I didn’t want to go to Bangkok. My impression of it was that of a lifeless congregation of concrete blocks while the real Thai culture was hiding outside the confines of the city. However, my first impressions proved me wrong; Bangkok is a dynamic city offering traditional Thai culture in a modern cityscape. It’s a city that’ll surprise you for sure. I didn’t expect the abundance of nature, but there were so many tourists that I felt the Thais were a minority. However, if you’re visiting Southeast Asia for the first time like I was, 3 days in Bangkok is the perfect way to dip your toes in the radically different cultural landscape before going all out in neighbouring Vietnam or Cambodia.
Thailand is laughably cheap. In three days, you can live like a king for under $100, in total.
- Hostels: $4-10/night (I stayed at The Printing House Poshtel, for an eye-watering $7/night.)
- Hotels: $25-150/night
- Food: 75-200 baht per meal ($2.20-$5).
- Transportation: While fun, tuk tuks are 200-400 baht ($5-10) per ride. Bangkok’s a massive city and this will add up very quickly; so, I recommend taking the bus. The most expensive tickets are 24 baht (75 cents). If you get on the red bus, and they don’t check your ticket, you’re good to go!
Day 1: What’s a Wat?
You’ll soon be very, very acquainted with Thailand’s Wats, or Buddhist Temples. To get your first taste of Thai culture, spend the whole day getting to know Thailand’s favourite man (besides their late king whose picture you’ll see everywhere).
- Grand Palace – The biggest and most beautiful palace in Bangkok, established in 1782.
- Property includes the Wat Phra Kaew, or Temple of the Emerald Buddha: a dazzling palace covered by millions of shiny stones. It’s the most important Buddhist temple in the country. Entrance fee: 500 baht.
- Wat Arun – Probably my personal favourite due to not suffocating from the crowds, these towering spires are uncharacteristically almost entirely white, a diversion from the intensely colourful hues of the other Wats. I think it was the refreshing simplicity (and I use simplicity very loosely) that made me appreciate it more. Entrance fee: 100 baht.
- Wat Saket – Built on a hill, Wat Saket starts with a cemetery, as Saket used to be Bangkok’s main crematorium; some 60,000 bodies were dumped here. Entrance fee: 50 baht.
- Wat Phra – Otherwise known as Wat Phra Chetuphon Vimolmangklararm Rajwaramahaviharn (try pronouncing that!), Phra houses the Reclining Buddha, a 50-foot Buddha statue represents Buddha lying on his side in his final moments in life, as he is about to enter Nirvana. Entrance fee: 100 baht.
- Wat Trimit – A ridiculously opulent Wat that’s home of the world’s largest solid-gold statue. Can you guess whose likeliness it’s made in? Entrance Fee: 40 baht.
Thailand is hot. All. The. Time. Because of this, your stamina may be cut. Make sure to pace yourself, and drinks lots of water (but NOT the tap water).
Day 2: Modern Marvels
I didn’t do a lot this day; I was intensely burnt out from the day before, so I took it quite easy.
- Siam Paragon – Bangkok is famous for its malls, so whether you want to shop ’till you drop, find home at the only Coffee Bean within a 6000-mile proximity (seriously, how do they have Coffee Bean in Bangkok but not New York or anywhere in the UK??), or watch a crab de-shelling contest, Siam Paragon’s got it all. It was a nice burst of modernity from being Wat’ed out from the day before.
- Khao San Road – the famous street for all the backpackers! During the day it’s insignificant, but at night is where KSR creeps in. Full of drunken 20-somethings finding themselves via the worm in their tequila shot, this is the place to be if you wanna get (responsibly) messy. Because I don’t like crowds, and especially drunk crowds, I avoided it except for one walk-through! If I had friends here, that may have been a different story.
- Thonglor – a way from the backpacker Khao San Road (45-60 minutes by taxi, so about $12), this neighbourhood is where all the Thai celebrities and, well, all the cool people hang out. Think of it as Bangkok’s Lower East Side, or Bangkok’s Williamsburg. It’s got instagrammable food, overly-niche bars, and “lifestyle malls.” I only wish I knew about this area when I was there.
- Sathorn Unique Tower – Ghosts, graffiti, and more ghosts. The 1997 Asian Financial Crisis left this building rotting in abandonment. So, rumour has it that spirits haunt the building and people have disappeared, or found dead. However, making it to the 49th floor (all by foot), you’ll be rewarded with unmatched views of the city. (I didn’t have time to do this, so next time!)
Day 3: Day Trip to Ayutthaya
After losing my bank card (aka my only source of money), I was stressing out and I wanted to leave Bangkok for a bit, so I took a little detour. I went an hour north to the town of Ayutthaya. Filled with old temples and elephants (!), I was determined to get my mind off my situation, and it ended up being one of the best days in recent memory. The temples in the city are on an island, so you’ll need to take a ferry, a tuk tuk, or hop on a stranger’s motorcycle like I did!
- Elephantstay – An elephant sanctuary that rescues previously-abused elephants. For 200 baht, you can feed the elephants cucumbers and small watermelons. (by the way, do not ride elephants in the city centre. This encourages systematic abuse of elephants and causes them great stress.) I rented a bike and it was 20 minutes outside the city centre but it was a gorgeous ride.
- Wat Chai/Maha That – more Wats! Comparable to Angkor Wat in Cambodia, these highly underrated temples, built in 1374, were the epicentre of Thailand’s ancient capital. Entrance fee: 50 baht.
- Floating Market – shop for some souvenirs along the Khao Mao.
Despite this being the first trip of mine with legitimate road-bumps, I’ll be honest; Bangkok proved me wrong.
I fully went in, expecting to dislike it, but it surprised me in many different ways. There is so much packed into this sprawling metropolis that it’ll take you weeks to fully know Bangkok. It had more traditional Thai culture than I expected, and it’s nothing like The Hangover (okay, except Khao San Road). My heat-induced slower pace made me appreciate it more, despite not being able to see a few of the things listed above (I had written them in my notes app), But the slower pace made me take everything in. The pace allowed me to adjust to my first time ever feeling culture shock, so I think it’s meant to be. I appreciate it far more now, than right after I left; I would love to return one day, and see the rest of Thailand with it.