My husband and I recently took a 10-day trip across Thailand and Malaysia. After a long 19-hour flight from New York (with a brief stopover in Japan) we finally landed in Bangkok, where our trip began.
Bangkok, Thailand’s capital, is a vibrant cultural city well known for food, massages, Muay Thai and nightlife. We stayed at Hotel Icon on Sukhumvit Road, a short walk from the famous “Nana Plaza”; a melting hub of neon bars, massage centres, suit tailors, shawarma kebab restaurants and surprisingly, a large number of dental clinics. Thailand has increasingly become a popular destination for medical tourism, and the rise of dental tourism was clear to see- the Sukhumvit area in Bangkok alone had around 20 clinics predominantly advertising cosmetic procedures at competitive prices.
Our 3-day Bangkok journey began with a visit to Wat Pho, one of the largest temple complexes in Bangkok and home to the famous “reclining Buddha”, measuring at 46 metres long. The “Grand Palace”, located close to Wat Pho, is undoubtedly one of the most famous landmarks in Bangkok. The Palace was built in 1782 and was previously the home of the Thai royal family but is still currently used for state and royal functions. Thailand is currently in a period of mourning following the death of the former king BhumibolAdulyadej in October 2016. As the king was highly revered and seen by many as close to divine, there were large numbers of locals at the Grand Palace dressed in black and paying their respects to the former king.
Entry to Wat Pho is priced at 100 Baht and entry into the Grand Palace is priced at 500 Baht. Whilst 500 Baht is rather steep, the Grand Palace is a sight definitely worth seeing. A word of caution however; there are a number of individuals located just outside of the walls of the Grand Palace trying to convince you that the Palace is closed for a number of hours to tourists but (conveniently) you can kill some time by taking another tour and then proceed to try to convince you to take a boat cruise. As you might expect, this is a scam and the Thai Tourism authority clearly sets out opening hours on its website.
Visitors are expected to dress modestly- including men. We witnessed a man being denied entry as he was wearing shorts. He returned a short while wearing a long skirt over his shorts, and was still turned away! He was informed that he would be permitted entry if he wore “men’s pants” instead.
A visit to Thailand would of course not be complete without a traditional Thai massage. Unlike most massages offered in Western spas, the Thai massage is a combination of acupressure, stretching and deep muscle compression. I would highly recommend getting a Thai massage- it is perfect to relieve the soreness that comes from sitting at a desk all day, or even from playing sports. Whilst a one-hour massage in NYC can cost up to $40, a one-hour massage in Thailand can be as cheap as $10 (I would recommend the Ruen-Nuad Massage Studio). A traditional Thai massage is done fully clothed- the massage centre will often provide you with loose-fitting clothing to wear. The massages are conducted in private rooms so this is perfect if you wear hijab and prefer privacy. Whilst massages in Thailand often have negative and dubious connotations, the majority of massage centres are reputable and extremely professional- just avoid anything with the word “soapy” in the name and you will be just fine!
As with most places, it is very easy to find halal food located close to mosques. We were really keen to try some street food having spent months watching YouTube Vlogs raving about the street food in South East Asia. Unfortunately, a lot of the street food stalls near our hotel were not halal and we were unsure about cross contamination with seafood and vegetarian options, as pork is widely consumed and was often combined with other dishes.
We decided to visit Usman Muslim Restaurant, having read positive reviews on TripAdvisor. Whilst the restaurant was slightly pricier than street food (which can cost around 20-30 Baht)($0.60- $0.90) it was certainly very affordable at around only 80-120 Baht per dish. The restaurant is a family run business and Usman, the owner, was very attentive and friendly.
We tried a variety of dishes and enjoyed the beef fried rice, spicy pad Thai and our favourite, mango sticky rice. If you are a fan of spicy food the restaurant will be more than happy to make your dishes extra spicy! As my husband and I are of Desi origin we do prefer spicy food and Usman kindly ensured that our dishes contained extra spice. We would also recommend the Thai iced tea at Usman’s- perfectly refreshing for the warm and humid Bangkok weather!
We were pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to get around Bangkok. Signs are often in Thai and English so it was very easy to navigate on foot. We travelled around primarily using Uber and Grab, both of which were significantly cheaper than the cost of Uber in London and New York. It often cost around 30-50 Baht to get around most places and around 100 Baht to reach the airport (around £2.30).
Tuk tuks are also a very popular (and fun!) way to get around. As you might expect, it is recommended to negotiate and agree a price with the driver before getting into the tuk tuk. We had read a lot of online blogs and travel guides which suggested that tuk tuk drivers tried to scam passengers and often attempted to charge higher fares or try to force passengers to visit gem stores and other “tourist traps”. Our experience however was entirely different- we negotiated and agreed set prices with tuk-tuk drivers before getting, and found the drivers were be honest and reliable. Whilst Uber or Grab is probably the safest bet to ensure a cheap ride, tuk tuk drivers were incredibly skilled at weaving through the heaving Bangkok traffic and often got us to our destinations much faster.
Bangkok also has a very sophisticated and reliable public transport system. The BTS Skytrain is also a very convenient and affordable way to get around and will take you to some of the most popular destinations.
Bangkok is a rapidly growing city with a vast infrastructure and facilities (we were pleasantly surprised by how clean the city was, (the public bathrooms were all equipped with bidet sprays and were actually much cleaner than those in London and New York!) so it is unsurprising that Bangkok’s skyline is anything but impressive.
The Vertigo and Moon Bar, located on the top of the Banyan Tree hotel, provides an amazing view of Bangkok’s impressive skyline:
Where to stay
We stayed at Hotel Icon, located on SukhumvitSoi 2. The hotel was a 25-minute drive from Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) and Don Mueang International Airport (DMK). Upon arrival the hotel provided us with refreshing drinks (made from butterfly pea flower) before leading us up to our room. We booked through Hotels.com and found the rates to be very affordable- around £133 for 3 nights. The rooms are clean, airy and all contain fast Wi-fi. The hotel also has a free gym, a pool and a lounge area (perfect for eating takeout food from Usman’s!) with beautiful views.
Follow Shalina’s travels through Asia as she visits Chiang Mai, Kuala Lumpur and Penang, in upcoming posts!
Inspired to visit Thailand? Check out why Phuket is a must-visit on your itinerary.