Bangkok - exploding metropolis with a twist of the ancient

After a week in Pattaya we transferred to Bangkok. Bangkok is a very big city. The statistics say it has 8.2 million citizens, but a local cab driver says it is actually 15 million. You can easily see the diversity of the city. Some places are old with a Тhai sense all over, while the rest of the city is modern with skyscrapers, state of the art buildings, condominiums with all kinds of facilities and high level of security. Traffic jams are a normal thing here, so do expect that getting places takes time. There’s many vehicles on the roads, but no one is getting nervous. They behave very well in the traffic, without horns or swearing.

Bangkok at night

Bangkok construction

Underneath the overpass

Bangkok Metro

Bangkok Traffic

Our apartment was in Sukhumvit, a modern part of the city with lots of shopping malls, nightlife but a bit poor on attractions.

Don’t underestimate the size of the city, as it’s big, and driving can get you stuck in traffic regardless of the time of day. It took us one hour to get to the city centre (around 20km). There is BTS (their metro) and local buses, but the prices for 4 tickets for all of us was almost equal to the cab ride.

We found that Uber is most convenient and cheapest  option for us. There is also a local Uber equivalent app called Grab, but we didn’t get a chance to try it out.

We tried the metro (BTS) once, just to see how it works. It is very well maintained, safe, fast, easy to navigate but crowded. Actually, the whole town is crowded, but that’s a different story.

Main tourist attractions in Bangkok

The old city center is very well preserved, clean and it’s absolutely crawling with tourists.

This is where you will find:

  • The the Grand Palace, which is the former Royal palace,
  • Wat Pho with the famous reclining Buddha
  • Across the river is Wat Arun, the Temple of The Dawn. It’s very well light up, so it’s beautiful during the night.

There’s lot’s of other things around this area, but these are the main tourist stops.

It is easy to take a boat trip here, there are different offers available but you can also use the local ferries for a river ride. If you want to get a really good night view or photo of Wat Arun there were two nice restaurants with a beautiful view over the shining temple but you need to make a reservation for a table on the deck. Just follow the river bank overlooking it, and you’ll find them.

Grand Palace had most expensive ticket entry (500 baht per person), while the temples were around 100 baht or less. The rules applied were covered arms and knees, and no shoes when entering the prayer rooms. The number of Chinese visiting these places was enormous.

Not far from the palace is the Wat Pho, where you will find the Reclining Buddha. Much cheaper to enter, but also very crowded, with lots to see and explore. The Buddha him self is located in a very narrow place, so getting a whole photo if him is a bit tricky.

The Grand Palace - Bangkok

Wat Pho

Reclining Buddha him self

Lots of shops and restaurants

Insectarium in local shop

Floating market

A trip in Bangkok is not complete if you don’t see a floating market.

Damnoen Saduak floating market is the most popular one as it’s the one where the famous James Bond movie was filmed, but it is also the most tourist infested one, and it is 60km out of the city. That’s why we chose Taling Chang floating market and we didn’t regret it. It’s a smaller but more charming, where you have the opportunity to mix with the locals.

There’s lots of fruits and local desserts to try which are very tasty. Cheap fruit shakes and juices are available at every corner. If you don’t like the local recommended dishes, there are so many options you can always find something you like.

At the market we had light lunch at the local food court where everything is prepared in front of you, on a boat. There’s all sort of sea food, pork, chicken bbq and local soups.

Floating Market

Floating market Boat Ride

We took a boat ride through the canals. The ride takes you along the narrow canals, seeing the local houses on the river bank, other ships passing by, with a stop at a near by Buddhist temple. You get to feed the local cat fish on the way, and we bought some fresh fruits from the selling boats.

Boat ride

Soi Cowboy Street

To pleasure a more adult audience, Bangkok offers a street full of bars and clubs that seems to be a local sensation amongst tourists. A mix between a red light district, bars with poles, cheap drinks and cheap street food, all in one place. 

It is right across the big shopping mall Terminal 21 (recommended to visit) in Sukhumvit. It’s not that long as Walking street in Pattaya but basically it is the same concept.

Happy hour from 18-21h when every drink is 90 bahts.

River Kwai Bridge, Death Railway and Erawan Waterfalls Tour

The best experience from the trip to Bangkok was the day tour to Kanchanaburi. We booked a private tour trough https://www.thailand-privatetour.com/. Our itinerary included the War museum, the War cemetery, the Bridge on river Kwai, the Death Railway and the Erawan waterfalls at Erawan national park. Both our guide and our driver were very professional and helpful.

The tour starts with a visit of the War Museum and War Cemetery. The War Museum does not allow any photos to be taken inside. Although very small, it offers a detail overview of how British, Australian and other PoW’s as well as local Thai people were used in the construction of the railway between Thailand and Burma during WW2, the inhuman conditions they had to endure, and it gives a lot more context when you view the River Kwai Bridge and Death Railway. It’s a small museum by all standards, but very informative.

Right across it is the War Cemetery where the graves of a lot of the PoW’s that died during the construction of the railroad. They don’t contain the actual remains which have been returned home, rather some personal items of the deceased.

Death Railway Museum

Death Railway Museum Exhibit

Death Railway Museum Exhibit

Death Railway Cemetery

River Kwai Bridge

Having seen the River Kwai bridge movie as a kid, I had a vision that it’s in the middle of nowhere, and it’s very big. I was a bit surprised to find it right in the center of the city Kanchanaburi, and not as big as I had imagined it. Surrounded by shops and restaurants these days, it seems to be quite the tourist attraction. Tourists line up to walk the bridge, and when the train does appear, everyone is there to take a selfie with it.

The train running on the track is allegedly the same old train from back in the days, however these days it’s used as a tourist attraction, transporting tourists down the famous death railway tour. We didn’t get on the train, but the route must be very scenic.

River Kwai Bridge

You can see the spots from the bomb on the pillars

Death Railway

We managed to intercept the train in Kanchanaburi as it made its way across the River Kwai bridge, and as we were told, were extremely lucky to see it again at the death railway track.

The nature around that part is just amazing, and we got to learn about recent history of Thailand.

Near the Death railway there is a small cave with a Buddhist shrine inside. Our guide showed us the how to make a wish by lighting incense sticks, and we all tried the lucky number sticks, which predict your destiny. Really fun and interesting.

Death Railway

Erawan Waterfalls

Definitely the best part of the trip were the Erawan waterfalls. Amazing nature all around with lot of monkeys on the road (not so many at the waterfalls). The site is very well maintained and preserved. Electric cars are available for those who can’t walk the path, although it’s a very easy track, at least for the first three waterfalls.

You walk uphill following the trail of the river left in the wake of the waterfalls, that formed small pools of carbonite. The water is blue and filled with great big fish. The mixture of green vegetation and blue color of the water make for a very magical experience where one can just sit and enjoy the view for hours.

The park has showers for those who swim at the waterfalls. The water was a bit chilly but nice. Do consider we came in their winter season, so it might be warm during the summer. During the dry period there is no so much water but the water is crystal blue or green, while the rainy period brings a lot of water but changes the crystal blue colors in to brownish.

Erawan National Park

Erawan Waterfalls

The people

Thai people in general are very nice and friendly. They will try to help or leave you alone. They are very respectful and easy to talk with. The problem is they don’t speak much English and even when they do it is hard to understand them. They were very happy when we tried to speak some basic thai words like thank you or greet them in a thai way. If you ask them for help for any reason, providing you can break the language barrier, they will try their best to assist you if they can. A teenager was happy to share his mobile phone internet, and created a hotspot for us so we can get an Uber.

Relaxing in Thailand

What we enjoyed the most during the entire trip were the massages. We tried thai massage, the coconut oil massage, aromatherapy, some other oil massage and facial one. All of them used some techniques from the Thai massage that is a big thing there. It is basically stretching and putting pressure on certain points. We changed salons each time, and they all had a slightly different technique. We felt like we are a part of ritual. The massages are very affordable, from 200 bahts for Thai massage, 300 bahts for oil massage, 350 bahts for coconut massages, 450 for aloe vera massage etc.

Things that went wrong:

As with any trip, something will go wrong. Depending on how you handle it, it can completely spoil your trip, or just inconvenience you.

I had an issue with my first flight because my passport was expiring in 5 months. Although I had a valid visa for Thailand, regulations say that your passport needs to be valid for at least 6 months before the expiry date if you are changing continents or 2 months before the expiry date if you travel on the same continent. They decided to let us board the plane, and we had no further problems.

A drunk tourist on the pier in Pattaya bumped hard and intentionally in to Matej for no reason while he was taking a photo of us. He just continued walking like nothing happened while Matej was very disturbed by the action.

On the way back we had an argument with airport security about a jar of Nutella and Strawberry jam. It seems security views Nutella and jam as liquids. We lost the argument and they found their way to the garbage.

Dealing with money

The general rule of thumb when we travel is: Cash is king, credit cards can fail. With that in mind, research what the preferred currency in town is. In Thailand’s case, that’s the US dollar, so we brought that with us. There are exchange offices on practically every corner, all we had to do is find the one with the best rate. The best we found was 32 for 1 USD in Pataya, but it started dropping as we made our way in to Bangkok to 31.8 and 31.5 the last time we changed money. There’s no commission on this, which is why it’s an advantage over ATM’s.

There’s a ton of ATM’s where you can get money, but they do charge per transaction. So my advise is either get more money out per withdrawal, or just exchange cash. More modern facilities (restaurants, shops) will accept credit cards, and the transaction fee is on the vendor side. So if they accept cards in the shop, use it! Make sure to charge in local currency, not in your currency if they give you the option, as the bank uses that to skim you off a few dollars by using a less favorable exchange rate. I checked my bank and found if I use local currency as the charge, the difference was 0.01 in terms of the official exchange rate, which is quite good.