Happy New Year everyone! After a few months of pause, I am finally back with a new post about Thailand, starting with Bangkok. As I’ll be traveling in Southeast Asia the whole month of February, I thought a post about Bangkok would be the perfect start into the new year. And since Bangkok will be my last stop in February, you can expect a sort of a revision of this post in March.
For many of us, Thailand is THE place to be during winter and honestly, I get it: delicious food, beautiful sights, crazy island hopping tours and amazing weather conditions – everything a traveler’s heart desires. I’m half Thai and I visit my family in Thailand every two to three years, so I like to start every trip with a few days in Bangkok to get used to the temperature and humidity. This post will cover all my favorite places in Bangkok – where to shop, where to eat, what to do and where to stay.
Wat Phra Kaew
“Wat” is the Thai word for temple. Wat Phra Kaew is located on the site where the King’s ancient royal palace is located. Tourists from all over the world come to visit this place and what it is famous for – the holy emerald Buddha. But before you visit these grounds, there are a few things I’d recommend for you to think about:
The choice of clothing is very important! You should choose jeans or a skirt that covers your legs to your ankles (no miniskirts or hot pants) and a shirt that covers your shoulders. In case you forget, there is always the possibility to “borrow” a cloth or skirt to wear as a second layer OR you can buy some appropriate clothes in one of the many shops outside of the palace. Also, try to wear shoes that you can put on and take off easily since you have to take them off before you enter a temple – and there are many of them on site J
Tickets: can be bought right outside of the palace next to the entry for about 500THB (around 12€). It’s one of the most “expensive” sights, but so worth the money. Wat Phra Kaew exhibits one of the most well-known objects in Thailand: the emerald Buddha. Thai citizens may enter the grounds for free, but to every half Thai with another citizenship than Thai I would recommend talking to the guards who will probably let you in for free too!
Proper behavior on the site: Please remember that Buddhas are very sacred objects in Buddhism, so you should never face your feet towards the Buddha as well as never point a finger at the statue. Of course, if tourists make mistakes it’s not taken too seriously, but nevertheless, I think it’s good to know certain rules and show respect towards the people, the royal family and their culture.
HOW TO GET THERE: The hostel I stayed at, recommended to us to go there by boat and this has been a wonderful way to explore a bit of Bangkok’s riverside – plus, not many people take the boat so there is a lot of space on the boat. Take the BTS sky train to Saphan Taksin and walk a few meters to the pier Sathorn Taksin under the bridge. From there, take a boat to pier Tha Tien which is located next to Wat Pho. Wat Phra Kaew is located just a few minutes walking distance from the pier and we also managed to get some breakfast at the market outside of the pier before heading to Wat Phra Keaw. The ticket costs 100THB per person, that’s around 3-4€. Then I also remember paying 20THB to a guy who walked up to our boat and collected the 20THB as a “landing fee” per person on our arrival. I found that a bit suspicious, although, in return you get a ticket that says “landing fee”. (Does anyone know more about this “landing fee” and if it’s legal? Please put your answer in the comment section below.)
This pier, by the way, will also be the one you’ll have to walk back to in order to take a boat to Wat Arun.
This temple is located right next to the royal palace and you’ve probably already heard of the “reclining Buddha” which is famous for its enormous length of 46 meters. There is a line of black bowls around the wall and it’s said that throwing a coin in each of them will bring you luck. You can buy a bowl full of coins on site.
Once you’ve visited Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Pho, the grounds of Wat Arun are located just within a 10min drive on the other side of the river. You can either take a Tuk Tuk to the dock or just walk there. A boat (3THB) will take you to the other side where you can get off right in front of the entry (50THB). The architecture is very different to the ones of Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Arun – no gold leaf-covered walls and buddhas, but it offers a spectacular view of the surroundings of the city.
When the sun sets, the street Thanon Sukhumvit (I highly recommend staying in this area) turns into a night market that goes along both sidewalks from Nana and Asoke to Siam Center. The prices of the goods are super cheap. You can, of course, find some markets during the day, but since it’s super hot vendors only start setting up their stalls at the beginning of sunset. Most of the time when I’m in Thailand, I don’t shop in luxury malls but on night markets and in shopping centers with local vendors. Here are my favorite places for shopping in Bangkok:
Since we don’t have Sephora in Austria, I like to take a quick shopping tour in the Siam Center which has a Sephora on the ground floor. Right next-door is a more luxurious version of the Siam Center with brands like Prada and Hermès. Both shopping centers are very modern and host only international brands such as Zara, Forever 21 etc.
Thais love shopping in the MBK Center and the Platinum Fashion Mall, my favorite amongst all malls in Bangkok. It’s like a market but only indoors. The prices are very low and I usually go there more than once during my stay in Bangkok. The Platinum Fashion Mall has an amazing food court on the upper floor – my favorite by the way – and the prices are very similar to those on the street markets and in very basic restaurants.
When you’re on a stroll down Thanon Sukhumvit, you’ll definitely pass by a market either during the day or for sure during the night. But my favorite is and always will be: Talad Rod Fai Srinakarin.
It’s a fashion and Vintage night market located outside of the city center and very popular amongst Thais (I barely saw any tourists). And because it has started to gain so much popularity, there are now two of them. The other one, Rod Fai Market Rachada, is located in the city center, but much smaller than Talad Rod Fai Srinakarin on Ratchadaphisek Road. I loved this market so much and I had the best Pad Thai ever at one of the food stalls, so I will definitely go there again during my trip in February! This market is open from Thursday to Sunday 5pm-1am. Although only half the shops are open on Thursdays, that’s already enough to cover in one night.
Speaking of shopping, Thai vendors love charging foreigners, the so-called “farangs”, a higher price for their goods. So what I like to do is to have a look at all the stalls and then return to the one with the best price and try to haggle over prices. Most of the time I talk to them in Thai and they immediately give me Thai prices. Once, my boyfriend asked for a price of something and would have paid 3000THB, but when I then asked in Thai they only wanted 600THB. In Thailand wages are much lower compared to the Western world, so they know they can charge foreigners and those who can afford to travel.
Where to eat
I love eating at food stalls on local night markets. The food you get in touristy restaurants is way too overcharged and food stalls offer the same dishes for only a third of restaurant prices. I always like to have a look around if there are many people at the stall which is already a good sign that the food is good and local people like eating there.
During the day though, when it’s super hot and I do some shopping in some malls, I like to head to Platinum Mall and get some delicious food on the air-conditioned upper floor for a very reasonable price. When entering the food court, you charge a card with any amount of money you think you’ll spend on your lunch/dinner and then you pay with that card at each stall (don’t worry, you’ll get the rest of the money back). You have so many choices of freshly cooked Thai food and even some regional specialties from Thailand. Some of you may not want to eat food from street stalls so this food court has, in my opinion, better hygiene standards than those vendors on the streets (but nevertheless I buy food from street vendors most of the time anyways).
At least once on each of my trips, I try to eat at a restaurant chain called “Shabushi”. I would describe this restaurant as a fusion between hot pot and running sushi. I swear it’s one of the best things I have ever had in Thailand. You pay around 375THB (10€) per person – all you can eat – and everyone will have a proper pot where the soup goes in (there are bigger pots for groups). You can choose between three types of soups: Chicken, Tom Yum and a third one that I can’t remember J Anyways, once the soup has been served, you also get a super delicious dipping sauce and an empty bowl on the side. The pot is placed on a stovetop and you put the raw ingredients from the conveyer belt into the soup and let it cook. Then you place the cooked noodles, vegetables, meatballs, seafood, etc. into the bowl and toss a bit of that sauce you got at the beginning over the food et voilà! There is also a Sushi, Maki and an ice cream buffet in case you crave something else.
Where to stay
Personally, I don’t like staying in touristy areas such as Kao San Road. They do offer rooms for very little money, but in my opinion these areas are way too commercialized and I therefore highly recommend staying in the area of Sukhumvit, around the BTS stations of Nana and Asoke.
When I stay in Bangkok, I always try to find an accommodation next to those BTS stations. During my stay, I almost never take the BTS (skytrain) except for coming from and going to the airport. Every mall is easily accessible on foot. On my last visit, I stayed at the hotel D Varee Xpress Makkasan next to the BTS station Makkasan and I really regretted this decision. Since I’m used to staying near Thanon (street) Sukhumvit with so many restaurant and shopping possibilities, the location next to BTS Makkasan was very disappointing – no shops, no restaurants, no street markets.
A few hotels I can recommend in the area of Nana and Asoke BTS stations:
A few years ago, I stayed at the Ambassador Hotel Bangkok (Sukhumvit Soi 11) with my family, which is in the upper price range. All new rooms in the tower offer an amazing view. However, I am not a huge fan of their breakfast (I am almost never happy with breakfasts in Asia because they don’t live up to my European standards of black bread, good cheese and a nice spread). Most of the time noodles, fried rice and sausages are being served at hotels – very Asian oriented. Instead, I always buy real Thai breakfast from local vendors outside: grilled chicken and sticky rice so yummy!
Last time, I stayed at the CheQuinn Hostel at Sukhumvit Soi 4. It offers double rooms at a very reasonable price (around 26€ for a standard double room and 30€ with a balcony). Double rooms are located in the upper floors so you won’t hear much noise coming from the ground floor. The staff is super friendly and the room’s set up is basic, but very clean.
Another hotel I’ve already stayed at twice and which I highly recommend is Sacha’s Uno Hotel (Sukhumvit Soi 19). I absolutely love the Deluxe Rooms. I stayed in a Budget Room once, which doesn’t come with any windows and therefore doesn’t provide any daylight – I personally didn’t like that. But the Deluxe Rooms are really nice and very clean. Plus, there is a massage salon called Senses Massage Therapy right opposite of the hotel and you have to try one of the massages! After an aroma-oil massage there is the possibility to take a shower and they also prepare a very good jasmine tea for when you come back downstairs after the Massage. For a Thai Massage you’ll be provided with proper garments. It’s an amazing location and quality at a very good price!