September 14, 2018 – It’s hard for me to admit, but planning our one day exploring Bangkok was overwhelming.
Bangkok is huge. There are countless temples, different neighborhoods to explore, and so many sites to see. We only had one day so there wasn’t any time to get our bearings. In order to see as much as humanly possible in one day, a guide would be essential.
I stumbled upon Your Thai Guide through my countless hours of Southeast Asia research. After reading through reviews, I knew they were the right choice. Not only would our tour be private, but we would be able to plan out the entire day according to what interested us. The cost was $100 and didn’t include the cost of entering temples, but it was definitely worth it in my opinion. We definitely wouldn’t have been able to navigate as well or see as many things as we got to see without our guide.
Fast forward to the day of our tour…
We were ready and down in the lobby around 7:30 am so I could grab a small bite to eat and a latte. I felt a little awkward in my elephant pants passing countless smartly dressed business people on their way to work or a conference. We hadn’t seen anyone so far that appeared to be tourists. The Intercontinental Bangkok was definitely geared towards business travelers.
Elena with Your Thai Guide met us in the lobby at 8:00 am. She was adorable and gave us that famous Thai smile as she introduced herself. Your Thai Guide sent us a picture of Elena at the time of booking and asked for a picture of us in return so we would all be able to recognize each other. This was both for safety and to make it easy if we had to meet in a crowded area.
Elena explained that she had just taken a taxi to meet us, but the traffic was awful. She suggested that we take an alternative way into the main part of the city if we were up for it. What could that possibly mean?
A boat. We were going to take a boat into the city.
This was no ordinary boat. It was a motorized longtail boat primarily used by locals to get to and from work. There was no schedule and no regulation.
Elena explained that we would wait at the platform until a boat stopped. We would have to jump on quickly since they usually stopped for less than 2 minutes. Once in the boat, she would pay the fare for us (we provided this to her ahead of time).
Boat after boat passed us until one eventually stopped. The concrete platform we stood on next to the water was packed with locals trying to get to work. Elena told us since the boats have no schedule, people are typically late to work because sometimes a boat won’t come around for 30 minutes.
I prepared myself for the jump into the boat. The water was disgusting and Elena said there’s a joke that it’s so toxic that if you fall in you won’t be coming back out. So I was terrified of falling in.
Luckily we all survived the jump and sat down. Then we were off to town.
The ride was such a cool experience. I was so glad Elena suggested this since I thought we would be using the metro. It was a little scary at first, but those are the types of experiences that make the best stories!
Once we were in town, Elena pulled out a map to help us decide what the best route would be to see everything we wanted to see.
The closest temple to us was one of the main temples I was dying to see, Wat Saket. Elena asked if we wanted to take a tuk-tuk, but we like to walk whenever possible. Wat Saket was close enough, so on we went by foot.
We arrived at Wat Saket around 8:45 am and there was hardly anyone around. Eric and I bought our tickets and then the three of us climbed the 318 steps to the top of the Golden Mount. I was glad we decided to do this in the morning while the temperature was still low.
Wat Saket was beautiful as were the views. Once we entered, all we heard were the faint sounds of the small bells hanging in the windows of the temple which overlooked all of Bangkok.
Click play to hear the bells
Once we had a look around the inside, we climbed a very narrow staircase to the roof to take in the magnificent views as well as the golden chedi that can be seen from the ground. We were the only ones there which shocked me. I figured there would be zero chance of having anywhere to ourselves in Bangkok.
Although the views were magnificent, the temple was very small. So it didn’t take us very long to look around. We left around 9:30 am to head to the next temple.
The next temple ended up being the biggest and most popular in all of Bangkok: The Grand Palace. It took us about 30 minutes to walk there, so it was not very close. We could have taken a tuk-tuk, but I enjoyed seeing the city and all its details on foot.
The Grand Palace was a madhouse when we arrived. It took about 30 minutes just for us to get through security, buy our tickets, and walk through the main gate. Once we were inside, there were so many people we could barely walk.
It was not pleasant. I’m glad we got to see it, but my anxiety was through the roof the entire time. It had also become very hot at this point.
While we were at The Grand Palace, Elena asked us if we would be interested in taking a longboat down the Chao Phraya River to Chinatown. She said the longboats left from the main part of the river and traveled along the back waterways through some interesting residential areas. I heard that the boat tours were very touristy, but it did seem like a cool way to see the city. So we decided to go for it. I can’t remember exactly how much it cost, but I know it wasn’t cheap.
Elena made a call to someone in order to ensure we had a boat ready for us. Then we continued through the rest of The Grand Palace complex which included Wat Phra Kaew or The Temple of the Emerald Buddha.
Wat Phra Kaew is considered the most important Buddhist temple in all of Thailand. Inside is a statue of Buddha called Phra Kaew Morakot, which was carved from a single block of jade. We couldn’t take photos or video while inside this temple so the only pictures we have are a little distorted.
Then it was on to Wat Pho to see the famous reclining Buddha. Wat Pho was just outside The Grand Palace complex very close to the river.
Wat Pho was crowded, but not nearly as bad as The Grand Palace. Elena stayed outside while Eric and I went inside the temple to admire the enormous reclining Buddha. This particular depiction represents Buddha during his last illness right before entering Parinirvana. The reclining Buddha inside Wat Pho was the very first reclining Buddha to ever be created.
I’ve seen pictures of this Buddha before, but to see it in person was incredible. It was so massive and the photos do not do it justice. Wat Pho’s reclining Buddha measures 150 feet (46 meters) long and was covered in gold leaf. The intricate designs of the Buddha’s feet were inlaid with mother of pearl.
Fun fact: the full name of Wat Pho is actually Wat Phra Chetuphon Vimolmangklararm Rajwaramahaviharn. Say that five times fast!
We wandered the rest of the grounds of Wat Pho after seeing the reclining Buddha. This temple was much quieter and more peaceful than the others. There were beautiful chedis and additional depictions of Buddha in different states.
Once we wandered through Wat Pho, it was time to meet our longtail boat at the dock. Luckily, it was right behind Wat Pho so we didn’t have far to walk.
I saw our boat as we walked down the dock and immediately got nervous. It was a long wooden boat that looked even more rickety than the one we took into the city. Also, the water in the main part of the Chao Phraya River was so choppy. But before I had time to have second thoughts, Elena was in the boat hurrying us along.
The step down into the boat was steep but both of us made it in. Then we were off to see Bangkok by water.
Our boat driver said something to Elena in Thai. Elena explained that he would have to stop to get some petrol before we continued. The boat veered off to the right to a floating shack where a young boy came out with a metal can. It was the petrol station!
Elena told us the boy at the petrol station was the boat drivers’ son. Their whole family had been working on the river in Bangkok for a long time.
Once our boat was full of petrol, we continued on to one of the residential waterways. To get there, we had to cross the river. Like I said before, the water was choppy. Bigger boats would pass us and I seriously thought we might capsize. We didn’t, but it was terrifying.
It was amazing how quiet it was back in the smaller residential areas. The houses were so charming. We noticed that some of them had collapsed in the water. Elena explained that people would live in their homes as long as they could and if it collapsed, they would just leave it and move on. People rarely rebuilt their homes once they were swallowed up by the river.
All of a sudden Elena shouted, “LOOK!” and pointed at a concrete ledge along the bank of the river. We saw what looked like an alligator but it was actually a giant lizard local to this part of Asia called an Asian water monitor. I was already nervous about falling into this toxic water, but now I was SUPER nervous.
We continued along the river and came upon a beautiful Buddhist temple. There were a couple monks sitting on a dock. I thought we were about to get out but Elena told us to stay put. She bought a loaf of bread from the monks. I was a little confused until she opened the bag of bread and told us to watch.
Elena pulled off a corner of the bread and threw it into the water. All of a sudden hundreds of catfish came out of nowhere and started chowing down on the bread. She threw in a few more pieces and it was like the river turned from water to solid fish. They were everywhere.
She handed the bag of bread to us so we could feed the fish. It was crazy. I have never seen so many catfish in one area in all my life. Eric asked Elena why there were so many fish in that one part. She told us the fish are protected in front of the temple. It was prohibited to fish within 50 feet or so of the temple and the fish knew this (or so we were told).
After feeding the fish, we continued on until we reached Chinatown.
The boat pulled up to the dock in Chinatown and a guy walked up to help us out. The step up to the dock from the boat was about 3 feet high. We had to stand on the seat, then on some tires lining the dock, then up to the dock itself. Well, the pants I was wearing had zero stretch in them. As I tried to step from the boat to the dock, I felt my pants rip. Luckily it wasn’t super noticeable, but it wasn’t the greatest thing that could have happened while exploring Bangkok.
It was lunchtime, but the place Elena recommended was completely empty and looked awful. We lied and told her we weren’t hungry. We figured we would come across something else as we were walking through Chinatown.
So we continued on to a couple crowded and chaotic markets in the heart of Chinatown. It was very authentic and it seemed as though Eric and I were the only foreigners in the entire place. We had curious eyes on us the entire time like we were aliens from another planet. In fact, we barely saw any western looking tourists the entire day. It was odd because I figured there would be a lot of tourists in Bangkok.
After the market, we headed to Wat Traimit or The Golden Buddha Temple. We had already seen one of the biggest reclining Buddha’s in the world, but now we would get to see the biggest seated Buddha in the world.
We climbed a few staircases to reach the top of the temple which housed the seated Buddha. This Buddha was significantly smaller than the reclining Buddha, standing only 18 feet (5.5 meters) tall. But it was still the biggest one in the world.
The story of this Buddha was very interesting. Back in times of war, the artisans who created golden Buddha’s would cover them in plaster and stucco to hide their value from enemies. This particular Buddha was hidden under plaster for over 200 years.
In 1955, the plaster-covered Buddha was dropped while being moved which cracked the plaster surrounding the statue revealing the brilliant golden Buddha underneath. Pieces of the plaster are on display in the museum below the temple housing the Buddha.
After our visit to Wat Traimit, Elena told us we had seen most of the main temples in the city. She gave us the option to head to another part of the city which would put us further away from our hotel or we could hop in a cab to go see a lesser known museum set in a traditional Thai wooden house that would put us closer to our hotel.
Both of us were fading from the heat, exhaustion, and hunger. So we opted for the museum near our hotel.
The Bangkokian Museum or Bangkok Folk Museum was very hard to find. We would have never been able to find it if Elena wasn’t with us. It was comprised of two traditional Thai wooden houses. The two houses were laid out just as they would have been in Thailand during the 1940s. They were beautiful and so well built.
There was also a small museum full of memorabilia from World War II era Thailand when American made products started to make their way to that part of the world. It was very interesting to see.
We spent about 45 minutes walking through the two houses and the museum. It was a very small place and I could tell they didn’t get very many tourists. The sweet little Thai caretakers discreetly followed and photographed us the entire time. It was actually adorable. They seemed very excited to have us there.
Once we finished our visit, it was time to part ways with Elena. We loved our tour with her and I was correct in my assumption that we would have been lost without a guide. Bangkok was a maze and not one that I wanted to try to navigate myself in less than 24 hours.
We had told Elena of the attempted taxi scam that happened to us leaving Don Mueang. She sighed and told us that’s why she never used taxis anymore. They have a service like Uber called Grab which we had heard about prior to our trip but never attempted to use. Grab sets the price before you get in the car. All Grab drivers are actual taxi drivers, but the app prevents the fraud like we experienced coming from the airport.
So Elena called us a cab using Grab and on we went back to The Intercontinental.
Of course, the traffic was horrendous and somehow we ended up on the wrong side of the street from our hotel. It’s hard to explain but the roads by our hotel were divided into two sections. I have no idea how anyone was supposed to get to the other side, but we just asked our driver to let us out at the McDonald’s across the street and walked from there.
Both of us were ravenous as we stepped out of the taxi. Creepy Thai Ronald McDonald was calling our names. So we, the only Americans in Bangkok, went in and ordered some snacks. I know, so adventurous of us.
Chinese tourists and Thai people filled the entire place. It was the nicest McDonald’s I had ever seen. There were people dressed up like they were out to eat at a fancy establishment. It was like a parallel universe where McDonald’s was considered high class and no Americans were in sight (except for us).
After our snack, we walked across the sky bridge to our hotel. I was more than ready for some relaxation by the pool with a drink in my hand.
I snapped a picture of my ripped pants on the way back up to our room. Obviously, I was in good spirits and excited to go to the pool.
The pool was so beautiful. I wasn’t able to get any pictures of it the night before because it was pouring rain.
We walked around and found some chairs to lounge in. I hadn’t even put my things down yet when one of the employees at the pool came over to lay our towels down for us. Fancy with a capital F.
After snapping a few pictures, we headed to the bar via the pool to grab some drinks. I think Eric got a beer but I got a lychee and lemongrass cocktail.
We didn’t stay at the pool for a long time because it started to rain a little bit. Also, it was about time for us to go take showers so we wouldn’t be late to happy hour at Theo Mio!
Theo Mio was just going to be our drink spot, but our dinner was so amazing the night before we decided to just eat dinner there again.
After dinner, Eric and I wanted to go explore one of the world famous malls that we had heard about. The malls in Bangkok are not like the malls we have in the US. The one near our hotel was called CentralWorld and was the 11th largest shopping mall in the world.
We walked around for about an hour just taking in the culture that is an Asian shopping mall. I wanted to eat some of the crazy foods they had around the mall, but I was so full from dinner.
After our CentralWorld experience, we figured it was time to head back to pack our bags and get ready for our long adventure home in the morning.
Our day exploring Bangkok was intense, hot, and exhausting. But while I was about ready to pass out by the end of it, I was so glad we did it.
Continue reading the diary here: Day 19: Traveling from Bangkok to Atlanta
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