Behind the scenes at Adventure Travel is a team of people who help bring our brand to life, Jess in our marketing team is one of these people! Jess is about to head off on a new adventure, moving to London with her husband, but before she left we convinced her to tell us about one of her favourite trips away. Read on to hear about Jess and her husband's experience in busy bustling Bangkok.
Winging it in South East Asia
I started writing this blog about my adventures through South East Asia, then realised I’d written an entire essay about Bangkok and it was only day one! You could easily spend a week in Bangkok and still not see it all - and even as an ex resident (I lived there for 2.5 years), I still discover something new every time I return!
Getting around - the BTS
When my now-husband and I first touched down in Bangkok we were immediately hit by the heat as it raced through the arrivals tunnel and hit us in the face! Warning: South East Asia from April – July is hot!
We were taught our first lesson about the wonderful Land of Smiles at the airport. After travelling for 12 hours (as well as a brief stop in Sydney) we were extremely tired and just wanted to get to our hotel quickly, and in the most air-conditioned state as possible. We approached the information desk at the airport, asking for the quickest, cheapest way to get to central Bangkok. They referred us on to a nearby limousine driver who offered to take us direct to the hotel for approx. NZD$50. Googling the distance to/from the airport, we thought that was a pretty good deal. While the transfer was air-conditioned, traffic in Bangkok any time between 5-8pm is absolute carnage. We were in the car for almost 2 hours before we made it the hotel!
Lesson 1: Never try to drive anywhere during rush hour!
Lesson 2: Everyone in Thailand is helping a friend’s mum’s cousin’s friend. Thai people are resourceful like this. They’re not trying to rip you off, they’re just sharing good fortune between friends and families and if you're not savvy you can find yourself diverting to small family owned shops or cafes not necessarily in the direction you asked to be taken. So best to have a rough idea of where you need to go and which way you should be travelling before setting out.
Secondly, Thai people are very proud of their country, and therefore they want you to see it in the best light possible. We found during our time here, that hotel staff, tour guides etc. will always assume you want the easiest, most luxury option (when really you want to go how the locals go).
What we should’ve done upon arrival: Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport has a fantastic train/sky train system direct from the airport. I think it works out to be about $1.20 one way, it’s clean and air-conditioned and just one quick change would have taken us almost to our hotel door. After this first experience, as luxurious as the limo was, we decided to use the BTS (sky train) for all of our travel in Bangkok – it’s cheap and easy and means you can avoid becoming a sweaty mess after a 2 minute walk.
Bangkok is the perfect shopping stopover. If you’re interested in exploring the endless number of shopping malls in Bangkok, again, the BTS is a great option. It will literally take you to the entrance door of one mall, and then each one has an overpass to the next, to the next, to the next. Most of these malls sell the world’s biggest brands – Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton and everything in between.
While hubs and I couldn’t quite justify the $2,000 handbag, The Emporium, Central Chidlom and Siam Paragon are worth a wander just to marvel at how the other half live! If you’re looking for good-quality bargain shopping, then MBK is definitely worth a visit. With a floor for clothing, a floor for shoes, one for make-up, technology and more, you can pick up all your souvenir gear here at decent prices.
However if malls aren't what you travelled to see then you absolutely need to visit the Chatuchak markets. They’re only on during the weekend, so if you’re planning a trip, try and time things so you get some of the weekend to visit this crazy place. I kid you not, this market is the largest maze of crazy you will ever visit! Start early, be prepared with some cash and I recommend comfy shoes!
When it’s time for something to eat, you won’t be disappointed! Don’t be put off by market food – it tends to be fresh as it’s cooked right in front of you and tastes fantastic! For less than $1, you can try some chicken satay or a pad thai or, if the heat puts you off wanting to eat at all, you have to try a freshly squeezed orange juice (on every corner of every street throughout Bangkok)! Tip: the Vitamin C in those oranges also make for a great hangover cure if you’ve had one too many Singhas on Khao San Rd!
A night out - you choose your style
Now Khao San Rd is a fantastic time, but I wouldn’t say it’s a particularly authentic experience. You’ll find it’s inhabited by 80% tourists 100% of the time. Why? Because there’s cheap food (deep-fried tarantula anyone?), cheap beer and it’s a party every night of the week. Be prepared for a fairly shocking insight into some of Thailand’s famous sex trade here. Needless to say, Khao San Road particularly at night time, is no place for children! But I’d still recommend it for an entertaining night out.
Lesson 3: When you’re drinking in the bars, order bottled beers and spirits. A lot of Thai bars house some fairly lethal ‘homebrew’ beers and spirits – for the sake of your head the next day, try and steer clear and stick to the known brands. Tip: Khao San Road is a little out of the CBD and is not on the BTS route, so you may need to get a taxi or tuk-tuk here.
If you’re looking for a more authentic experience you will find it in Bangkok’s Chinatown (Yaowarat), on arrival the smells of BBQ seafood, simmering broths, fried meat and curries will have your mouth watering, it's a great way to spend a night out wandering the stalls and watching busy Bangkok in action.
Or, for an indulgent evening look for one of Bangkok’s roof-top restaurants, dotted around the city on some of Bangkok’s tallest buildings (the highest is currently on the 83rd floor!) you’ll find brightly lit, modern dining options with striking views of the city, the perfect setting for a few pictures and a cocktail or two.
The city sights
A lot of Bangkok’s key sights particularly the temples tend to be on the outskirts of the city, we never managed to venture out too far to see these. But even for non-spiritual travellers like myself The Grand Palace and Golden Temple are an absolute must-see. Unless you’ve done some reading up about the palace and temples, I would recommend paying for a guide to show you around both sites. While they’re amazing in their own right, learning the history, hearing stories and learning about their importance brings them both to life so much more.
Lesson 4: There is a very strict dress code for visiting the palace and temple. Men and women both must have their shoulders and legs covered including feet. You can pay for shawls to cover up when you get there, but be prepared to look a bit mismatched in your photos.
Again, both sites are outside of the CBD so perhaps try tying this trip in with a long-tail boat down tour the Chao Phraya River. There are loads of tours ranging from a few hours to a full day – they take in life along the river banks stopping at various sites along the way and normally include a traditional lunch/dinner. While these tours are uniquely Thai and can be very interesting, some will include stops that are again just a way to promote a friend’s local produce or crafts. This can be a bit of fun to start with, but if you’ve planned multiple day-tours during your time in Bangkok, you may start to get sick of gem shops and tailors. Pre-planning city tours in your destination can be a great way to ensure you get the best out of each experience and have a trust-worthy, knowledgeable local guide without the stops along the way.
Other key places/activities worth visiting include:
• Asiatique (large, open-air mall along the river with adorned with nice restaurants/bars and great shopping)
• Thai Cooking Class (a lot of fun but pick and choose the right one for you, your consultant can recommend a popular one)
• Damnoen Saduak floating market (this is fairly touristy, but there are loads of other more traditional floating markets scattered throughout Bangkok)
• Jim Thompson’s house
• Lumpini Park
• Wat Arun (The Temple of Dawn) considered one of the most beautiful temples in Thailand, a beautiful site at sunset and when lit up at night.
While I’ve warned you about a few of Bangkok scams, please don’t let that put you off visiting this amazing city. None of these inconveniences cost more than about $5 to put right, and honestly, it wouldn’t be a true Bangkok experience if you didn’t get tricked at least once during your stay.
Have a laugh, go with the flow and chat to the locals where you can. Thai people are very placid, happy people and lovely to interact with as you explore the authentic and lavish sides of this diverse city. Not once did we ever feel in danger, just slightly off-schedule – but that’s ok in this city that never sleeps, you’ll catch up eventually!