A one hour flight from Chiang Mai to Bangkok got us to the capital city in the late morning. Saving Bangkok as our last stop before returning to the States was a strategic decision. We knew our main activity in Bangkok would be shopping and we didn’t want to have to haul our loot all over Thailand. But though the city’s various malls and markets were on our four day agenda, there was also a good bit of sightseeing to do as well.
Our first activity was a guided night tuk tuk tour—visiting some of Bangkok’s landmarks via the infamous motorcycle tuk tuk.
Stops included Klong San night market (to sample some street food), Wat Prayoon (where we got a glimpse of some monks in training), the Giant Swing, Wat Pho’s grounds, the 24 hour flower market, dinner at a local Pad Thai restaurant, and finally ending in Chinatown for dessert. From being in NYC, I know that tourist attractions look and feel very different in the night time vs. the day time, so even though we didn’t have full access to some of the temples, it was still a really cool experience to be able to wander the grounds at night.
Wat Prayoon. It doesn’t get much more dramatic than this.
Wat Pho grounds
The flower market, open 24 hours
The next day was a Sunday and we ventured to the legendary Chatuchak Weekend Market. Anything and everything can be found for sale here: clothes, furniture, home décor, motorcycles, groceries, and even pets. Bargaining is wholly expected, but unfortunately the art of negotiation is not one Mr. S and I have mastered. Still, it was lots of fun wandering the endless maze of aisles trying to make a deal. Tourist tip: arrive as early as possible to avoid the crowds and heat as the day goes on.
About to enter the bowels of Chatuchak market.
Another tourist tip: the heat in Thailand, but especially in Bangkok, was unreal. Mr. S and I were dripping in sweat as soon as we stepped out of our air conditioned hotel. (Somehow only foreigners were prone to the heat because local Thais were looking ever so fresh and cool in their dark jeans and long sleeves.) Beat the heat with individually packed ice towels (sold at 7-Eleven). I swear, they are plastic wrapped mini miracles of relief when you feel like your face is about to melt off. (Our guide described Bangkok as “the land of temples, street food, and 7-Elevens.” Truly, 7-Elevens are to Bangkok what Duane Reade and Starbucks are to NYC.)
We arranged for a tour of the floating market and Grand Palace for the following day, and our guide Nadia and driver Mr. A picked us up bright and early from our hotel. The early call time was necessary since the floating market is about a one to two hour drive outside of Bangkok (depending on the traffic). But first, we made a stop at the Maeklong train market. The market is literally set up on top of active train tracks and the vendors who sell here are quite used to the train passing through six times a day. Folding up their canopies and getting out of the train’s way are done at a leisurely pace even when the approaching train is within sight. Produce and other wares are arranged in such a way that the train can pass right over them. Once it’s through to the station, the vendors emerge, canopies are re-erected, and business continues as usual.
At the Damnoen Saduak floating market, we boarded a row boat to navigate the canal, lined with merchants and teeming with vendor boats selling fruit and souvenirs. If we showed interest in any of the merchandise, the seller would use a long hook to pull our boat over to his stall and try to negotiate a price.
After a tour of the market and the surrounding canals, we disembarked our row boat and made our way to the noodle boat for lunch. According to our guide, this woman makes a very good living making only two dishes—noodles or noodles with soup—from her boat in the water.
Our last stop of the day was to be the Grand Palace, but when Nadia heard that we couldn’t see the golden reclining Buddha when we visited Wat Pho on the night tuk tuk tour, she offered to take us quickly inside so as not to miss the famous Bangkok landmark.
Then it was on to the Grand Palace. Though they have no legislative power, the royal family is still quite prominent in Thailand and their photos grace many of the public structures in Bangkok. I learned that Thailand was one of the few (if not the only) smaller Asian country to never come under Western European rule.
The Grand Palace complex also houses a temple dedicated to the emerald Buddha, who changes his outfit to match the season. (Sorry, no photos of the emerald Buddha allowed!)
The Grand Palace temple grounds
All the temple grounds we visited were peppered with structures called stupas—memorials in honor of deceased Thai royalty or other important national figures. And they were all decorated with broken teacups. Yes, teacups. Back when Thailand exported goods to China (rice, silk, spices, etc.), the boats returning to Thailand were loaded with Chinese teacups and concrete warrior statues to distribute the weight evenly. Many of the teacups arrived broken and instead of throwing them away, the king decided to use them to decorate the various stupas. The warrior statues were also used as decoration around the temple grounds. Upcycling at its finest!
A close up of the broken teacup stupa decorations
Our final day in Bangkok was spent doing some last minute shopping. Some of my favorites include dried roselle flowers (for making tea), silk robes (maybe I’ll start a collection to rival my mother’s), stationery and pens (the stationery section of an Asian department store is my heaven), poo-poo paper prints (on paper made from elephant dung), and massage hooks (so I can reach those pressure points all by myself!).
After our twelve day tour of Thailand, Mr. S and I were sad to go, but ready to come home. I’d classify our first long haul vacation together a success and I hope it’s just the beginning of many more adventures exploring the rest of the world together.
Thailand is a beautiful country with the warmest and friendliest people I’ve come across. We had so many experiences there that left us saying, “I can’t believe we just did/saw that!!” I highly, highly recommend a visit. If you’re curious about something I didn’t cover, leave your questions in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer!
(All photos are personal.)