Advantages Beautiful people, beautiful city.
Disadvantages Being hassled by Tuk Tuk drivers, and being told attractions were closed.
Bangkok is the capital city of Thailand, and is probably most famous for its imprisonment of Westerners bringing drugs into the country, ladyboys and prostitution. Bangkok is also a beautiful city, where thankfully, my friend and I only witnessed one of the above!Although we loved it immediately, a lot of people hate the city when they first arrive. It is probably best to spend your first night in Bangkok, travel around the country, and return to the city when you are more at home in Thailand.
AIRPORT BUS OR TAXI?If there are more than two people travelling together then a taxi will be cheaper, but you will need to agree a price before stepping into the taxi - this will most probably involve bartering the price down a bit. As there were only two of us travelling we opted for the airport bus which costs 100 baht each. When leaving though, it is possible to catch a minibus from some of the guesthouses at a cost of 80 baht.
HOTELSIf like us, you were intending to travel on a reasonably tight budget, then you should stay on or near the Kao San Road (or Kao San Thani) in guesthouses. It is very touristy, but this can be quite useful from the point of view of people speaking English and meeting fellow travellers.
We had already booked a room in the Sawasdee Bankok Inn, which is a five minute walk from where the airport bus drops you. (Not to be confused with another, more upmarket hotel, in the Sawadee chain which is at that stop.) The guesthouse provides rooms with an en suite shower/toilet which are clean and functional. We chose a room with air-conditioning (at 470 baht), but found this to be one of our first mistakes. The air-conditioning was too cold and a fan would have been much better. (One advantage to air conditioning is that you can spray mosquito repellent into the air conditioning unit in order to protect yourself from mosquitoes during the night.) Our other mistake was only to check our room quickly. In Thailand you are expected to check everything in the room before taking it. In our case the shower did not provide the advertised 'hot water', and the lock on the bathroom door was broken.When we returned to Bangkok at the end of our holiday we stayed in a more basic guesthouse called the Merry V Guesthouse. This had a fan, shared toilets and cold showers. By this time I had realised that I really did not need a hot shower in the heat - instead I was opting for cold showers, so why pay the extra money (this guesthouse only cost 180 baht).
Another guesthouse of a similar standard as the Merry V Guesthouse is My House, which my sister recommends, and also happens to be right next door!If you are looking for something a little bit more upmarket then the Sukhumvit Road is probably the area you should be looking at. Even though the rooms are more expensive, you are probably only going to be paying the equivalent of 10-£15 for a nice hotel. (Our second guesthouse cost us the equivalent of about £2!)
THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN BANGKOKThe Grand Palace
The Grand Palace has to be seen to be believed! We were struck by the opulence and scale of the buildings, and the inspiring beauty of the shrines - the most famous of which is the Emerald Buddha. This Buddha is not made of emerald, but jade, and has quite an interesting history that is thought to have started in the northern province of Chiang Mai.When visiting shrines in Thailand you should be very careful of taking photographs. Although many people were taking pictures of the Buddha, this is meant to pollute the image. It is, however, acceptable to take photos of the buildings. I bought a small book about the Emerald Buddha, which contains pictures and is sold in order to help with the upkeep of the shrine.
The Thais are very reverential towards their monarchy, in fact, the past Kings have often had an almost god-like status - some being given the titles of Rama I, Rama II etc. The current King is Rama IX, and is believed to be one of the best Kings Thailand has had for many years. At one point, my friend sat down (whilst I layered on another inch-thick layer of sun-tan lotion) and a policeman asked her to stand up. Unknown to us, there was a portrait of the King behind her. As far as the policeman was concerned, she was being very rude by sitting in the King's presence!Although the Grand Palace is walking distance from the Kao San Road, it is probably easiest to take a Tuk Tuk. Although many people object to 'being ripped off' by Tuk Tuk drivers, it is an easy and relatively cheap way to travel. Just make sure that you agree a price before you leave - and remember to barter (they are probably more likely to think that you will agree to being driven round the houses if you don't.) We generally also preferred to flag down a tuk tuk driver rather than getting into one of the many that hassle you as you walk along.
This is one of the grandest, oldest and most sacred temples in Thailand. It costs 20 baht to enter, and houses many shrines - the most famous of which is the Reclining Buddha. Unfortunately, when we visited the Buddha was undergoing repairs, so we had to look at it through scaffolding - regardless of this it was beautiful and awe inspiring in it's size and serenity (and also the amount of gold-leaf!). When visiting also look out for the feet, which have mother of pearl inlays of all of the different forms of Buddha.It is possible to buy a guide-book at the temple, which is an interesting read and provides a map. (About 60 baht). The only problem was that the book was too detailed. We actually gave up reading it, and instead just wandered round the temple grounds. It did, however, give me pictures of the various images (including some we missed) and was an interesting read on the plane! Next time I think I will invest the 150 baht on a Guide!
When entering a temple in Thailand you should remove your shoes and wear clothing that covers your legs and preferably your arms too - in Thailand exposing large amounts of flesh is thought to be quite vulgar. (Although t-shirts with short sleeves are OK). Women should also be careful not to touch a monk. If you do want to give anything to one, you should put it on a cloth, so that they can retrieve it without coming into contact with you. (Women are thought to pollute the monk's purity, presumably because of menstruation - that tends to be the reason in most Asian countries.)Our reason for visiting the temple after the Grand Palace was because of the massages. Throughout Thailand you will see boards advertising Wat Pho or Wat Po massages. This being Bangkok, and us wanting to avoid any possible misunderstanding about what a "massage" really meant, we decided it would be safest to have a massage at the famed Wat Pho itself. The body massages that you receive here are quite vigorous and involve the body being manipulated using the masseurs feet and hands. They will pull your body around, stretching it slowly, often using their body as an anchor or tool. Foot massages involve a menthol-like cream being massaged into your feet and legs using a thin wooden tool and the masseurs hands. These can both, at times, be quite painful, but the result it worth it - my friend fell asleep during the foot massage!
Siam SquareSiam square can be reached by taking a taxi or Tuk Tuk, and getting onto the Skytrain. We didn't actually take this, but were taken there by one of our new Thai friends - it's a long story! This is essentially the teen shopping area for rich Thais. Most of the shops sell clothing and food - such as traditional cake-like sweets made from coconut milk. (Two boxes cost about 80 baht.)
Sitting in the square area we were approached by a lady in her early twenties who was accompanied by a film crew. She asked us to say something in Thai (via our personal interpreter) and hold a Pepsi can up to the camera. It's that kind of trendy area!Four-Headed Buddha At Chit Lom
If you take the Skytrain one stop to Chit Lom and walk down one of the sets of stairs past McDonalds, you should come across a small four-headed shrine. This was our friend's personal shrine. Here many Thai's come to pray, sometimes paying money to the shrine's dancers. Whilst we were there we were lucky enough to see a few of these short dances.The dancers are female, and are dressed differently to distinguish which gender they are portraying - which effects the movements they use. The colours of their costumes are very bright, and each dancer wears a high, golden head-dress. The movements are very fluid, and are quite reminiscent of traditional Indian dance - perhaps using more circular movements of their hands and feet.
When asking our friend how we should best show respect to the image, she instructed us to bow our heads, clasping our hands together in front of our chests. This 'waa' is a customary greeting and sign of respect.Kao San Road Market
This is the best area to buy clothes, CDs and souvenirs, and was, conveniently, very close to our guesthouse. The key to buying things here is to barter. Do be careful though, on one or two occasions I had to have a word with my friend who occasionally got a little carried away, and was getting close to appearing rude!As a foreigner you are expected to pay a little more for things. This is because in Thailand there is a feeling that if you have more, you should pay more. This is not just restricted to foreigners, but to rich Thais too. In some ways I can see their point, why shouldn't we pay more? To us the prices are still ridiculously cheap. (I was buying T-shirts for an equivalent of £2, where I would have paid £20 for something similar in England!)
Night MarketWe went to this market (by Tuk Tuk) with another Thai friend, and I'm not sure how well we would have faired on our own. The market was very interesting, and has a wider range of clothing etc on sale. The problem is that few people speak English, and you have to be aware that as the market sells to Thais, the sizes are smaller.
Jim Thompson's HouseWe wanted to see some traditional Thai architecture, but this was a real disappointment. It turned out to mainly be a big shop selling Thai silk at very expensive prices. I am sure that the silk is worth it, but it wasn't really what we were looking for, or what the guide-book suggested. I think there may have been another section to this building, but I have since heard that there really wasn't much to see there either.
NIGHTLIFETo be honest, we didn't really partake in much of the Bangkok nightlife. We spent much of our time drinking in bars like the Bangkok Bar (near our Merry V Guesthouse), or watching films in the eating areas of guesthouses like My House. Bangkok Bar was pretty quiet the night that we went in, but it was a Sunday and is mainly frequented by Thais. (Kao San Road area is now becoming more and more trendy amongst young Thai people, due to Western influences.)
Alcohol is quite expensive, in relation to other costs. I have heard this was because the Government keeps the price high in order to discourage drinking - I think the cost of one drink is meant to be something ridiculous, like half a days wages?!At night-time the ladyboys come out to play - you really should be able to say that you saw a few in Bangkok! We did find that occasionally they can get a little mouthy towards women. But, only when we were accompanied by Western men!
EATING OUTMany of the guesthouses serve very good food, but you may want to eat (more cheaply) from the street vendors - it is best to avoid eating meat or eggs. We mainly ate Pad Thai (10-20 baht) made from noodles, beansprouts and a nutty mixture, spring rolls (10 baht), and fruit (a bag of pineapple costs 10 baht.)
Thai food is generally very spicy - especially be careful of Thai salads. These do not contain cooling cucumber or lettuce, but very hot spices and peel. (At least, that's what my friend's salad looked like as she gasped for water!)THAI PEOPLE
Thai people are generous people who always seem to be smiling and who make every effort to understand foreigners. We seldom had problems communicating because most instantly spoke English to us - putting us to shame. We did try to learn a few words to earn us a few brownie points though:Sawasdee - hello, or another word of welcome
When using the last of these, we were occasionally a little confused as to why people were laughing at us. When we asked one of our Thai friends, she said it was because they thought we were 'cute'!IRRITATIONS
There were only two. The first of which was being told that attractions were closed. This was generally in order to try and take you somewhere where they would earn commission from your entrance fee. Ignore this, all of the times people told us this, we found the place was open. The other was being hassled by Tuk Tuk drivers. I think this tends to be worse if you are female. We hardly noticed it when accompanied by two Western men, but found it quite annoying on our own.There is much more to see in Bangkok - more of the temples for a start - and I for one will be returning. In fact, I have some plans to see it next year (if money allows!) and to visit my Thai friends. All I can say to sum up the city is:
Beautiful people, beautiful city - beautiful Bangkok!
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