Bangkok – a happy beginning!

The flight from Colombia to Thailand took 24 hours and involved a brief layover in Germany. When in Frankfurt…

When in Frankfurt...

I got very close to home but it wasn’t meant to be this time…(perhaps after the safari?!)

So close, yet so far.

On arrival to Bangkok International Suvarnabhumi airport, Alina hugged our pilots at the baggage carousel (stalker alert!) and we made our way to our accommodation via the very convenient airport rail link.

Accommodation

Bangkok hotels were way more expensive than we expected so we took the opportunity to rent an apartment using AirBnB. Not having any knowledge of the city we struggled to decide between:

  • Sukhumvit Road (big hotels and sex shows – Thanks – Leya & Steve!)
  • Khaosan Road (backpacker central and close to prominent sites – No thanks – says Alina!)
  • Ratchaprarop Road (close to airport link and BTS rail network)

In the end, we chose the Ideo Verve building on Ratchaprarop Road. Our apartment was located on floor 12a. Not floor 13. These superstitious people weren’t fooling me!

The elephant(s) in the room…

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We loved the apartment and it was great to have access to a kitchen for a week. In the future I would likely stay in a different area but still can’t figure out where that is – it would have to be close to a BTS station.

Staying Connected

Our plan to rely solely on WiFi was shelved after just one day – not enough access points when you need one. Fortunately anyone can easily sign up for a pre-paid SIM card on 4G network; only $9 for 1GB data/30 days. How excited is Alina to buy more credits on Candy Crush?

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Transportation

Bangkok is a sprawling city with awful traffic congestion. In days past, the streets were completely clogged with cars, buses and tuk tuks. Today, both the BTS (overhead train) and MTS (underground) have substantially reduced traffic on the streets as you can see below!

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Getting around can be a frustrating experience for a few reasons:

  1. the rail network (BTS) only serves a small area of the city
  2. buses are stuck in the same traffic as other vehicles
  3. taxi drivers do not want to turn on the meter and instead wish to negotiate a fixed fare
  4. tuk tuks are uncomfortable (exhaust fumes) and rather expensive for longer journeys

An alternative to land based transportation (and much faster) is to take a boat on one of the many commuter canals…

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Or a boat on the Chao Phraya river:

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Culture

The city streets are a hive of activity. Almost every sidewalk is crammed with vendors with a stall (or some without) selling food, fruit, vegetables, fish, juices, trinkets and clothing. Many people will choose to focus on the poverty, dirt and chaos and be turned off by this environment. However, I prefer to see peoples desire to make the best of their situation with hard work and enterprise under very difficult conditions.

Unbeknownst to many visitors, Thailand is currently under ‘dictator law’ after a coup in 2014. Thailand also has a monarchy – the King & Queen are highly respected and Royal images are featured throughout the country on billboards etc.

Songkran

90% of the population of Thailand associate themselves with the Buddhist faith. Fortunately, our visit coincided with the Thai New Year known as Songkran which occurs on April 12,13,14. Traditionally water is gently sprinkled by Monks as part of a cleansing ritual and white paste is put on faces to ward off evil. Furthermore, Buddha pictures, statues and adornments are taken down to be cleaned. However, in recent times the festival has become more synonymous with water throwing, paste smearing and partying.

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Within moments of leaving our apartment on April 12th we were completely soaked with huge buckets of ice-cold water that were hurled into our tuk tuk as we drove to Khoasan Road for the big party. It was time to get armed…

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BK-Songkran - 2 It is important to be ready at all times…

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Safety

Without a doubt, this is the safest ‘big’ city we have visited thus far. For the first time we both let our guard down (other than taking the usual precautions against pickpockets and scam artists).

Shopping

If shopping is your ‘thing’ then Bangkok is the city for you. From counterfeit clothing and electronics to expensive and authentic goods, there is a market or mall to suit everyone.

Chatuchak Weekend Market

This is an outdoor market that covers 27 acres with 15000+ booths. We enjoyed some tasty food here for $1 to $2.

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MBK Center

A huge indoor mall where anything is possible; from fixing an iPhone to ordering a fully tailored suit. We got a tip to try the ‘locals’ food court on the sixth floor (Thanks Brad!) and it was really good. You can’t beat lunch for $1.50. (Except the chicken curry dinner I had on the street later for $0.75 cents!)

Siam Paragon, Central World & Terminal 21

Paragon and Central World are located adjacent to each other next to Siam BTS; Terminal 21 is next to Asoke BTS.  These malls have every major brand store you can imagine.

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This is how I imagine my car is being treated right now by my good friend Gene in Pleasanton. (Not that he already had a fender bender and repaired it or anything!)

BK-Car - 1Not surprisingly the malls have an amazing variety of food options at all different levels. In all honesty, the cheap street food is as good as many of the more expensive (but clean!) restaurants.

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I took a few hours out to watch a movie at Paragon while Whitney Houston (a.k.a. Alina) spent her time at a karaoke studio.

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Note: Before the main feature movie, the audience stands while the “Royal Anthem” plays over a montage of images from the King’s life.

A taste of San Francisco…

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This took longer than expected.

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Afternoon Tea

Our good friends Jeff & Cat kindly treated us to an afternoon tea outing at the Mandarin Oriental hotel. The menu features both a traditional English and an alternative Thai selection. What choice did we have other than to try both?!

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Warning: 1st world problem. As most know, the key element of the tea is having a scone with clotted cream. We spotted that they had surreptitiously used mascarpone instead. Oh the humanity! After a few apologies about ‘running out’ they eventually dug some up and we were back to being happier campers. (Nice camp, right?)

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Rooftop Bars

The city is famous for its rooftop bars which are found throughout the city – the skyline is filled with skyscrapers. Most are ‘free’ to enter but drinks are, as you would expect, expensive. We visited the following bars for some tap water: Above 11, Nest & Octave.

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Jim Thompson House

Responsible for the revival of Thai silk back in the 1960’s – Jim Thompson’s house is now a museum remaining unchanged since he went missing in the Malaysian jungle back in 1967. One can only visit as part of a guided tour which run every 20-30 minutes. A nice diversion for an hour or so.

Floating Market

The Damnoensaduak Floating Market is located around 80km form Central Bangkok so we signed up with TourWithTong to take us there (and onto the Railway market) and back. Historically a floating market was used by local people to trade fruits, vegetables, fish etc. directly from their boats – the area is a vast network of canals. Today the markets are mostly tourist sites and have expanded to selling trinkets and such. Nevertheless, we really enjoyed the experience especially as our guide had us on a boat long before other tourists arrived. TourWithTong provided a really great service – thanks to Leya for the tip!

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Surprisingly (after 4 weeks in Thailand) the food we ate at the market was some of the best in Thailand. Who says you can’t have soup and coconut ice-cream for breakfast?!

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The Maeklong Railway Market is situated right on top of the railways tracks so each time a train approaches the vendors must pull down their awnings and remove their goods from the tracks before finding a place for themselves to stand. Fortunately this only happens 8 times daily and a three minute warning is made in advance. Why put up with this inconvenience? Because the rent is cheap for a stall here in comparison to other market locations nearby.

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Our video:

This is a real market and tourists are not particularly welcome as they get in the way of the real business of selling fish and vegetables. Not to mention the few occasions when tourists force the train to stop by not getting out of the way in their attempt to get the ‘perfect’ picture.

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Grand Palace

The Grand Palace (official residence of the King) with its many buildings and temples is one of the most highly rated tourist attractions in Bangkok. Unfortunately it is also the busiest which can ruin the enjoyment of wandering what is a very impressive site. Alina bailed on our expedition when she saw the tour buses loaded with tourists circling like vultures!

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The worst crowding and most umbrellas I’ve ever seen on a dry day! The reason why Alina went off to explore other parts of the neighborhood…

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Vibrant colors and intricate details on each structure.

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Wat Pho

A short walk from the palace is Wat Pho. As one of the largest and oldest temples in Bangkok, it is home to the reclining Buddha (15 m high and 43 m long).

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BK-Wat - 9In contrast to the Palace, this is a much more enjoyable place to spend an hour or more.

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Conclusion

Bangkok can be a great place to visit if you accept that its going to be hot, uncomfortable and chaotic – somewhat like your first Bikram Yoga class! The food is amazing. And one can never tire of the beautiful Wats located throughout the city. Of course, every story needs a happy ending and no better way than to mention the $7 foot massages. Be forewarned that no matter how small the male or female masseuse looks – they have the hands and fingers of a Terminator.

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  • Gene

    So I guess in the end – Kieran got is happy ending!

    • Haha. Now that I’m dealing with Geico I can tell them the car is full of after market parts. Should make the premium decrease, right?!