We’d heard that it wasn’t worth spending more than 2 days in Bangkok, and after spending 5 days there, I sort of agree (but only partially). We flew into Bangkok on Monday from Krabi, and our original plan was to take the train on Thursday towards Chiang Mai, but stopping for 2 nights at various places along the way (Ayutthata and Sukhathai). Unfortunately, when we tried to book said train there were none available that worked logistically and no alternatives that wouldn’t have broken the bank, and the next available train up to Chaing Mai wasn’t until Saturday. So Bangkok we stayed for 5 nights.
Neither one of us minded Bangkok – it just felt like any other big city we’ve been to – although we were definitely ready to leave by the end of our stay. We’d been told that Bangkok was smelly, and dirty, and terribly hot and stuffy; however, we didn’t really find any of those things to be true (at least when we went). Okay, yes, when it was 35 degrees out and we walked past a pile of garbage it smelled, but that’s the same anywhere and it wasn’t all encompassing. It was hot, but no hotter than any other big city in the middle of summer, and although they could do with more bins and garbage collection, we found Bangkok relatively clean compared to a lot of SE Asia. So despite arriving thinking we were going to hate it, we didn’t. Hate it that is. That’s not to say there weren’t elements of it we didn’t like though!
When we arrived, Rich had to be a grownup and had work calls he had to make, so I had an afternoon/evening on my own. One of the things I really wanted to do in Thailand was a cooking class, and as Rich was never too keen on the idea (cause we all know how much he loves to cook!), it seemed like a good time for me to do it. For warning: there are a lot of cooking classes to choose from in Bangkok. And I mean a lot. I ended up on a website called Cookly, which lists a variety of different options to choose from. There are tons more around that aren’t listed on there, but it was the easiest way for me to book something ahead of time. After narrowing it down to ones that offered classes in the late afternoon, I decided on a little place called The Claypot Cooking School, mostly because it included a trip to a local market, which a lot of the other afternoon classes did not. As a bonus, it was located right next to the Grand Palace, so my Grab drive there had a lot of things for me to look at. The class itself was really good, and I would highly recommenced it to anyone whose in Bangkok. Chef Andy was funny and clearly knew his stuff, and we were able to make green curry, pad thai, and coconut soup with chicken. As a bonus, he even made mango sticky rice and deep fried a frog for us (yes, it tasted like chicken!).
By this point we realized we’d have a few extra days in Bangkok before getting our train, so we were able to slow down a little bit and not try and cram everything in over 2 full days. This meant we did a lot of walking around, had longer lunches, and spent a bit of time relaxing in our room as well. Although we were ready to leave by the time we left, we also enjoyed the slower pace and didn’t mind being in the city for that long. It’s definitely possible to only spend 2 days in Bangkok and still see a lot of the sights, but if you’ve got a few extra days, it is also worth taking the time to see and do more without feeling rushed and tired.
Wat Pho, or the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, was really impressive and well worth going to. Located right in the heart of the Old Town next to the Grand Palace, it’s one of the largest temple complexes in Bangkok and we easily spent about 2 hours wandering around. The big draw in the Reclining Buddha, which stands (lays) at 15m tall and 46m long, and you’re able to walk a full 360 degrees around it to take it all in. There are English speaking guides you can hire to take you around the complex; however, we decided to give them a miss and wandered around on our own which we both really enjoyed. There’s some great hidden corners and tucked away places to explore, so make sure you take the time to get away from the crowds for a bit and not just see the Buddha and then leave.
After spending a couple hours wandering around, we grabbed some lunch and were going to head to the Grand Place and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha; however, it was 500 baht each (expensive considering Wat Pho is 100, and there are a lot of others that are free or less than 100), it was incredibly hot out, and it also happened to be the Late Kings Birthday, which is celebrated in Thailand as Father’s Day. This meant there were not only hundreds of tourists, but all Thai people had the day off as well and like to celebrate by going to the Palace and Temple. We couldn’t face the heat and the crowds, so we decided to give it a miss with the intent to come back a different way, and we headed back to our hotel. We didn’t end up going back, but turns out we didn’t miss much, as according to our grab driver, it’s not worth it and Wat Pho and Wat Arun (which we did go see) are much better. We both felt a bit better skipping it after hearing from local that it’s not as great as it’s cracked up to be!
As mentioned, we did get to Wat Arun later that week, and again, we both really enjoyed it. Wat Arun, or the Temple of the Dawn, is right next to the river and made up of lots of little mosaic tiles, and it’s very beautiful. It’s almost directly across the river from Wat Pho, so easy to get to, although we took a taxi there from our hostel and got the river boat back. Wat Arun isn’t as big as Wat Pho, and we probably only spent about 30 minutes in total at the temple, but there are a number of things right beside it to wander around and look at, so the travel there is worth it. I really liked it that you could climb the steps up to the temple (although not all the way), as most temples have the stairs blocked off, either for safety or because it’s just for temple worshipers.
Khao San Road
If you’ve heard about Bangkok, you’ve probably heard of the notorious Khao San Road – known for their cheap alcohol buckets, fried insects on sticks, and loads of drunk westerners going crazy. The road itself is surprisingly small, just 1 km, and we wandered over one evening to see what the fuss was about. I can see why it’s popular with backpackers, especially the younger ones, as it’s lined with cheap accommodation, lots of food stalls, massage parlors, and cheap drinks being sold everywhere. We didn’t go too late, as we were heading over to a different night market for food, so although there was a definite party atmosphere, it wasn’t too bad. We wandered around, had a drink and did some people watching, before moving on. We’ve heard stories of it becoming one massive party street with people mingling everywhere on the road (it’s luckily pedestrianized!), and getting black out drunk, but we didn’t stay long enough to experience this. I can’t say I’m disappointing that we didn’t, although I’m sure we would have jumped right in if we had stayed.
One thing about staying longer was that it meant we were there for the Chatuchak Market on Saturday, which I was pretty excited about. The market itself spans a 23 acre area with over 8000 stalls, which is pretty daunting to think about. It’s separated into 27 sections apparently, although after wandering around for a few hours, we couldn’t distinguish between them as everything seems to be sold everywhere. There are maps available, but we couldn’t find any (although we did see people walking around with them), but you really don’t need one if you’re happy to just wander. Which is exactly what we like to do! There is a lot of stuff to be had at the market, and I think you’d be hard pressed to NOT find what you want, and though there were some great bargains, we also found that there were not great bargains. Pretty typical of a market, I would say. We were able to do a bit of shopping, both for ourselves and other people, and were happy with our haul of goodies by the time we left.
It was raining the morning we went, which although annoying was probably a good thing because most of the market is under cover and it meant it kept the temperature to a bearable level. I can imagine that in the heat of a clear day with so many people around it probably gets pretty stuffy and close. The market does open at 6am, so it might be worth going earlier to try and beat some of the crowd and the heat.
We ended up at Terminal 21 almost by accident, although it was recommended by a friend, and it ended up being pretty cool. We had a couple hours to kill before we had to catch our train north, but we didn’t feel like going some where that was going to be super busy, and on our way back from the market we noticed that our train stopped at Terminal 21 so we decided to hop off and spend some time there. Terminal 21 is a mall, but not just any mall. No, Terminal 21 – as the name suggests – is themed like an airport, and every floor of it’s 9 levels has a different city theme. You can visit London, Tokyo, San Francisco, Paris, Istanbul, or the Caribbean. The food court spans over 3 levels with food from everywhere, and we were more then happy to indulge there a bit before wandering around the different levels. It’s a pretty new mall with mostly high street shops which the prices reflect, but even if you’re not wanting to spend anything it’s a good place to explore out of the heat and to enjoy some free A/C.
Bangkok on Foot
We love to do a bit of walking, although it can be hard to resist the call of passing Tuk Tuk’s and taxis some days, especially when it’s hot out. One of our days in Bangkok we spent wandering around the Old Town (which is huge) just checking it out, seeing some random temples, and meeting different people. Probably not something that everyone wants to do, especially as you get harassed a lot from people, with a lot of them ‘selling’ scams, but if you’ve got an extra day and are so inclined, I would always recommend getting out and seeing the city by foot. It’s a great way to meet local people and just generally see them going about their daily lives, and if you’ve got no time constraints, you can go where ever your feet take you, which is always an adventure!
Overall, we found Bangkok to be pretty good and, scammers aside, really enjoyed it. You probably don’t need as much time as we did (although we also did a day trip to Ayutthaya during our time there), you can definitely find enough things to do for more then 2 days. If cities aren’t your thing or you’ve got a really tight schedule, then you’ll still be able to get a good amount done in 2 days without feeling too rushed or tired. I’d recommended staying within the Old Town area, as you’ll be better placed for doing stuff, but the train system in the city is great, cheap, and super easy to navigate if you find you need it.