Our first stop for the second half of the trip was the capital of Thailand, Bangkok. We arrived on the evening of the 7th, and were leaving for Myanmar on the 10th, so we didn’t have much time in Bangkok. Therefore, we decided to not try and see everything we wanted to in Bangkok and instead take it easy and recover from jetlag. We know that we will be back through this Southeast Asia transport hub at least one more time.
Where We Stayed
Choosing a place to stay in such a large city is pretty overwhelming, especially when there are so many budget options. We saw good reviews for the U-Baan Guesthouse on hostelworld, and it sounded like it might be a little quieter than other places since it was in a non-tourist neighborhood. There was no double room available, but there was one with two twin beds, which is fine.
We ended up enjoying our time at the U-Baan, but didn’t really feel a connection to it. This was probably our fault though, because we never chose to hang out in the common area and interact with the other guests. The best part of the U-Baan is the owner, Joy: she was a great help with many of our needs while in Bangkok, most importantly coordinating with the airline to get our bags delivered the day after our flight.
What We Did
Since we had the limited amount of time in Bangkok, we chose to focus on activities that were easily reached via the Skytrain (the elevated rail system), since there was a stop near our accommodations. This meant foregoing visiting the Royal Palace and the biggest temples, but we definitely plan to see them the next time through.
Our first afternoon in town, we were still pretty tired so we just took a walk around the neighborhood surrounding the U-Baan. We walked through a small local market then headed up a big road with a vague plan to make it to the river. On the way, we saw a temple of to the side and ended up investigating. It turned out to be the Wat Phitchaya Yatikaram, a minor royal Buddhist temple. There was hardly anyone else there, so we just strolled through the grounds. We weren’t really sure of the rules for visiting yet, so we didn’t linger. This was enough for the moment so we just headed back to the guesthouse.
In the evening we rode the Skytrain downtown to check out the MBK Center, one of Bangkok’s giant malls. We thought the mall we saw on Istikal Caddesi in Istanbul was large, but this one blew it out of the water! It was seven stories tall, and each story covered a huge amount of ground. This is known more for discount options, so instead of big chain stores it is dominated by small booths selling discount clothes, electronics and other merchandise. We took a while walking a loop on each floor to get a glimpse of all that was for sale. We also visited to try out the food court, which had come recommended – see Where We Ate below.
The next day we hopped back on the Skytrain towards downtown, this time hopping off near Lumphini Park, Bangkok’s version of New York’s Central Park. We wandered through this shaded urban oasis and found a nice spot to relax and read our books for a while.
We then walked past more fancy malls and headed to the Jim Thompson House, the impressive complex of old Thai teak structures that an American expatriate put together to house his art collection. After his disappearance, it was turned into a museum. To see the interior of the main living quarters, we had to take a guided tour. The interior is quite impressive, with beautiful dark teak wood and Thompson’s art collection displayed throughout. After the guided tour we were able to wander through the other houses that made up the complex. Thompson made his fortune in the silk industry, so there were also some interesting displays on how the silk thread from the worm is turned into the fabric that is so highly prized in the garment industry.
The MBK Center was in the area, so we returned there for dinner, then headed home on the Skytrain. While in the Skytrain station, we got to see a pretty cool Thai tradition: at 6 PM, the national anthem is played over the loudspeakers. Everyone froze in place and stood at attention as the anthem played. As soon as the song was over, everyone un-froze and continued on with whatever they were doing.
Where We Ate
We were very excited about the food, since we both love Thai food and we had heard that it would be very cheap! We were not disappointed. 🙂
On our walk the first day, we saw a small food stand on the side of the road that seemed pretty popular with locals. We wanted to jump right into the food scene, so we grabbed a plastic seat and waited for the magic to happen. Unfortunately, the cook didn’t speak English, and our effort to gesture at what someone else had didn’t work. Luckily, a traffic cop saw this and came over and helped translate. We ended up getting a tom kha soup with meat and seafood in it. It was quite tasty, and only $2.55 (plus $0.45 for a Thai iced tea).
At the MBK Center, we were on the lookout for a food court where you could choose from a wide variety of international options for cheap. On the fifth floor, we saw the International Food Avenue and figured it must be it. We were given a plastic card loaded with a large value, and then you could go between different stalls and order what you wanted. They would then swipe your card for the appropriate amount. Della found a pad see eew (her favorite Thai dish) and Eric got a red curry with duck. The total with two beers worked out to be close to $20, so still cheap by American standards but not as cheap as we were expecting. Right after eating, we went up to the next floor and found a different food court that was almost half the cost, so we then realized we had ended up at the wrong place!
So, the next day, after visiting the Jim Thompson House, we returned to the MBK Center and ate dinner at the food court on the sixth floor. Here you also got a card to swipe at different stalls, but it was definitely less fancy but cheaper. Here Della got a fried noodle dish and Eric got a fried rice dish. The total with a beer was only $8.40, which was more in line with our cheap expectations!