Living in London for almost three years gave us a very interesting perspective on things. For one, Jeff and I both realized that the world is a lot smaller than we thought ten years ago. Places are more approachable, and we’ve learned how to travel. In the trip I affectionately call “The Honeymoon,” we booked a series of one-way tickets dotting a journey east from London to the U.S. While I loved stopping in Stockholm, Helsinki, and St. Petersburg, the real culture shock was to come when we stepped foot in Thailand.
Jeff and I landed in Bangkok about 10 hours after boarding a plane in Helsinki by way of Kiev. It was an interesting ride sitting next to a couple who shared a good 4/5ths of a bottle of whiskey they had purchased in the duty-free shops. But we landed unscathed to the chaos that is Bangkok. People swarmed the airport and were shouting words like “taxi” and “tuk tuk!” We were no longer in Kansas.
We booked a lovely house in the center of the city through AirBnB, and thankfully, a driver came with the place to help us get through the maze of traffic. He greeted us with the traditional “wai” or bow of respect with hands pressed together. We were compelled to do the same thing in return, but returning the wai can be disrespectful if not done correctly or to the right person, so tourists are encouraged not to return the greeting.
There are many rules and customs in Thailand (more information at the bottom) that I highly suggest going over before traveling. Nothing is crazy or out of the question, but it’s always good practice to respect and know the traditions of the country you’re visiting. The only other tidbit I’ll share here regards money and the king. The Thai people respect their king very much that no image of the king can be blemished or covered. If a baht bill goes flying in the wind, under no circumstances, stand on it to catch it. It is a sign of severe disrespect to the king since they also believe feet to be the dirtiest thing on a person. Therefore, never, ever sit near the Buddha with your feet pointing to him. Always tuck your legs underneath your body when worshiping or observing.
The house we stayed in was right next to the National Stadium SkyTrain stop, so it was ideally located for us. The space was massive, and as soon as we plopped down letting our bodies succumb to jetlag, a girl came in with our prepared lunch: Chinese sausage fried rice with lime leaves. It was purely divine and exactly what we needed to push us out the door to explore the bustling city.
The first stop on our itinerary was the Chatuchak Weekend Market. We landed on a Sunday, so we had to bee-line it to the market if we wanted to see it before it closed. We walked to the SkyTrain and purchased two day-tickets for 120 baht. We noticed there was a security officer at the front checking bags, which we felt nervous and grateful for, but when we walked up the flight of stairs to the platform, I suddenly felt transported to the set of Blade Runner. We were surrounded by TV monitors and advertisements. On the mall next to the station, giant screens were showing flashing images urging you to buy an orange health drink, and the SkyTrain itself was decked out in cat food campaigns. Then, we stepped onto the train just to be bombarded again with more TV screens and more one-sheets of colorful pictures and cartoons. It was a bit of a sensory overload.
We got off the train at the Mo Chit stop and followed the crowd of obvious tourists to the Chatuchak Weekend Market. This largest market in Thailand first opened in 1942 and sports more than 8,000 stalls. You can find anything you could possibly want from artwork to clothing to soaps to food.
The best food you could possibly find in Thailand is not in restaurants. It’s on the streets, and this market was no exception. As soon as we walked in the busy, people and motorcycle-filled area, I spotted coconut ice cream sold out of a coconut shell. The attraction was instant, and it was every bit delicious and refreshing as I hoped it would be.
The path through the market weaves in between stalls and down small roads. We instantly were thrown back to our time maneuvering through the Marrakesh markets in Morocco, but the open air made for a more pleasant experience. We found some scarves and knick knacks tucked away in the cubbies, and we played the negotiation game which is encouraged here. But after our shopping was done, we wanted to enjoy more Thai delicacies.
Around the corner, we found a stall advertising fresh mango with sticky rice. I am here to tell you, I could have died right there. It was pure bliss. And after we shared a bag of ripe dragonfruit, I found a man selling unripe mango with a chili and dried shrimp sauce. It was the last stall we visited before we left the Weekend Market, and while the taste was certainly different and strange being unripe and crunchy, we savored the flavors while surrounded by the Thai madness.
A quick note: There are W.C.’s available to the public for 2 baht, but I’d highly recommend bringing your own toilet paper as it’s not provided in most stalls.
The sun was beginning to fade, but it was still Sunday, and we had one more “weekend market” to visit. The Or Tor Kor Market is about a mile away from the Chatuchak Market, but is a much more organized place. All indoor and set up like a grocery store, this market sports fresh fish, produce, and packaged nuts for sale. We didn’t buy anything at this market, but took a short respite in the air conditioning before venturing back out. For a little higher price, this market offers a more orderly experience to Thai shopping.
Outside the market, there were a few stalls that could not be passed up. One of the most famous fruits of Thailand is the Durian or Jack Fruit. This massive, spiky, and smelly fruit is packed with nutrients and flavor, but depending on your taste buds, the flavor can be delicious or extremely off-putting. Determined to test our tastes, we bought a small package. We definitely had the disadvantage being obvious tourists because the sellers will absolutely mark up the price, but it’s only ever just a few extra cents since the baht is roughly equal to $35.
We made our way back to the SkyTrain with our purchases to be stopped by security before boarding. Apparently, two things that are expressly not allowed on the trains are balloons and Durian fruit. Escorted past the turnstiles, we hunkered down on the outside steps to have our Jack Fruit. It was certainly smelly, but we couldn’t really discern a taste. To us, it was more about the pudding-like texture, which was actually quite nice and refreshing. With our curiosity satisfied, we were escorted back onto the platform, and off we went to the Asiatique Night Market just as the sun began to set.
We got off the SkyTrain at the Saphan Taksin stop to walk the mile to the Night Market. New to the town, we weren’t sure of the security of the areas. While we had no problem walking around during the day, we did take a tuk tuk back to the station that night. It was obvious that most tourists do the same thing as we didn’t see any other tourists walking around that area.
A quick note: It is ill-advised to drink the tap water in Thailand. Always drink bottled water, and never go outside without one. The hot, muggy air will dehydrate you quickly if you’re not prepared. Most corner shops will have bottled water for sale for 10 baht (.20 USD).
The Asiatique Night Market was built in 2012, so it is much newer and caters to the more wealthy tourists. By wealthy, I mean, you’ll pay $10 for a scarf instead of $2. There are plenty of restaurants, stalls, and even amusement park rides for kids. The Ferris Wheel is the main eye-catcher, especially when it lights up. Our jet lag was getting to us, so we only stopped for a quick meal at MK Restaurant, which turned out to be a Chinese hot pot place rather than traditional Thai cuisine. But we were too exhausted to immediately notice. It was still delicious, but we felt guilty for cheating ourselves out of a Thai dish our first night in Bangkok.
As a side note: we did not get a chance to make it to the famous floating markets surrounding the Bangkok area. Since they are only on the weekends, we simply ran out of time. But here is a great link for the floating markets and how to enjoy them.
Our first day in Thailand was a success navigating the several markets and finding some amazing eats and goodies. We slept hard that night, and the next day we were prepared to see the many temples Bangkok had to offer.
Stay tuned for the Grand Palace, a reclining Buddha, and dark alley eats.
Helpful Links for Bangkok:
- SkyTrain Information and Maps
- Our AirBnB near National Stadium BTS
- 10 Thai Customs to Know Before Visiting
- What is Durian Fruit?