If you’re just passing through Thailand and Bangkok is the only area you’d get to visit in that country, what would you do? Would you stay in one place, like the airport, or go out and explore the city? In my case, I did both, i.e., with my family. But, of course, doing the latter is more fun, so let me tell you about that now. (I’ll just share in a separate post the things we did while staying at the airport for about 16 hours.)
My husband, daughters, and I, along with my husband’s parents, who are both senior citizens already, and my husband’s sister, who was pregnant with her first child, were scheduled to visit my husband’s brother and spend Christmas with him in Vientiane, Laos. To get there, we decided to go through Bangkok, Thailand. This was my first time to visit both countries, by the way, and I don’t think I’d ever visit Laos if it weren’t for my husband’s relatives. (Simply because I knew nothing of this country and it wasn’t exactly a tourist destination.) We were in Bangkok for nearly 12 hours only, but I would certainly remember all those
misadventures we had for the rest of my life!
Going through Bangkok, Thailand to Vientiane, Laos (rhymes with cow, without the s) may not be the easiest route to take, but it certainly is much cheaper and enjoyable, too. Apparently, buses leaving Mochit Bus Transport System (BTS) for Vientiane have only one schedule – evening (i.e., 7:30 PM if I remember it right). We took the 6:30 AM flight to Bangkok then, so we would have plenty of hours to tour the city before we head to Vientiane in the evening.
misadventure begins, of course, at Suvarnabhumi (cabbies pronounce it as soo-‘vuhr-nuh-boom) Airport in Bangkok. My first impression? It’s huge but not as grand as Changi Airport. Pardon me; it’s just that Changi has been my standard of what an airport should be, and I’m sure you would agree that it’s one of the best–if not the best–airports in the whole world.
My parents-in-law, who had already been to Thailand several times, acted as our tour guides. They warned us beforehand that the airport could be overwhelming in terms of size and the number of people going through it. What overwhelmed me though was my experience at the special counter for ASEAN travelers. There were just about 10 of us in line, but the immigration officer must be so meticulous that it took us about an hour waiting for her to stamp our passports. It was such a relief when she finally did it, especially there were about a hundred travelers or so in the non-ASEAN lanes and my family and I ended up being the last ones to cross the line. How’s that for being on a special lane?
With regard to my in-laws’ warning, by the way, don’t worry too much. Their airport may be huge–it’s a tall building, alright–but the structure is quite easy to figure out, unlike Changi Airport, where you could go round and round for hours if you’re not paying attention to your surroundings.
Unlike in NAIA (and Changi Ariport), many of the Suvarnabhumi Airport staff (as well as in many parts of Bangkok) do not speak English. Although there was this huge screen near the luggage claim area, where you would find directions and other FAQs about the airport and Bangkok in general, I suggest you download a translator app or a picture dictionary onto your mobile device(s) before you go to Bangkok (or other countries where English is not widely spoken), in case you find yourself in need to ask for some information.
There are many places to eat at the Suvarnabhumi Airport, and I was told that the fast food restaurants and cafés accept five different currencies as payment: US dollars, Japanese yen, Singapore dollars, Euros, and Thai baht. It’s best to carry bahts and dollars though. Some of the familiar establishments that you’d find there are Starbucks, Burger King, McDonald’s, and Subway. There are fine dining restaurants too, but if you prefer local dishes at an affordable price, you would have to go down to the airport canteen at the basement.
Since it was still rather early for lunch and we weren’t really hungry yet, we went straight to Mo Chit BTS–our second stop–to purchase our bus tickets to Vientiane. We also decided to have lunch there, where I had my first taste of authentic (and cheap) Thai food. I’d say authentic because I was actually in Thailand and the person(s) who prepared the meal must be Thai, of course! Anyway, here’s a confession: I never had Thai food before because I was under the impression that authentic Thai dishes are spicy, and I do not like spicy food. I was surprised to discover then that there are mildly flavored or non-spicy Thai dishes, too. (TIP: If you’re not sure what to order, remember, steamed chicken with veggies is always a good option.)
By the way, there’s nothing fancy about the dishes being served at the bus station, plus the vendors virtually do not speak or understand English, it seemed. Moreover, stalls serving food are separate from those that sell drinks (just like at hawker centers in Singapore). I didn’t realize this immediately and it took a while before the vendor understood that I was looking for something to drink. Now, don’t say “water” and don’t even bother acting as if you’re drinking one like I did; just say Coke and they’ll point you to the store that sells drinks. Well, at least that’s how it worked for me… Or, maybe the vendor was just making fun of me?
There was a 7-Eleven at the bus terminal, however, and that’s the only international establishment I saw. The crew there, or at least the one who assisted us, used a translation app with images, to be able to communicate with the tourists. She would show us the images on her phone to make sure that we understood each other.
After lunch, we finally went sight-seeing and left our luggage at a baggage counter (look for the sign “LEFT BAGGAGE”). We took a cab and went to J. J. Mall–our third stop–which proved to be an educational activity for us, since we learned more about the Thai culture instead of shopping for random items. J. J. Mall reminds me of 168 Mall at Divisoria in Manila, by the way, except it’s not as crowded and noisy, and the stalls are much bigger, too.
Just outside the mall is a market (much like Cartimar in Pasay City) selling different species of animals, including ones that you would probably think to be already extinct or wouldn’t dream of having as a pet. It was like a zoo, except the animals were all for sale and you’re not allowed to take their photos. So there goes our fourth stop!
Our fifth stop was the Queen Sirikit National Park. Seeing the well-tended garden gave me a sense of peace, especially after having to go through a maze of stores and avenues. Paths were lined with beautiful flowers, and there were benches under the trees, where you could sit down and rest. If you could tune out the sounds of vehicles nearby, falling asleep would also be a cinch.
On one side of Queen Sirikit National Park are the Children’s Discovery Museum and playgrounds, our sixth stop. Now, this is a must-see place if you have kids with you. The outdoor center features the playground, which is divided into different sections. There’s an area for bigger kids, where there’s a Pyramid Net–it encourages kids to use their creativity as they figure out how to get to the top and cross the hanging bridge without using the ladder.
The ladder seems to be an alternative for kids who couldn’t climb up the net and for parents or guardians to accompany (a requirement) their kids as they cross the hanging bridge, too. There’s also a play area filled with powdery soft sand that looked like an excavation site for dino fossils; fountains, where children could play with water; and one with monkey bars and seesaws for the smaller kids. And, yes, there are giant (wooden) slides, too!
Aside from playgrounds, there’s a library for preschoolers too. The science museum, on the other hand, was designed to be interactive, helping kids learn firsthand how things work. The museum looked pretty amazing; it offers many activities that we didn’t have enough time to see the whole place in less than two hours. Just before going up to its second level, we saw the Junior Thai Kitchen, where kids are taught to make simple Thai dishes or desserts, depending on the menu for the day.
There was also a man who would sketch for free, but you would have to be early if you want to be accommodated. I really wished that at least one of the locals visiting the place could have given up his/her slot for my kids. I have explained to the artist’s assistant that we were just in transit and there’s very little chance that we’d be able to come back on our way back to Manila, but I was told that they couldn’t extend and must adhere to the museum’s schedule.
Anyway, the experience made me appreciate Filipino hospitality all the more. We, Filipinos, tend to be very accommodating to foreigners, and I’m sure that any of us would give up a slot and just go back another day for a foreign visitor to be able to experience such. After all, we’re already in our hometown and they’re just visiting, plus it’s free.
Before we headed back to Mo Chit for our bus ride to Vientiane, we went to Chatuchak Weekend Market for an early dinner. All sorts of souvenirs, clothing, street foods, even housewares, are sold here. Despite being huge and crowded, it was surprisingly clean (and seemed relatively free of muggers and pickpockets). Most of the people milling about were foreigners (Caucasians) and pop music mingled with the voices of both vendors and tourists/shoppers.
From time to time, we would stop to inspect some items but never got to buy any because we kept saying, “We’d better wait; we’d come back this way again and we might find something nicer or cheaper later”. Besides, our main reason for going there was to have dinner, and my parents-in-law were hoping to bring us to the same spot where they had been the last time they were in Bangkok with their friends.
After walking for hours and in search of that place that serves scrumptious seafood dishes and fresh fruit juice, my mother-in-law apparently started to get sore and decided that we should just eat at the next restaurant that we saw. (Too bad they don’t serve the food we had in mind!) We each ordered a noodle soup and fruit juice. I asked for prune juice and I was not disappointed. It was refreshing despite its salty and sweet taste. (If you like champoy or kiamoy, then you would like it too.)
As soon as we’ve eaten, we started to go back to Mo Chit. However, instead of retracing our steps, we decided to just follow the road and go where most people were going and tried to get a cab nearby, since the place was getting more crowded. For some reason, I started to feel excited as the crowd grew bigger, like something big was about to happen. On the other hand, I also felt a little sad because I haven’t really seen enough of the place yet and I would really like to see it at night. I was also hoping to buy a few items as a souvenir.
After having walked for about five minutes, we came to the place my parents-in-law were supposed to bring us. Huge crabs and lobsters and all kinds of seafood were everywhere! As much as we wanted to try them, we were already full. We got to enjoy some truly refreshing bottled drinks though, which were given away for free to every passerby.
All in all, it took us about 4–5 hours to go around Queen Sirikit Park, Children’s Discovery Museum, and Chatuchak on foot and by car (taxi). We never got to experience riding in Thailand’s MRT and touk touks. We always took a taxi and had to be divided into two groups while traveling, since cabbies only allow 3–4 passengers to ride in their cars.
By the time we left the weekend market, the crowd has already thickened and getting a cab became a real challenge. Unlike here in the Philippines, where you could practically hail a taxi on any side of the road, especially if you’re in the metropolis, getting one in Bangkok is much like taking a bus or jeepney in Manila. They stay on either south-bound or north-bound lane and you cannot expect them to take a U-turn so they could pick you up.
Since we couldn’t get two cabs at the same time, we let our kids go ahead of us, accompanied by their grandfather and aunt. My husband and I, on the other hand, rode with my mother-in-law. We didn’t realize that there were different points of entry to Mo Chit bus station, and the cabbie dropped us off in a different area, which made things confusing for us. Unfortunately, we had a hard time speaking with the locals and my companions started to panic, hailing another cab that only brought us back to the weekend market. Worse, the cabbie kept asking us whether we meant Mo Chit 1 or Mo Chit 2. (Roll eyes here; Mo Chit 1 is nothing but a garage for unserviceable bus units. Why would we go there?)
Now, this was the most exciting part for me (but a nightmare to my companions). I finally saw Chatuchak Market lit up, more alive, more crowded, and really noisy! It was already around 5 PM. It reminded me of a scene from some action-suspense movie set in Asia. I was sort of expecting someone to be running and jumping in front of our taxi, even stepping on its hood, but well, only couples in motorcycles and other tourists in touk touks kept cutting us in.
For some reason, I wasn’t really worried about the whole situation, that is, of getting lost. Maybe because my husband and mother-in-law were already in a panic and there’s just no use joining in? Besides, I was positive that if we get back to Mo Chit BTS, we’d be able to find the rest of our traveling group… And, we did, once they listened to me, and proceeded to the upper level of the building. I may not be good at reading maps, but time and again I have proven that my instincts, when it comes to directions, are quite accurate.
So, yes, it’s so easy to get lost in Bangkok. But where’s the fun in traveling if you don’t ever get lost and discover interesting things and people in the process, right? Maybe if our elderly companions didn’t take too long to decide whether to go out of the bus station, we would still have seen other places, such as the Elephant Village, a temple, the floating market, or the beach, especially with 10–12 hours of free time. But then again, we might get into more serious adventures and miss our ride to Vientiane. After all, we’re in Bangkok.
I wish my family and I could go back to Thailand in a year or two, see more of it, and visit all its surrounding countries as well, aside from Laos. I’ll definitely plan our next travel to maximize our trip. ❤
Watch out for our next travel story: Discovering Laos. Follow us on Facebook or subscribe by email, so you don’t miss it! 🙂
(Featured image by Christopher Gimmer via StockSnap.io)