Bangkok. The word alone can conjure up many images for people, especially after the release of The Hangover 2. Admittedly, I had some reservations about visiting, especially with three young children. It was never on our bucket list. We thought we’d end up on a European vacation before we’d end up in Thailand. However, an amazing flight opportunity from Etihad lured us in, and within a month, we were booked and ready for fourteen days in Thailand.
We chose to spend two nights in Bangkok in the beginning of the trip and two nights at the end of the trip, giving us a break from the hustle and bustle of this large city. It worked out perfectly. Here’s what we did and how we did it.
Arriving in Bangkok:
There are two airports in Bangkok on exactly opposite ends of the city. The smaller of the two is Don Muang Airport which serves the local and chartered flights. The larger airport, Suvarnabhumi International Airport, receives the International arrivals and departures. It is a very large airport, and a very nice airport. With high end shopping and a variety of eateries, it’s a great place for a layover of any sort. Once you collect your baggage, avoid the pricey limousine services and private drivers. Get a metered taxi on level 1 and you’ll get pretty darn far in the city for only 200 THB, including the 50bht airport surcharge and expressway fees, which is $6.41 USD. Many taxis throughout the city will refuse to meter…just wait for the next one, or insist you’ll tip them, as that’s all they are looking for in the fare. But at the airport, as long as you get one from the taxi stand, you’ll be fine. (Note: When departing, make sure you arrive with plenty of time to get through security and passport control as it can back up quickly during peak hours.)
Where to Stay:
On arrival, we checked into this Airbnb.com place. As a family, we try to book part of our trip in locally owned places in order to be more connected to the culture and the people. We often arrange to meet the owners of the home, and get to live in authentic surroundings. And at $59 USD a night for a family, can you beat that? We chose to stay in two different areas of the city on each of the trip so that we could have slightly different views and accessibility to places. This location was a short distance to Siam Paragon Center, Pratunam Market and Lumphini Park. You can also take a walk to the Victory Monument BTS (SkyTrain) Station. It was nice because we had our own space, a kitchen, and the ability to eat in or out. There’s always a 7-11 in walking distance in this city!
Our final two nights in Bangkok we stayed here. Again, we had all the conveniences of home which is a nice feeling after a long day of sight seeing. This location is near the famous Chatuchak (JJ) Market, Dusit Park and Zoo and the MRT (subway). There are lots of coffee shops on the street, and well as a Big C grocery store.
How to Get Around:
Tuk Tuk…it’s fun for the novelty of it if you’ve never been in one, but know that you will be paying way more than you need to in order to get from point A to point B.
Taxi…make sure it’s metered! We passed up many taxis because they wouldn’t meter, even with the promise of a tip. For our family of five, it was often cheaper to take a taxi than the BTS or MRT. Just know that during rush hour, it is not uncommon to spend up to 45min-1hr in the taxi getting across town. Traffic just stops.
BTS and MRT…these are your subway and skytrains. The subway is incredibly clean and modern! We found the Phahon Yathin stop to be very impressive with shopping, a food court and cleanliness.
Public buses…we never had a chance to do this in Bangkok, but our friends who were there at the same time managed to jump on many of them with their kids and found it just fine. No air conditioning, but cheap!
What to Do:
We had four full days, and I regret to say, it wasn’t enough. If I had to do it over again, I’d give at least five days in Bangkok to get some good coverage. I say this because the best floating markets, which we didn’t get to, are an hour outside of Bangkok, which takes up most of your day. We also didn’t have time for Dusit Zoo, Safari World and other tourist spots.
Wat Phra Kaew- The Grand Palace and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha: For 150 years the Palace complex was home to the King and also the entire government, including the country’s war ministry, state departments, and the mint. The most famous Buddhist temple is that of the Emerald Buddha, carved from one piece of Jade, which is the holiest and most revered of religious objects in Thailand today. The entire Palace grounds are spectacular. You could spend hours just taking pictures and admiring all the detail.
Admission fees are 400 THB which also includes tickets to Vimanmek Mansion. The Grand Palace is open every day from 8:30 to 3:30. You must be properly dressed, and if you’re not, you can rent sarongs to cover up the shorts and mini skirts. Proper dress includes men wearing long pants and shirts with sleeves . If you’re wearing sandals you must wear socks. For women no see-through clothes, bare shoulders, etc.
Wat Pho– The Reclining Buddha: From the Grand Palace, walk around the perimeter walls until to reach the intersection where you can see Wat Pho across the street. Easy enough walk for kids to do. This is the site I had been waiting to see as I had heard how amazing the Reclining Buddha is. Wat Pho is one of the largest and oldest wats in Bangkok and is home to more than one thousand Buddha images, as well as one of the largest single Buddha images of 160 ft length: the Reclining Buddha. I was not disappointed. The sheer magnitude of how big the reclining Buddha is, when standing next to it is breathtaking. My kids loved all the gold!
Chatuchak (JJ) Weekend Market: One of the craziest, busiest but most fun shopping experiences I’ve had. First I’ll warn you, with little children, this turns into a very hot, long day very quickly. It’s all outdoors, except for JJ Mall, and is vendor on top of vendor, and spans 70 acres. 200,000 people are estimated to visit each day of the weekend, 30% being tourists. But, it’s doable. We ended up spending two half days here…one half day in the beginning, buying very little and window shopping instead, and one half day in the end, where we loaded up o
n a few more items. You can find everything you ever wanted here…and probably more if you dig for it! Furniture, souvenirs, live fish, rabbits and squirrels, crafts and art, ceramics, silk…you name it, they probably have it, and at a fraction of the cost you’ll find anywhere else. We bought a package of 8 fans for 25 THB each, while vendors at MBK Mall wanted 120 THB per fan! It’s expected to haggle here, but you’ll also soon realize that this is an actual wholesale market, and many are already at rock bottom prices. We even learned from a market shop owner that you can get a 1 sq. meter box shipped from Bangkok to Dubai for 2,000 THB, no matter the weight, in about one months time. You’ll find food vendors spread throughout the area, giving you a break and time to refresh. Bring change though, as almost everywhere you go in Bangkok, you need to pay for the restroom. If you need to escape the heat, head into JJ Mall at the end of the market. Here’s you’ll find indoor markets, a few restaurants and a 7-11. The gem is on the top floor…a local food court where the menus are in Thai, but the food is around $1-$2 per dish. I could have spent even longer here, just looking around and enjoying the sites, but for the kids, unless you’re letting them buy lots of souvenirs, they tire quickly with all the walking in the heat.
To get here by MRT, get off at the Kamphaeng Phet which lets you off right in the heart of the market, not the Chatuchak Station which lets you off a five minute walk from the market.
Siam Paragon: Not just a shopper’s paradise, you could spend an entire day here with all there is to do. Starting with the largest aquarium in South East Asia, Ocean World takes up the basement floor of the major complex. Next, on the ground floor, you’ll find Gourmet Paradise with every type of cuisine your taste buds desire. They had everything from Swensen’s and Tony Roma’s, to more local foods from China, Japan and Thailand. I got lost in the Gourmet Market, purchasing a few hard to find items in the UAE from the USA. The market is beautiful, with the best produce and hot food sections I’ve seen in a long time. The Mezzanine through 4th level are then broken down into categories, making shopping very easy. High end retailers on one floor, IT on another, even a floor dedicated to “Edutainment” for kids. On the 5th floor, we enjoyed watching a movie in their theater, IMAX also available! And coming soon, a Kidzania. They’ve got everything covered in this mall, enough for you to spend an entire day. y.It was a nice place to go with the kids, as we were able to balance adult fun with kid fun. Neighboring Siam Paragon, you’ll find the coveted MBK Center.
MBK Shopping Center: Eight floors, 2,000 shops, and full of tourists and locals alike, this is a favorite destination for everyone. Beyond the amazing food courts, play areas and theater, you’ll find prices so low on your favorite brands that you’ll want to take it all home. For example, a Canon lens my husband has been eyeing was $1,000 less here than anywhere else he’s been looking…and it was in a real Canon store. There are two stores called The Export Store, where men will find all the overruns from stores like Old Navy, Hollister, Abercrombie and H&M, just to name a few. Ladies will swoon over the knock-off designer purses. This is a mash-up of genuine vs. knockoff, so whatever you’re looking for, you’ll find it here. We even found Kirkland brand vitamins! Again, a place to take your time and enjoy. We spent six hours here…and somehow the kids found it just as exciting as we did.
To Sum it Up:
Bangkok has so much to see and do, you really could spend a week here. Our four days were just shy of enough time to see everything I had intended, but definitely gave us a taste of life and wanting to come back for more some day. Walking the streets is probably the most fun, where you see day to day life, pop into mom and pop shops, and smile with all the people walking by. At night, the streets turn into mini markets, selling food and handicrafts to everyone walking by. Bangkok has a charm, a pleasantness about it, and definitely has my family’s hearts now.
To extend your stay in Thailand, you’ll find flights to Krabi, Chaing Mai and Phuket all very affordable and only an hour away. We chose Phuket.