Bangkok, the city where you can get anything (and I mean “anything”), was a very interesting and hip city. It is the center of pop culture for Thailand. The city has about 6.3 million people so you don’t come here to see the “city”. You come here to see small parts of the sprawling city. Luckily, most of the tourist attractions are located near the central city. The city has a great public transportation system which includes buses, a subway, a light rail system, and a Skytrain system (elevated train tracks). Another really super transit option for us was the “metered taxi” (Wow, what a concept, huh!). In all the other cities and countries we visited here, there were taxis but you had to negotiate the price, never knowing if you are getting a fair price. So it was a relief to rely on a meter for the price of the ride.
The Grand Palace complex is the requisite tourist site in Bangkok (they know it as well and charge children under 12 the same price as adults, about $11). It is a large site that encompasses both the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew where the Emerald Buddha is kept. Although the Grand Palace and Emerald Buddha was cool to experience, we really loved the Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho. It is one of those wondrous sites that you see in pictures but don’t appreciate the magnitude of the place until you are there. At 152′ long and 50′ tall, it barely fits in the building.
The amulet market in Bangkok was a sight to see. Imagine a maze of market stalls, 4′ aisles between them, all of them with thousands of small amulets. These amulets are made of either metal, stone, bone, or ivory and they have images of buddhas, famous monks, and other deities. The amulets range from the size of a penny to 3″. The prices could range from 25 cents for the cheap amulets to possibly hundreds, if not, thousands of dollars. The amulets are either worn by Thais or collected and stored in display boxes. This is a very serious enterprise. Most of the men shopping in the market had small magnifying glasses on their key rings in order to verify authenticity or age of the amulet. We even saw stalls that were selling hundreds of books and magazines devoted to the amulet trade. It reminded us of coin collecting in the US. If Lindsey’s father was Thai, we would have found him in that market.
We stayed in a guesthouse in the Khao San Road area that was $11 a night and it had air-con and a private bathroom. If you come to Bangkok and stay in some fancy hotel, then you may never experience Khao San Road. Khao San Road actually refers to an area that has developed to cater to the backpack traveler. It is now a pedestrian-only area that has many businesses to take advantage of the revolving door of backpackers. The street margin is full of vendor stalls on each side selling everything a tourist may want or need, and even some things you don’t want (like three piece suits). The vendors accost you as you walk by, jumping out at you as you pick your way through the narrow corridor. We referred to it as “running the gauntlet”. At night the bars were hopping with young tourists and locals would come up to Chris as he is already shaking his head “no” and start asking him if he wanted a suit, a taxi, a tuk-tuk, a ping-pong show (we want to keep this blog g-rated, so for an explanation of this, email us).
As we were walking around heading to different tourist sights, we were stopped by seemingly helpful locals. They would ask where we were headed and then go on to say that the place is closed for whatever reason (ceremony, etc.). They would say that they would take us in their taxi to some other tourist sights for a very low fee. We had heard about this scam where taxi drivers want to take tourists around to different locations but then also demand to take you to a handicraft/jewelry/oriental rug store where they receive a hefty commission on tourist purchases. We said thanks but no thanks, and walked on to our destination, only to find out that it was not closed as they had said. This experience has jaded us. Now we hate that we question kindness in the locals for fear that they are attempting to scam us.
One day we took a trip north of Bangkok to see the Ayuthaya ruins. The city was founded in 1350 as the capital of Thailand and was destroyed by the Burmese in the 18th century. All that remains of the ancient city are ruins that give a glimpse of the splendor of Siam. Basically, Ayuthaya is an “Angkor Wat” of Thailand. The modern city of Ayuthaya has enveloped the ancient ruins. We rented biycyles for the day and got lost, literally, among the ruins. We even found our personal “holy grail” – a buddha head in a strangler fig. We had hoped to see the famous one at Angkor Wat, but apparently the tree died and it is no longer there. So we were really happy to find one at Ayuthaya and we will post pics of it later.
We have updated our travel map so you can take a look at our route and route markers. Make sure to look at the first and second pages to see our entire trip (Google splits it into multiple pages).
In case you were wondering, the title of our post is a reference to the ’80s song by Murray Head, “One Night in Bangkok”.
Until next post,