Ultimate Bangkok Travel Guide
At 20, I landed at the Bangkok International Airport without expectation. I was outfitted in an oversized backpack, a summer dress, and a smile, sweating profusely from the early September humidity. Unaware how expansive and wild this unknown land would be, I excitedly embarked on a ride that would change my life, forcing me to venture into cultures way more foreign than those I had ever experienced back in the States and backpacking Europe for the previous 6 weeks. I spent 5 months in Southeast Asia, flip flopping between class at an international Thai university on the outskirts of Bangkok with traveling neighboring cities and countries. So let's start with my Top Tourist Sites. Here is my Ultimate Bangkok Travel Guide!
A 20-minute walk from Koh San, the palace grounds are breathtaking, rooted in history and culture. Just outside the gates, do NOT believe men dressed in suits who claim the palace is closed due to a holiday; they are simply trying to sell you on a tuk tuk tour of the rest of the city. Be sure to cover up, especially your shoulders, out of respect. If you need a shirt, you can borrow one from the palace at the front gate for free. Walk ALL the way down the long walkway within the gates of the palace to the LEGITIMATE ticket counter. Do NOT buy tickets from anyone else; it’s a scam. Then relax and enjoy!
MBK and Siam Paragon
Even if you aren’t a shopper, perusing these malls is still worth it! Spend a couple hours on the endless levels and hallways, especially the top most floor of MBK. There, you have a discounted, market-type shopping area with similar street pricing (possibly cheaper). Also make sure to go into to the grocery store on the bottom floor of Paragon—it’s better than Whole Foods! If nothing else, the malls have A/C so it’s a nice escape from the outside if you’re overheating.
Chatuchak Weekend Market
The outdoor shopping experience is super rad, again cramming everything you’d ever need in one area. Chatuchak Market is a must-see. Prepare yourself for busy and random; you can purchase everything from books to live snakes. You’ll most likely get lost in the mayhem, but relax and soak it in. Be sure to hold tightly onto your belongings. Busy crowds mean tourists are easy targets. Get there around 9am to beat the crowds. There is a stop off the Sky Tram specifically for Chatuchak. Over the years, the markets have changed some, so check out this article from a local online magazine about a new bazaar.
Take a day trip to explore the old temples and ruins of the Kingdom's ancient former capital, Ayutthaya. It's about an hour and a half train ride from Bangkok. The image below, fuzzy and terribly framed, is me at 20 there!
As you browse trinkets on the street in the Red Light District, men will approach you and invite, "You want to see ping-pong show?" That's when you say, no matter how feminist you may be, "Okay!" This show is the most ridiculous thing you'll ever seen. Women literally shoot ping pongs from their vaginas, draw audience members' portraits with markers with their vaginas, slurp a soda through a straw with their vagina, and more. Go once, experience it is all its glory, consider what these women must think and feel, and then be done.
The largest, oldest park in Bangkok, Lumphini Park attracts hoards of older Thais who gather for slow-moving group exercise classes--it's so cute!
For extra travel advice arriving to Bangkok and hotels in Bangkok...
The Bangkok International Airport (BKK) is the largest airport in Southeast Asia with the most in and outbound flights. Consider this your pivot point. Exchange some money for Thai baht in the airport for a taxi. Then exchange more at a bank as soon as you get into town where there's typically a better rate. The taxi from the airport into the city will cost you about 200 or 300 Baht...ALWAYS use the meter. Prepare yourself for an overwhelming heat sensation as you exit, immediately hop in a taxi and head downtown.
Hotels are abundant. You can go high-end or opt for a budget accommodation. Since I lived in a house, I didn't have first-hand experience with hotels, except: The Dusit in Hua Hin (coastal town a few hours from Bangkok) where I stayed with my mom and sister, and the Dusit Thani Bangkok a couple weeks after my stay in Hua Hin, to where I invited myself to enjoy their top-deck pool in Bangkok. Yes, it's 5-star so if that's too much, go the guesthouse/hostel route! Koh San Road, aka Travelers' Road, is where there's a ton of guesthouses and "touristy”
shops and cafes. Know that it’s very noisy here at night, so I’d stay somewhere off the main road.
Check here for a list of hotels in Bangkok.