A lot of people who have lived or travelled in Southeast Asia will say that you only need 3 days max in Bangkok. It’s big, busy and with so much to explore in Thailand, most people fill up on street food, see the main temples and the palace, and head off to explore the islands of the south or the hilly north.
I actually find something quite satisfying about spending a few extra days in Bangkok. There’s lots to do and it’s virtually impossible to be bored – whether you’re in the mood for eating, bar hopping, sightseeing, shopping, or having an indulgent day getting a massage, having your nails done or going to the cinema, you can pretty much do whatever you like in Bangkok.
It’s a really well-connected city, with the Skytrain and Metro linking most neighbourhoods fairly easily. It’s also a major financial and commercial centre, and unlike other big cities in the region, you can find most of your favourite essentials here – Boots SPF, H&M emergency underwear, for when yours keep disappearing in the laundry, and good coffee, to name a few. It’s a useful travel hub for the rest of the region, and whenever you’re in doubt about where to go next, Bangkok is a good place to do some research, recharge your batteries and make some plans.
So, given that I clearly love hanging out in Bangkok, it was a no brainer for me to spend a few days there over Chinese New Year, when most other parts of Southeast Asia go a bit quiet and it’s trickier to get around.
I booked myself into Lub D hostel, the Si Lom branch, and I would definitely recommend the neighbourhood and hostel if you want somewhere clean, friendly and social. Si Lom is a far cry from the manic Khao San Road, the backpacker centre of Bangkok. Although we went there one evening for food and a wander around the market, I was glad not to be staying around there.
On my first night I met some friendly fellow travellers and we went to check out the street food in the local area. It’s been 10 years since I’ve been to Thailand, and I was happy to see that delicious Pad Thai, spring rolls, fresh coconut and big bottles of Chang can still be had at bargain prices from fold up roadside restaurants. Just pull up a plastic stool and watch the world go by.
Cocktails with a view
Over the next few days, I joined forces with two other backpackers who had just started their trip – Ana from Brazil and Rick from England. We made it our mission to find the best rooftop bar for sunset and evening city views. We were originally drawn to Sky Bar, from The Hangover II, but after reading reports that it had become an overcrowded and overpriced victim of its own popularity, we decided to look elsewhere. Despite missing sunset twice thanks to rubbish planning and Bangkok traffic jams, we did pretty well and enjoyed some delicious cocktails and gorgeous views.
My personal favourite was the friendly and surprisingly affordable Park Society on top of the plush So Sofitel in Sathorn. We had no issue getting a table with a view, the cocktails were delicious and the bar nibbles were good.
Special mention goes to the hidden gem of Cloud 47 in Si Lom, which was only a 10 minute walk from our hostel, meaning that not even Bangkok traffic could stop us from making it there before sunset.
It’s not as fancy as some of the others in the area, but that’s no bad thing when you’re a backpacker counting out your baht and your fanciest outfit is a €7 H&M dress (I go to other shops, I swear). It offers panoramic views of the city for sunset, cheap cocktails and a relaxed atmosphere.
On the tourist trail
As it had been 10 years since I’d been in Bangkok, and I am sure I was more concerned with buckets than temples at that stage, I decided to spend one day visiting some of the main sights in the city. Myself, Rick and Ana hopped on one of the local river boats, a super cheap way to get around and see some of the city, and headed to the Grand Palace.
We arrived around lunch time, completely not factoring in the fact that we would be battling for space with hundreds of other tourists. Thankfully, the palace grounds are huge and offer space for appreciating the view and taking some pictures at even the busiest times…but be prepared to crop the odd photo bomber or selfie stick out of your shot!
The Palace was particularly busy when I was there, as many Thai people were coming to pay their respects to the late King, who died in October 2016. He was very much loved by Thai people, and there are photos of him and memorials in his honour all over the city. Hundreds of people dressed in black queue up daily at the Palace to mourn.
We also visited Wat Pho, the temple with the giant reclining Buddha. It was very beautiful, but by the time I got there I was pretty exhausted from the heat and only thinking about food, so we hopped back on the boat and went in search of lunch.
Bangkok can be exhausting. It tends to involve a lot of walking and the heat can be almost unbearable in the mid-afternoon. One of the benefits of having plenty of time in the city is that you can indulge yourself a bit without feeling that you are missing anything. That’s exactly what I did while I was there. One afternoon, I went with a couple of girls from my hostel in search of a Thai massage. We went to Healthland, which has branches all over the city, and had a two hour traditional Thai massage for 550 baht. It’s more than some of the walk-in places, but worth it!
I also treated myself to a pedicure for my tired looking feet. You absolutely cannot beat a Thai pedicure. They tear your battered feet apart and put them back together again, all finished with a nice coating of choral nail varnish. For 450 baht, it’s about a quarter of the price of the same treatment at home.
Once I’d had my fill of Pad Thai, temples, pampering and rooftop drinking in Bangkok, I packed up and headed south to Koh Chang for a few days of sunshine and beach time before heading to Myanmar.