The first impression of Bangkok is that it's a huge city. Once our bus hit the main highway outside of town, it took over two hours to reach the stop downtown. There are many modern high rises in every direction. They do have real highways here which is a nice change of pace from Cambodia and Vietnam. And people actually use lanes and stoplights! Our Airbnb was in an apartment complex off an alley. It's wasn't next to much, but at a good central location between most of the sights. For dinner, our first we walked to a mall food court to keep things easy. The malls are huge, modern, and extravagant. We had some Thai food and tried to get acquainted with the spiciness of the food in this country. As you move north to south through Southeast Asia, the weather gets hotter and the food gets spicier.
We only had one full day in Bangkok. We started by heading to the nearby Taling Chan Floating Market. It was an experience to walk the market and see the crazy foods available, including turtles, snakes, and leaches. There were large floating docks with tables across them and some of the food was cooked in little boats pulled up beside the dock. Luckily this food was a bit more edible for us, mostly crabs and prawns. We had lunch of grilled prawns and pork soup on a giant covered dock. We removed our sandals and sat on the ground at an short table. Old women cook food in small boats surrounding the restaurants and pass the food up to the waitresses on the dock.
We then tested our travel skills by taking the public bus back towards The Grand Palace. There are many city buses weaving throughout the city, and we depended on Google Maps for any chance to catch the correct one. On the way to the market we had actually tried to take the bus, but finally gave up and just hailed a taxi. This time we were successful in stopping the bus. We had to fan some money at the lady on board because we had no idea what the cost was.
Once at the Palace we were surprised to see that the entire complex and surrounding streets were fenced off. The last king died in October after 70 years of rule, so the entire country is in mourning for at least a year. There were memorials and photos of the king on nearly every street corner and building entrance throughout the country. The airlines even have a prerecorded message of gratitude before the plane takes off. Serious business in Thailand! I remembered hearing about the King's death back while we were planning our trip, but had completely forgotten about the impact it would have on the country until we saw it first hand. We watched thousands of mourners dressed in black funnel into the complex. At the gate, we found out shorts were not allowed, so Taylor went in solo and I waited at a coffee shop. Much of the palace was fenced off, for ceremonies we presume, so Taylor didn't get the full experience. We went to nearby Wat Pho to see the famous reclining Buddha. It's a 150 ft long golden Buddha, lounging on his side, and it fills an entire temple. As with all of the temples in Asia, you take off your shoes before entering. The complex was filled with courtyards lined with golden statues. There is no modesty in the architecture in these buildings, they are colorful and intricate.
We braved a negotiation with a tuk tuk driver and caught a ride to Jim Thompson's house. He was an American that made Bangkok his home and redeveloped the silk industry before suddenly disappearing in Malaysia in 1967. His house and gardens are beautiful for a tour. He spent a lot of money bringing traditional Thai homes onto the property, combining them into a larger complex, and filling them with ancient artifacts. The pieces were from all over Asia, and some were around 1000 years old. Then we jumped on the BTS (subway) and headed to the famous weekend market. It was similar to the other markets we've visited on our trip but much bigger, and it was easy to get lost in the small alleyways. We even found a Clemson t-shirt in one of the shops! There were also some beautiful parks in the area with people sitting and relaxing during the hot Saturday afternoon.
Finally, in the evening we went for street food in the very crowded Chinatown. We split a seafood soup and some spring rolls. We ended the night with drinks on the famous party street, Khao San Road. It's about a 5 five-block section of drinking, blaring music, and people selling all sorts of odd items. You will find plenty of fried crickets and scorpions, bracelets with extremely inappropriate sayings, and laughing gas at the bars. Yes, you can buy laughing gas in a balloon for fun. This street has all the craziness of Bourbon Street, New Orleans with none of the charm. We felt like we had to experience it, but we left after a drink because we had a flight to Phuket at the crack of dawn.
We wished we had another day in Bangkok, as the city was so large and spread out. Also, the biggest floating and train markets are a half day trip outside of the city. Sadly, we missed visiting a rooftop bar, which Bangkok has plenty of to take in the sunset and nightlife. As one of the biggest travel hubs in Asia, I'm sure we'll have another chance to see some more sights in the future!
Chris & Taylor
Read our travel blog as we visit three continents in 2017.