We spent two days in Bangkok and then another 24 hours on a layover. We used public transportation and kept it cheap and local.
From the airport, get the A4 public bus from gate 7 to get to Kho San Road. It’s an orange bus that comes about every half hour. There will most likely be a couple other backpackers waiting for the same bus, and when it pulls up one of the airport traffic guards will whistle to let all the obvious backpackers know where to get on. The bus is 30 Baht per person ($1 USD) and the ride takes about an hour. It’s a great ride and introduction to the city, as your high above the towering buildings on the freeway with a bird’s eye view of the giant monuments to the king that are framed in gold everywhere.
On the banks of the river over by Kho San Road, you can easily catch the local ferry boat. This is like a bus that uses the river as a road instead of the streets. It’s definitely the best choice for crossing the river to the other side. This boat taxi will put you out 3.5 – 7 Baht ($0.10 -$0.33 USD) depending on how far your going. We used this ferry to meet friends almost directly across the river for beers and do a bit of exploring one day. The next day we took a much longer ride,about 40 minutes, up the river to get to Chinatown. On both occasions we ended up accidentally walking through markets that were suggested on trip advisor, and I would highly recommend anyone running into as well.
From Bangkok we caught the bus to Chiang Mai. We used 12tog.co to book our ticket. 12togo.com wasn’t kidding when they said the Bangkok bus terminal is huge. It is huge. I suggest to any traveler to give yourself at least an extra hour to figure out where exactly to pick up your ticket and then find your bus bay. If by some miracle you do have extra time after all that, there’s plenty of shops to grab a bite. Our 14 hour bus ride (it was scheduled only to take 10 hours) up to Chiang Mai did include many snacks, a free lunch, a blanket for comfort, air-con and tvs with weird Thai shows playing on it. The bus driver and assistant wont speak English. When the bus stops for the free lunch, bring your ticket with you so you can eat, because the bus will leave to get gas while you’re eating and you wont be able to get anything off it.
On our layover in Bangkok we had 24 hours, so of course we left the airport. This time we took the orange A1 bus from gate 7. This one comes about once every 10 minutes or less and is also 30 Baht. We took this to the Chatuchak Weekend Market. This market is also huge huge. It’s impossible to see it all in one day. To get there from the bus, you have to cross the street using the pedestrian bridge and find an entry point into a huge beautiful park. It was the King’s mother’s birthday when we were there, so the park was FULL of Thai enjoying the holiday, mostly hanging out on mats on the grass and eating. On the other side of the park is the entrance to the Weekend Market.
At 3pm we walked back through the park and crossed the freeway to find the Muay Thai fight. The fight was free to watch, and there is a seating section for foreigners. The fight experience was like nothing I’ve experienced before. Friendly Thai’s will help you find the entrance to this small room with a boxing court in the middle. There are bleachers on the walls and standing room inside. When you open the door to go inside you are hit directly with a wave of energy from all the excited Thai men gambling on fighters, as the tv broadcasting cameras swing over your heads and you squeeze through sweaty Thai men to find a place to stand among them.Once there’s a break between matches, all the Thai people ushered us along to the “white people section,”as I called it, where we were sitting on the metal bleachers watching in amazement. Thai people do not sit through the matches, even on the bleachers. They yell in excitement and make sound effects for every hit. They throw their hands in the air with hand gestures that must mean how much to bet and on whom, and when the match gets close towards the end, they seem to be yelling”deep deep deep!” but in that low guttural way that sounds just like the howler monkeys in the forest to me. We saw a championship fight, a scrappy unbroadcast underdog fight, and a fight with boys who must have been 2 years old at the end.
I found Bangkok to be a beautiful city with much to offer. It is a very old city, where the cockroaches and rats have of course laid their stake generations and generations ago. But today it is also full of life and I found it to be very orderly and welcoming and easy to navigate.
Enjoy the street food, markets, and be sure to have a few loose Baht on you at a times in case of emergency bathroom visits. That reminds me – always carry toilet paper on you in Thailand. It’s not always there and unless you’re well versed in the bidet and have figured out how to dry off after cleaning yourself with it you’d better make sure you have that on you.