Thailand, a country so rich in culture and tradition. It has one of the most exquisite cuisines in the world you would always appreciate wherever you are. I love Thailand! One, because everything is cheap. Two, because the people are friendly. Three, because there’s literally A LOT to see. I can go on and on with so many reasons why I love Thailand, and why it should be on your next travel itinerary.
To be honest, the first time I saw Bangkok, the country’s capital, I was not amused. I was really excited when our plane landed at Suvarnabhumi Airport. But as we rode down the streets going to our hotel in the middle of the bustling city, I was looking at a somewhat familiar set-up. It looked like Manila, except that the writings everywhere were written in Thai. The streets were crowded with vendors, the traffic was pretty much jam-packed, and everyone was busy with their day to day lives. In my mind, I said to myself, “It feels like I never left home. What’s the difference?” That, I had to see for myself.
That was a 4-hour flight from Manila to Bangkok. I was going for an adventure, and I say yes every time an adventure calls. This was not purely a solo travel, like any of my other travels. I came to Thailand with my Mom, of course, she would never let me travel by myself alone that time. Not even with friends. Most especially, not when you’re going to a country where there are a lot of cases of human trafficking.
At first, I didn’t know what was in Bangkok. I never googled it. It was like going somewhere blindfolded, not knowing what to expect. That gives my twenty something traveler self the extra stimulation. Just go with the flow. At that time, when I hear the word “Bangkok”, three things come to my mind. Food is good, shopping is cheap, and ELEPHANTS! That’s it. I never thought Thailand would show me a lot of cultural differences from all the other places I’ve been to so far.
OF TUKTUK AND TEMPLES
In Thailand, they don’t call it a “tricycle”. A very convenient way to travel around is by riding the “tuktuk”. It is similar to Manila’s “tricycle”, but it’s a bit bigger. The capacity can go from 4 to 6 riders including the driver. We rode the “tuktuk” going to places near our hotel. We hailed taxis if we wanted to go somewhere a bit farther. Note that Grab App has thrived in Thailand, though it has been “illegal” for a long time. It is cheaper to book a Grab if you’re going somewhere far, as traffic is erratic especially in Bangkok. At least, you wouldn’t worry about your bill ticking up while you get stuck in the middle of traffic because Grab has fixed rates. However, some drivers will ask you to meet them not on your exact pin, or they might drop you off somewhere a bit far from your drop off point where there are no police or men in uniforms inspecting.
Moving on, as we traversed around Bangkok, we saw that temples were everywhere, big and small. For a fact, it’s one difference I found from Manila. The main religion practiced in Thailand is Buddhism with a bit of Hinduism. It is very observable once you get a view of downtown Bangkok. On the streets, you can see people practicing their religion at a certain hour.
We went on with our escapade. We did not have much time to spare, so each of the 4 days we stayed in Bangkok, we went out to explore. REST IS FOR THE WEAK.
CHATUCHAK, NIGHT MARKETS, AND FLOATING MARKETS
Something that’s very notable about Thailand is the floating markets. You will see vegetable vendors, souvenir vendors, even food vendors cooking and selling snacks inside their boats. There are actually a number of floating markets you can visit in Thailand. It’s a vibrant and authentic way to get to know the locals and their way of living.
Aside from the floating markets, there are of course markets you can find in land. What amuses me is the fact that these markets open when the shopping centers are closed. It’s like giving way for the small shops to sell their goods, while the big shops are still asleep. When the shopping centers start to open, these small side markets close for a while and come back at night time.
Here’s a tip. If you see something really nice in a particular spot, just buy it. I learned this lesson the hard way. I was eyeing on buying some skirts with elephant prints the night before, and I told myself, maybe I should just buy it tomorrow. To my “luck”, I went back the following day and the skirt vendor was gone. I realized, each day they reshuffle their spaces. Their stalls were not permanent. One day, you see them there, the next day it’s a different vendor.
I love shopping at night markets. It’s not just the cheap deals, but also the lively ambiance that these markets has to offer. One of the most well-known weekend markets is the Chatuchack Market. It is the biggest market in Thailand. Nowadays, you can easily access a Chatuchak Guide and Map App from your smart device. But, back in the days, there were no smart devices, no apps, no maps. Just instincts. It was not as convenient as it is today, but getting lost in the biggest market in Bangkok was not a problem for me. I love getting lost in the right directions, especially when it’s an avenue for cheap shopping.
What I really loved about the cheap shopping is that one Philippine Peso is almost the same as a Thai Baht. I remember buying five cotton shirts made in Thailand which I bought for THB 350. That’s about P500 in peso ($14 AUD). I kept computing over and over in my head. P100/shirt ($2.80 AUD per piece) of good Thai quality with nice-looking Thai designs, not a bad deal.
I went on a shopping spree. From fridge magnets, tiny replicas of boats from the floating market, bags with elephant design, shirts, and anything that was really light and easy to toss in the luggage. Yes to shopping! That was my twenty something self, trying to take home every piece of memory from each place I went to.
WAT ARUN TEMPLE AND THAI MASSAGE
The following day was dedicated for culture and tradition. Mom and I took a boat ride to the West bank of the Chao Praya River. It is where one of the most stunning temples in Bangkok is located, the Wat Arun Temple. It wasn’t just a boat ride. We passed by some of the depressed houses on the river sides of Bangkok. It greatly made an impact for me as a tourist seeing that side of the country. There were boats offering souvenirs and snacks. Boats, in this part of the world, is a way of living. What caught my attention was this single boat offering slices of white bread. The bread is apparently not for the humans, but for fish-feeding. It made the boat ride really entertaining as we were able to feed some fishes in the middle of the river. Our boat stopped, so us tourists can enjoy fish-feeding.
Along the boat ride, we passed by one of the royal residences of the Thai Royal Family. It was a very picturesque structure adorned in gold. My eyes were plastered into it as our boat slowly drifted into the waters. The tourist guide was explaining something in the background, and I couldn’t concentrate. I kept on taking pictures, several angles of it.
At long last, we arrived at Wat Arun Temple. It is commonly known as “The Temple of Dawn”, this Buddhist Temple was constructed from about a million porcelain tiles. I stood there with so much awe and I was thankful for the privilege of seeing something like this up close. According to history, the Wat Arun Temple was named after the Hindu God, Aruna, and it’s one of the best known landmarks of Thailand.
Just like any other temples, shorts and skimpy tops are obviously not allowed. I would suggest wearing something long, skirt or pants, probably about a few inches below the knees. Also, do not wear complicated foot wear, as each time you enter the temples, you must remove your footwear as a sign of respect.
After our visit to Wat Arun and a long boat ride at Chao Praya, we capped off our day with authentic Thai Massage. I wasn’t a big fan of Thai Massage before, as it was mostly stretching and using body weight during the massage. The first thing they would ask you to do is to change from your outside clothes to comfortable and loose cotton apparel. You are not allowed to bring your shoes in, so you have to change to their disposable “hotel-style” footwear.
They will then wash your feet and legs with warm water that are ornamented with calming flowers and drops of essential oils like lavender oil and peppermint oil. It is relaxing, I must agree. They will bring you to the massage quarters where you will comfortably lie down on a thin mattress while your therapist performs your massage. An authentic Thai Full Body Massage would cost you about THB 200 to THB 500 ($10 AUD / P350 Pesos) for an hour. It is ridiculously cheap, but of course you can choose to upgrade with a Body Scrub or an additional half hour for foot massage, which does not cost that much. Don’t forget the tips for your therapist as most of them heavily rely on this as their livelihood.
Eventually, my body started to look for Thai Massage, though I wasn’t a fan at first. Luckily nowadays, Thai Massage has grown exponentially in other countries, including Australia and Philippines. The price would never be the same, always more expensive than the real one, but it has been my escape from the kitchen pains and stress from city dwelling.
BANGKOK DREAM WORLD
After a very relaxing night, we came to see another side of Thailand. It’s not just about markets and temples. One of the highlights of our Thailand Trip was Dream World. It is located at Pathum Thani Province, about 40 kilometers from the city center of Bangkok. It is Thailand’s version of Disney Land and it would definitely bring out the kid in you. Even my Mom enjoyed Dream World. Thanks to Thailand’s sunny climate, flowers bloom attractively, which adds up to the wonderful facade of the amusement park.
The kid in me ultimately enjoyed Dream World. The vibrance of every corners, the rides and activities, and everything that came in between was a spectacle for me. The heat of the sun was a bit scorching that time, and I failed to bring my sun-screen. But I didn’t mind then, all I wanted was to enjoy every minute we had in Dream World.
Don’t forget to bring a bottle of water if you plan to visit Dream World. Just like any other amusement parks, food prices and bottled drinks are really costly inside. But you can always refill your water bottle at the refilling stations allotted just around the park.
Dream World is actually a classical European-themed Amusement Park. It has tiny replicas of the world’s greatest landmarks like Eiffel Tower, Pyramids of Giza, and Great Wall of China. But though it is European in style, Thai culture is still written all over it. You will see elephants walking around the park, together with their carers. It was my first time touching an actual elephant. These gentle giants were main features of the park. We spent one whole day in Bangkok Dream World, just enjoying the rides and scenery around us. One adult entrance ticket can cost about THB 900 ($30 AUD). However, some attractions may vary in prices. My experience was definitely a blast, and I would recommend it for adults with children, planning to take a trip to Bangkok. You can easily ride a taxi going there, or you may ask your hotel concierge for tourist assistance going to the theme park.
We also went to Honey Bee Farm, learned about authentic Thai Honey. Bangkok Chinatown was also in our itinerary. It was truly a gastronomic trip over there. There were rare Chinese medicines and herbs which you can only find in Thailand. We also experienced shopping at Thailand Duty Free where leather goods are very inexpensive.
AUTHENTIC THAI FOOD
Thai Food OF COURSE will always be in the picture. One of the reasons that persuaded me to visit Bangkok was its cuisine. I have a deep relationship with Thai Food. Even when I was already living in Sydney, I longed for Thai Food every now and then. But of course, where else can you get the best of the best, nowhere but Thailand. Nothing beats authentic Pad Thai and Tom Yum Soup. Catfish Salad with mangoes and chilies is a must! We came to encounter street foods, but the best experience was trying authentic Thai Cuisine from the stalls along the markets and from Thai Restaurants where Thai Chefs master their craft.
On the average, a big serving of authentic Pad Thai from a local stall would cost you about THB 60-90 ($4.60 AUD), that’s about P150-P170 when converted in Philippine Peso. Not bad, right? It would cost about THB 20 ($1 AUD) more if you wish to add on some extra sides like rice or eggs or extra toppings.
Like I said earlier, Bangkok is a very good ground for going on a food adventure. It would cost you a lot more in a fancy Thai restaurant of course. Dishes like grilled octopus with special Thai Fish and Cilantro sauce, plated or not, would always be best eaten where it originally came from.
Mom and I promised not to eat on the same restaurant each day, as we would love to taste and experience a little bit of everything throughout our stay. Let’s not forget the bold flavors of an authentic Pad See Ew, tossed in greens and melt-in-the-mouth beef. If there’s something Mom has taught me about traveling, it’s to never be stingy when it comes to food. Food is part of the culture. Never mind paying the price for a good bowl of authentic dishes. It’s part of immersing yourself in the rich culture through the country’s cuisine.
What’s more to love about Thai Food is not just their striking flavors from their spices and condiments. The wide array of tropical fruits is also a reward to any traveler that seeks for it. Though Thai fruits are almost similar to what we have in the Philippines, what amazed me was how they packaged their authenticity.
And just like that, tropical fruits were made into candies, wrapped in colorful candy wrappers. Lychee, Mango Tamarind, Durian, Mangosteen, wow. My foodie self was very much glorified.
Just like in any South East Asian country, there was an abundance of Durian. There was Durian Ice Cream, Durian desserts and delicacies which you can only find in Thailand. The strong pungent smell of the fruit sometimes takes me aback, but seeing how Thai people transformed it into something, made me want to try it.
If you would set a budget for a quick trip to Bangkok, I would say, set a huge part of it for food. Next would be for accommodation. You have to plan this well, as you wouldn’t want to be traveling and spending time in traffic while you are there. It’s best to stay somewhere in the middle, near the markets, or near Chinatown where there’s easy access on cheap food stalls. You can always set a budget for shopping, but that’s always a different story for me. Like I said, shopping is very cheap in Bangkok, but you wouldn’t want to be spending on something which you can also see else where. I would recommend buying authentic Thai fish sauce and condiments which you can only find in Thailand.
I would definitely go back, all for the same reasons. Food is good, shopping is cheap, and ELEPHANTS! I hope you enjoyed a piece of Bangkok through my travelogue. I encourage you to visit Thailand and experience the culture and their traditions first hand. (And don’t forget the shopping too!)
LOTS OF LOVE FROM QUARANTINE,