Sawadee kaa, beautiful wats, excellent food, tuk-tuk drivers that tries to rip you off, shopping galore, go-go bars, people in yellow tops celebrating the king, monks is orange robes, the city with the longest name in the world (“The city of angels, the great city, the residence of the Emerald Buddha, the impregnable city (of Ayutthaya) of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarn”) - welcome to this trip report from the city which we normally refer to as Bangkok :-).
A short summary
Planning the trip
The trip begins
My flight started from Stavanger airport with the airline SAS at 10 am on May 9th and after a short stop in Copenhagen my flight continued to Bangkok with Thai Airways. I still think Thai is pretty good: the legroom on the 747 was not bad, the service was good, they serve lots of drinks etc. The only thing I missed was a personal TV screen.
Arriving in Thailand
I was very tired after lots of long flights and when I came through customs there was a taxi stand there. So I went over to this airport limousine taxi and asked how much it was and they told me that it would cost 1100 Baht (about 35$) and I found this to be a bit much so I asked if there was a public taxi that I could use instead. The reply I got was that there was no other taxi service. Later on I found out that there was another alternative - if I had gone one floor down I would have found the public taxi stand and that would have been cheaper (about 400-500 Baht). I think they have changed the layout of this now so hopefully you won’t run into this problem.
It is always a pleasure to arrive in Bangkok. I’m fascinated by this huge city and I spent the entire taxi trip looking out of the window - and trying to turn down the air-con in the taxi :-) I’m not sure why they always insist on running the air-con on max. I arrived the my hotel Lebua at State Tower by the river in the morning and I got a warm welcome (as usual on nice hotels in Asia) and I got to rest in a deep sofa while they prepared the paper work. I was happy when I heard they had a room for me this early in the morning and it was great to be able to get this early check-in and take a shower after the long flight. You can read my review of the hotel here.
Struggling with jetlag
How to get around Bangkok?
If you want to get from A to B fast and you are a bit of a daredevil, you can always try out the motorcycle taxis. Remember to agree on a price before you take of and make sure the driver knows your destination :-) I wouldn’t recommend this as Bangkok traffic can be a bit - eh, well chaotic I guess is the right word and you are not very safe on the back of a bike.
Taxis are a great way to get around as it is cheap and comfortable just make sure the driver agrees to use the meter. But note that it can also take a bit of time if you get caught in a traffic jam.
And then you have the tuk-tuk's. These three wheel cars/bike can be a pretty effective way to get around but it feels like they drive like maniacs, it is noisy and the chance of being ripped off is pretty high. It seems like you can always find tuk-tuk's outside hotels and they are always trying to tempt tourists with tours etc. When we tried that a few years ago it was a waste of time so I wouldn’t recommend this :-) Remember: if the price is to good to be true then you are probably being conned into something :-)
Bangkok revisted – Bangkok
Walking along the streets of Bangkok you get exposed to everything. The heat and sun is intense, the combination of fumes of food being prepared on the pavement, exhaust from the traffic, incense and sewer mix together in a strange blend, the noise can be unbelievable when a roaring bus pass you by or when a tuk-tuk comes up next to you to ask if you want to go for a drive. There are stray dogs and stray cats all over the place but they don’t seem to be aggressive. But I have to admit that I was nervous from time to time when I had to step over sleeping mongrels that were sleeping in the middle of the pavement. But I have never experienced being attacked ;-)
The Thais love their royal family
and a sign of this could be seen in the way people dressed. On a daily basis
I would see people dressed up in yellow shirts to show their support to the
Don’t be surprised if you get approached by strangers when you come out of your hotel. I got in touch with many when coming out of my hotel Lebua and all conversations started out with them asking me where I stayed and then they would say that they worked at the hotel, a nearby embassy etc. They all tried to convince me to walk up Silom road instead of taking the skytrain. I assume that they are some sort of con men but I’m not sure exactly what the con is. On my previous trips to Bangkok I have also experienced being stopped by people on the street near by e.g. Grand Palace and they have claimed that the Palace is closed due to a Buddhist celebration or something like this. I have never experienced this to be true so don't fall for scams like this!
Beware of tuk-tuk drivers offering you very cheap tours. If the price is too good to be true, it normally is :-). I have experienced taking a tuk-tuk and he agreed to take us to a destination but after a while he wanted to drive us somewhere else. In the end he refused to take us to our destination and he basically kicked us out of the tuk-tuk. We have also taken cheap tours where you are taken attractions on one stop and then a gem store or tailor on the next. Even if it is cheap it is a waste of time in my opinion.
Sightseeing in Bangkok
Wat Pho – Temple of the reclining Buddha
As I was staying near the river I decided to use the Chao Phraya River to get to the Grand Palace area. I went to the Saphan Taksin pier and bought a ticket for the Chao Phraya River express and I thought the lady behind the counter said 30 Bath (1$) so I gave her that. But then the woman behind me in the line also said one ticket and the girl behind the counter looked a bit confused. It turned out that she thought I was with the women behind me in the line as I had given her too much money. I thought she said 30 Bath but she was actually saying 13 Bath - communication is not always easy. As I am a true gentleman I told the woman that the ferry ride was on me - well, it was only 50 cent :-)
Seeing Bangkok from the river is great even if it can be a bit noisy and crowded. It stops on scheduled piers along the river and the boat man and the captain communicates with the boat man using a high pitched whistle. On one trip on the river we also had an engine breakdown by the way but we were “saved” by another ferry.
Back to the sightseeing: I jumped of at Tha Tien pier and I walked over to the temple Wat Pho (or Wat Phra Chetuphon as it is also called). I have been there once before (in 1998) but I decided to stop by this time as well. It was only 50 Baht (about 1.6$) to get into the temple and I was hoping to get a guided tour for 200 Baht but as it included a bit of waiting I decided to just walk around on my own and use my guidebook. Wat Pho is one of the largest temples in Bangkok and one of the oldest. While I was there, a bit of construction work going on and takes away a bit of the beauty of the temple. But the reclining Buddha is still the largest in Thailand and it is easy to be impressed by this 46 meter long (150 feet) and 15 meter (50 feet) high gold plated Buddha image. But in total there are about 1000 Buddha images inside the temple so there is a lot to look at and the great thing is that it is less crowded then Grand Palace. One of the fascinating things about Thailand are the contrasts. In one house at Wat Pho there was a Buddha image that was filled with gold leaf that people had put on it, there were lots of beautiful flowers, incense burning etc - and in front of it they had put down a Winnie the Pooh plastic cover that people could sit on.
One of the other reasons to visit Wat Pho is that it is a centre for traditional Thai massage. I have not tried this before but I figured that I had to try it out at one stage so I went for a 30 minute massage for 220 Baht (7$). It was great to lie down and get a massage as I was sore from the day before (sore from walking and working out too much). It was not a miracle cure in any way but it was still very nice.
Grand Palace – the Temple of
the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaeo)
Inside the Grand Palace you will find beautiful temples, golden pagodas, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (which is surprisingly small), golden mythical figures and the ramakien. The ramakien is the national epic of Thailand and you can see it painted on the walls surrounding Wat Phra Kaeo. From the story it seems like Gods, humans and even apes are involved. Grand Palace is worth a visit for the 250 Baht it cost to get in. But be aware that it can be quite crowded so if you are seeking peace and quiet you should go to another temple. There are probably lots of quiet temples around Bangkok. I have been to e.g. Wat Suthat (located by the Giant Swing not far from the Grand Palace) and it was more or less empty when I came there an early morning during my trip in 2002.
Vimanmek mansion – former royal
Walking to the Vimanmek mansion took a bit of time so if you are in a rush I think the best option is to take a taxi. On my way I passed by the parliament and there was some sort of protest going on outside. I finally reached the mansion and it seemed like they had changed it a bit since I was there in 1997. As I had a ticket from the Grand Palace I didn’t have to pay for the entrance but before going in I had to leave my backpack and my camera in a locker - so I did not get to take any pictures inside :-( The ticket includes a tour of the mansion and as usual you have to tune your brain into a certain mode to understand their version of English. I’m not saying this to be mean but in general Thais seem to have a bit of problem with speaking the English language. I guess they laugh at us when we try to say anything in Thai. The tour of the largest teak mansion in the world is informative and if you have time to combine it with the ticket from Grand Palace, you should do so.
Dusit zoo – largest in Asia?
Art of boxing- muay thai boxing
When I walked in I have to say I was a bit disappointed as calling it a stadium is a bit of an exaggeration. The most annoying thing is that the structure of the stadium has a lot of internal beams to keep the roof up and hence it blocks the view. But I managed to find a spot in the back and the locals were very friendly. A guy next to me offered me a cigarette and tried to explain to me where in the program we were (there were lots of matches) but it was hard to keep the conversation going as he didn’t speak English and my Thai is very limited *grin*.
Each match starts with a warm up that seems to be a ritual dance of some sort with the fighters wearing flowers, head bands etc. You can read a lot more about the art of Muay thai on Wikipedia. Each match was three rounds and in each round there is music in the background when the fight is on and the music seems to speed up when the round is about to finish. Maybe this is a sign for the fighters. The audience seemed to be very quiet to start with in the match but as the fights reach round three there was a lot of activity and betting seemed to be the name of the game. What the rules of the game inside the ring are is a bit of a mystery. It seems like you are allowed to throw punches, use the elbows, kick using both feet and knees etc. I guess it is simpler to explain what you are not allowed to use *grin*. The fights are hard and one guy was punched out and they had to carry him out of the ring so this is no joke.
As there were lots of fights it took a bit of time and I got hungry. Right outside it was possible to buy simple food like satay for 10 Bath (about 30 cent) and a Chang beer was 40 Baht (about 1.3$). The eating area is pretty basic with plastic chairs and tables and dogs sleeping around. But the satay was excellent and the Chang beer was ice cold :-).
If you get a chance don’t miss out
on a fight night at Lumpini stadium to see Thailand’s national sport. If you
are willing to cough up a bit of extra money you can sit ringside and that
will provide you with a better view.
Jim Thompson house
I paid 100 Baht for the ticket and
this included a 30 minute tour in English with a guide called Tam. She did a
great job and spiced up the story of the house and Jim Thompson with some
jokes. The Thai humour is a bit different than the Norwegian humour but it
still turned it into an entertaining tour. I talked a bit with Tam after the
tour and it turns out that we share a common interest for traveling and
writing trip reports. While I was at the house I could hear the roar of
engines right outside the fence around the house. It turned out that there
is a canal that runs right outside the house and that goes parallel with
Walking around Bangkok - The
So one morning I got on the skytrain/subway and I went to the train station Hua Lumpong and from there it was just a 5 minute walked to Wat Traimit or temple of the Golden Buddha. The story tells that this Buddha was once covered in plaster so it never got much focus. But one day when they were moving the Buddha image they had an accident and dropped it. The plaster cracked and the layer turned out to cover a huge 900 year old Buddha in pure gold weighing in at more than 5 ton! The Buddha statue is beautiful but I can’t help thinking about what it is worth - just the gold in the statue must be worth a fortune. And it is basically standing out in the open for anybody to steal - not that it is easy to get away with a 5 ton and 10 ft high Buddha without being noticed :-)
I left the temple and walked towards Chinatown to check that out but I guess I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere as I ended up in more or less empty streets. I ended up in some areas that were a bit dodgy actually. I was walking in some streets where they seem to specialized in stripping cars and the scent of oil was in the air and the ground were slippery from all the oil. But I also walked past regular homes where I looked straight into people’s homes, the preparing of food etc. A couple of places I also ran into dogs that didn’t seem very friendly but I never did get into serious problems. My aim was to walk through Chinatown and end up at a ferry stop on the Chao Phraya river. I did reach the river in the end but not the ferry stop that I had planned.
I got on a Chao Phraya river express going up river but it didn’t take long before we heard some strange noises from the engine and propel and all of a sudden the boat stopped. We ended up drifting around until two other boats came to our assist and we were pushed into one of the ferry stops. I got the feeling that they had done that before :-) I jumped into one of the other boats and continued up river to the Thewet stop and from there I walked to Wat Intharawihan home of the huge 32 meter standing Buddha figure. It is not as impressive as the Golden Buddha but it was still nice to revisit it. From here I walked to the famous backpacker street of Bangkok: Khao San Road. This street is filled with bars, restaurants, hostels, souvenir shops etc and it is of course also filled with lots of backpackers :-) I just walked through the place and as I was late for an appointment with Nikki I went for the fastest option to get to Chitlom: a moped taxi. The driver initially asked for 150 Baht but I offered 100 Baht and he agreed on that - I’m quite sure that I paid too much for the trip. He got me to Chitlom Central pretty fast but I guess you can call this form of transportation a bit on the dangerous side.
In September 2007 I returned to Bangkok for a short weekend stay in connection with a business trip and I got a chance to check out Chinatown again but this time I found the Chinatown that most tourists visit. I started out on the river express boat again but this was actually a bit different compared to what I had taken before. It cost 20 Baht and featured a lady speaking away about the various sights along the river. Unfortunately it was not that easy to hear what she was saying as a combination of the bad speakers, her English and the roaring noise of the engine. I jumped of in Chinatown and walked around there for a while and it is fascinating to walk thru these narrow streets. There are small stores every where and even if the streets are narrow you will have to be on a look out as people transport merchandise in there on both motorcycles and carriages. In some cases it was unbelievable to see how much you are able to pile up on one little scooter. As always it was warm but when you can get a bottle of water for 10 Baht it is not a problem keeping hydrated - and for another 10 you get a Redbull to keep up the energy. Some of the stores had a funny combination of stuff for sale - one had cotton buds, car wax, toys etc.
I also took a walk around the Grand Palace area during my September trip to Bangkok. There are still some old soi’s (side streets) going down towards the river. I went into one and it was like peeking into someone’s living room. When I walked past the various houses I walked past people sleeping on the floors in some houses, kids playing or watching TV, a dog barking like mad at one of the doors etc. The alley was really dark and it seemed like it gets flooded if the level on the river rises and hence the houses was elevated about 1 ½ meters. The video above shows a short clip from one of these soi's (sorry for the bad quality - it was taped with my SonyEricsson cell phone)
Along the way around the University there were lots of fake stuff for sale and it was funny to see a police patrol sitting with their feet up in their car right next to these people selling fake stuff. I assume that even Thailand has laws about selling fake stuff and that the police are supposed to enforce this :-)
Eating out in Bangkok
For starter I had prawns and Nikki had dim sum. I was expecting prawns straight up but instead I got already prepared and deep fried pieces but they were excellent. The main course for me was lobster with Malaysian spices (I think this cost 1900 Baht) and on the side I had vegetables in Szechuan sauce and the Breeze rice with lobster and crab. The lobster was very nice but the Malaysian spices are maybe a bit too much on a lobster as they “steal the entire show”. Nikki went for sea bass in claypot but her favourite was actually the dim sum for starter. For dessert Nikki had the strawberry sherbet and I had the cheesecake. The cheesecake was presented in a beautiful way on a large plate but must admit that I have had better cheesecakes.
So what is the conclusion of this? Well, Breeze is a beautiful restaurant that serves very good food and it is presented in a nice way. The restaurant offers an excellent view of Bangkok and the river area and is great for a romantic dinner. But it does cost a pretty penny and I’m not sure that it is worth the cost. There is so much great food to be found on street level in Bangkok and for the price of the meal we had at Breeze you can eat a lot on a “regular restaurant”. It is also sad to see the prices of beer and wine being so steep. I guess the selection of still water shows that they want to be a quality restaurant - it seemed like we could either choose Evian or Voss (from Norway). But I want to send a huge thank you to Lebua and Kanokrat Petchpornprapas for the great meal that we had at Breeze. Thank you for making this a special meal and evening for Nikki and myself.
We ended the evening with a drink in the Skybar at the top of the building. It is an outdoor bar and once again you get a lovely view of the city. But note that there are lots of restrictions when it comes to dress code, taking pictures etc. I get a bit annoyed by stuff like this and this combined with the prices (750 Baht (23 USD) for a mojitos and a strawberry daiqury) makes it likely that I will go to another place the next time I go to Bangkok. We went to Vertigo on the Banyan tree building the last time I went to Bangkok and that was great.
Silom Village – soi 23 on
Cabbages and Condoms
We had lunch one day at a small place about 10 minutes from Khao San Road. I can’t remember that name of the place but I think it was run by Indians and it seemed like their speciality was roti (a sort of pancake) with various dips. We had a full meal for 4 guys for about 350 baht. I was glad we had a Thai guy with us so that he could take care of the ordering of food as it didn’t seem like they spoke much English. But the most interesting part was going to the bathroom. I had to step over parts of the stuff that were coming in for dish washing and manoeuvre myself into the small toilet. When I closed the door it felt like there was a 100 degrees in there and I assume that this was because the kitchen ovens were right next to the toilet walls so it was radiating heat. It was of course a standard squatting toilet but for a guy that does not really matter that much :-)
Baan Kanitha is located on
Soi 23 on Sukhumwit and when we came there we were not sure we had the right
place as it was pretty low key. But the interior was nice and it was a Thai
style house serving Thai food. I can’t really remember what we had at this
place but I do remember that it was a bit on the expensive side (compared to
Bangkok prices in general). But the food was excellent and I would love to
re-visit this place if I go back to Bangkok.
Wildlife and city life
One morning I went to Asok BTS station and after a drink at the pool bar at the Grande Sheraton Sukhumwit I took a walk around “the block”. We took a right turn into the main road called Ratchadaphisek from Sukhumwit and after 200-300 hundred meters we took another right turn and walked along a canal. First we went thru some residential areas and once again I felt like I was looking right into someone’s home as people were going about their everyday business when we walked past. Sukhumwit road is quite hectic and noisy with all the shops and all the traffic - at this canal we were only a few hundred meters away from it but it felt like we were in another world. It was so quiet and peaceful that I would never have guessed that it was in the middle on Bangkok. The water of the canal was really murky and I didn’t expect to see anything alive in there. But all of a sudden we saw movement in the water and a huge lizard swam away. Further in we saw another big lizard crawling on land and into a pipe. It was such a contrast leaving the busy and noisy Sukhumwit road and all of a sudden walk along a canal where it was so peaceful.
We continued to walk and after a while we walked on an elevated path in a Muslim dominated area. We met two young boys and they were carrying a small cage with HUGE beetles. I guess they had bought them as pets and we got to take some pictures of them and the boys were laughing when they got to see the pictures of themselves afterwards. In the end we walked into Lumpini park. This huge park is located at the corner of Silom road and we walked a bit into Silom road as well. We were hungry so we decided to have a snack and we sat down on plastic stools on the pavement and ordered chicken and rice from the local vendor. The meal was like 30 Baht (1 USD) per person so you can eat for next to nothing in Bangkok. It sets things into perspective when you order a coffee at like Starbucks and it turns out that it cost like 4 times as much. Silom road is where you will also find a night market and also the infamous Patpong area - but I don’t think I will go into the detail of that in this report :-)
Buying something from a store is a different experience here in Bangkok compared to back home. First you have to melodic “Sawasdee Kah” greeting when you walk into the store and the traditional wai (the greeting on putting the palms together). This wai is not to be returned to service employees if I’m not mistaken (like people working in shops, the person that opens the door for you at the hotel etc) but smiling back never hurt anyone right? :-) When you do buy something you get the Kap kuhn kap (thanks) and another wai. The Thai language seems to be hard. We jumped into a taxi and we had gotten instructions to meet up with someone at the restaurant Baan Kanitha. In Norwegian there is not really much fuzz when saying this but to get the taxi driver to understand this we had to put our feelings into pronouncing it. We did manage to get it right eventually.
Time to move on – going to
I hope that I have given some useful information in this travelogue and feel free to get in touch on firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions. If you get a chance to go to Bangkok you should not hesitate. This is a city that deserves a few days so don’t plan for a 1 or 2 day stay - go for 4-5 days instead. Bangkok, what a city!
Some “useful” tips