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Bangkok, the first stage of a long journey through Thailand

Bangkok then is special! Its chaos never upsets me… I’m so charmed by it that I do my best to arrange a stopover during every trip to Asia.

My first trip to Thailand was with my brother, in January 2007. The first trip together as adults and only for this it was worth it. I liked both the country and its capital, so much that I went back many times.

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After months spent reading books, taking notes, writing lists and counter-lists, things put, removed and put back again into my backpack last second, the time to leave finally arrived. My first trip to Thailand!
The EgyptAir flight to Cairo was in time and comfortable. Strangely we also ate well on board and with real cutlery (I hate plastic ones).
Bangkok greeted us at 12.00 on January 16th 2010 in its chaotic, warm and humid way and it was love at first sight!
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We took a bright pink taxi outside the airport and the adventure began, between hysterical laughter and even a bit of fear for the reckless driving – obviously on the left. Not to think too much on the crazy slalom that seemed to entertain both our driver and my brother, I focused on the dash, dotted with Buddhist amulets and several wreaths flowers and his pictures during Muay Thai trainings. A whole world …

After about half an hour in heavy and noisy traffic we arrived in a small and quiet street with low houses. Just what I wanted to feel on vacation. The Samsen 5 Lodge is nothing more than a small house on one floor, with only three rooms decorated with beautiful local handicrafts. The owner is very friendly and helpful and the Pier 18 within walking distance, just down the street.

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Pic taken by the owner of the Samsen 5 Lodge in Bangkok

What to visit in Bangkok

I won’t bore you with descriptions of temples, monuments and sites in the city because you can find this kind of information in any guide, but I want to suggest some visits not to be missed:

The Grand Palace, absolutely awesome for glitz, beauty, size and while spirituality

The Wat Pho, with its huge reclining Buddha and one of the most popular massage centers around the country. Prices are a bit higher than average and the living space scarce, but well worth a try at least once. The herbal massages are special and if you are interested, you can also enroll in 7 or 15 days master.

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The Wat Mahathat is perhaps the temple I preferred. The atmosphere brings serenity to only cross the threshold and everything inspire meditation. The monks are extremely helpful and my only problem was to get out.
Wat Arun, Wat Saket and Wat Sutat worth a visit and especially deserve you take your time admiring the rituals of prayer and meditation.

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The Vimanmek Royal Mansion and Park, a true quiet oasis in Bangkok.
While visiting the house is practically impossible not to imagine the daily life of those who lived here, the parties, the official receptions and secret conversations … walking along the corridors in gleaming teak was like moving between the pages of a historic novel.
We spent a beautiful morning in this palace moved from overseas following a simple fantastic whim …

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Stages not to skip, in my opinion, are also the Chinese quarter, although according to personal inclinations it can be a bit too chaotic … and the market of amulets that runs along the walls leading to the Grand Palace and where you can find anything! From tiny statues of Buddha  (mine is in my wallet since Jan. 18th, 2010!), to objects – more or less traditional and more or less linked to the rituals of prayer -, teeth, old keys … a babel of small and large objects that makes you lose track of time.

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 Excursions around Bangkok

The are plenty of visits and excursions around Bangkok, but many of  them are really too popular and created specifically for tourists such as the Floating Market … which is still colorful, but which I certainly would’ t visit a second time.
An excursion that I love is the one to Ayutthaya.
We left Bangkok on the first train in the morning and the trip lasted about two hours and was worth the € 0.25 ticket 😛 also because it is a journey within a journey, but for details, I suggest you read my interview for the Italian blog Bassa Velocità.

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Upon the arrival we rented two super heavy iron bicycles, whose price is quite difficult to quantify … € 0.000 something, but this before crossing the river by boat. On the other side the daily rate is 0.50 €.
It’s really worth visiting the ruins of this ancient capital of Siam, where the pace is slow and be carried away by the past not too difficult.

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Getting around

The boats are ideal, fast and scenic.

I wouldn’t recommend the tuk-tuk, both because of the smog and the erratic fares and frequent scams (something rather rare in the north of the country). However, if you decide to get one, I recommend you negotiate the price before boarding it.

Taxis are quick, too quick to be honest, and downtown follow a time fare you can then check on the way. Taxis at the airport have a fixed rate based on the destination and everything must be arranged and paid for at the counter in charge of it.

If you have time, try to walk from one temple to another to live Bangkok more intensely.

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Where to eat

Well, hygiene doesn’t always respects our standards, especially that of kiosks offering finger food along the busiest roads, but I can only tell you that in places frequented by Thai I always ate very well and for really small sums of money. I did not attend any venue in the district of Banglamphu, but there are countless and somehow overly touristy (ideal to have western boys and girls getting drunk). The only disappoint dinner I had was in fusion style restaurant in Silom Road.

The best dinner, during my second solo trip however, was the one I had in a “restaurant” en plein air under an overpass that had never hosted a western person before me. I had been treated like a queen 😀 the main and only dish consisted of soup cooked at the table on a tiny individual terracotta braziers and at the end of the meal you pay only the ingredients you actually used. I loved it!

Thai massages

Except personal dislikes, don’t miss them! Among this first stage and the various subsequent stays in Thailand I’ve tried all the options and my favorite is the foot massage I’ve every night after dinner since my arrival in Bangkok. Massages are very cheap and last more or less 45 to 60 minutes. In tourist areas like Banglamphu it happens to walk beside chairs for foot massages for hundreds of meters …

Shopping

I did not shop in Bangkok, except for my iPhone purchased in the Apple Store at the Emporium in Sukhumvit because of a super offer, but the options are almost limitless, both from the point of view of the location and of the budget. From markets in China Town to maxi mall in Silom Road, from shocking Weekend Market and the tourist stalls in the evening in Banglamphu.

If your itinerary includes the north of Thailand, I suggest you put off shopping to the markets of Chiang Rai.

P.S. The hairdressers in Ayutthaya costs nothing… to give my brother the look of a monk she asked only a few bath 😉

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Where to stay

As for shopping, also with regard to accommodation Bangkok offers it all. If you’re like me and to feel on vacation you need micro hotels as local and traditional as possible, I can only commend the Samsen 5 Lodge described at the beginning of the post. Another place I really liked is the Be My Guest B & B, in a very popular and very authentic district.

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Bangkok is a chaotic megalopolis, often dirty and noisy, its smells go from disgusting to surreal, its electrical system scares and mice and squirrels run merrily from one cable to another, but Bangkok is also rich in history, culture and spirituality.
People are people and not numbers employed in a frantic rush as in many of our cities.

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