I Made It
After 20 hours of travel from Denver through San Francisco & Beijing, I landed at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport late on a Saturday evening, converted 20 USD into Thai baht (the airport exchange rate isn’t the best so I didn’t convert much yet), and took a $6 cab ride to my Couchsurfing host’s apartment 30 minutes away. My host was out partying, but another guest who was staying there let me in and showed me the bed in which I was to sleep. I woke up in the next morning with a stranger (my host I hadn’t met yet) in my bed 😉
Water Taxi, Khao San Road, & Mysterious Lines
In the morning, I went out to explore with two fellow guests, a couple from Israel who had just finished their military service and were on a celebratory trip through South and Southeast Asia. We hopped on the SkyTrain (Bangkok’s light rail) and took it to the Saphan Taksin station on the Chao Phraya River. From there, we hopped on the cheapest river taxi option (orange flag, 14 baht) and took a ride North to the Tha Chang stop by the Grand Palace. The boat ride was beautiful – there were lots of pretty hotels and office buildings on each side of the river and tons of interesting barges – some of which interestingly had large tires all over their edges.
We stopped for lunch at one of the many restaurants along Na Phra Lan Road and I had a delicious pork dish. After that, we separated so I could go exchange money. I wandered into a hotel I passed and pretended to be waiting for a friend as I sat in the lobby, used their wifi, and charged my phone 😉 Then I walked over to Khao San Road, a long and colorful block of hostels, restaurants, and bars. I found a great exchange rate at a green Kasikorn Bank currency exchange booth – this brand is known as having one of the best rates (after Superrich which are harder to find) but each booth can vary significantly.
Next, I began to walk through the Royal Field to get to the Grand Palace when I found myself stuck between incredibly long lines of people wearing all black. I found my way out of the crowd after several minutes and eventually found a way to exit the field, ultimately feeling completely clueless about what was happening. I later found out that these were Thai people waiting in line to go to a special area in the Grand Palace to mourn the king who had passed away that year. Thai people mourn the death of their kings for a period of one year and this king was especially beloved so throughout my time in the country I passed many people robed in black or wearing black ribbons in honor of him.
Grand Palace & Wat Pho
I finally made it to the Grand Palace, where I paid my 500 baht (14 USD) admission, the single most expensive thing I bought on my entire trip. Worth it? Absolutely! The palace is easily the most beautiful human-made place I have ever visited. Wandering among dozens of ornate buildings, statues, and temples was a very magical time. While the main Grand Palace building is seemingly reserved for VIPs, Thai people, special events, etc., you are allowed to walk by and take a peek at this huge building as you exit the palace grounds. Note: this is the most touristy place in Thailand, which is arguably the most touristy country in Asia. SO MANY TOURISTS. So thankful the rest of my trip wasn’t like this.
I walked a few blocks south to Wat Pho, one of Bangkok’s other famous temples – passing a few monks along the way (not an uncommon sight in Thailand). A reasonable 100 baht entry fee got me entrance to this large complex of temples, gardens, and the famous Reclining Buddha who is gigantic, super chill, and totally my spirit Buddha. After some wonderful wandering, I exited and negotiated a tuk tuk driver down from 400 baht to 150 baht. Then ensued a thrilling ride through rush hour traffic – there was lots of weaving around stalled regular-size cars and maybe even a few squeals escaping my mouth. This 20 minute ride was one of the most fun things I experienced in Thailand and you can’t leave Thailand without taking one of your own! A tuk tuk is probably going to set you back more than a taxi, but as I did you should negotiate the price before getting in. My driver ended up giving himself a non-negotiable 50 baht tip for his (admittably impressive) driving skills which apparently can happen.
Emquartier Mall & Benjasiri Park
From there, I hopped on the SkyTrain and went back to the On Nut station where I had
began my day to meet a Couchsurfing acquaintance. We took the SkyTrain to the new Emquartier mall where we went directly to the food court. (Side note: malls are very exquisite and popular in Thailand and they are known to have pretty decent food.) This food court requires you to put money on a card which you then use to purchase from the various vendors. If you end up with excess money on the card, you can get it refunded after your meal. I had hainan chicken and mango & sticky rice, a popular dessert consisting of slices of mango paired with a very sweet rice.
After strolling through the mall’s beautiful rooftop garden and taking in the view, we walked South to Benjasiri Park, which was bustling with locals running, doing fencing, getting in some pull-ups, or simply sitting on benches people-watching. The park surrounds a large lake and there’s great views of skyscrapers in every direction.
I met up with another local friend and we took motorbike taxis (basically getting on the back of someone’s motorcycle and holding on) to the rail station to which we needed to go. It was my second time ever riding a motorcycle so a bit scary at fast but quite fun. We headed to the Silom area, a hot-spot of sinful and fun activity and home to Bangkok’s largest gay scene. We walked into a back alley gay red light district known as Duangthawee Plaza off Surawongse Road and found ourselves surrounded by men inviting us to come inside their businesses for massages, shows, and who knows what else. Research where you’d like to go ahead of time as I’ve heard some of the less-known places will misrepresent their prices and not allow you to leave until you pay an exorbiant fee.
Silom – Go-Go Show & Karaoke
We went to Classic Boys Club to see a go-go boy show – 300 baht admission got us into a wild and unforgettable 40 minute performance which included ladyboys expertly performing Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” an underwater show (a man doing somersaults in a giant water tank), an obligatory ode to Ginuwine’s “Pony,” and dancing men in trenchcoats who finished wearing a lot less than when they started.
We walked a block over to the main gay strip (Silom 4) and went to Telephone Bar, one of the most popular gay bars in the city. We went to the upper level to do some karaoke – for a one-drink minimum, you get free, unlimited karaoke shared with the other tables on the level. Basically you request the songs you’d like, the karaoke coordinator (what a job!) takes turns granting each table’s request, and when your song comes up you take the mics and perform for the small room (either standing or sitting at your table – it’s casual). Since I think alcohol is poison and only drink on the most special of special occasions, I had a banana shake. Yum!
From there, my friend and I took local buses to his place and called it a night. I was fascinated by his small bathroom which he described as being an old-fashioned Southeast Asian style – there was no separate stall for the shower. When you shower, the bathroom floor, toilet, sink, etc. get soaking wet! So definitely not my fave but it was a cool cultural difference to experience.
Click here to go on to my Bangkok Day 2 Blog as I head to the historic city of Ayutthaya and the tallest rooftop bar in the world.
Click here for a travel guide to Bangkok outlining cheap, free, and local-endorsed things to see, eat, and drink.