Note: I wrote this post several days ago but we were unable to post it until now, staying at a hostel with Wifi. Our next post will be about Koh Lanta and Koh Phi Phi.
Daniel and I have arrived in Phuket, with plans to visit the surrounding islands, after traveling through Sihanoukville and Siem Riep in Cambodia followed by a whirlwind 2 nights and a day in Bangkok. I’m going to skip writing about Cambodia for now, with the intention to return to it in a future blog post, to focus on Bangkok.
I did not expect to like Bangkok. At the outset of the trip, I felt most excited about traveling through Vietnam and Myanmar, and least excited about Thailand because of the volume of tourists. My impression of Khao San Road, from reading The Beach, is that it is the centre of the backpacking universe, a “halfway house between the East and the West” and embodies the worst of how backpacking culture has superseded the culture of Asian cities. I write this with recognition of the irony inherent in me, a Caucasian American backpacking through Southeast Asia and writing a travel blog, concerned about the impact of tourism here. I found Khao San Road enjoyable during the day, although we preferred the surrounding area. When we walked down it at the end of the night it progressed from a fun, carnival-like atmosphere to overwhelming, with a crush of partiers and locals trying to sell us laughing gas.
Anyhow, this is my long buildup to the happy surprise that I absolutely loved Bangkok. I wish we could have spent a lot more time there, and think it would take studying abroad or living there as an ex-pat to fully explore the city. It reminded me a lot of NYC: the energy, the mostly enjoyable assault on the senses, and the diversity of neighborhoods within the city. It also had the most delicious street food we have eaten so far, including grilled mushrooms so delicious Daniel said they deserved a Michelin star. And although there are overpriced areas, the surrounding area where we stayed was very cheap. Whenever you make a purchase at a market or stall, or take a tuk tuk, you can bargain down to about half the originally quoted price.
We packed a lot into a day. We stayed at the Once in Bangkok guesthouse. The location was great, the rooms were cheap and the staff was very friendly. The major downside was that although it advertises Wifi, the Wifi only works in the lobby and not the rooms. But it’s not as if you want to spend much time in your room in Bangkok. We started the day with an exploration of Chinatown (Yaowaraj), which is a blast to walk around, with all of its open air markets, stalls, and delicious food. Next we attempted to go to the Central Pier for a water taxi trip, but our tuk tuk driver tried to hustle us by taking us to an expensive boat tour company. Instead we walked to Ratchawongse, the closest pier, where we bought a one day pass for boats on the Chao Phraya River for $4.50. This is a great, cheap alternative to the over-priced boat tours, and we saw many attractions we didn’t have the time to explore on foot including Wat Arun (the Temple of Dawn tower) and the Grand Palace. On our walk back, we ended up in the flower district. For blocks, the sidewalks were lined with stacks of roses wrapped in newspaper and women cutting lavender. We explored the wholesale warehouse where vendors pick up their produce shipments from the river.
For dinner, we gorged on amazing street food: duck noodle soup (for Daniel), corn, grilled mushrooms, and pad thai. After much negotiation, we then took a high speed tuk tuk ride to Suk Soi 11, another vibrant neighborhood popular, to meet Daniel’s friends Jessie and Greg at the rooftop bar Above 11. There are many rooftop bars in Bangkok – you can Google a list of the top 20 – and if you visit Bangkok, an evening at a rooftop bar (or several) is a must experience. Be aware that they all have dress codes, i.e. no shorts or flip flops, and may be closed depending on rainy weather. I was worried about the dress code because I only have sneakers and flip flops on this trip but was fine. I think they are stricter with men. If you are afraid of heights, drinking up against the plastic barriers may be more scary than thrilling. We loved the ambience and incredible views. We also went to Cheap Charlie’s and Zanzibar’s. We were excited for Cheap Charlie’s, Nomadic Matt’s favorite bar in the world, a small, quirky and festive outdoor bar in an alleyway frequented by ex-pats. We arrived at last call, which is early at 11:30, but they let us order beer. It was funny that they then took away our seats as we drank and told us to speak quietly. It was a pleasure to spend an evening with friends from home on the other side of the world.
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