Before going to Bangkok I had heard a lot of mixed reviews about the city. Some people told me it was seedy, dirty, and to spend as little time there as possible. Others said it was full to the brim of things to do and see, and to spend at least a few days there before heading off to more aesthetically pleasing parts of Thailand. I ended up opting for the latter as I wanted to do the city justice. I’m glad I did as I found Bangkok to be an incredibly interesting city, full of contrasts and very unique experiences – so much so I’ve now been twice.
On our first visit to Thailand and Bangkok, we actually took a tour round the eastern provinces that surround the city of Bangkok: Samut Songkhram, Ratchaburi, Kanchanaburi and Nakhon Pathom. Our first stop of the day was the Maeklong Railway Market which was definitely a highlight of our whole trip. Maeklong is basically your standard food market with the addition of a train running through the middle of several times a day. “Only in Thailand!” is a phrase you hear quite often in this country when something unusual happens and it’s definitely applicable here.
We walked down the train tracks and leaned under stalls to take a look at the foods on offer which included some we definitely weren’t familiar with – toads, blood jelly and chicken feet. We bought some fruit and stood to one side once we heard a loud horn sounding from behind us. This was our signal that the train was coming through the market.
All of a sudden the market burst into life and stall-owners hoisted back their umbrellas to allow the train to make its way through the centre of the market. The stall owners had all expertly placed their produce so that the gap between the floor and the train didn’t squish anything. As soon as the train had gone, the stalls were put back in their normal positions. You would never know anything had even happened just seconds before.
After the excitement of the train market we took a short trip up the river to the Amphawa Floating Market. Amphawa is one of the few remaining floating markets in Bangkok and its surrounding provinces. These markets are now very tourist-driven and consequently sell lots of souvenirs that are quite over-priced compared to elsewhere.
Most tourists, like us, use their ride to simply take in their surroundings whilst being steered round by a ‘Mama’. Mama and Papa are endearing terms Thai people use for the elders in their communities. You should always tip the ‘Mama’ who steered your boat at the end of your ride.
It’s worth mentioning that I had the best coconut ice cream I’ve ever tasted at this market so don’t hold back on buying snacks!
There are hundreds of markets in Bangkok and it’s definitely worth visiting at least one. The novelty of the train and floating markets make these the most popular, but if you want to stay within the city, there are plenty of great night markets such as Rot Fai or JJ Green.
After our trips to the markets we stopped at The Bridge over the River Kwai and read about the history of the bridge. We also visited the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery, the main prisoner of war cemetery for the victims of building the Burma Railway. It’s a very worthwhile and moving trip that I definitely recommend in the Kanchanaburi province.
Bangkok’s Rooftop Bars
After a full and busy day, we took a taxi to one of the many rooftop bars that Bangkok has to offer, the ‘Vertigo & Moon Bar’. The bar is on the roof of the stunning Banyan Tree Hotel. Drinks weren’t that expensive, especially given the incredible views we had on offer.
On our most recent trip to Bangkok, we got round to visiting the Skybar at Lebua, famous from the Hangover II film. It was extremely expensive, £10 for a Diet Coke expensive, so we just took photos and admired the view.
The Skybar is a lot bigger and busier than Vertigo & Moon but it didn’t feel quite as classy.
Grand Palace Bangkok
On our second day in Bangkok we were up bright and early to visit The Grand Palace in all its glory. Like a lot of culturally significant places in Thailand, you must dress respectfully by covering your shoulders and legs.
We arrived at around 8:45am to beat the tour groups and we were rewarded with a completely crowd-free experience. The palace buildings are stunning and very ornate – the amount of decoration on just one building was incredible.
The Kings of Thailand have lived at the palace since the 18th century and given how important the royal family is to Thai people, it’s not surprising that its one of Thailand’s most popular tourist destinations.
Within walking distance from the Grand Palace is Wat Pho, which is a huge complex of beautiful Buddhist temples. Be wary that we got momentarily lost trying to find the entrance to Wat Pho and were very nearly scammed by someone on the street who told us Wat Pho was closed for prayer until 1pm and that we should fill our time going on one of his tuk-tuk tours in the meantime. Once we found the entrance at around 10am it was of course open!
Wat Pho is home to the Temple of the Reclining Buddha which houses a 150 feet long image figure and is one of the largest single images of Buddha.
Although this statue is the highlight for most tourists there is plenty to see at Wat Pho and I’d recommend spending a couple of hours there wandering round provided you can stand the heat as there’s definitely no air-con!
Jim Thompson House
Jim Thompson had an extraordinary life – a businessman, spy, and silk merchant who eventually disappeared in Malaysia. In the 19502, Thompson built a unique house in Bangkok made up of six different Thai houses. There are influences from all over the world throughout the house, which is now open as a museum.
Asiatique and Shopping in Bangkok
Shopping opportunities are quite literally around every corner in Bangkok. Street markets and shopping malls are extremely common and you’d have a hard time trying to visit them all in one trip. I had chance to visit a few of the shops and malls and there are plenty of different types. If you’re after high-end brands or high-street shops you’re best off visiting Central World.
Personally, however, I don’t think there’s any need to browse these types of malls when they’re very similar to the ones back home, so I’d recommend MBK or Asiatique instead.
MBK is a huge five story shopping centre packed full of individual stalls and shops. There are more clothes and bags in this one building than you have probably ever seen in your life. Asiatique is a slightly more laid back and aesthetically pleasing version of MBK. It’s by the river-front and only open in the evenings which technically makes it a night-market, but due to the restaurants and actual shop-fronts, there’s a very different atmosphere. It’s definitely my favourite shopping destination in the city.
Khao San Road – Bangkok’s Backpacker Paradise
A street for backpackers and Western tourists to party, eat cheap food, and party. This street is hit and miss with people who visit Bangkok and it all comes down to what you’re in Thailand for. If you want to have a good time drinking and partying, you should definitely visit Khao San at night. If you’re in Bangkok for culture and temples, give it a miss.
I hope my highlights have shown you everything this capital city has to offer! Let me know if you need any advice about Bangkok in the comments section.
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