I had heard a lot of bad things about Bangkok – smelly, dirty, polluted, chaotic, loud – so my expectations were low. It goes to show that expectations have a big effect on how we perceive things because I liked it more than I had thought I would. Sure, it is all those things: once in a while you do get a whiff of the funky smell coming from the sewers, and yes, it’s dirty and chaotic. Nevertheless, and maybe it’s because I’m coming from also-dirty-and-chaotic Rome, I thought it wasn’t all that bad. I had imagined having to walk around covering my nose and not being able to breathe because of the pollution, but it wasn’t like that at all. Although…the traffic really is horrendous.
Leaving the airport, I was first surprised at how modern and Western it was. A mix of modern buildings in the background and slums along the rail line, a strong duality to take in. All against a tropical background, blue skies and palm trees, it reminded me a bit of Miami.
We stayed at a hotel conveniently located near the Grand Palace and Khao San Road. It was the beginning of September, which is monsoon season. We had been told that this usually means it’ll rain some in the early evening, which is the perfect time to go back to the hotel, take a nap, shower, and get ready for the evening. This turned out to be the case for us, and we used this time to sometimes catch up on sleep, shower, and freshen up. By the time, we’d be ready to go back out for dinner, the sky would be clear again.
First stop for us in Bangkok was the Grand Palace to visit the temples and then Wat Pho to see the massive Reclining Buddha. Everything is so grand and impressive that we spent hours exploring every corner and taking photos from every angle. I enjoyed taking off my shoes to go inside the temples: not only is it a sign of respect but it’s also a great way to relax the feet and rid of some of the negative energy we store in our bodies. At this point, my first impression of Bangkok was already a good one.
At night, the place to go to is Khao San Road, a lively street with lots of bars, loud music, and street food – these are the images you picture of nightlife in this part of the world. Walking down this street is one of my highlights of Bangkok, as it was here where it really hit me that I was in Southeast Asia. It was just like the videos and photos I had seen, where the energy and loud music pumping from the sound system gets into your veins and you’re overwhelmed by everything going on around you. For dinner, there are tons of street food vendors selling their typical noodle dish, that’s pad thai for foreigners.
The next big thing to do in the capital is to visit the floating markets, which we did the following day. By chance, we ended up taking a boat ride that included a little tour around the city on the Chao Phraya River giving us a glimpse of local life and stopping at Talingchan Floating Market. There are many markets to choose from, some more touristy than others; I think you’ll probably get a good feel for them from visiting any of them. I’d say the best time to go is lunchtime so you can sample some of the food there. Heading down the canal, there are boats selling various things, souvenirs, and other unnecessary things but it’s more about the atmosphere.
As I was planning the trip, I heard from a lot of people to take an empty luggage and just go shopping in Bangkok. Not being a big shopper, I opted against this. Still, there are lots of good deals, especially when shopping for silk, crafts, and clothes in general.
There are also street markets everywhere you go in the city, where you can not only go shopping but of course always get more street food. You really must let your Western guard down when eating street food in Asia, as it won’t be up to the same sanitary standards you’re used to from back home. But when in Asia, do as the Asians: just follow the locals and you’ll probably be fine. Looking for a late lunch, we randomly ended up at the Night Bazaar Market in Pat Tong area thanks to our tuk tuk driver.
In short, I’m glad Bangkok was our first stop in Thailand, as I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as much seeing it after other more traditional and interesting Thai cities. I’m also glad we only stayed there two days because it was the right amount. I had been curious to see an Asian metropolitan city, and Bangkok with its mix of modern buildings and old temples, served this purpose. Though, it may not be for everyone.