Hello Bangkok. After a few rainy days in Dusseldorf which included ringing in the New Year, we arrived in Bangkok on January 2nd. The weather on arrival was hot, humid and a nice change from the cold of Europe (although winter this year has been surprisingly mild in Europe). Not having to think about sweaters, pants, gloves, and hats is like peeling away an extra layer of decision making and stress, especially for Vivian. Now we just worry about sunscreen, insect repellent, and leaving the hotel with enough bottled water to get us through the day!
After catching some needed sleep we ventured out into the Bangkok night and the infamous Khao San Road. What was many years ago a dingy backpackers neighborhood has gone somewhat upscale. Although the myriad food stalls and street vendors still give it an authentic feel and vibe, many of the commercial stores are now large scale restaurants catering to the tourist crowds. Evening entertainment, clubs and several massage operations give this area a lively and hectic pace. It’s a scene that every visitor to Bangkok should experience, even if at times it reminded me a little of Cabo san Luca, but with much fewer pushy souvenir vendors. Around KSR is the Banglamphu neighborhood and where our hotel, Lamphu Tree House, is located. For traveling with kids, I definitely recommend the hotel: pool, clean, good food, but still a little off the beaten path and the craziness that happens closer to Khao San Road. It’s in an authentic Thai neighborhood, but it’s also a bit of an oasis from what can be some of the harsh realities of the city.
As I posted in Facebook, we travelled here with 3 bags weighing a total of 28 kilos (75 pounds). For six people, this is about 12 lbs. per person including the weight of the bags. Let’s just say that this is extremely light, so our first full day saw us spend some time at the famous MBK and surrounding shopping centers. Getting there was an adventure in itself on a canal taxi. Cost: 1.50 EUR for all of us! The boats are pretty basic. There is a long plastic sheet all along the sides that riders hold up to keep the spray out. The roof, which only sits about 6 inches above your head while seated gets lowered so that the boat can get under the bridges in the canal. If you’re a tall person, for health reasons you might want to take a tuk tuk or taxi instead. But for 11 Baht per person, this is about 1/8 the price of a cab and well worth the adventure. MBK and the other centers were packed with retailers, eating establishment and entertainment. Parts of the mall are more like flee markets, so you can get about anything here. The neighboring properties get about as upscale as you could ever want and we discovered that clothing is not that much cheaper than in Europe. International brands I would argue are not cheaper at all. But after a successful day of shopping, we feel better equipped, albeit packing slightly more weight, to take on the rest of our stay in SE Asia.
Day 2 we visited The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, the most important site in Bangkok. We were greeted by an English speaking official guide and agreed to a tour for 700 Baht (17 EUR). This was well worth the money and I would recommend a guide at any larger sightseeing attractions, especially one who is approved/licensed by the site you are seeing. The guide knew everything about The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew and took our picture at all the right vantage points. Afterwards we toured the Amulet Market and made our way back to our neighborhood by river boat. Although a place like Thailand can be very intimidating because the language and written letters are nothing like any language we know (we can’t read or understand a single thing in Thai), our first two days in Bangkok have gone relatively smoothly. The people are genuinely friendly and a few basic phrases like “Sowat-dee Khrup” have gone a long way towards getting locals to help us find our way. I suppose having 4 daughters who look like they could be Thai doesn’t hurt either.