When people talk about Thailand, I can always tell they’re looking back on their stay with a kind of longing.
A fond memory comes back to them; they remember a crazy night out in the capital; or they reminisce about lazy days on the beach.
To write about Thailand, I think I need to start by introducing the capital, and then unmasking all of her faces (Bangkok is definitely a lady. Maybe an abused, passionate lady who’s wise beyond her years? ).
We were in Bangkok in February/March time, which turned out to be the perfect time to visit. The tourist season was just ending, as was the cool season, so we avoided the crowds, the heat and the torrential summer rains.
If you’re flying into Bangkok from outside the region like we did, you’ll arrive at the beautiful Suvarnabhumi International Airport. You can change your money there (the rates are lower than on Khao San Road), where 100 Thai baht are roughly equivalent to $3 (checked July 2012). Since August 2010, you can catch the sleek new Airport Link into the city centre, and change onto the BTS Skytrain or MRT (have a look at this transportation map). Our final destination was a wonderful, central hostel called Roof View Place (which now shows up instantly on Google Maps, but was really difficult to find at the time!) so we traveled to Democracy Monument using probably the cheapest transportation, the 551 bus (30 baht).
Transport in Bangkok is really quite good, once you’ve understood that the more modern transports like the Skytrain and metro don’t go anywhere near the old parts of town (where most people stay), and that you’ll have to walk there or be harassed into an expensive tuk-tuk (bike/motorbike rides).
You see quite early on is that the streets are where things happen. You eat at the food stalls, food carts, food wagons that line the roads; they’ll sell you fresh fruit, skewered meats, rice dishes and things without a name that you just point at to try. You wander down the night markets, you shop in the streets, and you live outside. We found the most remote little noodle place on Thanon Sam Sen, right before the crossing with Samsen 8 by just walking around (their Pad Thai with shrimp was by far the best and least expensive I tried in BKK, about $0.50).
Also, as a tourist, an obligatory (and probably your first) stop is Khao San Road, which is tailored for tourists and caters to tourists. I would say: walk along it, take in the vibe, see the sad-looking expats that have been there too long and the drunken foreigners who’ve just come back from a ping-pong show and then: move on!
In the next few articles, I’ll try and describe the opposite and intermingling sides to Bangkok, and give you tips on where to go and what to see as well. If you’re there, try to jump between all of the things Bangkok has to offer, which is pretty much everything.