We only had a few days in Bangkok before our tour started so we fit quite a bit into our time. I'll list it out per day so you can get a sense of what you can see. Also, I LOVE photography - I bring my DSLR everywhere with me, I'll write another blog post about it at some point. It's big and heavy, but I can't go without it. So walking around these places isn't just walking around, it's me with a camera too. If you are this way, or travel with someone who is, you know this can add A LOT of time to a visit. So without this obsession, you could probably fit in a little more.
First of all though, we were there in December and it was hot and humid. I am a Wisconsin girl, and believe it or not, we live in the 90% humidity range for much of the year. It is January and 67% humidity as I type...that is basically insanely dry here. So I'm used to humidity. But I will share a little secret with you, I was basically dripping sweat the entire time. My loose fitting long skirt and tank top were unhelpful. It was just hot. All the time. So get up early, avoid being out in the open at a tourist spot at 2 in the afternoon. Just do it.
Tip from the Sidekick: The extremely helpful people that want to offer you directions or lists of places to go...they want to sell you a tour. I don't know that these are bad, but that's what they're trying to do. We sat in conversation with at least 2 people for maybe 20 minutes each prior to them trying to sell us their tour. No one was threatening, they are just trying to make a living. They will be persistent, so if you are uninterested, be polite, but say so and feel OK walking away.
Chao Phraya River Taxi:
You must try the river taxi! This was a new mode of transport for me, but it ended up being super convenient. It's really crowded and a little confusing and terribly fun to try it out. Oh, and did I mention it's cheap and a great way to see the city? Stop at different piers to check out how vastly different they are. You can find little river taxi maps around, or figure it out ahead of time. THIS site explains all of the different types of boats (there are local boats, tourist boats, hotel boats, etc. - we used the local boats). THIS site talks about each pier and the major tourist sites surrounding them. We did not stop at each pier, but if we had had more time, I would have loved to!
(Below: That is Wat Arun in the background)
Tips from the Sidekick: The boat was crowded and loud, so it was hard to hear what stop was next - as in - pay attention to where you are or you might miss your stop.
Wat Pho - Temple of the Reclining Buddha (Pier N7):
FYI, "wat" means "temple". Our first temple of the trip! My bachelors degree is in fine arts, and I work professionally as an interior design and architecture consultant. After college I spent 3 months backpacking Europe, mostly getting to architecture and art that I studied in school. The gold leaf covered Reclining Buddha was among my long list of must sees in the world. It is huge, an impressive 150 ft long (46 meters) - much larger than you can imagine based on the photos! And the interior space is adorned with painted stories. While this is a highlight, Wat Pho is a large complex and worth spending some time walking around.
Wat Pho was the first public university in Thailand, and apparently, today they offer fantastic Thai massages, however, we didn't stop to get one.
The Reclining Buddha is also known for it's amazingly carved feet - of course they were being restored and covered when we were there.
I also needed some food after visiting Wat Pho, check out the post Eating Gluten Free in...Bangkok to see where I ate.
Wat Arun (Pier N8 - Tha Tien):
Although this temple is not in such a large complex, it is a stunning must see, and one you can see a little more quickly than some of the others. We got there a little too late, when the sun was pretty intense, you might consider seeing it early in the morning or closer to sunset.
Grand Palace (Pier N9 - Tha Chang):
A definite must, but, you must where long pants and covered shoulders - no questions asked! They will not let you in and you will have to rent clothing. I tried a tank top with a wrap to cover my shoulders. I had the wrap yanked off of me after waiting in line and was told to go rent a shirt. So if you want to avoid the sometimes very long clothing rental lines, (I do believe they are cleaned, just, you know, rented clothes) just bring a t-shirt or long sleeve shirt. In most other places a shawl and clothing past your knees is fine.
Beyond that, this place is gorgeous beyond belief. Each building and surface has incredible detail, so my camera and I went wild. The pictures look serene, but that's because I was hiding the hordes of people! I would highly recommend getting here early in the day to give yourself time. The lines get long and you want to give yourself enough time to walk around.
After 2 days of exploring on our own, we got a tour! A good friend of mine in Milwaukee is from Bangkok, and her whole family still lives there. One of her cousins kindly agreed to give us a tour of the city, based on some suggestions from my friend. He told us to take the sky train to meet him for our first stop.
Sky Train (BKS):
Our guide for the day told us to exit at the Si lom station and head towards the Sala Daeng exit, where we met him and headed to Lumphini Park. The trains are new, we were told, and very well organized, very clean, and very easy to use. They were one of the nicest trains I have been on. But they don't get you everywhere yet. Oh, and, be on the lookout for monk seating - it's akin to - keep these seats open for pregnant women - but you know, for monks.
We probably wouldn't have thought of stopping here, but I'm glad we did! This is a 143 acre beautiful park that we spent about an hour walking through. Think Central Park in NY, but about about 1/8 the size and tropical. We were there early on a Saturday and it was quite busy, couples taking strolls, people jogging or exercising on this really amazing outdoor exercise equipment which were totally packed, or doing tai chi. If you're looking to step away from the hustle and bustle, immerse yourself in some nature, and see some amazing flower displays, you should head to Lumpini Park!
Chatuchak Market in Bangkok:
A 35-acre market that is home to 8,000 some market stalls. It is a site to see, and the most organized and cleanest market I have been to in Asia. Check out THIS GUIDE for some great visitor tips. It is only open Saturday and Sunday, and we planned our trip around a visit. So glad we did!
We didn't even come close to walking through the whole thing, we just sort of wandered. There are some great deals to be had! Clothing, spices, artifacts, jewelry, fine art, there are even air conditioned stalls! We bought some little porcelain painted pieces. Our guide told us they were traditional Thai pieces, so I bought a little elephant (I collect them), plus some small souvenirs. We saw these again later in a department store at Central World Mall and they were 3 or 4 times the amount!
I was also able to find food here, check out my post Eating Gluten Free in...Bangkok to learn more.
Art and Culture Centre:
This is another place we probably wouldn't have ventured to on our own. Our guide brought us here because there was a great art show going on, plus, his family members own a coffee shop and two other little shops. It was so wonderful meeting more of his family, they were incredibly nice, and excited I knew one of the cousins back in the US. There are tons of cultural activities and shows going on there, check out the website for more info. It's also a pretty cool building if you're into that sort of thing.
Siam Paragon Mall:
This is a stunning, wonderful high end mall to walk through or shop for some luxury goods. But the best part for me...because I truly love grocery shopping...the Gourmet Market. Because...wait for it...they had a gluten free section! You can google this and find pictures of some of the products. I was on day 3 of my trip and had stocked food, so I really didn't need anything, but I was beyond shocked! Check out my blog post Eating Gluten Free in...Bangkok to read more. Also, the entrance is pretty fantastic. In my every day life, I do consulting work for architects and designers. I work at bringing a closer relationship between the natural and built environment. And I pretty much loved this entry!
That's it! We met our tour group this evening and had a kick off dinner together. Early the next morning we headed to Cambodia via bus. Check the blog posts on Cambodia for more!
Bus to Cambodia:
Leaving Thailand for Cambodia. Stopped at cool roadside stop, big place. Just plain veggies and rice. Took a van to the border - played this awful terrible 80's movies love songs station with the speakers right behind our heads couldn't drown it out with our headphones. Check out more on Cambodia HERE!