Buddah statues in Wat Pho
If you don’t follow me on Instagram , (boo!) you won’t have seen me spamming the internet about my recent trip to Thailand. And if you love crystal blue seas, Asian food and travel-inspo, boy have you been missing out.
I’ve had my sights set on Thailand for years now, and it was definitely number 2 on the ‘must-visit’ list after Japan. So, naturally, it was only a matter of time before I bought my ticket.
I wanted to take a road (slightly!) less traveled and visit some destinations which aren’t on the usual Thailand inventory, so Phuket, Koh Samui and Koh Phanghan won’t be included in any of my blog posts, but flying from England, Bangkok is pretty unavoidable.
Since I’d not heard a load of wonderful things about Bangkok, but we were flying in to the city from Heathrow (via Guangzhou, China), we decided to spend some time to settle in, recover from the long flight and see the city for ourselves.
View from the water bar, Centara Watergate Hotel
We basically used Expedia to book everything hotel-wise – it’s so quick and easy and they always seem to have the best prices. They have their own rating system which is helpful but I also raid Trip Advisor for a good couple of hours before booking anything just to be sure!
Since we weren’t too sure if we were going to really enjoy the city, and because the main objective of our trip was to relax as well as see the sights, we booked some slightly more fancy hotels, a) because it’s so cheap and b) so we could have a back up plan of having a nice hotel room with a poolside to hang out in if all else fails.
I have to say, Bangkok certainly wasn’t the highlight of my trip, but I’m not sure it deserves the bad reputation it seems to have. Sure, the streets are extremely busy in the more touristy areas and the streets can be pretty polluted and dusty, and we did encounter a gem scam merchant Tuktuk driver within 15 minutes of leaving our hotel room on the first day, but there are definitely hidden diamonds within the city which more than make up for Bangkok’s rougher edges.
One of which, was our first hotel, Centara Watergate Pavillion. Classed as a four star hotel, situated a stone’s throw away from the Pratunam Market, Central World and Siam Paragon Shopping Center, the location is really great if you don’t have to always be relying on taxis to get you around. This is especially handy since unfortunately only very few taxi drivers were familiar with this hotel. Worst comes to worst you can always ask to be taken to the Pratunam Market which is literally over the road. We had to do this on a few occasions when taxi drivers had no clue where we were asking to go, especially drivers in locations a little further away, such as Khosan Road.
The area is swarming with Tuktuk drivers looking for tourists, and unfortunately, as I mentioned, we were exposed to the darker side of Bangkok literally within minutes of leaving our hotel on the first day. We took up a seemingly friendly Tuktuk driver’s offer to give us a mini tour of the area for a very cheap price, but we ended up going on a (apparently typical) wild goose chase involving a suit shop and a dude in a small run down temple telling us about a great little gem store in the market with an ‘offer, only on today’.
The note from our ‘friend’ telling us where to buy gems
At the time we weren’t much more than mildly annoyed and told the taxi driver where to go after he’d taken us to a few of the destinations on his ‘scam route’, but after looking further into it we were lucky things didn’t turn any more sinister. Of course we saw through all the rather badly-acted players within this scam tour and at first found it rather amusing, it’s definitely something to be aware of if you go to Bangkok. I’d say avoid using Tuktuks offering ‘tours’ of Bangkok altogether. Especially if they seem super cheap.
As far as Pratunam Market goes, I was pretty disappointed by the wares on offer, and it put the fear in me that I was going to be underwhelmed by Thailand’s famous markets. Luckily markets within some of the other locations we visited were brilliant, but this one was basically just full of cheap tat, in my opinion. One to avoid, potentially.
Just next to the hotel was where we encountered our first Thai pharmacy. Since the BF needed an spare inhaler and some contacts, we ventured in to grab the basics. Whenever I go abroad I always find pharmacies extremely interesting (weird, I know), and you were able to buy products over the counter that you’d definitely need a prescription for in the UK. Handy when you need an inhaler or two.
The street food in the immediate vicinity of the hotel and Pratunam market was a bit questionable, but I had my first taste of what was going to become one of my major Thai love affairs: fresh coconuts. They were just 35 Baht (that’s about 70p) here, the cheapest place I saw in all of the spots we went to in Thailand. They’re truly delicious and a billion times better than the kind you buy in cartons.
The hotel restaurant was lovely, with mainly Thai food options. I opted for the massaman curry, my first taste of thai food in it’s native country. It was really delicious, not the best I’d ever had but really consistently good food. After our disappointment on the street food front we were really happy to finally have something really delicious on our plates, even if it cost a bit more.
Breakfast was wonderful; a buffet with a decent selection of both Western and Thai treats. I’m not really used to green Thai curry in the morning, so I went for fruit, toast and some hard boiled eggs. Can’t complain! We didn’t opt to have breakfast included in our booking, but we wished we did after having it on our last day of our first leg in Bangkok
The cocktails were also really good, which in a setting like this, is a must!
On our second, and final day on our first leg in Bangkok, we went to Khao San Road in the evening to peruse the markets and bars on this famous destination for travelers. This is the first place I found anything worth buying, getting my hands on some cute elephant-embellished tasseled crop tops. It’s also where I learnt some bartering skills after watching a fellow traveler. She had a clever trick of getting a vendor down to a great price (by offering at least half the original price and negotiating from there), and then getting the price down even further by offering to buy two for an even better price. I adopted this tactic pretty sharpish for anything I thought I might want two of. Quite a handy trick as it seemed to work every time!
Khao San Road
Khao San Road itself is a pretty lively place, with a melting pot of tourists from all over the world as well as Thais. This was actually one of the worst places for street food (this may be controversial since I’ve seen a lot of bloggers say it’s great), and we tried some lovely cold, gristly uncooked chicken.
In our hunger and desperation for some decent Thai food we tried the side streets for restaurants, and luckily stumbled across a lovely little place called Buddy Beer. We didn’t know it at the time but this place has pretty glowing reviews on Trip Advisor.
Unfortunately I was far too hungry to take a picture of my food, but I had one of the best green Thai curries that I had during all of my time in Thailand here. The drinks were also great (mine was an iced Blue Hawaiian), and the restaurant itself is picturesque and a little peaceful slice of heaven just off the loud and bustling Khao San Road.
The next day we flew from Don Muang airport to Chiang Mai, but that’ll be another blog post in itself. Instead, I’ll skip to the end of our trip when we returned to Bangkok for a final day before we flew back to the UK.
Since shopping in Bangkok had turned out to be a bit of a snore, and we didn’t really come to Thailand to shop, we avoided any more markets or shopping centres second time round (plus, who has room in their suitcase after two weeks in Thailand? No one).
Instead, this is when we really found some of Bangkok’s treasures: Wat Pho.
We’d originally set out to visit the Grand Palace, but after being told that the BF’s attire probably wouldn’t be permittable (he was wearing shorts), we decided to have a walk around the exterior of the Palace, since it still looked lovely from afar. It didn’t take us long before we stumbled on Wat Pho, or, The Temple of the Reclining Golden Buddah, and we say that male tourists were going in wearing shorts so we popped in.
Tickets were 50 Baht each if I remember rightly (so about £1), and it was more than worth it. The grounds were stunning and really peaceful, with stunning traditional Thai architecture and glass decorations that shore gloriously in the sun. The place also wasn’t too busy with tourists. We were more like a steady stream of salmon than crammed like sardines.
I had to cover my shoulders to enter the temple itself, but a shawl was provided free of charge. Also, of course you had to remove your shoes, but they gave us a handy tote bag to carry them with. So fancy!
The temple and grounds really brought back memories of some of the beautiful shrines I’d visited in Japan; it had that same beauty and majestic quality to it. It made me regret not trying to see more of Bangkok’s temples in our previous two days in Bangkok.
On our second leg in the Thai capital, instead of booking back into our lovely original hotel we decided to try out another option, the Avani Atrium Hotel.
We weren’t disappointed; the hotel has a really luxe ‘business class’ feel to it. We only stayed one night but we definitely would have enjoyed staying longer. The room had a simply stunning view of the Bangkok skyline, with the world’s comfiest pillows, a huge king-sized bed, English TV channels and you could even order a Thai massage, pedicures and other pampering treats on room service!
The breakfast was sublime (if not a little pricey at the 450 Baht/£9.20 walk-in rate we paid, you’re probably better off having it included in the hotel rate). They made fresh eggs however you wanted them (omelettes, scrambled, fried, etc, and with around a dozen different toppings/fillings to choose from including mozzarella cheese and decent quality ham). They also had really delicious fresh pancakes, waffles and juices along with an impressive-looking buffet with all sorts of western and eastern choices.
The pool area is gorgeous, with a choice of three bars and restaurants within the pool area. When we arrived the sun had already set so the pool was not particularly warm; it’s probably more for daytime cooling off than late night dip! I didn’t last long in the chilly water but I’m sure it would have been lovely in the 35 degree midday sun with a mojito.
It’s also worth mentioning how the hotel’s concierge manager spoke excellent English and helped us sort out changing our flight times when we had a little hiccup with our flight schedule. What a dude! All in all the customer service of this hotel was really excellent. The only thing that let it down slightly was the location. It wasn’t within walking distance of any attractions (to our knowledge!), which was something that the Centara hotel definitely had in its favour. It just meant we had to rely on taxis, but since we were only there overnight it wasn’t really a big deal.
Our Avani Atrium hotel room
All in all, Bangkok wasn’t my favourite part of Thailand by a long shot, but there were aspects about it that I really loved, which made me want to spend more time there. I really would love to go back and see the Grand Palace and more temples, as well as take a river cruise/boat tour and try out some of the bars and restaurants. Namely the famous Sky Bar. For the amount of time we had in Thailand, though, I’m glad that we didn’t put too much time aside for Bangkok, as the other places on our itinerary were much better for a short-stop stay. I felt like Bangkok was like many other capital cities; you probably need to spend a lot more time exploring to really get a feel for what it has to offer.
Have you ever been to Bangkok? I would love to hear your recommendations of where to visit, stay and eat in the comments!