Don't Strain Your Neck in Bangkok
Don't Strain Your Neck at the Grand Palace
Wandering around Wat Phra Kaew in the Grand Palace complex, it struck me that it is a good metaphor for Bangkok itself. Wat Phra Kaew is the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand, and is an impressive sight. So impressive in fact, its hard to know where to look.
There are six temples, statues and monuments, including the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, all packed together fairly tightly, with enough gold leaf to keep a Wag happy. Not having much room to breath is a fairly common theme in Bangkok.
After the Grand Palace complex, we nipped across the Chao Phrayer river to Wat Arun. Situated on its own, with some great views of the city from the top, the closest thing together here are the steps; not a place for the unsure footed.
Steep steps at Wat Arun
Khao San Road, and the adjacent Rambuttri Road, one of the main tourist hotspots, is packed to the brim with all the usual tourist attractions, as well as the odd cooked insect stand (they taste a bit crunchy and salty, but that's about it), but if you go very far, you'll notice the attractions disappear to be replaced by more authentic Thai shops and offices.
The food in Bangkok is great. While the street food may be a more authentic Thai experience, I'd certainly recommend trying a few restaurants. Eating out is inexpensive and the food available is excellent. I'd recommend May Kaidee, a brilliant vegetarian restaurant around the corner from the southern end of Khao San Road, and a trip down Rambuttri Road to devour some king prawns.
Vegetarian Penang Curry at May Kaidee
Getting around is fairly easy, as long as you don't get caught in one of the many traffic jams. Cabs are everywhere and cheap, and there are plenty of buses. I'd do your best to stay out of tuk-tuks. The worst problem no one ever mentions is that you are just the right height for the local buses to blow their exhausts straight into your face, and that will probably be on the way to a tailor or jewellery seller you don't want to go to (the tuk-tuk drivers get free petrol for taking you there, even if you don't buy anything).
There are a lot of people on the street in Bangkok who will do their best to rip you off. It seems like everyone gets a backhander somewhere along the line, be it from sending you to a certain travel agent, hotel or show. This gets pretty annoying, but it's quite hard to know if you're being ripped off when everything is so cheap. Shop around if you can and be prepared to walk away and you'll do better.
Bangkok is a great city, with enough culture, night-life and activities to keep pretty much anyone happy. You only need a few days there, and I'd advise planning your trip as much as you can to avoid wandering around in the baking heat. This isn't a city to take it easy, it's crowded and can be quite claustrophobic at times, but stay one step ahead of the game and you can pack in great food, ancient history and sightseeing for peanuts.