Let the Southeast Asia Travel Diaries begin! You guys, I’m so excited that I finally get to tell you about our trip! Now, for those of you who might be new to this blog, I should begin by mentioning that in the summer of 2016, my husband and I traveled to Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam for a whole month. I’ve been
patiently waiting to share these pictures with you!
By now, you have probably gotten quite used to Travel Tuesdays. Instead of Travel Tuesdays, I’m going to be starting a new series called Southeast Asia Travel Diaries. I will be writing these posts in a diary sort of style, recounting what we did for a whole month. I will also try to be informative for those of you who are hoping to travel to these locations in the future. I won’t be recounting exactly day by day all the time. The reason being, sometimes we came back to the same place later on. For example, because the flights made more sense, and were cheaper, we continued flying back into Bangkok. This means we were in Bangkok a few times. I will try to just write about everything we did in Bangkok once, regardless of when it happened during our trip. You get the point!
You Arrive in Bangkok, Thailand. Now what?
On July 13th, 2016 Kevin and I embarked on our biggest and craziest adventure yet. After being dropped off at the airport by my mother-in-law and saying goodbye to our dog Luna, our flights took us from Winnipeg, to Vancouver, to Shanghai, China, to Bangkok, Thailand. 33 hours (due to some delays) and swollen feet later, we finally arrived at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Aiport. By this time it was already 3:00 am Bangkok time. Kevin had booked our first night at Plai Garden Hotel, and after calling them from the airport, they picked us up with their hotel shuttle van (included). I would highly recommend booking at least the first night in advance and making sure that the hotel has a shuttle system included. You will be completely exhausted when you arrive, and you don’t want to deal with having to find a hotel.
When we arrived at the hotel, I was so hungry that I insisted we get some snacks from a 7 eleven that we had seen earlier. Yes, there are 7 elevens everywhere in Thailand! We left our room (there were so many cute geckos in the hotel’s hallway!) and went for a short and warm stroll to the 7 eleven. It felt unsettling to walk in the dark in a completely new neighborhood that we didn’t know at all. I’m sure it was completely safe, but it’s always nicer to arrive somewhere new when it’s still light out. But, we got some snacks, and that’s all that matters!
After sleeping in a comfortable bed… let me just pause here for a second. It’s worth mentioning that it was a comfortable bed, because a lot of the beds on our trip were really hard. Mind you, we didn’t stay at expensive places. Neither would I change the experience if we were to go back. It’s just a heads up, I suppose.
Right. After sleeping in a comfortable bed and enjoying a delicious stir-fry for breakfast, we took the shuttle back to the airport. From the airport, we took the Airport Rail Link to Bangkok’s city center Phaya Thai. By now, I was so hot that I couldn’t resist getting a cold strawberry green tea before taking a Tuk-Tuk (I will explain what a Tuk-Tuk is later on) to Khao San Road.
How to Plan Your Time
When we arrived at Khao San Road, people were helpful from every angle. We ended up letting another Tuk Tuk take us to a tourist center. I would recommend this. Kevin planned most of our trip before leaving, so we already had a good idea of the things that we wanted to see and do. At the tourist center a man helped us plan our next few days, after telling him what we were interested in seeing. They had different tour packages. Although we aren’t too big into tours and prefer doing most things on our own, we found that some places were just easier to access if you joined a tour. I’m not saying that there is no way around this, but it would also mean that you have to spent more time planning and trying to find places on your own. I enjoyed doing most things on our own, and then meeting some new people along the way on tours.
11 Things to See and Do in Bangkok, Thailand
1. Get a Ride in a Tuk-Tuk
This is an absolute must! A Tuk-Tuk is a three-wheeled motored taxi with room for two or more people (depending on the size of the Tuk-Tuk). Not only will you love feeling a bit of a breeze, but it is also quite the adventure getting a ride in one of these. The level of craziness and adventure all depends on the driver. It’s pretty thrilling! The driving in Thailand is completely different from the driving in Canada. Vehicles, scooters, and Tuk-Tuks are all trying to squeeze their way to the front of the line. Naturally, the scooters are the smallest, so they all gather at the front of the line. You will see a whole family squeezed onto a scooter, sometimes even a dog, and everyone seems completely comfortable. The next scooter will be mounted as high as possible with supplies. Everyone is honking letting you know that they are passing you, or that you are in the way. It’s quite the frenzy! I just love seeing how things are done differently in different parts of the world!
When taking a Tuk-Tuk, you want to make sure that your luggage is on the floor, or that you are holding on to your bags. You don’t want to hold them facing towards the outside, as other scooters might drive by, grab your bags, and take off. Again, this never happened to us, but there were always signs in the Tuk-Tuks warning us. Some Tuk-Tuks have a protective net, preventing people to have quick access. Here are some other great tips for taking a Tuk-Tuk. But otherwise, seriously, just enjoy the ride! Worry less! It’s a blast!
2. Democracy Monument
After getting settled in at the guest house that we were staying at, we went exploring by foot. The sun was hanging fairly low in the sky already, but we wanted to get some sight seeing done. I remember how swollen my feet were from the long flight. I didn’t wear compression socks, and that is something I’d tell my future self (and anyone planning a long flight) to do differently. Anyhow…
The first place we walked to was the Democracy Monument. According to Lonely Planet, “The Democracy Monument is the focal point of the grand, European-style boulevard that is Th Ratchadamnoen Klang. As the name suggests, it was erected to commemorate Thailand’s momentous transformation from absolute to constitutional monarchy. It was designed by Thai architect Mew Aphaiwong and the relief sculptures were created by Italian Corrado Feroci.”
3. Wat Suthat
Our next stop was the Wat Suthat. The word “Wat” means temple. I remember how the temples would often glisten in the dark if light was shining on them. They were covered in mirror-like mosaics. It was so beautiful and the details were incredible!
The Wat Suthat “is one of the oldest and most impressive temples in Bangkok. It features an elegant chapel with sweeping roof, magnificent wall murals and exquisite hand-carved teakwood door panels. The temple’s construction was commissioned by King Rama I (1782-1809), to shelter the 13th Century bronze Buddha image transported by boat from Sukhotai, but it was finally completed during King Rama III’s reign (1824-51).”
4. The Giant Swing at Wat Suthat
The Giant Swing is located next to the Wat Suthat, and stands at 21.15 meters tall. “In the past, during the Brahmin ‘thanksgiving’ ceremony celebrated every year after the main rice harvest in mid-December, young men would ride the swing high in the air, suspended 24 meters from the ground when in full swing, and try to grab a bag of silver coins with their teeth. Some fairly severe injuries and a few deaths led to the dangerous swing ceremony’s discontinuation in 1932.”
5. Take a Stroll Down Khao San Road at Night
Khao San Road comes to life at night. Your senses will surely be awakened. Colliding smells of delicious food, incense, sewage, and perfumes, along with loud music, shops, bright lit up signs, loud crowds, and massage places everywhere! Need I say more? You wouldn’t believe how different it looks from the day-time Khao San Road. When our tour van stopped in this same street the very next day, I remember arguing with Kevin about it being a different street. I could hardly believe that it could be the same street. All the kiosks had closed down, all the doors were shut, and it was dead silent.
Khao San Road is the perfect place to do some shopping. We bought some temple pants, and I bought a watch. We also made sure to try some of the fresh fruit. If you don’t buy anything here, that’s totally fine. You will find that you will see countless shops on this trip, and all of them sell basically the same things! If you find something that you adore, however, you might not want to pass the opportunity.
6. Wat Ratchabophit
“The [Ratchabophit] temple was commissioned by Rama V late in the nineteenth century. The temple’s unique design has the large wiharn (prayer hall) and ubosot (ordination hall) linked by a circular courtyard. In most Thai temples, the ubosot sits on its own in a square courtyard. In the center of Wat Ratchabophit’s courtyard, between the ubosot and the wiharn, is a large gilded chedi (pagoda) containing a seated Lopburi-style Buddha image. The outside of the buildings are decorated with hand-painted glazed tiles similar to Thai benjarong enamels. The door and window frames are elaborately decorated with gold and mirrors” (quoted from this website).
All the details in this temple were simply astonishing. I can’t even begin to imagine how many hours of work went into it! I mean think about it! Hand painted tiles!?
7. Wat Ratchapradit
“Located to the north of Suan Saranrom and built by King Rama IV in 1864, Wat Ratchapradit is a relatively small Buddhist temple covering a total area of approximately 2 rai. Also known as Wat Rajapradit, this temple was built for the monks of the Dhammayutika sect.”
The inside of this temple had dark and rich colours, with detailed paintings all over its walls. The chandeliers complimented the dark red ceiling with its golden rosettes.
8. Wat Pho
From far away this temple looks amazing! It looks textured, colourful, and has really fun shapes. You only come to fully appreciate it though, when you see it from close up. The picture below shows how detailed the tile work really is! It is covered in beautiful flowers that actually pop out!
You can probably spend a few hours at this location! It is huge and there are so many things to see! Here is a very informative website about the Wat Pho, if you are interested in more details.
The mirror tile mosaics were incredibly shimmery in the bright sunlight. Some parts had been redone recently, and they were particularly shiny!
Each one of these pagodas is 42 meters high!
These floral garlands were everywhere! Some were very simple, and others had amazing designs, but they were all made out of real flowers. In Thailand they are known as Phuang Malai. “They are placed as offerings on shrines, temples or are given to special guests as a sign of respect.”
This Buddha image (Phra Buddha Theva Patimakorn) is found in the Assembly Hall.
The Reclining or Sleeping Buddha was definitely a highlight! The image of this Buddha is actually named Phra Phuttha Saiyat, and was built in 1832 during the reign of King Rama III. It is 46 meters long and 15 meters high. In this image the Buddha is passing into final Nirvana after death.
In many temples you will be asked to take your shoes off, wear long pants, and have your shoulders covered before entering. I would suggest either bringing a shawl from home, or simply buying one once you arrive in Thailand. Some temples, like this one, actually provided coverings (that is not the case in most temples though). I also bought some temple pants along the way.
I wish you could see the Reclining Buddha’s feet from up close! They shimmer like the colours of the rainbow. This is because they are inlaid with mother of pearl. They did this in exactly 108 segments, showing the 108 characteristics of the Buddha.
9. Wat Arun
“The Wat Arun or the Temple of Dawn, is named after Aruna, the Indian God of Dawn. Despite the name, the most spectacular view of the glittering monument can be seen from the east side of the river at sunset, when the spires of Wat Arun make an impressive silhouette against the skyline. This Wat or Buddhist temple is an architectural representation of Mount Meru, the center of the world in Buddhist cosmology. In the mythology of Tibetan Buddhism, Mount Meru is a place that simultaneously represents the center of the universe and the single-pointedness of mind sought by adepts. Thousands of miles in height, Meru is located somewhere beyond the physical plane of reality, in a realm of perfection and transcendence. The four-corner prang of Wat Arun, which house images of the guardian gods of the four directions, reinforces this mystical symbolism.”
Unfortunately the main pagoda at the Wat Arun was under construction when we visited. I was quite disappointed about this, simply because it is beautiful and enormous and we were looking forward to seeing it! However, I understand that these old structures need to be maintained for them to be enjoyed by future generations. Here and here are some better pictures that I found on google images.
Even though the main temple didn’t look the way we had imagined, we still really enjoyed seeing the rest of the charming yard. I should also mention that we had to cross the Chao Phraya River by boat to get here.
This cat looks healthy and well fed. The reality though is that there were SO many cats and kittens not far away from this specific cat that were incredibly thin and hungry. A lady was feeding the tiniest one, and all the other cats were gathering around. I was completely moved to tears, because I love animals so much. It killed me to know that I couldn’t help or save any of them. There was one little kitten in particular that was so thin, and yet it was playful, just the way kittens always are!
10. The Pink Elephants Statue
These pink cheerful elephants are located right next to the Grand Palace. Make sure you snap a few pictures of them!
11. The Grand Palace and the Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha)
“For just about 150 years, Bangkok’s Grand Palace was not only the home of the King and his court, but also the entire administrative seat of government. Within the crenelated walls were the country’s war ministry, state departments, and even the mint. Thai Kings stopped living in the palace full time around the turn of the twentieth century, but the complex remains the seat of power and spiritual heart of the Thai kingdom.”
The first time that we wanted to visit the Grand Palace we weren’t allowed in as tourists, because it was the King’s birthday. We returned later on in our trip, because we really wanted to see it. This time we had luck.
There is a lot to see here, so make sure you set aside a good amount of time. Here is a website that shows the layout of the palace complex, for those of you interested.
“Wat Phra Kaew or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha is regarded as the most important Buddhist temple in Thailand. Located in the historic centre of Bangkok, within the grounds of the Grand Palace, it enshrines Phra Kaew Morakot (the Emerald Buddha), the highly revered Buddha image meticulously carved from a single block of jade. The Emerald Buddha (Phra Putta Maha Mani Ratana Patimakorn) is a Buddha image in the meditating position in the style of the Lanna school of the north, dating from the 15th century AD. Raised high on a series of platforms, no one is allowed near the Emerald Buddha except HM the King. A seasonal cloak, changed three times a year to correspond to the summer, winter, and rainy season covers the statue. A very important ritual, the changing of the robes is performed only by the King to bring good fortune to the country during each season. The temple of Emerald Buddha is beautifully decorated and has a great sense of peace about it.”
Here is a picture and some more information on the Emerald Buddha found in the temple.
Funny story, and something to be aware of. Don’t buy anything from the people right outside of the Grand Palace, if they claim you have to have your shoulders covered and won’t be allowed in otherwise. It is absolutely true that you have to be dressed very modestly if you want to enter. However, make sure you check at the entrance first, as to whether or not they provide coverings. On this given day I hadn’t brought anything along to cover my shoulders, and so I fell for it, and ended up buying a shirt I probably wouldn’t have bought otherwise. As we were approaching the Grand Palace entrance point, there were loud speakers warning tourists of exactly what had just happened to me, but at that point it was just a little too late. Oh well. I do actually still have this shirt. 😉
WATCH OUT FOR SCAM TOURS!!
As frustrating as this incident was, it kinda makes for a funny story to tell. Our plan was to visit the Grand Palace. We were told that only Thai people were allowed in on that specific day, since it was the King’s birthday. We were disappointed, but eventually decided we were going to come back at a later time during our trip (which as you see above, we ended up doing).
We met a man on the street, standing behind a booth, who told us he had another cheap Tuk-Tuk tour that he could offer us, since the Grand Palace was closed to tourists. Kevin didn’t feel convinced about it, but I suppose I trusted him. Before we knew it we had hopped into a colorful Tuk-Tuk and were taken to some location that was supposed to be special. It really didn’t look very impressive. We even got to pose with a Buddha backdrop, ha ha.
Next, they took us to a cashmere store. We walked in, and knew we didn’t want a suit or shirt made for Kevin, so we left soon after. When we walked back to our driver, he was really frustrated with us. He told us we had to shop for at least 15-20 minutes, or else he wasn’t going to receive his gas coupon. He then said we’d give it another try. He dropped us off at another cashmere store, reminding us to shop longer. Kevin and I walk in, sat down, and since we had no other choice, we pretended to be interested in the fabrics. We tried to stall time by taking a while to pick the right color, etc. When we finally thought that we had “shopped” long enough, we left. To this day we’re not sure if he got his gas coupon, but at that point all we wanted was to be dropped off back at the Grand Palace, which he then agreed to do. So yeah, beware of scam tours. But if worst comes to worst, you have a funny story to tell.
What to Eat
Since it was SO hot and humid, I found that most of the time I was more thirsty than hungry. Fruity, cold, and sweet things were more appealing than hot and savory dishes for the same reason. Obviously you’ll need something more filling at times, and the savory food is so delicious that you wouldn’t want to miss out on it!
There is plenty of food to pick from on Khao San Road. Everything from fruit, snacks, and savory dishes, to fried scorpions and tarantulas! I never pulled myself together enough to try the latter. I wish I had though! I hate feeling defeated after really wishing I would have the nerve to do something out of the ordinary, and ultimately deciding that I simply can’t. So if any of you ever go to Khao San Road, perhaps you can eat a scorpion or two for me! 😉
Ultimately, we decided to find a small sit-down restaurant. Unfortunately, I forget the name of it. Something that I loved about the restaurants on our trip in general, was that they always had a menu at the entrance. This way you were able to see what kind of food different restaurants offered before committing to one.
Kevin’s dinner came in a huge pineapple!
We were surrounded by the chatter and laughter of lots of people, waving flags, interesting trees, neon lights, loud music, and delicious food!
Since I don’t remember the name of the restaurant, try finding the deep-fried chicken with orange sauce on one of the menus. It was delicious!
You don’t really have to worry about finding a place to eat in Bangkok. There is food everywhere! Some of the food is quite spicy, but it’s so delicious! I realized that overall Kevin was more willing to explore different foods than I was. Once I knew that I loved a certain thing, I wanted to eat it again, and again. Some of the Thai foods that we tried and enjoyed in Bangkok were mango and sticky rice, passion fruit juice, fresh watermelon, mango, and pineapple, Lod Chong (green noodle dessert drink), chicken, spring rolls, etc.
Where to Stay
If you are arriving at the Suvarnabhumi Aiport late at night, I would recommend staying at a hotel close to the airport. As mentioned above, we stayed at Plai Garden Guesthouse. I was very happy with the stay. It was very simple, but the bed was soft, and the room had air conditioning. They picked us up and brought us back to the airport in their shuttle (included). They also had a food menu (not included), which we took advantage of before going on the next day.
In Bangkok we stayed at Boworn BB Guest House. This hotel is really close to many sight-seeing places. Quoting my journal, “the bed was hard like a brick!”, but I would still recommend this place. I think it’s part of the experience, and it was in a good location, plus it was cheap!
If you are sightseeing in the northern part of Bangkok city or have a layover at Don Mueang International Airport, Phoom House is in close proximity. It is about a 10 minute walk away and is an affordable alternative to the hotel that is attached to the airport. We stayed here a couple of times when we would fly to different locations. Again, it was a simple place, but I’m pretty sure the beds were soft. However, make sure to ask for a room far away from the little bar that is close to it. It will be loud there till late. Also, make sure your bathroom has a sink. Some of the rooms at this hotel didn’t have a sink, only a shower and a toilet. Oh, and there was no food included.
What to Drink
You are going to want to drink a lot of bottled water (I was soaked in sweat almost every day, and that is coming from someone who doesn’t sweat a lot). The unfortunate thing about this is that it creates a lot of plastic waste. I should also mention that most hotel rooms on our trip included clean bottled water. We had read somewhere online that we should be careful and make sure that the water bottles that we received/bought were sealed, since sometimes tap water is bottled and sold. This could result in getting sick, since our systems are not used to the tap water. Not once did we have this issue, however. We often bought water at 7 elevens or other grocery type stores.
Also make sure that you take advantage of the delicious fresh fruit and fruit juice that is sold everywhere on the streets. I especially LOVED the passion fruit juice!