Sleeper train #10- to Bangkok.
Day 9: 4/22
I made it; I didn’t leave the Chiang Mai railway station for 5 hours. I mostly sat in front of a fan. I had some food for lunch and then some Lays sweet basil chips. I also had tons of water because the fan wasn’t enough. We were able to board right around 17:00, scheduled to leave at 18:00. I charged my phone at the station, there’s a little charging station at platform 4, where sleeper train #10 parks. I was a little disappointed in the snack vendors at the station. I had eaten all my food and wanted to bring some with me. I had no time to stop during my frantic panic leading up to securing my train ticket. Once I had my ticket I was relieved but it was too late to leave the station.
After boarding and settling into my seat a food vendor came by with a menu. I ordered a 3-course meal. It all comes on a single tray and seems small but it’s definitely filling. I actually had one of my favorite meals, this trip- on board! I also had another coconut. This was all quite filling and came up to $8 USD. They also handed out free water. I had service while waiting for take off and shortly thereafter.
Around 20:30 the crew started setting up the beds. I booked a lower bed, they have more room and I wanted the window. The train lights stayed on the entire time. I kept my eye mask in an accessible place. Regardless, your luggage stays with you. I had no issues with my belongings and kept only my camera and purse in my bed with me. I slid my bigger bag under my seat and fell asleep with my curtain shut.
Heads up: I didn’t take many pictures this day.
Click here to jump to the markets & temples.
Shopping in Bangkok, Thailand
Bangkok is insane. I arrived around 07:00. I originally planned to take a bus to my hostel but my back was screaming. My shoulder is sore from my new tattoo but my whole upper back and mid-back were in serious pain. There were plenty of tuk tuk and taxi options but from what I’d noticed at the bus station they’ll overcharge at main transport hubs. So I used the Grab app to call a car.
I arrived to the cutest hostel I’ve had yet- Vivit Hostel. I cannot check-in until 14:00. I recieved the Wi-Fi information and went to sit in the living room and kinda organize my plans. I’m happy I did, I noticed my plane ticket to Phuket is completely wrong! I am suppose to leave the 24th, April and it’s for the 4th of May. Somehow I booked a plane to Phuket and Siem Reap for the same day from completely different places. It most likely had to do with refreshing the page multiple times. I hurriedly fixed that.
At the railway station yesterday I figured out shipping options for the things I’ve collected and also for the items I packed but haven’t used. I also only truly have 2 full days- almost 3 here. While waiting for my room I booked a tour for tomorrow; it will begin around 06:00 and ends around 14:00. Then I’ll visit the temples and grand palace on my last day. The Grand Palace closes at 15:00 and I don’t leave until 17:00 to depart for Phuket at 19:30.
Once I had everything figured out I could no longer stay put. I even had made plans for today. I changed in the bathroom and brushed my teeth; the bathrooms on the train were REALLY disgusting- the only downfall. I changed and headed to the nearest bus stop. I was confused as to where Google Maps directed me. Then I finally found a proper stop and sat. I watched many buses go in the circle never coming toward the stop. I gave in and grabbed a car. I don’t have enough time here to be sitting around. I’m in the car now- on my way.
False alarm, the first Grab took me to THE Jim Thompson store. I browsed a bit and because I truly like everything in it, now I HAVE to find the outlet. This was my intended destination from the start. I found the outlet and was a little disappointed in my options. The first 3 floors were all mainly silk fabrics for seamstresses or maybe custom pieces. I ended up on the 4th and 5th floor. The 4th floor was full of accessories and just a little clothes. I was looking for a makeup bag but the one I fell in love with wasnt 100% thai silk and that’s what I came for. Instead I found the cutest little purse for my friends daughter. Its tiny- for a toddler. Her daughter isn’t even 1 yet, this is perfect for her.
Then I went up to the 5th floor where they had home accents- like throws, and pillow covers as well as full bedding. I looked first for silk pillow cases for my mom. She swears by silk pillow cases for her hair. I don’t know about all that static- I also don’t know if its a breathable fabric for my face; I have cotton. They didn’t have too many options for full size bed pillow cases. None of which I could see her using on her bed. I spent forever finally finding myself 2 pillow covers for decorative throws. I’m not sure if I’ll use them together or one for my bed and one for my couch. I love them though: one is a solid and the other has an elephant design. The colors are very vibrant, they’ll definitely make a statement wherever they end up in my next home.
I finished my time there at the cafe. I had the most delicious lunch. It was the same meal I had on the train- only better. I still didn’t have the souvenirs I needed. Next stop, sky train to the mall. I chose to go to Siem Paragon to a store I read about: Exotic Thai. I recommend going here for souvenirs. The buying process is a bit different, there are individual shops within the store with sellers, it’s similar to an antique store with multiple auctioning vendors- like they have in Charleston, SC. The gifts are all authentic albeit over priced in comparison to what I’d found in Northern Thailand.
There are some amazing pieces here that you otherwise will not find in the street, floating, or train market. I picked up a few things and bought another children’s book. This one is interactive. Then I was… lost- at the least I was super confused. This mall is more complicated than the malls in Paris, France. I finally made my way out and then my Grab car had it’s own difficulties trying to pick me up. The driver cancelled after several attempts and way too many minutes. The next driver was prompt.
When I arrived back to my hostel I felt a bit defeated. I’d hoped to get most of my shopping done by like 14:00 and then head to a temple and the street market. I planned to check-in and shower and take my time getting ready. Bangkok was really a blur. Everything was so quick- except the traffic. I wasn’t home until about 19:00. Everything except the night market would be closed by now. I figured the night market would be just like the other ones I’d been to and I wasn’t feeling up for it. I showered and went to bed instead. I have another early morning.
Tour from Bangkok.
Day 10: 4/23
I don’t know how I did it, I woke up on time!! I woke up and got ready mostly in my bunk. Each individual bunk has a mirror and cabinet here; it’s so convenient and well designed. I left my hostel around 06:00 and made it perfectly in time to the meeting point. My hostel made me a bag breakfast to go and all I needed was water. I quickly bought a water near the tour meeting point and we left right after.
I was the only solo traveler. I don’t believe any of the other guests were from the US either. I was glad I booked this tour, it was well organized. I found this one on GetYourGuide.com, the local partner is listed as Bigcountry Vacation. We first stopped to get gas, have a bathroom break, and pick up snacks. Our guide informed us the restrooms otherwise wouldn’t be very clean at the markets. I spent those 15 minutes in the van eating my bag breakfast. The guides bought us all waters.
Salt Farming in Thailand
We drove about 30 more minutes to a salt farm. We saw farmers extracting salt from the water and moving it to a shelter in wheelbarrels. From this salt farm we hopped on the train- we get to ride the train into the Maeklong Railway market- this was thrilling! We made it after about 5 stops. I wasn’t sure we would have the opportunity to ride the train, the tour description says it is possible if the timing works. It didn’t hurt that the group was all on time but I think it really comes down to the traffic and getting out of Bangkok.
Maeklong Railway Market
We had about 30-40 minutes to shop the market. I was a little annoyed that we didn’t have much time. I had read complaints online about 30 minutes not being enough time. It was plenty of time for me to literally be a packed sardine. I wandered mostly behind the scenes because it was very hard to move along the tracks.
I went into the food market behind the tracks where all the locals were. I then walked back on the tracks and was able to witness the chaos of the train going through and the merchants packing and unpacking their stalls to make way.
I’m very happy to have seen the market and think it seems a bit touristy but is still, in my opinion, more catered to locals. I felt it hadn’t lost its authenticity at all. Maybe the secret to having the authentic experience is to get off the tracks and go in the back! We met back at the train station and walked a little way away to a street where our van was waiting.
— careful of pickpocketers, my water was stolen from my backpack—
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
Next stop, the floating market. We stopped at another bathroom on route. Our guide paid the toilet fee to the attendant (5 baht per person) for anyone who needed to go. I sat this one out again. Whoops! This was not just a bathroom break, we were boarding a boat! I read on the tour description that we could ride a boat at our own expense. This was a great surprise. A longboat was taking us to the floating market. This was so unexpected and fun. I was in the front seat since it was narrower and I was alone. I sat back taking pictures and taking in the moment.
We had a lot more time at this market. I was on a search for a few more specific things I had not found at the mall. I had previously decided to purchase a boat ride the night before and still wanted to. The long boat only brought us to the market it did not go through the canals with the stores. Upon arrival I paid 150 baht to ride in a farmers boat. There were 6 of us in this boat and this time I was in the back. I was right in front of the rower of the boat so I felt this was also a prime spot to sit. I happily took pictures and bartered with the shop keepers.
I later found out they still got the better end of the deal. Therefore, I still advise visiting the floating markets but first go to the night market– a lot of the goods are the same and the prices are already starting lower. I’d recommend doing the same tour I did if you’re not in Bangkok for long. If you’re there for a weekend there are better options. Otherwise, if you visit Damnoen Saduak floating market either bargain less than half- even half is 30% more than the street market. If I did it again, I’d just enjoy the ride, eat the food and take it all in.
I ended up buying a wooden bowl made from a coconut tree’s trunk, a hand painted wooden mask, and wooden string lights with red bulbs. I overspent- so much, but was fooled because I was cutting prices in half.
Thinking back I would never spend as much as I did in USD on these products but when you think you’ve found a unique item and you’re on a boat being rushed while simultaneously converting a foreign currency, it easily becomes overwhelming. I became a bit indecisive and had to make quick decisions. The business plan here is kind of genious, it’s really a sellers game.
It’s funny I’m giving this advice now because I read this same advice online. It’s because I had not been to the local markets in Bangkok yet and these goods were so different than those from the north. It was disadvantageous of me to skip the night market last night; I thought I wouldn’t find these products anywhere else.
When I arrived back I walked to the Unicorn Cafe- I read about this place online. On the way I found a hidden market in the alley. I was on, or near, Soi Silom 5- if you want an authentic market, GO HERE. The cafe wasn’t everything I was hoping for. This is one of those places that has a great website but needs an update in real life.
I didn’t have much cash after the market so I was on my way to find a cafe that would accept Mastercard. I found a cute place called A Clay Cafe. Unfortunately they didn’t accept cards. The menu looked good and if you have a few days you can make your own pottery here also; I saw some pieces made by others and it was really pretty but you’ll need to have 2 days at the cafe to make and then glaze.
Off to find another place. I ended up back at a place I had snapped a picture of as I walked to the unicorn cafe. This one is called Saucey; While the food was outstanding it was also very spicy. The guide from my tour earlier told us “if you don’t have chili or spicy food it’s not real thai food”- funny! She said thai people finish spicy food with sweet food. So, I decided I’d go full spicy and finish with something sweet. Afterall, I travel to: see, taste, and experience the authenticity of foreign places and cultures.
I regretted this decision almost immediately. My nose was running and I was 2 full sized drinks down and had like 10 snotty napkins to the left of me before I gave up. I didn’t finish it with a sweet treat, I couldn’t. It was getting late and I really wanted to see a temple that was a different direction from the others I was planning to visit tomorrow.
making a new friend in my hostel
When I arrived back to my hostel there was a german girl in the bed beneath me. She hadn’t gone out that day. I invited her to join me and told her my plans. I would check out the temple I wanted to see the first day and try to make it to the street market. I’m still on the hunt for a specific item for my nephew. I quickly showered and put on a pretty hideous but appropriate outfit.
Wat Ratchanatdaram Worawihan
She said she wanted to join- I didn’t have much time to waste. We walked to the temple and it was almost empty. I love having these beautiful places to myself. They’re much more enjoyable without a ton of people. This was Wat Ratchanatdaram Worawihan or Loha Prasat. This temple is away from the other main attractions yet very close to my hostel. I truly liked this hostel a lot- I highly recommend staying here if you are budget concious with high expectations on quality. They are super accommodating and boutique-y, they also seemed upscale in comparison to other hostels around the same price. Back to the temple…
This temple seems to go under renovation quite often as it was built in the mid-1800s. Getting inside may be hit or miss pending work. We were lucky they were only renovating a small portion on the outside. The German girl, Jette, and I climbed barefoot to every floor from the spiral staircase. This staircase was made beautifully with lacquered wood. It also wasn’t too narrow, I believe it kept the same size from top to bottom- it must’ve been newly constructed.
The temple was shrinking in size the higher we climbed while the views grew better and better. Not including the monks, I think we maybe only saw 4 people in total the entire time we were there. This was such a gorgeous temple- very well kept. I read they have entered into being marked a UNESCO heritage site and are waiting approval. The architecture is immaculate. Many people have named this one the iron castle. The name suits it well because of course how it looks but also becuase it was ordered to be built by a king.
We stayed here until right before it closed and then made our way back to the hostel. I had a late lunch from Saucey’s but Jette wanted to get food. While she was out I did laundry at the hostel and waited for her return. When she came back she was planning to do some other things so I packed my bags for my plane and then headed to the street market alone. It was about 20:00 by now. This time I used Grab for a bike. I hopped on the back of a motorcycle and went to Khao San night market.
Khao San Road
This place felt like a big city, in the cute part of Bangkok. Everyone was here. I was so happy I was able to find exactly what I was looking for- a singing bowl. I had seen many singing bowls in Chiang Mai but didn’t want it to break so I decided to wait until I came to Bangkok. Then I couldn’t find them anywhere! I found 1 shop about halfway down on the left and they had handmade singing bowls. The man there taught me how to make it “sing” so I can show my nephew. I negotiated the price to something reasonable. I initially wanted a green one because that’s his favorite color. The only green one on the stack was substantially bigger and much more expensive. I settled for a brown natural looking one, and picked one with the least amount of flaws.
This is when I noticed many of the other things I’d purchased at the floating market. I asked for prices and even before a negotiation they were 30% less than what I paid earlier. This is exactly why you should maybe go to Khao San Road first- lesson learned. I noticed a little green bowl on my way out and asked to swap them- perfect! I was so happy to have purchased all the souvenirs I was specifically searching for in Thailand.
There is just one more thing I am on the hunt for but I don’t know that it is specific to Thailand. I have found a few here already but they’re poorly made and cheap looking. This is something I will not settle on. When I arrived back to my room Jette was still awake. She decided she would join me on my last day in Bangkok. I planned to catch the sunrise over Wat Arun, check out the Grand Palace and Wat Pho. We both were scheduled to check-out from the hostel the next day. I let the front desk know we would be leaving early and asked for 2 bagged breakfasts. Breakfast is included with the room but my plans each day included a much earlier start, I found the hostel to be very accomodating to my plans.
Temples of Bangkok
Wat Arun at Sunrise
Day 11: 4/24
It took awhile to fall asleep lastnight. Luckily, I still woke up early. It was 05:10. Then Jette walked in, she already showered! I’m impressed. I hurriedly got ready. The other 2 girls from our room weren’t there so we turned on the lights making it a lot easier to gather our belongings. We would check-out now and leave the bags locked up in the office. I was so excited to start my day before sunrise.
The sun came up sooner than the scheduled time, so we missed dawn at Wat Arun but still witnessed the sunrise. It was breathtaking- I watched it while riding on the back of a motorcycle. We each individually grabbed a bike. Mine arrived to pick me up first yet hers beat mine to the temple. We took many pictures and saw lots of monks. We were pretty much the only people there except for one local guy. He might’ve even taken Jette’s bagged breakfast because she put it down and then when she went to get it later it wasn’t there.
We saw the man feeding birds a little before she went looking for her bag. Then she confronted him but he denied it. It was ok, really- I would just share mine. Then we caught an orange flag boat to head out for a ride and find a place for coffee. We decided not to purchase the tourist packages and it ended up being way less expensive. If you’re going to get on the boat 7 times then it is worth the cost for an all day pass otherwise it’s better to pay per ride.
The alleys of Bangkok
This is about the time I realized I left all my money at the hostel. I had not carried my backpack to the night market so I switched everything to my purse which I left packed in my bags- back in then office. Jette offered to cover me, and I knew I had plenty of cash back at the hostel so I agreed to let her cover my costs- I’d pay her back later.
We had such an amazing day wandering through local alleys which are all very live and active with foods and more. It’s quite amazing to just tuck back behind the touristy attractions or hotels. You’ll find a truly different experience behind the crowded streets if you purposely go off the beaten path.
I’m happy to have had a travel buddy for the day. I think she really enjoyed herself too. We went to a cute cafe she picked out. I had a smoothie and she had a breakfast burrito and frappe. Once we finished breakfast the temples were beginning to open. We took the boat back to Wat Arun. Boat rides on the orange flagged boat are 15 baht- about .50 cents USD. Then after exploring Wat Arun we hopped on the ferry that takes passengers straight across the Chao Phraya, it costs 4 baht per ride- .13 cents USD.
Wat Pho- reclining Buddha, Bangkok
We went to Wat Pho. This is where the famous reclining buddha is. It is HUGE. I showed Jette how to use the Kau Cim (Chinese fortune sticks). We both did this. I received a new fortune. Number 9. And she recieved one too, I forget which number but her fortune wasn’t the best- at least she didn’t like it much.
After this I wanted to make sure I did my Buddha offerings to complete my Sak Yant. I wanted to do it at Wat Arun but there was not an appropriate prayer place for tourists. Not a place to light incense and candles.
I saw a not so private place here and decided, if I must, we would come back to this spot. We continued wandering the grounds for a little longer. We found an empty prayer house while exploring the less crowed areas- behind the temple housing the reclining buddha. This little prayer room allowed for incense and candles. I went out to find a lighter and a guy graciously let me hold on to it while I went inside. Before I finished setting up and lighting my incense there was a crowd in the room.
I continued with my prayer, thinking- as I’d been instructed to, of what my sak yant meant and about my future. I thought about my intentions and interpretation of the message and prayers in the sak yant Monk Rung designed for me.
Then we went out to a pavillion in the shade to sit. We were so hot at this point and had been filling up on water all day. Wat Pho supplies water inside the gates to all paying guests. The temple grounds were getting crowded and it seemed like everywhere we went a crowd would follow. Including where we sat now- away from anything worth seeing. I sat under a pavillion charging my phone.
We decided to head to the palace. It was still only about 13:00. The Grand Palace sells its last ticket at 15:30 and closes at 16:30. By the time we made it around to the entrance of the gate it must’ve been 14:00. We met a german boy, well he’s French but he is living in Germany now. Jette talked to him for a bit and I took his picture for him. He carried a Nikon but says he doesnt practice with it much. Then we walked to the admission booth- 500 baht! I wanted to leave by 16:00 the latest and the palace was so large and the crowds were never ending. I decided I would skip the Palace after all.
Perhaps we should have came here first at opening and then to Wat Pho and Arun. I think Jette will go back and see it later but she was about as exhausted as me from the heat. She also hates crowds and was getting a bit irritated. We called a Grab… but it never got to us because there was some event going on. We ended up walking back and hanging out in the hostel living room while I prepared my package to ship home. She helped me stuff everything in and sat on my suitcase so I could zip it again! I also made sure to pay her from earlier.
Sending a package- Bangkok to USA
I purchased the largest box at the post office by the palace, it was 32 baht- about $1 USD. My box weighed 5kg- 11lbs, I chose to use the slow air shipping option. It would take a month to arrive to Maryland but I don’t have to worry about it falling off a boat. My total shipping cost not including the price of the box was about $60 USD. I’d been told by so many people it would be around $250- this is not true.
I made the difficult choice to send my hiking boots home. I brought them to hike in other countries but if it’s as hot as it is here I will not physically be able to. I also thought I was going to need them with the elephants and didn’t use them. I have been wearing them whenever I travel to new cities but they’re not super comfortable when I’m sitting. I ended up sending them home and all the souvenirs as well as 2 tops I wouldn’t be wearing again. After the post office I was off to the airport.
Next stop Phuket, pronounced like Booklet but with a P and drop the L.