The city I’ve been looking forward to visiting for years and years – Thailand’s capital city of Bangkok. A major world city, center of commerce, culture, transportation, and chaos.
Leaving Phuket on an evening bus, I made it across Southern Thailand to the town of Surat Thani. From there, I boarded the overnight train direct to Bangkok. Overnight trains are great if you can get a sleeper car, which I did. I had my own very comfortable bunk bed in a large shared car. After boarding, I made myself comfortable, and passed out in my train bed. The train traveled through the night, and the next morning I woke up rested and refreshed in Bangkok’s central train station. In my opinion, if a good quality bed can be had on an overnight train passage, it’s one of the best ways to travel. I generally tend to get a decent night’s sleep on the train, which takes care of that night’s sleeping accommodations, and I get to wake up in a new spot – both transportation and accommodation solved in one classy step – what could be better.
Arriving in Bangkok, I made my way from the train station over to the excellent Skytrain public transit system, and then onward to the Soi 1 Hostel in Bangkok’s Sukhumvit Neighborhood. Although I certainly could stay in hotels if I wanted, I love staying in hostels while traveling alone. They’re inexpensive, and provide a very social and fun atmosphere. Everyone is there to meet each other, and it’s a genearlly very social and fun environment.
Day two in Bangkok was a bit of touring the town. I started out taking a ride on one of the numerous water taxis that race up and down the canals and river penetrating deep into bangkok. Getting around a massive city by boat is really very relaxing, and everyone seems to have the loading and unloading figured out smoothly.
Bangkok’s Grand Palace and Reclining Buddha were next. Armed guards keep watch over the massive amounts of tourists who visit thi place every day. Also of note, since it’s such a big tourist attraction, the group of Tuk Tuk drivers, touts, and pickpockets is especially aggressive just outside the gates. Once inside the palace however, things slow down, and monks can be seen serenely walking around and praying.
Every major city has a Chinatown, and Bangkok is no exception. Although I only had an hour or two to walk around, I managed to experience chinatowns markets, shops, jewelry stores, food shops, and waterfront.
Evenings in Bangkok are as exciting as days. During my travels up through the south, I had met a few good friends, and had the opportunity to go out to two essential Bangkok experiences with my friend Peach. We hit up both the Skybar at the LeBua State Tower, and went to see a movie. Skybar was great – after working with Lebua on digital strategy for a while, and hearing lots about this bar, it was nice to finally see it in person. Although crowded and filled with a healthy portion of annoying tourists, the view was still spectacular, and drinks were decent. Best though was the company! :)
Peach and I also went to see the new movie “Ironman 3”. The movie was great, but even more remarkable was the Bangkok cinema experience. Thai people take going to the cinema seriously, and demand only the best cinema-going experience. First of all, before we even got to the theater, the ticketing process was great. The Siam Paragon Major Cineplex has a convenient iPhone app for booking, and unlike in most American cinemas, when tickets are bought, seats can also be chosen. That way, you can arrive at the theater at your leisure, and know exactly where you’ll be sitting. Very convenient, and avoids the long lines. At the theater, picking up tickets via scanning a QR code on my iPhone app was smooth and easy. However, once I picked up the tickets, I realized that I may have booked the wrong theater – I went to the front desk and explained to the cashier that I wanted to be sure to see the movie in the “Dolby Atmos” theater, and he knew exactly what I was talking about, and quickly switched out my tickets for the correct ones, no charge, no hassle. We saw Ironman 3 in a theater equipped with Doby’s new “Atmos” sound technology. Dolby Atmos pushes theater sound to the extreme, providing 64 discrete channels of audio. Bangkok is lucky to have one of the first Atmos-equipped theaters in the world, and Ironman 3 was one of the first movies to be mixed for it. Also notable at the theater, our seats were extremely comfortable and in the perfect position for the huge 3D projection – and the projection of the movie was just perfect. Overall, going to the movies in Bangkok was easily the best cinema experience I’ve had.
I was lucky enough to have a full weekend in Bangkok, and by far the most engaging weekend experiences was getting lost in the Chatuchak Weekend Market. The weekend market is just that – a market that operates only on the weekend. And it’s massive, and bursts out of the designated market area into the street next to the Skytrain stop. Vendors of every type have stalls in the massive sprawling market complex, and just about anything imaginable can be had, including food, clothing, homegoods, hardware, music, movies, electronics, textiles, and even massages. It’s huge, and great. The market is loosely organized into sections. Notably, in the clothing section, there’s a huge variety. I loved checking out the “Remake USA” section featuring stalls filled to the brim with used levis jeans and nike sneakers, western shirts, and belts. There’s also a large section of local independent designers stalls, staffed by 18-25 year old aspiring designers selling hand made tshirts, dresses, shirts, ties, and everything else. The kids working the stalls seem to love the opportunity to sell at the market, and each brings their unique character.
No trip to Bangkok is complete without at least a brief walk through one of Sukhumvit’s entertainment districts. Me and a few friends from the hostel took a fun walk through Soi Cowboy, one of the big streets in Bangkok to feature Go-Go Bars. A similar, but slightly different vibe than Phuket.
My next stop after Bangkok was Myanmar, and in order to go there I needed a visa. My application for a Burmese Visa at the embassy in Bangkok was relatively smooth and easy, and is where I met my good friend Taeko, whom I ended up hanging out with in Yangon.
Khaosan Road, Bangkok – certainly not a place I was particularly looking forward to, but a required visit, I felt. It was just as I had expected – out of the way, dirty, and full of tourists on the trashier side. There’s certainly a few cool places to explore in the Khaosan road area, but it’s definitely not my pick for good places to hang out in Bangkok.
And finally, my favorite shopping mall in Bangkok – Siam Center Mall – part of the massive Siam mall and entertainment complex in the heart of Bangkok. This mall features generally smaller stores and designers, and has a great design aesthetic throughout the entire space. As much as I liked the stores there, unfortunately I don’t fit into “asian cut” clothes very well – so my shopping was restricted to just browsing.
Overall, I had a great time in Bangkok. It’s a city I had been wanting to visit for years, and my first visit did not disappoint. Plus, I ended up making a couple of great friends during my time there. I’d love to go back sometime soon, either for work or vacation.
After a few days in Bangkok, and with a fresh Myanmar Visa stamped in my passport, I headed out for a quick trip to Kanchanaburi, and then on to the airport for my flight to Yangon, Myanmar, where I was going to be meeting up with friend’s Carla and Taeko.