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Ayutthaya to Bangkok by train

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We got up bright and early today as we wanted to get to Bangkok early in case we had trouble finding accommodation in the area we wanted. We wanted to stay more central than the backpacking haven of Khao San Road. We had seen a place online called the Train Inn which isn't exactly the Hilton but it is opposite the train station so we don't have to worry too much about getting to the airport on Tuesday and it is close enough to the big shopping area of Siam so we can do some shopping.

We walked around in Ayutthaya for a while trying to find somewhere nice to eat but in the end we decided to go to the same place we have been for the two days previous. The food is great no matter what we order so we can't go wrong. We had chicken and rice this morning which comes with a delicious chilli sauce and a bowl of broth as a palette cleanser.

After that we checked out of Chantana Guest house and made our way to the train station. We had read that the train fare was 15 baht each which seems ridiculously good to take you 80km or so to Bangkok. We managed to find the train station okay as it was in walking distance apart from the problem we had finding the 'ferry' crossing as the station is on the other side of the river. After a while Chelsea asked a nice lady and she directed us to a dilapidated old boat that travelled around 20 yards to take you to the other side for 4 baht.

The fare unbelievably was indeed 15 baht each for a third class ticket to Bangkok so we were both happy but the next problem we had was getting the right platform. The conductor was as typically helpful as ever telling us it was platform three, the only problem being the platforms didn't have any numbers on them. We huddled around more travellers and locals hoping we were in the right place until a bell rang to signal the train was near and all the locals moved somewhere else, so we shuffled towards them.

The train journey itself was good apart from a screaming child and the constant disturbance of vendors urging past you selling their goods. It was better than going by bus and the scenery was great. It was rural farmland and open countryside and we bought some lemon iced tea from a vendor and read our books. It only took around two hours until we pulled into Bangkok station.

We managed to find and check into The Train Inn straight away and although it has a shared bathroom, is a bit old fashioned, the air con only blows out hot air and it is quite expensive it serves our purpose for our two days in Bangkok.

The first thing we did once we had settled into our hotel was walk to Siam Square to find a drink stall that we visited on our first trip. It took us a while but was totally worth it. The guy does the best malt chocolate ice drinks that are made with cocoa powder, malt powder and copious amounts of sweet carnation milk. Served over ice it is worth visiting Siam just to try one.

The rest of the day we spent tackling errands and shopping for our trip to Myanmar. We walked to Siam Square, where all the big shopping malls are. We chose MBK which is the cheapest of the malls and spent a few hours browsing several floors. We ended up coming away with a lot of what we need, DEET, sunglasses, a belt for Liam and a new top for Chels. We will have to go back tomorrow though as Chelsea wants a few more clothes after some were ruined during our time at the safari.

We have been unable to buy malarials as the only one we are willing to take (malarone) they do not sell in Thailand and the side effects of the others outway the risk of malaria in our opinion. We will just have to be carfeful. We have stocked up on good quality, high DEET content insect repellent and will be wearing long sleeves and trousers during sunrise and sunset.

On our way back we called at an Internet cafe and printed off our boarding passes for our flight. The shopping took us way over budget and walking around and to and from the shopping centre was enough activity for one day so tonight we ate and had a couple of beers around the train station. There are a few cafes and street stalls set up on the street and we had a great meal of noodle soup (Liam) and duck and rice (Chelsea) washed down with a couple of beers.

This time in Bangkok is different from the last, it is only a couple of days but it feels like a completely different place away from the backpacker hive. It is a lot less fun but also more quiet and you don't get hassled by tuk-tuk drivers of suit sellers ever thirty seconds. Tomorrow will be more of the same, shopping and gettin ready for Myanmar.

Posted by Chelsandliam 07:12 Archived in Thailand Tagged thailand bangkok Comments (2)

Flashing the cash in Bangkok

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Today has been expensive and indulgent but has been worth every penny. We woke late as we did not go to bed until 2am yesterday as we booked our flight for Myanmar. We fly in Yangon on 26th February and our return flight is 19th March.

When we finally got up this morning we caught the bus to Chatuchack Market. The bus journey took around an hour to travel 3km due to the Bangkok traffic, which is like nothing we have ever seen, five lane roads full of cars bumper to bumper with motorbikes filling up the little gaps remaining. The bus conductor told us when our stop was up as we had no idea where we were. We got off the bus and looked around expecting to see a large market but there was nothing. We had a walk up and down the road until we looked at our map and realised we were actually on the wrong road and the market was on the next road that ran parallel to the one we were on. As soon as we were on the correct road we immediately saw the market. There are thousands of stalls, selling everything you can possibly think of. We started by walking around the stall set up on the outskirts next to the road and then dived in.

The first section we walked through was for pets. There were animals for sale that we could not even identify. There were dozens of stalls selling puppies of all different breeds, most were tiny and in open top cages with several other puppies. Chelsea was both elated at being surrounded by so many puppies and shocked at the same time by how some were treated. The puppies did not look old enough to be sold and some of them had material sewn into their ears to make their ears stand up. Other stalls sold reptiles, rodents, fish and birds. One even had a giant tortoise kept in a box that was far too small for it. Once the initial amazement faded we felt bad for the animals that were on sale, they were crammed in cages and roughly handled. We had to leave the section before Chelsea decided to start freeing them.

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We wondered around aimlessly for a while until we found a guy who had a map and directed us to where we could get our own. The market is laid out in sections according to what they sell, the map however was truly awful and made trying to find your way through the labyrinth of stalls even more difficult so we sacked it off.

Deeper into the market and we found the clothes section. Most of the clothes here were knock off designer clothes and bags but there were a few good stalls selling cheap and stylish gear. Chelsea had a good rummage through and bought a new dress and a new top that she liked, which together cost 250 Baht (£5). Liam bought a T-shirt that he had seen earlier in the week but at the time as too expensive but was cheaper at the market. We carried on through the market up until late afternoon; the hard part was trying to get out again. We had no idea which way we had come in so we just walked to the nearest exit. As look would have it, it was the road we needed so we walked to the nearest bus stop and waited for our ride back to the guesthouse. We would definitely recommend visiting the weekend market, we spent the whole day there and didn’t even see it all and we really enjoyed browsing all the thousands of stalls.

Tonight’s plan was a roof top bar at the Hilton hotel. We were not in very long before we were back out to find some tea before heading to the Hilton. We called at a street food place we had visited earlier and decided try their BBQ fish. We ordered a fish to share, a Thai Salad and some BBQ pork. We did not receive our pork and after a while Liam asked where it was and was told they had ran out. They had no chicken either but they recommended the squid, we said okay. Five minutes later and six giant BBQ prawns were placed in front of us. Obviously his English was not great but we did not complain as it is much better than our Thai. The prawns were the best prawns we have ever had, they were a bit messy, we had to remove the heads etc., but they came with a spicy coriander dipping sauce that was equally as delicious. The next shock was the bill. When he recommended the ‘squid’ he failed to mention the price. The prawns were 200 baht (£4) incredibly cheap by UK standards but it made the meal at 360 baht, quite expensive for our small budget.

After we had paid up we caught the bus from round the corner that took us to the Hilton. We had decided on the Hilton roof bar rather than the others as we had read that all the high-rise bars are equally priced but you don’t get the crowds at the Hilton as people are intimidated and so the atmosphere was nice. The hotel was immaculate, expensive cars parked outside the lobby and elevators that were better decorated than any of the rooms we have stayed in on our whole trip. The 31st floor is where the ‘Threesixty’ roof top bar is located. There is a roof top seating area of sofas and tables overlooking Bangkok and a round enclosed bar that offers 360 degree views. We sat in the open air section, there was hardly anyone there and we got a seat right at the front. The views were spectacular, Chelsea had a martini cocktail, and Liam had scotch on the rocks. We drank them incredibly slowly to make them last, the bar bill was over a 1000 baht (£20), which at two thirds of a day’s budget is a lot for us, but it was worth every penny. We had a walk around the enclosed 360 degree view section before we left, there was a jazz band playing inside and you could see the whole city, the bar really is stunning.

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Once we had done we went back to catch the bus. We waited 30 minutes and still our bus had not arrived. It was getting late so we think our bus might have finished, there were other buses, but none went near where we are staying. In the end we paid a tuk-tuk driver and had a tuk-tuk journey through the night streets and over the river.

We have both enjoyed Bangkok way more than we expected. We think it is the favourite of the three big cities we had visited so far and neither of us would have guessed that before we came. We think we are leaving at the right time though before it becomes too much. Tomorrow we catch a bus to Kanchanaburi, the sight of the bridge over the River Kwai and hope to spend a few relaxing days sight seeing.

Posted by Chelsandliam 02:44 Archived in Thailand Tagged thailand bangkok Comments (1)

Temples, malls and markets in Bangkok

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We have been all over Bangkok it feels like today.

We decided to see Wat Arun this morning, this is a temple that sits on the river and has five huge chedi's (big spire structures). It is named the temple of dawn as it is a beautiful sight by the river when the sun rises, it was past 11 am when we arrived so we don't know what it looks like at sunrise. We got the river boat down to pier 8 for 15 baht each and then there is a ferry crossing boat that takes you over the river for 3 baht each.

The area surrounding the temple is really picturesque, there are landscaped gardens, pavilions with lanters and other temple buildings. It costs 50 baht each to enter and you must dress modestly (no skirt for Liam today though as knee length shorts are fine). The temple is huge close up and consists of a huge pyramid shaped spire in the middle with 4 smaller ones surrounding it.

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We walked around the temple and then decided to walk up. You can climb the temple steps to the top but anyone with a fear of heights beware. The steps are quite narrow and very steep, and each step is very tall. When we got to the top there were orange clad monks erecting an orange sheet of fabric around the temple spire. They were handing out safety pins for people to clip on and one was handed to Liam which he fastened on. It was really beautiful at the top with the orange fabric and there weren't many people so it was quiet.

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The views of the river and Bangkok from the top are really nice but walking back down the steps is quite terrifying. Liam went first and we decided it would be best to walk backwards. Once you were on it's wasn't that bad but at the top there was a Thai lady totally freaking out. Chelsea helped her and carried her bag as she was terrified with her head in her hands wondering how she was going to get down.

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The temple is quite different to the one we have seen so far and it is entirely decorated with mosaic, Chelsea has decided it is her favourite one. We would definatey recommend it if you visit Bangkok and it is really easy to get to and cheap to visit. From here we decided to get the bus to Siam square. We had researched what bus we needed but couldn't find the street or the bus. Chelsea went into a cafe to ask but the lady didn't understand so we sat on a bench with our map trying to work it out looking confused. A nice man inside the cafe must have heard us ask for directions as he came out to see if he could help. He told us exactly how to get to where we needed to be. We took bus number 57 from Wat Arun to Khlong San pier and then took the river crossing boat across to the other side, we then took bus number 36 to Siam square. He was really helpful and friendly. There are two types of buses that we have seen in Bangkok, the non air con ones that cos 8 baht each and the air con ones that cost 11 baht. The bus stops, once we got used to them, are quite good, better that other cities in Asia we have seen as they have the bus numbers on that stop there.

Siam square is an upmarket area in Bangkok. The area is full of skyscrapers, malls, shops and cafes. There are the main roads and then lots of smaller soi's (lanes) that branch off these. The soi's are full of small boutique style shops that look like individual one off shops full of fashionable clothes and other items. The main roads have all the big shops on and huge malls. We bought some dinner off a street vendor and found a fashionable cube bench to sit on and eat it. All over Bangkok and there are these drinks vendors on the street that have carnation milk signs all over them. We decided to go to one to see what they did. The vendor didn't speak English but some friendly girls in the queue in front asked what we wanted. We didn't even know what he sold so we asked what they had. One of the girls had an iced coco drink so we said we would both try that. The vendor mixed all sorts of things together, coco, malt powder, milk, sweet carnation milk and poured it over ice. It was yummy and tasted like a malteeser milkshake.

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We went into one of the malls to have a wander around called Siam Centre. We both agreed it was the best shopping centre we have ever been in. It was ultra modern and had wifi throughout. All the shops were upmarket and quirky and they sold extremely modern items. Even the fittings within the mall had been made into art installations. The chairs were boutique chairs, the places to sit had table lamps, there was artwork on the walls and every shops had a striking modern installation. Even parts of the roof had huge screens on them playing images of ceilings of grand buildings with bells hanging. It was amazing, it was what it would be like if a modern art museum crossed with a shopping centre. Chelsea loved it. By this point it was 3.15 and we had to be at the Myanmar embassy between 3.30 and 4.30 to pick up our visa so we had to leave the mall. We got the sky train from the Siam Centre to Surasak a street near the embassy. The sky train is a great way to travel around the business district of Bangkok as you get great views of the skyscrapers. It is easy to use but cost more that other forms of public transport in town, it cost us 25 baht each.

The queue at the embassy when we arrived was huge, it went right to the end of the street but the doors hadn't opened yet as it wasn't quite half three. There was a crowd gathering at the door waiting to go in as well as the queue so Liam decided to join the crowd. When the doors open he was straight in and a few people from the front of the queue. Two people pushed in front of him but he didn't say anything as he had just pushed in himself. when you apply for your visa you get a receipt that tells you what counter to collect at, you queue up and collect your passport with the visa inside. It is a quick process and within five minutes the queue had gone right down to just outside the door.

We walked to the river from here and caught the boat back up to our guest house area. We walked to Khao San road straight away to get our US Dollars for Myanmar. We had read on someone's blog to go to Au Thong travel as they keep new US Dollars but we had tried them yesterday and the bank was offering a better rate. We explained we needed brand new dollars at the bank and this was not a problem, the lady at the counter counted out the dollars and checked them all thoroughly for marks or creases before handing them over (we also had a thorough check). To pay on a visa card like we did you need to take your passport along but it was easy and stress free, we just have to keep them pristine now for the next two months.

For our Friday night we decided to go to China Town. We had researched what bus to get and our map said we could get bus number 9 from the top of Khao San. The ticket lady didn't speak English so it was hard trying to explain. In the end she gave up and let us ride for free. Another friendly Thai lady asked us where we wanted to go and told us we were on the wrong bus. She gave us directions and told us to get off at the Grand Palace and to get bus number 1 to China Town. We had no problem getting the bus but we weren't exactly sure where to get off. We were looking at our map with confused faces and a Thai couple again asked us where we were going and told us we had gone too far but gave us directions. We got off the bus and had a five minute walk into the centre of China Town. The Thai people we have met so far are extremely friendly and helpful and have been very kind when we have been lost (which has been a lot of times). There are a lot of people in the tourist areas who are trying to con you but the majority of regular people have been lovely.

China Town at night is mad. The streets are crammed with people and traffic and the neon signs on the shops are huge and lit up like Las Vegas. There are hundreds of street vendors selling all sorts of things and the huge busy streets are lines with stalls and tables and chairs where you sit and have a meal on the street. We picked a place with roast duck hanging in the window of the cart and picked noddles with pork Wantons and roast duck and greens. Liam had the soup version and Chelsea had the dry noodle version. It was delicious, the duck was gorgeous and the wantons were yummy. We walked up and down the main street, Yaowarat and looked down a few soi's.

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One of the smaller streets had lanterns all the way down it and more vendors so we found a table and had a beer under the lanters watching a man cook seafood meals on his own for at least 20 tables, he was fast.

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It has been a really good day and once we got our head around the buses they are a fast and cheap way to see opposite ends of the city in one day. Tomorrow is our last day in Bangkok and we are going to try and go to a sky bar tomorrow evening to celebrate our final night.

Posted by Chelsandliam 09:51 Archived in Thailand Tagged thailand bangkok Comments (2)

Liam wore a skirt in Bangkok

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We were a bit slow getting up this morning, so we decided to use what was left our morning to try and find the US dollars we need for Myanmar. For some reason we are not aware of, the people of Myanmar only accept brand new, unblemished dollars. This means, no folds, no stains, tears or even bank stamps. We have researched already on the internet where we could get the dollars in Bangkok so we went their first.

When we got there the place was closed until 11:30, we didn't have long to wait so we went and had lunch across the street. We were lured in by a very persuasive Thai man, given a plate of rice each and then had to choose from vast amount of curries all on display. It was very good, but probably a bit too early in the morning for a giant plate of curry. We had a walk and then went back to the travel agent. Fortunately they told us that they can do brand new US dollars, unfortunately they only accept cash as payment and the rate was not great. We tried a couple of banks until we found one that also had brand new dollars, with a better rate. At first they also said they only accept cash as payment. The problem we have is that our withdrawal limit for a day is not a lot, and every time you take your money out of an ATM in Thailand you get charged £3. (We did not know this upon arriving, and it is by far the worst thing about the country). We explained this to the lady at the bank and she was about to let us pay by our card to get the dollars when she asked us for our passports......they are at the embassy. So this will have to wait until tomorrow evening.

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By this point we were quite stressed out so went to spend the afternoon sightseeing. The extortionate fee we paid to visit the Grand Palace also gets you into another site further up town. We walked there, calling for a fruit shake on the way, and managed to find our way and only getting lost once.

We were surprised when we got there as we thought the sight we had come to see was Vimanmek Mansion. It turned out to be a collection of sights that aren't mentioned in our guide book. The first is a large impressive building, Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall; there is also a support museum for the mansion and an 'arts of the kingdom' exhibition. We took a couple of photos of the large building from the outside, when we got inside the grounds there were sign everywhere saying photos were prohibited and you even had to leave your camera in a locker before entering the sights.

What our guidebook also fails to mention (or if it does we did not read it correctly) is that you have to cover up, Ladies to the knees, gents to the ankles (who knows why this is). It is fair to say we were 'inappropriately' dressed and we had to buy sarongs to cover up for 50 baht each, as they do not rent them out like every other place we have been. Once dressed in our newly owned sarongs, and possessions locked away in a locker we went to the throne hall building first. Before we could go in here we were searched and had to go through a metal detector. By this point we were fairly perplexed and could not see why all this security and other measures were necessary.

The throne hall building is incredible; it is a large white building with a great dome in the middle, reminiscent of a Victorian building in England. Inside is very decorative, all the walls and roof is painted with different scenes and everything is gold. There are several artefacts inside from the royal history, golden thrones, golden model boats, even the seats used for sitting on the royal elephants were golden and encrusted with diamonds. In spite of this the building is far more impressive than its contents in our opinion. There were several floors to the building with a variety on show and when we entered the building we were given our free audio guide that explained what they were. There was also a school trip within the building at the time which was very loud, and they also found the sight of Liam in his sarong hilarious.

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Once we had done the hall, we went onto see a small museum, a photography exhibition (which just contained photos of irrigation works) and then the Teak mansion we had originally come to see. The mansion is made entirely of Teak, and is apparently put together without screws or nails. It is a very pretty building, sat in the grounds of a stream and has a very colonial feel to it. We were caught in between a couple of Thai tour groups throughout the building but we still enjoyed the visit. We walked round the rooms decorated as they were when the house was lived in, and the furniture and decor had an old European style apart from the dozens of elephant tusks on display in each room, and the hunting room with old guns, elephant feet and what looked like rhino horns.

When we had done we had had enough walking so much to the joy of Chelsea jumped into a golf cart, (free tourist shuttle) that took us back to collect our possessions and then jumped in another Tuk-Tuk outside the grounds to take us back to our guesthouse.

We went out for tea quite late, and fancied a change to noodles and rice. We headed down Khao San Road, where there is plenty of food to choose from and decided to graze on what was on offer on the street. We decided on a large slice of pizza and a chicken kebab from a couple of stalls. The kebab in particular was delicious. We had another walk round to marvel at the sights of Khao San Road, until Liam was fed up of being asked if he wanted to buy a suit and we went for a drink before coming back.

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The mansion we went to see was alot better than we expected and made the entry fee to the Grand Palace seem a lot more reasonable. We didn't expect all the other sights and we enjoyed looking around them. The throne hall especially and Goldmember would agree...'i like gold' (Chelsea found this particular gag hilarious and sat chuckling to herself and repeated 'I like gold' in the voice of Goldmember the wholetime we were there) Tomorrow we plan to see another one of the big temples in the city, Wat Arun, and then head into the more up market bit of the city before picking up our Visa's for Myanmar.

Posted by Chelsandliam 06:31 Archived in Thailand Tagged thailand bangkok Comments (4)

China town in Bangkok... an assault on the senses.

Getting a myanmar visa in Bangkok.

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Busy day today….. We were up early as we needed to get to the Myanmar embassy to apply for our visa. We decided to go by boat as there are public transport ferries and express boats that go up and down the river and got off at station 1 for 15 baht each. We think it is the nicest way to travel around Bangkok and the pricing and routes are easy to understand and cheap. Plus you get to see the sights by boat on your way.

We walked to the embassy and there was a hug queue so Liam joined it while Chelsea went to get the application form from the front to fill in. At the front inside the building was chaos and there was a lot of people. An American guy was also in the same boat looking for paperwork so we approached together and were given the forms. Chelsea went back to the queue to fill in the forms but just as we were about to start the American guy came over to inform us we had been given the wrong ones, business visa forms so it was another trip back inside for the correct ones. We filled in our paperwork in the queue whilst waiting for it to go down. The form is quite straightforward. You need passport details, personal details such as hair and eye colour and complexion, addresses and two previous work histories. You need to take two photos, one which you must glue onto the form and the other one needs to be paper clipped (they have glue and paperclips at the embassy to use). You also need your passport and a photocopy of your passport. Applications are open only in the morning until 12pm. You queue to be seen by a lady who checks you have all the required paperwork completed, and then she gives you a number card that you queue at the designated window and wait again to be seen to have everything checked over and to pay. It costs 810 baht for the visa to be ready in two working days but you can also pay more for one working day or for the same day (for the same day you also need and airline ticket for proof of entry/exit). We pick up our visa on Friday, pick up times are afternoons only, between 3.30pm-4.30pm and you have to make sure you save the receipt. It took us about an hour in total to get this sorted and then we were hungry and thirsty as we had gone straight there and it was now after 11.30am.

We called at a restaurant and had some food and a sprite and then decided to walk to China town and explore that for the rest of the day. The Myanmar embassy is right at the end of central Bangkok so we had to walk quite a few kilometres at midday. We walked through an area which was full of gold, silver and jewel shops and it even had a mall dedicated to just jewellery and antique shops. We stopped off for a flavoured ice tea which we weren’t that keep on and carried on our way along the busy streets. As we got closer you could see elements of Chinatown appearing in the shops and restaurants and it gradually got busier and busier.

China town in Bangkok is huge! We walked around the streets for a long time. The traffic is relentless and the shops spill out onto the streets. There are market stalls everywhere with umbrellas up so the walkways are small. Smells waft in your face as you past vendors and at one point we breathed in chilli and it burned our eyes and nose. We walked around the streets in awe at the stalls and the amount of people, cars, buses and tuk-tuks. The main streets are massive and full of huge signs and shops advertising shark fin soup, gems, gold and electronics and there are smaller soi’s (lanes) that branch off these where vendors and market stalls set up,

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We walked towards Thanon Yaowarat, a big market street and were shocked at the sheer vastness of the market. It went on and on and even when a main road crossed it, it carried on the other side. It started off as a food market where there were lots of weird and wonderful things for sale we have never seen before. Stalls upon stalls selling everything from spices, fish, tea, dried goods, fresh meat, fruit, everything you could possibly imagine and more. It then changed into juice stalls and vendors mixed with people selling handbags, clothes, toys, souvenirs, toiletries, basically everything. We really enjoyed browsing the stalls and shops and are going to venture down one night to see what it is like after dark.

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By this point our legs and feet were tired from walking right across town so we headed back. In Thailand and South East Asia in general we have found that similar shops group together. There are often lots of religious material shops together or bridal shops next to each other as well as jewellers and cookware shops. On the way back there was a large cluster of shops selling only weighing scales, shops selling only lawn mowers and shops selling only big industrial safes. There was also a cluster of gun shops with huge rifles and knives displayed in the front windows. We made it as far as the grand palace and then we decided to get our first tuk-tuk the rest of the way. It is a really fun way to travel and it took us back to our guest house for 40 baht.

After some recuperation we went out for the evening. We went to a street vendor for some food, Chelsea had black pepper fish with rice and Liam had Tom Yam, a sort of spicy soup dish and they were both really nice, and as always really cheap. We went to a bar that so far we have seen has the cheapest beer sat and had a few drinks, chatting and drinking. China town is by far the busiest area in Bangkok we have seen so far but is so exciting and vibrant with countless places to eat, shop and drink.

Posted by Chelsandliam 08:07 Archived in Thailand Tagged thailand bangkok Comments (1)

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