Read more about my Self Care Sabbatical and the other places I’ve visited!
I was not looking forward to going to Bangkok.
I’d decided to skip Bangkok on my way into Asia, choosing to visit Hong Kong instead before flying to Chiang Mai. This was a fantastic decision (as I mentioned back in my Hong Kong post). But I knew I would have to go to Bangkok eventually and before I made my way to Koh Tao, I stopped in Bangkok for a few days.
I had initially planned four nights because it seemed like there would be so much to see and do in this massive city. However, a few of the guys I met in Siem Reap suggested I stay only 3 nights. I would be ready to go by then, they warned.
They were right.
I don’t know if it was Bangkok that wore me down with its oppressive humidity and noisy traffic, the cold that had suddenly clogged my sinuses, or if I was just really tired of traveling after six months, but I arrived in Bangkok not wanting to do anything.
I had all of these locations starred in my Google Maps and a sense of what I could see each day. Instead, I spent most of the first day hanging out in my air-conditioned hostel before walking from air-conditioned mall to air-conditioned mall. And, after that, I just wanted to lie down.
It was hot. I was sick. And I was tired of doing all this touristy stuff. Maybe all that climbing around at Angkor was the final straw? Either way, I took it slow in Bangkok and didn’t rush around to see too much but saw enough to feel like I had experienced a bit of the city. And when it came time to leave, I was quite ready to go. It is total sensory overload (as you can see by all of the photos I took!) and it’s delicious and interesting, but just a place that totally wears you down.
Getting around Bangkok is exhausting.
Generally, I hated how hard it was to get around in Bangkok. Despite all of my best attempts to plan out my travel, I was having so much trouble getting from place to place. While I typically refrain from taking taxis when I am traveling, I kept using them (especially Grab) in Bangkok because it made my life much easier! And they were relatively cheap (and cool).
A few more thoughts on getting around town:
- Plan your time by doing activities in one area at a time versus trying to get across town quickly to see lots of things. You may end up forgoing seeing something because it’s just too hard to get there. Don’t overplan and exhaust yourself.
- Use public transit – I’d recommend using public transit when possible to get around. It will be much cheaper and you won’t find yourself stuck in traffic and paying for a taxi. This is especially useful when coming from the airport! The metro is great, but it doesn’t reach every part of the city. The buses run on a more extensive network, but can be a little confusing (I rode on 3 different buses one morning just trying to get across town, on each bus the driver told me I was on the wrong one and to try a different route. It was infuriating). The buses definitely have a more local flavor to them (ahem, they are old and not in the best shape) and are a cool way to see the city so long as you can figure out where you need to go. And taking the water taxis is a blast!
- Take a water taxi along the canals – I stumbled upon these boats accidentally when trying to get from Siam to the palace. If you are staying east of the palace, taking a boat might be your best route for getting over to some of the tourist sights near the river. And it’s a really fun way to experience the city (and way better than taking the bus).
Don’t do too much.
It’s a massive city so there is A LOT to do. On your first visit, you will probably want to hit some of the main touristy spots, cool off in a mall, and eat some good food. Trying to do too much in Bangkok is a mistake – you will be exhausted!
- Visit the palace and surrounding temples. I was SO over temples and tourists after my time in Siem Reap so I think my visit to the palace was a bit wasted on me. It was also super hot while I was there and I was just so tired. It’s really nice to see but go early if you can to avoid the tourists. Also, it costs 500 baht! I skipped the Reclining Buddha temple (near the Royal Palace) because I was so over all things temple at that point (and it cost another 200 baht).
- Wander around the flower market, not far from the Palace. It’s cool to peek inside (and not crowded with tourists!)
- Watch the sunset on the river
- Take a food tour – I did a Chinatown food tour as a way to see another area of the city and try some different food. I never would have gone out of my way to see Chinatown on my own had I not done the tour, but it was so insanely crowded the night I went (Saturday) that it was a little frustrating toward the end of the tour while we were visiting the stalls. Still, a great way to try a lot of different kinds of food, especially if you are traveling on your own.
- Visit Soi Cowboy (the Red Light District) – If that’s your thing.
- Go to the mall – There are SO many malls in Bangkok’s Siam district, it’s impossible not to visit at least one or two. The malls are massive and very cold, a great place to escape the heat outside. Some of the malls have great food courts as well, worth checking out for some local food when you’re hiding from the sun (try MBK Food Island)
- Visit the Bangkok Art & Culture Center, located in the middle of all of these malls. It’s also a nice break from the heat, but at least you get to see some cool art instead of just wandering inside a shopping center. (And it’s free!)
- Escape the crazy city in Lumphini Park – Excellent way to get out of the crazy Bangkok traffic and noise for a bit
- Go for a massage – I had a great massage at Dhara Spa. You can even get a discount by booking ahead online.
A High/Low Approach to Dining
After eating a lot of mediocre local food in Cambodia, I was excited to be back in Thailand and ready to eat loads of good street food again. You can definitely choose to eat more high-end in a city like Bangkok, but why would you? The area where I stayed has quite a few street vendors setting up shop in the evening, as well as a few side streets with little collections of carts. Despite being in a major city, the food is still cheap and it’s delicious.
My first night I was able to find a busy Hainanese chicken and rice place, snagged one of the few open seats, and had a delicious dinner for 40 baht. I also had a nice dinner at the stalls at Soi 38 – though it is very hot in there! Lots to choose from here!
I had really wanted to try the famous Omelette Lady’s crab omelette (famous from her appearances on my food travel shows), but the restaurant was closed while I was in Bangkok. Instead, I went to Aroway which is a good spot nearby for vegans and vegetarians. Cabbages and Condoms is a cool Thai restaurant which is focused on spreading sex education among Thais. It’s a bit more expensive than other places, but you know the money is going to a good cause. Also, it’s got some really fun decorations!
The other nice thing about being in a big city again? Good drinks. As in real cocktails and good wine. I spent way more money on drinks than I probably should have while in Bangkok, but I was just so happy to have real drinks again! And since I wasn’t spending a lot of money on food, I felt I could justify my drinking expenses!
- Check out WTF Cocktail Bar which made me feel like I was back in Brooklyn suddenly (it didn’t help that there were three girls talking about NYC rent costs at the table across from me). Awesome drinks (try the Very Verde if you like spicy) and a cool space.
- Escape Bangkok is a trendy rooftop bar/restaurant that looks like some sort of pink neon tropical paradise and has some excellent wine. I didn’t try any of the food, but it’s a chic little place for a drink and a view, especially around dusk.
- If you are looking for views along the river, check out Vivi Coffee Shop. A bit expensive, but worth it for some nice views of Wat Arun across the river. They also have alcohol and some good looking sweets.
Getting There: Bangkok has two major airports – Don Mueang and Suvarnabhumi. The latter is the major airport and is easily accessible via public transport (hooray!). The former is smaller and slightly accessible via public transport (a very hot, old train will take you there from Bangkok’s main train station). Obviously, Bangkok is a major hub so you will most likely fly in and out of here at least once depending on your plans in SE Asia. You can also take the train in and out of Bangkok, which might be necessary if you are traveling to other parts of Thailand like the Samui Islands or towards Chiang Mai or Ayutthaya. Trains can be a much cheaper option than flying or taking a bus and I think the sleeper trains are actually quite nice so would recommend them over the bus if you have the option.
Where to Stay: This was one of the hardest things for me to figure out when planning my trip to Bangkok. The city is huge and it can be overwhelming trying to decide where to stay, especially on your first visit. I found a few sites that helped break it down for me.
I knew I wanted to be close to the metro for ease of getting around and I knew that I wanted good shops/food/etc nearby. I also wanted to stay away from Khao San Road, the backpacker area. Although this area is close to a lot of tourist destinations, it’s also quite a party place and that was not what I was looking for. I was able to then narrow down my search for accommodation to the Suk area (Soi 1-38) and found a hostel at Soi 18 which was a great location for getting around. This spot was close to the metro, but also walkable to some of the shops, malls, and restaurants nearby. It was also pretty quiet in the evenings despite being a busy area.