We’re not normally big-city folk. While some travelers dream of a week wandering the streets of Paris or London, we’d rather be exploring the smaller towns in the countryside or in the mountains. So when it came time for us to visit Bangkok, we looked forward to it with a bit of trepidation. We knew there would be plenty of things to do in Bangkok, but we were still skeptical. Surprisingly, we both really enjoyed it. Here’s a quick post on the 4 reasons we actually liked Bangkok.
The food was one of the primary things we looked forward to in Thailand. Bangkok, in particular, is a food mecca. We’re not talking about fancy, high-end restaurants here. We’re talking about Mom & Pop type places, and especially the street food. You can pretty much buy anything you’d ever want in Bangkok without ever stepping foot into a store or restaurant; everything is available at little carts or stalls set up on the sidewalks. If you’re foodies like us, watch out, you’ll want to eat everything in sight!
Chinatown was our favourite part of the city to explore for food. As the sun sets, the hundreds of street vendors’ stalls begin to open. Anything from fresh fruit to noodle soups to meat skewers to desserts was available for only a few baht. Put a few of them together as you explore the area, and that’s a great meal! Our favourite find were duck spring rolls, mmm!
On our third day in Bangkok, we signed up for a walking food tour with Bangkok Food Tours. This tour specialized in local Thai food, and our guide walked us around the Bangrak area of Bangkok, trying different foods at local restaurants and street vendors along the way. It was plenty of food, but spaced out enough so that we always had an appetite when we sat down at the next stop. We were able to try local southern Thai food, some Isaan curries, and even a local bakery for Thai tea and custard filled buns. It was a fun way to spend a half day. We ate some delicious food that we probably wouldn’t have discovered on our own, picked up a few more helpful Thai words, and met some really nice fellow travelers!
The Cultural Sights
Temples and Buddha statues are scattered throughout Bangkok. The main sites to see are in the ‘old town’ area, surrounding the Grand Palace.
We dedicated one day to exploring this part of Bangkok. Not because we didn’t want to see more, but because transit to/from ‘old town’ from/to ‘new town’ is complicated and we needed to wear long pants/tops to enter the temples. In a city with 30C+ temperatures and very high humidity, we weren’t going to put ourselves through that more than once.
The entire Grand Palace grounds are beautiful to walk around. It’s expensive to enter the innermost area. We didn’t bother, since the interiors of most/all buildings is off limits anyway. Instead, we explored the nearby Wat Pho temple area, famous for its giant reclining Buddha. The intricate, ornate architecture is beautiful.
Another temple, close to Chinatown, that we found worthwhile to visit was Wat Traimit. This one is best known as housing the huge solid gold Buddha. It weighs in at 5.5 tons and its estimated worth is over US$250 million.
Bangkok attracts a lot of backpackers. Many congregate around the Khao San Road area, a street known for its souvenir vendors, bars, tattoo parlors and cheap hostels. The area was made famous in the book (and then movie) The Beach.
While we purposely booked our accommodation far away from Khao San Road, we still had to check it out. There’s not much ‘local flavour” there, but it’s still fun to wander around, enjoy a cheap massage, and relax with a 2-for-1 cocktail special. We didn’t take advantage of the many vendors hawking baggy pants in bright patterns that seem to be a backpacker wardrobe staple in SE Asia. That look hasn’t been cool since MC Hammer, and if you can remember who that is, you’re too old to wear those baggy pants! We did, however, take advantage of the cheap foot massages on offer (bliss!), the good cocktail specials, and the cheap passport photo offers. Trevor passed on buying a tailored suit (only 69Euro – what a deal!) and on the many offers to buy a fake ID.
Bangkok is a city of contradictions. Like any capital city, it has its gleaming office towers, modern condo blocks, and a surprising number of high-end shopping malls. But the real “feel” of Bangkok can be found in the rough-around-the-edges neighbourhoods. Although it’s not a very walkable city (think few sidewalks, fewer crosswalks, and crazy traffic), we still explored on foot much of the time.
Bangkok Has Us now
We spent 3 full days in Bangkok, and that was probably the perfect length. We had been dreading it a little, but shouldn’t have. It turned out to be a nice change of pace for us, between the beach time and the smaller cities we are visiting in Thailand.