Bangkok, fondly known as the Big Mango, is more than just the gateway to South East Asia. It is a vibrant city that ferociously tickles your senses and leaves you begging for more.
We arrived at Suvarnabhumi International airport last November, after a 14-hour flight from Dublin and decided to take a taxi to our hotel. There are buses into the city but after such a long journey our brains were fried, and we wanted to get to our hotel ASAP.
As we left the airport, one of the first things I noticed as we zipped along the motorway towards the twinkly city were the gigantic billboards – huge futuristic advertising signs that look both out of place and yet, right where they are meant to be. That unexpected feeling set the tone for the rest of the trip, suprises await you at every turn in Asia.
Even as the early onsets of jet lag began to creep in, I admired the vastness that surrounded us during that hour-long drive. The city stretches out as far as the eye can see, it appears to be a never-ending metropolis where luxury apartment towers hang over the shanty lined streets, two different worlds existing alongside each other day to day.
Although our time in this amazing city was brief (too brief), we had just enough time to get a taste for life there and we picked up some useful travel tips along the way. I really hope this post helps you if you are planning a trip to the city sometime soon or even just gives you a little insight into one of my favourite places.
Where we stayed
Our weary bones carried us all the way to a place that is known as the backpacker centre of the universe, Koh San Road. I spent a lot of time researching the city before we left, reading about the different neighbourhoods and figuring out where was best for us. I found a beautiful hotel, just off Koh San and it was the perfect location. The reason I chose there was because it is extremely central to everything I wanted to visit, while not being right on the party street. We were only a ten-minute walk from the madness that is Koh San Road, which gave us the best of both worlds. We had peace at our hotel, but were close enough to enjoy what was on offer around us.
If you enjoy a good nights out or even just fancy taking a stroll around somewhere a little bizzare, then you cannot miss an evening on Koh San Road. This street is filled with everything you imagine Thai night life to be as well as having some interesting food options like scorpion on a stick (No thanks!).
The hotel we stayed in was called Chillax Heritage, it cost us €33 each a night (which is pretty expensive for Thailand, but since it was our first place to stop in South East Asia I wanted us to be extra comfortable while we recovered from the journey). And comfortable we were! The four-star room had a giant jacuzzi bath and the bed was so cosy. The hotel also had a pool on the roof which over looked the city, a stunning place to catch the sunset in peace.
A low-priced option in the same location was the Khaosan Art Hotel, this was a few doors down from where we stayed and looked pretty nice from what I could see from reception. I can’t remember the exact price for our dates, but it was a lot cheaper. The same weekend this year would cost €11.50 each per night. If I was going back and wanted to save money I would 100% book there.
Where to eat
When it comes to food in Bangkok, there is no shortage of options. At the time I was eating only vegan food – since Asia I have introduced some fish and chicken back into my diet, but plant based foods are still my go to option nine times out of ten. I thought It was going to be extremely hard to find veggie options, after all, we do have this idea that they will eat anything over there don’t we? Of course, there are plenty of meaty options available, but pretty much everywhere we went also had a veggie option for every dish. Over all if you wanted to avoid meat, even just for your tummy’s sake while travelling, Thailand is a dream.
The street behind our hotel is called Soi Ram Butri and has an amazing restaurant called Madame Musur – even if you weren’t staying in that area it’s worth seeking it out just for the food there. It’s so good I had a massaman curry for dinner and then again for breakfast the following morning.
I feel like I didn’t enjoy the street food as much as I should have. Again, because I was only eating vegan food at the time, there weren’t too many options – other than the spring rolls. B tried a few things that looked delcious though, like the shredded fish below. Street food is a very cheap and delicious way to eat your way around Asia, it’s also good for discovering local dishes so don’t be afraid to try them while you are there.
Most people who visit Bangkok want to visit the floating market, but what you may not realise is that the city has more than one. Learn from our mistake and do your research in advance. We somehow managed to allow a tuk tuk driver to talk us into taking a ‘locals’ boat to the famous floating market. It was 100% a scam and they charged us a fortune (this was before we had our head around the Thai currency). When I look back now it is funny how gullible we were, I really wanted to believe that we were getting the local experience, but unfortunately that wasn’t the case. We were taken to a market that had about six boats and all the rest was on land. It didn’t have much to offer compared to markets we visited later in our trip. However, one good thing was that the boat did come back for us and we got to see a lot of the city from the water, which was spectacular.
My advice would be to research in advance and either make your own way there (don’t allow a tuk tuk driver to talk you into a ‘better’ market) or go through a proper tourist agent.
You could easily make a day trip out of seeing all the markets. Here are some you shouldn’t miss out on:
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market – This is the one you see all the famous photos of
Amphawa Floating Market – Very authentic
Chatuchak Market – This market has 15,000 booths
Pratunam Market – Indoor market great for clothes and jewellery
Dalat Rot Fai – Hipster Thai market? Yes please.
I mentioned the tuk tuks before, but please don’t let this tale put you off using the most iconic form of transport that Bangkok has to offer. Tuk tuks are by far the best way to get around the city. They are cheap and quick and the perfect way to get a little adrenaline buzz if you get the right driver! Sit back and hold on, you will be glad you tried it. Some tuk tuk drivers will rent their service out by the day for as little as €20, they will take you wherever you want to go in the city and wait while you explore. There is also an app called Tuk Tuk Hop, it’s basically like the hop on hop off bus tour but by tuk tuk.
Another way to get around the city is the Skytrain, which is an elevated rapid transit system. The train doesn’t cover the entire city (much like our lovely Luas in Dublin), but it is handy for covering large ground, fast. We didn’t use it as we spent our time around the river areas, so there was no need, but if you have more time and want to see other parts of the city it is a great way to get from A to B.
Bangkok has some beautiful temples, and none stand out more that Wat Pho, which is more a complex of temples than one single building. It is home to the giant Reclining Buddha and is a must see for anyone visiting the city. While we were there a festival was on within the grounds and there was lots of music and food stalls to enjoy.
One thing to bear in mind is that, although the temples attract many visitors and tourists each year, they are still a sacred place to many and it is important that they are treated accordingly. Shoulders and knees must be covered at all times (don’t worry, there are stalls outside where you can buy very cheap suitable clothing if you arrive unprepared) and shoes have to be removed when going inside any of the temples themselves. Please just follow the rules if you are visiting, no photo is worth disrespecting an entire culture over.
Some other temples to visit in Bangkok:
Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of Emerald Buddha)
Wat Saket (Golden Mountain)
Places I want to visit next time
As with anywhere I go, there are many places I missed and would still like to explore. Sometimes there just isn’t enough time to fit it all in, but that’s ok, it’s the perfect excuse to go back.
Here are some of the things I would like to do next time I’m in Bangkok.
Visit the Airplane Graveyard – you can actually walk through these abandoned planes and it’s a great place to get some cool photos. The cost is 200 Baht per person (€5.50).
Climb Ghost Tower – sticking with the abandoned theme here, Ghost tower is a 49-story unfished skyscraper that offers some remarkable views of the city – just make sure you bring some water for the climb!
Grab a coffee in the Unicorn Café – Unicorn. Café. Need I say more?
Take a tour of The Grand Palace – The cities most famous landmark. Tickets stop being sold after 3.30pm and cost 500 Baht – so make sure you get there early in the day to be sure you don’t miss out.
Bonus tip: You can get really cheap flights to other parts of Asia from Bangkok – just be sure you go to the right airport! There are two and they are roughly 50Km apart. We were taken to the wrong one on our way to Vietnam by our hotel taxi driver, which caused a little big of panic that morning, but thankfully we didn’t miss our flight.
Writing this takes me right back to the heart of Bangkok and reminds me what a wonderful place it is to start your adventure in South East Asia. If you fancy reliving the journey with me, you can check out my Bangkok highlight on my Instagram story HERE.
I hope you found this little insight into the Big Mango useful, if you have any questions please feel free to reach out.
Until next time… Written with love,