When living in Hong Kong, one of the destinations that you hear people hopping to frequently is Thailand. We wanted to go as soon as we moved to Hong Kong, but had to hold off until after we had E because of the Zika threat.
But we finally booked our first Thailand trip for December, 2018 and decided stay for a week through New Years. I couldn’t wait.
Note: This is Part 1 of our 2018 Thailand trip, Part 2 – our trip to Hua Hin will be posted shortly.
I had imagined Bangkok to be filled with motorcycles and tuk tuks trying to navigate streets lined with food stalls and crowded with locals and tourists wearing elephant print harem pants, but it was only like this in the night markets or side streets. Elephant harem pants are, however, everywhere, but are mainly sold to people who need to quickly cover up when entering a temple.
Bangkok is a relatively clean city with so much more than meets the eye. Fourt main things I’d say about Bangkok are: 1) use non-bus, public transportation if you can because traffic can be horrendous, 2) be prepared to eat because there’s so much good food, 3) don’t underestimate how much there is to see, 4) the people there are SO nice – they don’t all speak English but they’re extremely accommodating.
We didn’t know much about Bangkok traffic until we got stuck in it en route to the hotel from the airport. After that we tried to stick with trains, river boats, and our legs.
- Getting to/from the airport: Unless you have a lot of luggage, I would recommend taking the Airport Rail Link (ARL). It takes you to downtown Bangkok in 15 minutes and you can switch at the Makkasan or Phaya Thai stops to take the MRT or BTS (other trains), or a cab to where ever you need to go.
- Trains: There are three train lines in the city – the ARL, MRT and BTS. The ARL is as described above, and the other two are inner city lines that will take you within walking distance to majority of the in-city tourist attractions or to a river pier where you could take a boat to various other sites.
- Boats: There are a number of river boats and ferries that will take you up, down and across the Chao Phraya River, and they stop at various tourist destinations which makes it easy to get around when you’re on that side of the city. The boats are so well organized that you could easily just make a day of hoping on and off the Chao Phraya River Tourist Boat, for example.
- Buses: I can’t comment much on the buses in Bangkok because we didn’t take them, but there are a lot. If you choose to try one, research them first so you know where you’re going and avoid them during rush hour.
- Cabs: They’re pretty easy to find outside of rush hour and are affordable. Again, traffic can be terrible, so if you’re trying to get somewhere by a certain time, leave early or opt for a train, boat, or to walk.
- Bikes/Motorcycles: We didn’t use either, but there are places to rent them if you’re interested. Here’s an option to consider: BSR Bike Shop.
- Grab Taxis: This is basically the Uber of Thailand and is a great option if you can’t find a cab. Again, keep in mind that a train, boat, or walking is your best option if there’s a lot of traffic.
Where we stayed:
If you can, book your hotel or Airbnb near one of the train stations as the train system is great.
We used our Marriott points to stay at the Renaissance Bangkok Ratchaprasong Hotel and we loved it. The hotel is beautiful and is in a great location – very close to the Chit Lom BTS stop. The staff is super helpful, the lobby is huge, and the rooms and lounge have the standard Marriott look which can good or bad depending on what you like. I personally love boutique hotels, but I can’t deny the familiarity of a good Marriott.
One thing we didn’t realize until we got there was how close the hotel is to the epicenter of Bangkok’s public New Year’s Eve (NYE) festivities…
When figuring out what to do for NYE, we were warned not to stray far since the street in front of the hotel would be completely blocked off throughout the evening. But, we were pleasantly surprised to find that thanks to the huge driveway between the hotel and main street, most folks stayed away from the hotel. Even the festivities hosted by the hotel were closer to the street. It made it easy to wander in and out of the chaos.
What we saw:
There’s so much to see in Bangkok, but for our first trip we decided to check-off some of the tourist spots.
Note: If you’re planning to visit a temple or The Grand Palace, either wear pants and a top that covers your shoulders, or bring something to cover your shoulders and legs. But, if you happen to forget, you can buy some elephant harem pants or a sarong from one of the many street vendors outside of the venues. They’re all hoping you forgot as well.
- Wat Arun – Temple of Dawn
- Wat Po – The Reclining Buddha
- The Emerald Buddha
- The Grand Palace
- The Chao Phraya River via a hop-on-hop-off boat
- Train Night Market Ratchada
Of these places, the only one I was underwhelmed by was the Train Night Market. It was different than other night markets I’ve been to, so I would recommend going especially if you’ve never been to one. But it is incredibly crowded and touristy. That said, if you’re adventurous and are up for eating uncommon animal parts, e.g., spleens or roasted insects, there are some options there to try. It’s not my cup of tea, but people seemed to enjoy them!
I also wanted to check out Khao San Road, but we didn’t get time to go. Then I found out that it’s basically the Times Square of Bangkok so I was actually happy that we missed it.
Two other things we did that were a bit out of the norm were:
- A private photography tour by Tim Russell
- Roaming around on Thanon Rama I street on NYE
The focus of the photography tour is on street photography. So if you prefer natural landscapes or need to learn the basics of your camera, I wouldn’t recommend this tour. That said, it was a really cool excursion to see different parts of Bangkok that you would not otherwise see.
We took a tour of the the Khlong Thoey market, the biggest local food market in Bangkok and the Khlong Thoey “slum” – two areas that we would have never ventured into, and we loved it. Seeing slums might make people sad but it was actually really cool. It was so much cleaner than we expected and everyone there was so nice and welcoming.
Regarding our NYE, we wanted to avoid crowds and super loud areas, but found ourselves doing the opposite. The main street in front of our hotel “Thanon Rama I” was completely blocked off so we thought we would just roam around to see what was going on, and as we walked, all we saw were people doing the same thing as us, tourists and locals alike.
Now, of course, Bangkok has its own share of structured NYE festivities like any city, but I hadn’t imagined an outdoor crowd gathering like this for NYE this aside from the Times Square (TSQ) Ball Drop that I avoided like the plague. But there were two things that made this a good experience, 1) unlike the TSQ Ball Drop, you could actually leave to go to the bathroom (cringe), and 2) our hotel was not far from where we were so we could go back if we wanted.
At around 11:50 pm, the crowd gathered at the intersection of Thanon Rama I and Ratchadamri (near the four-headed Buddha) to ring in the New Year with fireworks. And the four of us, along with the seemingly millions of others, rung in the 2019 New Year together.
Where to eat:
K and I had been wanting to check out Gaggan ever since we watched his Chef’s Table episode on Netflix, but we didn’t book in advance, and I was pretty sure they wouldn’t allow a baby. So it was a complete surprise to hear that K’s assistant in Thailand was able to find us a cancelation, and Gaggan was happy to have us bring E!
There are mixed reviews about the place, but it seems that some of those poor reviews were from when Gaggan wasn’t in house. But he was there when we went and it was amazing! He even hosted a little party at the end of the night to celebrate the New Year, and the last guests dining were invited which meant that we were included too. We couldn’t stay for long because E was sleeping in her stroller so he had his waitstaff bring drinks for us instead!
Other places we went to are:
- Ban Khun Mae
- Cha Tru Mue
- Thip Samai
- Train Night Market Ratchada
- The food court in Terminal 21
- 1881 by Water Library
Of this list, the must tries are Thip Samai, the food court in Terminal 21 and the Thai iced coffee from ChaTrueMue. Quick tips for each of these places are:
- Thip Samai – An amazing pad thai place. Stand in the take away line if you can find somewhere else to eat. The dining in line was almost 2 hours long and the take away line was only 10 minutes! They also make a vegetarian version, but make sure to add the seasonings they give you (sugar, chilli, and lime) to get the right flavor.
- The food court in Terminal 21 – There are tons of amazing options that are all really cheap. And, if you put more money on your card than you spend (you purchase food at the different stalls via a single card), no worries, you can get the rest of it back.
- Cha Tru Mue – It’s a tea stall but the Thai iced coffee is great.
Generally, when it comes to dining in Thailand, for those of you who are meat eaters, try to avoid beef unless you really want it. It’s just not as popular as pork, chicken and seafood so the quality of it may not be great. And for those of you who are vegetarian, most restaurants are super flexible so you’ll be able to find, or have them make, vegetarian options for you.
We didn’t do any shopping in Bangkok but there’s so much of it! There are malls with local boutiques and others with the familiar chains, so there’s plenty of options to choose from. One boutique in particular that a friend told me about is called Hamburger Studio in Siam. I didn’t get a chance to go this trip, but it’s on my list for next time!
- Take bug spray with you because I got bitten up quite a bit. I’m not sure if they’re only around during particular seasons or not, but it’s best to be safe if you have the type of blood mosquitos love.
- We did everything we wanted to do even with E. I say that because it wasn’t just because of her that we wanted to avoid certain things like crowded areas. We just generally try to avoid big crowds.
Blog edited by: Betty Ho