Usually when we hear about the City of Angels we would imagine the fascinating skyscrapers of Los Angeles, the romantic fantasy drama with Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan, or maybe even that song by Thirty Seconds to Mars.
Surprise, surprise! Nosing through some interesting facts about Thailand, I found out that, unless talking to foreigners who don’t know any different, Thais will never call their capital city Bangkok. Some people in the more remote provinces may never have even heard of it being called that. Instead in Thai it is known as Krung Thep (กรุงเทพ), which roughly translates to ‘City of Angels’. Bangkok (translating as ‘village of wild plums’) was the original site for the capital city and was located west of the Chao Phraya river (full info can be found on www.into-asia.com).
As a first-timer in Asia, I was absolutely fascinated by everything around me. While waiting for the train from the airport to the city center, I noticed that all the people were calmly waiting in line and nobody was actually trying to push their way through. Coming from a crazy city like Barcelona, where getting on the metro is a dreadful experience, I was already sold!
There were tons of people everywhere, which was expected, having in mind the city has population almost as big as my entire country (6.35 million for Bangkok vs. 7.26 million for Bulgaria), but the politeness and respect with which they treat each other was remarkable. I’ve been in the country for just a few hours and I already knew why they call it “The land of smiles”… yup, it seems that I’m finally at the right place!
Weirdly enough, it appears that they’re also huge fans of the Bulgarian yogurt, and seeing the huge advertisements everywhere was very amusing.
If you’re travelling adventurous and don’t book your accommodation in advance, you might want to head towards the popular tourist district around Khao San Road.
Tip 1: Unless you want to party like a crazy the whole night, and sleeping and quiet is not your thing, do NOT stay at Khao San Road itself. I stayed in a wonderful little hostel one street away from it, and you can read my review of the place on TripAdvisor.
Buzzing streets, beautiful colorful lights, delicious street food on each corner, disgusted tourists taking picture of bug and scorpion delicacies, crazy tuk-tuks, foot massage offered everywhere – you have to try it all! Talking about the tuk-tuk, that was my biggest disappointment. The drivers wouldn’t just accept to take me from point A to point B where I wanted to go, no. All of them would insist on how far we are, that we need to see these 10 other places first, and they would take me for “only” 200 Baht. Thank you, but no, thank you.
What they didn’t realize is that I did know how much the normal taxi costs, that I do have Google Maps on my phone, and most of all, I really don’t appreciate when someone is trying to rip me off. So this leads me to …
Tip 2: If you’re not a fan of being ripped off just for the sake of showing on Facebook that you got on a tuk-tuk – go for a normal taxi with the meter turned on. Safer, cheaper and they also have air con 🙂
The Money & ATMs
One of the things that took me quite some time to get used to was the currency. 1 Thai Baht is currently exchanged for around 0.025 Euro cents and all of a sudden I had thousands as pocket money! I was rich and it felt awesome, but on the other hand it was also very scary when they gave us a bill of 650 for dinner for two. Ha! The good news is that you do get used to the value of the money.
What you never get used to is the crazy exchange rates and fees from the ATMs – the charges are a real b*tch and currently considered as one of the highest in the world – 200 THB fixed rate from the ATM and on top of that, your bank also charges you a % of the amount withdrawn AND gives you a worse exchange rate. Unfortunately, I am the worst example as I didn’t do my homework, I ended up paying 12 to 15 Euros per transaction at times, and opening a bank account in Thailand without a work permit is almost impossible. So …
Tip 3: If you don’t mind carrying a lot of cash on you while traveling you can come prepared and exchange your money here (just not at the Airport!). Alternatively, make sure you research your options for a traveler’s credit card, traveler’s cheques or negotiate with your bank to issue you a card that refunds all international charges. Just do your homework before you leave, don’t be me 🙂
If you visit Thailand and you don’t go to see the amazing buddhist temples, you deserve to be publicly shamed. Butt naked, in the middle of the main square, shamed for being an idiot. Ok, maybe not that much, but you get the point.
All the pictures you might see on the Internet cannot show you even close the amazing beauty and scale of those incredible masterpieces. I am not going to go into a details about each one of them (there is so much information already available in travel guides and websites), but I can tell you that you should not miss the Grand Palace, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew), Temple of the Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho) and, my personal favorite – Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn).
To get to Wat Arun on the other side of Chao Phraya river, I took a boat for the price of 3 THB, which is less than 1 cent – something that just blew my mind! The temple had way less tourists and there I could actually have a little sacred moment with Buddha, smiling upon me.
Tip 4: Make sure you have enough time to visit the temples, so that you don’t have to rush it and end up tired and cranky. Also be prepared to pay for each one of them (the Grand Palace being the most expensive so far), but most importantly, make sure you have appropriate clothing. Yes, I know it’s 38 degrees with over 80% humidity, but the warnings are no joke and unless your legs and shoulders are appropriately covered, you simply wouldn’t be allowed in. Apparently scarfs are not accepted either, so now I have a cool T-shirt from the temple’s gift shop 🙂
On the way back from Wat Arun, make sure you pay a little visit to the hidden gem called Boh Bar, right on the pier where the cheapest boat in the world will leave you. Once there, keep your eye open for the sweet, smiley, tiny lady from the picture on the right (unfortunately I didn’t get her name). I’m not going to tell you why now, as she’s my inspiration for one of my future posts, but …
Tip 5: Make sure you leave a tip 🙂