There is so much to do in Thailand and even in Bangkok alone that it can be truly overwhelming. FOMO is real. Big and small experiences are what will make your trip truly unforgettable. Here are mine.
Going to Thailand for a two-week holiday to visit a friend, get out of my comfort zone and plunge into a completely new part of the world was one of the best decisions I have ever made. I spent my days exploring Thailand’s capital city and other incredible places in this beautiful country. Everything felt right and easy despite my fear of the unknown.
I had done a fair amount of research before arriving. I was prepared to used public transportation and communicate with my hands more than with English with locals. I had a bunch of apps on my phone to help me, and seven of them truly made everything easier. I still let a lot to chance and fortune and did not plan all my days. I did not know what to expect and I was ready to adapt to any circumstances. That’s probably why some little things, like catching the food-boat on the outskirts of Bangkok, turned out to be my favourite parts of the whole trip.
Or drinking cold, fresh coconut water after a long night out at the gigantic Chatuchak market.
Take the bus-boat and explore Bangkok’s waterways
Bangkok used to be considered “the Venice of Asia” due to its many waterways. Going around by boat used to be the main mean of transportation. Nowadays lots of the old waterways have been covered by concrete and people use the roads to get around. However, some boats are still working as public transportation. I took one to get to the Golden Mountain. You might need to ask your way to find the right pier (Google maps and Maps.me will help too) but it’s worth looking for it. It is an original way to get around Bangkok but more than that, it is cheap, fast, and doesn’t suffer from the busy traffic on land. While you’re at it, it is an opportunity to stroll around the waterways and discover a completely different side of Bangkok.
The 360° view from the Golden Mountain
An amazing cultural site to reach with the public transportation boat. I did so taking the boat from Sapan Hua Chang near Bangkok’s Art and Culture centre to Phanfa Leelard. The Golden Mountain is only a few strides away. The Wat Saket Ratcha Wora Maha Wihan, better known under the name of Wat Saket, is sitting atop a hill in the heart of the city. It owes its nickname to its enormous golden Chedi. It is one of the oldest temples in the city, and the entrance fee is much cheaper than other landmarks (50 baht, or 1,45€). You need to walk up about 300 steps to get to the temple but it is an easy walk. Once you reach the temple at the top, you are in for a treat: a 360° view of Bangkok! You can walk around and embrace the view over the roofs and busy roads. Rest on a bench under shiny little charms holding people’s dearest wishes and admire the beautiful golden Chedi. Warning for women: do not wear a skirt or a dress that flies easily as the place is very windy!
Riding a bicycle on Bang Kachao (and escaping from a dragon’s ambush)
You read that right. There are dragons in Bangkok. Well, big monitor lizards at least. They are not dangerous to humans, unlike their bigger cousins from Komodo. But I won’t lie: I kept my distance! You can read all about this little adventure in my post about spending one day on Bang Kachao. This artificial island is considered the green lung of Bangkok. It is essentially a gigantic green area mixing rain forests and mangroves with temples, cafés, a fortress, a floating market and a botanical garden.
After days spent striding across busy Bangkok, it felt amazing to take the ferry to Bang Kachao and rent a rusty bike to explore a completely different area of the city. Before going to Bangkok I had read from other travellers how overwhelming the city could feel. Finding a good mix of temples, museums and green areas will avoid that feeling easily.
Waiting for the food-boat at the artists’ house
Don’t get me wrong: I love to make plans and lists of places I want to see and cross them all off my list. I walked kilometres every day in the city, always on and about, trying to see as much as possible. But I have learnt one thing during my many years of travels: it’s not about crossing as many items as possible from your list. It’s about enjoying your time. There is no point in running around to get one more temple done if you don’t have the energy to appreciate the visit. I had come to realize that Bangkok could be easily exhausting so I made sure I had quiet days to explore a different area without having to rush or feel overwhelmed. Going to Ban Silapin, the Artists’ House in Bangkok’s Yai District was such a day.
The Yai district is a remaining of the “Venice of Asia” as Bangkok used to be: small houses gathered tightly along waterways. Ban Silapin is a wooden house by the water hosting artists, a shadow theatre, a gallery where you can buy beautiful and original artwork as souvenirs and a café. Take off your shoes at the entrance and browse around. Get yourself an iced coffee and sit by the water. The idleness is a blessing in the heat and an opportunity to observe the everyday life of the people still living in this area. It is also the perfect opportunity for a very peculiar experience: satisfying a growling stomach by waving at a food stall travelling on the waterways by boat! If you miss it don’t worry, it will come back. And if you really can’t wait, the restaurant just a few metres away inside the little market will save you from starvation with delicious local food.
Going to a food orgy at the Ratchada night market
Speaking of food. My most amazing culinary experience was a lively evening spent at the Ratchada night market. This market was recommended to me by a Thai friend (of a friend) I met on a night out at Wishbeer home Bar. According to him, it was the best night market to visit and I have to say: I was not disappointed. The market (full name: Tarad Rot Fi train night market Ratchada) is located near the metro stop Thailand Cultural Centre.
Ratchada’s reputation as the best night market of Bangkok for food is well deserved. Imagine a gigantic busy space hosting hundreds of food stalls and funny bars. You can try absolutely anything there, including insects – I tried dry bugs but I was not brave enough for the scorpions on sticks. I spent the night living the dream: walking around with my friend trying anything that looked good or funny. We got pancakes twice (whoops).
Watching The Vagina Monologues at Check Inn 99
There is more to Bangkok than tuk-tuks and temples. The city is open to the world, cosmopolitan and bustling with all sorts of activities ranging from outdoor fitness for all in the Lumpini park to top world conferences. The international community is big and strong and there are many groups dedicated to promoting Bangkok and Thai culture, as well as to leave a positive mark on society, local and international. Facebook, Meetup and Couchsurfing are good online resources to figure out what’s up during your stay so take the time to browse.
For me, the incredible amount of cultural events of all sorts is what makes a big difference between Bangkok and Chiang Mai. The latter is far from being boring, yet as a traveller, I felt it was easier to find activities at any hour of the day in Bangkok. One big memory I will keep with me is the evening spent with glasses of wine at Check Inn 99 for a performance of Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues by the feminist group Bangkok Rising. We laughed and cried and stood up long applauding the activists who performed those powerful pieces on stage. It was also an opportunity to hear Emma Thomas from Under the Ropes talk about her work as a Muay Thai fighter and a feminist activist.
People-watch from the bus window
Bangkok is busy. The traffic is intense and can be frustrating. Yet, you should take the bus at least once during your stay! First, it’s very cheap. Second, you will see the funny way they make “A/C” work in their old buses. And last but not least, you can observe the everyday life of Bangkok’s inhabitants. People going to and from work, playing the lottery while waiting for their buses. Street vendors selling absolutely everything and anything. Fashionistas. Grandpas. Kids. Colours, plants and mixed architectures. A feast for any photographer!
For the experience to be nice and not hot and frustrating, take a bus in the early hours of the morning! I did the trip on line 2 from Udom Suk to Rattanakosin area, starting around 7:00 AM. The bus was not full so I could sit by the window and enjoy a breeze while taking dozens of photos.