January 4, 2018

Here we are, in Bangkok, the first stop in our trip through Thailand! The best way I can think of describing it is this: Bangkok assaults all your senses. Its endless different sights (from the old to the new, from the poorest to the richest, from the most colorful to all shades of grey), its endless variety of smells (some very appealing and some… less so), its 1001 different tastes, its constantly loud noises, and everything you can touch here (from luck-bringing Buddha statues to fried scorpions) – it all belongs to this amazing city.

After spending 4 days in Bangkok, my head is bursting with impressions and it’s hard to organize them in a coherent blog post. I guess that’s typical of Bangkok too: things are seldom organized coherently (at least not in a way that makes obvious sense to us Europeans). And yet, it does seem like there is some hidden order behind the crazy traffic, the loud shouting of shop owners, the hundreds of different kinds of street food of which you can recognize maybe a couple. Because it all works in the end and the locals seem to understand and be able to navigate this chaos.

Old and Traditional Bangkok

The Temples

I’m not sure exactly how many Buddhist temples there are in Bangkok, but I think it’s safe to say that their number is in the hundreds. In the old part of town, you get the feeling that wherever you turn, there is a temple, one more grand and beautiful than the next. They are lavishly decorated and the colors are so bright, that, when looking at the photos we took, I had the feeling someone had played with the color saturation setting on the camera. It’s also very impressive to see how devout many of the Thai people are. As a tourist, there are several behavior rules you have to respect, some more obvious (don’t climb on Buddha statues, dress modestly, etc.), others less so (Don’t point your feet towards a Buddha statue, either when standing or when sitting in front of it. If you’re standing, make sure your feet are at an angle towards the statue. If you’re sitting, tuck your feet under you to point away from the statue). And of course, always take off your shoes before going into any temple.

Of the many temples in Bangkok, we only visited a few in the couple of days we had in Bangkok:

  • Wat Suthat: Huge and impressive, plus there were very few tourists there except us, so we almost had it to ourselves.
  • Wat Pho: famous for the huge reclining Buddha statue it houses and for having the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand
  • Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) and the Grand Palace (the former residence of the Thai king): The most touristic of the temples we visited. We got there 20 minutes before it opened in the morning and there were already more than a hundred people queuing. Nonetheless, it is beautiful and it’s said to be the most sacred temple in Thailand.
  • Wat Tepthidaram: We visited it almost by accident, because we happened to walk by it and then we were curious enough to go in. Turned out to be another amazingly beautiful temple, especially since we happened to be there at sunset.
  • Wat Sraket (Golden Mount): Sitting on top of a man-made hill, it provides great views over Bangkok, with its contrasting modern and old sides.

Street Life

Bangkok must be one of the most alive cities that I have ever seen, and so much of that life takes place on the streets: eating on a plastic table in an improvised open-air restaurant, selling things not inside shops but in front of them on the sidewalk, watching TV together with your friends outside the house, putting a blanket directly on the sidewalk and sitting down with your friends there to hang out on a Saturday night, buying drinks from an improvised bar on wheels, containing a few alcohol bottles and a loudspeaker blasting out the latest pop music hits.

Modern Bangkok

Skyscrapers, designer hotels, 6-lane highways, huge malls, Michelin-starred restaurants, rooftop bars… You can find all these things in many Asian mega-cities, and Bangkok is no exception.

Here are some images from Bangkok’s modern part:

Nightlife in Khao San Road

Khao San Road, made famous by the book and movie “The Beach”, is often described as the center of the backpacking universe, and it’s also a center of nightlife and entertainment. It’s chockfull of bars, restaurants and massage parlors, and it draws an incredible mix of tourists of all ages, nationalities and income-classes. It’s a pretty crazy place at night, with music bursting out of loudspeakers every 20-30 meters, at volumes that would be forbidden at a rock concert in Switzerland. Street food vendors are everywhere, and they offer everything from innocent ice-cream to less innocent-looking fried scorpions. Massages are offered right on the street, on lounge chairs separated by about 20 cm of space – forget about any kind of calming and quiet experience during the massage, but at least it’s cheap and you don’t need to book ahead.

New Year’s Eve

We spent New Year’s Eve at the big open-air venue at Asiatique, a mall and restaurant complex by the river, known for its fireworks. While we were not overly impressed by the fireworks, the atmosphere was fun and it was interesting to celebrate NYE for once outside, in a T-shirt, together with a few thousand people of all nationalities.

At a rooftop bar

Our exploration of modern Bangkok wouldn’t have been complete without a visit to a rooftop bar. We tried to go to the highest champagne bar in the world, but had to stop one level below it, at another bar, because the champagne bar had a dress code that we didn’t fulfill. Humph. But the view was still amazing and the cocktails lived up to expectations.

Street Food

Street food in Bangkok is pretty much everything you expect it to be, and more. We didn’t recognize half of the stuff that was being offered. The sellers were everything from teenagers trying to make some money and offering cocktails (consisting of any combination you could create out of their few bottles of alcohol), to grandmothers selling fried cheeseballs (I think), to grill-masters putting skewers of all kinds of meat on their small improvised grills, to whole families working at a stand together and offering a large array of traditional Thai foods.

Highs and Lows


  • Even if at times it got a bit too chaotic, I generally liked Bangkok with its amazing liveliness. It’s a city of contrasts, with so many sides to it, it’s impossible to get bored here.
  • The food here has constantly been delicious, and I mean everything from street food to top-notch restaurants. Even paying just 2-3 CHF for a meal, you get amazing food – the only catch is that it might be too spicy for you to eat… But you learn from experience :)
  • The temples and everything around Buddhism and how it’s lived by the locals has been very impressive. You see people of all ages praying in front of Buddha images in temples and bringing offerings to the temples. And I think this transfers into everyday life too, because you hardly ever see anyone fighting, or honking in traffic, or being obviously unkind to each other. (But of course, these are just my superficial observations and I’m probably missing a lot that is not obvious to us tourists.)


  • The traffic. Completely chaotic. I guess it’s no big surprise that cars don’t stop at pedestrian crossings. But they also don’t stop on red lights! They drive through with 50-60 km/h, so as a pedestrian, you quickly learn that you have to look out for yourself, regardless of traffic lights and rules.
  • The poverty that you see everywhere in the city. It especially touched me to see old people, twice my age and half my body weight, begging in the street for money. It’s sad to see this side of the city and to realize how many people here live below the poverty line.

Next stop

We’re now heading north, to Chiang Mai, which is said to be a good antidote to the chaos and crazy fast pace of life in Bangkok. We’ll see whether that’s true. I guess it will in any case show us a different side of Thailand and help complete the image we have of it so far.

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