Since Garret and Mitch were already in the area, a stop in Bangkok to visit Mitch’s brother and his family was tacked onto the visit of the Browns in Singapore. It was incredible to see the many differences between Singapore and Bangkok, not only in the structure of the cities but also the different ways of life. Withstanding the sweltering heat, we were able to get a good taste of Bangkok in the four-plus days of exploration.
Monday March 21st
We took a mid-morning flight from Singapore and less than two hours later arrived in Bangkok, where Mitch’s brother Elliott picked us up at the airport (located outside the city). Elliott, who has lived in Bangkok for a couple of years, immediately introduced us to excellent thai food on the drive back to his house. We settled in to the guest bedroom and got to play around with Everett, Jenny and Elliott’s son who had a 1st birthday to celebrate while we were there. Elliott and Jenny were able to take us out on Monday to view some parts of the city and continue our trend of eating our way through the trip.
Vertigo and Moon Bar
The first stop was Vertigo and Moon Bar, where we had a drink on the 61st floor, overlooking downtown and watching the sun set. Already it was extremely evident how helpful it was to have Jenny and Elliott – they knew the city, the language, good eats, etc. As mentioned on previous posts, having local hosts can be a difference maker in the kind of experience one can have when visiting an unfamiliar place.
Sunset clips the MahaNakhon, Bangkok’s soon-to-be tallest building.
PatPong Night Market
For dinner we went to on of their favorite Japanese restaurants, then went for a walk in the PatPong Night Market. Here was over 100 neon signs/bars trying to bring tourists in for one of their numerous “shows”. We passed on the entertainment, and instead made our way to Maggie Choo’s for a nightcap, a really cool speakeasy-like bar, complete with live music, and cushy chairs. We highly recommend paying it a visit (located in the basement of Hotel Novotel).
The night market lit up and full of people.
Tuesday March 22nd
Tuesday morning we took an Uber down to the Tak Sin Cross River Ferry Pier. The Ubers are great in Bangkok, and extremely cheap compared to the US – just be ready for the infamous traffic delays here. Tickets for the river ferry are just a few dollars, and well worth it – we were able to get great views of the many temples along the Chao Phraya River, and got out of the traffic on the roads. Fifteen minutes later we were dropped off on the dock at Old Town, ready for a day of exploring that area.
Plodding right along in our river taxi.
Wat Arun was undergoing renovations unfortunately!
A quick walk from the dock, the Grand Palace is an extremely large campus of royal buildings, with many of them dating from the 1700s. There were massive amounts of tourists everywhere you looked, meaning we had to really muscle our way around to get into the different buildings. Quick note on attire – pants are required for gents, but they have some there you can rent for very cheap (we were in shorts since the weather was 90+ and humid).
There are over a dozen major buildings within the Palace grounds, and Mitch made the great point it was hard to truly appreciate each building because there were so many. Most of them prohibit photography inside, as there are numerous places of worship for Buddhists. Shoes also had to come off whenever touring the most important buildings. One of our favorite buildings was the The Chapel Royal of the Emerald Buddha. It contained a Buddha statue that has a legendary history, being covered in plaster for a long time until the nose chipped, with the belief it was emerald underneath (actually being made of jade).
After walking around most of the palace grounds we decided a place to eat and cool off was needed. We walked the streets around the palace and stumbled upon an old market, Tha Tian Market. While it seemed to be more of a quiet, venerable (and smelly) wholesale market at this point, it has quite the history of being one of the main markets in Old Town, and it was almost like getting a behind-the-scenes look. We emerged from the market and found a small, tucked away restaurant owned and run by a family. The mother/matriarch was very nice and spoke no English, but we were able to talk with her daughters and ordered up a delicious and inexpensive Thai meal.
The Phra Wiharn Yod stood out amongst the buildings on palace grounds.
The Grand Palace standing tall and proud.
The architecture of the buildings was wonderful both close and from a distance.
Our small but tasty lunch discovery.
A $3 meal – Pad Thai, a beer, and a bottle of water.
The other major part of Old Town we explored was Wat Pho, a combination of various Buddhist temples. We spent a good hour walking around and reading up on the different structures. Similar to the palace grounds, what was fascinating about this complex was the variety of buildings. The Phra Maha Chedi Si Rajakarn were really interesting, four stupas dedicated to the different Kings of Thailand.
One of the more famous parts of Wat Pho is the Reclining Buddha. By far the largest Buddha statue we had ever seen, with a length 46 meters, head to toe in gold leaf. The building allows for a complete walk-around of the buddha, which was having the feet refurbished when we visited. On the backside of the buddha you can exchange bills for coins that get dropped in buckets along the path as well as offerings.
As we wrapped up our time at Wat Pho we were approached by someone wanting to sell us a canal tour. We kept saying no and getting him to lower the price, and ended up getting him down to $25 for an hour.
One of the many Buddha statues at Wat Pho. Notice the tourists for scale.
Lines of Buddha statues around the Wat Pho campus, gathered and restored over the years.
We watched painstaking restoration taking place by this man.
The Reclining Buddha, hard to capture in a photograph.
Dropping our coin offerings at the Reclining Buddha.
The canal tour was a lot of fun, and a unique way to see other parts of the city. One could tell how it used to be the main arteries of the city, but was slowly overtaken by roads and proper maintenance of the canals has since fallen by the wayside. Our tour guide didn’t say much (we were the only people in the boat but about 20 feet away), and after a while he slowed down for some guys to peddle souvenirs and beer. We grabbed a couple of beers, including one for the driver, and a combo of beer and cool wind was a great way to spend an hour on such a hot afternoon. A random, funny and innovative feature of the boats was the car engines they repurposed for the boats, bolted next to the drivers in the back. Eventually we were back at the central stop, and switched over to a river taxi to make our way back to the house to rest before heading out that night.
A boat to ourselves for the canal tour!
“Street signs” for the canals.
We bought some beers off of this guy, including one he is delivering for our driver.
Now that’s what I call repurposing a car engine.
That evening we decided to have dinner in Chinatown. Jenny had a restaurant she had been wanting to try, Yim Yum, and it did not disappoint (on the corner of Yaowa Phanit and Phat Sai). The food was great (the oyster omelet spectacular), and you could tell an extended family ran the place, and it was set up as their home after hours; the grandfather and grandkids were already turning part of the restaurant into a living room and watching a Chinese soap on TV. After dinner we walked around the Chinatown, including the small streets where every single shop was setting up shoes for a huge sale either that night or the next day.
For a nightcap the four of us went to my favorite bar of the trip, called The Tap. I cannot find it online and don’t recall the exact location, but it was in a really cool part of town (“I could live in this neighborhood” -Mitch), made unique and tasty drinks, and had some entertaining live music, all in an intimate setting. Try and find it when you make your trip (and let us know, we will update the post)!
Never-ending streams of cars and people in Chinatown.
An oyster omelette, surprisingly very good!
The fish on the right doesn’t even fully submerge in the tank’s water.
Great music, company, environment and drinks at “The Tap”.
Wednesday March 23rd
Royal Club of Bangkok
Wednesday can definitely be classified as a “guys day”. We spent the day with Elliott, and he started off our day by going to the Royal Club of Bangkok for lunch (yes, it was a late start to the day). Garret really enjoyed this club because it was not an imperialistic leftover (actually started by the Thai royalty, also Thailand was never officially colonized), and one of its missions statements is “for the purpose of improving the standard of horse breeding and various other field sports.” Right in the middle of the city. It made for a lunch with really cool views! Also we went stereotypical and got a club sandwich at the club. Elliott gave us a tour of the facilities afterward – if we had been there on the racing day (Sundays) he said it gets extremely crowded.
The Royal Bangkok Club in pristine shape.
After the Club we headed over to the nearest mall, Siam Paragon (they love malls there!), and spent some time focusing on massages and more eating. First we went right next door to Chang Foot Massage, where we got Thai messages. Yes, the ones where they walk on your back (~$10ish for an hour). We felt good but somewhat beat up afterwards. Feeling great overall though, it was time to head for the maiiiiiiiiin event…Muay Thai fight night.
Muay Thai – Rajadamnern Stadium
A quick Uber got us from the mall over to Rajadamnern Stadium, where Elliott had booked ringside seats for the evening. As we came into the arena we were greeted by the roar of the crowd, the rattling of the cages (the second level was completely caged in, or rather were we the ones being caged?), the chatter of bookies taking all kinds of bets, and the sight of red vs. blue all night. Being right next to the ring made it all the more real, enduring the occasional rain of sweat from a hit and feeling as though we were getting yelled at by the coaches.
The teenagers fighting were all tough, and there was only one knockout. However, they typically circled each other and never threw many punches in the final rounds, leaving us to ponder how much of an influence the money flying around the mat had on the results. After this entertaining event we finished the night at Ken’s Steak House, which wasn’t a steak house but rather a loud bar with a large beer selection and the ability, we assumed, to get very rowdy on another night.
Lots of food carts, betting, and drinks at the Rajadamnern Stadium.
A Father-Son teaching moment.
Red vs. Blue.
Less a steakhouse, more of a great place to grab a nightcap.
Cowboys…leave your guns at the bar.
Thursday March 24th
Thursday was a very unique day – Everett was turning one! Mitch’s family was kind enough to let us partake it the blessing at the Buddhist temple the family attends. This was definitely a “local tradition” one traveling here would not normally experience, and we were privileged to be a part of it. It was fun interacting with all of the family, watching the numerous monks conduct the blessing with their chants and prayers, and celebrate with a tasty Thai meal.
Everett, so close to walking!
In the afternoon we explored another mall close by, this time getting a foot massage, consuming more pad thai and buying some very interesting snacks for our offices to enjoy upon our return. The foot massages are definitely the best kind of massage ($10 for an hour). If you go to Bangkok, take our advice and get a foot massage every day; it ends up almost being a regular massage, minus the walking on your back.
We came back to the house for Everett’s first ever birthday dinner. The little guy celebrated like a champ, making a mess of his cake and entertaining the family the whole way through.
After the birthday celebrations we gave Mitch’s family a well-deserved break and headed out for one final night of bar hopping. The bar hopping started on Soi Sukhumvit, including a small, hidden whiskey bar that reminded us of the speakeasies back in NYC. A friend recommended finishing the night at WTF, but after walking there we discovered it was closed already (unsure why). Deciding to explore a few blocks, we found Bottles of Beer, a beer shop recently opened up on Suphang Alley. We ended up finishing the night there, drinking outside and having a great conversation with the co-owner about how it got started, the neighborhood, and Bangkok in general. Finally, we thought it best to head back and called an Uber for the journey back to the house.
Whiskey flight in the candlelight.
Numerous bottles of beer at Bottles of Beer.
Friday March 25th
Friday morning was Garret’s departure from Bangkok (Mitch would be there another day), so it was a quick Uber to the airport, watching the KU / Maryland game on the phone at the gate, and then 19+ hours of flight time back to New York. First Asia trip for Garret complete, a complete success!
(De)parting words of advice!
- Obvious and stated before but having someone local makes a huge difference and allows you to experience both the tourist attractions and something different.
- If you love Thai food, you will have an amazing time with the eats, plentiful and cheap.
- Every journey in the city ends up being an adventure; it is 15 million people in organized chaos.
- If you go in March like us it will be plenty hot, so be prepared, or look towards another time of the year to visit.