After having puttered our way around Phuket, Dom and I were all too eager to hop on our first (of four) overnight trains to Bangkok in Surat Thani Sunday night. We enjoyed our only first class sleeper cabin of our planned train travels, and while the train itself seemed a bit dated the bunks were definitely better than on Amtrak and I woke up Monday morning ready to explore Bangkok (and annoyed once again at the US’s inability to have decent train travel).
Thanks to the generosity of Madeleine (an old friend from Exeter) and her parents, we had a great introduction to the city and a perfect home base for our explorations (and inevitable afternoon siestas to avoid the worst heat of the day). I couldn’t help but compare Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur throughout our time there, and overall it stacked up pretty well. While I enjoyed the food more in KL, and honestly probably the more English-centric speaking and less pushy people, I’ve come to like Bangkok a lot.
Before I say anything else, I need to praise Bangkok’s (1) public transportation and (2) sidewalks. Yes, you heard that correctly, we finally found a city in Southeast Asia with halfway decent sidewalks on most city streets! And while we didn’t take the buses, we did use the BTS Sky Train (elevated train), MRT (subway) *and* the Chao Phraya River Ferry. Sadly there is no one fare card that operates across platforms (theoretically one is coming), but all three modes of transportation were fantastic! The Sky Train and MRT were *very* air conditioned, ran super frequently, were adorned with coffee stalls and shops at the stations and were clearly used by all types of residents. The River Ferry was cheap and afforded unique views of the city. If for nothing else, visiting Bangkok to experience this harmony of transportation and walkability would have been worth it! Luckily there was much else, but really this was the highlight (if my rambling prose didn’t tell you that already.)
Okay, back to the narrative. After our orientation to the city by Madeleine’s mom, we headed in search for food at Terminal 21, an amusing and fancy mall themed by floor for different destinations around the world. The concept is nice, but the hierarchy does seem a bit off; San Francisco received two floors (including the food court, so clearly the best floors) while London, Rome, Paris, Los Angeles, Istanbul, Tokyo and The Caribbean received the rest. Yes, we’re also confused by the Caribbean.
After refueling at the food court we scouted out my next morning’s running location, Benjakitti park, where I did successfully have my second outdoor run in Thailand! As you can see below, the park is basically just one large water basin with a two kilometer running track around its circumference.
Slightly more tricky than the park’s layout was finding our way back home; Bangkok is often referred to as the Venice of Asia, and we learned the hard way that canals are not cross-able. So after overshooting our apartment by more than I would care to recount, we relished in the air conditioning upon arriving back to our place and stayed nicely put with the exception of dinner.
The next day we headed to the Grand Palace via the river ferry. We often fall into the trap of not doing any of the main touristy things in cities, so going to the Grand Palace was our way of preventing this happening in Bangkok. I suppose it worked (we did go, after all), but also I feel pretty okay about our normal decisions on how to tackle cities. 😉 The Grand Palace was crazy crowded and annoyingly pricey. Parts of it were pretty, but the terrible air quality really does make all structures look less appealing.
After the anticipated afternoon siesta, we continued to be good tourists and went to the Train Night Market for dinner. While also crowded, this was a much more economical and positive experience filled with delicious food. Sometimes (read: all of the times) I do wish I could just eat my way through our travels…
Our final two days in Bangkok are not super blog-worthy (but hey, we did do pretty darn well the previous day!). Now that we have our flight booked back to London in April, we’re beginning to prepare logistics and I’m beginning the oh-so-fun job search. To that end, if you happen to know anyone hiring in London for non-profit/community-focused/press work, let me know!
But I got side-tracked. Back to Bangkok! After lots of resume editing, we did make one final great venture out to Lumphini Park, a beautifully large park named after the town Buddha is from in Nepal. Madeleine had told me that every day around 5pm they have free aerobics in the park, and while it was no CAC class, it was great! There were at least a couple hundred of us joining in, sweating along to a mix of Asian and English beats as the sun set behind us. Most amusingly there was an abrupt pause at 6pm to sing (what I assume to be?) the national anthem before resuming the zumba-like dance. It wasn’t the most intense workout, but it was definitely a great way to end our time in Bangkok.
We then headed back to the railway station for our second overnight train, this time north to Chiang Mai. Trains really are the best, and this one in particular actually was the best train I’ve ever been on. It was super sleek, clean, spacious, comfortable and every other positive adjective you could imagine. We were in the second class sleeper car this time, and it couldn’t have been better (well, they could have turned the lights off overnight, but really that is my only suggestion for improvement!). Our bunks were across from two German girls who were dismayed that in the UK and US most people don’t buy their beer in crates. We enjoyed chatting with them before drawing our curtains closed and falling to sleep while the ground rushed by beneath us.