Oh Bangkok, where do I even start? Bangkok is alive. Always. It is metropolian city and a special one at that. Bangkok is ugly, yet beautiful, high-tech, but underdeveloped, rich and poor. Whatever contrast you can think of, Bangkok is an example and the only way to truly understand what I mean is to visit. However, I hope to give you a good impression by sharing my stories. One important example of one of the darker sides of Bangkok is the notorious Red Light Scene you should stay away from, while on the other hand there are many things that I think you should do and you can read some here:
1. Visit temples
This is the Bangkok that is always shown in travel brochures: richly decorated buildings inhabited by friendly monks. The brochures don’t lie, Bangkok is naturally full of temples, one even prettier than another. What they don’t tell you that most temples in the touristic centre are surrounded by other buildings, only a few metres away which makes it impossible to take photos of wonderful outside unless you are a good photographer with the right equipment; a wide-angle lens is crucial. I am not a photographer like that and I am certainly to reckless to carry a heavy overpriced camera around, so my picture does not really do justice as it is one of the few I managed to take with an actual full temple in it.
Ugly buildings are not the only thing blocking your view on the nicer ones, there are also tonnes of tourists parading around the streets of Bangkok’s touristic centre, all of them on a mission to see the famous “Grand Palace” and “Wat Phra Kaew”, the latest being home to a just as famous emerald Buddha. A peculiar phenomenon, because yes, these temples are insanely beautiful, but I prefer to enjoy the beauty of smaller temples a bit further away by myself to looking at the backside of some Chinese tourist’s umbrella. The decision is up to you. More on temples in Bangkok will soon follow in a seperate posts about Bangkok’s temples. For now I can only advice you to look further than the crowd. You can find beautiful smaller temples, surrounded by parcs, at a stone’s throw away from the Grand Palace, open your eyes and discover!
2. The ghost tower
Yep, here we go again: my love for aboned places is playing up. I think I drove my travel buddy mad with my enthusiasm to go here and we did not even make it to the top (but also about that I will write more soon). Sathorn Unique Tower is better known as Bangkok’s ghost tower. The construction began in 1990, but has never been finished after the real estate market collapsed in the financial crisis in 1997. The building know has a mysterious look to it and the act that it is guarded only attracts more adventurers. Entering the building used to be easier, but since quite a few people have injured themselves or found their death in the tower (both accidents and suicides), acces to the tower is now blocked by two huge metal doors and handful of guards. That doesn’t mean you can’t visit it, but it can be tricky. Whatever you do, don’t forget to at least consider this spooky, mysterious and possibly haunted tower.
3. Chatuchak Market
It could just as well have been advetised as a maze as you can spend days dwelling over Chatuchak: Thailand’s largest market and among the largest in the world. At this market you can find literally anything: from live pets and suits and skirts to dress them in to exotic fruits and foods, hand-made kimonos or army boots and motor jackets in the second hand section. To be honest, the second-hand section is probably the nicest part of the market if you are looking for something unique. The products in this part are obviously not authentique Thai, most come from America, so it just depends on what you are looking for. I must admit that I left Thailand with a backpack much fuller than it had been when I boarded my plane in Amsterdam.
I won’t bother you with all my purchases, but one stand I liked in particular was the cobbler who made shoes as you waited, at the marked, out of real leather and for a great price! He was not the only one with a workplace at the market and I loved the stalls where you could see the craftsmen (or women) at work.
We had started at the second-hand section and wanted to return there after getting tired of seeing more scarfs, puppy clothes and coconuts for sale on the rest of the market. Unfortunately, unlike the map above would make you think, Chatuchak market is enormously chaotic and I must admit that we never found the second-hand section again. Be prepared, it is easy to get lost on 35 acre, between 8000 market stalls and 200 000 people.
– The market is on weekends, so don’t try to find it quiter on a week day. It will be very quieter, not even super quiet as plants and wholesale are also sold througout the week, but you won’t find as much to buy.
– Bargain! Chatuchak is a tiny little ecosystem of tourists and vendors, they know you have money and you don’t want to spend it ALL on souvenirs and clothes. As in the rest of Asia, shopkeepers always start with a much higher price then the item is worth. An unwritten rule is that more or less half the original price is accepted. Even if the shopkeeper starts whining that it is “very good quality”, it usually isn’t. One more tip on bargaining in Asia in general… Try to learn the numbers in Thai, this will win you much appreciation from the locals and you can help yourself to really good prices. Learning Thai is not easy though.
– Don’t trust the vendor: one way to actually sell the product that or your neighbours are trying to sell is to tell the customer want they want to hear. Lies about brands, fabrics or antiqueness are not uncommon and shopkeepers will see you as nothing more than a walking wallet. Many stalls are selling factory rejects, so also check carefully if your product is not damaged or otherwise deformed.
– Take your time! When you have finally found a place where you can literally shop till you drop, you don’t want to plan in too little time. One day should be about right.
– Bring cash! Most market stalls don’t have an opportunity to pay by card and if you are in the middle of thousands of people you don’t really want to go find one. Chances are you won’t even be able to find the stall where you wanted to buy something when you get back.
– Opening hours:
Friday: 18:00 – 24:00
Sat & Sun: 09:00 – 18:00
Wed & Thu: 07:00 – 18:00 (plants and wholesale only)
– How to get there:
BTS to Mo Chit station – take exit one – follow everyone else, it is hard to miss a market of this size.
MRT to Chatuchak park station – exit one – same instructions: follow everyone else.