I’m not exactly sure what I was expecting from Bangkok when we arrived for a 4-night stopover on our way to Australia at the end of last year. And maybe it was because we’d been in India just a month earlier, but what struck me immediately was how clean it was, how sweet-smelling and how super organized.
Look… I know it’s a big city, and also a big tourist city, so that’s probably what most people would expect, but I hadn’t been. We arrived very early in the morning, and after breakfast in our hotel at the Lamphu Tree House, were delighted to have access to our room just after 9am for a quick nap after our overnight flight.
Hubby had been to Bangkok before, so the plan wasn’t so much to run around and do as many temples and markets as possible, but just to immerse ourselves in the city, eat some good food, relax and enjoy ourselves.
It was definitely hot, but not overbearing for our standards, and of course being in Bangkok there’s plenty of air-conditioned shops once you get into the city proper. Oh, and did I mention the subway – the highly efficient, air-conditioned subway, where people actually line up in an orderly fashion to get on the train!
What were the highlights? Well, in no particular order:
I realise that not everyone wants to spend an afternoon in a giant shopping mall… but we had a great time. The place is massively overwhelming with over 2000 stores, but you can pretty much find everything you could ever want in terms of clothing, electronics and souvenirs. Prices are already low, so bargaining is not necessary and sometimes not even possible, which is a nice break from the streets. If you do go, my tip is not to eat at the food court upstairs, find the basement canteen where all the locals – best Pad Thai we had on the trip!
Seafood Market Restaurant
Imagine a massive room filled with tables and chairs, brandishing a room-length refrigerated display featuring almost every type of seafood you can think of on ice, and you might have an idea of what I’m talking about. Sure, the atmosphere is more akin to a food court than a fancy restaurant, but… and this is the draw card: You take a shopping trolley, select what you want from the array of fresh seafood, add a few vegetables and let the chef know how you would like each item cooked. Voila – a seafood feast awaits – crab and calamari and fish and prawns in our case. We loved it.
There are plenty of rooftop bars in Bangkok, and we headed to The Skybar” for spectacular views out over the city and a drink on the 63rd floor of the Lebua Hotel. It was a great experience, but after our first cocktail, at a price that matches the service (high), we headed down to the streets for the rest of the night. If you plan to go yourself, make sure you check out the dress code beforehand – there is one and they do enforce it.
Catching the water ferry
An absolute must-do in Bangkok is catching the water ferry – an easy and cheap way to get around riverside with a different perspective. The ferries are amazingly efficient – it seems like they on and off-board people before you’ve even realized the boat has stopped! A tip – there is a tourist ferry and a local ferry – they take the exact same route but the local ferry is much cheaper.
Eating on the street
I have to say that apart from the Seafood Market Restaurant, I don’t actually think you would class any of the other places we ate at as restaurants. They were more like ramshackle stalls with rickety tables set up outside. But despite their look, they really do have the best, cheapest and most authentic food – and the best atmosphere too – right there in the thick of things. There were times we didn’t really have a set meal, we simply picked up bits and pieces as we went along. Exactly how we like it.
Look… it’s not very classy, especially when you’ve passed the official backpacker age, but if you’re in Bangkok you probably will just come across it at some point. It’s packed with tourists, bars pumping bass, drink specials and guys selling deep fried spiders and scorpions. It’s got a great party vibe when you’re in the mood for that sort of thing, but if you move a few streets in any direction, you’ll still find some great bars and better food with less over-the-top tourism.
Foot massage for €3 anyone? Yes, please. We found a great little air conditioned place on the first day and just kept going back. Half an hour of bliss. For €3. Word to the wise though, I’d be cautious about letting them massage anything else unless you’ve got a high pain threshold! Those Thai’s don’t hold back!
With only three days in the city, most people probably wouldn’t choose to spend a few hours inside in an aquarium that you can, to be fair, probably find in most big cities. But keep in mind that we don’t live in a big city, so any trip to one turns means an opportunity to do things we can’t normally do. And I love a good aquarium, especially one with sharks and penguins and a touch pool. I’m a big kid at heart, really.
This is the one temple we actually did go to. Wat Arun is riverside and easy to access with the water ferry, and for the price it costs, you may as well go in. If you don’t have suitable clothing they’ll happily rent you something to cover your shoulders or legs. Fun fact – you used to be able walk all the way up the stairs – hubby did it last time he was in Bangkok, but looking at the ridiculously steep gradient, I can see why they’ve put a stop to it!
There are so many other cool things to do in Bangkok. We would have loved to go to one of the floating markets, but with the best ones a way away from the city, and us being there during the week rather than a weekend, we couldn’t fit it in. And as you can see, we had plenty to keep ourselves occupied anyway. Bangkok, I’ll see you again someday.