The hub of SEA, this immensely crowded and busy city is where most travellers start their journeys. This first taste of SEA is, in our opinion, not reflective of the rest of the area. Check out the highlights but then head north to the magical city of Chiang Mai or south to the fun beaches and soak up some sun.
How to Get There
Though most travellers arrive by plane from their home country, there are many other ways to get to Bangkok. The night train between Bangkok and Chiang Mai takes about 13 hours and costs 800-900 baht ($30-33 CAD). Try to get your ticket a few days before, but you’ll have to visit the train station to buy it as you cannot purchase it online. We believe the train is the best way to do it, as it’s comfortable and way faster. It’s also almost exclusively backpackers on the night train, so it’s a great way to make some friends.
We travelled between Siem Reap in Cambodia and Bangkok by bus. It cost about $28 US and took 2 hours to the border then another 2 hours to Bangkok. The bus ride is pleasant as there are no crazy turns or mountains on the route. Check out our post on Crossing the Thailand Border for more info.
Lastly we took a night bus from Bangkok to Surat Thani to catch a ferry to Koh Phan Ngan. We bought a package ticket for bus and ferry online through 12GO for 1000 baht and ended up on a Thai Srirum Bus. It was very comfortable, lots of leg room. We probably could’ve done it cheaper by booking a bus in person and paying for the ferry separately but we were pressed for time to get to the full moon party. The bus part of the trip took 13 hours (including the bizarre 1am stop for a free meal) and the ferry took 2.5 hours, but we had to wait for two hours after we were dropped off before our 11:30am ferry arrived.
Where to Stay
- Navalai River Resort – As it was our first time in SEA (and first time backpacking anywhere like this) we opted for some higher class accommodation for the first couple days. This Riverside Hotel was a great starting place for those wanting to ease into the backpacking experience. The rooms were very clean and had AC, the buffet breakfast in the morning was free and very good by SEA standards, and we were able to eat overlooking the Chao Phraya river. It had a clean pool, the wifi worked well and it was within walking distance of many of the major tourist attractions. A double room cost 2160 baht per night, and that’s a lot but it was a good starting point. You can book your stay at Navalai River Resort here.
- Rikka Inn – You need to spend a night on Khao San Rd. and this is probably the only upscale, somewhat clean accommodation you’ll find there. We were still in “settling in” mode so this was a good spot to be. The rooms are clean and fairly spacious, and most are set back from the noisy main road. The rooms are equipped with safes, mini fridges and AC. It has a rooftop pool and bar which is great to take a dip in after you’re soaked in sweat from walking around the dusty streets of Bangkok all day. You can book your stay at the Rikka Inn here.
What to Do
- Grand Palace – You cannot miss this national landmark while visiting Thailand. A massive complex of intricate sculptures, architecture and relics, you can easily spend a few hours here. Some highlights include Wat Phra Kaew which houses the famous Emerald Buddha, and the reception hall which is a massive and spectacularly decorated building. The giant statues of daemons and mythical creatures are also fantastic to look at. Note that there is a strict dress code: knees, shoulders and elbows need to be covered. Bring a water bottle as it gets hot in there. The entrance is Na Phra Lan Rd. and it costs 500 baht to get in.
- Wat Pho – A really cool temple just south of the Grand Palace, it’s famous for housing a gigantic reclining Buddha, but that’s not what we loved about it. Make sure to wait in line to take the cliche photo, but spend most of your time wandering around the wonderful temple. After visiting the crowded and noisy Grand Palace, the serenity of Wat Pho is nice and you can stroll around searching for Buddhas and cool statues all day. It’s also supplemented with little waterfall features and interesting murals. You get a free bottle of water with your entry fee of 100 baht, and near the museum part we found a jug of drinkable water to refill. Long pants/skirts and long sleeves are necessary here.
- Saranrom Park – As you’re walking north on Sanam Chai after leaving Wat Pho, on your right is a rare green space in Bangkok. The park was nice to walk around in and explore. We found some big monitor lizards swimming and laying in the sun, as well as a free outdoor gym!
- Damnoen Saduak Floating Market – Another must see in Bangkok, this floating market was made famous by the James Bond chase scene in “The Man with the Golden Gun”. Very touristy, but a fun half day trip to immerse yourself in what a floating market might have been like in the past. Check out our full post on how to experience the market in the best and cheapest way here.
- Dusit Palace – This palace once housed a royal king, but now serves as one of the lesser known tourist attractions of Bangkok. The grounds encompass both Vimanmek Palace and Dusit Palace/Ananta Samakom Throne Room, the latter being the more exciting attraction. You have to pay to get into both, 100 baht for Vimanmek and 150 baht for Dusit, so if you want to save some money skip Vimanmek and head right for Dusit. While looking for Dusit we were roped into paying for a ticket to Vimanmek so watch out for that. Dusit Palace has some amazingly intricate exhibits so make sure to check it out. Girls, long pants don’t cut it here, you need an actual long skirt or sarong to get in. They sell them at the ticket booth for 50 baht. Knees and elbows must be covered.
What to Avoid
- Flat Rate Taxis – It’s law in Thailand for meter taxis to use their meters, but taxi drivers seem to think it’s optional. If a taxi driver offers to take you somewhere for a flat rate, politely refuse with a smile and ask for him to use the meter. Make sure that is clear before you get in the taxi. Alex got in the habit of sitting in the front seat so that if the taxi driver did not start the meter after we agreed on it, he could hit the start button on the meter himself.
- National Museum – The first place we visited, and was very underwhelming. Lots of cool artifacts, but mostly small stuff and virtually nothing interactive and very little description. Spend your time better by visiting temples instead!
Where to Eat
- Pad Thai Street Stalls – Pretty much all we ate while in Bangkok. You can find 3 or 4 pad thai stalls as you walk down Khao San Rd. all offering a delicious meal for 25-35 baht. They make it right in front of you; pretty cool!
- Hemlock – On Phra Athit Rd. by the river, this is a small fancier restaurant by SEA standards. We don’t know if we were just really hungry, but the spring rolls we had there were arguably the best we had in all of SEA. Big praise we know, but you’ve gotta try them!
- Khao San Rd. – Look no further than the SEA infamous backpacker extravaganza that is Khao San Rd. When the sun sets bars, shops and food stalls all push out into the once busy road and leave only a small pathway for pedestrians. Everywhere you look there are lights, dancing, drinking and promoters noisily enjoying the excitement. You’ll be asked to go to a ping pong show, buy a chang tank and eat a scorpion all within a 5 min walk. Sit down at a bar and take it all in, and make sure to get some Pad Thai for 35 baht at a street stall before bed to satisfy your drunk food cravings.