First impressions: Bangkok is huge, congested, and hard to get from point A to point B. There seems to be no real downtown area, or at least none that I can tell. It’s a huge urban sprawl, with skyscrapers randomly thrown about. I have no point of reference in terms of the actual size of the city; it just feels big.
I spent my first two nights in the city in Silom, the commercial district of Bangkok. I only had one day in the city before heading to Phuket because I arrived after midnight on that first night.
Chatuchak Weekend Market provided the perfect place to start exploring Bangkok. The market is described as the biggest and ‘the most intense’ in all of Bangkok, and Lonely Planet lists it as one of the top highlights of the city. I went there on my first day, since it was my only weekend day in the city.
The scale of the market is hard to describe. It covers 35 acres and is said to have 15,000 stores. It is technically an outdoor market, but the shops are lined so close together that the passageways are very narrow, making it feel like you are inside. There is no breeze once you venture in the market, and the heat is suffocating, but remarkably as I am dripping sweat, the stall owners seem unfazed.
I’m convinced you could buy anything at the market. Puppies, clothes, dishes, souvenirs, flowers, fish, birds, tea sets are just a few of the items I saw for sale. Just as plenty are the food stalls: fried foods, delicious mango and other exotic fruit, grilled meats, bugs. I spent the morning wandering around the market, amazed with every corner I turned. I left with a buddha head and a small elephant and a belly full of street food.
After a quick afternoon nap, I headed to Banglamphu, a neighborhood described as Bangkok’s ‘most charming’ in my Lonely Planet. The buzz of this neighborhood is what appealed to me. There were people everywhere–lots of tourists, to be honest–but there was such a jovial atmosphere that everyone seemed to be having fun. The evening weather was pleasant–cooler and with a slight breeze.
I found an inviting Thai restaurant for dinner. It was bordered by a bamboo wall and had a large Buddha statue in back. My meal, chicken coconut with noodles, was everything you dream Thai food to be–warm, spicy, and so many flavors that I couldn’t identify.
You hear so much about Khao San Road that I headed there after dinner. I wanted to see what all the hype was about. If you don’t know about Khao San Road, it is considered the mecca for backpackers; cheap accommodations, cheap food, and most importantly, cheap beer. As you can imagine, that combination attracts tourists in the masses.
I will admit I found it fascinating when I rounded the corner. The lit signs, the people, the street food vendors–there was so much to take in, an assault on my senses. I followed my eyes down the road and was soon engulfed in the crowds. Sweaty bodies bumping into each other, locals pushing food carts down the center of the road, causing the crowds to part just long enough to let them through. And lots of fried bugs. Ever wanted to try a scorpion on a stick? Khao San Road is your place.
It didn’t take long for the heat and the crowds to wear me down. The more I walked, the greater urgency I felt to get out of there. The drunks kept bumping into me, their sweaty bodies rubbing against mine. I couldn’t walk fast enough.
The moment I saw an opportunity, I parted from the crowds. I rounded a corner and flagged a taxi, the lights of Khao San fading behind us.