Our flight from the UK to Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport had been an uneventful one. Our connection in Dubai had passed without hitch and an hour lost on the tarmac at Manchester was offset by a generous tailwind.
It was 3pm Thailand time and as we waited at the carousel to collect our cases, we allowed ourselves a moment; we had done it. The house, the cars, the jobs, indeed life as we knew it, was all now behind us.
We took the Airport rail link to Phaya Thai BTS station (40baht), but then decided due to the position of our hotel, the iCheck-Inn Silom, being 500 meters from the nearest station, that we would take a taxi the rest of the way, 5 minutes later we were hurtling through Bangkok with all our worldly good strapped to the back of a tuk-tuk.
iCheck-Inn Silom is set back from Silom Road, on Soi 28 a tiny little road that looks more like a private drive than an actual road. The hotel has a good sized reception with seating and free tea, coffee and hot chocolate for guests, and check in was swift and pleasant.
Our room was a good size for the £24 per night we had paid, was clean, had a comfortable bed, a good shower, and free toiletries. It was also equipped with an in room safe, but this did not work, and from time to time the bathroom suffered from sewage stench, but all considered not bad bang for the bucks.
As we had arrived on a Sunday we decided to head straight out to the Talad Rot Fai night market, as this is only open on weekends, and we were only in Bangkok 5 nights.
We really enjoyed the night market, despite the jet lag starting to take its toll we had a good poke around, sampled some of the street food, and grabbed a beer at one of the bars that encircles the market. I’m not sure how to best describe it, its an eclectic mix of souvenir stalls, and traditional Thai vendors all blended together. Somehow it works.
The next day we decided to explore Silom Road, our hotel was a good 10 minutes walk from the built up areas, and Patpong Market. There wasn’t much to see and do in the immediate area but it did have a “real Bangkok” feel to it. We found a good food court in the Silom Centre which was clearly popular with the locals, and had Tom Yung Goong, and crispy pork noodle soup. It was good, and cheap. Sorry I cant tell you what the vendor was called as there was no English translation of their name.
We headed back the same way that evening to check out Patpong night market (Thanon Patpong 1). The market sells predominantly tourist tat, copy bags, copy watches, t-shirts etc, at very much tourist prices, and is flanked on both sides by dodgy bars, and dodgier touts promoting ping pong shows and the like. As there appears to be no immediate way to determine which bars are “adult” and which aren’t we decided to get a beer from the next street down.
This is where slightly seedy becomes very seedy, and the veil of touristy tongue in cheek naughtiness becomes something much darker. Patpong 2 is a wide Soi dominated by Japanese restaurants, but come nightfall sushi isn’t the only thing for sale here. Regularly spaced down the road are metal barriers, with girls lined up behind them. As the “vendors” wave laminated price-lists at passer-bys its difficult not to make comparisons with the “goods” being hawked on the next street. I’m trying to be as sensitive as possible here, and non judgemental, but its difficult not to compare the feeling to being in a cattle market.
The next morning we walked from our hotel to the main ferry stop on the Chao Phraya River, and caught the Tourist ferry, this cost 40 baht, (you can catch the non-tourist ferry for 27 baht, which does the same thing, but if you turn up at the pier looking indecisive, you’ll end up on the tourist one). Our intention was to go to Wat Arun, unfortunately the temple was undergoing restoration work and was covered in scaffolding, so we opted to stay on the ferry and go to the Grand Palace, and Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Prakaew).
We’d heard about the tourist scams around the temple, and these had obviously reached endemic proportions as now the temple makes constant announcements warning tourists not to listen to anyone who approaches them in the vicinity.
This is our second attempt to access the temple, having being dissuaded by the heaving crowds on a previous visit to Bangkok, we hoped it would be better this time.
We were wrong.
The combination of heat, humidity, and thronging crowd was all too much, and within minutes we found ourselves back outside, promising ourselves that we will definitely come back when we are better acclimatised.
We decided to walk to Siam, so with a vague idea of our heading we set off, and 2 hours later after taking an accidental tour of the old town we were welcomed into the air-conditioned wonderland of the MBK centre, a huge shopping centre come indoor market that marks the beginning of Siam.
In the evening we braved the rain and caught the free tourist boat down the Chao Praya to Asiatique, a tourist mecca 5 minutes down river.
Asiatique is an old warehouse complex that has been transformed into a sprawling market area divided into indistinct districts, selling mainly touristy souvenirs, and numerous up-scale bars, and eateries. This would have been very much our kind of place, travellers budget not prevailing. After much justification we allowed ourselves a slight splurge and ate in one of the Japanese restaurants, Katcha Katcha. The venue was beautiful, and the service excellent, but the food was a little disappointing. That said we’re hardly experts on Japanese food, it may have been impeccably recreated, just not to our western palate.
The following day we visited Lumphini Park, a large area of greenery and lakes right in the heart of Bangkok. The well manicured park is home to numerous large monitor lizards, birds and the odd squirrel. Considering its vicinity to Silom Road we were amazed by how quiet it was, that said maybe the locals knew something we didn’t and soon we were darting for cover as the rain swept in.
Day 4 we made our travellers pilgrimage to Khao San Road. I’ve got to say I don’t really understand why this area is so popular with backpackers, as with the possible exception of Asiatique it’s the least authentic place in Bangkok. Khao San is a surprisingly short street of bars and restaurants, fast-food chains line up amongst stalls selling the usual, hats, t-shits, and elephant trousers. We found the road which runs parallel, Rambuttri, a much more pleasant place to be, that said its still not a place to spend time if you want to see the real Bangkok.
So that’s our second trip to Bangkok, and our first as fledgling travellers. I’m still not a massive fan, however I’m reluctant to pass judgement as I’ve read so many times that Bangkok is very much an acquired taste, and I’m sure we’ll be back this way soon. Despite my limited experience I do still have a couple of tips I’d like to share.
No.1 Choose accommodation close to a BTS station. It may only look like a 5 minute walk, but 5 minutes carrying a pack through the bustle, heat and humidity of Bangkok is no fun.
No.2 Sukhumvit Road is the place to be, ideally near the Asoke BTS/MRT interchange. Sukhumvit Road has a perfect mix of old, and new. It has bars, it has restaurants, it has food stalls, and it has an excellent food court in Terminal 21 shopping centre, and most importantly, it also has great transport links.
Next stop Koh Samui………….