It was 2007 when my tenacity first brought me to Bangkok. Back then, I had no specific purpose at hand and the only thing vivid in my memory was my extreme dislike of waking up early for the impossible call time set by our tour guide. Then there was me, along with my 3 other friends, who followed her for 3 racking days like fidgety ducklings afraid to get lost.
Fast forward to 2016, an unassuming fairy godmother sent a travel package to my digital door as birthday treat –– all expense paid. A slew of questions flooded the agnostic me: Do I really deserve something as garish as this? Shall I offer my first born to those imaginary travel gods just to live up to this stake? Hah. It was a million dollar moment, a shining beacon of hope to my all beaten-up and otherwise starving for travel self. And truth is, I pounced at it like a mad dog. Seriously, for a not so birthday loving person, it kind of flipped me a complete 360 degrees. Thank you Rizza Malonzo for this altruistic move. Europe sounds really cool next year, I kid. 😄
Snippets of what you should know. . .
Point of compass
Few centuries ago, Bangkok wasn’t the capital city of Thailand, but it was already a busy business port set on the banks of Chao Phraya River. Most of Thailand’s local and foreign trades are already done on this side of the city.
With a population of 11 million people, aside from being the economic, cultural, educational and political center, Bangkok is also their largest urban area. Like its neighboring cities in the equatorial region, its distinct heat, traffic congested roads and dense population make it an interesting target to young travelers who are hankering to unearth the charms surrounding this magnetizing place.
Here in Singapore, Bangkok is well known for cheap shopping, but to that thought I’d say that shopping to any city other than Singapore is cheap, haha.
Bangkok is so large that 2 international airports can be seen within the city. The easiest way to differentiate the two is the type of flight carriers they cater to.
DMK is one of the oldest international airports in Asia which started having commercial flights in the 1920’s. Most airlines that utilize this flight hub are the budget ones. In 2006, it was temporarily closed to commence a year-long renovation. It consists of 2 terminals: 1 for international and 2 for domestic flights.
Known as Bangkok International Airport, Suvarnabhumi was officially opened in 2006. It is one of the largest airports in the world, serving up to 53 million passengers each year. More modern than DMK, it can bee seen on the architectural design that this airport is world class in construction.
In 2014, my then fiancé (already husband) and I spent a week in Phuket. There was a blog post I created to guide travelers when entering Thai borders. So as not to be redundant and all, here is a screencap of my post Pit Stop: Phuket so you can check the Visa Requirements, Currency, Weather, Language and some other basic stuff you need to consider before your tour.
Ready for some information overload? Click this link BUT make sure to come back for more of my Bangkok escapades:
When in Thailand, we eat. Why not? Thai cuisine is one of the most recognizable and incomparable in the food world boasting of its various fusion of flavors from the spices they use. In this recent visit to BKK though, our time was a little bit limited, we concentrated on the touring aspect so food hunting was not taken as a priority.
Trying this, whether you have all the time or not, will never be a problem. In every street corner, every local eating place, you sure can see plate after plate of pad thai being sold to people. Not only that it is flavorful, it is also cheap, light and healthy(?). Personally I’m not a pad thai person.
Weird fact: If a dish has sugar in it (except if it’s a dessert of course), I don’t and won’t like it. I have this erratic ability to identify and layer down each ingredient used in my food once it hits my palate, and tasting sugar to a dish is my least favorite. My notion is that sugar is for desserts. Told you, I’m a freak.
Bugs and the Crawling Squad
Did you know? Taking a photo of all these bugs will cost you 10THB? Yup, it wasn’t free. So did I pay to snap this photo? Hell NO. Some fast hand skills, innocent “Sorry, I didn’t know” look in my eyes and hastened walking away gave me the chance to steal a shot. Yay.
But the more exciting question i think is, did I try any of these crawling creatures. Another BIG NO. Would you? Bribe me, beat me with a red hot pokey, feed me to the wolves, still.. NO. 😛 I wasn’t cut out to outlast Fear Factor.
Sugar spindles in crepe (Coz I forgot what it’s called locally!)
After our Elephant ride, our tuktuk driver gave us this hot off the oven crepes or pancakes and showed us how to eat them the right way. He actually told us what it’s called, but my skill to retain important stuff wasn’t at its best at that time so I could not recall its name to this day. All I know is that those sugar spun spindles taste nice when wrapped in that pandan flavored crepe. It wasn’t too sweet and you will immediately love it on your first try.
Never dare to miss. . .
A Day in Ayutthaya
In 1700’s, Ayutthaya was the country’s capital until the Burmese invaders burned the city down, including all of its religious temples and government centers. Surprisingly though, Ayutthaya was not occupied and was just left to almost nothing after the great fire. Their reigning King then moved the country’s central ruling to Bangkok.
Nowadays, Ayutthaya is one top choice for a side trip when having a holiday in the city. For an hour and a half by car, you get to discover a vast, seemingly forgotten part of Thailand gilded with historical sites.
But since history is not a primal reason why we went to Ayutthaya, we took advantage of every picture perfect corner available. I guess it’s safe to say that although my personal aim is to gain a lot of Instagrammable photos, this experience has shaken me in a way that only my faith and inner spirit could understand.
Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon
The first stop on the package we have booked is Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon. I admit that I never really pre-read anything before embarking on this tour. That was a first. The weeks prior to this trip, work has been stringent. Well it always is, but my gut instinct told me to completely rely on the tour agency. So I did.
Seeing this place, it was unbelievably enchanting, something I could not even begin to explain. Beautiful, yes. It has piqued my interest even more on the diversity of religion all over the world. It made me gush about the wonders of faith. It was a humbling experience.
The whole compound is made up of several temples. I have read that this monastery was created centuries ago for the buddhist monks to meditate when they return to Ayutthaya after studying. It was also a place where patriarchs living on those days stayed. Some Thai royalty would usually make a visit to seek advice from them.
Here’s a screencap of my Tumblr post for you to fully understand how I was irreversibly stirred by my visit. Check similar microblog writings at essieheart.tumblr.com
Entrance fee: 50 THB for foreigners
Open hours: 9am – 6pm
Don’t be confused, there is another Wat Mahathat which is an equally wonderful structure found in Bangkok City. This mega compound of relics is situated at the heart of Ayutthaya and was believed to be erected in the 14th century.
If you have been to Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Wat Mahathat I could say is a miniature version. It is smaller in size, and perhaps a little less complicated. What actually convinced us to spend one day in Ayutthaya is because of the gorgeous photos posted by friends featuring Wat Mahathat. And the envious me has vowed to one day go here, equipped with an ever reliable camera and snap as many photos as I could. Little did I know that that “one day” will happen so soon. \
It made me wonder, what was left of Wat Mahathat are just ruins of the then grandiose structure, and yet constant ‘ooohhs’ has escaped my mouth while traversing the whole stretch of the land. What more if our generation was lucky enough to witness even a portion of what it used to be. As a human you would realize that WAR between nations is one ruthless thing that results to nothing but destruction. It’s kinda sad to think about, isn’t it?
Perhaps the most iconic spot in Wat Mahatmat, this head of a Buddha embedded in a century old tree astonished me in a lot of ways. Well honestly, I never thought that it wasn’t as big as it appears online, but seeing it was surreal.
Caption be like: Yes bitch, I’ve been to Wat Mahathat! ROFL.
Entrance fee: 100 THB for foreigners
Open hours: 8:30am – 5:00pm
Wat Phu Kao Thong
It was a total surprise that visiting this towering structure is part of the tour package we availed. Not that I’m complaining, of course. Anything new to discover is super welcome in my books.
The tuktuk driver who patiently accompanied us all through the day said, this temple is now known as the Monastery of Golden Mount and it was built in 1395. It wasn’t clear to me the history of how this high and mighty monastery was created. But I understand that when the Burmese ransacked Ayutthaya and were successful in winning the city, their ruler built this to celebrate their victory. Hmm, I have got to read more on this.
The thing was quite a challenge to climb, it was too steep but a bonus cardio work-out is fine, so we went ahead and emerged partly disappointed once at the top. The view was great, but apart from it being high and strong looking, there was nothing more to look at or discover. No wonder the place was almost empty even at that time of the day. Nevermind. It still was a culminating backdrop in our OOTD BTS. ♥ (haha, not exactly celebs, are we?)
Entrance fee: FREE
Open hours: 9am – 5pm
Oldest Reclining Buddha
Just when we thought we are to start traveling back to the city, our guide brought us to this super old reclining buddha which is just a few blocks away from the Ayutthaya ruins. Wat Pho in Bangkok he said is around 300 years old, but this one on the background is already 600-700 years. Talk about primeval. WOW.
We only spent a total of 10 minutes because after taking photos here and there, there is nothing else to see. Plus, it is becoming so hot that our toasted cheeks were starting to complain of dehydration. But it was nice to feel that you’ve seen something that has been in the world for so long, a silent witness to the ever changing life we live.
Entrance fee: FREE
Open hours: 24/7
Ayutthaya Floating Market
My previous floating market experience was the more popular Damnoen Saduak which is found in another part of Bangkok. I remember being happy because of the different food people on mini boats sell along the river, from native sweets to fresh fruits and local products. But all in all, it was a rather chaotic place –– noisy, topped with the strong smell of stagnant water. It was too commercialized, and I do think that it is already on the brink of ravage unless the Thai government do something about preservation. Or maybe it was how it’s suppose to be, after all it’s been a trading spot for the past hundreds of years.
However, Ayutthaya Floating Market is the polar opposite of how I have described Damnoen Saduak. First because it wasn’t as crowded; second, trading only happens on the man-made, wooden platforms surrounding the river with a middle ramp connecting the two sides.
It was a relaxing ride, the air was fresh and it was as organized as a floating market could be. The best part is that you can hop off the boat and do some (window) shopping. You could see a great deal of products being sold in the place. Although interacting with the locals has got me heartbroken when I asked a seller what her product is called, but they couldn’t understand what I was saying. I learn a lot by talking to people, but at this particular instance, I content myself with just looking around.
Entrance fee: 200 THB for foreigners
Open hours: 10am – 9pm
It was something I could not pass up. But I hated myself so much after doing it, because I feel like a heartless person who has the audacity to tolerate elephant abuse by simply patronizing. I love love love elephants! They have this gentleness I always look for in living things, be it humans or animals. I’m not sure whether Rizza noticed how quiet I was the entire time, because deep inside I hurt, and I want to jump off my seat and give this elephant a hug, a kiss or anything that will make her feel that she’s amazing and beautiful!
Riding fee: 100 THB for foreigners
Open hours: 9am – 5pm
Word to the WISE:
If you are considering a day trip to Ayutthaya to check out all the wonderful places I have mentioned above, I would advice booking from a trusted tour agency to save you from the dire straits of getting lost not only location wise but most especially in translation.
Here are some of the information that could be useful the next time you decide on an exciting Ayutthaya escapade:
Agency Name: Day Tours Bangkok
Phone #: +66 0969270702
WatsApp: +66 0897879551
The Package tour we booked was Ayutthaya Highlights Tour — Cost: 1,800 THB (around S$70) per pax. It already includes pick up from hotel in an air conditioned van, tour and fees to all the temples I have mentioned plus the Floating Market and Elephant Ride. The entrance fees indicated at the end of each featured tourist spot is just for info’s sake for my readers. Lunch is also included when you book the tour and the van will send you back to a designated drop off point in the city, Khao San Road in our case.
Explore BKK City
Majority of my BKK experience was all in the city because the first time I went here, we only explored what we could see around the metropolis. So I was so stoked to come back, to see the city in a more mature set of eyes (both literally and figuratively 😜) and to once again feel the Thai vibe with a more heightened volition.
But while in the cab from the airport, I could not find inside me any morsel of my past experience compared to the things I was seeing. How come none of these have stayed in my head? There wasn’t a tiny bit of familiarity, it felt like the tour I had in 2007 was a total waste. Was I too young then to understand the beauty of traveling?
I told myself, I will never let this fortuity slip away.
Khao San Road
My husband and I are both big fans of the movie “Hangover” and after he learned that I am going back to BKK, he was so jealous that he even planned of booking a flight from MNL to join us. Seeing Cactus Bar in Soi Cowboy where the Hangover gang shoot the 2nd movie has always been included in our bucket list. Our favorite character? Of course, Alan Garner!!!
So i told myself, even though here comes a golden opportunity to fulfill this tiny dream, I’d better check out the place the next time I visit BKK together with my husband.
On Saturday we had an open night so we decided to head over the famous Khao San Road and have a first hand experience of BKK night life and night market. Our hotel was luckily just a few blocks away.
As expected, the whole street was lively. Banging music from every corner, foreign people walking aimlessly in their cute get-ups, lots of food choices from numerous restaurants and all kinds of souvenirs and art works being sold all over.
Apart from full tummy because of dinner, our eyes were dancing from the vibrant colors and the beautiful people that make this simple alley exceptional and worth checking. I was more than glad to be there at that moment.
We capped off the tiring day by having some authentic Thai massage. In Khao San, there are a lot of spas you can see lining up the street. Prices are pretty much all the same, you just need to choose where to go. For us, we opted for a private spa, somewhere we could lie down and not be exposed in the public eye. As you stroll along, you will notice people on massage chairs enjoying foot reflexology out in the open. Cool, but not for me.
It was an hour that has gone by so quickly, and yup i did fall asleep during the massage! After touring Ayutthaya the whole day and then walking around Khao San after, being pampered is ultimately the best option I could think of.
Thai whole body massage: 250 THB for 1 hour
Foot reflexology: 150 THB for 30mins.
The Grand Palace
When you check out Bangkok websites that promote tourism, Grand Palace is almost always their choice for the background photo. It is the face that represents what Thais has to offer in their capital city.
This is a tour that we almost never did. Sunday, our last day in BKK and we were both still not in the element to get up and proceed with our activities. But I told Rizza that she has to see The Grand Palace, it is the only thing people ask of you when they know you’ve been to BKK. Either I was effectively convincing or she is just a very determined traveler, because at 11am we hailed a cab and went straight to the place.
They impose a strict dress code inside the grounds of the Grand Palace. So if you are as hard headed as me who never cares on things like these, you need to rent those wrap around fabrics to cover the lower portion of your body. At the entrance, the office is on the right side. The minimum deposit they would ask is 200THB, it is completely refundable once you have returned the thing.
Heads up: They will not give you change if you pay the deposit with bigger notes. In my case, I gave a 1,000THB bill and the woman handed me just the deposit slip. She said I will be able to get back my money upon returning.
So that bright red, long skirt I’m wearing is the one I have rented. I had to fight my way just to get it coz in reality you don’t get to choose what color they will give. Thanks to my charming demeanor, I got what I want. Yikes.
The palace is a series of beautifully designed and well maintained buildings. It is a perfect chance for a nice photo session, and yes we did take a lot.
It is a palace so we all think of Royalty. This architectural marvel is the official residence of their King during the earlier days. It is where the royal government and his court were based. Construction began in the 1700’s and further expansions were done over time. Currently, King Bhumibol Adulyadej is already staying in the Dusit Palace, but important royal functions are still held in the Grand Palace.
Wat Phra Kaew (Emerald Buddha)
This temple is located side by side with the Grand Palace. Actually this is the first one you’ll see when you enter the grounds of the compound.
The intricate design set in gold plated materials will leave you astounded. The entire place is so beautifully made. Footwears are not allowed inside the temple so you would need to leave them by the entrance. Inside, the structure is equally bewildering as the outside. The emerald buddha is the tiny image on top of the high altar. People gather in front of it, all praying and doing whatever it is that they do to worship. Taking photos inside is strictly prohibited but we were able to take some, inconspicuously. Hush.
The whole place is just so wonderful and colorful. You can really feel that they have spent a lot of money in building this temple. The minute detailing done on every wall and pillar will leave you speechless, the design was well thought of.
It was quite a massive ground to cover, but half a day of walking is more than enough if you plan to check out The Grand Palace and Emerald Buddha.
Entrance fee: 500THB for foreigners – this already includes both Emerald Buddha and Grand Palace
Add-on: 200THB deposit for the floor-length cover-up (refundable)
Open hours: 8:30am – 3:30pm
Wat Pho (Reclining Buddha)
A stone’s throw away from the enormous compound of the Grand Palace is another giant buddha that is famous and well known because of its reclining position. They say that it is the biggest buddha of its kind. I have always wanted to come back to Wat Pho because the last time I went here, I was already exhausted from walking that I didn’t get to appreciate it better.
Just like the dress code in Grand Palace, you would need to cover up the extra exposed skin before you enter the temple. In this case, the green robe I am wearing in the photo is the one they provided, completely free. They will also hand you a burlap bag where you can put in your shoes because footwears are also not allowed inside.
It was a bit difficult to take photos without people not purposely photobombing because the alley was cramped and there’s a continuous flow of tourists coming in.
Entrance fee: 100THB for foreigners (with free 1 bottle of water which you can redeem just outside the temple)
Open hours: 8am – 5pm
Chatuchak Weekend Market
Even though we never had an entire day to devote only for shopping, we’ve managed to still go to Chatuchak weekend market. Since Bangkok is known as the epicenter of cheap shopping, it isn’t surprising that to most travelers this becomes the highlight of their tour.
Comprising of 27 sections, this is the largest public market in Thailand that has over 8,000 different stalls. It has been in operation since the 1940’s, that’s more than 60 years, wow.
The best way to reach Chatuchak is via Sky Train (BTS) and alight at Mo Chit. Once there, head out to exit 1 and follow the throng of people who surely are also going to Chatuchak. After a few meters of walking, you can already see the market on the right side.
These are some of the merchandise you can see when you shop around Chatuchak. We didn’t really shop, we just enjoyed the walk about. You could easily get lost inside, it reminds me of Divisoria in Manila because of the heat and the confusing entry/exit points.
This hard to miss nook is a small, open bar/restaurant that specializes in Paella and mixed drinks. For 150THB per serving, you can sit and enjoy the loud music provided by the house DJ and joyously watch this funny Spanish chef as he prepares and cooks Paella in a giant wok. Looks yum!
Chatuchak opening hours:
Friday 6pm – 12mn
Saturday & Sunday 9am – 6pm
When I got off the arrival area of DMK, I was confused on how to hail a cab going to my hotel. I arrived around 7:30pm and immediately stepped out of Terminal 1 after Immigration clearance. To my panic, I could not see a single taxi around the area. So I stood for a while and observed the comings and goings of people because I could not find a reliable looking person to ask. I turned right and it was a dead end. So naturally I turned the other way. After walking for like 10 minutes, I spotted a single cab loading luggage at the trunk. It was then that I realized that the airport taxi bay is located at the farthest end of the Terminal.
So expectedly, the queue was very long, but taxi cabs are continuously arriving to pick up passengers. I waited 30mins for my turn. The person behind the desk would ask for your destination, and it would be wise to show your hotel voucher so communication would be clear.
I’m not sure whether they deliberately concealed this area because if you’re a first timer in Bangkok, pretty sure you will resort into hiring one of those expensive transfers or private cars whose desks can be seen as soon as you exit the arrival area. I approached one to see whether their price is passable, but I was quoted 1,700THB for a sedan to drop me off to the city. Damn right.
- They have posters reminding passengers to insist on using meters when hiring an airport taxi, and tourists are encouraged to report to authorities if they feel that they are overcharged. Please snap a pic on one of them posters just in case you would be placed in such a situation.
- Whatever fare comes out of the taxi meter, there is a note somewhere there on the desk that it is mandatory to top up an additional 50THB per trip. For what purpose? It wasn’t indicated.
- Toll fee which is 70THB is also shouldered by the passenger if ever you opt to use the “city highway” or expressway.
- Lastly, they don’t normally give you change if you pay the driver in bigger bills. My meter was 240THB including the 50THB top up so I was expecting to receive my 60THB change, but the driver hurriedly left after unloading my things. So much for cheap transpo. Hmpf.
Initially, I thought this is going to be one smooth trip. . . until I started conversing with the hotel concierge. From the airport, communication didn’t spark any problem between me and the people I have interacted with when I was settling my transpo. But when the person on the hotel lobby discussed to me the deposit for the card key, breakfast time and etc., I had to say “Sorry, what?” for I don’t know how many times. They have this melodic way of speaking that is totally incomprehensible to untrained ears.
There’s more, when we hired a taxi going to Grand Palace, the uncle driver could not understand where we want to go, so when he finally figured it out with the help of a bystander who luckily was in front of the hotel, he made fun of the way we pronounce “Grand Palace” as he repeatedly say “Gran Palet” for like 100x, seriously. We couldn’t do anything except to laugh alongside him until our tummy hurts.
I think Phuket people are more engaged when it comes to communicating.
Where To Stay
As vast as Bangkok is, you will never run out of hotel or hostel to stay in when you plan your holiday. The whole city is divided into several Districts, and each one can be considered according to your purpose. I will try my best to give you a rough idea on the major districts of the city.
- SUKHUMVIT – Ideal for party goers, those people who seek an unforgettable night life during their stay. It is also where modern themed restaurants can be found.
- RIVERSIDE – Very near the temples and palaces in the city. Known to be the perfect place for luxurious travelers because it is where the most expensive hotels are located.
- SILOM – The central business district of BKK that unknowingly transforms into an exotic red light district at night.
- PRATUNAM – For budget and budding travelers because of the many accommodations in the area, inlcuding cheap shopping places and bustling, never boring streets.
- SIAM – Location of most of the mega shopping malls, a perfect district for shopaholics who want to see the modern side of BKK.
- CHINATOWN – The central backpacking district, well of course because every thing comes cheap. I think it’s a no-brainer, aren’t all Chinatowns known for it?
- KHAO SAN – Near many famous tourist spots. This is also known as the OLD CITY because museums and famous landmarks are located in the area.
A large percentage of a traveler’s fund is allocated on basic needs like food and transportation. Indulging on sustenance is way out of the question, but personally, if there’s one thing where I could cut down on my expenses, it would be the transportation.
Luckily, just like any modern city nowadays, BKK has an efficient mass transport system. They have the BTS (aka Skytrain) and MRT Subway. The two lines are connected by the SIAM interchange and the railway system covers most of the major points in the city.
On the way to Chatuchak, we boarded the BTS and I was surprised that it wasn’t crowded at all. We were actually able to sit after a few stops and all the train cars are not congested. Maybe because it wasn’t rush hour when we utilized it, but still it is way, way more modernized than the MRT in Manila.
I believe that even after 2 attempts of burrowing myself to capaciously uncover Thailand, specifically Bangkok, it may take another 2, 3 or perhaps a lifetime’s worth more of expeditions to incontestably say that I’ve known and experienced everything. There will always be a moot desire to come back, and I am gearing myself extensively so that when it hits me again, I could immediately do so.
Yup, I am giving BKK an 8.5 rating.
Deep inside I feel that there is still so much I should discover, and there’s this endless possibility that I will always be surprised each time. You see, some places will just never gratify your appetite for knowledge, and Bangkok swoops perfectly in that category. I will see you again soon! ❤️ #BookIt