What “Four?” Bangkok, Thailand

What "Four?" Bangkok

Bangkok is a city of excess. The negatives are too many cars, too many people, and too much activity. The positives are too much good food, too many places to see, and too much to do. This leads travelers to either love or hate it – there’s no middle ground – and Sarah and I love it. The energy, history, food, and cultural identity of Bangkok keeps the city high on our list of favorite places in Southeast Asia.

The view from a tuk tuk.

The view from a tuk tuk.

Monarchy

The influence of the monarchy on the metropolis is everywhere. This is unsurprising given Rama I, the founder of the current Chakri Dynasty, chose the city site in 1782. The capital of what was to be called Thailand moved across the Chao Phraya river to its current location, Bangkok.

WatPhoRecBuddha1

Wat Pho, home to this reclining Buddha, is a royal temple. In Thailand there are two categories of temples, royal and common. Royal temples are built or renovated by a king, or built by a royal family member, or wealthy family, and dedicated to a king.

While the nature and responsibilities of the monarchy have shifted over time (Thailand has operated as a constitutional monarchy since 1932), the influence of the monarch remains important given his role as the head of the Sangha (the order of Buddhist monks) in a devout country.

More tangible evidence of the monarchy is evident in and around Bangkok at the many palaces and vacation homes which are open to the public. At the top of the list is the Grand Palace, a 2.4 million square foot complex featuring beautiful, intricately designed temples, regal mansions, and celebration halls.

Just a small taste of the intricate detailing that the Grand Palace offers.

Just a small taste of the intricate detailing that the Grand Palace offers.

Note: We arrived in Bangkok two months after the death of King Rama IX who reigned for 70 years. The impact is visible everywhere in the city as mourners dress in black or white each day, ribbons are tied on gates in front of buildings, and billboards and signs honoring the king are set up along roadways. The Grand Palace remains open but busy as mourners from outside the city come in to pay their respects.

Food

Bangkok is a city for gluttons. Not just the run-of-the-mill gluttons that would be satisfied by a couple KFC Double Downs and a “love it” from Coldstone, but serious eaters who are devoted to overindulging. 

To put it into perspective, TripAdvisor lists 9,371 restaurants for Bangkok. If you spent every day of the year crossing three of these restaurants off of your list, no restaurants ever closed, and no new restaurants ever opened, it would take you eight-and-a-half years to visit them all! This list doesn’t include the vast majority of the over 13,000 food stalls available along nearly every street in the city.

What we learned eating our way across Bangkok was that instead of getting bogged down in the sheer number of choices, look at all the options as a sign of how important food is to the Thai people and take comfort knowing your never more than a few feet from a great meal.

While any list we would attempt to make wouldn’t be close to comprehensive, we do have a few favorite foods and places worth checking out:

JayFaiDrunkenNoodles

Made by an older woman wearing snowboarding goggles to protect her eyes from the heat of her wok, this Phad Kee Mao, also known as drunken noodles, could’ve been the best plate of food we had in Thailand.

  • Pad Thai from famous Thip Samai (video above)
  • Pad Kee Mao (drunken noodles) from Jay Fai
  • Yen Ta Fo which is a noodle soup that comes in a fun shade of pink
  • Khao Kha Moo (pork leg rice)
  • Rotee which is a delicious pocket of thin fried dough with various treats inside (we wrote an entire post about it here)
  • Gai Tod (fried chicken)
  • Moo Ping (grilled pork skewers)

Shopping

Bangkok offers the shopoholic numerous ways to get their fix. From night markets to weekend festivals to massive and unique shopping centers, this city has you covered.

FlowerMarketBangkok

Piles of flowers at one stand in the 24-hour flower market. If you are looking for bouquets of orchids larger than your head for $1, look no further.

Coming from nearly the center of the known mall universe, we were surprised by how many malls there are in Bangkok and honestly how unique and creative they are as well. This is best showcased by Terminal 21 which incorporates a travel theme into its shopping experience by featuring different cities on different floors. On one floor you’re standing in Rome, full of frescos, statues, and fountains and on the next floor up you’re whisked away to Tokyo featuring paper walls, neon lighting, and sumo figurines.

ChatuchakSign

The entrance to Thailand’s biggest market.

For a less polished shopping experience, it’s well worth hitting up one of the many markets in Bangkok. While we enjoyed the all-night flower market, our favorite goes to the Chatuchak Weekend Market, the largest market in Thailand with over 8,000 stalls. If you can’t find what you’re looking for there, it probably doesn’t exist anywhere.

Neighborhoods

Bangkok is a city of epic proportions. The core alone has a population of around eight-and-a-half-million crammed into 600 square miles. The metro population adds another six million people who may commute into the city through the week. Finally, its fantastic tourist options contribute an additional 18 million people spread throughout the year. 

Bangkok's Chinatown shouldn't be missed. Between the food, shops, and people watching opportunities you could spend days there and be entertained.

Bangkok’s Chinatown shouldn’t be missed. Between the food, shops, and people watching opportunities you could spend days there and be entertained.

While this can get overwhelming for even the veteran traveler, an easy way to make exploration more appealing is to segment the whole into its parts, or neighborhoods. These smaller areas have permeable borders but unique points of interest that distinguish them from other places in the city. Some of our favorites include Chinatown, Sukhumvit, and Banglamphu/Ko Ratanakosin.

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