On our way south through Thailand, we knew we would end back up in its capital and largest city, Bangkok. You may recall that we already visited once in January, but we didn’t see all of the main sights, so we spent a few more days to discover more of what this immense metropolis has to offer.
We were coming from Ayuthaya, which is pretty close to Bangkok – only about an hour or so by bus. Since we had done many long distance buses in a row, we decided to switch things up and ride the train into town. We had no idea what this entailed beyond that there were trains every hour or so. We were shocked at how low the price was: 15 baht (50 cents) per person! But this made a little more sense when we discovered that this was not a luxury train but a basic train car with open windows and old electric fans. It was pretty crowded, so at first we weren’t able to sit next to each other, but as the stops went on the crowds thinned out and we were able to be together. In the end it dragged a little bit and probably took longer than the bus would have, but it did take us into the heart of downtown and to a MRT subway station that was convenient for getting to our accommodations.
Where We Stayed
If you search on the Internet for travel blogs about Bangkok, you are bound to stumble upon a good number that rave about their stay at the Lub d Hostel. We had read enough about it that we decided to see for ourselves if this slick, modern hostel was all it was cracked up to be. We booked a “railway twin” room at the Silom location. The design scheme of the entire hostel felt “industrial chic,” with plenty of metal railings and exposed ductwork. The shared bathroom was large and nice. There was a bar and common area down below. We were very excited that they had a washer AND dryer for use for a small fee. They also had a movie room – but strangely no DVDs that one could borrow, so it seemed somewhat pointless.
With all these amenities and all of the rave reviews, we were expecting to love the place. But, as we have discussed before, high expectations are hard to live up to. We felt the service, especially at check-in, was a little slow and impersonal (they kept us waiting for about 10 minutes while filling out unnecessary paperwork, made us bring up the receipt on our phone even though they clearly had it on the computer, and didn’t bother to tell us to remove our bags or that our rooms weren’t ready until we had been standing there, sweat dripping, waiting to head up the stairs with our bags for over 10 min). The place was so big that we never made a connection with anyone (although I guess we could have tried to party more down at the bar…). It seemed like a lot of other travelers really had a good time though, so maybe we just discovered that the large, slick hostel is not our scene. It was also very expensive. We got a deal somehow, booking through agoda.com. But, the room that we were splurging on by paying $25/night (for almost no room, bunk beds, and shared bathroom) was apparently really worth $37/night. WAY too much. Especially since Della’s parents booked a ginormous room at a place with included breakfast, a jacuzzi, and a pool for $50/night. Lesson learned.
What We Did
Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace – We had missed the city’s main attraction on our first stop in Bangkok so we made sure to visit this time. It was a visual spectacle, but also so crowded that we aren’t sure we’d recommend going out of your way to see it!
Getting there was a bit of an adventure. The grounds are located in an area that is not served by the Sky Train or metro system, so to use public transportation requires a bit more advanced planning. From the Silom district where we stayed, it seemed like one of the fastest and most interesting ways was to take the public boats that run up and down the Chao Phraya river. We lost a little bit of time by heading to a stop that is not currently operational (which begs the question of why stop 2 is still a numbered stop in the first place, but we digress). Once we got to the right stop, we got to see the intriguing loading of the boats for the first time. They try to move very quickly, so they zoom up to the docks, quickly tie a rope, and then back into place. You have to be speedy if you want to hop on or off!
We got off at the Tha Chang stop and headed with the crowds to the palace entrance. We paid our steep (500 baht = $15) entrance fee and headed into the first part, Wat Phra Kaew, a.k.a.the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. We first explored the colorful chedis, then braced ourselves and dove into the big crowds squeezing in to see the Emerald Buddha itself. The statue was pretty, but far away and a little small, so we didn’t linger.
We left the wat and then walked through the grounds of the palace. This was formerly the residence of the Thai royalty, and there are many fancy buildings that show a mix of Thai and Western architectural styles. Most are closed off to the public, but a few of the throne halls are open, so we wandered through them to see the splendor and take a brief respite from the heat.
We followed a tip from Wayne and Peggy, who had visited the previous day (they chose to come to Bangkok while we did Ayuthaya), and finished our visit at the slightly out of the way Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles, which allows free admission with a palace ticket. Our first intention was just to take advantage of the AC and uncrowded bathrooms, but we also checked out the exhibit on the Queen’s fashion and were fascinated. Apparently, before a world tour in the 1960, she helped revive some classic Thai styles and designed nine different outfit styles that are still used by the Thai women today. There was also an activity room that described silk fashions, and Della got a chance to try on a traditional outfit.
Wat Pho – Next door to the Palace is this major attraction in town, and one that we turned out to enjoy even more than the higher billed Palace. The highlight that you encounter when you first enter is a large, reclining Buddha. We took the prescribed route around, admiring the decorations on his feet. The rest of the grounds also proved peaceful and interesting to stroll through. Highlights were colorful royal chedis, monks leading schoolchildren in classes, and old educational inscriptions that helped serve the purpose of educating the populace on a variety of topics. The visit here was much calmer (and much cheaper) than the visit to the palace, so if you only have time for one, we think we’d recommend this one!
Saw a Movie – We had heard that the Thais love heading to a movie, so we thought we had to try and see a film while we were in the country. Each of the fancy malls has a nice theater, but we opted for a vintage experience and headed to the one-screen Scala theater. Luckily, it was showing a movie that we intended to see anyway: Insurgent, the second movie in the Divergent series. (Funny that both movies we have seen on the road are sequels in YA dystopian series). The inside of the theater felt old-school, with red velvet seats and ushers in yellow suits escorting us by flashlight to our assigned places. The screen and sound system were nice and modern however. One interesting experience unique to Thailand was that after the previews, they played the national anthem while showing a montage of clips of the king, throughout which the entire audience stood out of respect. The movie itself was good. It diverged (get it?) quite a bit from the novel, but in a way that made it have more action so it was pretty exciting.
Danced in Lumphini Park – We joined Bangkok residents in their nightly workout routine!
Where We Ate
The Silom neighborhood where we stayed is more of a business district than a tourist district, so our cheap restaurant and street food options were a little limited. The Lub d staff did point us to one alley, Silom Soi 20, where there were some stalls and a few restaurants set up. We ate here twice, both times choosing restaurants with indoor seating to get out of the heat.
After visiting the Palace and Wat Pho, we decided to check out the Khao San backpacker area in the Banglamphu area to see what we were missing out on. We hoped to be able to find a lot of cheap street food, but we were looking in the middle of the afternoon and didn’t see nearly the variety that we had hoped for. We ended up choosing a small sit-down restaurant that was open and had Della’s preferred dish, pad see ewe.
Before we saw the movie, we decided to visit a mall food court for lunch. We decided to branch out (the last time we had visited MBK’s two courts), so this time we went to “Food Republic,” the food court on the upper level of the Siam Central. It felt a little fancier than the cheaper court in MBK, but the prices were reasonable and the selection was pretty good. Della was able to get a pad thai and Eric had green curry with roti (Indian fried bread) instead of the standard rice.
We’re glad we had a few more days to see more of the sights in Bangkok. It’s a big city, so we still didn’t even see everything on our list! The heat and humidity made it hard to want to push to see lots of things, so we’d like to come back when it’s a little cooler. It was nice to be back in a big city and have easy use of public transportation as well. Bangkok’s a little frenzied and the climate isn’t the best, but we think we like it!