We visited Bangkok twice in March, but I wanted to split up our trips into two separate blog posts because the trips were so drastically different. Samuel and I were shocked how our trips, though one week apart, felt like two totally different places.
Before our trip, I took some time to familiarize myself with fellow travelers' tips on getting around Bangkok. That's usually the thing I stress about the most. One of the worst things is not being able to get transportation (I would know!), especially when you're traveling. Multiple people had urged me to only take taxis if it's by the meter, and that the taxis at the airport typically refused to do that. Samuel suggested we catch the bus to a Skytrain station and ride the BTS to our hotel. We did that and ended up in the middle of a food market with several suitcases in tow. Our maps were not cooperating, and eventually, Samuel flagged down one of the many tuk tuks that were soliciting business from us minutes ago.
We piled in with all our belongings into the tiny vehicle to get to our hotel, only for the driver to go around the block and hurry us off. Oh, the joys of traveling to a foreign country. Good thing is was only 300 Baht (~$10)! We had a few more tuk tuk rides during this trip for the fun of it, but for the sake of comfort, safety, and my wallet, I would opt for taxis or the BTS. Sure, they're unique, but in our experience, tuk tuks generally charged the same, if not more, as taxis.
I just wanted to get this out first and foremost: I found the unfixed prices and bartering in Thailand to be a massive inconvenience. I get that tourists are easy to rip off, but it really makes for an unpleasant experience and leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I was so fed up with having to work out a flat fee with taxis and tuk tuk drivers, all of which ended up being 4-5 times more than the meter. At the end of the day, the prices were still multitudes cheaper than back home, but falling victim to drivers and vendors preying on tourists is no fun. I experienced this with other vendors, too, so not to only call out drivers. What's even stranger is that some of them are dead set on their price and would rather not do business with you than to pocket less. That, I will never understand, because they would still be making so much more than the meter price. Anyway, rant over. Locals use Grab, an equivalent of Uber in Southeast Asia. My phone's data was spotty on this trip, so I was unable to hail rides in my time of need, which was why I had to deal with the hassles mentioned above.
Like I said, there was a market right across from our hotel, so after dropping off our stuff, we went to go survey the options. Nothing looked particularly appetizing. I was turned off by the fact that these food stalls only had one pan, which was used to cook everything without a single wash in between dishes. But as you all know, I keep a very strict pescatarian diet, and I'm crazy picky about cross-contamination with meat. I was about to settle and sit down at a stall that seemed to only serve seafood, but as we approached it, we saw a buffet of rice, noodles, veggies, meats, and insects at the booth neighboring it. Yes, you read that right, insects. This stall legitimately sold (and this was only after a quick glance because I was trying not to scream) fried beetles, scorpions, and variety of other critters. I ran away faster than you could finish this sentence. Goodbye, appetite.
It took Samuel a while to calm me down. I was having quite the freak out because GROSS. Look, if that sort of cuisine is something that you enjoy, good for you. But I think seeing it really sent shivers down my spine. He ended up dragging me to the Indian restaurant next to our hotel (Indian food is always a good and safe option for me), where we ordered my favorite dishes to share. Afterwards, we were going to see the city a bit more, but I was not in a particularly good mood. We headed up to our hotel for a much-needed shower and hit the hay.
I woke up to grey skies and rain, so my first thought was to stay in and have a day of pampering and relaxation. An hour in to playing on my phone, I came across some breathtaking photos of temples in Thailand and I knew I couldn't keep myself holed up.
My first stop was The Golden Buddha Temple. It was my least favorite temple that I visited for multiple reasons. First off, it was small and aside from the gold dome, rather unimpressive. Then, I was forced to rent a sarong because "my dress was too short." I hate to be that obnoxious American, and I really do try my best to dress appropriately and respect religious and historic sites, but I was clearly singled out. As she yanked me out of line, there were two other girls, one in shorts and another in a dress shorter than mine, who waltzed right in. After getting manhandled, I went up to see the Buddha and was immediately disheartened.
Yes, the entry fee was nominal and the sarong rental was another drop in the bucket, but all for a small circular room with a golden Buddha? Honestly, not what I had in mind. There wasn't much to see other than the Buddha, so I walked outside of the gates to circle the perimeter. In hindsight, that was not a wise choice because guess what? The woman way up on the fourth floor, the one who forced me to rent the sarong, literally ran out a few minutes later, ripped the sarong off my body, and stormed off. I tried telling and gesturing to her that I was just walking around and would go back in shortly. Obviously, she was not having any of it, as she thought I was stealing the wrap. After that very unpleasant encounter, I needed to leave.
I was still in recovery from my brush with heat stroke in Singapore, so secretly, I wanted to lay in bed and order room service, but I shook that off and made my way over to Wat Pho. This was the one and only temple that I knew of, and in total honesty, I went for the massages. I discovered Thai massages a few years ago and they've remained my favorite massages since. I've even gotten my parents addicted to them. If you've never had one, I highly recommend treating yourself to one. It's like a massage and yoga session all rolled into one. I love deep tissue massages, and Thai massages involve more acupressure, stretching, and depending on your masseuse, stepping and cracking. Yikes -- I realize that that came out scary and uncomfortable, but it's truly the most satisfying thing ever! Anyway, I digress. My favorite Thai masseuse trained at Wat Pho, which has a famous massage school that specializes in traditional Thai medicine and massage. So needless to say, that place has been on my mind for years.
I spent a while walking around in the rain and taking in all the amazing architecture. I never realized how ornate Thai temples were and marveled at the sea of spires, rows of Buddhas, and giant structures that were clearly meticulously decorated. When I finally found the massage school, I went in for cover and an hour of relaxation. I wasn't all that sore or tired because it was early in the day and I hadn't really done much. The massage still managed to loosen me up a bit and clear my mind.
After Wat Pho, I decided to take a walk around the premises and somehow made my way over to the river. By this time, I had only had a small pack of trail mix and some mango, so I was famished. I came across a posh restaurant called Mango Tree with accolades hanging on their floor-to-ceiling windows and went right in. It was exactly what I needed after a long morning with no food, air conditioning, and less-than-stellar service. I ordered the shrimp pad thai and fried sea bass with tamarind sauce, which I gobbled up alongside the taro chips that they kindly brought over for me to snack on. The restaurants was peaceful and had a stellar view of the river and some temples.
I've since found out that Mango Tree is actually a chain restaurant, so you can enjoy some decent Thai food at a location near you. If you know me, you know that I tend to avoid chain restaurants when I'm traveling. Why eat the same food as you can eat back home? Granted, I wasn't aware that Mango Tree had locations worldwide, but thankfully, the food was excellent. And coming from me, that's a huge compliment (I don't particularly enjoy Thai food).
During lunch, I did a little more browsing to see where my next stop would be. Between my list, my mom's recommendations, and my friends' spots, I had a difficult time narrowing things down. I eventually settled on The Grand Palace. Well, it certainly lived up to its name -- it was grand, glitzy, and majestic. I enjoyed walking the grounds and admiring the mirrored mosaic-laden structures and golden spires. The place was packed and I was literally melting from the unbearable heat and humidity.
Aside from the massive loads of rowdy Chinese tourists (I swear, they're everywhere nowadays!), it made up for a disappointing morning. Even though I've had countless experiences of getting pushed and cut in line while in China, it still made my blood boil when it was happening on my vacation. I was also getting quite annoyed with Chinese people coming up to me, yelling at me in Mandarin, shoving their phones in my face, telling (not asking) me to take their pictures. You should be forewarned, as I wish I'd been, that Thailand is a hotspot for mainland China tourists.
After finally finding a taxi to take me back to our hotel for a somewhat reasonable price, Samuel and I hit up the famous Chatuchak Weekend Market. If you enjoy night markets, you'll love this tourist hotspot. Us, not so much. It was packed to the brim (Samuel's worst nightmare) and there were no local, handmade knickknacks that I was hoping to find. There were, however, endless booths selling insanely cheap clothes and accessories, so it's a haven for those of you who love hunting for bargain finds. We didn't see the entire market (it was long), and assumed that the stretch ahead would be more of the same clothing booths that we'd seen. We left empty-handed and went back to the hotel to get some rest.
We had an entire afternoon to kill before out flight back to China, so I took Samuel to see The Grand Palace and Wat Pho. The Grand Palace was even busier than the day before, and they really cracked down on the dress code. We had no choice but to but a pair of elephant pants and a wrap skirt from their office in order to enter. So a heads up if you're visiting temples: cover your knees and shoulders; otherwise, you'll be spending a lot of extra money renting and buying cover-ups.
I didn't realize it before, but Wat Pho is actually right next to The Grand Palace. We made the walk over, stopping only for some pad thai. Samuel, too, found the architecture and details unbelievable. He was more impressed with The Grand Palace (I don't blame him), but appreciated the history of Wat Pho and loved the gigantic reclining Buddha (which I somehow missed on my visit).
I know I only visited three temples on this trip, but Wat Pho and The Grand Palace are places you won't want to miss. By the way, did you know that Bangkok is home to over 400 temples? How many days do you think it would take to visit all of them? I didn't allot any time on our second trip to temple hop, but I definitely plan on seeing more if we ever go back to Bangkok!
We took one last tuk tuk ride back to our hotel to collect our things and headed back to our home-away-from home.
Keep your eyes peeled for part two of our Bangkok trip! Have you ever visited Thailand? I would love to hear about your trip!