Bangkok, Thailand: First Stop in Asia
Sawadee or hello from Thailand!
We arrived in Bangkok, Thailand on November 21, 2014. As sad as we were to leave beautiful New Zealand, we were also excited for warmer weather and getting out of our comfort zone in South East Asia. Traveling in Australia and New Zealand was relatively easy as they are English speaking countries. We suspect that SEA will be more challenging due to language and cultural differences. Let's see how it goes.
We got to our hotel late in the evening. Chatrium Residence Sathon was a huge and modern hotel. We were at first surprised to see the location of it; it was on a busy side street surrounded by some sketchy looking buildings as well as an international school and higher end restaurants. It turned out that this is the norm in Bangkok. The old mixed with the new, the fancy next door to poor. This became more evident later on when we took a canal tour and saw shanty town buildings right next to beautiful modern high-rises or opulent temples.
We stayed in Bangkok for six nights, probably more time than an average visitor would spend but we added some extra days for pure relaxation and planning. On the first day we explored our neighborhood and relaxed by the pool. The following day we ventured out to Chatuchak Weekend Market. It was a market on steroids which included 8,000 stalls! We walked around it admiring local goods: from trinkets and souvenirs to furniture and even pets. It was a really cool cultural experience. In the following days we explored few temples and took a canal tour around Bangkok. When visiting temples in Thailand it is mandatory to wear modest clothing although that rule seems to apply mostly to women. Just like in the Vatican, bare female knees and shoulders are considered inappropriate. While Vlad was able to get away with shorts and a t-shirt I wore a long skirt and a cardigan in about 90F degree weather. Nevertheless, sightseeing the temples was a very rewarding experience.
The canal tour was a bit of a nerve-racker for me. We found out about it from some local dude near Chinatown. He quickly directed us to a tuk tuk that took us to a small ferry port. My initial excitement quickly gave way to fear as we pulled up to a narrow street with a small shady looking port and I started remembering all the travel mishaps stories I ever read. Did they bring us here to rob us or in the best case scenario to scam us? Vlad was feeling pretty calm about the whole situation and after seeing few other gringos getting ready to board I got comfortable enough to get into a long-boat equipped with a car motor. Shortly after that we started our 1.5h tour along one of Bangkok's canals and then up Chao Phraya River where we arrived at Wat Arun Temple.
Sightseeing the canal was a humbling and sad experience. Shanty town structures dominated the shore. Many were in terrible shape, dirty and falling apart. Kids were fishing and swimming in the murky canal waters. I felt bad to see that this was their childhood but as Vlad pointed out, they did not know any better and they actually looked very happy. Every now and then a beautiful and shiny temple or a statue of Buddha would appear on the shore creating a huge contrast to the poor canal houses. The highlight of the trip was a moment when an older lady swam in her tiny boat to ours offering us some goods to buy and Vlad gladly bought some beer for himself and our captain.
That same evening we visited the spectacular 17th century Wat Arun Temple. To get to the top we climbed very steep steps and admired the porcelain and shell decorations of the outer walls of the temple. Next we proceeded to Wat Pho to see the famous Reclining Buddha. It was a magnificent sight; a 43 meter long and 15 meter tall Buddha was situated in a large building. The statue was made of brick and stucco, lacquered and gilded. Its feet and eyes were decorated using mother-of-pearl. We walked around the grounds admiring various temple structures shining in the dark.
The rest of our stay was pretty relaxing. We got some massages and facials, went to the hotel gym (I even took a fit-ball class), relaxed by the pool and started getting used to and really enjoying street food. After a visit to a travel agency we got some ideas about where to go and booked a flight to Krabi where we would stay for a week. Unfortunately we did not get to see the Grand Palace. I got a little sick to my stomach that morning and we did not make it there on time (it closes early at 3:30pm). Instead, in the evening we headed to Asiatique, an outdoor shopping and entertainment center where we window shopped, ate, and got a fish pedicure. This was a very funny experience for both of us. When we first dipped our feet in water and felt tens of tiny fish nibble on our feet we got a bit freaked out. I actually could not stop laughing because the feeling was ticklish. We relaxed at last and enjoyed the experience. I don't actually know how effective of a pedicure this is but it was sure very fun.
Bangkok has the unfortunate reputation of a city that is a hard to love. It's often described as a crowded, dirty, smelly metropolis, with streetside fumes - not everybody's cup of tea. As this was my first visit to Asia, I tried to be open minded and enjoy what the city had to offer, which wasn't always easy. But the thing I quickly learned about Bangkok is that while it may live up to some of those unfortunate expectations, it also charms with its glistening temples and statues, and its fragrant aromas of delicious traditional Thai foods. Overall we found Bangkok to be an enjoyable and important city to visit, but it is not one that we would long to return to.
Here are some facts about Thailand and Bangkok followed by the photos.
Geography: Bangkok is located in central Thailand in the South East Asia.
Population: Out of the 67 million people in Thailand, 6.4 million people live in Bangkok.
Demographics: In Thailand, 95.9% are Thai, 2% Burmese, the rest is other and unspecified.
Currency: Thai Baht where 1 USD = approximately 33 THB
Official Languages: Thai (aka Siamese or Central Thai)
Religion: 94.6% Therevada Buddihsm, 4.6% Muslim, 0.7% Christians.
Best Known for: Thailand is known for beautiful beaches, great food, temples, 2004 Tsunami, lady-boys, elephants. Bangkok is know for being a large metropolis, martial arts, great shopping (upscale designers and cheap markets),
What We Noticed: lots of people; pollution and traffic; tuk tuks; dark tinted car windows; street food stands are everywhere; take out food is packed in plastic bags; carnation milk is used in many drinks; spirit houses and photos of the King are scattered around the city; yellow as the color of the Thai monarchy; cabs are often bright pink or purple.
Interesting fact: Thaland is a monarchy headed by King Bhumibol Adulyadej aka Rama IX. It's strictly against the law to criticize the monarchy. It's better not to mention him at all.
We flew from Christchurch, New Zealand to Melbourne, Australia (3h) and then to Bangkok, Thailand (9.5h). It looks so close on the map but it is actually really far.
First walk down the streets of Bangkok, only few minutes from our hotel. There's tons of 7-Elevens in Thailand.
Visit to Chatuchak Weekend Market was an interesting experience. Some beautiful items. There's something there for everyone. Care for a mug? Hope it's one of those on the top of the piles. Colorful soap. I kind of hope they don't smell like the shapes they are made into... unless you wish to smell like Hot and Sour Soup (see top left corner). You can also buy pets in this market. We saw the cutest dogs and kittens there. Unfortunately the store owners do not like photos and being new to this country I obliged. Tiny eggs and fried foods. We were not feeling adventurous enough to try these. Dried squid. No thanks. Coconut ice cream. Yes, please. It was really delicious and cost about $1.5.
We ended the visit to the market with an hour foot and shoulder massage for about $8 per person.
First temple we visited was Wat Traimit. At the entrance was a photo of King Bhumibol Adulyadej aka Rama IX who has been reigning since 1946. Fun fact: the King was born in 1927 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Wat Traimit is home to the Golden Buddha, the world's largest solid gold statue weighting 5.5 tons and standing 3 meters tall. It dates back to 13th or 14th century and it estimated worth is about $250 million dollars. Strangely, we did not see many security guards in the temple (not that it would be easy to steal this statue).
The ceiling of the temple was very beautiful.
From Wat Traimit we took a tuk tuk to the next attraction, Bangkok Canal tour. Longtail boats in the canal. We rode in a similar one powered by a car engine. At one point a boat vendor lady vendor came close to offer us some souvenirs and beers. Apartment buildings by the canal. Kids swimming in the murky waters of the canal. Shanty town.
Temples brightened up the canal.
At the end of our canal tour we were dropped off by Wat Arun Temple which dates back to 17th century.
The stairs to the top were very steep.
Monks at the temple.
The temple is beautifully decorated with ceramic pieces and shells.
Wat Arun in its full glory.
Next Stop, Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho.
Reclyning Buddha is 15 meters tall and 43 meters long.
Things you cannot do at the temple.
Sightseeing Wat Pho grounds at night.
Streets of Bangkok. Bangkok traffic. Tuk tuks are a popular means of transportation in the city.
Khanom Bueang are dessert "tacos" filled with fluffy marshmellow-like coconut creme. We tried one and it was delicious. In the evening we headed to outdoor shopping and entertainment center Asiatique.
We tried a fish pedicure. It was a very confusing experience. At first we got freaked out a bit and could not keep our feet in the water as the fish tickled us. We finally got used to small fish nibbling on our feet but not sure if we will repeat the experience.
Hungry fish. Asiatique was a cool experience with lots of small shops, restaurants, movie theaters and some shows.
Asiatique Sky ferris wheel.
Lights and lanterns.
Certain fashion items can be very different than those back home. Thai clown.
Thai take out comes in bags rather than plastic containers. Getting food at restaurants is extremely popular in Bangkok so this probably uses less plastic than containers would. Papaya Salad became our daily staple. Dragon fruit looks better than it tastes.
So what do you think of Bangkok? Does the city appeal to you at all? Would you travel across the world to visit it?
For more photos of Bangkok and Thailand visit our Gallery page and join us next as we explore the beaches of Krabi Province.
Great, now I'm on a quest to find me some Khanom Bueang - looks delicious! Love the Golden Buddha, what a sight to see, absolutely breathtaking. Actually all of the temples are magnificent. Also, their king was born in Massachusetts? What the what? Where was Trump to request his birth certificate?!? :P
Wow stunning pics!
My favorite things you mention:
- fish pedi lol (love Edi's face!)
-coconut ice cream and dessert tacos - what?!
-the fact that you guys could get a bit of pampering in - that's the way to roll :)
-the king born in MA?! haha
Wonderful stuff! Thanks for sharing :)
ps. next time you are in Warsaw, you have to to to Tuk Tuk and see how this (oh so delicious food) compares to the real deal: http://www.yelp.com/biz/tuk-tuk-warszawa
I love it!
@Vanessa - Yeah, that's my problem for sure. There's lots of pretty things here in Asia like house stuff and decorations but they are usually heavy or bulky. So I try to buy small things like jewelry or just replace my clothes. ;-) It helps bc I get bored with my limited wardrobe.
We didn't try the dried squid, it was only our second day in Asia so we didn't feel ready. ;-)
We were also laughing and people passing by were wondering what was going on. You must have looked really funny laughing by yourself. Ha ha. I think I want to give it another try. It was kind of fun right?
I feel like if I travelled the world I would have a problem with wanting to buy cool souvenirs from every place I visited. I'd assume you have to be very disciplined in your shopping habits.
Did vlad try the dried squid? I would have!
Ahhh, the fish pedicure. This was one of the things I did by myself in Singapore while Vlad was working. Definitely a weird experience and I too could not keep my feet in the water very long at first. It tickled so much!!! lol...probably even funnier that I was by myself laughing and taking video of it all. I think I actually did it twice on our trip.
@ Tommy - what tourist hats? I wear fedoras on every single vacation I go on. They are stylish! haha...
Actually, you may be happy to know we forgot these at a massage parlor in Koh Samui. But worry not, I found a replacement that makes me look like I belong on the little house on the prairie or maybe at rice terraces. You will have the joy of seeing that hat in the future Cambodia posts. So stay tuned! haha.
Yeah, the hotel was great but wait till you see the one in Koh Samui. It was bigger than our apt on UWS. Actually both of our apts combined. And it cost $77 per night.
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