Expectations were grand for the world famous Bangkok. Stories which had previously caught my ear included scenes where drunken backpackers were mugged by ladyboys and tales that violent stray dogs roamed wild between the city streets. Through word of mouth Bangkok had compiled a reputation as a place of danger, a place where things went wrong, where the people were troubled and trapped in a frantic malfunctioning metropolis. Certain films like the Hangover sequel and a few stories from my flatmates may have been to blame for this distressed image I had painted in my mind. The time we visited was also the time of the 2014 protests. Now travelling with the addition of our friend Jan the three of us had no clue as to what awaited us after liberation from the confinement of the night bus.
Around 3 AM we were flung out to the roads no longer the bus driver’s responsibility. The usual gathering of tuk tuk drivers amassed around us attempting to convince us our desired location was a good hour away and any journey there would be expensive. Disputes and difficulties aside we arrived at ‘Amazing House’ where we rented a private room for £2.58 a night, by far the best deal on accommodation on our trip so far. (Compliments to Kate) The lady at the desk was very kind considering we had woken her from her sleep and our check in time was around 2pm. She gave us the password for the wi-fi and let us leave our bags behind the desk while we ventured into the city in search for breakfast.
Following some parents with school children, they led us to a modest shop producing scents of warm food. The school children didn’t seem much bothered when we sat down amongst them. The waitress proceeded to approach us concerning our order, gesturing for food for three people with an added thumbs up, we sat in anticipation of what she would present us. ↓ Below you can see what she brought us, I found it a little heavy but served it’s purpose, keeping us satisfied for a good while through the busy day that followed. Surrounded by images of hungry groups of school children laughing and busy parents swiping screens on their smartphones my first impressions of Bangkok severely distorted my previous frame of mind on the city.
Upon thanking our cooks and the waitress we continued along the road to accidentally stumble into the heart of the Bangkok protests. It’s hard to explain what it feels like when within three minutes walk of being in a normal everyday environment you can turn a corner and be surrounded by a protest camp. We strolled through the site and to our surprise, the atmosphere was very different to how the situation was being portrayed by the international media, things were relatively peaceful. Families lay together in temporary tent fixtures surrounding the Democracy Monument and people smiled at us as we tried to find our way through them. The atmosphere did seem a little uneasy but we saw no form of violence or anger while we were there. However later that night, upon returning to our hostel we heard people had been killed that morning, just after we had left the site. No information was released at the time on who the killers were. You can read more concerning the protests we saw throughout in Bangkok here.
After deciding we had seen enough of the protest camp to get an idea of the situation we headed towards the Grand Palace. After sighting a large temple we decided to take a short break. There we met ‘Vis’, a very friendly local lass who spotted us as confused tourists and offered us a hand when we requested some route information. “I can take you there, I’m heading there later anyway”. Vis guided us through some streets and after picking up some (I think it was robes) for some monks she got us there safely. It was very kind of her to show us the whole road and once entering the temple she let us get on with our sightseeing while she went off to finish what she had to do.
The Grand Palace was a feast for the eyes. All the temples we had seen up until now had been very beautiful but the Grand Palace was different as many of the intricate decorations were still in pristine form. There are a large number of tourists at this site however for some reason they didn’t seem to detract as much from the atmosphere as the tourists in Angkor Watt. An interesting museum on the history of Thailand’s textile industry is located right next to the grand palace. It contains a lot of information about the local clothing industry and how it contributed to improving the livelihoods of many villagers, as well as strengthening the country’s external trade.
Jan had to leave us early the next day so we decided it would be a good idea to locate the train station for him. We walked down random streets and past various apartment blocks. On our way meeting numerous giggly locals and unintentionally finding China town. One market nearby stood out to us in particular, not only due to the delicious noodle soup which a very cheerful lady made for us but because every working Thai in the market was more than willing to take a photograph when setting eyes on a camera. Kate went ahead and sampled some Thai iced tea which is ridiculously sweet and a peculiar orange colour. These vibrant people again completely shattering my pre-conceived image.
Night fell and we hopped onto a local bus to take us back to where we were staying. A night in Bangkok awaited! There we found the most probable route of the infamous stories we had heard. One particular road was lined with the classic backpacking night-life entertainment, the phone cases, the fake beats headphones and of course the rowdy bars run by westerners. One stall even offered fake ID’s, I was very tempted to purchase an Australian driver’s licence. The strip wasn’t that much different from Phuket so we didn’t feel the need to stick around. The following day we visited the Museum of Siam which was fairly large and surprisingly interesting, all the dots of what we had learned about Thailand seemed to connect.
Bangkok is a stunning city. In a place like this, it’s fair to say you see what you want to see. It could be perhaps a lot of visitors have been missing out on some of the lesser known aspects of the Bangkok lifestyle. I’m sure if we had more time we could have explored more of the night scene aside from markets and the typical tourist bar strips, yet Bangkok can offer a whole extra range of things to explore, even if you’re slightly hungover from the night before.
Favourite Sites To See / Things To Do:
- The Siam Museum
- The Grand Palace
- Floating Markets (We didn’t get a chance to go but heard many good things)
- Walk around! Bangkok has endless lively hidden street corners
- Night markets, (Tourist and Flower markets)