Southeast Asia Update #1 [Bangkok, Thailand]
After months of planning, and 22 hours of travel, we finally arrived at our first Southeast Asian (SEA) destination: Bangkok, Thailand! The plan was to stay in Bangkok for four days, then take a bus to Cambodia. We plan on going back to Thailand towards the end of our backpacking loop.
At about 1pm October 17th we stepped off our plane and knew how pivotal a moment this was. Our excitement was still somewhat subdued by the time we landed, however, because we knew there were still a few obstacles we’d have to overcome within the airport itself. We followed the signs and the crowds towards the immigration line where hundreds of people from all over the world were being funneled through a checkpoint. We seamlessly made it through immigration after about twenty minutes and went to grab our backpacks. We were reluctant that we had to check them in to begin with but were relieved to quickly find them at the baggage claim.
Next, we spotted one of many kiosks strewn throughout the airport where we were able to buy SIM cards for our unlocked phones. Since we were initially staying in Bangkok for less than a week, we opted for a seven day, unlimited data plan.
Note: we’ll need a new SIM card for each country we visit this trip, which means a new phone number each time.
I also took out four day’s worth of baht (Thai currency) from an ATM. The withdrawal fee was $6! We knew we’d run into plenty of ATM fees which is why it’s recommended to pull out enough money to last many days, but not so much money that it’d be detrimental to lose it. Before we initially embarked I also applied for a Charles Schwab bank account, because they will refund any ATM fees we’ve been charged throughout our travels!
Our last task at the airport was to hail a ride to our hostel. We used the Grab app (basically SEA’s version of Uber) to find a driver, then rode 45 minutes into the city. Throughout the ride to our hostel, Madison and I were constantly pointing out all of the interesting things we were noticing outside. Despite all of the culturally unique signs and buildings we were seeing, one of the things that really struck us was how Western the city of Bangkok felt. We knew that Bangkok was a very developed city going in, but it was still interesting to notice the subtle familiarity we felt. Still, we knew that the city was far more culturally unique than what we were seeing from the highway, so we were excited to explore!
After arriving at our hostel, we checked in, went to our room to change into something more appropriate for the heat, then set out to explore. We knew we wouldn’t be out long because we were jetlagged and forced ourselves to stay awake so that we could properly adjust to SEA time. Our first stop was Lumpini Park, a beautiful place where people were exercising, dancing in the grass, and pedal boating in the lake. We then walked back to our hostel, drank $1.50 beers, and went out in search for some dinner. A recommendation from an employee at our hostel brought us to a place down the road called Siam House where we had our first authentic Thai meal.
Our second day in Bangkok was our temple day. We got breakfast at our hostel then called a Grab Taxi to take us to the famous Grand Palace. The Grand Palace is an incredible complex of temples and home of the ancient Emerald Buddha. Admission was 500 baht ($15) for each of us and we stayed there in the blistering heat for well over an hour. It was worth every minute. The Grand Palace is dazzling in its rich detail and history; it’s a must-see.
After developing slight “temple fever” we decided to make the hour walk back to our hostel for the sake of discovering the city some more. This was also well worth it because we passed through so many beautiful neighborhoods and side streets that were so culturally unique that we no longer felt we were in a Western-influenced city any. We also discovered a nice little restaurant by the river where we got a bite to eat and watched the long boats.
Still jet-lagged, it was time for Madison and I to pack up and move over to a hotel we booked on the other side of town. The whole transfer process took the better part of the morning and afternoon. Our new accommodation was a considerable upgrade from our previous hostel. We decided to get a hotel this time in the Sukhumvit district which is known for its fancier restaurants and nightclubs; definitely catering to foreign partiers or families with kids who may need better accommodations than most hostels offer.
After checking in, we rested for a few hours while enjoying the offerings of our mini-bar and watching Netflix. Later we decided to get some food and then visit one of the infamous sky bars in the area. We chose to eat at a sports bar with a variety of food choices from different countries. The price of the food was mid-range, meaning about $6 USD per person. Afterwards, we headed over to a sky bar around the block called Above Eleven. We took an elevator to the 32nd floor, rounded a corner into an outdoor bar area, and were immediately breathtaken by the panoramic view of the city. What we didn’t realize was just how sprawling Bangkok is. Our little hometown of Portland, Oregon pales in comparison. Colorful and uniquely shaped skyscrapers can be seen for miles in all directions. We only stayed at this sky bar for enough time to get a drink and a few pictures before we decided to head back to the hotel and call it an early night. The time difference was still kicking our butts.
For our last day in Bangkok, we decided yet again to pack up and move to a new area of the city. We booked a hotel a few blocks from Khao San Road, an area known for its constant celebratory vibes and tourist attractions. After having brunch in Sukhumvit near our old hotel, we caught a Grab to our new place in the late afternoon. After arriving we immediately set out to explore the area around Khao San Road. We did a good deal of exploring for about thirty minutes before it suddenly started heavily raining. The rainfall was torrential and we saw/heard a couple strikes of lightning and thunder. The good thing about SEA’s tropical weather is that even though it’s raining it’s still usually pretty warm outside. The temperature at that time was mid-80’s; I was wearing a tank top, sandals, and shorts and felt totally fine. We also had an umbrella. Regardless, we decided to go back to the hotel until the rain died down. We rested and watched Netflix until the sun went down and we got a little hungry. While looking at Maps, Madison happened upon an interesting vegetarian/vegan place near Khao San called Ethos. At around 6:30pm we set out for the place. We had some difficulty finding it before realizing it was located down a little alleyway off the main sidewalk. Upon seeing the entrance we were struck by the beauty and peace emanating from this restaurant. It was a huge contrast from the chaos and noise on the next road over. The front was completely open and diners could be seen sitting on pillows eating their dinners on floor tables. We were instructed to take off our shoes upon entry. We flipped through the menu and saw a huge variety of Thai and Indian options. The prices were pretty decent, we got three entrees and two cups of Thai kombucha for $12. The meal portions were fairly large too which wasn’t very typical for us up until that point.
After filling ourselves up at that wonderful restaurant, we ventured back over to Khao San Road in order to experience it at night, because apparently, that’s when the party really started. Khao San Road was exactly what we thought it’d be. There are restaurant bars blaring Western-style music everywhere. Street food vendors are serving up noodles, meat kebobs, and fried insects. Pop-up shops are selling an assortment of clothes for really cheap. The whole thing was definitely a tourist trap, but I’m glad we got to experience it; it seems like a great place to party with friends.
We left Khao San Road around 9pm last night because this morning is when we had to wake up at 6am in order to catch our bus to Cambodia. I’m currently on the Giant Ibis bus now, about two hours into our eight hour ride. Our first stop will be in Siem Reap for 4 days before heading to Phnom Penh and then crossing the border to Vietnam. We will eventually loop back to Bangkok on the final few days of our journey. Until then, goodbye, Bangkok!
Stay tuned for future updates!