3 Pieces of a Perfect Bangkok Experience

I'm asked from time to time for advice on how to do Bangkok (twice this week!). Well, how to travel Thailand in general, but since the city is an urban mess of 6 million people, intimidating traffic and an unwieldy language, Bangkok is really what needs the most advice.

Plus Bangkok has my heart, it really does. It's massive and sprawling and filled with life. It's fragrant in every good and nasty way your nose can handle. There is extreme luxury and devastating poverty, as well as a red lit underbelly that can make your stomach turn. The real name of Bangkok isn't even Bangkok, that's just the name of one neighborhood that's a whole lot easier than the full name:

The city of angels, the great city, the residence of the Emerald Buddha, the impregnable city (of Ayutthaya) of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarn

Even if Ayutthaya and Vishnukarn mean nothing to you, the fact remains: Bangkok is a great city, the city of angels, a grand capital, abounding in wealth, happiness, like a heavenly abode.
I heart it.

But sadly, if you just show up in Bangkok and wander around, you'll probably not like it very much (because you know, traffic, poverty, scammers, etc.)

So here are my favorite things to recommend to people:

1. Wats (Buddhist temples): You can't leave Bangkok without seeing GOLD. There are more wats in Bangkok than Mormon chapels in Utah, and they are a whole lot more gilded with gold and spectacle. If you wander around long enough, you'll probably just bump into one, but I highly recommend going to at least one of the big ones:

-The Grand Palace (Wat Prakaew/Temple of the Emerald Buddha). The first time I went, I was literally brought to my knees at the grandeur of the jade Buddha (and the mountain of gold upon which he sits).
-Wat Po (Reclining Buddha). The biggest Buddha in town.
-Wat Arun. The wat you can climb for a view of the river.
-Wat Saket (Golden Mountain). The wat you can climb in circles for a different view.

This link has all these, plus others, and a handy map marking them all: http://www.bangkok.com/magazine/10-temples.htm

2. Markets/shopping: My preference is for dinky neighborhood markets selling the seconds from the Abercrombie and Hollister factories nearby (among other things), or markets on college campuses (They seemed to always have the coolest clothes) but they are a little hard to find unless you're really wandering. Markets are most active in the afternoon and evening, but there are ones open earlier too. The further you get out tourist-town (Kao San/Sukhumvit/Patpong) the cooler stuff you'll find
Chatujak Market is a massive market sort of on the outskirts of town. It's only open on the weekend, and the morning is actually better.

-The Lumphini Night Bazaar used to be my favorite to recommend, due to its proximity to my favorite park, Suan Lumphini, but it's gone now, and most of the vendors have moved over to Asiatique, which is cool, but obviously built by a developer. It's right on the river, there's a ferris wheel, shops, and food, so you can't really go wrong, but sadly it feels almost like it could be a southern California outdoor mall.

A lot of markets are conveniently located at subway/skytrain stops, my favorite being Victory Monument. It's massive, with indoor and outdoor shops and food all around a giant roundabout. This is also where you can catch a van/minibus to outside of Bangkok if you are persistent enough to figure it out. The market at On Nut station is smaller but still great.

Beyond these, walking up Sukhumvit, between 3 and about 30, there are tons of shops, and Kao San Road, of course, where all the backpackers congregate.

I actually haven't actually been to most of the markets in this link, but they look rad and I will go next time I'm in BKK: http://bk.asia-city.com/shopping/article/bangkok-night-markets

3. Touristy things you pay for:
Ancient City is not very easily accessible, but there are usually people advertising tours there anywhere there are hotels. It's cheaper still to take the Skytrain to Bang Na and then a taxi from there. It is my number one favorite thing to recommend if people can't spend too much time outside the city or beaches. Basically it's a 300+ acre park with full scale recreations of famous places around Thailand. You can bike around or rent a golf cart, climb all over everything. It's a blast.

Other things I've done and enjoyed:
-Thai cooking class. There are lots offered, I've never heard a bad review. Thai food is the best.
-Thai Massage. Hard to go 50 feet without running into a massage place. Not all are created equal, sadly. I have gotten a lot of really crappy massages and haven't been able to figure out how best to identify which ones are legit. Something about the way they posture, like the most casual they are, the worse the massage is. I took a week-long Thai massage class that was awesome.
-Muay Thai fight. Okay I've never actually been but it does look awesome, and I will one of these days
-Cultural performance. I've been to a few and they are usually really pretty cool. Thai music and dance is something else and these are a good way to experience it.
-River Cruise. I've done just one and it was very cheesy, but at night is quite a magical view from the Chao Praya river

Beyond these, I must advise everyone going to Thailand to prepare to EAT STREET FOOD. Don't be nervous. It's amazing and clean and the very best thing about the country. [Some recommendations of what to ask for: https://theculturetrip.com/asia/thailand/articles/14-mouth-watering-thai-street-foods-you-ll-love/]

Remaining tips:

Where to stay? 
This one's totally based on preference. I usually stay in the Sukhumvit area (between streets 10 and 25 or so) because I know it best and it's super central and easy to get on public transportation to anywhere else. Most backpackers stay near Kao San Road, which is across the river. I've been over there and it's just fine. If you're going for posh, there are some luxury places on the river. A little less convenient to get to, but plenty posh to make up for it. The good and bad of Bangkok is that everything awesome is all spread out, so no hotel is close to everything. 

Getting around
I usually take a taxi from the airport to your hotel at first, it's just easier. They'll ask if you want to go surface streets or take the toll way (tang duan) and it's worth the toll for the speed. There is a public transportation option, but I don't know much about it. I'm always tired and disoriented when I land. 

After that, the skytrain (BTS) and subway (MRT) are super easy and go most places. It's pretty cheap and all stops are posted and announced in English. (Guide here: https://www.off-the-path.com/en/getting-around-bangkok-a-transportation-guide/)

For short trips, or getting from the Skytrain down a long road, I recommend trying out motorcycle taxis (Guide here: http://www.iamwannee.com/a-guide-to-bangkok-motorcycle-taxis/). Generally stay away from tuk tuks. They are loud, expensive, and seems like most of the time are trying to rip you off. 

If you're feeling adventurous, I love taking the canal boats (Klongs). They are crowded and confusing and the water is actually pretty gross, but there is something seriously wonderful. And they can be waaaay faster than other modes of transportation. No traffic jams! (Basic guide here: http://www.bangkok.com/attraction-waterway/)

Just outside Bangkok
There aren't really any good beaches. Pattaya isn't so far but it's gross. Hua Hin is where people I know have gone. If you want really amazing beaches, you've got to go all the way down south, more than a day trip from Bangkok.

Other quick trips I recommend are:
  1.  Kanchanaburi and the Bridge Over the River Kwai. There are some cool waterfalls 
  2. Ayuttaya. It's got cool ruins
  3. Lopburi. Lots of monkeys

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