A beginners guide to Bangkok
By the way! If you haven’t noticed the increase of pictures with the dwarf in our about us page, I have the pleasure of informing you that Karl Kristian has joined us! We are now four lost norwegians in Asia…
The norwegian listingsite FINN.no, announced recently that Bangkok was the travel destination most searched after by Norwegians. The amounts of searches had risen by a staggering 95% just since last year, signifying the city of angels rapid rise to the top of the travel throne in Norway. I was actually a bit surprised to hear this as I have always thought that for most Norwegians Bangkok was just a pitstop on their way to Phuket or Koh Samui, were they were finally able to get proper Skandinavian food and Norwegian newspapers.. It turns out that I’m being way to prejudiced and letting my distaste of the charter industry color the majority of the vast amount of Norwegians emigrating to Thailand for a 2 week holiday every year. I have experienced Phuket, and it left a bitter taste in my mouth as it was the epitomy of a travelindustry going the wrong way, hookers, bars and crowded beaches. Thailand has so much more to offer, and it is therefore I was intrigued by the fact that Bangkok was so much more popular as I had initially thought. To get things straight, Bangkok is my favorite asian city so far. I would even go so far to say that along with München and Trondheim, it’s my favorite city altogether. Bangkok is the city that has it all, busy markets, skyscrapers, huge shopping malls, beautiful parks, one of the best kitchens in the world along with the genuine thai friendliness that greets you everywhere you go.
Going to Bangkok without visiting the Grand Temple is like going to Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower. It has to be done. The ticket price compared to the other wats (temple) is outrageous, but it’s by far the most beautiful temple complex that I’ve ever seen. So I urge you take it in while you’re there. The complex contains several different temples and the centrepiece of attention, the emerald Buddha. To be honest I think that the architectural beauty of the buildings are far more interesting than the emerald Buddha itself, as it’s really just a really small emerald Buddha in a big big building. Karl Kristian and I relished in the photographic opportunities, although our expensive equipment was wasted on our lack of talent.., but we really did try! The Thai’s have really understood the concept of gilding things as the whole temple complex shines in gold and precious stones. As this is my third visit to Bangkok with different people, it’s also my third visit to the Grand Temple. And I’m still not sick of it. It’s simply too beautiful! As this is a very sacred place to the Thai’s, you have to wear appropriate clothing. They will lend you everything you need to cover up properly free of charge on the inside of the gates. So don’t mind all the people telling you that you have to get pants or shirts before you go in, they are just trying to scam you. Another thing to watch out for is people telling you that the Grand Temple is closed and that they can rather take you to a better and more interesting place nearby.. They are just trying to get you into shops so that you can buy stuff. If unsure go to the main entrance of the temple and have a look yourself, it’s the only way to be sure 🙂
After the Grand Temple the Wat Po is the logical next stop. Not because of the beautiful and enormous reclining Buddha or the large and fascinating temple complex, but mostly because after this much walking, the Wat Po thai massage school located on the temple premises is just what you need! After a half hour of relaxing and sometimes painful massage you are more than ready to take Wat Po right on. The reclining Buddha is far cheaper and a must see for any visitor to Bangkok. I’m not sure what the thing is with Buddhist and building huge Buddhas, but the do look impressive.
If you’re new to Bangkok it’s a easy city to navigate. For the most part airconditioned taxis are available everywhere at a decent price. Just make sure that you ask for the meeter so that you don’t end up paying more than you should. The ever present Tuk-tuks, three wheeled motorcycle taxis, have in the recent years turned into tourist traps, making sure that you end up paying more than you would’ve with a normal taxi. The other option is using the Chao Praya river taxis for transport. There are boats going every few minutes in either direction. The Cho Praya river is an experience in itself as it’s brimming with life, riverboats, transports and longtailboats transporting both goods and people.
We ended up staying in Banglampoo which is the area known for the Grand Temple, Wat Po and of course the backpackerdistrict Khao San Road. Khao San Road is a legendary backpackerstreet in Bangkok that attracts backpackers like moths to a flame. The actual Khao San Road street has over time been lined with Burger King’s McDonalds and other western installments. The sidestreets going out from Khao San Road and outwards are still a backpacker heaven with cheep accomodations, beer, massages and shopping. They sell copies of everything from Phd degrees, jeans, t-shirts and watches to pirated dvd’s and handcrafted items from all over Thailand.
Siam square is the main commercial hub of Bangkok and it’s definently a long shot from the narrow cobbled lanes of Chinatown, or the temples dotted onthe riverside. Siam square is filled with neon lights, huge shoppingmalls and designershops selling the latest from every big designer around the world. Siam Paragon is one of the biggest shopping malls, complete with an ice skating rink, saltwater aquarium, world class fitness studio and a five star cinema complex. You could easily spend a lifetimes worth of savings here, so we were satisfied with just having a look. For now I’ll have to do with the rolex copy.. If you want to do some shopping in the area there’s a cheaper mall close by where the Thai people do their shopping. The MBK mall is a colossus of a mall with thousands of small shops selling everything from clothes to electronics. It’s an excellent place to go shopping for souvenirs, or simply to have something to eat at their foood court floor. The food court consists of many restaurants offering food from all corners of the world for a decent price. If the shopping makes your feet hurt there are massage parlours on almost any floor, ready to give to everything from a foot rub to a full body Thai massage.
We spent a full day shopping and started of at the east side of Siam Square, Sukhumvit where there are plenty of small street vendors and a wide assortment of eating options. We used the Nancy Chandlers Bangkok map, which is an excellent mapguide to Bangkok and can be bought at most small bookstores. Definently recommended! I had read about this particular restaurant, and when we found it close by on the Nancy Chandler map we had to try it out. The Cabbage and Condoms restaurant is a restaurant where all the profits goes towards the fight against AIDS in Thailand. It has turned from a one man fight against AIDS into an institution who has helped Thailand turn into the country in South East Asia with one of the lowest percentages of AIDS. The food was excellent and due to the free internet and 60 baht foot massage we ended up staying there for way too long.. Definently a worthy stop for lunch or dinner!
If you have an urge for some Hello Kitty merchendise or a waving cat (I don’t understand why people buy them, they are plastic cats that can wave their paw..that’t it!!) then Chinatown should be your next destination. Chinatown is a large shoppingdistrict in the south of central Bangkok along the Chao Phraya river. If you live in Banglampoo, like we did, it’s a short rivertaxi ride heading south. Chinatown is even busier and more hectic than the rest of Bangkok, and there seems to be shops selling everything made out of plastic made in the last 30 years. A word of caution though, if you’re planning on doing some serious shopping then Chinatown is probably not the place to go. Most of the stuff we found weren’t really the stuff you want to ship home. For clothing I would say Khao San Road and for all other stuff it’s either MBK oir the surrounding area of Siam Square and Sukhumvit.
Now.. just as a quick warning.. If you like us, arrive from a a country like India you migth be lured by how clean everything looks, or the pleasure of the fact that things actually work! This will lead you to let your guard down on the foodside, resulting in what I have been suffering for a while, travellers stomach.. This might be the product of me eating everything I can get my hands on.. By all means, eat the streetfood! There is nothing more delicious after a Thai meal than to gobble down a big chocolate banana pancake… ahh.. Banana pancakes are my favorite dessert, even worthy of a getting the title of a Jack Johnson song! 🙂