Following our quick stopover in Egypt, we safely arrived in Thailand, the main destination of our trip! Bangkok, the capital and by far the biggest city in Thailand, was not really a must-see for me. But since we were jet-lagged (12 hours ahead of Montreal time) I didn’t want to head straight to another destination right after landing in Bangkok. So I booked us two nights here, and we made good use of it!
Day 1) We landed in Bangkok at 1:00 pm. After going through immigration, I took out the maximum 20,000 baht ($784 CAD) from an ATM, to avoid paying the 200 baht ($8 CAD – they really rip off tourists) fee more than necessary. We took a taxi to our hotel, the Aloft Sukhumvit 11. I booked this hotel using 4,000 SPG points per night. The hotel was very nice, and Sukhumvit was a fun area, although very touristy (it took some research to find a cheap restaurant). It was a short walk to the Nana BTS station, which was very useful for getting around without getting stuck in traffic.
After checking in we took a short nap, as we were pretty tired from our many long flights across the world. At around 6:00 pm we went out for a walk around the surrounding lively streets, and made our way to Suda for dinner. I chose Suda because it was the only cheap restaurant I could find in Sukhumvit with good reviews. Luckily it worked out well, since they had great food (and good vegetarian options for my fiancee) and a nice outdoor atmosphere, with long communal tables out on the street. We had a nice chat with a Danish man who lives in Greenland – every nationality is well-represented among the tourists here!
After dinner we walked around some more, including a short walk through Soi Cowboy, which will be the extent of our encounters with the Thai sex industry. The sex industry here is very contained – if you don’t go searching for it, you won’t notice it.
Day 2) Today was our one full day in Bangkok, so we set out on a short tour of Bangkok. We started with breakfast at Took Lae Dee at the Foodland on Soi 5, where we had the 69 baht ($2.71 CAD) American Breakfasts, which were huge, tasty, and a great value. While we like to eat the local cuisine for lunch and dinner, we like our comforting American breakfasts! From there we set out to the Grand Palace. The concierge at our hotel told us that it would be best to take a taxi there to get there as early as possible (before the tourists arrived), and take the ferry and train back. However every taxi driver we stopped either insisted on a fixed price (instead of using the meter) or refused to take us. So we gave up and took the BTS Skytrain to the Saphan Taksin station (40 baht each). From there we took the ferry to Tha Chang. The ferry ride was fun and cheap (40 baht), definitely more enjoyable than taking a taxi.
We walked from Tha Chang to the Grand Palace, and arrived at around 10:30 am, by which time it was already getting hot and very crowded. While standing under the hot sun in the long line (which actually moved very fast) to get the very expensive (500 baht each!!!) tickets, I considered giving up and saving some money by heading to one of the quieter temples instead. But I’m glad that I didn’t. The Grand Palace was very beautiful. So many colourful and shining temples with very interesting architecture. It was extremely busy, way more than I had expected – it felt like you couldn’t raise your arm without hitting a selfie stick! But in spite of the crowds, the heat, and the high cost, it’s still a must-do while in Bangkok.
From there we headed to Wat Pho. It’s not that far so I had planned to walk, but since we were tired from spending lots of time in the Grand Palace we decided to save our energy and take a tuk-tuk. Every tuk-tuk driver told us that Wat Pho was closed until 1:00 pm and told us to go to Wat Arun instead (so they can give you a big tour and charge you a lot). They were very convincing, but I had read lots of stories about getting scammed in Thailand and I was determined to survive unscathed. I insisted that we go to Wat Pho. Our driver asked for 100 baht, but he accepted my offer of 50. I’m sure I overpaid but I didn’t feel like negotiating over a dollar. So we were off on our first tuk-tuk ride! During the ride the driver kept insisting that Wat Pho was closed, but I ignored him. We arrived and sure enough, it was open. We were surprised to find that it was very empty – I guess all the tour groups that go to the Grand Palace don’t venture further than that? We had a fun time walking around Wat Pho and seeing the reclining Buddha. Well worth the 100 baht, even if it’s not nearly as awe-inspiring as the Grand Palace. For lunch we had snacks we brought with us as well as expensive but much-needed ice creams bought inside Wat Pho.
By this point we were getting tired, so we decided to skip all the other temples (we are going to Angkor Wat, after all) and took a Tuk Tuk (70 baht) to the Flower Market, where we took a nice short walk around the flowers and the adjacent food market. From there we got a taxi back to our hotel, since I figured that it would be quicker than taking the ferry and train and not much more expensive. I was very wrong – it took us almost an hour to get to the hotel thanks to Bangkok’s crazy traffic jams. Luckily the meter doesn’t move that fast, so it only cost 250 baht for the hour-long ride.
After the long journey back to the hotel we took a break in our room, before going to Central World at 6:00 pm for dinner and a little shopping. We took the BTS there, which was very cheap (22 baht), fast, and convenient. For dinner we went to Kalpapruek on the 7th floor, which was a great and reasonably priced meal at a nice restaurant. After dinner we shopped for a little, mostly at Uniqlo. Even though we didn’t buy much (Western prices), it’s a fun and huge mall to explore. There’s also tons of restaurants and fast-food places that look really good. A good place to go for a few hours at night (open till 10:00 pm).
Day 3: Today we decided to visit the Damnoen Saduak floating market. Most reviews of the market are pretty bad – the consensus is that it’s expensive, way too touristy, and that you’re guaranteed to get scammed. However, I did my research and went for it. I’m happy to report that if you do it right, you can have an amazing experience at this very unique place, even if it isn’t necessarily very authentic.
Step one is getting there. On our street there was a place offering tours for 600 baht/person including a longboat ride, but it arrived at the market late (9:30 am) and involved driving around Bangkok for 90 minutes picking people up from different hotels. So instead, we decided to hire a taxi for the morning. We got to our hotel lobby at 6:30 am, and the concierge offered to get a taxi for us. He said it would probably cost 1500 baht, but we asked him to negotiate. He negotiated a price of 1200 with the first taxi driver that came, which we were happy with. A pretty good deal for the 200km roundtrip and two hours of waiting for us there.
We got into the cab and told the driver to bring us directly to the market, “no boats” (since we had heard that they always take you to a private boat dock, where the owner will tell you that the only way to get to the market is via his 2000 baht boat ride). 90 minutes later, our driver predictably pulled into a private boat dock, and the guy tried to get us to take his expensive boat. We got out of the car and said “no boat” many times. We insisted our driver bring us directly to the market. Both the driver and the boatman gave up surprisingly fast – I made it loud and clear that I knew about their scam, and they weren’t going to fool me. So off we went to the market!
After getting a little lost and asking someone for directions, our driver brought us to the public pier (the main block of the market) and we agreed to come back in two hours. I find it funny that even though our driver didn’t know exactly where the market was and clearly hadn’t been there before, he knew exactly where the scammers were located! Do they have a directory of tourist scams they hand out to all cab drivers?
Anyways, we got to the water shortly after 8:00 am. It was beautiful! It’s a very peaceful and serene scene with all the boats out on the water, and very few tourists around. We were the only tourists walking along the side of the canal, and there were only a few tourists on boats in the water. Right away I was very happy that we had decided to visit. After walking along the side for a while, we went for a rowboat ride, which is a must-do. The costs was 600 baht for 40 minutes and they refused to negotiate. It was a very pleasant 40 minutes. The network of river/canals was much bigger than I had thought. There are lots of souvenir shops along the sides, only accessible by boats, that all the big longboat tours must stop at. By hiring a private rowboat, we just enjoyed the ride and only stopped when we saw something interesting. Another con is that the longboats are very noisy and polluting – they shouldn’t allow them in the market, as they disturb the scene for everybody. Luckily, we only passed a few. At one point we also passed dozens of boats that were still docked, so we’re happy we came before they created traffic jams. At the end of the tour we passed through a nearby village, where we saw a couple of iguanas sunbathing along the shore.
When we got back to the market our driver asked for a tip, so we gave her 50 baht as she was very nice and friendly. Also, at the start of the tour someone ran up to us and took our pictures while we were sitting in the boat. When we came back, they showed us plates with our photos in the middle! Probably the tackiest but also the most creative (and hilarious) way of selling souvenir photos, so we couldn’t resist! They wanted 400 baht for the two plates but accepted our offer of 300.
After getting off the boat we bought mango and sticky rice (a little overpriced at 50 baht, but how often do you buy food from a boat?), which was delicious – the mango was perfect. At this point the crowds started to quickly roll in. By 9:30 the water was a mob scene – there was so much traffic that the boats couldn’t move, and many noisy longboats. It was definitely a good idea to get a taxi and beat all the tour groups! On the plus side, the crowded river made for some good pictures, better than when there were fewer boats. So by being at the floating market from 8:15 to 10:15, we got the best of both worlds.
We walked back to our taxi for the drive back to Bangkok. The traffic wasn’t too bad so we got back by noon, meaning we were out for a total of 5.5 hours, 3.5 hours of driving and 2 hours at the market. For us it was well worth it. If you are prepared for the scams, there’s no reason not to do this trip on your own (as opposed to with a tour) – you get there earlier, you don’t have to drive around Bangkok to other hotels, and there’s no need for a tour guide or to know what you’re doing. All you need to do is get a taxi there, insist he takes you directly to the market, and walk around and hire a rowboat.
At this point we were pretty tired (still jet lagged) so we decided to take a short nap, which turned into a four hour nap since we slept through our alarm. So instead of having a calm lunch and possibly a swim at the hotel’s pool, we needed to get going to the airport to make our 7:50 pm flight. We had planned to eat at Dosa King, a vegetarian Indian restaurant with good reviews, but instead we got (expensive – about 160 baht/$6 CAD each) take-out from them. We got a taxi from our hotel a little after 5:00 pm, leaving us 110 minutes until the deadline to check our bags in. But when we left our hotel we were stuck in a crazy Bangkok traffic jam. It took a long time to get to the toll highway, and once we were on it we made very little progress. I was very worried that at this pace, we wouldn’t make our flight. Luckily, the traffic cleared and we made it to the airport at around 6:15, leaving plenty of time.
Our AirAsia flight was easy and early. AirAsia is great, they’re the perfect low cost airline. The only downside is that they have a very low carry-on allowance, so we had to check our bags. But the fees are very reasonable, especially for couples (since you pay by weight, and can check multiple bags under that weight total). We bought 25 kg, which is 428 baht ($17 CAD) for domestic flights (a little more for flights to Cambodia), or under $9 each.
Up next: The Angkor temples of Cambodia!