Bangkok – Exploring the older parts of the modern capital city.

This second most visited city in the world is ultra-modern, keeping its old heritage. Bangkok skyline is the best example of this. You see towering skyscrapers with smaller Chedis by the side. You have the walking street in one part of the city, while you can witness one of the ancient Thai dances from “Khons” in the other part. The evolving culture contrasts itself with the past. Here is your complete travel guide to Bangkok to experience non-touristy things in a touristy capital city.

Want to see the most beautiful, non-touristy place in Bangkok? – Watch this Video

Index

Where to stay in Bangkok

New BangkokNot my choice

New Bangkok – Not my choice

When choosing the right neighbourhood in Bangkok, Think of your budget – Bangkok has a range of hotels and hostels. I prefer Smaller guesthouses, homestays all over Thailand. Ask yourself what do you like -Shopping? Clubbing? Wandering in a historical area? Because every neighbourhood offers different experiences. We wandered in the following towns, and these are my observations- 

  1. Siam Square – The shopping Mecca of Bangkok, well connected with Metro.
  2. Khao San Road – The backpacker’s paradise filled with low budget hostels and pubs.
  3. Sukhumvit – Luxury hotels and resorts.
  4. Bangkok Old town: This is my kind of neighbourhood! It is a historic area bordered by the Chao Phraya canals, which served as moats for the old city. The area is home to many Buddhist temples, palaces, monuments, and museums. This neighbourhood was more like staying with locals than in a touristy area. The only drawback would be – No metro connectivity. This didn’t matter since we depended on Grab Taxi and Tuk-tuks for everything.

We stayed at Red Door, Samsen road in Old Bangkok. The hotel locality was excellent. But the “out of service” elevator made it impossible for mom to climb five floors to the breakfast area. 

Is Bangkok worth visiting

The best place in Bangkok – Night flower Market.

Do I love Bangkok or not?- I am Neutral. Like most capital cities in the world, Bangkok is crowded. But the crowd makes the place lively. Unfortunately, we- the tourists have overdone it. Few places in Bangkok is so commercialised that tourists have dethroned local life. If you deviate a little towards places famous among the locals, you get stuck in the traffic. But traffic jams are almost noiseless. The capital city has been modified so that even traditional Thai food is altered to suit foreign travellers. Unless you know the best place to eat Thai food, you end up eating continental cuisine. Once you eat the actual Thai food, you will want to join the cookery class to learn and not try “Non-Thai” food in Thailand.

 I am not the greatest traveller, but tranquil places like Wat Arun have become a mere background for photo clickers. So to experience any place in Bangkok, wait for the photo clicking crowd to vanish.

As an Indian, I have experienced polluted air and chaotic traffic enough. When I am on holiday, I need a better place. Unfortunately, Bangkok hardly caters to these. Khao san road, the Asiatic riverfront, floating markets are infected with mass tourism & lost their charm. People visit temples because it is part of their tour package and to click photos. This creates lots of commotion. Tourists flock to the city just because it is easier to get a Thailand Visa, and Bangkok airport is one of the world’s most well-connected airports. This city needs time to breathe before the situation gets worsen.

For me, Bangkok is like a hot soup – tasty but hard to swallow.

How many days to spend here?

If you are thinking like how I thought– “I don’t mind the crowd. I want to explore and know why is it so touristy,” –Two days is good to tour the city. Add two more days to make day trips to the other towns and places from here. We stayed in Bangkok for three days – Two days in the city and a day trip to Pattaya. I am more than happy about what we did.

Day trip options from Bangkok

We got bugged up by traffic on our way to the Asiatique riverfront from Or Tor kor market. Sitting in the car, stuck in the traffic, Mom said,” Let us go out of Bangkok tomorrow. I want to go somewhere quieter.” 

While planning the trip, Ayuttaya interested me so much that I wanted to spend at least two days there. Though most tourists make a day trip from Ayuttaya, it was not my choice for the day trip. These were the choices I gave to Mom and why she picked Pattaya.

SANCTUARY OF TRUTH AT PATTAYA – The only reason

  • Maeklong railway market: The crazy market folds when the train passes on the track. The first thing that appeared on another traveller’s blog about Maeklong blog was –” Locals sell frog fry by the railway track. If you love frogs, it is a must-try dish. Otherwise, the market stinks of frog fry” We didn’t even enter Bangkok’s floating market because it was stinking from outside. So Maeklong railway market with frogs fry could never be an option for Mom. ( This is what we decided. Research before you give up)
  • Erawan waterfalls – The hike through Erawan national park to see the water cascade may be difficult for older adults like my mom with Arthritis
  • Pattaya is the most touristy place ( maybe in the whole world) where every package tour pushes its tourists & people go to get drunk. What excited us was the wooden temple – the Sanctuary of truth. While reading about it, I learned that it is the same temple where Tokyo meets Professor in the Monneyhesit series, season 2.

Commuting in Bangkok

  • Tuk-Tuks: The heart of Thailand transportation is the best way to go around the city. They have no fixed meters, so haggle and fix the price before the ride starts.
  • Sangathew – Bigger than tuk-tuks, smaller than a minivan. These public taxis are the cheapest way to go around. They work like public buses, with specific stops to get in/out.
  • Taxi: If you are tired of Bangkok’s heat, book an AC cab through the Grab taxi app. The price may be higher but useful at the end of a tiring day.
  • Trains – Metro, Skytrains and Subways – Fastest way to travel in New Bangkok.
  • While planning, get to know which places are open at night and explore that area only. So that you don’t get stuck in traffic.

Top things to do in Bangkok

There are hundreds of malls and temples in Bangkok. Open-air and floating markets are plenty. The Cabaret shows and walking streets are equally famous (which you get in other cities too). So list down and make your days in Bangkok vivid with different kinds of experiences rather than sticking only to temples or malls and avoiding tourist traps. Bangkok is very much safe even during the night. Besides dealing with the traffic, you will have no other problem exploring the city yourself.

Most historical sites have audioguide and display boards explaining the history. So you don’t need a guide. Tuk-tuk, taxi and walking are the finest way to experience Bangkok. Therapeutic foot massage anywhere in Thailand if your foot is beating! Check with your host if they have an in-house spa. If not, you will find a massage spa two doors next to your room.
Things I loved most in Bangkok in descending order are –

Wat Arun temple

Once you reach Wat Pho by tuk-tuk, a five-minute ferry ride, take a ferry ride that cost 5baht/each. You get off on the other side of Chao Praya River five minutes later, where the magnificent towering White Wat Arun stands.

It beats the other Thai temple with its 70m tall white spire decorated with coloured glass and porcelain in intricate patterns. You can climb the spire to get a fantastic view of Thailand from the top. Mind that; you are climbing almost 23-floor height at one go! Unless you are fit enough to do this, don’t try it, especially in the afternoon.

The best time of the day to visit the temple is in the evening. Be there before the sunset to observe those intricate patterns all over the temple. Walk around to see the other buildings where monks live and pray. As the sky turns melon, you begin to hear a soothing tone of Buddhist chant by the monks from a temple. Remove your shoes, cover the shoulder to enter the temple and sit behind the monks. The vibration of the chant is hypnotising. Though the temple closes at 5.30 pm, you can be inside the temple complex till 8 pm. Then, take a ferry back to Wat Pho. Pick a restaurant by the riverside for dinner to relish some Thai food with the view of glowing Wat Arun in the front and watch those noisy river cruise dinner parties pass by.

Night Flower Market

Thailand is the world’s largest Orchid exporter & flowers are an essential part of the Buddhist tradition. Many markets in Thailand are essentially tourist traps; the Flower Market in old Bangkok is an actual offbeat place to glimpse local Thai life in the flower market.

Colourful and aromatic markets tickle all your senses. Prices are usually very affordable for those grown in Thailand. Thais who work here are not just vendors; they are artisans. Their swift hand movements weaving different petals to make a garland or their sense of colour combination is unbelievable. It is a delight to witness how the local life goes at night. A unique thing about the market is that vendors don’t call out customers as it happens in many Indian and Italian markets.

Take an early morning walk in Old Bangkok.

The residential part of Old Bangkok streets are calm and makes you feel fresh. This is the best place to watch the local life unwinding. The narrow alleys of Samsen road were perfect for an early morning walk. Thais walked with flowers to the nearby Wat. We could hear the soulful chants coming from the Wats now and then as we walked. The little shops were already busy selling daily needs to locals at 6.30 am. Teenagers were waiting near the food cart to grab breakfast by 7.30. Sangathews getting washed by the owners, two-wheelers carrying supplies to the restaurants, very few foreign tourists jogging by the canal – We forgot that we are in an infamous city for its chaotic traffic.

The Grand Palace

The Grand Palace has served as a home to Siam Kings since the 1780s. This Constitutional monarch country has preserved the king’s official residence as National heritage in its good condition. It is not just one building but a complex of multiple buildings, including their administrative offices, various temples, libraries and many more.

You may need a whole day if you plan to see all 35 buildings in the palace complex, including the most famous Emerald Budha temple. If you don’t want to spend a day here, keep two to three hours and start exploring. When you walk in the palace streets, you will know what attracts you more. Take coffee breaks in the AC cafe inside the complex and hit the paved walkways again.

Miniature Angkor Wat temple at Grand Palace

There is no such thing as the best time to visit this place as this is a significant tourist attraction in Bangkok. So expect a huge crowd. Still, this is an excellent place to get a glimpse of Thailand’s grandeur and Thai artists’ attention to detail. It is fascinating to see the Cambodian, Indian and Chinese influence on Thai Architecture and how Thai style blends all these to make it unique.

The number of chedis at the Grand Palace equals the number of tourists’ selfie sticks.

Most tourists gather around famous locations like the miniature model of Angkor Wat and Emerald Budha temples. There is no doubt about their beauty, but what impressed us most was their eye for detailing. Every corner is decored intricately with either glass/ mirrors/stone. I enjoyed taking a closer look at the minute details rather than the palace as a whole.

Almost after 2 hours of looking around the palace complex with a small coffee break in the middle, we badly needed some air conditioning. The museum is the one place where you get air conditioning no matter which country you are in. Mom asked if there were any museums where we could get some break from the sun. While I looked at the map, “Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles” is what grabbed the focus of two fabric obsessed Indian ladies. . Air conditioning and textiles – You can’t ask for a better day, we thought and entered. It turned out that this was the best of all the other places in the entire complex!

With no resemblance to Thai architecture, the building’s Italian features make the museum building an “odd man out”. Tourists often ignore this building as its facade isn’t as decorated as the other buildings.

The interiors with marble inlay work, hanging chandeliers, and wallpapers make you forget that you are in an Asian country. The rooms with a collection of fabrics from South Asian countries are mind-blowing. The Batic prints from Java ( Indonesia) were on display when we went. The patterns of subtle brown with popping mustard colour, Triangular designs with brick red and Beige – Each hand made fabric differed from the other.

IMAGE FROM QUEEN SIRKIT

You can neither touch the fabric (protected inside the glass) nor click a photograph. Still, we spent almost 45 minutes just admiring the fabrics and Royal’s outfits. Wherever we see the fabric, the first thought that comes to our mind is,” Can I make a saree out of their running fabric.” A gallery sells items made of similar fabrics, but the prices were over the roof.

The best part is their education studio, where you can see the hand blocks with the patterns engraved. Similar blocks were used ( and still used in a few parts of India today, too) to make that explicit pattern. They keep a paper and ink pad and a few of the blocks so that you can carry them home after playing with patterns on the paper.

Khons Performance

The most random decision was watching Khon’s performance – the Thai version of Hindu mythology Ramayana in the masked dance drama. While exiting the palace, there was an open bus waiting. Two Thais were handing out pamphlets explaining to tourists about the show. As the show’s price was included in the Grand Palace entry ticket, we decided to hop on the bus. Fifteen minutes later, we were at Sala Chalermkrung Royal Theatre.

Until the moment when they began to narrate the entire Ramayana story with a short introduction to main characters such as Raama, Sita, Raavana and Hanuman, we didn’t know what Khons performance was. We wondered why Thai kings were named “Raama” – the Hindu God, but we hadn’t thought of it until then.

The show begins with Goddess Sita waiting for Raama to return in the evening at their hut. After that, most conversations happen in slow songs and slow rhythmic dance with light movements between Sita & Hanuman. The artist’s outfit, headdress and entire setup with excellent lighting feast on eyes and ears. The 45-minute performance includes Hanuman reaching out to Sita, helping Raama resurrect Laxmana and ending with the war between Raavana and Raama. After the show, you can click photos with the artists who played Hanuman and Sita in the lobby outside the performance area.

Jim Thompson’s house

It is strange at times to know about a foreigner who helps preserve the tradition of a country that is not his! Jim Thompson was an American architect who settled in Bangkok after serving in the USA military in world war 2. At that time, the Thai silk making tradition was vanishing; Jim Thompson was the one who connected with the weavers and farmers to save the practice that he was most fascinated with. The house is lovely with courtyards and lots of greenery. Every 45 minutes, one staff takes you on the house tour showing around the cosy courtyards and his pottery collection.

Outside the house, in the same compound, you can see how they boil the worms ( it is a bit painful to see this part) and extract the silk thread. Their art gallery showcasing eye-catchy Jim Thompson brand products are a feast to wealthy shopaholics.

 Evening stroll at Chakkarpet Road.

Chakkarpet road is a local’s favourite spot to shop. You can shop for things that locals do, from the velvet soft bath towels to the dancer’s headdress. We happened to walk in the streets after the Khons performance and were shocked to see a Gurudwara in the middle of Bangkok’s market! The street’s vibe is different from all the other streets and markets we have walked in Bangkok.

Places in Bangkok that weren’t worth the hype.

Or Tor Kor Market | Khao San Road | Bang Nam Phueng Floating Market

Or Tor Kor Market

After a lot of research on Bangkok’s freshest vegetable markets, I was too excited to take mom to Bangkok’s “so-called” best vegetable market. Some of the best chefs in the world who explore the vegetable markets globally wrote amazing things about this place. So, expecting it to be similar to the flower market’s vibe, we took a tuk-tuk ride for 40 minutes & reached this market! The market was big but almost empty! I am not sure if we went on the wrong day or the market remains like this always; it was disappointing to see the empty shops with laid back sellers.

The good part was that we could see the bamboo baskets used to make sticky rice, and we could take a bite of stinking Durian fruit. So we got to see some typical stuff that grows in India here too! This market is right next to Chatuchak market. So when you go to Chatuchak on the weekends, you can have a peep into this vegetable market.

Khao San Road

The most famous place for nightlife in Bangkok! Every party person recommends this road to get the flavour of the happening nightlife of Bangkok in their blog. The road remained empty during the day, but the nightlife was not “happening”. I would call it chaotic over “lively.”
Mom and I wanted to experience the slice of party vibe of the road but ended up getting pushed in the crowd. Maybe my idea of nightlife differs from the others. I am unhappy that I wasted my evening on a chaotic street filled with crowded clubs that play tacky music.

Bang Nam Phueng Floating Market

The floating markets always got two kinds of views from bloggers. Some say it is a tourist trap, while others enjoy the food culture here. We chose “Bang Nam Phueng Floating Market” with an open mind, the closest to Old Bangkok. After crossing the river by ferry and a short tuk-tuk ride, we arrived at the market with a foul smell in the air.
Sniffing and twisting our nose, we stepped inside the market while the foul odour got stronger. I soon realised if we stayed there for a minute more, we would puke! The smell may be from the canal’s stagnant water or the fish oil they use in the food stall. Avoiding the consequence, quickly we walked away from the entrance even before getting the floating market’s natural feel! The smell was so strong that we hesitated to visit any other floating market.

So, Do you share a love-hate relationship with any of the cities in the world? Let us know in the comment section below.

Published by Sahana Kulur

Traveller | Blogger | Architecture and history

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