Bangkok, the chaotic and crowded capital of Thailand, often marks a traveler’s first stop in this diverse Southeast Asian country.
Some people stay for weeks and soak up all that Bangkok has to offer, whereas others simply stop by for a few days in between trips. Sadly we represent the latter, as our time frame only allowed us two days in Bangkok. Nonetheless, we made the most of our time and enjoyed every second of our first 48 hours in Southeast Asia.
August 2nd, 1:30am: Our taxi driver dropped us on the edge of the bustling party street known as Khao San Road, plunging us headfirst into the crazy tourist culture of Bangkok. After 30 hours of traveling, our exhausted and disoriented minds could barely make sense of the bright lights, blasting music, and street food aromas that swirled around us.
But somehow, after 30 minutes of stumbling around, we finally found Khaosan Lovers Hostel, tucked away in a dark side street. Located in the Old City, this hostel was a fabulous choice, especially because the air-conditioned dorms, clean bathrooms, and peaceful rooftop only cost $6 a night.
August 3rd, 8am: After stepping outside into a thick wall of blazing heat and extreme humidity, we began exploring for the day. Walking along a shady, peaceful riverside path, we observed the cluttered yards of various shops and homes on our left and the calm, murky river water on our right. I can’t decide if we saw more stray cats, potted plants, or images of the Buddha, but all three added to the charisma of the walkway.
Eventually, we abandoned the peace of the little river path and ventured towards the Dusit District. Complete with wide, traffic-packed boulevards, magnificent buildings, and policemen stationed every few meters, this area is home to many major governmental and administrative centers in Bangkok. Thais love and respect their king with such passion that countless elegant portraits of him reside around every corner. After fighting through crowds of Chinese tourists and begging for tap water refills at a McDonalds, we returned to Khao San Road for lunch.
August 3rd, 12pm: Though the chaos from the previous night had diminished, Khao San Road still provided endless entertainment. A friendly university student asked us to help him with a study about how foreigners react to certain foods, so we happily obliged. After filling out a form regarding the weird fish balls and spicy crisps we sampled, the locals running the survey thanked us endlessly and gave us free keychains and free drinking water. Two things I learned within one day in Bangkok: Thais are insanely friendly and welcoming to tourists, and free drinkable water is scarce so jump at ANY chance you get to hydrate.
Our first meal in Thailand was, of course, Pad Thai. For 40 Baht, roughly $1, a sweet lady tossed fresh egg noodles, bean sprouts, egg, shredded veggies, and various oils in a large pan, gave us generous portions, and allowed us to top the meal with chopped peanuts and hot chili flakes. What an incredible introduction to the delicious flavors and cheap prices of Thai food.
August 3rd, 4pm: Excited for our first Buddhist temple experience, we headed for the nearby Wat Saket, located atop an artificial hill known as the Golden Mountain. After paying an entrance fee of 20 Baht ($0.60), we climbed the stone staircase upwards, passing ceramic animals, small waterfalls, rustic bells, a giant gong, and mini shrines dedicated to the Buddha. At the top of the temple, shining gold tiles clung to every surface, illuminating the area as dark hovering clouds indicated a coming thunderstorm in the distance.
August 3rd, 6pm: Completely drenched from the rain, we chose a restaurant for dinner, where I ate wonderful vegetable Phanaeng curry. We then headed up to the 6th floor of a building on Khao San Road, as a sign in the street advertised a Sky Bar. Though people in the lobby of the building greeted us with a smile, we found the rooftop bar to be completely deserted. Despite the eerie silence, the dust-covered bar, and the rubble of overturned furniture, we savored every second of our first sunset in Thailand.
August 3rd, 9pm: After laughing for two hours straight from the international comedians at Khao San Comedy Club, we wanted to absorb the nightlife of Bangkok with more attentiveness than the previous night. Yes, we spent basically the whole day around Khao San Road, but this place honestly never failed to excite us. I tried Coconut Ice Cream, which is actually just vanilla ice cream, but is served in a real coconut with the meat scraped away from the shell. The fresh coconut mixed with the chopped peanuts on top really took the plain ice cream to the next level. Different types of music from various night clubs followed us as we strolled down the street, and watching vendors try to sell fried scorpions to tourists added extra entertainment.
August 4th, 8am: First thing in the morning, we walked straight across the road from our hostel and toured a gorgeous Buddhist temple called Wat Bowonniwet. After passing ladies selling weaved flower necklaces at the entrance, and observing the peaceful silence of locals praying inside the main temple, we wandered around the picturesque grounds.
Our next top was the Grand Palace, the main tourist attraction in Bangkok. Despite the 500 Baht ticket, a rather pricey $15, the exquisite decoration of the temple complex made the money worthwhile. Built in only 1782, every towering rooftop, every charismatic statue, and every small jewel in the Palace’s colorful mosaic surfaces remains intact. Even the enormous crowds of tourists could not diminish the beauty of the glittering golden spires, the menacing dragon guardians, or the patterned temple walls. Exhausted as we were from the chaos of the area, I’ve never seen anything quite so captivating.
August 4th, 12pm: As we wandered aimlessly around the city trying to figure out our next move, a local started giving us advice on Bangkok’s attractions. We were feeling indecisive, so the man called over a tuk tuk driver and essentially pushed us onto it, assuring us we would enjoy what was coming. The tuk tuk, a tiny wall-less cart pulled by a motorbike, weaved in and out of traffic until dropping us at a small wooden pier. The driver told us we were taking a river boat tour. Initially we declined the tour because the price was high, but once the man in charge cut the price in half, we agreed. As a tourist, I was skeptical whether the discounted price was actually a good deal, or if it was simply a normal price and the original was a rip-off. But nonetheless, we paid and a small lady grabbed me by the arm and shoved me into a long wooden boat with colorful fabric lining the roof and the sides.
Sailing down the Chao Phraya River, I felt relaxed and eager to observe my surroundings. Despite the unappealing brown water, I loved the little wooden houses lining the riverside with potted plants, Thai flags, and other decorations spilling over their decks. In addition to the adorable homes, the riverside was home to a few majestic temples, walls of street art, and a mini floating market where locals try to sell trinkets to tourists from their own wooden boats.
August 4th, 2pm: We fed our famished bodies at, of course, Khao San Road. With so many interesting places we wanted to try in this area, we felt no remorse in returning to the same street every meal. A spacious, open air restaurant full of cool paintings and religious relics caught our eye, and I tried a sweet and tangy Thai Papaya Salad with veggies, bean sprouts, and chopped peanuts.
August 4th, 10pm: Our plans to venture down to Chinatown for a street food dinner at the famous Yaowarat Road failed, as we accidentally took a 5 hour nap after lunch. The jet lag was aggressive, as Thailand is 11 hours ahead of Boston time so our days are completely reversed. In our groggy, tired state, we didn’t want to travel very far so we simply walked down the street for a quick snack at the street market. Though I could barely keep my eyes open, I appreciated every bite of my fruit cup, filled with dragonfruit, watermelon, papaya, mango, and pineapple.
August 5th, 7am: After grabbing a taxi and heading to Don Mueang Airport for our flight to Siem Reap, we reflected on our short time in Bangkok. We powered through jet lag, thunderstorms, and brutal heat and humidity in order to experience some of the city’s highlights. From the warm smiles of the locals, to the incredible food, to the stunning temples, we absolutely loved our first taste of Thailand, and we are eager to see what the next month holds.