Bangkok was a good place to start our Southeast Asian adventures. It’s a big city with more modernized areas, so you can get almost anything should you need to. But Bangkok is also a mosaic of less developed neighborhoods that are a constant reminder that this is very much the developing East. At times the contrast of newly constructed luxury high rises next to canal homes that are basically shacks with metal roofs sitting on wooden stilts is astonishing. There are signs of rising living standards and real wealth, set against areas that Westerners would consider abject poverty. In this sense, Bangkok allowed us to ease ourselves into a part of the World that is definitely different than the Western lifestyle that we often take for granted.
With kids, Bangkok is a place where you should come prepared, especially if you plan to venture off the tourist path. It’s a gritty place, traffic is a busy mix of tuk tuk’s, buses, taxis and motorbikes weaving every which way, and public transportation is not easily navigated. Signs are mostly in the Thai alphabet, so unless you know Thai, you won’t be able to easily read your way around the city. But beyond the dirt, noise and traffic, there were pleasant surprises in Bangkok. It wasn’t nearly as dirty as I expected and people generally try to keep Bangkok clean. And for all the food carts and food stalls (Bangkok is one huge open air kitchen), there were hardly any flies (maybe Thai food is just too much for their stomachs). And surprisingly, most bathrooms we used at public attractions and malls were very clean. Typically you pay a few Baht to use them, but a few cents to use a very clean bathroom was a welcome exception to our expectations.
Things to do with kids:
Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew – The palace grounds and temple of the Emerald Buddha are impressive. Spend the money for a tour by an approved guide once inside (about $17). A stroll through the Amulet Market afterwards is a fascinating look at the craftsmanship behind Buddhist statues and amulets. For more temples Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) and Wat Pho (the Reclining Buddha) are also impressive sites. Although we are not Buddhists, my kids loved kneeling in every temple and giving offerings at every chance. Buying rings of flowers at a street stall to present to the temple in our hotel became a beloved afternoon ritual for the kids.
Get A Massage – After a day of sightseeing, nothing is better than a foot massage (or full body massage) either on Khao San Road or at one of about a million massage and spa establishments all over Bangkok. 30 minutes is about 100 BHT ($2.50 EUR). It was a cheap indulgence that the kids loved (when they weren’t busy giggling)
Take a Longboat Tour – At the piers along Mae Nam Chao Praya, there is no shortage of people who can arrange a longboat tour, usually for an hour or two. The open air, open motor longboats plying the waterways are a ubiquitous sight and can show you a side of Bangkok that is hard to see any other way. The cost for two hours was 1500 BHT (less than 40 EUR) and took us through the canals and neighborhoods west of Bangkok. It was a fascinating view of how ordinary Thai people live along the canals throughout the city.
Eat – Eating is cheap in Bangkok and we managed to live on 5 EUR per person per day! And this was mostly restaurants and included drinks. You could spend half this amount if you lived on street food. We never had stomach issues, but we were relatively careful to try decent looking places and stayed away from raw food. Our kids love eating Thai food at home in Chicago, and it was refreshing to experience it in Thailand. Happily, every place we ate was as good or better than any Thai restaurant we’ve experienced in Chicago.
Still on the To-Do List – Chatachuk Weekend Market. Since we didn’t spend the weekend, we have yet to check out this huge market where you can buy any of your wardrobe needs to the latest seafood catch. Going to the market is always an adventure in every city, so we’ll check this off our list next time we travel though Bangkok on our way to Vietnam.
Final impressions of Bangkok – A big city of contrasts that will expand your Western senses of sight, sound, taste and smell. They might not always be pleasant, but Bangkok is a relatively comfortable place to delve into the cultures of the East.