This is day 1 of 20 days in Southeast Asia. Here Zach and I spend our first day in Bangkok, Thailand wandering the veins and arteries of Chinatown before taking a water taxi up to Banglamphu to see Khao San Road, the Contemporary Art Center, and many Wats along the way.
This is October 3! Hours before we were leaving Honolulu, Hawaii on the way to our layover at Narita in Japan. After many in-flight meals and a quick mid-flight Zach panic about what day it was (time zones are nuts), we arrived in Bangkok a little after midnight.
I pre-organized a ride in advance with our accommodation because I was worried about arriving so late after such long travel.
The driver took us about an hour from the airport to Chinatown. I was wide awake for the whole journey just in awe that we had finally made it to Thailand.
We passed giant billboards (I think I mentioned them in this brief post I made while in Thailand), many of them in memory of the beloved Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej who had passed away almost a year before in 2016. We had arrived in the last month of the year of mourning.
Once we got to Loy La Long Hotel we were welcomed and brought up to the room. This hotel is a converted teak floating house on the grounds of Wat Pathumkongka. There are 7 rooms, each beautiful and unique. We basically got in, enjoyed our lemongrass “welcome drink” and then passed out.
Good morning! Poked our head outside our little escape door to the side balcony. We saw this kitty the evening before, this must be his spot.
Another view from the little balcony of Loy La Long’s “Red Room.”
Wall of the late King in the upstairs common area.
Textured wall with our door to the red room in the back right.
Went downstairs to enjoy breakfast overlooking the Chao Phraya River
Feeling overwhelmed by the welcoming breakfast and the view directly on the water.
Before we left on our trip we did a majority of trip planning online (and with the help of you on my planning posts) but wanted something small with actual physical maps we could reference quickly and without internet access. We settled on this little Pocket Bangkok guide from Barnes & Noble, it’s about $7.
After a long leisurely breakfast and finally strategizing and planning out what we’d do on our first and second days, we got our stuff together and prepared to head out.
Shoe area. Let’s go!
First sights of Bangkok in the daylight.
Soaking in the streets of Chinatown as we walked from the river towards Wat Traimit to see the Golden Buddha.
I remember this moment as one of the first *intense* intersections that we had to really carefully run across.
Wat Traimit in the distance, so close but so nervewrecking when we were being scaredy cats about the traffic. *Gotta build up the nerve*
We stood in line at the ticket booth to pay entry fee when the tiniest chain of school children passed by.
Parts of the exhibition halls and museum were closed, but we did get entry (around 40 Thai Bhat) to go up to the top to see the Golden Buddha.
Ascending the stairs
High enough to look out over Chinatown and see some of the financial area (we were told).
Preparing to enter—shoulders and legs covered, no hats.
This Buddha is 3 meters tall. Apparently it was covered with plaster and when it fell from a crane it was revealed that the statue was actually made of gold. It may be from the 13th century—but there is a lot of mystery to this particular sculpture.
The shape of the Golden Buddha’s head is in the Sukhothai Dynasty style of the 13th-14th centuries. It was possibly covered in stucco before Burma took over the Ayutthaya kingdom in the 18th century. Golden Buddha was moved from another wat in Chinatown to Wat Traimit in the 1930s, but only once the true nature of the Golden Buddha was revealed in an accident was an entire new pavilion erected to house it.
Zach and Golden Buddha
The details on the walls
Suddenly got super crowded so we decided to slowly wander out.
Looking down at the area we purchased tickets.
Collected our shoes from the shoe racks
And took our time wandering down to the exit.
Nice light on this gloomy morning.
Mickey Mouse in the wild. We said our goodbyes to the Golden Buddha and decided to wander through Chinatown a bit.
Yaowarat Road, Chinatown’s main road.
Crossing roads, getting lost.
Wandering down these narrow passageways with shops on both sides. Each shop seemed to have their own niche—stuffed animals, kitchenware, balloons and party supplies, wigs, etc.
The path is only wide enough for one or two people to walk in one direction, so there is a lot of just side to side looking and saying ‘excuse me!’ when accidentally bumping people who definitely seemed to know where they were going.
Made it out of one of those little veins.
Building eaten by plants
Organized telephone wires
Walking toward N5 Rajchawongse boat dock.
Keeping our eyes peeled for the boats with the orange flags. This blogpost shows the entire boat line, the docks, and describes the differences between the colored flags. There’s a tourist boat that stops at the major attractions, but it’s more expensive than the orange flag. The orange flag boats run every day from 06:00-19:00 and come every 5 to 20 minutes. It’s 15 baht and you pay when you get on.
If you aren’t sure who to pay, just hang out and wait for the sound of metal coins hitting a can. That person will take your coins!
I loved taking the boats, so much more convenient, scenic, and fun than taxis.
The water taxi attendants are so so athetic and incredible jumping from boat to dock at every pier. A coordinated series of whistles seems like a secret code.
Exiting at Phra Arthit—yes, this exit is the stop for Khao San Road, the infamous backpackers district. We wanted to see this street (it’s really not a huge area) and walk to a few museums and wats nearby.
Near the pier is Pom Phra Sumen, an 18th century fortress in the middle of a little grassy park.
The area was a little flooded, it’s rainy season so not super surprising.
Across this little bridge appeared to be what looked like a hostel (signs say it’s the “Flapping Duck”)
Reptile friend, you see him?
We stood at the edge of the river looking into this area with the hostel in the background. All this plant stuff had collected in this one area and we debated…was this put here on purpose or did the tides or movement of the water somehow push this all here? We never found out…
A good broom to fly
This area seems to be known (at least among western tourist guides) for awesome river views, backpackers and chaos on Khao San Road, and bar hopping.
We started walking away from the river edge back towards the start of Khao San Road and it started raining.
Thankfully there were a lot of delicious smelling food stalls set up with rain covers on the sidewalks.
Lots of little puffy bags of food, like edible balloons.
At this point it starts to pour rain.
We debate eating here but decide that we’ll sneak in a bit more sight seeing first. We try to haggle for some umbrellas but eventually decide to pop into the first restaurant we saw to wait out the downpour.
Well here we are on Khao San Road, the beers are kind of expensive, but hey we’re just here mooching on the wifi of this tripadvisor approved restaurant. It’s still pouring rain.
The rain lets up a little bit and we walk as fast as possible down Phra Sumen. I wanted to see a Wat on the way to Ratchadamneon Contemproary Art Center.
The lighting and sky were mystical and beautiful but we were walking as fast as possible sensing another downpour.
In the distance we could see Wat Bowonniwet Vihara.
We had to sprint the last few yards as it started raining once again.
From the safe dry space of the entry gate, we could see that the wat was under construction but definitely still open.
We waited in the little entry gate to see if the rain would let up. It didn’t.
So we finally ran across the huge puddle that had formed. We were standing in that little entry moments ago.
I wish I had recorded the sound of the rain hitting all the scaffolding. But maybe you can imagine it.
We snuck into the temple and a few other people were quietly sitting, also hiding from the rain but enjoying the atmosphere.
Painted doors and ceilings
We waited quietly amongst strangers. The sound of the rain was intense. It was a really cool experience being there.
The rain let up just enough for us to continue our walk down Phra Sumen.
We popped into a 7/11 to buy an umbrella and I surveyed the snack options. There are 7/11s everywhere!
There are 7/11s on every other corner and tempting street vendors on every block.
It was still incredibly humid and warm despite the rain.
We finally made it to the area with the Queen’s Gallery, King Prajadhipok Museum, and Ratchadamnoen Contemporary Art Center.
The gloomy weather made the golden roofs pop. Here’s Wat Ratchanatdaram in passing! We’ll be back….
Be back, Wat!
Contemporary Art Center!
We arrived at an off season time, they were about to open the Bangkok Biennial so we only had the option to see a few exhibits on the top floor.
This installation featured technology projects bringing to life Southeast Asian cultures including language and cuisine.
Even the bathrooms had vinyl decals.
Fascinated by the number of signs that ask for people not to squat on the toilet. Is it because squat toilets used to be more prevalent and people still want to do that on non-squat ones? I see how squat toilets are definitely more sanitary but how many porcelain toilets shattered under the weight of innocent squatters? You have to wonder…
Wish we could have come back to see the biennial!
This temple was built to the order of King Nangklao (Rama III) for the princess granddaughter, Somanass Waddhanawathy in 1846.
Visiting Loha Prasat which translates to “iron castle” or “iron monastery.” The 37 virtues that are required to reach enlightenment are signified by 37 black metal spires.
You can climb a spiral staircase up a few levels, each with new places and things to discover. This temple’s design is said to have derived fro metal temples built in India and Sri Lanka more than 2000 years ago.
At the very top you get incredible views, and at the very top there’s a relic of the Buddha.
*Sweaty but also damp from the rain*
Finding our shoes again
From here we walked to find some food.
We were starving. We looked in our little Lonely Planet pocket guide and saw this was a closeby recommended restaurant. We tried the tom yum soup (ugh seriously so good, I’m craving it looking at these photos!), spicy stir fried crab (drooling), and an egg souffle dish. The place is called Krua Apsorn.
Leaving full and happy
After lunch we stopped by Wat Suthat also known as the Temple with the Giant Swing.
Incredible floor to ceiling wall murals.
20 baht well spent
We wandered around the grounds—this area looks like spare architectural features?
Always look up!
Trying *desperately* to fit in.
*Cries* So beautiful.
Little kitty heads popping up in the distance.
From Wat Suthat it started raining and was getting dark so we decided to hop into a taxi and get a ride through Chinatown back to the hotel.
We were bad passengers and at first struggled to give a drop off point that worked for the driver, but we settled on getting dropped back by the Golden Buddha temple we had seen this morning.
It worked! We walked back to Loy La Long Hotel and perched up on the deck and watched the dinner cruises go by.
Lively river compared to the taxis we saw in the morning.
Same view from our room but evening time.
I was so so so exhausted, and I’m sure Zach was too but he dragged me out to at least grab a snack and drink so we’d force ourselves to stay up until 10pm at least.
This place was literally a 1 minute walk from Loy La Long Hotel. It’s called Samsara Cafe.
Watching even more party dinner cruises go by.
Zach and another kitty we almost stole to take with us.
Outside the entrance to the restaurant—you walk through a windy little pathway parallel to the waterfront and then enter an old home.
Walked back to our hotel and called it a night. We went to bed a bit early to save up some energy for an early day sightseeing in Ko Ratanakosin and Thonburi, Bangkok’s historical center.
I hope you enjoyed (and if you’re visiting, that this gave you some ideas filling a day in Bangkok!)
Check out all my “Waldo in Southeast Asia” travel posts including a packing list and planning here.
Read Day 2 next here.
Much love friends.