How to spend 10 nights on a budget soaking up the sights in Thailand’s capital…
Thailand is without a doubt one of our favourite destinations.
From the tropical jungles of the north, to the sun soaked beaches in the south, it certainly lives up to its namesake ‘The Land of Smiles’ and offers something for everyone.
Thailand was our first stop in South East Asia on our 16 month RTW trip, so it has a very special place in our hearts. We did many ‘firsts’ here – from snorkelling in Koh Tao and kayaking in Phang Nga Bay, to feeding elephants, jungle trekking and taking a cookery class in Chiang Mai. All were amazing experiences that should not be missed.
Our very first taste of Thailand however, was a 10 night stay in Bangkok, the capital city, which, love or hate cities, seems to have a unique seductive charm that wins you over. Maybe not quite as wild as the image portrayed in the second ‘Hangover’ movie, but certainly vibrant and enormously welcoming. And compared with many of the prejudices and egocentrism we have experienced during our globe trotting, we found the very open Thai attitude of anything goes to be both exhilarating and humbling.
Despite being the capital city that most tourists find themselves flying into, Bangkok is often discounted as place to explore and enjoy due to its seedy sex tourism reputation. Fellow travellers we met along the way who had all done the ‘Backpacker Circuit’ through SE Asia were usually amazed at the fact we were able to spend 10 nights there. Many just passed through after finding the infamous Kao San Road for a party night or two, or simply avoided Bangkok completely without ever seeing what it really has to offer.
Thailand is also not just about ‘The Full Moon Party’. We’ve never since experienced a ‘party’ quite like that on Hadrin Beach in Koh Phangan! But Bangkok was definitely one of our highlights – so much so that we extended our original booking of 7 nights to 10 before heading to the regions in the north. We also returned to Bangkok a few months later on our way to explore the south islands, as we could not resist revisiting some of our favourite places there. The beautiful people, generous hospitality, delicious pad thai, quirky tuk tuks, giant golden Buddhas and VW cocktail camper vans had left such a lasting impression on us that we wanted to experience them again!
Here are our recommendations of how to enjoy what Bangkok has to offer, without putting a dent in your daily budget…
1. Easier than haggling for a tuk tuk, take a ride on the ‘sky’ train.
Not all parts of the city are accessible by sky train, but we found it useful for getting around and accessing the Sukhumvit area where our hotel was situated, and it was very cheap as far as public transport goes.
2. To access other areas across the city take a taxi boat on the Chao Phraya River.
Avoid being stuck in heavy traffic by taking a taxi boat. Even better, if you take the local water taxi as opposed to the ‘tourist’ boats, it costs literally ‘pence’ to get to your destination pier. Good views of the city, although the water can be heavily polluted.
3. Enjoy a sight-seeing walk around ‘China Town’.
There are lots of fantastic shops and market stalls selling everything including the kitchen sink. A great area for people watching and taking photographs, particularly if you like taking pictures of unusual foodstuffs.
4. Sample at cocktail on the 25th floor of the Grand China Princess Hotel.
Whilst in China town, take the opportunity to try a cocktail or two at the Grand China Princess Hotel which has a 360 degree Sky View Revolving Restaurant and Bar with panoramic views over the city and Chao Phraya river. Whilst many tourists head to Bangkok’s famous Sky Bar to enjoy views over the city, but find themselves battling to get served at the overcrowded bar, we found this little gem. Not only were we able to experience panoramic views, it was at a fraction of the cost. A great find!
5. Go on a shopping spree at the MBK Centre.
For the ultimate shopping experience, you need a day to look around the multiple floors, shops and stalls inside this Aladdin’s Cave! The MBK Centre will cater for all your clothing & electronic needs, whether it be fake goods or real. It’s great for having a wander and seeing what is on offer. We bought a Panasonic Underwater Camera from there that was a third less than the price we would have paid for it in the UK. It was just what we needed and problem-free. But be careful to shop around in there and check whether the item is brand new or reconditioned. Also, if you love to buy, make sure you set yourself a budget before you go in – it is very easy to overspend!
6. Visit the Grand Palace, the official residence of the Kings of Siam since 1782.
For some Thai culture, take a stroll around the grounds of the Grand Palace, the most popular tourist attraction in Bangkok, famous also for the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. It is an enormous area with 12 gates and 17 forts. It could easily take you a day to stroll around, photograph and appreciate the beauty of the intricate stonework and carvings that adorn the buildings there.
The Palace is accessible from The Chao Phraya River. To get here, take the Chao Phraya Express Ferry to Tha Chang Pier. You will see the white walls of the Palace immediately on your right, cross the street & walk straight for 2 minutes until you reach the entrance gate.
Tip: Do not be fooled into thinking the Palace is closed at lunchtime as touts try to divert tourists away from there and talk them into going elsewhere with a tuk tuk driver.
Thais can enter for free, but tourists must pay an entrance fee of 400 baht. The ticket however is also valid for Dusit Palace and Vimanmanek Mansion in the Dusit district. We also got to watch a military procession on our visit.
We also saw this monitor lizard roaming outside the Grand Palace as we left. Who needs to pay for a zoo!
7. After a busy day shopping in the MBK Centre or walking around the Grand Palace, enjoy a traditional Thai foot massage.
Thai massage is readily available where ever you wander in Bangkok. We experienced a much needed relaxing massage after leaving the Grand Palace to revive our aching feet. Massages are extremely cheap compared to western prices so don’t miss out! Our foot massage was 200 baht each. Be careful when agreeing the price if there is seating both inside and out. We didn’t realise that to sit inside the shop and enjoy the air con at the same time, it was an extra 50 baht – although it was well worth it to take a breather from the heat!
8. Watch a traditional Muay Thai kick boxing match at the Ratchadamnoen Stadium.
Even if you are not a fan of contact sports, this is a great experience to witness Thai people and what they love. During the evening’s entertainment, there was a continual buzz throughout the stadium as locals placed bets with a bizarre set of hand signals that we couldn’t quite figure out. The traditional musical instruments that were played repetitively along side the fighting also gave it a surreal feel.
We opted for the lowest priced tickets at 1000 baht, which still provided great views although seating was simple stone steps in a tier system. This was where the locals sat – so our attitude was ‘if it’s good enough for the locals’ and all that! My recommendation is not to use the public toilet facility however. It was very lacking – especially for women! Save it for later if you possibly can.
9. Rest the legs, do some people watching and sample a drink (or two) from a VW Cocktail Campervan!
This cocktail campervan – fantastically novel – was stationed in the Sukhumvit area. We stumbled across it one night whilst heading back to our hotel. They’re an interesting little place to stop for a drink out in the open, especially if you love to do a spot of people watching. We met a friendly Thai who we ended up drinking the night away with – so a great way to make friends too!
10. Don’t miss it out even though it’s a tourist haven. Head to the Kao San Road area for night time entertainment & cheap drinks!
Enjoy a spot of break dancing in the middle of the street… Different groups perform all night long at regular intervals.
Drinking buckets is the way to go if you are on a budget! There’s lots of deals to be had in the Kao San Road area as everyone battles for your business.
Buying in ‘bulk’ is obviously the way forward – why have a ‘bottle’ of Chiang when you can have an extremely large pitcher!
Street food is amazingly cheap. You will always save money if you eat like the locals do. It is also amazingly tasty – especially at 4am!
We also got a bargain fish foot massage at 4am after stumbling out of one of the clubs in the Kao San Road area. If you’ve never tried it – then go for it – you’re a lot braver after a few buckets anyway!
Well that’s our list…
We did not have an enormous budget but we enjoyed much of what the city had to offer by being a little savvy with price checking, looking up other traveller’s tips & tricks on the internet and by doing a bit of shopping around for the best offer.
We are not really ones for bartering and haggling down prices just to save a few pence. But even the most budget conscious traveller can afford to do some of the activities listed above by shopping around locally for the best prices and options, as agencies, restaurants, bars and street sellers compete for business. And best of all some of them are free!
So don’t discount Bangkok due to its reputation. Go and see it for yourself and make up your own mind. It’s a totally mind-blowing experience that will stay with you forever.