided to head to MBK mall instead. As I was writing this article I realized it was turning into a lengthy piece. So I’ve decided to put all the malls and shopping places into another article. Read it here
Chinatown also known as Yaorat, is an extensive area with roads and by lanes filled with food, Chinese souvenirs and products as well. It is home to the expat Chinese community. There are proper sit down restaurants, makeshift ones and plenty of carts. It is easy to get overwhelmed by all of the options. As a general rule head to the places that are the busiest, that’s where you’ll find the best food.
Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew
We visited Bangkok and the Grand Palace, less than a month after the Thai king passed away. Hence there were many Thai’s who’d come to pay homage to their king. The area for visiting the king was separate to the tourists and we had to walk around quite a bit before finding the correct point of entry. We had to show our passports to enter so be sure to carry them. There was a counter before the entrance where they were handing out some sweets, water and wet wipes. Restaurants and souvenir stores line the road to the entrance.
Open Daily from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm
Entry Fee: 500 THB (including Wat Phra Kaew)
The palace has a strict dress code, both men and women should wear clothes that cover their legs and shoulders. In case you are inappropriately dressed they have a rental for long pants and tops.
As you enter the temple you can see a massive gold pagoda which shines brilliantly reflecting the sunlight. There are multiple structures, statues and carvings all inspired by Buddhist mythology. The bright colours, mirrorwork and ornate craftsmanship is a spectacle and a must visit if you ever happen to be in Bangkok. The temple tends to get very busy very quickly, and you’ll find yourself constantly fighting crowds hence, it is best to get in as soon as it opens.
The Grand palace is adjacent to the temple a passage connects the two. As I mentioned earlier the Thai king had recently passed away and his body was being kept in the palace for public viewing. Hence the palace was cordoned off and we could only walk around a part of the perimeter and view the structure from a distance.
Wat Arun is located on the opposite side of the Chao Praya River. Hence you will have to take a boat there. To get there, cross the road from the Grand Palace exit and find Tha Chang Pier. You will constantly get accosted by touts trying to sell you boat tours for 700 and 1200 THB per person. Ignore them and walk up to front of the pier and join the que that is not affiliated with any boat tour. Boats arrive every 10 – 15 minutes. Tickets are only 14 THB per person, yes! You heard right! So do not fall for the tout’s scams. A five minute boat ride will get you to Wat Arun.
Open daily from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm
Entry Fee: 100 THB
Also known as the temple of dawn, Wat Arun features a series of white stupas with patterned tiling in green and yellow. You can climb up the steep stairs to get a better view of the surroundings. Although some of the structures were covered with scaffolding and under refurbishment hence, were not accessible.
If you are heading to Wat Pho from Wat Arun then you have to cross the river again. A boat can be caught from the Pier outside Wat Arun and will cost about 7THB per person.
Open daily from 8:30 am to 6:00 pm
Entry Fee is 100 THB per person
Wat Pho is known as the temple of the reclining Buddha and unsurprisingly, is the foremost attraction there. You can walk all around the statue that towers above everything. The Wat Po temple complex is massive and you can walk around and explore the multiple structures it encases. It also serves as a functional Thai University teaching multiple disciplines.
Day trip to Ayutthaya
After visiting the Sanctuary of Truth, we had a sinking feeling that Ayutthaya wouldn’t be to our liking, but we decided to go anyway, maybe we would enjoy it after all. We decided to take a train to Ayutthaya, which can be caught from the Hua Lampong station. It is possible to take an MRT till the station from other parts of Bangkok. There was a separate que for foreigners to buy train tickets, which proved to be quite cheap at 20THB. But be warned, we weren’t informed about the fact that those tickets wouldn’t guarantee us a seat on the two hour journey. The train station and trains are very much like Indian trains. You basically enter the coach and find yourself a seat, but here’s the catch and what we understood far too late. The 20THB tickets are 3rd class tickets, foreigners with such tickets are not issued a seat number, whereas Thais are. If a Thai individual with a ticket of the seat you’ve taken happens to come a long you will have to get up and make way for them. If you are lucky no one will come along and you can keep your seat.
What if you want an assured seat reservation? Then you will have to purchase first class tickets which cost around 300THB per person for a single journey. If you are four or more people this works up to slightly less than taking a taxi. My advice is skip the train, it is quite slow and will take you upwards of 2 hours one way. It is also not very comfortable either.
After our train debacle, we arrived in Ayutthaya after a two hour journey. It is possible to rent a bike to explore Ayutthaya or hire a tuk-tuk to take you around. Again a recurring theme you will be approached by touts as you exit the train at the train station. They will quote high prices. Be patient and wait till they come down to a reasonable price. It is important to understand that they need your business more than you do. If they don’t get you they have to wait a couple more hours, before the next train arrives with potential customers.
We managed to strike a deal that would take us to 5 locations for 1500THB. Ayutthaya is a historical town that once served as Thailand’s capital in ancient history. Now it serves as an archeological site with locals earning their livelihoods in the tourism business. Ayutthaya is a relatively small town with most places distanced 10 to 15 minutes of each other. The tuk- tuk driver will take you to the location and wait there. You are free to see the sights at your own pace. Due to the Thai kings’ passing all heritage site fees were waived off, hence we didn’t have to pay entry fee to see the sites. We visited Wat Phra Si Sanphet, Wat Phra Mahathat, Wat Ratchaburana, Wat Chaiwatthanram, Phra Chedi Suriyothai.
An Ayutthaya day trip will eat into most of your day, the two hour train ride each way will add up. I would recommend skipping Ayutthaya especially if you are from India. Ayutthaya pales in comparison to heritage sites such as Hampi, in India. If you are from the west though, Ayutthaya may seem a lot more appealing and may be worth your visit.
Khao San Road
Khao San Road is the heart of Bangkok’s vibrant nightlife. A visit to Bangkok without visiting Khao San road is an incomplete one. The stretch features bars, clubs, shops and street food. We found more varieties of unusual food here than any other place we visited. Heard about Thailand’s famous fried insects? You’ll find a couple of carts selling them here. The carts are usually surrounded by tourists. The nifty vendors even charge money for people to take photos of the insects. I highly recommend trying an insect, if only for the bragging rights, and watching your friends get squeamish as you tell them.