Bangkok has a reputation for being sleazy, smelly, and loud. It’s reputation is not wrong. But it is the gateway to Thailand and South-East Asia, so the chances are if you are going that way you’re going to end up in Bangkok at some point.
I actually liked Bangkok more than I expected (since I expected to hate it). There are definitely some impressive temples, cool experiences, and great food spots to try out if you’re changing there for a couple of days. Here are my top five:
Have a traditional massage
You’re bound to be stiff and aching after hours of travel to reach your destination. If you’re also suffering from jet lag, the heat and noise of the city can be overwhelming. Having a Thai massage will help you to unwind, immerse you into the culture, and I never found one cheaper than in Bangkok. It’s the centre of many traditional massage schools (including at Wat Pho, below) so you know you’re getting a skilled practitioner. And usually for less than $10!
See the Temple of the Reclining Buddha.
There are so many temples in Bangkok, as in the rest of Thailand. For the most part I would skip them since you will see more jaw-dropping ones elsewhere in your travels. However, Wat Pho, or the Temple of the Reclining Buddha is something else. The temple complex is huge, and the famed Buddha even bigger at a jaw-dropping 46 metres.
Take a cooking class
There are cooking classes available in almost any destination in Thailand. However, if you are specifically looking for vegan courses they’re harder to come by. May Kaidee cooking school also has a branch in Chiang Mai, but if you’re interested in your food I’d recommend taking the class in Bangkok. First, it will give you an introduction to typical Thai ingredients and regional styles of dish, which will give you insight into what to pick later in your travels. Secondly, there’s just a lot more beautiful and interesting stuff to see in Chiang Mai. If you’re going to be stuck in Bangkok for a day or two, make the most of it by getting this great experience there. I’d strongly recommend May Kaidee. The teachers are fun, friendly, and accommodating. You cook and eat enough courses to keep you full all day. And you get a free take-away cookbook! We made Tom Yum soup, Massamam curry, Pad Thai and mango sticky rice. Then waddled back to the hotel to snooze it off…
Find out if any local events are happening.
The main problem with Bangkok is that tourists are funnelled into an ugly neon westernised area full of drunk teenagers where you never see any Thai people except in service positions. One great way to get an insight into the culture and lives of local people is by witnessing a traditional ceremony or celebration. I was lucky enough to be there for Loy Krathong, the lantern festival that takes place on the full moon in November. Loy means to float, whereas Krathong is a container.
Little lotus-style boats holding candles are released onto the river. This action is meant to release you of any hatred or anger that you are holding. People make a wish as they release the container. It is meant to bring you light and positivity. I wandered down to Phra Athit Pier and watched the locals gathering with their family and friends, picking their krathongs, making their wishes and releasing them. It’s the most special memory I hold from Bangkok.
See the city from the sky in Chinatown
I missed out on checking out the markets and temples of China Town on my way out of Thailand thanks to traffic. However, if you are coming for a couple of days or have a stopover and want to avoid the Khao San Road area, it is worth considering staying in China Town instead. I really enjoyed having dinner and a cocktail or three at the revolving Sky View 360 restaurant on top of the Grand China Hotel. Surprisingly, the food is terrible. They really could make a killing if they got a half-decent chef and menu. But they serve a killer cocktail, have live jazz, and most importantly you can see the whole of Bangkok lit up at night all around you as it revolves slowly enough that you can’t feel it happening. It gives you a really interesting perspective on the city. Ancient temples are lit up alongside billboards, a mix of old and new that is so Thailand. It was a great way to finish my trip feeling on top of the world.