How do you describe Bangkok? The best, and the only way, I can come close to describing Bangkok is that it is like New York and L.A. mixed together…on steroids! It is truly a city that never sleeps, and actually seems to come awake at night. It is an extremely big city, and at times, can be tough to get around. We have found that most cab drivers in Bangkok only know their way around certain areas. Main streets area easy enough, but side streets and alleys are what make up most of Bangkok, and those are nearly impossible to find…even if you have an exact address.
Although Bangkok is a little bit on the crazy side, it is also full of nice and helpful people. After all, Thailand is not called “the land of smiles” for nothing. Recently I was asked what the biggest culture shock for me was in Bangkok, and I’m humbled to say that it was simply being the minority. But that’s just how it goes in Bangkok. At times Liz and I have paid 10 baht more for items, such as street food, just because we are white faced. People aren’t always being malicious, just taking advantage of an opportunity. In many parts of the world, especially in areas of extreme poverty, people do what they can to survive…and every little bit helps. It was a bit of a shock to me, because I’ve fortunately never had to deal with that type of discrimination. But it was a wake up call to know what it feels like on the receiving end. But just to be clear, this was not always the case; honestly more times than not we were treated with the same respect as other Thai people.
First Stop in Bangkok – the Hospital…for Vaccines
As soon as we landed in Bangkok we headed over to get some of our remaining travel vaccinations. In order to save money, we purposefully waited to get these in Bangkok. The process was very different, but quite easy and efficient compared to our American way. We received 4 shots our first day in Bangkok, and had to come back 7 days later for another dose. Read more about getting our CDC-Travel Vaccines HERE
In total, we received our rabies shot, Japanese enciphilitis, yellow fever, and meningitis for a fraction of the cost of receiving these in the States. And not to worry, Thailand has very good healthcare. In fact, their “medical tourism” industry is flourishing, as other travelers go there for affordable care. When we asked our nurse about it, she said that about 75% of all their customers are foreign.
Welcomed by our Airbnb Host, Mac
After receiving our shots, we headed over to where we were staying for the week; an Airbnb in a 200 year old traditional Thai neighborhood. As soon as we stepped foot into our Airbnb host house we were welcomed with open arms. Mac is an American expat from Seattle who has been living in Bangkok for over 13 years. He is married to a Thai woman named Noi. Mac and Noi have several guesthouses and operate a bar / restaurant, all located in the same neighborhood of Bangkok. They were wonderful hosts and we couldn’t ask for anyone better.
Once we were settled in our room, we returned to the kitchen table and Mac pulled out a map to show us where a few of the spots to not miss. This was a great touch, and again one of the many reasons we love staying with Airbnb. So now we had a map highlighted of places to go, and transportation options around the city. Mac was full of great information, and he directed us to a number of places that we wouldn’t have known about otherwise. It was like having a private tour guide, and we could tell that he thoroughly enjoyed showing people around!
Staying in an Authentic Thai Neighborhood – in Bangkok
Mac later invited us out to lunch with him and another guest at one of his favorite little family restaurants (more like a side walk stand) in his neighborhood. This was an awesome experience. The food was amazing, the people were so kind (although they only spoke Thai). We even visited them 3 more times during the week to eat, and each time they remembered us and would smile when they saw us. It really made us feel like we were a part of the neighborhood, rather than just tourists on the outside looking in.
Our Airbnb in Bangkok Was Perfect to Rest and Work
We spent the first couple days in Bangkok resting from our non-stop exploring of Hawaii. And our room at Mac’s was perfect for that. We even had a separate room attached to the bedroom with an extremely comfortable couch, for Thai standards, so we could sit and catch up on some work. We also had a TV with a big DVD collection to choose from. It was actually quite nice to being able to chill out and get some work done. This lasted for a couple of days, and if it weren’t for the roosters that started crowing before 6 am everyday, we would have slept in a lot more. But, we were productive!
Getting Acquainted With Thai Food
Since we planned to be in Thailand for some time, we had to get used to the food. Not just the types of dishes and flavors, but how to order it! Since we were staying in a traditional neighborhood, away from the tourist areas, everything was in Thai. So we had to do some research on how to speak some basic Thai so that we could order our food…and to figure out what items on the menu were! Every restaurant was different in what they served, and typically we had their popular main dishes. So we became familiar with each establishment’s specialty dishes the more we stayed there.
Now when we say restaurants, we are mostly referring to small family-run businesses on the sidewalk and outside the front of their homes. You will find the families cooking outside with some plastic tables and chairs in front of their house, or even inside a front room. Many of these homes are set up so that the their living room or main room of their house is actually their business. This could be a restaurant, hair shop, convenience store, or massage shop. Whatever your trade.
Dining at these restaurants in our local Thai neighborhood in Bangkok was a great experience, and it was great on the budget! We felt like we were living the day to day routine of the locals and sitting down and eating next to them. No other “white faced” people in sight. Great experience.
The First of Many Massages in Bangkok
One of the first things we did for our first night in Bangkok was to get massages. Since we left Thailand over a year and half ago, we had been dreaming about the massages. Even though we are typically budget travelers, we are all about pampering ourselves…and we are suckers for a good massage! What we like about Thailand is that the massages are cheap, and quite good. My favorite was the Thai massage. On our first night in Bangkok, I got a 2 hour Thai massage where they not only work all your muscles, but they stretch you a lot! They are also able to realign your back and other joints.
Typically massages can run anywhere from 200THB – 400THB, which comes out to about $6 to $7 for an hour. Not too bad. They do get a little personal in your space, everything is free game for a massage, but it is all about the massage and nothing sleazy; although, you can find that in other parts of town…but that’s not our cup of tea!
Exploring Bangkok and Khao San Rd.
After working for a couple of days inside, it was time for us to get outside and explore a little more of Bangkok. We were becoming familiar with the public transportation system, so we took the train into central Bangkok. There are many different districts, including lots of shopping, nightlife…and more of the seedy districts. We were good tourists and stayed outside the crazy establishments that were not for us, but you really can find just about anything you are looking for in Bangkok!
We also headed over to a more well known tourist area, Khao San Rd. This area is interesting…either you like it, or you hate it. It is crowded with backpackers and westerners; so extremely touristy! The prices are high, the experience is not as authentic, but it’s a nice place to go if it’s your first time to town and you feel a bit overwhelmed. Food menus are in English and many establishments will speak pretty good English. This is also where you can find the occasional fried scorpion or tarantula on a stick! Yep scorpions, if that is your thing.
During our visit, we avoided the scorpions and instead met one of my childhood friends, Nick, for dinner. He is a teacher in Bangkok and actually lives and teaches just around the corner from Khao San road. It was nice to catch up with him and get the insider scoop on life in Bangkok.
Geocaching in Bangkok
Khao San Rd. is also where we found one of our favorite Geocaches on Bangkok. In fact, it is the most popular cache in all of Thailand! It was actually hidden in one of the side alleys of the popular road and was being “protected” by an elderly Thai woman, who got a kick out of meeting us. She was even sweet enough to help point out the cache to us when we looking around with confusion.
Geocaching around Bangkok was definitely an experience that we will not forget. It’s a lot like caching around other big cities like New York, where you have to try and be inconspicuous to avoid attention from the “muggles.” And in Bangkok, the language barrier will prevent you from being able to explain yourself if someone asks what you are doing, so you want to be sure not to attract too much attention.
Chinatown = Awesome Food & Atmosphere
One of the main things we were looking forward to during our return visit to Bangkok again was finding one of our favorite places that we ate from our last visit. Located in Chinatown, we had stumbled across a street where a chef was making incredible meals, and putting on a show for the bystanders! We had such fond memories of this place, that we were determined to find him again. However, being a street vendor, we weren’t exactly sure of his location from the last visit! So imagine our excitement when we found him!!! We were so excited to sit down and watch the show, oh and have some awesome food!
The atmosphere was just as good as we remembered it, and it was wonderful to reminisce about our first trip to Bangkok and compare it to where we are at in our lives right now. If only we had known that we would be back in Bangkok on an indefinite around the world trip!
Our Personal Interview With a Monk
One of the coolest experiences we have ever had while traveling happened here in Bangkok. Our Airbnb host, Mac, introduced us to one of his close friends who is Monk that runs a school at a temple in Bangkok. This is a non-profit school that provides free after school education to students who want to learn different languages, and particularly English. Even Mac was an English teacher here for a couple of years, and this is where he learned some of his Thai.
Teaching here for nearly 13 years, he had such an inspiring story. Growing up in the countryside, he was very poor. He wanted to learn and have a better life, so he came to the city with a friend to live at the monastery, where he could be educated for free. Now, he holds many degrees and graduate degrees from area universities. He even has received a title from the King of Thailand (a very big deal). But you would never know it when sitting with him.
Our sit-down conversation was one that I will never forget. His demeanor was so calm, and immediately he my worries disappear when I walked in the door. He inspired me so much and I truly feel that his spirit will always be with us as we travel the world.
Read more about our sit-down interview with a Monk HERE
Transportation – Water Taxi, Train, Bus, Taxi, Tuk-Tuk
There are many modes of Bangkok Transportation! Mac was kind enough to teach us how to use the Bangkok bus system, which was super convenient and cheap! It was nice to have someone show you how it works, because it can be really confusing to learn local buses! For only 8 THB we could take the bus all the way into the Old City…no better deal in town!
Being such a big city, taxis are also a necessity. But they are notorious for taking advantage of tourists, and they will try to barter a price with you; which will rip you off (because they know what the price should be). Insist that they use a meter!
The Water Taxi is also an inexpensive way to get around the city. The water taxis have many routes and stops all along the river. So if you are seeing sights in any of these areas, just move along the water. Not only is it cheap, but it’s really nice to see the city from the water. Much more relaxing than sitting on a bus or tuk-tuk! Click here to read our detailed post about types of Bangkok transportation and how to use them.
Thanks Bangkok – I’m Sure We Will See You Again!
A week in Bangkok went by in a flash. It was a great trip and our host Mac and Noi really made it a great experience for us. Having Mac show us around his neighborhood, his favorite food stalls (and how to order it), how to use the bus system, giving us tips and advice, as well as introducing us to his Monk friend really made the trip memorable.
Ready for the Countryside – A Train Ride to Kanchanaburi
Bangkok was great, but it’s intense. And we were ready to see some trees and get outside the city for a little bit of quiet time. So we took a train from Bangkok to a smaller town in the countryside called Kanchanaburi. Only a 3 hour train ride from the city, it’s a manageable trip for anyone who has a couple days to spare. Our train ride was so nice and peaceful. I love train rides like these that take you into the countryside.
Not only is it beautiful out there in the countryside with the mountains all around, but it sits along the River Kwai, making for a tranquil environment that includes various water activities. In addition, this was an important area during WWII. The Japanese occupied the area and used POW’s to help build the railway into Burma. There is a lot of history in the area, so if that is something you are into, definitely check it out!
Things to do in Kanchurburi, Thailand
Our stay in Kankanchurburi was so relaxing. We stayed in a small bungalow right on the river, called Bambooya Resort. This was exactly what we needed after a week in the busy city of Bangkok. Ran by a family, this small “resort” was really an enjoyable experience. We got to know the family, and the woman was so sweet to us — even driving Liz on the back of her motorbike down the street to a shop to print off our departure boarding passes. And, we had breakfast each morning outside looking over the grass and the river…very nice!
While we stayed in our bungalow for a couple of days resting and working, we couldn’t leave without seeing a little bit more of this area. So we booked a day excursion through our hotel with a local tour operator to head out and see a little bit of Kanchanaburi and the outlying area.
Whenever it comes to paid tour packages and excursions, we always weigh the pros and cons. In this case, there was a lot that we wanted to see in a short amount of time, so public transportation would have been inefficient. And since we didn’t have a car to get around on our own, the cost of a taxi would have been too much. With these considerations, we decided that it was worth it to do a day package tour. Plus we had our own personal tour guide with us, who was awesome!
Our excursion took us to Erawan National Park (and waterfalls), an elephant riding company (which we did not take part in), and a tour of part of the WWII Death Railway near the Burmese border, which also included a short ride on the train. All in all it was a great experience.
A Visit to Erawan National Park and Waterfalls
Erawan National Park is what Liz and I were looking forward to the most while visiting Kanchanaburi. Erawan National Park is known for its 7 beautiful waterfalls. This was one of my favorite things we found so far while being in Thailand. Each waterfall was different from each other, and you were able to hike to the different levels (with level 7 being a couple hour hike uphill!).
5 of the 7 waterfall pools you are able to swim in. Some pools were better for kids / families, while others were very deep. But our favorite was #3 where we were able to ride a natural slide down a rick and splash into the water, and jump off other larger rocks. But all of the pools were home to little fish “nibblers” who give you a natural pedicure by nibbling away on the dead skin on your feet and legs! We experienced these little fish while swimming in Cambodia last year, and they can’t help but make you laugh! Sometimes they tickle so bad, but it also feels good. And sometimes they can surprise you — but it never hurts because they don’t have teeth.
Visiting Erawan National Park and the waterfalls was an amazing experience, and we really loved that we were able to spend all morning there.
An Unexpected Trip to New Zealand????
Sometimes you never know who you will meet in a bar in Bangkok. During our time in Bangkok met a gentlemen from the wine region of New Zealand who needed some help getting his luxury b&b retreat off the ground for the season. H was looking for some digital marketing help from Liz and I and offered to bring us to New Zealand…ASAP! So before we knew it, our plans changed. After spending a few days in Kanchanaburi we were off to New Zealand, with a 9 hour layover in Sydney, Australia!
We had not planned to go from hot and humid to winter with one plane ride, so we had to dig deep in our packs for winter clothes! But look out Southern Hemisphere…here we come for the first time!