Our first night started promisingly. After arriving at our hotel and flopping down on the bed, quickly falling to sleep, we slept for a couple of hours before awakening, both of our stomachs rumbling. We ventured out in search of food, and found all there was locally were a few smaller, not entierly welcoming eateries, so we kept walking. Further down the road, we stumbled onto what at first appeared to be some kind of market, but on closer inspection we found to be an open air buffet. An all you can eat buffet that offered tables and tables of raw meat and seafood, vegetables, curries, rice and noodles. We were welcomed into the place warmly, and as we sat a steamer and a grill were placed on the table in front of us. This was shortly followed by two cold beers, which straight away improved both of our moods. The staff advised us (as best as they could) how it worked; you go up and collect whatever you want, bring it back, and cook it yourself. As we sat cooking chicken skewers and prawns over an open grill, drinking ice cold beers, and discussing what we hoped our trip might hold, we were both in high spirits. Even one of the staff rushing over to warn Fran she was shovelling raw noddles into her mouth didn’t really matter, we all laughed it off, finished our noodles (after cooking them in the steamer), and headed back to our hotel.
It didn’t take long for our opinions of Bangkok to change. We headed out back into the hustle and bustle the next morning, ready to see exactly what Bangkok had to offer. Jumping on the skytrain, we headed into a more central area (Siam), and were greeted by a gleaming pristine shopping centre. (Shopping centres are a surprisingly big part of life in Bangkok. There’s lots of them. In fact, shopping in general is a pretty big part of life in Bangkok. This can make it tricky if like us you’re travelling on a budget, because there’s always so much temptation. If you find yourself ever doing something like backpacking or long term travel I’d definitely advise setting yourself a daily spending limit, and trying your best to stick to it.) We had a wander through a couple of these centres on our first full morning, but didn’t spend too long as shopping centres are something we’d both seen plenty of before.
After an hour or two (and an impressive amount of self control by Fran, who usually wouldn’t pass up an opportunity to go shopping), we headed back out into the heat (by far my favourite thing about these gargantuan shopping centres is the glorious air conditioning they’re all equipped with, rarely have I been so content wandering aimlessly around shops). Once outside, we headed west, towards the Wat Pho/Grand Palace area. We were walking (we walked a lot in our time in Bangkok, although there is a plethora of public transport available, in my opinion the best way to see somewhere is to get out and walk around it), when we came across a very friendly stranger. Or so we thought. He asked me about where we were from, to which I replied England. “Good football!” was his response. I can only assume he either meant the Premier League or hasn’t watched the national side in action recently. Eventually we got onto the subject of where we were going. “We’re not entirely sure” was our rather foolish answer. Before I knew it, he’d written down a list of sights we ‘wouldn’t want to miss’, and very helpfully hailed down a tuk-tuk, and told us the driver would take us to all these sights, for only 40 baht (less than £1, how can we lose right?!).
We were taken to the ‘sights’, a ‘lucky Buddha’, a ‘Big Buddha’ and ‘The Golden Mount’ (also known as Wat Saket, which would have certainly been worth a full trip, but we were so fed up of our ‘tour’ that we didn’t take time to look around it properly). All that we did see was underwhelming. But it was the stops in between that really soured the expereince. After the first temple (where we met another seemingly friendly stranger who talked to us about Thailand, and advised us suits made in Thailand are the some of the best in the world), we were dropped off at a tailor, who asked me what kind of suit I wanted to buy. When I advised him I did not want to buy any suits, we were quickly ushered to the door. This happened again later in the trip, and sandwiched in the middle was a trip to a ‘Tourist Center’ where we were sat down at a table and asked rather bluntly where we wanted to book a hotel for. Again once it became clear we would not be booking any hotels, we were invited to leave. None of this was awful, no one was overly rude or aggressive, and a firm but friendly ‘no’ saw us on our way, but the whole expereince was uncomfortable, and by the end we were glad to see the back of our Tuk-Tuk tour driver.
It’s funny that however much reading you do about these types of things (and we had done plenty), it’s still very easy in the moment to get sucked up in these tourist traps. My advice would be to not get into a Tuk Tuk without making it clear where you want to go (and agreeing the price beforehand), and if you are walking, have a definite destination in mind. Even if you don’t go there, its good to have an answer to the question. At which point, be prepared to be told where you’re going is closed, or the road you’re walking towards might be temporarily closed. In these instances it’s a case of saying “I’m fine thanks” and continuing walking. The sad truth is a lot of locals seem to see tourists as targets, ways of making some easy money. Pretty much the whole time we were in Bangkok I felt we were being looked at as walking pound signs (or baht signs to be more specific) and it made us both feel quite uncomfortable.
Nowhere is this more exemplified by Tuk Tuk drivers. We found we couldn’t walk a few meters down the road without a Tuk Tuk pulling up next to us offering a lift. We’d say no, and then the drivers would continue to shout and ask where we were going and assuring they could help. Again, none of this is awful, but with it happening every couple of minutes (and with the amount of walking we were doing this was a lot of occurrences), we very quickly grew fed up and grew to detest the sight or sound of a Tuk Tuk. This is a shame in itself, as they are a genuinely fun and cheap way of getting about the city, and are something I’d recommend experiencing, just ensure you’re doing it on your own terms.
The next day consisted of a lay in in the morning, and after plucking up the courage to head back into the chaos, visiting two markets (see what I mean about shopping?!) First of all we visited the Chatuchak weekend market, which is regularly included on lists of things to see in Bangkok. We arrived after a short walk (turning away several Tuk-Tuk offers) and almost instantly became lost, as this place is a maze. Inside there is a criss-cross of tight walkways, just about wide enough for one person, with thin shops or stalls squeezed in against each other on both sides. A constant flow of people move in both directions, so if you’re shopping in a hurry, this is not the place to come. It all opens out onto a wide road, again with stalls laid out on each side, and again with a large amount of people wandering up and down. We browsed, picked up a couple of bits, sampled our first street food (meat on a stick; no idea what kind of meat) and left as the sun was setting into an orange haze.
The nearby skytrain station was very very busy, so we squeezed onto a train, and headed to the Talad Neon Market. If the name hasn’t given it away, this is another market, but this is an illuminated night market (although considering it’s billed as a neon market, I was expecting slightly more impressive lighting than it actually has.) Nevertheless, we entered, and spent the first 30 minutes looking at clothes that were more or less identical to the ones we’d looked at at the market we had just come from. After mercifully calling it a day on clothes shopping we sat in a roof top bar overlooking the market and had a beer. We both found ourselves instantly happier. (Thinking about it I’m finding that a lot of the highlights of Bangkok for me were moments where I’m sat in a bar with a beer in my hand, and I’m not sure if that’s saying something about me or saying something about Bangkok.) We moved onto the next side of the market which was mainly food (this maintained my good mood) so we ate a few things, including a novelty dessert which was made with liquid nitrogen that caused it to smoke, and then you to smoke as you ate it. Our inner child promptly came out and it wasn’t long before we were blowing smoke in each other’s faces. We headed home happier, as we had had some fun, and completed the day without being caught in any tourist traps.
Our third day arrived, and we sought peace and quiet in the green haven of Lumphini Park. It felt great to be away from the traffic and hustle and bustle of the streets, but this enjoyment was short lived as for the first time on the trip (without going into too much detail) I found myself pretty urgently needing the toilet, resulting in a mad dash across a multi-acre nature park trying to locate a toilet, the whole time wishing we were in somewhere more built up. (I made it in time, if you were wondering.) Crisis averted we were able to continue exploring the park, and found a small body of water nearly as busy as some of the streets, as in or around the water were extremely large lizards and fish, turtles, a variety of birds, and a cat or two. For a while we just sat on the grass and watched the wildlife show happening in front of us.
Next was a trip to a temple (Wat Traimit) which was the first real temple we’d seen that wasn’t part of an elaborate tourist scam, and was very impressive. This was followed by our first venture down Khao San Road, also known as Thailand’s backpackers capital. On our first attempt we hated it. From the moment we set foot on the road we were hounded by people trying to sell us things. More often than not suits. I get that Thailand is famous for the quality of its suits, but surely the last place you’d want to be trying to sell suits is the ‘backpackers capital’? Can’t say I’ve seen many backpackers wearing suits so far. Rather than point out the flaws in their business practices, we dived into the nearest bar to avoid any further sales pitches, and ordered two beers. (We made a couple of further trips down Khao San Road over the next few days, and more prepared for what it would be like, actually came to enjoy parts of it.)
A transition day followed; we didn’t do too much as we were moving across the city to a new (much nicer) hostel. The Baan Nampetch Hostel was bug free (already an improvement) and thoroughly welcoming and enjoyable for our two night stay. Most importantly it was in a much better location, as the Skytrain and Metro only service limited parts of the city, which had made exploring some of the main sights tricky. Our new location meant we were in walking distance of some of those sights, such as Wat Pho and The Grand Palace. Exploring these is how we spent our final two days, and both were a definite highlight, particularly The Grand Palace, which although being fairly pricy by Thai standards (500 baht each for entrance), almost unbareably busy, difficult to get into, and swelteringly hot, was thoroughly enjoyable to wander around.
And that was our six days in Bangkok. In case it hasn’t come across, I wasn’t a fan. That being said, it has certainly been eventful, and I’m really happy that we came and have been able to experience such a different culture. Unless it was was particularly unsafe, I’d never recommend to not go somewhere, because to me everything is worth experiencing yourself, and actually Bangkok does have something of a charm wrapped up in its hustle and bustle, but it’s just not for me (or Fran). Which brings us up to date. Currently three and a half hours into a ten hour night bus heading north to Chiang Mai, where I’m hoping for better things.
And that brings us to the end of this (very long) post. Hopefully you’re still with me. If you are, thanks for reading, the response to this blog so far has been great, it’s so rewarding to know people are reading and enjoying it, and I’ll hope you’ll continue to follow us on our journey. I’ll be back soon to let you know how we’re finding Chiang Mai!