Thailand was our last stop on our whirlwind Asia tour before heading back to the United States, and it ended up being my favorite country out of everywhere we visited even though we didn’t visit the famed party beaches. Bangkok in particular was surprisingly wonderful, even though everyone said it was filled with shopping malls and strange smells. Perhaps it’s because it’s not as much of a “tourist” city as Paris, London, etc, but I personally thought it was one of the most interesting mixes of the new and old that was lacking a lot in other Asian cities (other than Hong Kong).
We flew into Bangkok and checked into the Millennium Hilton Hotel immediately. I’d used my points for a few nights – although even though it was a 5 star hotel, it was pretty affordable for a normal non-point night. The hotel had round-the-clock appetizers, food, happy hours, and a delicious breakfast (Hilton Honors is the best!), and was located right on the river. It was great to stay on the river because most of the ancient sightseeing temples were located right on the river, and we got around by using the boat/ferry! We bought a day pass for the “tourist” blue flag ferry instead of the normal boat locals/commuters use (which would’ve only been $3 a day), but it was worth it because it was only a few dollars more expensive but with fewer people. Our hotel also had its own boat to drop us off at Sathorn Central Pier (which connects to the BTS Skytrain at Saphan Taksin). as well as a nightly boat to Asiatique, which is a night shopping mall/market. All of the top five-star hotels along the riverside have dedicated, free shuttle boats that ferry guests to and from their hotel and the Center Pier, so it makes sense to stay on the river if you want to do a lot of sightseeing.
We visited all the “must-see” sights along the river, including the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, and Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn). The Grand Palace is very strict on dress code – I usually could get by with wearing a scarf to cover my shoulders, but the security guards checked and saw I was wearing a tank top underneath and made me buy a t-shirt. Women can get by with a scarf to cover shoulders (and long dress/pants) at Wat Arun. Everything I read online said that you also have to wear socks with sandals when entering the temples too, but most places didn’t even care about that. Men also have to cover their shoulders and wear long pants. We invested in some of the ubiquitous elephant pants to easily put on and off (it was hot all the time, so you don’t want to actually wear real pants all day!)
Visiting the Grand Palace was a very experience. The King had passed away a year ago (his son is currently ruling as King), but there were still hordes of people dressed in black paying their respects at the Grand Palace for the deceased king. People wore his pin all the time and took photos with his portrait everywhere. It really seems like the people truly loved the king rather than paying their respects because they had to (like in China…..)
We also visited Khao Sao Road, although we thought it was too touristy for our tastes. We had great pad thai everywhere else (Thailand has the best food….!!), but the pad thai we had on Khao Sao Road was awful and overpriced. The street markets weren’t that interesting either – there were a lot of hawkers.
M really likes “real cities”, so we spent one full day exploring the shopping malls to get a taste of modern Thai culture. It was surprisingly more fun than it sounds – there’s huge sections of luxury malls, but also tech malls, old textile malls, etc. We got a Thai massage (my favorite massage out of all the countries, because they were tougher than the other massages like the “healing” massages in Bali). We passed through Lumpini Park as well, which is considered the Central Park of Bangkok. Again, it was so cool seeing how old Bangkok and new Bangkok meshed together. The trains, as always, were on-schedule, although rush hour was very difficult since there’s so many people but very small trains.
One night, we had dinner in Chinatown (even though we love Thai food!) Bangkok has one of the world’s largest and most authentic Chinatowns, with hundreds of thousands of Thai-Chinese living there. It’s an awesome place for shopping but even better if you want great food. At night especially, all the street food stalls open up massive sidewalk restaurants and serve some of the freshest food in the city.
Since we stayed on the river, it was easy to visit Asiatique multiple times. We especially enjoyed the food market, although there were thousands of tiny shops to explore if you’re looking for some shopping.
On our last night, since we just needed a place to stay before catching our flight to Chiang Mai, we left the beautiful Hilton (CRY!) and stayed at a hostel instead. It was a perfectly clean hostel for only $5 a person (so if we were truly “backpacking”, our trip would’ve been very, very affordable!). We were grateful that we had another city to explore in Thailand, because there certainly were not enough meals in a day to satisfy our cravings for Thai food!