As mentioned in one of my recent posts, 2016 was for me a year of travels within Europe. 2017 is different: I directly kicked off the year in South East Asia!
Travelling to Thailand was not my original plan, but when I looked at flights to Laos and Cambodia, I realised flights had connections in Bangkok. So I reckoned I might as well spend a few days there!
Because of a flight delay I arrived much closer to midnight than expected on New Year’s eve. It was slightly frustrating seeing big New Year gatherings from the skytrain, a few stops away from my hotel in Sukhumvit! If I had arrived earlier I would certainly have gone there for the countdown.
My impressions of Bangkok
Bangkok didn’t strike me as a pretty city: my general impression was of many high and rather ugly buildings everywhere. But then all the very pretty temples and landmarks make up for this! I perceived Bangkok as a cool city with lots of things to discover.
My visit of Bangkok can be summed up in a few words: lots of walking, lots of markets, lots of temples!
Chatuchak weekend market
On my first day I set off to Chatuchak market (also called JJ market), Thailand’s largest market. It is divided in 27 sections which each sell different types of things: jewellery, art, food & drinks, antiques, etc. It was really fun walking around!
I enjoyed trying some unknown fruit, which a friend later helped identify as guava. It was very tasty! Before trying it I had to check with some locals which parts I could actually eat!
It was at Chatuchak market that I saw the first local ice cream of my trip, but I will not tell you more about that just yet. I saw (& sometimes tried) lots of cool ice cream in Bangkok. Since I will go there again at the end of my trip, I’ll tell you all about my ice cream experience in Bangkok in a dedicated post, later!
Chinatown: its temples, markets and street food
In Bangkok’s Chinatown I visited the first of many temples! Wat Traimit temple is beautiful! I was able to see the 5.5 ton Golden Buddha made of pure gold. It is the largest gold Buddha in the world!
I walked down several narrow streets to have a look at what was sold on the markets in Chinatown. By then I felt I had just about had enough of markets for the day!
Thankfully many street food vendors started setting up their equipment at this point. I really enjoyed looking at all that was on offer.
Visiting the Grand Palace
I knew to expect this: the Grand Palace complex was swarmed with tourists!! The complex was established in 1782 and is made up of the royal residence, government offices and temples. There were also many Thai mourners dressed in black who had come to pay homage to the Thai King who passed away in October 2016. 10.000 Thai mourners are let into the Throne Hall every day. It was impressive seeing all these mourners.
What was less impressive: I have never been surrounded by more people taking selfies!! The temples within the Grand Palace and the royal residence are really beautiful! It’s worth braving the tourists & selfie sticks to see it! 🙂
The impressive reclining Buddha in Wat Pho
Wat Pho temple is just a short walk away from the Grand Palace. I doubt I will ever see any more impressive Buddha statue than the 45 meter long reclining Buddha inside of Wat Pho temple! Looking up at the enormous head of the Buddha statue was pretty cool!
Trying out Bangkok’s public transport
The modern & clean airport train, Skytrain (BTS) and metro (MRT)
I loved travelling by train, BTS and MRT! They’re modern, reliable and perfect to travel quickly from A to B. Unfortunately they don’t go as far as the west side of Chinatown, the Grand Palace or Banglumpu.
The express boats
The express boat (Chao Praya Express boat) is the best way to travel to the Grand Palace, Wat Pho & Wat Arun. I took this boat also to get to Banglumpu from the Palace.
After an evening in Banglumpu I tried to figure out how to travel back to my hotel on the other side of town: during daytime there are possibly taxi boats on some of the rivers. I was very thankful for my offline map of Bangkok. I made my way to a bus stop marked on the map, from where I reckoned buses would likely ride in the direction I needed to go.
Taking a local bus in a country where you neither know the bus network nor speak the language is always a challenge! I asked a local for help who pointed out the bus I had to take. I was equally thankful for the GPS function of my phone, thanks to which I could check where we were heading on the map! It all worked out perfectly! 🙂
I remember a similar experience in a packed local bus in Malaysia in my pre-smartphone days… we had no idea where the bus was heading to, no idea where we were to get off and communication with the people around us didn’t help much..!