Three days after running the Houston Marathon, I hopped on a plane and helped move my mom to her new home in Bangkok, Thailand. Along the journey, I learned a great geography lesson. Asia is REALLY far away. Maps don’t do the Pacific Ocean justice. After our 23 hour journey across the globe, we began our personal battle with a 13 hour jet lag and made our way to our new neighborhood of Sukhumvit (sue-come-wit).
After spending two weeks exploring Bangkok, I still feel like I only scratched the surface of understanding such a unique and exciting city. So before you frolic with elephants in the jungles of Chiang Mai or surf the world class beaches of Phuket, make sure you do the following in the city of angels!
Get a Foot Massage
The standard rate for an hour long Thai Foot Massage is 300 THB (Thai Baht) or $9 USD. There are massage businesses everywhere in Bangkok, this one was on our street and fairly modern in comparison to others.
Your masseuse will wash your feet first. I suspect this is how anyone in Thailand keeps their feet clean because the ground outside is dirty and it’s uncomfortably hot to wear close toed shoes. After making you feel like a disciple of Jesus (Easter reference…), she gives you a blanket to snuggle up under and will roll up your pants to just above the knee if necessary. She gets to work and next thing you know you’re in Thailand heaven! If you think about it too much, it does seem weird. She ends the hour by massaging your arms/neck/upper back area too. And after awaking you from your meditative state, she will lead you back to the register and offer you a tea or water.
Travel Tip: You will pay at the register and be given exact change. My masseuse was waiting to open the door for me as I left – hand the tip to her then! 50-100 THB is considered generous. I’d also advise going to the spa before bedtime and after having 1-2 drinks for peak relaxation!
See the Grand Palace and Wat Pho
The Grand Palace is where the King lives. Expect boat loads of foreign tourists and to be constantly dodging selfie sticks. The big thing to see at the palace is the Emerald Buddha. Which was really cool, but no pictures were allowed in that temple, so you’ll have to go see it for yourself! The buildings around the palace are incredibly sparkly, decorated, and well grand. It’s hard to take in all the intricacies. The crowds don’t make it any easier.
Wat Pho is a buddhist temple down the street from the palace. “Wat” means temple. Wat Pho is most well-known for having the huge Reclining Buddha. Having learned from my mistakes of various historical sites in Europe, I hired a guide to give me a tour of Wat Pho and I cannot recommend this enough! Especially if you are not educated in Buddhism. You’ll miss so much of the cultural experience if you don’t know what you’re looking at.
Travel Tip: Get to the Grand Palace early. It is 500 THB per person, but the Grand Palace is so important to the Thai culture, that you’d be missing out on the experience if you skipped it. Wat Pho is 100 THB per person. Hire a tour guide when you walk in. If you don’t see one, wait a few minutes. The prices are posted on a make-shift sign, but I’m sure you could haggle if you are displeased. I paid 400 THB ($12) for a 45 minute guide to walk my mom and I around the temple. There is another temple across the river called Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn). It’s fun to take the boat across the river (and insanely cheap), but Wat Pho has more to see and do. You’ll be hot, sweaty, and hungry. We went to all three places, pick two instead.
Ayutthaya is a former capital of Thailand and is located about 90 minutes out of the city. The town is now a tourist hub and a UNESCO heritage site. There are ruins everywhere, more Buddhas, and 100’s of temples to explore. We rented bikes for the day (50 THB each) and rode around two temples. The breeze created from biking was glorious, but after two temples we were exhausted and ready for lunch.
This was our favorite meal! We found Sai Thong River Restaurant and we sat in the shade along the river. We shared one River Prawn, a baked fish, shrimp fried rice, and a baked seafood coconut. Not to mention a few Singha beers for good measure. The River Prawn is Thailand’s lobster and accounted for half of our total bill – $$$! Everything was spicy and delicious. I can only hope I’ll get to return to this restaurant again.
Shop at Chatuchak Market
Chatuchak Market is open on Saturday and Sundays and is located right off the Mo Chit stop of the BTS (sky train). The market has souvenirs, food, furniture, jewelry, shoes, clothing, and artwork. I loved it for having endless assortments of elephant pants and unique snack options. The coconut ice cream may be trying too hard to appeal to the instagraming tourist, but it was delicious! I abstained from posting about it until now. Get it with peanuts and chia seeds and consume quickly because it will melt if you take too long photographing it, like I did.
Travel Tip: Load up your BTS card or get an unlimited day pass ahead of time. The line to buy is incredibly long at tourist spots like Mo Chit. The last thing you want to think about after walking around an outdoor market for 3 hours is how long you’ll be in the non-air conditioned line at the BTS stop. Once you’re on the sky train, you get blasted with cold AC while spooning some strangers to make room. It’s crowded at times, but no one seems to mind, so neither should you!
Eat Street Food
The air in Bangkok has a unique smell. During my first few days in the city, I kept trying to find a way to describe it. A mixture of street food, humidity, and some other variable I couldn’t nail down. Street food is cheap and available everywhere! Going for a walk to the park in the morning? You’ll pass a street cart grilling chicken, a man slicing fresh fruit over ice, salt-baked fish over open flames, and an assortment of fresh vegetables if you’re lucky! You cant help but wonder how all of this food even gets consumed. I tried a few different vendors on our soi and quickly became addicted to some sweet potato balls – not sweet potatoes, potatoes that are sweetened! For about 20 THB (less than $1), you’ll get about 20 of these balls. A plate of pad thai would run you closer to 50 THB (about a $1.50).
Travel Tip: A little hesitant to dine off the street? Suda, directly down from Asok BTS stop, is a great spot to test the waters. The prices are the same as other street food vendors, but it’s a real restaurant with dedicated table space.
Walk around a Mall
No one goes on vacation wanting to walk around a mall. Until you visit Bangkok. I went to the Emporium , CentralWorld, Terminal 21, and Siam Paragon. I know what you’re thinking, thats a lot of malls! The most practical for actual shopping was CentralWorld, which also happens to be the 10th largest shopping complex in the world. The most interesting to simply walk around was the Emporium.
The malls are all cooly air conditioned and stocked with the finest luxury designer names. At first I thought these malls were out of place. The dusty and cramped streets surround these modern beacons to consumerism. The longer you’re in Bangkok, the more it makes sense. The malls also have incredible food courts. Emporium has a lot of western style restaurants that would fit right into Montrose Houston, avocado toast and all. But we had our favorite meal at CentralWorld.
Travel Tip: Eat at the food court of CentralWorld. This is not the “Food Hall “as you will easily spot on the 7th floor. Walk through the grocery store until you see the “Food Court.” All malls are accessible straight from the BTS sky train: Emporium – Phrom Phong, CentralWorld – Chit Lom, Terminal 21 – Asok, Siam Paragon – Siam.
Drink Singha and Chang
Lastly, don’t leave Bangkok before deciding if you’re a Chang or a Singha drinker. Chang is typically less expensive than Singha. Chang has the cute elephant logo with a heart. A Singha is a mythological creature represented as a half lion, half man. Whichever you choose, pair with a pad thai dish and enjoy!
Have you been to Bangkok and think I missed something great? Let me know in the comments! I will be back again and would love to try new suggestions!