While planning my trip to Thailand, I talked to friends and colleagues who had been before, I scanned blogs and travel websites, and I delved into the deepest corners of TripAdvisor to gain some insight into how best to spend my two weeks of vacation. By far, the most polarizing viewpoints pertained to Bangkok - some sources recommended skipping it altogether - fly into BKK, sure, but head out the next day. Or maybe spend 24 hours there, nothing more. I couldn't help thinking - Bangkok is Thailand's New York City. What person in their right mind would miss that?
After spending three full days exploring the cities and surrounding areas, I have to say I'm thrilled I didn't overlook Thailand's New York City. The culture is rich, the food is delicious and the sights are endless. If I had skipped Bangkok, I would have never seen Thailand's famous reclining Buddha, or eaten delicious veggie Pad Thai from a street vendor, or cruised down the river on a riverboat after visiting the nearby Ayutthaya ruins. Bangkok allows visitors to delve into "tourist traps," while also giving them the opportunity to find themselves off the beaten path meandering through a local fish and spice market later the same day. And I loved it for that.
Bangkok's Temples are seemingly countless, and nonetheless stunningly different from one to another. The amount of detail noticeable from the hand-laid mosaic floor tiles to the decorative windowpanes to the scene-depicting walls and gold-encrusted ceilings is indescribable. During our time in Bangkok, we managed to visit four temples - Wat Saket (Golden Mount), Wat Arun, Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha) and Wat Benjamabhopit (The Marble Temple). Unfortunately, because of the recent death of Thailand's King, we weren't able to visit the Grand Palace, which houses Wat Phra Kaew and the Emerald Buddha. But to be honest - I was so thankful to have seen what we did that I was the least bit concerned about what we might have missed out on.
The "Tourist Traps" were admittedly just as enjoyable, in my opinion. We had dinner at Breeze and had a drink at Sky Bar (famous for its appearance in The Hangover 2) to celebrate my friend's birthday, and though the dining was a bit pricey - even by US standards - the service was incredible and the view of the city just can't be found anywhere else. We also made multiple trips to Khao San Road, aka "the backpacker ghetto." It's here that we ate fresh coconut ice cream right out of the coconut, sampled a scorpion (yes, the bug), and attempted a fish pedicure - during which small fish eat the dead skin from your feet (yep)! Souvenir shops and henna tattoo artists are sprinkled among bars offering liquor and beer buckets for the equivalent of about $1.50. It was a great place to wander the streets or sit down for a beer at the end of the day.
The Ayutthaya Ruins (and UNESCO World Heritage Site) are just an hour and a half north of Bangkok, and were truly one of my favorite parts of the entire trip. After realizing my love for ancient cultures and societal ruins while standing on the cliffs of Tulum, Mexico, and then venturing to the mecca of ruins - Machu Picchu - years later, Ayutthaya was a "must" on my list of things to do in Thailand. It did not disappoint. The city was astoundingly founded in 1350 and served as the capital of the Siamese kingdom before its violent downfall to the Burmese in 1767. With architectural influence from Cambodia and Laos, the crumbling ruins overgrown with vines felt like a real-life version of King Louie's monkey temple in A Jungle Book. Taking a bus north and the riverboat back south was the perfect third day in Bangkok, allowing me to feel like I had experienced not just Bangkok's highlights, but also some of the lesser-known but just as valuable sights of the city.
I was so thankful to have taken the time to explore Bangkok - I can't imagine ever recommending to someone that it should be forgotten or overlooked. It's important to remember that Thailand has so much more to offer than just the crystal blue waters of the islands or the elephant experiences of the northern provinces - and Bangkok was one of the best places to experience the history and culture of the country firsthand. In short - Don't. Skip. Bangkok.
Stay tuned for my next post about Chiang Mai and the Elephant Nature Park experience, and in the meantime, there's more photos from Bangkok here!