You can’t love every place you go… right?
Bangkok is a city. Just like any other city, Just with some more questionable areas. Maybe if we’d come here before seeing other parts of Thailand first, we’d be more impressed?
We were pretty confused and unsure when trying to figure out where to stay. The city is big and there doesn’t seem to be one specific “best” area to stay in. We found a few we liked, one in Chinatown and a few near Sukhumvit, where there was more night life, restaurants and close to the BTS (more on that later). We ended up choosing Sukhimvit and the location turned out to be pretty good, considering we weren’t that happy with the city. Actually, the location and the hotel itself was probably our favorite part about our stay here. We plunked our requirements into Hotels.com through Ebates (please click our links and make a purchase so we get credit!) and were also able to put in which specific neighborhood we wanted to stay in, so narrowing down the hotels was fairly easy. We loved our hotel, the Hotel Icon! Finally, a soft (ish) bed in Asia! We were starting to think we wouldn’t find one! It had a 6th floor rooftop pool and deck looking out onto the city, and a major bonus, a giant 4 foot rubber ducky that Dean named Ettienne. It’s so hot in Bangkok that escaping to the pool is necessary and the rubber ducky made it all the more fun! Our hotel also had a free tuk tuk (it was actually golf cart) that would take you to the main road which was a nice touch.
The public transportation here is severely lacking. First of all, it’s a bit confusing to figure it out when you’re not in the city, so good preplanning is out. They have two systems, the MRT, a subway type system and the BTS, an above ground tram system. Two completely different systems. The MRT had a 3 day tourist pass which would have been great if there was a stop near our hotel. But the closest one was pretty far, about 20 minutes walk to a stop. The BTS had a stop very close to us, but only has a 1 day pass… and even then… it doesn’t go everywhere in the city! Plus, they don’t take credit cards, so at 140 baht (around $4) for each, it was a hit to our daily cash allowance we’ve given ourselves. We understand this is a cash driven country but one would think that in a major city like Bangkok the major transportation system would take credit cards for a tourist pass! If you opted to just buy one way tickets, it was pretty expensive, 42 Baht ($1.25) each way! It doesn’t sound like a lot at first, but it definitely adds up! That in addition to the fact that it doesn’t connect you directly everywhere, so you then need to supplement with Uber, it just seemed ridiculous. The trains were packed too! Every time! You know when you see a place like Tokyo or Shanghai on TV and they squeeze into the cars like sardines? It was just like that here. Imagine us, 2 large, sweaty people being pushed up against those poor small Thai people. Dean and I both got a few jabs from people, and that was when we were lucky enough to actually fit on the train. There were a few times when the doors opened that we couldn’t even get on and had to wait for the next one.
They have a ferry system that runs up and down the river that intertwines itself throughout the city. We found out on our last day that it actually connects to the BTS at one stop, so by using the two different systems you can get to more places. It would have been nice to know that ahead of time! We did a ton of research on how to get around and it was only when we found ourselves at a ferry terminal trying to figure it out that we realized we could have been doing this the whole time. Here is a picture of the ferry system, it’s really cheap, easy and fun to use, only 15 Baht ($.43) per person per ride. We say fun as a relative term, more fun than taking a tram since you’re on the water and can have a nice breeze as you travel, but the ferry smashes into the dock and bounces off some old tires before coming to an abrupt stop. After you get used to it, it’s quite comical to watch the first time ferry riders! Totally worth it over all. Plus, as you wait for the ferries to arrive you can see a ton fish in the river below jumping in and out of the water hoping for food.
Street food is supposed to be king here. Yes, there is a lot of street food. It’s everywhere. From little snacks on a stick to fresh fruit and major meals, you can get anything you want from a street vendor. While there definitely is a lot, we didn’t find it to be much different than what we saw in Chiang Mai… and it was cheaper there!
One night we went to the Neon Night Market. A market filled with, as like all the other markets we’ve been to, anything and everything you could want. We went specifically for dinner so we found ourselves weaving in and out of all the different food stalls. They had everything from coconut ice cream, Jell-O shots, fruit, fried rice, noodles… even fried insects! Once we saw those it became a must try for Dean. We did a drive by ahead of time, grubs, crickets, grasshoppers, so many choices! After some deliberation, he picked out the grasshoppers and the “Bug Chef” sprinkled some ground white pepper on and gave the little critters a soy sauce shower from a spray bottle and then it was time to crunch away! I couldn’t believe this was actually happening! We picked a seat near the band which had some color changing lighting (we’ll say it set the mood…) for the big first bite. Dean described the taste and mouth feel as a chicken wing that had been over fried and tossed in soy sauce. The only bad part, the legs were a bit hard to crunch down, those little clingers kept getting stuck! He and I both were surprised that he ate most of the bowl. I had my fun by picking them up and taking some selfies with them… I just couldn’t bring myself to actually eat it! They had heads and everything!
We had fun looking at all the booths and seeing what everyone had on offer. Sadly our place of choice didn’t turn out to be the best. I ordered garlic chicken which looked like it was going to be a nice big plate of juicy chicken in a garlicky soy based sauce. When it came to the table it couldn’t have been further from the picture. Probably 10 pieces of chicken, barely taking up half the plate cooked beyond dry with no sauce in sight. It was disgusting. One of the hard parts about having this happen when you’re in another country is the inability to communicate to the people about your complaints. We tried… no luck. Good for them, bad for us. Dean got Pork Waterfall… our friend Jason from Chiang Mai had told us about it, so when Dean saw it on the menu he had to try it. Thin slices of pork sautéed with Thai basil, mint, lime leaves and garlic. It’s pretty much Larb Gai (just not ground, and not chicken) in taste, but the best part was the nice slices of rich almost buttery pork fat that were coated in the pan sauces. He loved it! At least one of us was happy, right?
One night after going to see some seedy parts of the city we were in search for dinner and definitely not in the mood for Hooters, or any of the other places catering to the seemingly large English crowd. Half naked women with a big plate of greasy fish n chips? No thank you! We searched tirelessly in the heat, a cool evening of only 94 degrees (34C) and a “feels like” of 107! Frustration and hunger led us to our local 7-Eleven and we picked out some some ready to heat sandwiches. We were both on the same wavelength when Dean said “I’ll be really disappointed with us if we get 7-Eleven in the land of street food”. We put back our gross sandwiches and decided we’d look around the corner and would only get these as a last resort! Right next door, we saw a place that at first glance was nothing more than some people cooking in a dark ally. After further inspection, it turned out to be so much more than it appeared. (We could argue that us Two Fat Americans are the same way!) Tables with plastic chairs flooded the alley that resembled a dark old warehouse. Two food stalls battled each other for our business, begging us to look at their menu and eat their food. One side had blue chairs and one had red to tell them apart. We picked the red, because they were more aggressive in the menu presentation, and sat down with an almost audible sigh of disappointment from the blue team. Dean ordered some (more) papaya salad, this time it was nice and spicy. He also ordered a braised pork dish that also had pieces of crispy pork skin intertwined with stir fried morning glory (also called water spinach to give you a visual!) and bright fiery red chili. I opted for stir fried glass noodles with sautéed veggies and chicken. So this is what they’re talking about! The people that rave about street food. In case we didn’t get it before, this would do it. Who would think that such incredible food would be produced by a small shack with one cook and one wok and no refrigeration. (but we’ll choose not to think about that fact…) An absolute incredible meal in what turned out to be the perfect setting for it. The atmosphere definitely added to the experience.
We had a chance to go check out Chinatown which was quite the experience! Tiny alleys filled with booths selling everything. Not only were the alleyways hard to walk down with all the merchandise lining them but they were also a great way for motorbikes to make there way through Chinatown. No walkway was safe! We often found ourselves dodging in and out of shops to get out of their way! There were a lot of shops selling all different kinds of dried spices and tea. Walking by then the air was beyond fragrant, in a good way for once! Finding delicious smells throughout Chinatown can sometimes be a hard thing to do. After Chinatown we went to the Wat Arun, the Temple Of Dawn. A quick ferry ride took us right there. It is one of the must see temples of Bangkok! As soon as we arrived we saw that, just our luck, it was under repair. Another thing that added to our failed experience of Bangkok. Boo! We walked around the grounds and took pictures of some of the fun statues around but took it as a sign that we should go back to the hotel and cool off after a long day in the hot sun.
Our last night we were in the mood for an actual sit down meal at a restaurant and opted to check out the mall near our hotel. We found Beirut, a Lebanese restaurant and had a delicious feast! For around $10 per person we each ordered a sampler plate. I chose chicken shawarma (spiced chicken cut off the spit) hummus, cheese sambosa (yes, sambosa! It was essentially like a mozzarella stick and a spring roll had a baby, mmm!) and French fries. Dean got beef shawarma, fattoush (think a Lebanese version of the Italian Panzanella, a salad with crispy pita bread mixed in with a delicious pomegranate molasses dressing) pita bread with melted cheese and French fries. We spent way more than we had been spending on other meals but it was well deserved and very much appreciated! It was nice to sit down on an actual seat at a real table and be able to pay with credit! Not to mention the food was delicious and very filling!
So yeah, not super thrilled with Bangkok. It wasn’t horrible by any means, we didn’t hate it, but we both wished we’d spent more time on the beaches in southern Thailand or more time in Chiang Mai versus coming to Bangkok. Now we know! Thailand overall was incredible. The sights, smells and mostly impressively the food. We will miss it for sure and know we need to come back and see more!
Next stop is Siem Reap in Cambodia!