How do you describe Bangkok? Like a city on steroids? Like cities in futuristic (distopian..?) sci-fi movies with traffic on multiple planes, lights flickering as the heat rises up from the queuing cars and weaving motorbikes? A clear divide between those who have and those who don’t, epitomised in the Michelin starred chic vs $2 street noodles? One thing is certain, a rainy day-and-a-bit isn’t long enough to really scratch the surface of Bangkok, but it’s a perfect amount of time to explore the Old City.
We stayed at the Old Capital Bike Inn, about a twenty minute walk from the Grand Palace and surrounding sights. It has a quaint vintage feel with some fun murals and a bicycle theme, of course. When we arrived we were given a lovely welcome drink which was perfect in the hot weather, and they also gave us a really helpful map with some of the local sights, shops and eateries. Breakfast was fantastic with fresh fruit and lots of options like eggs, waffles etc, but also some really yummy donuts with a pandan and coconut sauce which was something a bit different and really yummy!
The Golden Mount Temple
We visited the Golden Mount Temple in the morning as it wasn’t far from the hotel and looked very pretty in floodlights when we first arrived. It’s a shame it was a bit cloudy and wet, but there’s quite a good view from the top and some interesting figurines and displays on the way up and down.
The Grand Palace
The Grand Palace is the main sight in the Old City and is open to tourists most days, but still regularly used for official events. It was super busy and felt a bit like you might get told off for something at any point, but despite that and the grey clouds it was very ornate and unquestionably grand. I spent quite a bit of time pattern-hunting and taking photos of a beautiful tiles, colours and decoration. Housed within the Palace grounds is the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Wat Phra Kaew. The small, green (“emerald” refers to its colour rather than its actual composition) sculpture is hugely significant in Thailand and has many legends associated with it.
Wat Pho is also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha and houses a golden Buddha image which is so huge it’s as though the building that surrounds it is somehow shrinking. I’d heard that the statue was big – but it still surprised me to see it. The base of the feet are set with beautiful mother-of-pearl designs. Apparently Wat Pho was also the birthplace of traditional Thai massage!
Lunch at Tha Thien Market
We were in Tha Thien Market around lunch time to get a ferry across the river to Wat Arun, and decided to have some lunch at Home Cafe just on the outside of the market. The food was delicious, especially the massaman curry which was their special for the day. It’s not normally the Thai curry I would choose out of the usual suspects, but this was delicious and probably the best I’ve tasted in my albeit limited experience.
After a short hop across the river, we wandered around Wat Arun. The temple’s white tower or prang is an iconic image of Bangkok’s Old City and is quite beautiful. I’ve heard it’s particularly spectacular at night when lit up and in the morning during the sunrise.
Pad Thai at Thipsamai
For dinner after our day of exploring, it had to be Pad Thai at Thipsamai. This street stall/restaurant on Maha Chai Road is famed for having the original pad Thai in Bangkok and the most authentic flavour. The pad Thai was really delicious – we tried both the classic pad Thai and the noodles wrapped in an omelette which were both great. It was definitely best with the extra chilli seasoning that came with it in my view. The secret here is not to queue which would take probably over an hour – go straight to the front where you can get take-out which is super quick and just as tasty. Queuing for an hour just doesn’t make sense when you can get served in about 30 seconds and find somewhere to eat it along the street. The orange juice was really good too.
As we didn’t have long in Bangkok we definitely did the right thing of focusing in on one part and doing it well, so I’m glad we did that – although there’s certainly plenty to come back to experience.