Bangkok: A Gateway to Southeast Asia
Busy, bustling, Bangkok. My first destination on my solo Southeast Asia trip, and it was not a bad choice. Bangkok has touches of the traditional Thai life mixed in with modern Asia.
I only was able to spend 4 days in Bangkok and I’m already planning to come back to the “City of Angels” the next time I’m in Asia -particularly for the food and shopping.
Later on in my travels, I was often confronted with other backpackers saying they hated Bangkok and found it too much for them to handle.
I wondered why? Did they spend all their time on Khao San Road? Not going to lie, Khao San Road was probably the only part of Bangkok I truly hated. I could only seriously handle the place for 30 minutes before wanting to punch myself in the face and leave. I know many others adored it but to me it felt like a seedy street. Who knows… but in my eyes, there was so much beauty in the Bangkok bustle.
Due to my tiny bag situation on this trip, I refrained from spending money on things, and instead used it for activities, food, and toiletries in Bangkok.
I spent a couple days doing the general touring of Bangkok (Wat Pho & The Grand Palace), but my time in the less touristy parts was awesome. The chaotic nature of the city was the best, although I know a lot of people tend to hate on Bangkok for the overwhelming experience. Coming from Chicago, I’m used to a bit of busy already and it made me feel slightly at home.
For Bangkok, I suggest doing the typical hot tourist spots first:
- Wat Pho
- The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo (beware of the massive tour group crowds)
- Wat Arun (if it’s not under renovation, unfortunately it was when I was there)
- River Taxi/Cruise
- Floating Market (although I’ve heard this is totally a tourist scam now)
- Haggling at Markets
Also check out the many other temples less frequented by tourists.
For other fun things to do in Bangkok:
- Have a cocktail on one of the many rooftop bars
- Visit the modern shopping hubs such as CentralWorld, Siam Paragon, or Terminal 21 (cool concept mall!)
- Picnic in Lumphini Park (a green oasis in the city)
- Yeowarat or Chinatown (the street food is AMAZING)
- Expand your culinary skills and take a Thai cooking class
- See the modern side of Thailand by getting out of the old historical district and just explore by foot
If you want to escape the humidity and heat for a bit, go watch a movie at one of Bangkok’s many movie cinemas. I went to the theater at the massive Siam Paragon mall on the top floor. It’s an interesting experience where there’s different levels of “comfort” each at their own price points from red velvet seats to a full-on VIP couch style seating.
At every movie they play a video collage of the life of the King Rama IX with the Thai national anthem, where everyone respectfully stands up. I was amazed at how much nicer the movie theaters are especially at the low ticket costs. Chicago movie theaters still have quite a bit of progress to make in terms of comfortable seats and service!
Getting around Bangkok was relatively easy and transportation options ranged:
- BTS Skytrain and the Metro
- Taxi Boats
- GrabTaxi and Uber
I found that as long as I had a screenshot of the addresses of places I was going I could get anywhere in a taxi or tuk-tuk. Be wary of scams from drivers though! I did not experience anything negative like that but have heard a few horror stories.
Overall favorite part of Bangkok was a temple called Wat Suthat, which was fairly close to my first hostel, Niras Bankoc Cultural Hostel. I went on a weekday afternoon and there were maybe only six other tourists there. It was also only 20 Baht for entry versus the “steep” 500 Baht for The Grand Palace.
Wat Suthat is a stunning temple with a large ornate gold Buddha inside. I was about finished checking out the temple’s grounds, when a thunderstorm started pouring down rain. This led to me taking shelter around the roofed fencing of Wat Suthat. It was remotely reminiscent of the following Mulan scene. (Yes, I know Mulan is Chinese but let me wistfully pretend I’m similar to her at all).
I took off my shoes before stepping onto the raised platform and began to sit down on the cold tile floor, but not before a disabled Buddhist man sleeping and staying at the temple offered me a chair.
I graciously took his offer and made a shoddy attempt to meditate while I had the free time, while waiting for the rain to calm down for almost an hour. For each soggy tourist that wandered into the shelter, this selfless man offered each one a chair, while he sat on the floor on a thin bamboo mat.
His act of kindness has reminded me of the quote from the Dhammapada – “Give, even if you only have a little.”
To me, it was a strong reminder of why I appreciate Buddhism, and a beautiful start to my trip.