We were really looking forward to Bangkok. A south-east Asian mega-city, transport hub, and the capital of Thailand, one of the most developed countries in the region. We were actually surprised at how modern Bangkok was: seamless public transit, clean streets, huge water infrastucture, skyscapers and glitzy shopping malls.
It’s densely populated, but most people seemed to have a job or run a small business, earning enough money to afford to shop and go out. Fortunately the city’s rapid development has not hindered it’s authenticity and cultural heritage, as is so often the case. It is easy to find tranquile temples and peaceful parks, charming hidden alleys and markets, quiet neighbourhoods where plants hang off old balconies, and small river boats are still the easiest way to get around. For all these reasons, and because my close Thai friend Saranya also now lives in Bangkok, we stayed there 3 times over the next few weeks.
The first time we arrived from Singapore, and only stayed 2 days. Just long enough to adjust to this new country, and work on the blog a little. We stayed at an Airbnb near Silom, a central location close to both subway networks (the MRT and Skytrain), very animated at night. We were unconvinced by the professed advantages of Airbnb: it was just as expensive as any other booking website and the ‘self check-in’ is quite a mission without access to internet. Over the next 2 days we got our first tastes of the country’s succulent cuisine and cheap beer, celebrated Renaud’s birthday, met up with Saranya and left our winter and camping gear at her place to lighten the load while travelling in Thailand (thanks again S!), and I (Steph) sorted out my camera issue by buying a new battery at the bustling MBK shopping mall, an experience in itself!
We would save the sightseeing for our next visit. We were coming back in 10 days, after a short stay in neighbouring Cambodia. We took the bus from giant Mo Chit station, walking through Chatuchak Park on the way. Finding the right ticket stand and bus in the mayhem was no easy task! We were entertained by the ‘No Shit!’ sign for the toilets, as we boarded our bus destined for Cambodia.
The conditions of our return to Bangkok weren’t ideal. Renaud’s wallet – containing 200 dollars in cash and our 2nd out of 3 bank cards (the first having been stolen in Mexico) – got stolen in the night bus, and we were exhausted and sweaty after roughing it up in Cambodia, and our extended 24h bus journey! Our friend’s (Chloe, Renaud’s sister, and Julien a.k.a Gonzo) arrival was also eventful: Chloe almost left the airport with another person’s luggage, and visa-versa. We were staying in a backpacker’s in Silom again. To unwind from the stresses of the day, and catch up after almost a year apart, we opted for a cheap restaurant close by, with good food and live music. Gonzo was already being adventurous in his food choices. We chatted late into the night, and started etching out a plan for our travels in Thailand.
The next days were dedicated to sightseeing. We took an Uber, then a longboat along Bangkok’s main artery, Chao Phraya river, to the Royal Palace.
The popular attraction was overcrowded with Thai well-wishers coming to pay their respects to their former beloved King, who passed away a year ago. This, coupled with the heat, made the visit quite tedious.
We took in the impressive architecture of distinctly Thai, or Siam, design, recognizable by its graphic colourful tiling, intricate statues and spires, and lavish golden temples.
Renaud and Gonzo took the cultural experience further, by adorning their indescent legs with typical ‘elephant pants’! On our way out, we admired the royal residence.
By this point, we were all suffering from hunger and dehydration, so all agreed on sharing a bucket of beer and late lunch in Bangkok’s infamous Kow San Road.
And that’s where we stayed until our meeting with Camille, an enthusiastic French traveller we met on the bus from Cambodia to Bangkok. We rushed on foot through charming back alleys, to Rajadamnern Stadium, for a night of Thai boxing, or Muay Thai.
The guys were especially keen, as was the very responsive local audiance, who most likely had a few illegal bets in play. We watched at least 6 matches, of five 3-minute fights each, plus a few ‘bonus’ matches (juniors). The whole thing lasted 2 to 3 hours. Our neighbours helped us understand the referee-ing decisions. We were surprised that foreigners usually always came out on top. There were noticeable differences in technique from one fighter to the next, and we found an elegance in this form of martial art, as opposed to western boxing.
We returned to Silom quite late. While the guys went off to do something about their inevitable midnight munchies, us girls took in the last of Silom’s night market. This wasn’t the best time however. Clubs in the street were starting to open and we were getting propositioned all maner of ping-pong shows, complete with a laminated menu listing all the objects a ‘pussy’ could ‘shoot’: chopsticks, rainbows, cherries…
The next day was transport day! We would test all forms: walking, subway, sky train, taxi, Uber, tuk-tuk and long boats.
These took us to our many destinations that day, starting with Wat Pho temple, home to the world’s largest lying Buddha, and Thailand’s oldest traditional medicine school. It’s incredible length is best appreciated standing by it’s peaceful head, or it’s giant, flat, feet, covered in gold and marble, and decorated with multicoloured ribbons and flowers.
We visited a few more temples on the site, even stopping to contemplate alongside local worshipers, in some of the calmer ones.
The statues and decor here had a distinctly more Chinese-looking influence. We were amused to see ‘high-tech’ monks, one taking his smartphone addiction to the point of whipping it out during a service!
Later that afternoon, we visited Wat Saket temple, a must-see. Also aptly-named Golden Mount, it is located on top of one of Bangkok’s only small hills, providing a stunning vantage point over the city. We enjoyed sunset here, admiring the surrounding neighbourhoods, white and grey buildings, a mish-mash of old and new.
Added to that, the temple is quite impressive, and there are many secret spots to explore on the way up and down it’s windey steps.
From there we rushed to MBK Mall, to meet up with Saranya for drinks and dinner, in that order, at it’s huge outdoor night/food market. The market boasts a ‘drinking alley’ where the bars are located in reconverted containers. We sat outside, catching up on our adventures in Cambodia, our discoveries and questions about Bangkok and Thailand, and last night’s Thai boxing match. Saranya, an amateur Thai boxer herself, gave us a lot of insight into Thai boxing, and Thailand in general, aswell as recommendations for our future itinirary. We were hoping to meet up with her somewhere in Thailand over the week-end, preferably in her hometown of Chiang Mai. We had a great time, savouring Thailand’s staple lagers, getting to know eachother, and Chloe was practising her English.
The food market went down well after the drinks. Gonzo almost self-combusted after eating his spicy-prawns dish, and Saranya cohersed us into tasting fried grubs, the least gross-looking insect on display. They tasted like crunchy flour, and we didn’t ask for seconds!
We weren’t ready to call it a night, so headed to Sukumvit for more drinks. It was quite late already, only dodgy bars and clubs were still open. We endured one of these for the time of a cocktail, before calling an Uber. While waiting on the sidewalk, we watched the mixed night-life go by: prostitutes, ladyboys, street vendors, homeless people, a little girl sleeping on the steps, a handicapped man draging himself on the floor to get around, a gang of deaf people making jokes in sign language, a drunk chinese tourist breaking into dance. It was definitely time to head home!
After another late night, the next day’s main objective would be to treat our bodies to a traditional Thai massage. We walked to Health Land, near Chong Nonsi station, a recommendation of Saranya’s. We almost walked out when we first saw the prices and expensive decor, until we discovered the good deal on group Thai Massages.
Despite the tickles, us girls throuroughly enjoyed our massages and felt really relaxed and detoxed after. The guys, however, didn’t have it so easy! The more they cried out in pain, the more their masseuses giggled, and bent and pressed even harder. We had a few hours to spare before catching our night bus to Sukhothai that evening. We decided last minute on experiencing our first ever Escape Game, Bangkok being quite well-known for these.
The game was located in MBK mall, which was fast becoming our ‘local hang-out’. We entertained ourselves at the arcade while we waited for our game to start. We had chosen the hardest, and it was the first time for all of us, so it wasn’t surprising that we faired very poorly. We waited too long to ask for help on the first puzzle we were stuck on, but found our pace after that, even though we eventually ran out of time!
We had packed in all we could in our 3 days in Bangkok, we were ready for a change in scenery. We collected our stuff from the hostel, caught another Uber, battled to find our ticket booth and bus stand at Mo Chit station, and were on our way by night bus to Sukothai.
Our last stay in Bangkok was the shortest. We weren’t very keen on facing the big noisy city again, on returning from our villa getaway on Koh Lanta island. We limited our activities to checking out the neighbourhood around our hostel, in Silom, again: the uninspiring local market and food stalls and the huge Sri Mahamariamman Hindu Temple which was apparantly hosting one of the biggest festivals of the year, in Bangkok. The air was thick with incense and vibrating to the sound of dance and drums as worshipers draped in colourful cloths and flower necklaces spilled through the busy streets.
We also visited Chinatown by day. We got lost in the crowded, narrow, alleys, and found the market overwhelming. We wandered around for hours in search of food.
On our very last night in Bangkok, we met up with Saranya one last time for another Thai boxing night. A free, televised, match, of a very different style to the previous. The fights were shorter and more action-packed. The stalls were full, and the spectators agitated. It was quite unexpected to see all the high-tech lights and sound temporarily set up in the underground of a building. Saranya was convinced we saw the Foo Fighters there too!
After that, it was time to say our last goodbyes to Saranya, and to eachother as well, as we would be parting ways the next day: Gonzo and Chloe returning home to France, and Renaud and I continuing onwards, to the last destination country of our world trip: Nepal.