When you’ve got 8 hours between landing and takeoff, you gotta make the most of it! More like, instead of an awkward 4 hours at the airport for a layover, I decided to extend the layover so I could take a little time to explore Bangkok and to stretch the legs a little bit. My flight from Hanoi to Don Mueang landed at 11am and customs was super quick to go through. By 11:15am, I was out the door and ready to take the bus into the city. However, my SIM card from Singapore didn’t work for roaming here, even though it claimed to. Losing some time, I thought I missed the 11:30am bus but turns out things are always running late here, so I was able to hop on the A4 bus! They come about every half hour so I would’ve just caught the next one had I missed this.
Just like in Hanoi, there’s a specific bus attendant who’d collect your bus fare once we were moving. The best thing is that you don’t need exact change! This cost 50 THB, or about 1.5 USD, pretty cheap for an airport bus! There’s a few A-numbered busses that take you into the city but I opted for the one that goes straight towards Khao San Road and the Grand Palace. Bangkok does have a metro system but oddly it wouldn’t have worked as efficiently as they bus to where I was headed.
The bus attendant might announce the stops, but I’d recommend downloading an offline map to double check where you are in case things are pronounced different than you’d expect as a foreigner. Less than an hour from the airport, I hopped off and wandered the Khao San Road area. It’s quite touristy as expected, and there might be better areas to wander, but this seemed like a nice introduction to Bangkok. There’s plenty of stalls that sell both elephant pants and very touristy restaurants. I personally caved, not having properly eaten breakfast that morning, so I perused the restaurants till one seemed not overly touristy. And I caved even further by getting pad thai. But it was still really good despite being in such a touristy area! The mango smoothie really hit the spot! It became my go-to drink in Thailand. I’m sure it’s just blending mangos with ice but when done right in a place that grows mangos, it’s perfect.
After my quick food break, I decided to brave the sun and wander over to the Grand Palace. The hot-humid air is no joke for this Seattleite. Take the walk at an easy pace and enjoy the shade when possible. It’s just under a mile and 15 minutes of walking, but it really does get to you. There’s a few underground areas where it’s air conditioned to relieve yourself of the heat, but at some point you have to face it. I walked past the Sanam Luang city square that really looked like a large running track before finding the Na Phra Lan Tunnel underground. Spending a few minutes there, I came out in search of elephant pants!
To enter the temples, you have to follow a strict dress code, primarily dressing modestly with shoulders and knees covered. I wanted elephant pants anyway so I paid the price that was likely marked up but still cheap in front of the Palace. It was only 100 THB or 3 USD. I just wore them over my shorts and didn’t bother to properly change them. Surprisingly they are great for allowing breeze while providing some coverage from the sun.
I think there’s sometimes constructions and different gate closures, but I was routed to the north entrance through the Wiset Chai Si Gate. I bought the tickets at the counter and the line was fairly short. The 500 THB (15 USD) covers both the Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha and quite a few more sights around the block. They place a bunch of fans everywhere so people like to chill in the shade. You’re free to roam wherever and just take in all the sights. It’s really beautiful! I wonder how often they touch up everything vs what is original. To enter the temple, you have to take off your shoes, but the ground gets hot so bring socks or find a shady path! No pictures are allowed inside the temple.
After touring the temple, I went over to look at the Grand Palace! The grandeur is amazing and dazzling. The afternoon storm clouds came rolling in shortly after and I rushed through a bit of the museum of old artifacts. I was also eager to get somewhere with wifi to double check my bus ride back because I forgot to note where all the stops were. Most places have wifi if you’re a paying customer but it’s not as readily free as it was in Vietnam or Singapore. So after a coffee break to assess the storm, I went out again to wander.
There’s a lot of piers and boardwalk areas to look across the Chao Phraya River just west of the Grand Palace. I didn’t quite get a look at the Wat Arun temple, but there was a smaller temple across the way from here, the Wat Rakhang. I wandered through the Maharaj and Amulet Market area, there’s so many small shops and street carts. Despite being just a few blocks from Khao San Road, this was definitely a more local spot where some signs didn’t have any English on it. I landed on a restaurant with some friendly waitresses and got a quick meal before my next flight. I chowed down on the noodles but felt a little less excited about the meat. The waitress was super nice and treated me like family maybe because I was traveling alone. But I took my ice tea to go as I wandered over to the bus stop.
From the market, you walk through the Thammasat University, so you might see a lot of students walking about. The bus stop system is great because unlike in the US, they label what across the street from a landmark as “opposite” so you know which side of the street to stand on. I happened to take the A4 bus from the National Theater stop, which I had to double check wasn’t an “opposite”. My bus ran quite a bit late and got stuck in traffic, so add that into your time schedule so you don’t get anxious about missing a flight. Taking the 4:30pm bus, I got to the airport slightly more than an hour later, and it was significantly longer than the way in without traffic. I ended up with plenty of time at the airport with a delayed flight, which turned out to a nuisance – but that’s for a later post.
But there it is, 8 hours in Bangkok filled with food and beautiful buildings and avoiding rainstorms!
Be careful which airport you’re flying into/out of. The Don Mueang Airport is to the north and the Suvarnabhumi Airport is east of Bangkok.
Khao San Road is extremely touristy but go a little ways out and you’ll find some more local areas like Tha Phra Chan