Bangkok was the first city we arrived at on our trip around Southeast Asia and we were immediately blown away by this chaotic, noisy and colorful metropolis. This city is fast-paced, gritty, high energy and when you are a first time visitor the Bangkok sights will constantly leave with you with eyes wide open, bewildered at the strange world you have found yourself in.
We were in no hurry to see all of the Bangkok sights during the time that we there because we knew that we would be back in the city a few times during our travels around Southeast Asia. We chose the easy option of staying near to Khao San Road and we spent a lot of time simply wandering through this city and taking in the many Bangkok sights and sounds. This is what we saw:
One of the first Bangkok sights you will observe is the crazy traffic. If you take a taxi from the airport it will weave past other cars, cut them off, speed up and slow down while passing tuk tuks, motorbikes and a truck with 12 guys sitting in the back of it. The quick little motorbikes seem to be the vehicle of choice for most Thai people and it is not uncommon to see an entire family of three crammed onto one bike, toddler and all! I could only wince and cover my eyes thinking “hold on tight, little guy!”
Tuks tuks are also everywhere on the roads of Bangkok and their drivers are relentless. You can’t walk anywhere in the city without a driver asking you if you need a ride, so get used to saying “no thank you” or simply ignoring them like the locals seem to do. We found that the prices quoted for tuk tuks were too high and that we were better off using the taxis which had meters. The driver will try to quote a rate for you but he will be trying to rip you off, so only get in if he agrees to use the meter.
Khao San Road
Khao San Road is the main backpacker area in Bangkok and it is an absolute zoo. Walking down the street, you will have to squeeze past tables selling cheap knock-off sunglasses and flip-flops, jump out of the way of a motorbike pushing through the crowd, and decline at least a dozen different offers for a “tuk-tuk” ride. Your senses will be overwhelmed by the smell of spicy meat barbecuing, the booming bass beats from the nightclubs and bars and the dozens of young tanned backpackers who look like they belong on a beach rather than in the middle of a city. If it all gets too overwhelming, you can sit down on one of the cushioned recliners along the side of the street and pay $3.00 to have your feet expertly massaged by a tiny Thai woman with surprisingly strong hands as you take in all the Bangkok sights.
Later in the evening, you will also be asked if you would like to see a Ping Pong show (if you don’t know what this is, you probably don’t want to know) and this offer will be accompanied by an onomatopoeic mouth-popping sound which always made me giggle.
At one point you will think that you are hallucinating because you will hear the distinct sound of a frog calling, as if you were deep in a swamp. Don’t worry, it’s actually a wooden toy that the traditionally-dressed hill tribe women will try to sell you. In fact, we discovered that everything is for sale on Khao San Road, even fake ID cards and drivers licenses! The sign in this photo, grammatical errors aside, totally sums up the attitude and the target audience of this 24/7 party street.
After the first few nights we decided to stay on the nearby Soi Rambuttri, which is a much more toned down version of Khao San located only a short walk away. It is a great place to avoid the hustle and bustle but it is still close enough to Khao San when you want to party.
Amazing Thai Food
This was the first meal that I ate in Thailand. Juicy noodles, fresh chicken, crunchy vegetables and those little red peppers which gave it a sweet and spicy kick. The street food in Bangkok is a huge part of the character of this city and it is AMAZING. Choosing where to eat can almost drive you crazy as there is so much choice and when you simply walk down the street your senses are overwhelmed with the spicy aromas emanating from sizzling woks.
I think that I have lost a few pounds without even trying just because the food here is so fresh and healthy! Coming from the USA where it is easy to eat way too much fattening food, it’s a relief to come to Southeast Asia where the most abundant and cheapest food is actually the healthiest. Instead of being tempted by hot dogs and cheeseburgers, our indulgences have become fresh slices of pineapple, mango and watermelon and fruit smoothies which are served at street stalls everywhere you look.
The Grand Palace and The Wat Pho – Two Amazing Bangkok Sights
The Grand Palace, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha are all located within the same area. These beautiful buildings were one of my favorite Bangkok sights. The bright sunlight glittering off the golden tiles and the amazing details of the sculptures and carvings is absolutely gorgeous and the temples are so peaceful and calming.
We took extra care to dress respectfully and cover our legs and shoulders at the temples after reading about the dress code for religious sites in Thailand. Although we saw others dressed in short shorts and low cut tops, I got the feeling that this wasn’t exactly appreciated and might have been seen as disrespectful.
The Cats of Bangkok
As you stroll through the streets enjoying the Bangkok sights you will notice that this city is absolutely crawling with little feline creatures. Some of these cats look content and well fed, but many of them are impossibly skinny cat caricatures who look like they are in it for themselves. We saw cats creeping along walls, sleeping on top of tables, dodging away from the wheels of tuk tuks and crawling into garbage bags looking for food. The cats of Thailand also have a genetic trait of stumpy little tails.
To see more adorable sights of Bangkok kitties, check out this post by Nomadic Samuel.
Shopping in Bangkok
When disaster struck and we discovered that our netbook screen had broken during the flight, we leaped into the chaotic fray of one of Bangkok’s biggest shopping centers, MBK, to make our way through the hundreds of stalls selling everything from faux designer wear to cheap electronics to find a new one. MBK is a little bit crazy but it is a great place to find cheap clothes and gadgets. (Remember that if you are a female size medium back home in the UK, Canada or USA you will be large or even extra-extra-large in Southeast Asia!)
We also strolled down Sukhimvit Road, which is definitely one of the must-see Bangkok sights. It is one of the longest roads in the world and is lined with shops and market stalls selling everything that you could possibly want and some things that you would probably never want.
We wandered into Terminal 21 thinking it was going to be an ordinary shopping center but we soon realized that this themed mall actually offers a chance to “travel the world” all within one building. Each level of this shopping center is themed after a different city such as Paris, Tokyo, London or Rome and has the decor and shops to match! The top level is “San Francisco” and even has its own Golden Gate Bridge. I was super excited to explore this mall and ride the escalator up to each floor to discover what city I was “traveling” to next! (Yes, I am a super dork…)
Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute
Before heading out to explore the rest of Southeast Asia we visited this Red Cross Hospital to get our travel vaccinations after we realized that doing so would be hundreds of dollars cheaper than getting them in Canada before we left. The shots were quick and easy and we even visited the snake farm which is behind the hospital! You can read more about our experience getting immunizations in Bangkok.
Only having a week in Bangkok barely seems enough to scratch the surface of this great city, so we can’t wait until the next time we get to come back. If you have been there before, let us know what Bangkok sights we should check out on our next visit.