Monday, 5 May 2014

Thailand post #1: Bangkok

My girlfriend Emily and I recently spent eight weeks travelling around Thailand. Over the course of this month, I'll be writing a series of posts about our experiences in this beautiful country.

We flew in to Bangkok via Dubai with Emirates on the 27th February. This was my first ever long haul flight and I definitely wasn't prepared for the lack of sleep and discomfort in cattle class! On arrival, after a lengthy queue at immigration, we got a taxi straight to Khao San Road, which is the main backpacker and tourist area of this bustling city. We arrived carrying only small hand luggage and immediately had to start buying essentials from the market stalls, as the airline lost our bags somewhere during the stopover in Dubai. Without boring you with the details, we eventually got our bags back five days later and had an all round terrible customer experience with this airline. I should mention that we got a small amount of compensation from Emirates, after pursuing this.

Oh so delicious aeroplane food, on my first long haul flight

We checked in at Rikka Inn on Khao San Road, which we had booked in advance, to ensure we had a decent hotel to stay in when we arrived. This was a lovely hotel for our first few nights in Thailand, with clean, air conditioned rooms and a lovely rooftop pool. The staff here were really lovely and helpful. Whilst adjusting to the heat and time difference, we went for a wander around the area on our first night and bought our first Thai dinner from a street vendor: a big helping of Pad Thai. This is one of the main meals on offer everywhere we went in Thailand, however we found that Thai people rarely eat this, it's just something that was created for tourists and is seen as a traditional Thai dish by foreigners. We also relaxed whilst having a traditional Thai foot massage, which was lovely after the two long flights from the UK!

Foot massage on Khao San Road. Evidently Em's masseuse didn't like the smell of her feet!

Khao San Road is very busy and very touristy, with vast amounts of horribly tack knock-off goods and loud music pumping from various dodgy looking bars and restaurants. We quickly discovered that one street over lies Rambuttri Street, which is still very lively, but much cleaner and more interesting. Here we found lots of great places to eat and drink, along with plenty of great evening entertainment. I'd definitely recommend checking-in to one of the many guest houses on this road if visiting Bangkok, as they're well located, but cheap and quiet late at night, as we found when we stayed on this street later in our trip. 

During our few days in Bangkok, while we were waiting for our bags from the airline, in order to be able to move on to Chiang Mai in the north of the country, we visited several tourist and cultural attractions. A useful tip to know if you are visiting Bangkok, is that the tuk-tuk drivers get free gasoline from the government, if they take you to the Tourism Authority of Thailand [TAT] office. Although this office only gives advice and you don't need to buy anything, all tuk-tuk drivers are hell-bent on taking you on a tour of the area, whilst trying to trick you into visiting the TAT office. They'll offer you an insanely cheap price for an hours tour, but you must stop at this office. We were adamant that we did not want to stop at this office, and still managed to negotiate a reasonable fee.

Our first tuk-tuk ride

We visited the 'Giant Buddha', which is very large indeed, set in a bustling wat [temple] in the centre of Bangkok. We also visited a few of the other impressive wats in the locality, all of which were beautiful and gave us our first glimpse of Buddhist culture. 

One of the many beautiful wats we visited in Bangkok

Giant foot of the Giant Buddha!

We spent a long time exploring The Grand Palace, which is the official residence of the beloved King and Queen of Thailand. In the grounds of The Grand Palace lies the Queen's fabric museum, displaying many items of clothing she made herself. Emily loved it and I found it surprisingly quite interesting! Modesty must be observed in Thailand in general, and moreso in Buddhist wats. Girls must cover their shoulders and chest, so Emily carried a sarong around with her for our whole trip, in case of any unplanned wat trips! The Grand Palace rules are stricter, refusing entry unless both males and females have their shoulders properly covered with an item of clothing - a sarong or shawl is not enough. Knees must also be covered. So Emily and I wore rather a strange selection of clothing whilst in The Grand Palace, with the clothing we had with us!

 The Grand Palace. We took so many photos, but none of them 
show quite how impressive it is in size and beauty.

Walking up the 400 steps to the top of the Golden Mount [Wat Saket]

Emily at the top of the Golden Mount [Wat Saket]

On our last day in Thailand, we planned our time so that we could buy gifts for friends and souvenirs for ourselves in Bangkok, before flying home late at night. Although we got everything we wanted, I'd definitely recommend buying as much as you can as you travel around the country, even if you have to post items home. The postal costs are pretty reasonable and there are definitely much nicer places to buy nice things than Bangkok. 

We also allowed ourselves some time for one last cultural trip before our flight home. We climbed the 400 steps to the top of the Golden Mount [Wat Saket], which is an impressive Buddhist temple, which overlooks the whole city from the top. The views were very impressive and it was a lovely way to end an incredible eight weeks in this incredible country. 

On this final day, we also visited Shoshana: an amazing falafel restaurant that we read about in the Lonely Planet travel guide. We ate here all three times we visited Bangkok and can't rate it highly enough. Super tasty, super simple and super cheap falafel. Food of [vegetarian] winners! 

The Lonely Planet travel guide was incredibly useful during our trip, giving us excellent and comprehensive information about what to see, where to stay and where to eat. I'd highly recommend Lonely Planet travel guides and wouldn't buy another brand after finding these so great. 

The World's best falafel!

I'll be posting my next Thailand blog post in a few days, about Chiang Mai; Thailand's 'second city' in the North of Thailand.


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