After so much time lazing about on the beautiful beaches of Thailand, I was really ready for the excitement of a city. I flew from Phuket to Bangkok to meet up with my friend Ilene (who is taking a year off and is 8 months into her adventure) before we head to Myanmar. Our big to-do was to get our same-day visas for Myanmar. But we thankfully also had some time to explore the city.
I loved the vibrant energy of Bangkok! I’ve gathered from speaking to other foreigners that people either love or hate this city, so I wasn’t sure what kind of experience I’d have. Bangkok is obviously a big, crowded Asian city, and so I think the experience you have there depends a lot on when you go and where you stay. Going before it’s too hot is good. It was hot and damp (we got a few sprinkles), but honestly not as steamy as the islands or as bad as I had mentally prepared myself for. And being able to get around easily really helps. We stayed in a nice place on the river (thanks to Ilene using hotel points at the Hilton) so we were able to rely heavily on the river ferries and the skytrain to get around. Of course the sunset swims in the rooftop pool overlooking the river helped too.
Now the river is dirty – we saw plenty of dead fish and even a dead alligator-like creature floating about – but traveling by waterway adds a sense of adventure that no train, bus, or even tuk tuk can beat. And the Mae Nam Chao Phraya river cuts through a good portion of the city sites (including the old city) that we wanted to see. After so many warnings about the danger of traveling in the city right now, we avoided the areas where there were said to be political protests going on. The closest we got was seeing a large encampment out the skytrain window. But we were both glad we didn’t let the warnings stop us from seeing the city.
In the two-plus days we had in Bangkok, I felt like I got a decent sense of the city. We spent some time wandering around Chinatown, found a lively Sunday market, had a history lesson at the National Museum, climbed Wat Arun, had some great cocktails in a couple of trendy areas (thanks to some great suggestions from Ryan in Singapore), and had some good food. Of course we also spent a decent amount of time securing our visas and fresh U.S. dollars for Myanmar, but it really wasn’t much of a pain to get a same-day visa.
I really loved the street markets we wandered through – busy and a bit chaotic, navigating them takes a balance of patience and pushiness that takes a bit of practice. But before you know it, you’re bargaining with the best and slipping through the crowd with ease. And to me this experience is what makes Asia so much fun.