It’s been some time since I last blogged about my travels on The Traveloid, since then I’ve travelled over 12,000 miles to south east Asia and back with my girlfriend, spending some of that time in Bangkok over a four day weekend. Rather than give you a typical list post of the best things to do in the city, here’s a run down of all the things we got up to. Watch the video then read on!
Follow our Itinerary
Want to experience Bangkok’s culture with a bit of nightlife thrown in for good measure? Here’s our trip itinerary – why not follow along!
- Day 1: Blast! Pool Party at DoubleTree hotel – every 1st and 3rd Saturday of the month
- Day 2: Breakfast at Sampeng Lane market, tour of The Grand Palace and visit to Wat Arun, dinner on Yaowarat road in Chinatown and bars at Soi Cowboy
- Day 3: Visit to Terminal 21 mall, boating at Lumphini Park, night bicycle tour of Bangkok with Co Van Kessel
- Day 4: To the airport!
Arriving in Bangkok
After two Emirates flights (with gratuitous amounts of gin and tonics on the first leg), we arrived in Bangkok exhausted, hungover, jet lagged, and eager to get to our hotel as soon as possible. This immediately opened us up to getting scammed by a local taxi driver, promptly ripping us off while we were too tired to protest – or care, at this stage.
Don’t do what we did – educate yourself about the most common taxi scams here!
We were staying at the Shanghai Mansion hotel – a boutique, 1930s Chinese style hotel with it’s own jazz bar, in the middle of Yaowarat road in Chinatown, recommended by Monty, our friendly local STA Travel agent.
His recommendation did not disappoint. After gingerly crossing the 5 lane road, we left the chaotic outdoors for the calm of the hotel, being greeted with tea and scented wet towels, before being escorted to our deluxe room.
After a quick nap though, it was time to depart – we’d spotted a pool party that afternoon at the Doubletree hotel while waiting for our connecting flight, and eager to get there before the unlimited drinks offer was due to end.
Feeling somewhat disheartened by our earlier taxi experience, we asked the hotel staff to hail us one, and after getting stuck in a number of traffic jams, finally having to abandon the taxi and walk the rest of the way, we arrived!
The Pool Party
The Doubletree hotel is in Sukhumvit, one of the main commercial centres of the city and characterised by a concrete jungle of skyscrapers, built mostly in the largely unregulated 1980s and 90s building frenzy. It really is a mix of old and new, with lots of modern looking buildings, though built in uncoordinated styles, mixed in with a few old buildings and dilapidated tower blocks.
The pool party itself was about half way up the huge Doubletree hotel on an outdoor terrace, and one of the many posh pool parties in the city. We arrived just in time to claim a wrist band for unlimited drinks within the next two hours. We quickly claimed a spot by the pool and soaked up the atmosphere.
At this point a few people were having a paddle, with others lounging around or hanging at the bar, listening to the pumping house soundtrack. After speaking to a few people we learnt the crowd was generally a mix of tourists, expats and locals – a real melting pot.
Thing were going swimmingly (sorry) until suddenly, the heavens opened, and we experienced one of Thailand’s famous one hour long thunderstorms, this being the end of the rainy season.
Guests immediately began packing their things and moved to the covered dance floor, but we thought screw it! and jumped right in the pool. Soon enough, many others jumped in, and we joined a few locals playing games in the pool.
We dried off with a quick boogie on the dance floor, and realised we were getting pretty hungry. By now it had gone dark following the storm, and we’d lost a sense of time and space. It was time to head home.
A quick Google revealed there was a Sky Train station nearby, which in turn, we discovered connected to the metro line, with a station just a 10 minute walk from our hotel. What’s more, we could have got direct from the airport to our hotel via the train with just one change, and so could have had more cash left over for cocktails! Clearly it pays to play closer attention when trying to plot your route to the hotel.
We hit the hotel’s restaurant and jazz bar that night, with a delicious (and expensive) four course meal while being entertained by the band. All in all, a satisfactory end to day one!
Breakfast in Chinatown
The following day, we ventured out to the Sampeng Lane market, just off Yaowarat road and about a five minute walk from our hotel. For a first timer, the food can look a bit odd, and we were in mixed opinions about how appetising some of the food was.
Many of the food stands are charcoal barbecues, grilling fish you’ve never seen before and cuts of meat with unclear origins, Other stands serve spring rolls or samosas, and some cater more for the sweet tooth, such as sweet dumplings served with syrup.
You’ll also find small kitchens on street corners with comically small plastic chairs and tables to sit down on, many serving noodle soup.
Walking around in Chinatown, we noticed a very odd, sweet smell, unusual to us westerners, which may have been some sort of spice used in cooking, but to be honest it didn’t initially appeal to us or grow on us during our time there – particularly as our stomachs were still adjusting to the local diet!
We eventually sat down for two bowls of noodle soup served with meat and fish, coming in at just 100 baht each with drinks – an absolute bargain compared to the three grand we spent on last night’s luxurious meal – though admittedly nowhere near the quality.
Our next stop was the Grand Palace, so we headed to the river and caught the next boat. One thing to look out for are the two main types of passenger boats on the river. First are the cheap boats designed for commuters. These cost between 10 and 20 baht and are the cheapest way to get around on the river.
You’ll notice boats with different colour flags – orange, yellow, and green, which are the express routes that don’t stop at all the piers. There’s also a boat with no flag that stops at every pier along the way.
Other boats have blue flags – these are the tourist boats which stop at major tourist destinations along the river and provide an audio guide to the sites along the way. There’s also clear announcements for each stop, so it’s much less hectic than if you travelled on a commuter boat and haven’t yet got used to the names of the stops.
In return for the tourist-centric service, the prices of these boats are higher at 40 baht, or 100 for an all-day pass. The tourist boats are good if you’re in a hurry as they don’t stop at as many piers, but if you’re on a tight budget or want a more ‘authentic’ experience, the commuter boats are fine. Just be wary of the tourist boat staff who’ll try and herd you on to their boat rather than the commuter boat.
After arriving at Chang Pier, it’s just a short walk to the palace entrance, along with plenty of food stops on the way – just be aware the prices are slightly higher in this tourist area.
There’s also an opportunity to sort out your clothes if you find you’ve arrived without the appropriate dress. To enter the inner part of the palace, the dress code is to be modestly dressed, with covered shoulders and legs (though shorts seem to have been allowed when we arrived) no bare feet (including if you’re wearing flip flops or sandals!). There’s a booth available near the entrance that can provide clothes for your visit in return for a deposit, or many of the stalls nearby sell cheap clothes, which could also make a good souvenir!
Once you’re inside the palace walls, you’ll have the option of paying to visit Wat Phra Kaew, or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, one of the most important Buddhist temples in Thailand. The temple houses the Emerald Buddha (hence the name), which is carved out of a single block of jade.
You’ll be able to tour the temple grounds, as well as pass the royal reception hall which is used for important state ceremonies.
Once we’d explored to our hearts content, we headed back to the pier and took a boat to Wat Arun or the Temple of Dawn, which we passed on the way previously. This is one of Bangkok’s most well-known temples, so chances are you’ll recognise it’s porcelain prang – the large spire in the centre.
The history of this temple starts in 1768, when the man who was to become king Taksin arrived on the banks of the Chao Phraya River to establish a new capital. The legend goes that he arrived at the site of the Wat Arun at dawn, which led to the the temple’s name. The temple was used to house the emerald buddha before it moved to the Grand Palace, as well as being the royal chapel for a while.
Although it’s existed since 1768, the famous prang was actually only built under King Rama II in the early 19th century, and expanded to it’s current design under Rama III a few years later. It may not actually be as old as you’d expected!
Later that evening we decided to explore Yaowarat Road and get some dinner from one of the restaurants on the road. We saw T&K Seafood had received some good reviews online, so we showed up, and we were not disappointed!
The restaurant is popular with tourists, as you’ll see from the long line that forms, but it’s legit and the food is incredible. Apparently there’s an air-conditioned indoor section too where local Thais eat, so see if the waiter will seat you in there if you’re not too keen on the hustle and bustle outside.
We got about six plates between two of us to try and sample as much as possible, which in hindsight was definitely too much, but well worth it.
After a few more drinks we headed down to Soi Cowboy to check out the notorious nightlife area. Things were a bit quite – not surprising considering it was a Sunday, but nevertheless we sat down and had a few beers, and eventually headed back to our hotel.
Terminal 21 and Lumphini park
A great thing about the hot climate is that any hangover you may have had gets sweated out in about an hour – so with that in mind we had a full day of activities planned for the day.
We decided to go to one of the shopping malls, which are pretty popular with Thais not only as a shopping destination, but also a way to get away from the oppressive heat. Terminal 21 is a mall with a difference though, with an international travel theme. Each of the seven floors had a different theme based on the world’s global cities.
London, Tokyo, San Francisco, Paris – it may sound like the opening lines to a Pitbull song, but these are just some of the cities recreated on the floors of this mega-mall.
If you’re after a bargain, you probably won’t find it here, as prices were roughly on-par with what we’re used to back home in England. However, the food court is worth a visit, where a miniaturised version of San Francisco is home to a huge array of restaurants representing almost every cuisine around the world. And, unlike the products on the lower floors, the food here was very cheap!
After lunch we decided to explore the city a bit more and so headed over to Lumphini park, a tranquil park right in the middle of the concrete jungle complete with it’s own lake. We discovered it was even possible to rent a boat on said lake, and so, after waking the man at the kiosk, we paddled around and were fortunate enough to see some of the local wildlife!
Co Van Kessel Bike Tour
Not content that we’d seen enough of Bangkok, later that evening we joined a bicycle tour around the city, run by a company called Co Van Kessel. Founded by a Mr Co Van Kessel over 30 years ago, this tour company seeks to show tourists the real Bangkok, cycling through the side alleys, footpaths, past canals and discovering hidden local streets – all without getting stuck in the city’s notorious gridlocked traffic.
We opted for the Co By Night tour, departing at 6pm and going on to explore Chinatown, the flower market, across the Chao Phraya river and over to the older part of Bangkok and the temples.
The tour itself was brilliant, with great guides that really let you get to know the social side of Bangkok. Along the way we stopped off at attractions, plus lots of stops for drinks and the local street food.
If you’re not a confident cyclist either, don’t worry. As you might expect from a tour founded by a Dutchman, most of the other people in our tour group were dutch themselves. The dutch are basically pro cyclists from birth, immediately showing us up. But the Co Van Kessel team look after you with a rider at the back to help out the stragglers, plus you’ll get all the essential safety gear like a helmet and a high-vis.
The following day meant it was time for us to leave Bangkok and onward to our next destination – Vietnam!
But before we left, there was time for a relaxing full-body Thai Massage back at the Shanghai Mansion hotel which was included with our stay. After about 40 minutes of getting folded in half like laundry by the experienced masseuses, followed by a few cups of tea, we were thoroughly relaxed and ready to hit the airport.