When visiting Thailand, you will most likely arrive and / or leave from Bangkok. I arrived and left the country from this tentacular city of 15 millions. Bangkok definitely deserves a few days, though distances between points of interest, the heavy traffic and hence the high travel times make it challenging for first time visitors to really enjoy the capital of Thailand.
Transport in Bangkok
The Sky Train (BTS) and the Metro (MRT) are extremely efficient: they zip you around the city in air-conditioned (very cold) carts in no time. The fare depends on how far you go: between 0.5 and 1.5 Euros. However, they only cover a small area and do not enter the old part of town that concentrates many of Bangkok’s attractions. But since the Sky Train also connects with the boats running up and down the Chao Praya River (take the ones with an orange flag, not the much more expensive ones for tourists), many sights (Wat Arun, Wat Phra Kaew / the Grand Palace, the National Museum, Wat Pho, Chinatown…) can be visited without being caught in the heavy traffic.
To reach other areas, congested traffic will strongly increase your travel time, especially but not only at rush hour. Metered taxis are cheap and comfortable, though. Note that some taxi drivers refuse to take foreigners on meter and quote ridiculous prices (and this not only at the airport). Then ignore them and flag down another cab. Ignore tuk tuks, which are absurdly expensive.
Choosing a Hotel
Bangkok is a great place to splurge a bit – to escape the heat, the heavy traffic and permanent noise. There are many good hotels at a relatively reasonable price. Choose one close from the Metro (MRT) or Sky Train (BTS). A pool is really enjoyable during the hot hours of the day and worth the extra Bahts!
Highlights in Bangkok
As most large cities, you will need more than a few days to scratch bellow the surface and really start enjoying Bangkok… At least that’s my experience! Nonetheless, Bangkok has a lot to offer and can keep you buzzy for days and days!
- Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace, home to the Emerald Buddha, is definitely the most popular place in Bangkok, and you will need a lot of patience when visiting this compound, fighting your way through the masses, foreigners and locals alike. The day I visited was a public holiday, and it was downright crazy!
- Wat Arun – One of Bangkok’s most iconic temples, Wat Arun is an architectural representation of Mount Meru which, in Tibetan Buddhism, stands for the center of the universe and the single-pointedness of mind sought by adepts.
- Wat Pho – Famous for its giant Reclining Buddha, this temple is also on most guided tour itineraries and almost as crowded as the Grand Palace. The Buddha is impressive, though…
- Wat Traimit – This unpretentious temple is home to the Golden Buddha, a 5.5 ton of pure gold statue that was “rediscovered” 40 years ago when moving a Buddha statue covered with stucco. I had actually never seen such a quantity of pure Gold…
- Jim Thompson’s House, a museum with a very fine collection of Southeast Asian Art. Unfortunately, the compulsory organized tours rush you through the house / exhibit, with no sufficient time to really enjoy the vast collection.
- Weekend Market of Chatuchak – Conveniently reachable both with the MRT & the BTS, this huge market only runs on weekend. You find there everything that you might need & want – or not! This is a true sight, and worth a few hours strolling the hundreds of stalls. Arrive early to escape the masses.
- China Town – Choose from hundreds of food stalls offering any kind of specialties, both Thai & Chinese…
- Bangkok From Above – Quite a few of the top hotels have rooftop bars with stunning views of the skyline of Bangkok and of this tentacular city. Only once you are on top of one of those skyscrapers do you really fully grasp the sheer dimension of Bangkok… Note that those bars have a strict dress code, and that people who do not comply are turned down. The drinks are good, but very expensive (expect European prices).
- Thai Massage – Especially in Bangkok, you find hundreds of places where you can get a traditional Thai Massage. Massages are extremely cheap, and if you do not mind being roughed a little, then the traditional Thai Massages (yes, it hurts) are great. Go either for the cheaper ones, where locals go or splurge on a luxury “Spa” experience – Everything in between is not worth it.