After spending a week or so in the somewhat overhyped south of Thailand and realising the partying and beachbum lifestyle wasn’t for us, we headed north. We were excited to return to civilisation so we hopped enthusiastically onto our night bus to Bangkok.
One abysmal nights sleep later (the ride felt like being shaken round inside a metal can for 12 hours) we arrived into Thailand’s congested and chaotic capital city, being dropped off at the infamous Khao San Road. It’s the main backpacker area renowned for its nightlife and cheap hostels, however we were staying in another part of town; Sukhumvit, which is a slightly more upmarket international neighbourhood. The day we arrived in Bangkok actually happened to be my 23rd birthday, so first things first it was time to celebrate. Well, after recovering from that dreadful bus journey…
A long nap later, Jake and I headed out for some dinner. It being a special occasion, we splurged on some incredible Japanese food at Isao restaurant. We had incredibly delicious sushi and curry, before going to find Long Table, a rather ritzy bar on the 25th floor of a hotel, offering breathtaking views of downtown Bangkok. Although we could only afford one drink each, it was a perfect way to celebrate turning 23 and also introduce ourselves to Bangkok.
I often see it written that Bangkok is quite shocking for the first time western visitor. It’s loud, frenetic, disorganised and disorientating, with tons of people and pollution. Although it is all these things, it would take more than that to shock us after seeing Manila. We quickly decided we quite liked it. Especially the Sukhumvit area. The parts of the city we saw seemed safe and efficient, and although I wouldn’t describe it as particularly affluent generally, it was certainly doing better than the Philippines.
Whilst in Bangkok, we spent our time visiting the typical tourist sites, most of which seem to be buddhist temples. We battled through the markets in Chinatown, dodging motorbikes and gaggles of dawdling Chinese tourists. We wandered awestruck around the gigantic shopping malls, our favourite being the 7 storey complex where each floor was themed after different world cities. We spent plenty of time searching for decent street food although we’re not sure we were successful at finding the best. Bangkok is a huge city (similar in size to London) so you’d be kidding yourself if you thought you were going to see everything in 6 days, which is how long we lingered.
We agreed that the shopping here was out of this world, certainly the best we’d seen in Asia (just about eclipsing Singapore) and although hanging out in air conditioned and glamorous shopping centres was a pleasant way to pass the time, we didn’t buy a single thing besides food. Part of me is very keen to return to Bangkok just to shop though!
Chinatown was absolutely mental. The proliferation of neon signs made it feel like some kind of alternate reality asian Times Square, with food on sale literally everywhere. It was of questionable hygiene but undeniably delicious. The markets sold more junk than you could ever imagine and the architecture was so ramshackle it was difficult to imagine anyone living there. It was a hive of activity and just an aimless stroll through the area guaranteed to be a memorable experience.
We visited a few temples, but to be honest once you’ve seen one ornately decorated Buddhist shrine completely covered in gold leaf, you’ve kinda seen them all. Sorry to sound so uncultured! I also think we committed some kind of sin by not visiting the royal palace. The royal family in Thailand is a huge deal; the Thai people absolutely adore them. All over the country you’ll find elaborate shrines and paintings of the monarchs, and in every cinema showing you’re required to stand up to pay respect whilst a song and video play about them… It was even in the news recently that a man was facing 32 years in prison for posting an edited picture of the king on Facebook. It’s all taken rather seriously and has left us a bit confounded. But anyway the palace was too expensive and we weren’t that bothered. Instead we visited Wat Pho and the Golden Mount, which were definitely highlights. The former with its gargantuan reclining Buddha statue and the latter with its panoramic views of the city. There were plenty more “unmissable” landmarks that we missed, but I guess it gives us stuff to see next time we’re there! =)
We also sampled some nightlife (how unlike us) on Silom Soi 4. It’s Bangkok’s major gay area and we were interested to experience the city’s legendary LGBT nightlife. It was certainly… eye opening, and we enjoyed some cheap beers whilst people watching and listening to some kitschy 80s classics. We went for a dance in Soi 2 which was pretty crazy, I’ve never been on such a packed dance floor, and our appearance there (basically the only young westerners) seemed to generate quite a lot of surprise and interest from the more local crowd. It had a very different vibe to any gay nightspot I’ve been to in other countries and was food fun. Although definitely way too packed!
For most of the time in Bangkok though we were a bit lazy. We visited a couple of parks (very welcome respites from all the congestion) and made the most of our nice hotel room in Sukhumvit. We had a good time but I don’t think quite did the city justice. So we’ll just have to revisit some time won’t we?