In Asia

Bangkok, Thailand | A Two-Day Travel Guide

Few places are as brutally overwhelming for the uninitiated as Bangkok. The heat is otherworldly if you’re not from around here––a humid 95 (or 35 degrees here) with air as thick as gravy. Oppressive and demoralizing don’t even begin to cut it.

I thought diving into Hanoi was a cold shock to the system. But this… This is a whole ‘nother ball game.

Where is Bangkok?

Bangkok sits smack dab in between the Cambodian and Myanmar borders on the Gulf of Thailand. It’s on the very southern end of the country, excluding the tail that cuts through the Andaman Sea and the gulf up to Malaysia.

How to get to Bangkok

Most traveling from outside of Southeast Asia will fly into Bangkok’s massive Suvarnabhumi International Airport (BKK). But if you’ve been traveling around, there are of course buses and some rail options to get into the city. (It’s still a dream of mine to take the overnight train between Bangkok and Chiang Mai in the north!)

Best time of year to visit Bangkok

There’s good news and bad news. The good news is that you’ll generally get the same climate traveling to Bangkok no matter when you visit. So you don’t need to stress about coming during the so-called best months.

The bad news is… That climate is tropical. Meaning, hot and humid. Walking around the city can mean losing half your body weight in sweat. So plan your days accordingly. Although still humid at night, it’s much more tolerable than the daytime. (Of course, if you come from a tropical climate, this might all be a moot point!)

Things to do in Bangkok

bangkok thai cooking class

Bangkok is massive. Even without living there, I know it’s one of those places where you could live your entire life and still not see everything.

For our purposes, I’ll share some of the highlights and something a little different that we did.

Wat Phra Chetuphon Wimon Mangkhalaram Rajwaramahawihan

Try saying that three times fast. (Or you can just call it Wat Pho.)

This is one of the most popular temples to visit in Bangkok. It was established in the 16th century, making it one of the oldest temples in the city. That said, its current form primarily dates back to the early 19th century, during the reign of King Rama I, who ordered a major restoration and expansion of the temple complex. This renovation included the construction of the temple’s most famous feature, and the reason this is probably on your list: The Reclining Buddha.

The Reclining Buddha

Wat Pho’s Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho is one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. The colossal statue represents the Buddha in a state of serene relaxation, symbolizing his entry into Nirvana and the end of all reincarnations. But truth be told, I only know that because I looked it up afterward. I didn’t see anything spelling that out (perhaps I missed it). So for the most part, you’ll quietly walk around the thing in awe and pause for people to take their selfies.

Wat Arun

From Wat Pho, you’re a short walk to the ferry that will take you across the Chao Phraya River and over to Wat Arun. This is another one of those “must-visit” landmarks in Bangkok.

Thai cooking class

I eat Thai food all the damn time. So the least I could do is try to better understand the cuisine by signing up for a cooking class. We signed up with the Siamese Cookery House for a little cooking class that begins with a morning stroll through the Huai Khwang Market (featured in the video at the top).

Goong is our guide, interpreter, teacher, and host. She’s here at the Huai Khwang Market at least twice a day, prepping for three cooking courses she’ll give before the day is over.

We’re following her lead as she collects the ingredients for four dishes we’ll be making: Tom Yum Soup, Pad Thai, Massaman Curry, and Mango with Sticky Rice. Huai Khwang Market likely has more in the way of ingredients than your local corner store. Chicken feet, frogs, eels. Goong explains the plethora of options succinctly:

“That’s what we eat,” said Goong. “Nothing to waste.”

In other words: “In Thailand, we eat everything.”

After the market, we tuk-tuk over to the cookery house and get right to work on making the coconut milk. Though we merely scratch the surface of Thai cuisine, there’s no other way to put it:

Best. Class. Ever.

Soi Nana (Chinatown)

Soi Nana in Chinatown is known for its hip, artsy vibe and has become a popular spot for its eclectic mix of bars, art galleries, and cafes. Previously an alley with a long history of illicit nightlife and gangs, the area has seen a resurgence in recent years, with many old shophouses being converted into cool, trendy spots that attract a younger, more diverse crowd. It’s a great place to explore for those interested in the contemporary art scene, unique cocktails, and a more laid-back, cultural experience.

We showed up because of a documentary on Netflix that highlights the Teens of Thailand cocktail bar. Unfortunately (or perhaps it was fate), we walked into the wrong door. But we didn’t realize that until we went up to the counter and realized that this was a weed café.

Not wanting to seem, well, unhip, we acted like we meant to show up here. They walked us through the varietals, we described the high we were looking for, and we went upstairs to be served our bong in a room that felt like your friend’s apartment, complete with bean bag chairs and two stoners playing Street Fighter. While enjoying the bud, we looked up where we ended up: Never Not High.

Aptly named.

Restaurants in Bangkok

Don’t listen to any traveler, such as myself, who attempts to definitively nail down Bangkok’s top restaurants to just a few. Just as I imagine it’s impossible to know all of Bangkok even in a lifetime, I think the same goes for its culinary scene.

That caveat aside, I’ll share a couple of my favorites.

Chinatown Night Market

The night market in Chinatown is bumping. I have no specific directions other than to make sure you’re there, at night, and you eat whatever smells good.

NAAM 1608

Besides the good eats, I especially enjoyed this spot for the bar-style seat that overlooks the river. Not too shabby for a dinnertime date.

Jai Rad Na Noodle

It’s our last day in Bangkok––in Southeast Asia, for that matter––and I’m on the hunt for pad see ew, a comforting necessity I took for granted with Cleveland’s Banana Blossom around the corner from my former Ohio
City abode.

I find it here in Chinatown’s Soi Nana.

There’s something about watching a cook at work on the street that feels a bit like watching an incognito violinist virtuoso playing in the park. They’ve left the orchestra and are honing in on the individuality of the craft––the pressure and praise that comes with it all. (violin music)

In the waning hours of the day, I’m lucky enough to observe.

And there it is––pad see ew––those gloriously glistening glassy noodles that in my mind, just can’t be beaten. It’s an opus on a plate.

Hotels in Bangkok

ASAI Bangkok Chinatown

Where you stay in Bangkok depends on the kind of trip you want to have. You can stay in a party hub and crash in a hostel. But we’re in our 30s and past that. I wanted to stay in Chinatown because I heard it was a good spot for eaters (check!). Not only was ASAI well situated for everything we wanted to do, but it was a pleasant stay as well with the softer mattress my back had been craving. Because of the heat, we had no problem spending the late afternoon in bed, catching a nap, befoe heading back out into the city.

Perhaps best of all, they have a shower room for guests who’ve already checked out. So if you have a late flight, as we did, you can continue sweating your way through the city and rest easy knowing you can grab a shower and not feel disgusting for your flight home.

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