(scroll down for itinerary/tips)
SET THE SCENE
Just landing in Suvarnabhumi Airport and walking around the luggage pick-up area gives you the first glimpse of just how visited Thailand is. Left and right there are backpackers, family, and friends from all over the world, the different languages filling the air, moving around. You already feel a rush of excitement being in the midst of it.
You get to the streets and realize just how populated the city is. Taxi and random cars dot the highways, each following each other in a slow crawl. The July air is thick with humidity and the random spaces where shade lingers provides a much needed coolness. But beyond the sunshine are the thick gray clouds waiting to roll in and sprinkle droplets on the pavement and roofs. The Skyrail system whistles as it soars through the rails above the buildings and people shuffle in and out at rapid paces, destinations in mind.
Then there’s the Chao Phraya River, the major body of water flowing through Bangkok, and it’s a magnificent view. Hotels dot the side of the river – not so much like towering skyscrapers in New York or Hong Kong, but more so like scattered tall towers, each unique in architecture. With sunrise or sundown, the sky lights up in magnificent shades of red, orange, and yellow – the streaks going for miles and the rays peeking behind buildings. The boats and ferries on the river move merrily down and become illuminated when darkness lays its blanket over the city. Quiet and strong – tis the river spirit.
On one side of town, the streets and tiny alleyways are bustling in markets. Crates of overflowing dried shrimp, dried squid and street carts of noodles being fried or sausages cooked and served on sticks. The aroma of fresh spices and fried food punches through the air calling all locals and tourists. Shops with jewelry and shoes are in between everything else. Jumping on the Skytrain takes you to another part of town – one surrounded in four corners by glorious shopping malls. The malls are an attraction itself with several floors, some of them differently themed. There is a mall called Terminal 21 that transports you to different parts of the world. Then there are the four big shopping centers glittering with its expensive brand names and grocery stores equivalent to Whole Foods back in the states.
Take a taxi or ferry to an area of town filled with Wats. Forward and backward, you see the magnificent towers of Wat Arun and the sparkling colors of the Grand Palace. There’s tourists all around you filing in lines to get in these areas and wander the sacred grounds. Tall, thick white walls surrounding some of the temples, hiding away the precious Buddhas from passerby’s eyes. The sides of the streets are lively with souvenir shops and carts pushing around fresh coconuts to enjoy in the blazing sun.
And that is Bangkok in a nutshell.
SUGGESTED 3 DAY ITINERARY OF BANGKOK
-I always say the first day in any city after a period of travel should be devoted to exploring the area nearby and relaxing. If it’s your first day of your entire trip, you may feel more energetic to go further but I just got done with a couple days in Hong Kong so I needed a day to rest my legs a bit.
-My family and I spent time wandering around the streets around Chinatown and sampling different street food. You can scroll down below to see what you should eat in Thailand!
-SILAM AREA: You can take the Skytrain or MRT to this area. What can you do in this area? Explore Lumphini Park which is Bangkok’s biggest park.
-Also take time to wander around any market you see. While there are some famous ones, there are little ones in alleyways everywhere!
-At night after dinner, my cousins and I spent some time at a bar near the Chao Phraya River – I highly suggest this place – the Long Bar at the Shangri-La Hotel. The views of Bangkok and the river at night are something you cannot miss so check it out at night whether at a river side bar or a rooftop bar!
-You need to spend one day dedicated to exploring the temples in Bangkok. They are absolutely beautiful and pretty cheap to get in. They are also all clustered around each other and thus an easy walking distance from one to one. Must not miss:
- Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) – you can walk in for free and explore the grounds around the two areas but to walk around the Grand Palace and go inside Wat Phra Kaew.
- Wat Pho – this is where you will see the gorgeous, spectacular giant Buddha.
- Wat Arun – Temple of the Dawn
-Before you leave Bangkok, you should definitely check out the shopping areas. There is one spot in Siam that is the shopping center of the city – contains Central World, Siam Paragon, Siam Center, Siam Discovery, MBK, and Terminal 21.
-I ended up at Terminal 21 – a pretty cool mall built to mimic an airport! Every floor is a different terminal at a different city around the world! There’s also a great mall food court on the 6th floor I think (or some floor near the 6th) – it’s the only floor not dedicated to an airport terminal. You’re probably thinking that you don’t want to eat at a mall, but trust me, the food is delicious, cheap, and there are so many options to choose from!
OTHER THINGS TO DO (that I didn’t get to):
- Wat Prayoon
- Markets: Klongsan Plaza Night Market, Flower Market, Klog Toey Fresh Market, Pratunam Market
- Lumpinee Thai Boxing Stadium to watch a Muay Thai Show – the VIP ticket is ringside but second and third class tickets still give good view and the whole arena has A/C.
BANGKOK TRAVEL TIPS:
-CURRENCY: Baht. Can exchange at any airport and plenty of currency exchangers everywhere.
-HOTELS: If you can, I would suggest booking a room with a view of the Chao Phraya River. It is absolutely beautiful at sunrise and sunset.
-TAXIS: to avoid being ripped off, agree on one price for the trip or have the driver agree to use the meter. Some drivers will try and rip you off by letting you get into the car and overcharging you for a price or charging each person per luggage. Do not take no for an answer! Don’t get into those taxis that do that. Also, you will find a lot of taxi drivers do not know where they are going (I don’t know why but this made for many amusing stories for us). Lastly, the traffic in Bangkok is insane – especially around peak time starting around 3-4PM. It will take forever to get from one place to another so be wary of that and take the Skytrain, tuk tuk, ferry, or walk.
-SKYTRAIN: a really useful and inexpensive way to getting around Bangkok – it is their above ground metro system. Unfortunately, it does not cover all of Bangkok yet – their goal is to be able to access all parts of the city using this system in the future. Take this route of transportation if you are trying to get to the mall areas and Silam area. If you are trying to get to the WAT AREAS, there is no skytrain that takes you there – you will have to taxi, tuk tuk, ferry, or walk. HOW TO USE: you can either buy a ticket at the window or exchange money into coins you use to buy at the machine. You have to decide your ending stop in order to buy the ticket (how far you go will determine how much the ticket is). Watch the trains to see which way the train is going. Some platforms have trains that run in either direction of the lines.
-WATS: remember to dress appropriately. This means no tank tops and all pants, dresses, or skirts must be long enough to brush the top of your feet. Just below the knee won’t cut it. Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of Emerald Buddha) is 400 baht (you get to see the Grand Palace too). Wat Pho and Wat Arun are 100 baht.
-RIVER CRUISES: there are several river cruise lines on the Chao Phraya River and I suggest doing one of them. It’s a great way to travel the river at night and see the beautiful lit up buildings and take in some fresh air. Most of them include dinner and entertainment. Some lines are buffet and some are a la carte. Some also might have bars and others won’t. Just do your research! My family and I took the Riverside Bangkok Cruiseline. It was a buffet that included pretty decent food and unlimited prawns as well.
-ROOFTOP OR RIVERSIDE BARS: there are some famous rooftop bars that will give you a gorgeous view of the city: Muse Hotel, Bangkok Marriott Hotel, and the Moon Bar at Banyan Tree Hotel. My cousins and I didn’t get around to going to the rooftop ones, but there is one riverside bar we recommend: the Long Bar at Shangri-La Hotel. With its expansive windows and plush seats, you feel as though you are sitting right by the Chao Phraya River. It’s a gorgeous view and not to mention, the drink menu is extensive and made well there. They also give complimentary taro chips and peanuts!
WHAT TO EAT IN THAILAND
Every restaurant, especially in tourist trap areas, will serve the typical Thai fanfare you think of: pad thai, pad see ew, curry in every flavor, and tom yum soup. But below is my list of local foods you should consider trying!
-Fried chicken – I know, I know. This is not something you would think of ordering in Thailand but I swear I have had some of the best fried chicken I’ve ever had in this country. Of course, it depends on the stall you’re getting it from but try to find a street stall or a stall in a market that is making golden crispy fried chicken with a ton of seasoning on top.
-Pandan – This is a dessert I discovered at a street cart. I bought it on a whim as it looks like a golden brown cake rolled in some green paste and I discovered how delicious it was. The green paste which is made from pandan is a hard taste to pin down but I highly encourage everyone to give it a try!
-Papaya Salad or Som Tam – made of shredded green papaya, tomatoes, toasted peanuts, and chili! Can have it not very spicy to very spicy!
-Meat Skewers – Usually they are skewers of grilled pork or chicken and they are fantastic, juicy snacks while browsing the streets of Thailand. Sometimes it even comes with sticky rice!
-Larb – This is one of my favorite Thai dishes ever. It’s basically minced pork salad but what makes this dish delicious are all the spices the pork is cooked with. The pork is usually combined with lime juice, different herbs, and onions.
-Steamed Lime Fish – This is a huge dish to share amongst family or friends. Many seafood restaurants will let you pick out the fish you want and then the fish is brought out in a fish dish and heated throughout your dinner with a flame. The fish is topped with fresh chili, lime, and garlic!
-Grilled Fish – Made on a grill with lots of salt and stuffed with lemongrass – dip it into different dipping sauces!
-Duck Noodle Soup – a great dish in the markets – the soup is so flavorful and the duck is tender!
-Thai Boat Noodle Soup – If you happen to find yourself in a floating market, then this is a fantastic dish to eat for lunch or dinner. The soup is incredibly flavorful and some places will add liver in as well (which is super tasty if you haven’t tried it). Really one of my favorite dishes to eat in Thailand. Apparently the secret to this broth is a dash of pig’s blood (hope that doesn’t turn anyone off!).
-Kuay Jab – or basically rice noodle roll soup
-Radna – Basically noodles with gravy. The brown gravy with red chili flakes over the noodles is a fantastic dish to try! You can get it really cheap at the Terminal 21 mall food court.
-Cockles – For those of you more adventurous and a lover of clams and oysters – this is something you have to try. I ate a ton of these on my Bangkok river cruise and each piece was incredibly flavorful. You just can’t stop eating them! Beware: could cause the runs – I got lucky but I think it was because I didn’t eat it off the side of the street.
-Thai Tea – although a cliché thing to have, I have to suggest it just because every single Thai tea I had in Thailand was delicious and not overly sweet or bland.
-Pad Thai – I’m only including this on the list to suggest that if you see someone frying pad thai on the side of the street, then get it – it’s fresh and usually a great snack to munch on while you walk around. The best pad thai I had in Thailand though was in Phuket at No.9 restaurant.
-Tom Yum Soup – this is a very common dish you will find in every restaurant and surprisingly no matter where I went, I found the soup to always be extremely flavorful and really spicy (if you want it to be!)
-Mango with sticky rice – Mhmm. The best dessert ever!
-Thai Rolled Ice Cream or Ice Cream in a Coconut – can be found at street carts! They are both delicious and a must try!
-Fruit off the street carts such as pineapple and coconuts!
Happy traveling in Bangkok!