Though my Sak Yant proved to be quite the intense introduction to the country, I woke up on Monday to the sound of traffic outside of my hostel window and felt instantly revitalized. I had become accustomed to the slower pace of the Cambodian countryside and was stoked to dive back into the hustle and bustle of another big city. I shouldered my backpack and hopped on the BTS Sky Train, hoping to successfully navigate to the first of many work-friendly cafes I had researched meticulously. Fortunately Bangkok’s public transportation system is a dream and I got to spend the short ride marveling at how clean and safe the train seemed in comparison to the nightmare I was used to back in Chicago. I also made a mental note of the abundance of 7-11’s on every single street. I forgot how much I missed those modern conveniences.
I still can’t believe how many activities I managed to cram into my time in Bangkok (and how much curry I managed to stuff into my face). Excluding an entire weekend of tours, below are some of the most random and awesome places I visited in what was apparently my attempt to have zero free time.
Near Sukhumvit Road, between Sukhumvit Soi 21 and Soi 23. Accessible from the Asok BTS station.
After a few days of getting my bearings I discovered that Rich, one of my Australian co-workers, would be visiting the city after having just completed a group cycling trip in Chiang Mai. For kicks we decided to meet for drinks in one of city’s red light districts: an outrageous neon street cluttered with go-go bars called Soi Cowboy. Due to renovations, the 20-year-old area had since seen an uptick in popularity and I wasn’t surprised to find it swarming with tourists when I arrived. I shoved my way past them and what seemed like a million bikini-clad women outside of every establishment until I eventually reached the Tilac Bar. Rich greeted me and introduced me to his videographer friend Hattie, who had traveled with the group to document the adventure.
As we sat enjoying our beers in the blue glow of the outdoor patio, I was suddenly aware of my shoulders being rubbed aggressively by the plump, older Thai woman who had brought us our drinks. The three of us stifled laughs as I politely told her to stop (since apparently my pained winces every time she touched my tattoo weren’t enough of a cue). She just shrugged and proceeded to invade Hattie’s personal space instead. We watched with amusement as the woman continued for a few minutes, then abruptly stopped and held out her palm expectantly. Hattie replied with a cheerful “Kob Khun Ka!” and handed her some baht. “That massage was terrible,” she said with a laugh.
Baiyoke Sky Hotel
222, Thanon Playa Thai, Ratchathewi, Bangkok
The remainder of the week flew by and despite having a jam-packed weekend ahead of me, I found myself with nothing to do on Friday night. A quick TripAdvisor search directed me to the Baiyoke Sky Hotel, which had been the tallest building in Thailand until the MahaNakhon was unveiled in August 2016 just prior to my arrival. Baiyoke currently stands as the seventh-tallest hotel in the world. For whatever twisted reason I totally dig skydecks in spite of my crippling fear of heights and elevators, so when I found out it had a revolving outdoor observatory at 1000ft, how could I resist?
I decided to skip the safer option of taking a taxi since it was still broad daylight outside and my GPS was promising me a 20-minute walk. I found out the hard way that Google Maps does not function especially well with walking directions in downtown Bangkok, and I went down many a seedy alley and had a few unsavory people try direct me to “tour agencies where I could get directions” as a result. I eventually found the hotel by just looking up at it in the sky and following other tourists who seemed like they knew where they were going, and the timing turned out to be perfect since I got a discount ticket ($11) for arriving after 5:00PM. The ticket price also included a drink at the Roof Top Bar.
I survived the elevator ride to the top and exited at on floor 83, which housed the aforementioned bar as well as a gift shop encompassed by sweeping glass windows. Just one more floor to go. The stairway to the rotating deck blared the Star Wars theme and I emerged onto a screeching metal platform surrounded by a cage. The view was indescribable. I had never seen a city from this kind of height before, and towering over every other skyscraper was an adrenaline rush to say the least. The floor rotates extremely slowly, which was great since I got to watch the sun slowly set over the entire city. It got more crowded as the night progressed and once it was completely dark and the city lights were visible, it was almost impossible to move because the deck was bustling with tourists and young couples touting selfie sticks. I wandered back downstairs to the bar and chose a fresh coconut for my free drink. Facing the window, I watched a lightning storm illuminate black clouds off in the distance. It was stunning. As far as magical nights go, this pretty damn magical.
Unfortunately trying to get back to my hostel was a lot less magical. The area was shady in the daytime and I didn’t want to take my chances trying to walk home in the dark, so I tried to flag a taxi. I say “tried” because none of the poor drivers understood the English address I was showing them on my phone, though they tried their absolute best to be helpful. After about four taxis had come and gone I changed my approach and opened Google Maps, got in a taxi, and started telling the driver where to turn. This turned out to be a lot more successful and my driver thought the setup was hilarious. Win-win!
Wat Saket (The Golden Mount)
344 Chakkraphat Diphong Road
After a rad day of cycling around the city (which I’ll get to in an upcoming post), Petz invited me to hang out with him and a traveling couple he was hosting via Airbnb, Coren and Jenni. Since Petz is a tour guide by trade I should have already been anticipating an awesome time, but this Saturday night was one for the books! After a delicious dinner at a local hangout, we headed to one of Bangkok’s oldest Buddhist temples: Wat Saket. Built on an 80-meter hill, there is a cemetery at the base that serves as the resting spot of about 60,000 plague victims from the 18th century (when the temple functioned as a crematorium). The climb featured 318 stairs built around the hill to resemble a coiled snake, and the four of us stopped to pose with beautiful Buddhist statues and ring prayer bells on the way up.
Since I hadn’t really been venturing out alone after dark, it was interesting to see a new side of the usual tourist attractions. The lack of crowds meant that the temple was calm and quiet, and we got a great view of the city from the top of the man-made hill before it started to rain. I learned that the temple’s glittering stupa houses Buddha relics, and as we walked past a golden line of Buddha statues, Petz informed us that there are 7 Buddha images that correspond to each day of the week. Each one is thought to represent a key event in the Life of the Buddha and it is thought that making an offering to the Buddha that presides over the day you were born will bring you good luck. Since I was born on a Monday, my image is the Pacifying Buddha (standing, one arm raised with the palm facing out). According to this, my fortune is as follows: “You are serious with a good memory and a love of travel, likely to be in a skilled occupation.” I’ll take it!
Khao San Road
Northern side of Rattanakosin, one block from Chao Phraya River
Originally when Petz asked if I’d like to hang out, it was with a promise of seeing his favorite Thai rock-cover band. Um, yea, sign me up! I was even more stoked to find out that the bar they were playing was on Khao San Road, Bangkok’s quintessential backpacker haven of hostels, shopping stalls and restaurants. When we arrived the area was already packed full of young tourists and vacationers looking to score cheap drinks and tasty street food. We made our way over to the Bangkok Bar and settled in to wait for the band. Jenni and I ordered some crazy smoothie that is forever scarred onto my tastebuds as the most terrifyingly sweet drink I’ve ever tried. You’d think I would have had enough weird food experiences for the night, but when I spotted a durian stand and expressed my desire to finally try one, Petz leapt up excitedly and practically dragged me across the street. Pro-tip: DURIANS ARE SUPER NAST. Unless you’re into the taste and texture of soft, rotting onions I guess.
We were also approached by various peddlers selling bracelets, the likes of which I can’t even begin to describe. The displays proudly boasted that the artist could “embroider anything” and I’m not sure if there was a language barrier or what, but if you can explain to me what “One Cunt Wolf Pack” or “Dick for Rent” is supposed to mean, I’d love to hear it.
As for the band, they were flippin’ phenomenal. Rage Against the Machine, System of a Down, and Blink-182 were just a few of the songs they covered and I was quite literally in heaven. I could have happily rocked out the entire night. Major props to Petz for the invite!
Victory Monument BTS station
During one my my daily quests to find co-working spaces, I wound up getting off the sky train and was greeted by an enormous pillar situated in the center of of one of Bangkok’s busiest transportation hubs. Built by famed Italian sculptor Corrado Feroci, who worked primarily in Thailand and is considered “the founder of modern art in Thailand,” the Victory Monument was built in 1941 as a memorial to Thailand’s fallen civilians and servicemen. Seeing the monument, totally still against the steady, packed current of traffic flowing through the massive roundabout was enough to stop me in my tracks long enough to take the video below.
I also was thrilled to discover that this area is considered the working-class shopping area of Bangkok, and it was definitely a stark contrast to the abyss of luxury shopping malls just a few sky train stops in the other direction. It was nice shop without feeling totally underdressed for once.
Santiphap Park (Peace Park)
Between Ratchawithi Road and Rang Nam Road, Victory Monument BTS station
Only a short walk away from Victory Monument, I found this absolute gem of a public park across the street from one of my favorite work cafes. A sculpture based on a painting by Pablo Picasso sits in the center of Santiphap, depicting a dove carrying an olive branch as a means of spreading peace throughout the world. It features beautiful landscaping, plenty of trees for shade and also harbors a few Pokestops…not that I was playing Pokemon GO on my lunch breaks or anything. The view of the city framed by greenery was also pretty stunning.
If you enjoyed this peek into some of the awesome sights around Bangkok, stay tuned for my next few posts – a bike ride through the city, a boat ride through the canals and a tour of the Royal Palace are all coming soon. More soon than my current post rate of once a month. I swear.
Catch beautiful people on the flipside! xx
Bangkok: 9.10 – 9.23, 2016