Bangkok, what a delight! We had a whirlwind weekend in Thailand’s capital and loved every moment.
Check out all the best bits (and one fail) below.
Getting into Thailand
We arrived at Bangkok’s airport at around 8 pm, after flying in from New Dehli, India. Having done some research we were 95% confident that we didn’t need to worry about getting a visa, but for the first time so far on this trip, we approached the immigration desk with a little trepidation. It turns out we were a-ok, as New Zealand and Thailand have a visa waiver programme, meaning we can enter the country as tourists for a month without any paperwork or payments. Whew!
Finding our bed for the night
Bangkok has a delightful amount of clean, easy to use and fairly affordable infrastructure. Getting from the airport to our hostel, on the outskirts of the Silom district was easy!
30 minutes on the airport transfer train, getting off at the final stop, which is a Skytrain station. From there, a quick trip south for a couple stops, changing trains at the big shopping complex, Siam. 3 more stops, a short taxi ride around the corner and we were at HOFT hostel*.
HOFT Hostel Bangkok
These guys only opened in April, so we were delighted to find they had a private room available for us for the weekend. They have a great common space which is well air conditioned and beautifully decorated. We enjoyed one of their private rooms which was clean and comfortable. They also offer dorms and a rooftop chillout space too.
Getting one step ahead
Traveling on a ‘day-by-day’ kind of schedule like we are means we sometimes leave things to the last minute, which is fun and exciting. Other times it means we can get some quick wins by booking 2 or 3 steps in one go. When we booked out trip to Bangkok we also booked our trip out of the city, from Bangkok to Chiang Mai. The only downside was that we had to go collect our tickets well before we got the train. We obliged and collected our tickets first thing on Saturday morning.
Underground, overground and getting around Bangkok
After a quick trip to visit 12goasia to collect our train tickets, we jumped on the underground and rode the whole line, about a 30-minute trip, to get to the Chatuchak weekend market. Getting around in Bangkok is just as easy as getting around in places like London and New York, there are lots of options, clear prices and easy to understand maps and timetables.
We wandered the markets and quickly realised just how big they are! After lots of looking at a wide array of stuff we were getting hungry and were delighted to find the food quarter of the markets. As you wander along there are lots of snack foods you can buy and eat on the way, but we were ready for a sit-down meal.
We enjoyed a pad thai and a noodle soup as we watched the locals buy fruit and veg across the lane from us before we did some more wandering. Even with a belly full of noodles, we decided to get some fruit and enjoy that on our walk.
At many markets here you can buy ‘stick food’. Fish, chicken, pork, sausages, meatballs, even spring rolls, all served on a stick, so you can walk and eat. You can also pick up bags of fruit (with a stick too), or grab a freshly made OJ or bubble tea. Everything comes with a few layers of plastic wrapping, but you never see those end up on the ground. In fact, the streets of Bangkok are incredibly clean.
After hours of walking and looking but not shopping, we agreed that it was time to enjoy a foot massage. So we sat for 30 minutes each, in the middle of a crowded corridor, in a little room with AC getting our feet worked on. It felt so good!
With full tummies and refreshed feet and legs, we made the call to leave the markets. On our way out we discovered a whole section which we hadn’t even explored, but we were on a mission…..
Just north of the markets, housed within the beautiful Rot Fai Gardens is a butterfly house. We wandered the gardens until we found it and were delighted that it was free to enter. Sadly, we saw zero butterflies! You win some, you lose some and sadly this one was the later.
Shopping in Siam
From the butterfly house, it was a quick walk and we were back in the air-conditioned comfort of a Skytrain. We zoomed toward Siam, the station that services the big shopping complexes. We chose the second most fancy mall and wandered its 6 levels looking for some dinner, as our noodles, soup, and fruit had worn off and we were hungry!
Lucky for us, we found 2 whole floors of a food court. They were offering everything from western food to locally made Thai delicacies. We found a comfy spot and indulged in a feast of curry, steamed buns, rice, and miso.
Rolling on the river
Sunday in Bangkok is a quiet day for lots of people. The local markets are a little smaller, the restaurants open a little later and it’s basically just a little more chill.
As it was Sunday and there was no need for commuter transport, we made the most of the river being quieter and took a hop-on, hop-off boat. The boat stops at a bunch of pre-selected piers and includes a helpful English map and audio commentary which tells you what you can see and do from each pier.
Visiting Buddha at Wat Arun and Wat Pho
Situated on the left, and right side of the Chao Phraya river are Wat Arun and Wat Pho respectively. These Wats are two of the most popular for visitors and it’s easy to see why.
Wat Arun is easily one of the most beautiful temples we have visited. Partially due to its riverside location, but also because of the design. Known colloquially as the temple of the dawn it includes five colourfully decorated spires which are made of tiny pieces of coloured glass and Chinese porcelain, so they glitter and sparkle in the light.
They’re steep but you can walk up the spires, and see the hidden golden Buddhas who sit near the top. While we made out visit during the day it’s a popular spot to visit at both dawn and dusk and makes for some beautiful photos.
Across the river, and accessible by a very affordable ferry to help you there is Wat Pho. Known as the home of the reclining Buddha it is also one of Thailands largest temple complexes. Not only does it house the 15 meter tall, 46 meters long, gold leaf Buddha, it is also the home of the leading school of Thai Massage in Bangkok.
During our visit Wat Pho we couldn’t help but notice a constant tapping sound and we couldn’t work out what it was. s you walk around. It comes from people who are dropping coins in the 108 vessels behind the reclining Buddha, seeking good luck and good fortune. It took Buddha 108 good actions to reach perfection, so 108 features a lot in Buddhist rituals. We are still on a budget, and since we had to pay an entry fee to get in we left our luck to another deity this time around.
From Wat Pho, we ventured back across the river via ferry to meet our tourist boat to our next destination….
Chilling in Chinatown
Chinatown on a Sunday is fairly quiet, as many of the stores are closed so that retailers can have a break and families can enjoy some time together. Despite that, all the signage and flashing lights that add to the ambiance of a busy suburb were still there and very both surprising and impressive.
More so here than anywhere else in Bangkok, the interesting sights and smells of Chinatown kept us on our toes. The smell of the notoriously smelly durian fruit can change to sweet pineapple or savory grilled meats at any given moment.
There is also a legend that hidden at a temple in Chinatown are some crocodiles in a pool. We gave it a seriously lackluster go at finding them but I would encourage someone with more passion than us to find them and take a photo!
Once downside of a tourist boat, like the one we’ve been using, is that it runs to very limited times, so we had to rush back to the river to ensure we could hitch a ride to our final destination of the day.
Kicking it in Khao San Road
At the last stop on the tourist boat is the pier that services Khao San road. The main tourist bent, this is where the majority of the hotels, hostels and guest houses are situated. That means there are also plenty of bars, restaurants, travel agents, bookshops, market stalls, tattoo shops and just about anything else a traveler might need.
We wandered the markets for a while, even watching some people eat insects from a market seller before settling on a midrange looking restaurant with street views for a bite to eat. Even while sat in the restaurant, local merchants would come and display their wares before we waved them on.
Once we had eaten and as we were enjoying some beer, Andrew was astonished to see a face he recognised wandering down the road. After calling out his school mates name we quickly welcomed him to our table and ordered another round of drinks. He was in Bangkok for business, us for adventure and we laughed about how small the world really is.
When the time came to go home we toyed with the idea of getting a local rickshaw. We approached a driver who first offered to take us for a visit to the red light district! He even had a menu of what was on offer (yes, ping pong balls did feature). We thanked him for his offer but declined. When we couldn’t come to an agreement on a price we set off for home in a normal taxi cab. Bangkok rickshaw drivers will often only lower the price for tourists if they agree to make one or more stops on route to their destination. This could be to a friends shop, a bar or basically any where you’ll spend a buck.
Fitting in just one more adventure
Despite Monday being leaving day we had two more sites we wanted to see.
Monday morning we had a couple hours before checkout and our train wasn’t due to leave until 6 pm. We got up early and made our way around the now busy Bangkok. We took a full SkyTrain and did a quick walk to the Erashawn shrine where we saw traditional Thai dancers. You can donate to the dancers and they will sing a payer for you.
This temple was built after the local hotel started construction on the wrong day. It is sat on the corner between some malls, hotels, and businesses, so it sticks out as something different.
Temples here are so much easier to navigate than Indian temples. Mostly because here it is frowned upon for temple goers to try and sell to visitors.
A quick walk from the shrine and we hopped on a commuter boat down one of the big canals. Our attendence on the boat was much to the amusement of some of the locals. I guess they don’t get many tourists joining them on their Monday commute.
We zoomed down the canal (the boat had a special pully system to bring plastic sheets up and stop people getting soaked) and quickly found the golden mount temple once back onland. Finding anything in Bangkok is easy as there are plenty of signs in both English and Thai.
Walked the mount, saw the Buddhas and the views and made out way back down. Picked up the least helpful text driver who tried to rip us off before getting back to the hotel and checking out then hanging in the air con.
Eventful last few hours
While we were relaxing and waiting for our train there was a bomb explosion up the road at a local hospital. Lucky for us we didn’t hear or see anything but it meant the traffic was a little heavy. We left the hostel with plenty of time to spare.
At the station, we met a man from Mauritius who is a doctor. He was heading south and us north but we sat and talked a while.
Finally, we boarded our train with the help of loads of railway staff. In comparison to our other train journies, this train was incredible. So shiny and new and very comfortable. We had two small complaints:
- the lights were never dimmed and,
- the aircon was too efficient.
We met a couple from Canada on their honeymoon. The four of us chatted about all sorts of things. We really should have grabbed their contact details, so we could follow their trip. While we are getting better at remembering these things it sometimes feels a little awkward so early into a friendship. Whoops!
After a relaxed train journey, we arrived in beautiful Chiang Mai. More stories to follow…
*If you choose to make your booking through this link we may get a small commision. This is new to us as we’re just trying it out.