For Part 1: Please refer to Traveling through Thailand: Solo Journey – Part 1
Going off on a whim I took the advice of a friend back in Seoul and contacted one of her American friends teaching English at a school in Bangkok. I never expected her friend to contact me, but she did. She was very nice and told me that whenever I had planned to be in Bangkok to message her and we’d meet up. Well after finding my accommodation in Lat Phrao (and getting connected to wi-fi again) I did just that.
Since it would be best to ask a fellow foreigner and female how to be safe, street smart, and enjoy my solo trip I met up with this new friend at the Central Plaza mall in the Chatuchak area. After meeting up and chatting for a little while we strolled around the Central Plaza mall before making our way to Union Mall. Union Mall is a massive 8-floor mall with 1,000+ shopping booths that sell anything related to fashion,tech, toys, accessories, etc. You can literally spend an entire day there just walking around. Thankfully, I had someone to show me around and take me to some cool booths where I found some great summer outfits. After sometime we left to check out dinner options on their restaurant floors.
(Picture: Visiting Union Mall in the Chatuchak district of Bangkok)
During dinner I got to ask my new friend about what to do during my final 2 days in the city. I told her of a list of places I liked to visit. Since I had visited during the period of massive red-shirt protests and protester camps popping up throughout Bangkok she told me to stick to a few and use as much public transportation as possible due to too many taxi driver’s overpricing their fares.
That weekend I decided to finish visiting all of the sites in the northern city region where I was residing, and make my way south to the inner city regions. My first stop that day was to check out the JJ/ Chatuchak weekend market and buy some souvenirs for my family and friends. Similar to Union Mall (except for being located all outside & on one level) the weekend market was massive with booths selling everything. With no map in hand I ventured around and around and eventually used my bargaining skills to get some good deals as I shopped. By midday, I decided to leave due to increase in crowds and having purchased gift items for everyone on my gift list. So, I made my way to the BTS line and headed downtown. On the train I checked my city map to confirm my next location. I was heading to Victory Monument. I wanted to see Victory monument because it was erected to commemorate the Thai victory in the Franco-Thai War. After passing through that area I walked westward toward Wat Benchamabophit known as Marble Temple.
This temple is between the Royal Dusit Golf Club and popular Dusit Zoo. After taking time to rest for a little at the temple, I checked off this spot, and decided to see how many more places I could visit on foot.
My next destination was Democracy Monument, a monument that was constructed in memory of the Siamese Revolution of 1932 and official start of Thailand’s constitutional monarchy. Unfortunately, along the way I stumbled into one of Bangkok’s massive protester camp bases. It was a sad sight to see, but similar to Occupy Wall Street camps I’d seen back in the states.
Many native Thais left their homes and each found sections where they appeared to hold up base camp. Some even set up vendor stands to eat and drink. Not wanting to be impolite I shied from photographing their makeshift dwellings and chose to take pictures from afar.
Once I safely found my way out of the protesters camp I continued on toward Rattanakosin Island in hopes to visit Wat Po before closing. But, once again, I stumbled into a protester area. This time, however, I was guided out friendly locals. Considered a non-safe area they told me I should avoid walking through the area alone. As they led me south towards the direction of Rattanakosin Island we passed by the famous Ratchadamnoen Stadium where Muay Thai matches are held. But, since the protesters surrounded the stadium it was closed.
After leading me to a new main road I thanked my guides, and they were kind enough to give me a free water bottle from a vendor. Waving goodbye I took out my map once again to locate my new location. I discovered that I was not too far from Soi Rambuttri, one of the older districts of Bangkok. But,since it was already past 3pm I decided to skip visiting. While walking once again I noticed some beautiful architecture of a temple and learned that it was Wat Thepthidaram. As I was taking a few pictures from the gate I met a young Thai man who briefly spoke with me about the events happening in the capital. He was really nice and happy to meet an American. After briefly chatting I continued walking and saw the Giant Swing outside of the Wat Suthat Temple. Not really on my itinerary list I decided to get a closer look. The Giant Swing is a religious structure in the Phra Nakhon area. It looks very similar to a Japanese shrine gate arch.
When I finished taking some pictures I was approached by two tuk-tuk drivers. One of the two started to ask me about where I was headed and what were my main tourist interests. I knew already that they viewed me as a potential customer. I kindly brushed them off, but it didn’t stop them from following me half a block. They then told me that because it was Buddha’s birthday weekend (*this was true when I went in 2014) I would receive a free ride to a special temple that was called the Happy Buddha Temple. I didn’t believe them, but was curious about the temple they had mentioned. So, I told them that I would go on the condition that I return promptly back to the same area.
To all readers: This was one of the Thailand tuk-tuk scams you should be warned of.
Little did I know prior to meeting this tuk-tuk driver that I was ensnared in Bangkok’s “…visit the Lucky Buddha (in my case Happy Buddha) Temple, which was only open once a year” scams. A very good blog article/ southeast area tourist website each cover the gist of these on-going scam operations (see links below)
During our departure my tuk-tuk driver informed me that he would take me around to some stores as well as to the Happy Buddha Temple. (*I did not find out the name of this temple in Bangkok. But I did meet with a Thai native inside the temple who informed me that the temple was non-commercial and open to Thai’s only, however, I was lucky enough to be invited to visit by my tuk-tuk driver). Upon arriving I was told to go and look around. The temple was not crowded and no other foreigners were around. After walking around I went inside to give my respects and then departed.
Along our route I got to see Democracy Monument once again and the Royal Plaza where the King Rama V Monument and Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall, a special musuem, are located. After trips around to some stores (all a part of tourist scams) I bought some souvenirs, and then had my tuk-tuk driver take me back to the Big Swing monument near Rattanakosin Island. Once he dropped me off he quickly left not pleased due to low revenue made from my patronage given to the shops.
By this time I knew Wat Po may be closed but continued my walk. Upon arrival outside of the gate I checked its opening time schedule for the next day. Since it was already past five o’clock I thought it might be best to head back up to Lat Phrao and buy dinner. While walking back to the cross walk I was once again approached by a driver, but this time a taxi cab driver. He was curious as to why I was alone. Then he informed me of the curfew in effect by the Thai military. All of this information I was already aware of. At the same moment he was talking, however, a large number of troops seemed to be marching down a few blocks away. Feeling a little nervous that the way I came was in the direction of the military I asked the taxi driver for his fare rates. He ushered me into his cab and once inside asked me where I was staying. Already I knew he would charge an absorbent rate for a passenger heading north to Lat Phrao.
He did just that. So I told him instead to take me to the nearest BTS line instead of taking me back to my accommodation. He seemed upset but then agreed and we were off. I felt relieved to be away from the massing troops around the Wat Po area. However, my anxiety returned when the taxi driver left the main road and turned onto an unknown street. I asked him where he was taking me and he commented that he was taking me to a tourist center. When I asked him why he said that I should get more information while I am in the country. Making a stop he pointed out the window to his left and told me to enter a building. He said that a tourist center was inside. When I asked him if he would still take me to the subway station he said yes. So I grabbed my stuff and went into the building. I had no reason to visit a tourist center, but it felt better to get more travel packets and speak to travel expert while I was there.
However, inside the center were some men sitting around relaxing. None of them dressed in any uniform or official attire. As I walked in one man asked me what I needed. I told him that I just was told to come and get more tourist travel packets available. Not seeing any in sight I questioned what type of tourist center it was. The man who spoke to me also didn’t seem like an official. He waved me away and I walked out. Feeling even more anxious I looked around for my driver. He was nowhere to be found. He had left me.
It was already past six and it was getting dark. Not wanting to panic I took out my phone to use as a back-light and looked at my map again. I didn’t know exactly what street I was on, but I knew that I was nearby Charoen Krung Road, which is one of the longest main roads in Bangkok. If I could find this road and go east I would be able to find a connecting BTS line station. After a couple instinctive turns I found Charoen Krung Road and began my walk eastward. My reason for doing so was simply because I did not trust Thai taxi drivers. Being left behind by the one taxi driver was enough for one day.
Walking along Charoen Krung Road had its perks. Even though I ended up walking for nearly an hour from Rattanakosin Island I was able to see Bangkok’s Chinatown. Lit up at night Bangkok’s Chinatown was beautiful. I got to see the Chinese Buddhist Mangkon Kamalawat Temple, and along the way purchased some sweet mangos from a street cart. I also got to see the Chinatown Main Gate in Odeon Circle, where Charoen Krung Road and Yaowarat Road meet. It was an unexpected turn of events, but certainly one I was glad to receive. Seeing the nightlife in Bangkok, especially in Chinatown was amazing. There were so many restaurants, and shops, and people.
Still roughly an hour away from my residence I continued walking, following signs toward the BTS Hua Lamphong train station next to the Railway. Prior to reaching the station I saw where Wat Traimit was located. Adding Wat Traimit to my list of places to visit for my last day I hopped onto the subway and made my way up north to Lat Phrao.
On my final day in Bangkok I made sure to get up early to plan out a solid itinerary of places I either missed or really wanted to visit. Then I calculated the total time between time. Unlike the previous day where I walked everywhere I decided to spend some extra money towards transportation. My first stop that day was Wat Traimit. Being closest to a BTS line I thought it would be the best place to go first before heading west again to Wat Po.
Wat Traimit, is one of Thailand’s well-known temples because it houses the Gold Buddha, which is believed to be crafted during Thailand’s Sukothai period. After seeing the beautiful Gold Buddha & touring the temple I left Wat Traimit for Wat Po. Easily finding an on-coming tuk-tuk driver a little ways away from Wat Traimit I was able to get to Wat Po in less than five minutes. Upon arrival at Wat Po my tuk-tuk driver asked for a ridiculously high fare rate. I argued with them that the ride and distance was not much and gave them a generous amount that I viewed was fair.
Since Wat Po is one of the most popular tourist destinations many tourists were already present even during the morning hours. Heading inside after buying my ticket I was in awe at how big the grounds were. Deciding first to see the Reclining Buddha I waited in line for a religious robe(*I was not appropriately dressed for the temple).
Wat Po was certainly a highlight on that day. The Reclining Buddha statue was beautiful, as was the entire area. I couldn’t help but take lots of pictures of the architecture and designs. After spending some time walking around I decided I should head out and find a new tuk-tuk driver who would take me south of the Chao Phraya river to Wat Arun.
Making a deal prior to riding I hired a tuk-tuk driver who would take me to Wat Arun and then back to BTS Hua Lamphong train station for nearly 1000 Thai Baht. This tuk-tuk driver knew his way around the city. Within twenty minutes we had arrived at Wat Arun. Upon entry into Wat Arun I realized that the main attraction at the temple was climbing and viewing the surrounding area along the river basin. Wat Arun is also famous for its Khmer-style prang towers covered in porcelain. Up close the designs are intricately detailed.
Climbing up Wat Arun was a second highlight for me that day. I got to see more traditional Bangkok – no tall skyscrapers in sight. After my climb I met a foreign Japanese photographer who was kind to take a picture of me and Wat Arun in the background.
Once I returned to Hua Lamphong station I stopped and had some lunch at a Thai restaurant. Afterwards I decided to check out Bangkok’s downtown mega malls. My new friend whom I had toured Union Mall with told me to check out some other malls while I was there. Since Thai malls are more than just malls I figured I’d spend the rest of my afternoon touring them.
The first mall I decided to visit was Siam Paragon & its Discovery Center. Afterwards I walked over to the Central World mall. Since I liked more stores in Central World I decided to spend the rest of my afternoon doing some shopping.
I decided not to visit the famous MBK Center mall, which was also nearby due to hearing that was very similar to Union Mall.
I spent a lot of time window-shopping before deciding to buy some tropical themed shirts at the UNIQLO chain store in the mall.
After a few hours I stopped by a cafe, had some coffee, and headed back to the station to go to the airport. By this time it was nearly seven. Once I arrived at BKK (Suvarnabhumi Airport) I checked in and ate my final meal.
Waiting for my flight back to ICN(Incheon) I reflected on my entire trip to Thailand. Starting out unplanned my trip turned out alright. It certainly was not a bad first solo vacation. I dealt with some rough events towards the end but the trip had many positive highlights. Being able to see so much in a short span of time, meeting up with my Thai friend once again, and eating many delicious foods was much more than I expected. But most of all, trying new things during my stay in Thailand helped me become a better traveler.
For any other solo travelers out there I hope that your planned or unplanned trip goes well. But, no matter what the outcome is I hope that your positive experiences outweigh your negative ones.
To summarize my Thailand trip:
*Note: The 1st 3 days out of my 10-day vacation were spent exploring Angkor/Siem Reap in Cambodia. Click here to read more about Cambodia.
Day 4(Tues): Left Siem Reap on a midnight hour bus bound for Bangkok in the early morning hours / returned to Bangkok again/ headed to the DMK airport/ boarded a local flight to Phuket/ met up with friend/ traveled to Patong, Phuket.
Day 5(Wednes): Phuket – All day excursion/sight-seeing/ shopping at Jungceylon/ lunch /visiting friend’s family / dinner with my friend’s family / stayed over my friend’s place.
Day 6(Thurs): Half-day in Phuket/ visiting waterfalls/ souvenir shopping/ relaxing at the beach/ late-afternoon flight back to Bangkok.
Day 7(Fri): Bangkok – All day in-door excursion – Union Mall/ Central Plaza
*Thailand is well-known for having an abundance of mega malls. Shopping is one of the main tourist attractions when visiting Bangkok. I had the opportunity to visit 4 major malls and the famous JJ/ Chatuchak weekend market behind JJ Mall.
Day 8(Sat): Bangkok – weekend – JJ/ Chatuchuk weekend market/ Temple visits/ Tuk-tuk scams/ Protester camps/ Chinatown
Day 9(Sun): Bangkok – weekend – Visiting famous landmarks/ Siam Paragon & Central World mall/ Heading to airport
Day 10(Mon): On 1am flight back to Seoul, Korea.