Ah, Bangkok. I’m not sure we could have chosen a more 180-degree change from Zanzibar. We went from a quiet, nearly deserted beach resort to a huge, loud, chaotic city. However, after a month in East Africa Bangkok felt so very luxurious!
Upon our initial arrival in Thailand, we stayed for 3 nights in an Airbnb apartment. We spent most of our first few hours there exclaiming about the air conditioning, the hot water, the fast internet, and the washing machine. (And we immediately did 3 full loads of laundry because all of our clothes were dirty!)
On the whole, our first 3 days there were kind of a bust. Matthew was really sick and spent the entire time in bed. Lilly and I just didn’t feel motivated to do much except eat and lounge around. It’s okay though, it was probably what we needed. We didn’t do a single tourist activity, and the only time we ventured outside of our own neighborhood was to go to an electronics mall to try and get my camera fixed.
Other than that, we just relaxed. I would like to put in a plug for our neighborhood. We stayed in the Ari neighborhood. It’s a bit outside the center of Bangkok, but our apartment was 5 minutes from a Sky Train station. It was less hectic than central Bangkok, and it was full of restaurants and hipster coffee shops. If you’re in Bangkok to see all the tourist attractions, the location might not be the most convenient, but it was pretty much perfect for our three days of chilling out. And I think it would be perfect for a longer-term stay in Bangkok if you want to stay out of the hustle and bustle.
Though we didn’t really regret the time we spent relaxing, Matthew and I did want to have the opportunity to see the sights in Bangkok. Lucky for us, we knew we would have to return there to fly out of Thailand at the end of our stay, so we planned 2 more days there before our flight out of the country.
In those two days we managed to fit in a couple of the most popular tourist attractions in Bangkok, as well as to venture away from the crowds a little to see a quieter side of the city.
This time we stayed in a more central part of town in an apartment that was just down the road from a Sky Train station and the central ferry station. Bangkok’s most popular tourist attractions aren’t anywhere near the Sky Train line, so the best way to get to them via public transit is on a ferry boat.
This is probably Bangkok’s most famous tourist attraction. We were a bit on the fence about visiting because we knew it would be overcrowded and it’s quite expensive for Thailand. We weren’t sure if it would be worth the money. (Entry to the Grand Palace costs 500 baht, which is about $14. I know that doesn’t sound like much but entry for two of us was about 50% of our daily budget while we were in Thailand.) Ultimately, we decided to go because we thought we would feel dumb to have been in Bangkok and not gone. Despite the crowds and the heat, we were glad we went.
The Grand Palace isn’t just one building; it’s actually a whole complex. It used to be the home of Thailand’s kings, but now it’s only used by the monarchy for ceremonial purposes. The main attraction within the complex is a temple called Wat Phra Kaew, or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. When we first entered the temple compound, we were absolutely stunned at how elaborately everything was decorated. We visited several temples in Chiang Mai but none of them came close to this one in terms of décor. The whole place just seemed to sparkle. Unfortunately the sun was right over head, so capturing it in photos was difficult.
We just wandered around a bit taking everything in. There are so many little details to see.
We also went into the temple to see the Emerald Buddha. No photos are allowed inside, so I don’t have any of the actual Buddha, but this is the outside:
Just a note for anyone thinking about visiting: the dress code here is strictly enforced. Shoulders and knees must be covered (for both men and women). There is someone standing at the entrance to the complex inspecting the attire of everyone trying to enter. If you’re not dressed appropriately, they will provide you with a sarong. I just wore my go-to outfit for temples or other places requiring modest dress: my maxi dress with a white linen shirt over it. If you have to cover your arms in 95 degree heat, white linen is a pretty good choice. The white reflects the sunlight, which helps keep you a bit cooler.
Just on the other side of the Grand Palace complex is another famous temple compound called Wat Pho. The main attraction here is a giant reclining Buddha. It is seriously huge! Here is a picture of the Buddha and Matthew for comparison:
In addition the the reclining Buddha, the temple complex contains the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand. They are everywhere.
There are also a series of beautiful chedis covered in mosaics.
It might have been nice to have a guide to give us a bit more information and context. (We did get a bit of information from the Lonely Planet Guide.) But regardless, we though Wat Pho was well worth a visit. It’s not nearly as crowded as the Grand Palace, and it’s full of beautiful art and architecture.
Bangkok has several major shopping malls, and they are all huge and very fancy. For us, they were a nice respite from the heat and the chaos of the city. We enjoyed just browsing in the air conditioning. One of the malls, Siam Paragon, has Thailand’s largest English-language bookstore. We spent quite a bit of time in there. (We love bookstores!) Matthew even bought a book.
Thailand’s malls are also famous for their food courts, and we loved them! We went to two different ones (at MBK Center and Siam Paragon). The idea is really cool. You go to a counter and give them money, which they load onto a card. Then you can walk around to as many of the different stalls as you want and they just swipe the card. Whenever you’re done eating, you take the card back to the counter, and they refund you any money still left on the card.
We liked the food courts because of the variety they offered. I typically like having as many different things on my plate as I can, so it was fun to walk around and collect random items from different types of cuisines. One night our dinner consisted of Japanese gyoza, Chinese bao buns, and Vietnamese spring rolls. Pretty much my ideal dinner.
Bangkok Art and Culture Center
This was a totally random find. We were at the nearby MBK Center and started looking online for good coffee nearby. That led us to Gallery Drip Coffee, which is on the first floor of the Bankok Art and Culture Center.
We sat at the coffee shop for a while, enjoying a delicious iced coffee and reading about Thai history in our Lonely Planet guide. Then we took a walk through the Art and Culture Center. It’s totally free to enter. Art lines the walls, and there are lots of cute craft shops.
We got there by accident, but it ended up being an enjoyable break from the noise and chaos of the city.
Going to a rooftop bar is a quintessential Bangkok experience. There are a few really popular upscale ones where the cocktails cost $20. They’re typically on top of taller buildings, so maybe the $20 cocktail is worth it for the view. We don’t know because we opted to go with a less fancy, less expensive Lonely Planet recommendation called River Vibes. We only paid $4 for our cocktails, and we when went up to the top floor (admittedly only like the 6th floor), we were the only people up there. The view over the river right at dusk was absolutely beautiful, and we didn’t have to fight crowds to get a good photo. We were so glad we made that choice!
Those are the highlights of our very brief (less than 48 hours) time in Bangkok. From what I’ve read, a lot of people struggle to warm up to Bangkok, but we enjoyed our time there. I think the key was not trying to do too much and not spending all of our time in crowded, touristy spots. We’re happy with how we used our time, but a return trip is definitely in order. We didn’t even begin to make a dent in all this city has to offer!