We recently returned from a jam packed, whirlwind two week trip to Thailand and Cambodia. I can honestly say we saw and did virtually everything. It was incredible; Thailand has my heart forever. We began in Bangkok, then traveled north to Chiang Mai, then left Thailand and flew to Siem Reap, Cambodia and finally went back to southern Thailand to Krabi and the Phi Phi Islands. Whew.
Because we saw and did so much I am breaking these posts up by location AND by spotlighting a few brands and companies we were fortunate to work with during our journey. Stop number 1: BANGKOK.
We flew from SFO (our home airport) through Taipei and into Bangkok on EVA Air. EVA is the nicest airline we have ever flown. It is nearly 12 hours from SFO to Taipei and then a little over three hours more from Taipei to Bangkok so you will be spending ALOT of time on the plane/in your seat. We splurged and purchased seats in the Elite Class cabin (between Economy and Business) and wow, it was worth every single penny. Menu service specifically for our cabin, blankets and comfortable pillows, an amenity kit and a really good entertainment system not to mention footrest and large reclining seats made for a great trip. For long haul international flights being able to sleep/sit comfortably is pretty important. Now we are spoiled and will not fly less than premium economy for long hauls! Thanks EVA Air for spoiling us!
We stayed in the heart of Chinatown in Bangkok at the Shanghai Mansion. I chose this smaller boutique hotel because the location looked ideal and it was stunning in photos. It did not disappoint! We stayed in the Mu Dan Suites; I highly recommend!
This was a beautiful place of AIR CON (so very important in Thailand) and respite each day. Thank you Shanghai Mansion for a fabulous stay!
You guys. Thailand was hot. HOT HOT HOT. Soooooooo hot. So much hotter than I was prepared for. And insanely humid. Let’s just get that out of the way here at the beginning. Battling the heat and humidity was a daily exercise; eventually we just accepted our fate of always being covered in sweat and always in need of a cold shower. We also took cues from the Thai people: they do not rush anywhere. Distance is covered at a leisurely pace which travelers would be wise to adopt. Rushing around in 95 degrees with 100% humidity is a recipe for disaster. Take things slow. Build in more time to get to and from places. Seek out air con wherever and whenever possible. Trust me on this :).
We found Bangkok to be sprawling, colorful and incredibly busy. Even after living in NYC we found Bangkok to be SO much bigger and crazier. Truly, you could spend a month in Bangkok and not see it all. We had four full days in Bangkok and we packed it ALL in.
We spent a lot of time exploring the markets and back alleys for goodies and treasures. Shopping in Chinatown was fabulous.
This was my first meal in Bangkok: tried and true pad thai. Look at my happy smile :).
On our first full day we chartered a boat for ourselves to go up and down the Chao Phraya River which runs through Bangkok and is the major river in Thailand. It was two hours of really interesting scenery; the boat took a full hour going through small canals and waterways that were all residential where we got to see people going about their daily lives on the water. The river is pretty dirty and filled with alligators (we saw two swimming near our boat), large lizards, eels, snakes and BIG fish. You would NOT want to fall into the Chao Phraya River.
After our time on the river we hopped in a cab and traveled a short distance to the Grand Palace. This is a must see location for anyone coming to Bangkok. I know that I have already used the word ‘sprawling’ to describe Bangkok, but the Grand Palace is also sprawling. It is huge and heavily populated by tourists and truly GRAND. Unfortunately it is also really exposed to the midday sun; while we were there I was felled by some heat exhaustion. Most of my photos from that afternoon have me looking tomato red in the face! All things considered, it is totally worth the visit. We spent about 1 1/2 hours and that was plenty. We also hired a guide inside the complex and she was FANTASTIC. Her name was Sunny and she was super passionate about the king and Thailand in general. If you are ever there try to find Sunny; she will make the whole tour worth it. It’s also handy to hire a guide because they can take photos for you at all of the best spots.
After cooling down back at the hotel we headed out to join Co Van Kessel Bike Tours for an evening bike ride through Bangkok. See more of my review of the bike tour here. While it was not quite as relaxing as I was anticipating, the night bike ride affords you an opportunity to see Bangkok differently than you would during the day. It is marginally cooler since the sun is down and seeing the Wat’s (temples) and their grounds lit up at night without hordes of tourists is really special. If you are decently comfortable on a bike you should do this tour. Co Van Kessel sponsored our tour and we are very appreciative of our time with them.
On our second day in Bangkok we traveled to a different part of the city to work with the Bangkok Thai Cooking Academy. The Bangkok Thai Cooking Academy is one of the best cooking schools in Bangkok and we were grateful that they sponsored our time with them. See my post here about our incredible day learning to cook delicious Thai food. Our chef extraordinaire was named Air and he was FANTASTIC. If you ever have a chance to spend a few hours with a cooking school in Bangkok please choose this one!
We spent the afternoon touring Wat Pho (which we had visited the night before with Co Van Kessel) and the famous Reclining Buddha. I had heard that the Buddha was huge but was unprepared for how massive it really is. Wat Pho is one of the oldest temples in all of Thailand. It also contains a school of Thai medicine and is recognized as the birthplace of Thai massage. So if you love a good Thai massage, you can thank Wat Pho for introducing it to the world! I especially enjoyed our time at this Wat because they had fans lining the hallway of the Reclining Buddha and it was ever so slightly cooler in there. Win win!
We spent our evening at the Ratchada Night Market (otherwise known as the Train Night Market) which was super awesome. Packed with stalls of goods as far as the eye can see, it was a fun cornucopia of food options and souvenirs. And still SO hot.
My only complaint with Ratchada is that the stalls are SO tightly packed it is actually difficult to browse/shop. The food stalls are fine because there is seating interspersed with vendors but the shopping portion of the market is so jammed. It was wall to wall people so we all hit our limit after about an hour. Plus…it was HOT.
On our final full day in Bangkok we hired a driver from the hotel to take us about an hour outside of town to the famous Maeklong Railway Market and the Daeslom Floating Markets.
Maeklong Railway Market is built on an active railroad, making it one of the most unique attractions to visit in Thailand. The passenger train comes through four times a day and the market transforms in a matter of minutes to allow the train to pass RIGHT next to food and goods. In some cases, the train actually passes OVER goods.
This was one of the coolest, craziest things we saw during our trip. To see this train situation in action watch this video. Crazy right?! If you are near Bangkok, this place is a must see for your trip.
From Maeklong we traveled a short distance to the famous Daemon Floating Markets. We chartered a boat for our group of three for two hours and it was a blast. Zipping along the waterways was both refreshing and informative; we really got to see where people live and how they live on the water. And then of course the whole floating market thing was just COOL. We would float up to another boat or a shop on the water, negotiate and purchase. We bought mango smoothies, pad thai, scarves, bags and other souvenirs. It was fascinating to people watch (most of the tourists appeared to be Chinese; not many Europeans or Americans when we were there). It was hot (of course) but when we floated at a good clip the breeze was great.
The trick with the floating markets is to get there early in the day. You want to be on the water before 10:00 am because after that point the waterways are really thick with boats and people. I had never been in a boat jam until Daemon but I can say that it is very much like a regular traffic jam :).
We also visited a beautiful temple towards the end of our floating market experience:
The remainder of our day was spent with Sam and his sister Shannon getting massages (something they did every single day sometimes twice or even three times a day!), more souvenir shopping, mango smoothie and mango sticky rice eating and seeking out Diet Coke and air conditioning wherever we could find it. ALSO! There are about a million 7-11’s in Bangkok and they always have the BEST air conditioning. We stopped inside a 7-11 multiple times a day every single day. BLESS 7-11 now and forever. Bless :).
The temple (Wat) closest to our hotel in Chinatown was called Wat Traimit and contains the largest golden Buddha in Thailand. The Buddha is worth approximately $250,000,000 and weighs over five tons. The body of the statue is 40% pure gold, the volume from the chin to the forehead is 80% pure gold, and the hair and the topknot, weighing 45 kg, are 99% pure gold. The fact that this Wat and it’s golden Buddha were about three blocks from our hotel made it all the cooler. There was also a beautiful market on the temple grounds where we found a few pieces of art to take back home.
And that concludes our time in Bangkok. Next up: CHIANG MAI, THAILAND!