The first stop on our Thailand trip was to spend a few days in the capital, Bangkok. When you fly into Thailand you have to pass through it anyway, so it makes sense to stop off there for a while, and particularly at the start of the holiday rather than the end, especially since one of our main aims was to relax. Having done quite a few multi-stop holidays in the past, I’ve learned that doing a city at the end is a mistake if you want to get any lasting benefit from the unwinding you do elsewhere, particularly a city like Bangkok which is one of the more chaotic. It’s smoggy, overcrowded and hot, but it’s definitely an experience worth having.
Last time I visited Bangkok we stayed in a fairly packed area of the city, and at the time public transport was dire - if you wanted to get anywhere in any reasonable amount of time, the infamous Tuk-tuks were pretty much the only way due to the almost 100% gridlock at many times of the day. Of course you take your life into your own hands here, as the driver (necessarily) seeks to use absolutely any paved or even unpaved surface as a valid highway, and damn any other road users or pedestrians. Crazy Taxi has nothing on this. Of course it’s a lot of fun too, in small doses - one of my enduring memories of my last visit (in my early 20’s) was barrelling headlong along pavements with a friend in the back of one of these things, trying to get back to the hotel in time for our airport pickup, choking on other road users deisel fumes as we darted between them like minnows in a shark pool. The key to using them successfully is to avoid the ones hanging about touting outside tourist attractions and use the ones that queue up separately in ‘stands’ in the street, and to barter the exact price and destination, preferably knowing the approximate route and decent price before you get in to avoid getting ripped off and/or taken to all sorts of intermediate locations like the gullible, fleeceable tourist you are. For example, Sathon to around Siam Square should cost about 30 baht (about 50p), but they may try to charge a tourist up to 200 baht and / or go via dodgy gem shops if you’re gullible enough. Luckily everyone is always friendly, even when they’re trying to cheat you, and once they realise you’re not buying it you can normally get the ‘local’ price and service, always with a smile of course.
This time we used Tuk-tuk’s sparingly, firstly due to the fact that I deliberately picked a hotel bordering the Chao Phraya river - a little more expensive, but worth it. Being there meant we had the option of using the ‘express boat’ public water buses for some trips, which are just as crowded and directed by a conductor with the loudest, most high-pitched whistle ever created outside the range of canine hearing, but you can at least get a little bit of fresh air that way, they’re very regular, stupidly cheap (13 baht each!) and you can’t get lost - even the stops are numbered so you don’t have to remember the local names 😀The second reason is the relatively new Skytrain, which wasn’t there when I last visited, and handily our hotel had a free water shuttle down to the nearest station. There’s only 2 lines so far but they pass though the major places you’ll want to stop, cheap (30 baht each), fast and even air-conditioned. Combined with the express boat, some leg power and the occasional Tuk-tuk we managed to get everywhere we wanted to in fairly good time without getting gridlocked. I pitied the poor suckers grabbing regular taxis as they sat there stationary with the meter racking up 😉
We of course visited the Grand Palace while we were there, as well as smaller temples like Wat Pho which headlines with the gigantic Reclining Buddha but I also liked the warren-like nature of it which made it rather interesting to explore, as a contrast to the wide boulevards of the Grand Palace. We also visited various markets and eating establishments, the detail of the latter I’ll save for another post. As it turned out, we happened to be in town at the time of the Loy Krathong festival, which was totally unplanned but turned out to be well worth seeing. Almost endless streams of military landing craft had been converted into floating spectacles covered with lights and digital screens, while fireworks went off all along the river and thousands of people released small banana-leaf based rafts with flowers and candles / insense onto the river. Our hotel was obviously ideally placed for this, which was a bonus since it was our last night before we headed south and we had to be up at 4:30 the next day to catch a plane down to Krabi province.