I was in Bangkok for three separate stretches, totaling a bit over a a week. Ultimately, for my money it’s a great city, but the heat is horrendously oppressive and the public transportation options are less than ideal. In terms of transportation, the main problem is that taxi drivers in the city are almost all complete bandits. They refuse to turn on the meter for tourists and even for some locals. It’s such a problem that some of the more popular malls have taxi hubs where you have to wait 5-10 minutes for a taxi but at least there is a guarantee that they’ll turn on the meter if they depart from there. At first I thought the problem was that the taxi fares are too low, and they definitely are. For example, after trying numerous cabs one day we managed to find a taxi driver who would turn on the meter, and a relatively close ride of about 10 kilometers ended up taking the better part of an hour due to the massive traffic. The meters don’t compensate the drivers enough for dead time so he only made $3 CAD on the hour he had us in his cab. Working like that all day, he would not even make the minimum wage when accounting for his expenses. However, that turned out not to be the root of the problem because I once tried to take a cab at 3:30 am when there was no traffic and the bandits still refused to turn on the meter. The weird thing is that in other places such as India, the drivers may try to rip you off, but they’ll ultimately relent when you walk away. Not the cabbies in Bangkok, they could care less if you walk away. It’s very bizarre.
I ended up using Uber quite a bit, but the problem with Uber is that, despite the fact that I’d enter both my current location and my destination via GPS, it would take them an average of 15 minutes to find me, and they were also no better at finding the destination. There are also very few cars around, so often I was forced to use Uber Black which was 3 times more expensive than a regular cab.
In the end buses ended up being my preferred way to get around the city. They cost about 20 cents, and they are also able to get around Bangkok’s traffic problem because on some stretches they have dedicated lanes. The sky train is also very efficient, but unfortunately only reaches the newer parts of the city. Google Maps can tell you which buses to take, but beware, they often have the location of the bus stop wrong. Also, buses don’t actually stop unless someone is getting off. So you have to stand out on the street to flag the bus down when you spot it. In my experience the buses were very frequent and I always got a seat. When you get on the bus just sit down, eventually someone will come around to collect your fare.
Adam and I arrived in the city early in the afternoon and we rested up a bit. In the early evening I ventured out to Khao San Road for a beer and to find a travel agent to sort out my travel arrangements and visa to Vietnam. This was the first place where I decided that it is just more efficient to have a travel agent sort out your transportation. I made several mistakes in my travels to Lao and in Myanmar in particular that ended up costing me days, so it’s worth the minuscule commission that agents charge to get someone to sort out the details for you. It was actually a remarkably efficient process, he was able to sort out buses, trains and two flights, most of them including drop-off and pick-up from my hotels. I just spent a day sorting out my destinations and booking my hotels and my remaining travels throughout the country were remarkably smooth.
Khao San Road:
There’s a street a few blocks north of Khao San that is far more interesting and mellower. I found it much more relaxing and it also had a lot more shade during the day. Two cool bars set-up out of old VW vans:
This ended up being my favourite place for mellow drinks in town:
After Adam went off to his hotel I stayed behind and tried out my sit-next-to-cute-girl-and-ignore-for-20-minutes bit. We ended up chatting for a while. She’s originally from the Philippines but works in Singapore:
Some graffiti I spotted on my walk back to my hotel:
I also stopped over at a delicious tiny little sandwich place off of Khao San Road. There are a total of four seats along a bar, and they make the best sandwiches that I had in the city. You can get a sandwich and beer for $5 CAD.
We started off the following day enduring the heat to go check out the Grand Palace. I would suggest that you go right when they open or right before they close so that you avoid the crowds. I have never been to a more crowded spot during my travels. That made it really difficult to enjoy the place and it really is majestic. The pictures do not do it justice:
After hitting the Palace we got a quick lunch and took a taxi down to Chinatown. It is one of the largest in the world and a really neat place to walk around.
One of the canals just behind Adam’s hotel:
That night we checked out some live music at a place called Brick. Even though it’s right off of Khao San, it does not cater to tourists. I was one of the only tourists when I first arrived and even when the place got really busy later on at night, it was still 95% locals. This band played some solid brass with a ska vibe:
The buses of Bangkok, both efficient and stylish:
A street near my hotel. The area I picked was excellent, it was a 5 minute walk south east to Khao San on a street called Sin Alley. Even though it was very central, but for the occasional noises of cats fighting, it was nice and quiet:
The following day we did the day trip to the Amphawa floating market. At night, we checked out two art galleries with an American lady who lives in Bangkok. Adam had dinner at an outdoor place across the street from our first stop:
The first gallery, Bridge Art Space:
The second gallery was the Jam Cafe, an excellent little bar. The art space is more conventional and is upstairs:
Since we were nearby, “Jen” suggested that we check out the famed Soi Cowboy—the street dedicated to strip clubs and other forms of questionable behaviour. Going there with a woman turns out to have been ideal, we were able to have a few beers outdoors without being harassed at all. Other men who were there without women were approached constantly. It’s definitely worthwhile to check out the street once, and I loved all the neon signs in particular. But the scene gets old fast and the drinks are expensive. “Jen” works for an organization that sets up networking events for American corporations in Bangkok and she commented on how often she sees men that she knows in a professional capacity wandering down this street whenever she visits:
Our main activity for Adam’s last day in Bangkok was to check out the Jim Thompson House. Thompson was an architect by trade who worked as a spy for the predecessor to the CIA during WWII. After the war he settled in Bangkok and built a formidable house out of two traditional homes that he had brought down and reassembled into an original single structure of his own design. In the decades that followed he established one of the most formidable collections of Thai art and artifacts, and he revived the Thai silk industry. He disappeared mysteriously one day–he went for a walk into the jungle and was never seen again. The house is a non-profit, but his line of clothing is a well-known and expensive business entity run by his family.
A mall near the house is shown below. As you can see, the area around the house is extremely developed these days with big malls and high-rises everywhere, which makes the house all the more special for being situated in the middle of this development:
The house, starting with the restaurant. Unfortunately pictures are not allowed to be taken inside, so I encourage you to check out the house online to get a proper look:
They have a fellow outside demonstrating how thread is spun from the silk worm cocoon:
Our next destination was Chatuchak Market, the largest market in Bangkok. Some people will tell you not to bother with the place, and it’s true that most of what they sell is the generic stuff that you can find anywhere in Thailand. However, we were also lucky to find a few clothing design shops that only sell there wares in the market. One T-shirt store in particular had killer designs. We took the sky train there, I’ll start with a shot from the tracks at our stop, followed by pictures of the market:
After the market Adam needed to go pick-up his suits so we returned near his tailor. Another set of shots near his hotel:
I went back to Adam’s hotel to see him off, and then ended my night eating a cheesy meat skewer at Susie’s:
The following night I ventured downtown to check out Bangkok’s famed rooftop bar scene. A shot of my bus ride down:
First I had dinner at an outdoor seafood place. It is generally a terrible idea to eat seafood from a food stand in this sort of heat, but the place looked exceptionally clean and was quite busy:
Below is a shot of the rooftop bar I ended up at. It is exceptionally difficult to avoid hookers in Bangkok. I specifically went to a place that was recommended because it does not typically have prostitutes. But the first person I talked to ended up being a prostitute. The place lost it’s charm thereafter, so I went to the basement of a nearby hotel which has a bar that is well known for live music.
The music at the next place was excellent and the place was huge for a basement bar. I ended up talking to a super shy girl after a while—and I mean exceptionally shy. It took me a good 20 minutes to get her to say a full sentence. After a 40 minutes talking to her, I find out that she too was a prostitute. At that point I gave up talking to people and just focused on the music. Some shots of the band:
The following night I went downtown for dinner and to meet up with Katech whom I had met in Myanmar and who happened to be in town. I had dinner at a nice tapas place and had a couple of drinks at an outdoor bar. After an hour waiting (which I fortunately also used for dinner at the nearby tapas joint), she didn’t show and I had to leave. Which made it all the more aggravating when I got a text from her asking why I didn’t come out. Am I missing something, I thought I went above and beyond waiting for a full hour, is there some expectation these days that people wait multiple hours until someone shows up?! Thankfully my trip downtown wasn’t a total waste of time, I desperately needed some good walking socks so I had to go downtown regardless.
Two shots from that night:
The following morning I went south to Koh Phangan, but I was back in the city for one more night unexpectedly because I departed the island one day early by mistake. The view from my hotel balcony:
I had an early flight out to Chiang Mai the following morning but I made the most of my accidental night in Bangkok and went off to check out a jazz bar. The jazz bar turned out to be decent, albeit a little bit pricey. I was supposed to meet up with a girl there, but after one hour passed and she was a no show, I ordered the bill and paid. I was waiting for my change when the girl walked into the bar one hour and ten minutes into our original meeting time. I MAY have overlooked her tardiness, but for the fact that she gave me an aww-shucks-I-guess-I’m-late look combined with a smile and a shrug of her shoulders. No apology offered. At that point my change arrived, and I told her that I was very sorry but that I’d already called a cab (not strictly true) and I had an early flight (true) so I couldn’t stay out any longer. That smug expression turned into shock and confusion pretty quickly when I took off.
A random shot from my walk back:
I had one final night in Bangkok at the very end of my travels to Thailand. I arrived by bus pretty late in the afternoon so I didn’t have time to do much aside from checking out a bit of Muay Thai at night.
My cool hotel room:
The Muay Thai arena:
They have live musicians playing traditional music during the bouts:
The tickets sold to tourists are twice as expensive as they ones they sell to locals for the same seating, and they are expensive. The cheapest tickets at the top, and separated by fencing, cost $40 CAD, the middle tear with concrete step seating comes out to $60 CAD, and the ones at the front with proper seating come out to $80 CDN. For my money the best view is in the middle tear and you have the freedom to move around and change your vantage point. Also, the hard core gamblers hang out in the middle tier so you’ll get the most authentic experience in that section. You get about 6 bouts in a night at the arena, so the value is pretty decent in the end. You’ll be solidly entertained from 6-11 pm:
I was really enjoying the night, and thinking to myself that it was great that the bouts ended with both parties relatively unharmed unlike in conventional boxing. Just then, the match ended because one fellow’s leg sustained a fracture and he had to be taken out in a stretcher:
The place empties our right before the last bout because it is a junior fight:
I’ll leave you with links to some videos from the night: