When visiting Thailand, spending a few days in its crazy capital Bangkok is a must. It was my first time visiting and I was simply amazed by the size of the city. We arrived at DMK airport from Phuket quite late at night, so we decided to take an Uber to our hostel, as public transport didn’t run anymore at that hour. During the day and up until midnight the two major airports (DMK and BKK) in the city are connected to the city center by train or bus, which makes moving around the city fairly easy.
We had chosen a hostel outside of the downtown area, in the Sukhumvit district. Sleep Dee Hostel was new and clean, and aside from being a little far from Bangkok’s main attractions, it was a great place to stay. We especially liked the cheap street food we found nearby, we ate delicious pad Thai for 30 baht (85 cents US) every day. We found that in the center and near the main tourist areas food tended to be a bit pricier and the quality seemed a little lower.
Temples and Khao San Road
One of the main draws for tourists in Bangkok are the beautiful temples and pagodas, a giant reclining Buddha, and the famous Khao San Road; with tons of bars and restaurants, vendors selling scorpions as snacks, and all kinds of cheap clothing. The cheapest way to move around in Bangkok is by public transport, although sometimes taking a taxi can be the same price if you’re with a group of people and manage to get the driver to use the meter. Another cheap option if you have internet access or a local SIM card is always Uber. Unlike in some other places in southeast Asia, we didn’t have any problems using Uber in Bangkok.
Being new to Bangkok, my friend Miri that was traveling for a month with us and I decided to grab a tuk tuk for 40 baht ($1.14) and take a boat ride through the city. When we got to the pier we were told that for 700 baht ($20) we’d get to go on an hour and a half long-tail ride along the river, through some small canals, and past a floating market. We thought it was quite expensive, but didn’t have any clue how much it should be, so we went for it. Later we were disappointed to learn that a public boat would have been 40 baht, and even a long-tail cruise from the main pier would have only been 150 baht. These boat trips are notorious for overcharging foreigners, and luckily we didn’t have another similar situation while in town.
We enjoyed the boat cruise, where we admired the temples and busy city around us from the calm of the river. The floating market turned out to be just a few ladies on their boats trying to sell souvenirs, but the scenery otherwise made up for it. The boat dropped us at a pier next to the Grand Royal Palace in the center of Bangkok. As soon as we started to get closer to the palace, we noticed hundreds of locals dressed in black, while military and police cordoned off the area. Thailand’s king had died the year prior and the country was still in the one year mourning period. The king’s body was laid to rest in the Grand Royal Palace, so local people flocked there daily to pay their respects. Once inside, we could see a beautiful pagoda through some gates, but they were closed so there was no way to get a closer look. When we tried to explore the Grand Palace further, we learned that we would have to pay an entrance fee of 500 baht each, around US$15, which unfortunately we couldn’t justify.
Only a one block up the road we stumbled on a temple called Wat Mahathat Yuwaratrangsarit. There was no entry fee, so we went inside to check it out. There were just a few other tourists around and while the temple itself was as spectacular as others we had seen before, we were really impressed by the tons of beautiful golden Buddha statues all lined up around the main pagoda.
Just next to the Grand Royal Palace is also one of the most famous and oldest temples in Bangkok, Wat Pho. Aside from featuring beautiful pagodas, the huge complex houses one of the biggest reclining Buddhas in the country. Excited to see the huge Buddha up close, we didn’t mind the entry fee of a 100 baht per person.
We wandered around the temple for a long while, admiring the statues and small Buddhas of all forms and colors, before we finally found the most amazing part, the huge reclining Buddha. The golden Buddha is an impressive 46 meters long and 15 meters high, and is a brilliant gold color. Taking a picture of the massive Buddha isn’t easy since there are pillars every few meters in front of it.
Wat Pho ended up being one of our highlights during our stay in Bangkok. Having seen two beautiful pagodas that day, we were excited for a change of scenery, so we headed on to the popular Khao San Road, which was only a 15 minute walk north from the Grand Royal Palace. Khao San Road is famous with backpackers, as tons of bars, restaurants, tattoo shops, and street vendors can be found there. Even though things are a bit overpriced and meant to cater to tourists, the atmosphere on the road is pretty cool and it is a place not to be missed when visiting Bangkok.
Lebua Sky Bar
For anyone looking to find a killer view of Bangkok, or if you liked The Hangover 2, Sky Bar at Lebua is worth a visit. High up on the 64th floor of the state tower, 820 feet above the ground, Sky Bar at Lebua is among the highest sky bars in the world. While drinks will set you back a ridiculous sum, around $20 and up for a cocktail, the view is also incredible.
Dress code has become increasingly tight, now there are no open toed shoes, shorts, or t-shirts allowed. David had visited on a previous trip to Bangkok, but unfortunately this time around the dress code excluded us from entering without heading back to our hotel to change first.
After having spent a few days in the city, we learned that easiest and probably cheapest way to get to downtown Bangkok to explore the famous pagodas and Khao San Road, is taking the BTS Skytrain to Saphan Taksin station and to walk a few minutes to Sathorn Pier. Then you can either get a public ferry to take you up the river, or the tourist fast ferry which stops at all the big sights and costs 40 baht one way (they also offer day passes to go as often as you like).
If you want a day trip away from the big city, heading to the nearby city of Ayutthaya is a perfect option. Ayutthaya used to be the capital of the ancient kingdom of Siam between 1351 and 1767, and are a UNESCO World Heritage site today. The easiest and cheapest way to get there is by train from Hualamphong Railway Station in the center of Bangkok. The trains run every one to two hours and goes as early as 4:30am. We opted for the 7am train, which was scheduled to get us to Ayutthaya within an hour and a half, and bought a ticket at the station for only 20 baht (the cheapest class on hard wooden seats). The train arrived at the station on time, but then didn’t leave it until almost an hour after the scheduled departure, so factor in some extra travel time.
Unlike the other ancient sites we’d visited, Ayutthaya isn’t a single, large area that has been preserved, but a city with temples throughout. Sometimes the temples are five kilometers or more apart, so the best way to get around and explore is by either renting a bicycle, scooter, or having a tuk tuk take you around. We didn’t mind the workout, so we each rented a bike for 50 baht for the day just across from the train station. The first temple on our list, Wat Chaiwatthanaram, was also the furthest away from the train station, and it took us about 20 minutes to get there.
The temple complex from 1630AD was very impressive and still in quite good condition. Even though there had been many tourists on the train and buses also brought tons of people to the city, everyone seemed to disperse across the large city and it was nice to explore the temple without feeling overcrowded. Although there is no general entrance fee to the city, some of the main big temples, including Wat Chiawatthanaram, charge a fee of 50 baht per person, or 250 baht for all of the temples.
It was easy navigating around the city and visiting the different temples on a bicycle, the only drawback was the heat and the intense sun. From Wat Chaiwatthanaram we headed back toward the city center where most of the bigger and more popular temples were located. We visited a giant laying Buddha Statue, which unfortunately looked like it had seen better days.
There are dozens of semi major and major temples to visit in Ayutthaya, so we decided to cut it down to the ones we thought we’d like the best. After Wat Chaiwatthanaram and the reclining Buddha, we ended up visiting the temple complexes Wat Phra Si Sanphet and Wat Mahathat. Both of them were beautiful old temples, and very different from each other. Wat Mahathat is probably the most popular of the temples in Ayutthaya. The entire complex is pretty big and interesting to see, but the main draw is a stone Buddha head that has been enveloped by a tree and has grown into it.
We also loved Wat Phra Si Sanphet and definitely recommend a visit. The complex features four huge pagodas, which were the only temples we saw that looked like they used to be painted white entirely. Unlike some other pagodas, you’re able to climb up the steps and get a view from above.
Visiting the four different sites throughout the city on a bicycle ended up taking us six hours or so. If you enjoy old temples and history, it might be worth spending a night or two in Ayutthaya to make the most out of it. It had been interesting to visit Bangkok and spend a few days exploring the city center with all it’s pagodas. One of our highlights around Bangkok was definitely the ancient city of Ayutthaya. After spending some time in the very modern Bangkok, we were very excited for our next stop in Myanmar, which had only reopened for major tourism in 2011.