We landed at Bangkok’s Don Muang airport at 1515 on Monday 2nd December after a short flight from Chiang Mai. We had booked a room at the Holiday Inn Express Siam, right in the middle of the CBD, but our first challenge was to work out how to get there! We would normally have taken a taxi from the airport, but with Bangkok being so big we decided against that idea as it would take a long time and cost a small fortune. Instead we opted for public transport! We had done some research before leaving Chiang Mai about public transport options, but these all looked quite complicated. We asked at the information desk at the airport and were told to get the A1 shuttle bus to Mo Chit BTS station, from where we could get a train into the city centre. We caught the bus right outside the terminal and twenty minutes later it dropped us at Mo Chit station, all for a very reasonable 30BHT (60p) each. At Mo Chit we quickly worked out which station we needed to get off at and bought a ticket for 42BHT (84p) each. The BTS is a skytrain – like an underground system except that it runs on tracks above the road instead of of beneath it! The trains are very good and fortunately quiet at this time of day so we didn’t have any issues with our big rucksacks. The journey into the city centre was very pleasant – enjoyable even – as we got to see the city from above. In what seemed like no time at all (in fact about twenty minutes) we reached Siam station, which was our stop. We got off the train, made it to street level and set off for the five minute walk to the hotel. Our legs got a good workout as we went up and down steps in order to cross a busy road, but we were soon at the hotel.
Checking in was seemless and we were upgraded to a room on the twentieth floor so that we could enjoy views out across the city. We dropped our bags in our room and enjoyed a hot drink whilst taking in the stunning views from our window before deciding that we ought to head out and get some dinner. We stopped at reception on the way out and were advised not to head east out of the hotel towards the shopping centres as there were demonstrators gathering in protest against the government. Instead, it was suggested that we head west towards Tesco Lotus supermarket, around which there were a number of restaurants. We did head that way, but ended up getting food in Tesco Lotus for a picnic back in our hotel room, which we ate whilst enjoying the now nighttime view out across the city skyline.
We set the alarm for 0700 on Tuesday morning in order to make the most of out one day in Bangkok, but the comfiness of the bed meant we snoozed for an hour and a half before finally making it up at 0830! By the time we had breakfasted and got ready, we didn’t make it out until gone 1000. Our first job for the morning was to book a train ticket to Ayutthaya for the following day. Feeling pleased with ourselves after our initial foray onto the public transport system the day before we took the BTS skytrain and then the MRT Metro to Hua Lamphong train station, only to be informed that we could only by tickets on the day of travel! Fortunately the journey to the station was cheap (53BHT / £1.06 each), it meant that we knew the way for the following day and it did take us in the general direction of where we wanted to go next, albeit with a backtrack of two stations along the MRT Metro so that we could rejoin the BTS Sky train and continue our journey south to Saphan Taksin, from where we could get a ferry along the river to the Grand Palace. As with the BTS and MRT, the boat to the Grand Palace was cheap (40BHT each) and a pleasurable way to travel, avoiding the gridlock and pollution on the city’s roads.
They have quite a strict dress code for the Grand Palace and, despite both of us wearing clothes that have been suitable for every temple we have visited, we were both required to rent additional clothes – baggy trousers for me and a sarong and shirt for Lindsay. Fortunately, they loan these items of clothing for free. The Grand Palace is an impressive sight. It contains a scale model of Angkor Wat, lots of gold-covered buildings and Wat Phra Kaew – the temple containing the original Emerald Buddha. The Emerald Buddha was discovered in Wat Phra Kaew in Chiang Rai in 1434. There is now a replica in its place, which we had seen during our earlier visit there. As we wandered around the Grand Palace we could see the early preparations taking place for celebrations for the king’s birthday on 5th December. This is a national holiday in Thailand and is celebrated across the country.
From the Grand Palace we walked to Wat Pho, which houses the famous reclining Buddha. This 46m long, 15m high statue is located in a building not much larger than itself, which makes it seem all the more impressive. Wat Pho is also the oldest and largest temple complex in Bangkok.
From Wat Pho we returned to the river to get a boat back to Saphan Taksin, from where we could get a BTS skytrain back to our hotel. After a brief pitstop at the hotel we headed to MBK, one of Bangkok’s big shopping malls. This mall was particularly interesting because it didn’t have many of the big brand-name shops you would expect to see in a mall. Instead, it was home to lots of independent shops and stands – a modern version of a local market. It had the kind of products you would normally only find on websites like Amazon. After getting a bite to eat and wandering around for an hour or so, we felt we had done enough walking for one day and retired to our hotel room to enjoy the view across the city.
The alarm was set for 0630 on Wednesday morning, but the snooze function was employed for half an hour. At 0700 we decided we ought to get up, get ready and head to breakfast. After breakfast we finished packing our bags, checked out and started making our way to Hue Lamphong train station. Having tested the route yesterday we felt confident using public transport to get there, despite the big rucksacks we were both now carrying. We took the BTS and then the MRT to the train station, arriving with plenty of time to get our tickets before the express train to Ayutthaya departed at 1050.
We returned from Ayutthaya on Friday morning, using as many different modes of transport as possible! We reached our hostel, the final one of the trip, shortly after 1300, dropped our bags in our room and went out in search of lunch. We failed miserably in the hunt for local food and resorted to eating KFC in a nearby shopping centre. We then returned to the hostel where we spent the afternoon and evening updating our journals and the blog and just reading our books. Until this stage of the trip there has always been more research for us to do – looking up destinations, trips, accommodation and restaurants. With only a couple of days of the trip remaining, we had already worked out what we were going to do with these days and so had nothing to research. This meant we could enjoy reading our books without feeling guilty!
We had set the alarm for 0630 on Saturday morning as we needed an early start in order to get to the nearby weekend market before it got too busy and too hot. We had breakfast in the hostel and made it to the market for 0930. The market is supposed to start at 0900 but there were stallholders still setting up as we wandered around. This is supposed to be the largest weekend market in Bangkok and we had been recommended to pay a visit. We spent an hour and a half exploring only one small part of this huge market, managing to see stalls selling everything from touristy trinkets to flowers to pets, before going back to the hostel for a quick pitstop and then catching the Skytrain into the CBD.
We had explored the MBK shopping centre during our earlier visit to Bangkok and this time we headed to the Siam Centre, which is located just across the road. Feeling peckish our first stop was the food court. There were lots of different counters offering a variety of different foods, all at reasonable prices. I opted for deep fried chicken with curried yellow rice and Lindsay went for green curry chicken fried rice. After lunch we quickly realised that the branded fashion shops in the Siam Centre were not for us. Instead, we headed across a walkway to the Siam Discovery Centre, which had lots of quirky shops that kept us entertained for a couple of hours! As we both started to feel a bit shopped-out, we took the Skytrain back to the hostel. Once off the train near the hostel we popped to a bakery to get some supplies for later and walked back to the hostel. We spent the next couple of hours sat on the fifth floor sun terrace, making the most of the lovely hot weather as we updated our journals and the blog.
After enjoying our snacks purchased earlier at the bakery, we spent the evening packing our bags ready for the flight back to Heathrow on Sunday morning – the flight that would signal the end of our Big Adventure.
The alarm was set for even earlier on Sunday morning – 0545! We had a taxi to the airport booked for 0730 and we needed to finish packing and get some breakfast before then. The drive to the airport was quicker than we had expected and we were checked in by 0815. We then found out that, due to air traffic control issues in the UK the day before our flight had been delayed by almost an hour, leaving us three hours to explore Suvarnabhumi airport. We wandered around the shops and got a second breakfast before parking ourselves at our gate and reading our books as we waited to board the 13 hour flight back to Heathrow.
Photos from our time in Bangkok can be viewed below or at http://photos.andywicks.com/Bangkok