Previous Posts from my South East Asia Trip Series:
Siem Reap, Cambodia: Ten Tips for the First-Time Visitor (Frugal Travel Guy)
My flight from Siem Reap to Bangkok was on Bangkok Airways, which dubs itself Asia’s Boutique Airline for a good reason. Feeding passengers for a one-hour flight may seem either silly or classy, depending whether you’re hungry or not, I guess. In any case, I’m sold on Bangkok Airlines even though they aren’t cheap. My three flights between Siem Reap, Bangkok, Koh Samui, and Phuket cost me $550, but that was taken care of by my FlexPerks points.
Unlike Cambodia where the US dollar is the second official currency, you’ll need to change your money in Thailand. The problem with Bangkok airport, though, is the same problem with every airport in the world. Airports always have the worst exchange rates in the country—any country. But the beauty of the Bangkok airport it that it has a little-known secret booth with an excellent exchange rate. Just follow the signs to the Rail Link located on the basement level of the airport and watch for the sign below. The exchange rate at this Kazicorn Bank booth is as good as anywhere in Thailand, so exchange away.
Bangkok is incredible. It was my second visit after 17 years. That’s right, my first trip to Bangkok was in 1997. Back then, I visited in February during my budget travel days and was not impressed. It was scorching hot, and I stayed at a lousy hotel. There was no Sky Train back then (I think), and your only modes of transportation were overcrowded buses or taxes.
This time, it was completely different. First of all, I stayed at a one bedroom suite at Anantara Sathorn for under $80 a night. It’s a very nice hotel, although I probably won’t choose Sathorn for my next stay, even though it’s reasonably close to both Sky Train and MRT. I loved the efficiency and convenience of the river transportation, so next time, it’s a waterfront hotel.
Nevertheless, the Sky Train is fantastic. It’s fast, clean, and very efficient. I used it to go everywhere during the rush hour; well, either that or a boat. The city is still cheap despite being a tourist’s Mecca. A true 4-star hotel can be had for around $80-100 a night, a meal and a beer at a local eatery is $5-10, same as an hour of massage. Still can’t believe the value one can get in South East Asia.
And it was still overcrowded with tourists despite the protests, and the rallies. I have never felt unsafe in Bangkok during my stay, and I thought the protesters took a great care to avoid interrupting with tourists’ routine even when they shut down the city. Simply speaking, there was one time I saw the rally, and it was as peaceful as they get.
The highlight of my 3-day stay in Bangkok was Muang Buran, or the AncientCity. It’s a beautiful park outside Bangkok that houses accurate replicas of the most important buildings and sites of different regions of Thailand in the most beautiful nature settings. A delightful retreat totally worthy of your time and the cost of admission. The park is quite large, so you should either rent a golf cart ($15) or get a bicycle (free) to explore the grounds.
The beauty of this park stretches well beyond the monuments, the statutes, and other works of art. The greenery, the waterways, the floating market; all that makes the park peaceful and very enjoyable. I totally see myself there reading a book and just getting lost in time. You should go in the morning and opt for a bike.
The entrance fee is around $16 for foreigners, and it’s really not that hard to get there (no need to buy a tour from Bangkok). Get off the last BTS station Bearing and grab a cab that shouldn’t run you more than $5-6. The journey from central Bangkok will take about 1.5-2 hours. As always in Bangkok make sure the meter is running, and don’t be shy to remind the driver if he “forgets”.
The floating market in the park has an excellent $5 buffet, and there are other eateries that will fill you up for $3-4, too. What I really loved about that place is that they don’t gouge you on food and souvenirs; everything seems to be locally priced. Make sure to wear slippers, as you will have to take them off all the time.
My next installment: Conrad, Koh Samui.
Photo Credit (Bangkok, top) By: Evo Flash