Jake and I visited Bangkok twice, and we sandwiched a visit to Chiang Mai between those visits. Bangkok is a sprawling city with so much to see and do. It has a little bit of everything: tasty street food and upscale restaurants, good coffee, a historic palace and temples, fancy high rises, malls, and flea markets. We used the BTS Skytrain and occasionally a taxi to visit the different neighborhoods. Jake and I also stayed in three separate hotels to maximize our exposure to this large city.
We stayed in the Silom area when we first arrived in Bangkok. Silom is a major financial district and the home of many shiny skyscrapers. We stayed right down the street from one of only two Hindu temples in Bangkok, and there were many good Indian and Persian restaurants in our vicinity. We also found some good (and spicy! so spicy!) Thai street food a block away.
Closer to the river, we stumbled upon Sathorn Unique Tower, a huge apartment high rise. Construction stopped during the 1997 Asian financial crisis when the building was only 80% complete. A nearly identical apartment building stands a little ways away; however, this one was completed and is fully occupied.
The 2- or 3-lane roads around Silom fill up with lots of cars during rush hour. There were many more cars here in Thailand than in Cambodia, and Cambodia had more cars than Vietnam. Some main streets in Silom have a mass of concrete overpasses that reminded me of the stretch of 101 near SFO Airport. To be fair though, some of these concrete overpasses are tracks for the BTS Skytrain.
Khao San Road
Khao San Road is the heart of Bangkok’s backpacker ghetto. Jake and I normally prefer to search out the less-travelled path and avoid areas like this. Occasionally though, we’ll visit them to remind ourselves why we travel the way we do. Almost every storefront along Khao San Road and a couple nearby ones are filled with hostels, massage parlors, and overpriced restaurants serving watered-down Thai food. At night, the restaurants turn into bars with live music. Although there were some good bands, the band that played across the street from our hotel was horribly out of tune. Around 8:38 PM every night, they played the same bad rendition of Green Day’s “Wake Me Up When September Ends”. Later in their set (they played the same set every evening), the band butchered Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence”. The group was so out of tune that we resorted to playing our own music in the hotel room to try to drown out the outside music.
However, it wasn’t all bad. We found a wonderful small cafe called Moka World. We tried several different coffees and dessert waffles, and it was all delicious. The cafe also doubles as gallery space for the owner. Her whimsical artwork covers the walls and shelves, and also illustrates the menu. We also found several spots serving tasty food. Many street vendors set up shop on the eastern end of Soi Ram Butri, and there we feasted on good and cheap smoothies, rice porridge, and pad thai. In the opposite direction, we found Hemlock, an upscale restaurant serving delicious traditional Thai dishes.
We stayed near the western end of the street, on Soi Sukhumvit 8 (alley #8, off of the main Sukhumvit road). This alley was quiet, yet close to good restaurants. As in Silom, we found some delicious Indian food, as well as some tourist-oriented yet tasty traditional Thai food.
Sukhumvit Road is long and varied. The BTS Skytrain has a line that runs above this street, so visiting any stops along this road is very convenient. Jake and I contemplated scuba certification in Thailand, and found a dive shop along Sukhumvit Road that sold prescription dive masks. Unfortunately, my eyes are horrendously nearsighted and the store didn’t stock any prescription lenses that were strong enough. On another day, we wandered into a large western mall called Terminal 21, where each floor is modeled after the streets in a different city or country. It was novel, but it was still just a mall, much like ones we have in the US. We also found a hipster-worthy (and Jake-approved) coffee shop called Doilanka Coffee.
Jim Thompson was an American who fell in love with Thailand. He collected many Thai art pieces that are now on display at his home in Bangkok. This house was constructed from five traditional wooden Thai houses that came from all over the country, and is now used as a museum to celebrate his life and accomplishments. Jim Thompson is credited with reviving and bringing global awareness to the Thai silk industry, and much of his personal taste is reflected in the patterns and colors seen today. He mysteriously disappeared in 1967 in the highlands of Malaysia, leaving behind the business and silk brand that still bears his name.
Jake and I visited the Jim Thompson Factory Outlet. He patiently followed me as I meticulously explored each of the four floors and agonized over purchasing fabric by the yard. I ultimately decided that I didn’t have a good project for any of the fabric I was eying, and therefore couldn’t justify buying and transporting it home.
Chatuchak Weekend Market sprawls over 35 acres and is filled with an incredibly diverse selection of goods. The market is divided into different sections selling home goods, clothes, art, freshly prepared food, dried goods and spices, handmade accessories, potted plants, pottery, and the ubiquitous touristy crap that’s peddled to backpackers. The shear size and range of goods was a bit overwhelming, and it took two visits to feel like we’d gotten a good understanding of the place (and even then, there are some small alleys that we never walked down).
We’d read online about Wangburapa, a mall that sells antique cameras. When we arrived, we found a building that would fit right in in Tokyo’s Akihabara District. Each floor of the mall was filled with small permanent shops. We found painted figurines for table-top gamers, large statues of Demon and Iron Man, Lego sets (primary Chinese knock-off versions), and bolts of fabric, including fabric used for cosplay costumes. On the top floor, we found many shops selling second-hand cameras. Although Jake could name most of the cameras being sold, we both lacked the expertise to judge quality. He didn’t end up buying anything, but we did enjoy window-shopping.
Rattanakosin is the historic center of Bangkok, and contains the royal palace and several iconic temples. Most of the sights in Rattanakosin can be reached from the water, so we traveled around via the Chao Praya Tourist Boat. Our first stop was Wat Arun, a beautiful Buddhist temple complex. The prang, or spires, of the temple are all white with detailed ceramic mosaics.
Our second stop was just across the river at Wat Pho. This temple is regarded as the oldest learning institution in Thailand. Diagrams regarding health and wellness of the human body are scattered throughout the temple grounds. Jake and I spent some time studying and trying to decipher acupuncture diagrams and locations of bodily abscesses. Wat Pho is also the location of a huge reclining Buddha statue.
We planned on visiting the royal palace next. However, the palace grounds close earlier than the temples, and we arrived after it closed. We resolved to visit another day, but Jake and I ran out of time (and steam) and never actually made it there.