Torrential rain and blistering heat, scorpions on sticks and cockroaches under pool tables, spiderman hanging out to the star wars theme tune and more ping pong balls than the Chinese Olympic table tennis team have seen in their life- everything you’ve ever (and never) thought of it seems you can find in Bangkok!
After taking the red eye from Moscow we landed at 8.30 in the morning at Suvarnabhumi International. Smarter people than ourselves, and indeed most of the rest of the passengers took the opportunity to sleep during the 9 hour flight, but we were so wired from the dramatic run to the gate that this didn’t seem like an option, especially when there were games on the in-flight console to play each other on (we are competitive, this will be a running theme). Alex had some ground to make up after the battering he received at the Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines so we spent the entire flight playing these, doing our incredibly cool puzzle book and watching The Revenant.
What immediately stood out about Bangkok is the attitudes of the locals. A stark contrast from the ‘keep yourself to yourself’ mantra of Moscow, we had barely touched down before a couple approached us, asking where we were going and sharing their travel plans. A welcome smile seems to be on every face, even at passport control would you believe! The people of Bangkok seem genuinely excited and proud to share their city and culture with you, and we found that to be true throughout our stay, and are incredibly grateful for it.
We had a few hours to kill before we could check into our Airbnb so had a hasty google to find somewhere to drop our luggage. Wistful imaginings of well ordered tidy locker rooms the likes of which you see at European stations were cruelly dismissed when we arrived at the luggage drop off, to a completely disinterested bloke sitting atop his tower of left luggage between his signs “We are not responsible for any missing items” and “Do not leave food in your bag. We have rats.” On an obviously completely unrelated note they also have a bag sale every Thursday – fantastic!
For lack of a better option we abandoned our bags (so soon after being reunited as well!) and had a wander round the area near Hua Lamphong station. To be honest, we didn’t find much of note here in the short distance we dared to travel away from our bags and had a rather aimless stroll, which was constantly interrupted by Tuk Tuk and taxi drivers, to whom I particularly stuck out like a pasty sore thumb. We grabbed some food, and while we weren’t really sure what we ordered it tasted great.
Eventually we made our way to our Airbnb off of Charoen Krung road, via a Tuk Tuk driver who judging by the gleeful smile with which he took our money had got some way above the going rate for his troubles! The Airbnb was lovely and clean, and while the TV and washing machine weren’t working the air conditioning was, which forgave all other sins as far as we were concerned in our sweaty states, and we had crashed out almost before the host had left the apartment.
We rose eventually and ventured out for food, and were absolutely amazed! The roads are alive with the hustle and bustle of street vendors, tourists and locals alike, and there is so much going on with shops changing and work being done that the streets seemed to change every time we walked down them. It was impossible not to get swept up in the genuine magic of Bangkok, and we watched vendors prepare food we had never seen or heard of. We were still experiencing a little bit of culture shock and weren’t too sure what we were doing, but clumsily managed to order ourselves some pork sausages, red pork buns and crispy coconut milk pancake things from Kanom Krok Pa Aew, which we didn’t realise at the time but definitely should have saved for dessert!
On Sunday we woke shamefully late, having to drag ourselves (Alex very reluctantly!) out of bed about 2. We popped out for a quick street food lunch, which today was a variety of deep fried meat balls. I was still feeling a little sorry for myself so played it safe, while Alex was much more adventurous, selecting squid and a weird fish egg one. As I popped the last one into my mouth, quietly pondering that they weren’t quite what I expected I realised that the packets had gotten mixed up in the bag and I had eaten Alex’s, which neither myself nor my stomach were particularly grateful for!
That evening we dressed in our best (read; threw on one of the couple of dresses I squished into my already overflowing bag, for days where I wanted to look at least vaguely human) and we headed to Baiyoke Tower, which is the highest tower in Bangkok. It was a great chance to have a look at the city as a whole and get a better picture of it, and had it not just chucked it down and clouded over, I expect the sunset would have been beautiful too! Baiyoke Tower was… interesting. It has a glass elevator so you can see yourself ascending over the town as you ride up to the bar, however as we were waiting for it it broke and two members of staff had to drag the doors open and hold it so the passengers could get out, so we made the decision to go with the less exciting, less panic-attack inducing indoor lift.
The views were amazing from the bar, especially as it got dark and Bangkok lit up, it really felt like our adventure had begun. This was only heightened as we went up a floor to the revolving observation deck, where the Star Wars theme tune was inexplicably blaring from the speakers, and a lifesize model of Spiderman was hanging at the top of the staircase. It was a far cry from the sophisticated themes the other floors were trying to portray (maybe they only paid the designer for the first 82 floors?!) but we quite liked it’s random anyway. We had a couple of very tasty, and in hindsight possibly quite strong drinks, and braved the glass elevator on the way down and ventured to Khao San Road.
If you are looking for the authentic Thai experience, and for an opportunity to see what the locals get up to on a night out, then Khao San Road is definitely not for you! It is an absolute tourist trap, with henna tattoos, dreadlock stools, ‘Ping-Pong shows’ and all the awful stereotypical travel clothing you could ask for, all on one short road. However, if you can imagine the atmosphere there; the vast majority of people are travelling, or on their holidays, and you can honestly feel the buzz and their excitement in the air. We popped into a bar for what we thought was going to be one quick drink before home, however before we knew it we were two buckets in, chatting with a lovely honeymooning couple and eating scorpions (FYI, salty but actually quite tasty, a bit like chicken skin.. give it a go I dare ya!).
It began to rain, really chuck it down while we were at the bar, and within minutes a huge group of people had amassed at the front of our bar and were dancing in the rain. It was an amazing night, and language was no barrier as everyone intermingled and managed to make themselves understood, sharing drinks, food and whatever they had.
Please note: All the above facts have been gleaned from photographic evidence, the honeymooning couple brought us another bucket before they left and the night from then on turned into a bit of a blur. I know it was a really good night out, at some point we got another bucket and got absolutely soaked in the rain, and I have a vague memory of Alex paying for a taxi in Russian rubles for us to get home much much later.
Needless to say, the following day was pretty much a write off!
On Tuesday we took the river bus to visit the Grand Palace and Wat Pho. Built in 1782 and hosting Thai royalty for 150 years, the Grand Palace encompasses several unique and equally intricate and ornate buildings, including Wat Phra Kaew (the Temple of the Emerald Buddha). Wat Pho is no less brilliant, the Reclining Buddha a massive 46m in length! Surrounding him are 108 bronze bowls, representing the 108 positive actions and symbols that helped lead Buddha to perfection, into which locals (and some tourists) drop coins for good luck. It costs the equivalent of about £12.50 to visit the Grand Palace, and about £2.50 for Wat Pho. While both are amazing, if you are travelling on a budget or short on time we would reccommend making Wat Pho the priority, there is a much greater variety of architecture, more of which you can get up close to or inside of, and the reclining Buddha is a must see! The time and care put into each building is evident and they really are breathtakingly beautiful, and very much revered by the locals.
We went to the Train Night Market in Ratchada that evening, which was the polar opposite to Khao San Road. We were some of the only tourists there, the vast majority there were locals. The weather had been temperamental all day and we arrived quite late so there didn’t seem to be quite as many stalls as there would normally be, but there was still a great selection of food and the bars surrounding the market were lively, with Thai bands competing with one another who could rock their bridge the loudest!
Wednesday was our last day in Bangkok before moving onto Koh Phangan for a Full Moon Party (although we will be back in the New Year for a bit so any recommendations of where to stay/what to see welcome!). We had a few hours to kill so I gave Alex a beating at pool again (thanks in part to a very enthusiastic Thai supporter giving me tips in Thai) and I made the first of many investments in awful travel clothes, baggy elephant trousers, much to Alex’s dismay. After our 18 hour journey we arrived safely and sleepily in sunny Koh Phangan, so will let you know how the Full Moon Party goes!