If I had to sum up Bangkok in two words after my first three days there, they would be dirty and fun.
I left Scotland to 2•c and the threat of snow, but as I stepped off the Sky Train at Phraya Thai in Bangkok the wall of heat and humidity hit me hard despite it still being early in the morning. After about 5 minutes of walking in it, I started to seriously regret my decision to walk the 5km to my hostel to ‘stretch my legs’ after 20 hours of travelling.
I also quite quickly discovered that walking across Bangkok is nothing like walking around a city in Europe. The place is crisscrossed with highways 10 lanes wide, and if you try to take a short cut or a quieter street to get away from the traffic you easily get lost, end up at a dead end, or walking through someone’s home which has spilled out into the street. And so after many wrong turns and dragging my batter suitcase through some slightly unsavoury neighbourhoods, I finally stumbled into my hostel two hour later, a sweaty, sleep deprived mess, possibly still slightly drunk from the plane.
While in Bangkok I was staying at the Born Free Hostel on Samsen Soi 6, which is about a 5 minute walk from Khao San Road, so is practical but in a slightly less loud, touristy area. When I arrived it was too early to check in, but I was thankfully able to leave my bags and have the best cold shower of my life. My first thought after that was to go and find some real food after one too many plane meals. On the long walk over I had passed so much delicious smelling street food so that was the plan, but typically on wandering out of my hostel I couldn’t find anything that looked even halfway decent.
After getting to grips with the neighbourhood I thought I’d head towards the Grand Palace and find something to eat on the way. I was finding Bangkok fairly difficult to navigate, and while trying to find the place I bumped into two Austrian and two Canadian girls who had all also just arrived and were just as lost. We joined together and managed to find the complex which it sits in, and after passport checks and making sure we were adequately covered up we were allowed in. From there it was about a 20 minute walk to the Grand Palace itself, and only once there were we all told that we were still inappropriately dressed and forced to buy clothes to cover up more. I am now the less than proud owner of an ‘I ❤️ Thailand’ t-shirt.
We had a look around the outside, which in itself is beautiful, but all of us opted not to pay to get in to the temple itself as we were all hungry, tired, and figured we would come back and see it properly when we felt more up to it. The plan from there was to finally get some food, but as we were leaving we realised we were night next to Wat Pho and that we might as well check it out while we were there and had the necessary cover ups. I have to say that despite all of us feeling awful it was definitely worth it and I’m glad we went there instead.
Wat Pho is best known for being the home of the giant Reclining Buddha, but everything else there is equally as impressive. The grounds with the mosaic encrusted buildings sparkling gold in the sunlight, all the small temples, the hundreds of Buddhas, it really is something special. We were even invited to listen to a monk who was giving a casual conversation in one of the shrines we entered. By this point we had lost the Canadians, and me and the Austrian girls were really feeling the combination of heat, hunger and jet lag, so we decided to call it a day and went back to our hostels.
After another glorious cold shower I set off again with determination to find some food, as well as a place to sit and write my journal. But while looking at the food in one place, I saw some guys sitting outside a bar bartering over scorpions on a stick and, well, I had to watch them eat it. They asked me to join them for a drink and luckily there was a guy across the road making pad thai, so I grabbed some food, ordered a large G&T, and watched them bravely eat scorpions. The verdict – tastes like chicken skin with a very bad after taste. It turned out they were all new in Bangkok as well and the girls were even staying in my hostel so we figured we’d all spend our first evening together.
The girls wanted to go back and change, but me and the guys then spent the rest of the night bar hopping around Khao San Road, Rambuttri Road, and some of the small streets near my hostel, where we found this great little cocktail bar. As for Khao San Road itself, I have to say I don’t love it. It’s a laugh, and worth checking out, but if you actually want to be able to speak to people? Not a chance. It’s loud, it’s in your face, and we all had a much better time a time some of the other places we found. Eventually the jet lag kicked in for all of us though, and after a fairly impressively 60 hours awake, I finally got some sleep.
Cocktails & Khao San Road
After an amazing 10 hour sleep, I woke up the next morning feeling so much better and apparently not feeling the effects of jet lag! Without any real plan in place, I was just chilling in the lounge area of the hostel and started chatting to 3 guys who were staying there. We were all feeling the need for food, and they said that the hostel’s cafe across the street does the best pad thai ever. And it really does. Their smoothies were also amazing, and feeling much better (and a lot fuller) me and one of the guys decided to borrow the hostel’s free bikes and go for a quick cycle. I don’t think either of us counted on this becoming an 8 hour bike ride but hey.
Delicious, authentic Thai food at the Born Free cafe
I’m in 2 minds about cycling in Bangkok. On the one hand I’d say it’s the best way to get around. The city is almost completely flat and it’s big enough that walking isn’t always an option (and that’s saying something coming from me!). But the streets themselves aren’t the nicest for cycling. As I said before, it’s either massive highways or bumpy back streets, and it’s an every man for himself kind of deal in terms of safety and right of way. I wouldn’t let that put you off though, as long as you’re a confident cyclist it’s heaps fun.
We had a bit of a strange day in terms of what we actually saw. Originally we set out without a real plan, then chose to go to Lumphini Park. By the time we got there we were hungry (again. As someone who doesn’t usually eat much I seem to constantly be hungry but also spend most of my time eating. Definitely coming back a stone heavier.) Unfortunately there wasn’t much around in the way of places to eat, but we had just passed through a hospital and noticed it had a canteen so figured it was at least something. I went for the lighter option of a papaya salad, as we’d already had lunch but it was too early for dinner, and it was as average as can be expected from a hospital canteen. Although the milk teas we had made up for the food!
Once we had refuelled we went for a cycle around the park, where we had a close encounter with a rather large monitor lizard who was just chilling by the stream, saw some cute wee turtles swimming about in the lake, and then were told that you weren’t allowed to cycle in the park after 3pm. Why, I couldn’t quite understand, but we were literally told to get on our bikes. Another idea we had had was to see Wat Arun from the boat at night when it’s lit up, so we set off in the rough direction of the river. On our way there we were passing down an alley where some really nice looking food was being cooked, so stopped for another quick bite and I finally got to try Thai sausages. Pretty damn good. We got to the boat stop and after a long time trying to figure out how the system even worked we were told that for health and safety reasons we couldn’t take our bikes on the boat. Bit rich considering where we were, but as much as we pleaded it was a solid no. So with no choice but to cycle the rest of the way back, we grabbed a couple of beers and found a spot by the river to see the temple from – only to discover that it wasn’t lit up. Still, it made a nice break from sitting on a bike seat all day and sometimes it’s nice to just sit and watch the city go by.
The remainder of the trip back wasn’t actually that long, as getting around by bike here is actually really quick, but it was still 9:30 when we made it to the hostel. That probably would have been a good time to go to bed but instead I wandered out to meet the guys from the night before for a couple of beers. Afterwards they moved on to Khao San Road, and after two minutes in a club there it cemented my opinion that the place really isn’t for me and I headed back for some much needed sleep.
Despite going to bed at 2am the night before, I managed to get up early on Saturday with plans to go to the Chatuchak Weekend Market. This meant negotiating the Bangkok bus service, which still confuses and frustrates the hell out of me. Another reason bikes are better.
The market is huge; It spreads over 35 acres with more than 8,000 stalls. I didn’t have anything in particular I wanted to buy apart from maybe some clothes and breakfast, but it is fun just to browse as you can buy pretty much everything there, whether it’s tacky souvenirs, art, or a pet squirrel. I got some mango sticky rice and a fresh lime juice for a bit of fuel and then spent the next couple of hours wandering the stalls. Even after that long I was sure there were things I’d missed, but it was getting to midday and the heat in such a crowded space started to become unbearable.
Once I’d got back to the hostel and showered again, I was getting some serious cravings for the pad thai from across the street so headed there for lunch. And somehow it was even better than the day before! I spent a couple of hours just relaxing, reading, writing & making travel plans, but after a while was itching to move. Admittedly there wasn’t anything in particular I really wanted to do, so when one of the guys said he was going to the market I just tagged along for something to do.
It probably wasn’t the best idea. Having to sit on the bus again, this time in heavy traffic, and then the torrential rain started. By the time we got to Chatuchak, the lanes between stalls were more like rivers and half of the market was inaccessible. We had a quick browse but it was pretty miserable, though we did get some coconut ice cream to make it a bit better. Turns out it was a localised rain storm as well and if we’d stayed near the hostel would have missed it, but oh well.
My plan for the evening was to just stay in, relax, and get a cheap dinner somewhere, but inevitably with hostel living plans never get stuck to. I got talking to a guy who had just arrived in Thailand and wanted to try some good Thai food. My first choice was the cocktail bar I visited on my first night, but we were too early for food so just went to the Born Free Cafe instead. As much as I’d have loved another of their pad thai, I felt like one a day was enough and that I should branch out, so had a Pha Ngan curry instead, which was also really good. Afterwards he wanted to see what Khao San Road was like, and two very young girls from his room wanted to come too. Having not ever wanted to go back there, I somehow found myself spending another evening on that street, but called it quits at 9 and came back for an early night, slightly wishing I had just spent the evening by myself. I’d been lucky in the people I met my first days as we got on really well, and had kinda forgotten that not everyone you meet in hostels will be your type of person.
Still it was sad to leave the place the next morning, although I decided to come back for my very brief stay after Chiang Mai. Overall, Bangkok was a lot better than I expected. Yes it’s a big, car filled city, and you never quite feel clean there. But once you accept that, it has so much to offer and something for everyone – great food, friendly people, fun bars, stunning temples, and endless shopping opportunities to name just a few. I’ve only just left but I’m already looking forward to coming back.