Another fear of the unknown was running through my mind as we were about to cross the border of Cambodia and Thailand. Maybe this is normal for a first-timer who heard about many border-crossing horror stories. Even so, I was happy to have written off another item in my things-to-do-in-life list.
Crossing these borders was smooth and easy. You can go straight to the immigration as soon as you get off the bus. I didn’t see any sign leading to the immigration office, I just followed the group of tourists who were walking to a certain direction, which was just a few steps away from the bus stop. After my passport was stamped, I walked to the other side of the path to avoid talking to anyone. It was a few minutes-walk from Cambodia Immigration to Thailand, roughly 100 meters. There are several signage that lead the way to the Thai Immigration. The queue was quite long, but I didn’t worry because I’m with the same group of tourists traveling to Bangkok.
As I fell in line I heard 2 people in front of me speaking in Tagalog. Without hesitation, I greeted them and instantly found new friends. Fortunately, we rode the same van vehicle going to the capital. Instantly, I found someone to talk to during our long land travel.
I read that travel time from Siem Reap to Bangkok is less than 10 hours, but in our case, we traveled for over 13 hours due to following reasons:
First, we waited for more than two hours for the van that would bring us to Bangkok from the border. This is one of the disadvantages when taking the connecting bus-van. Initially, I paid for $25 to ride a direct bus, which didn’t happen.
(Check this article on how to avoid scams in Siem Reap)
Second, it was the birthday week of the King. In line with this, a cycling event called, “Bike for Dad” was held, which required some major roads in Bangkok to be closed. This resulted to a heavy traffic.
Getting lost in Bangkok
We arrived in Bangkok at 9:00 p.m., the van dropped us off somewhere in Khao San Road. The first thing that greeted me was a street party along “The World’s Best City” for four consecutive years by Travel + leisure Magazine. People were drinking and dancing on the street, many locals were selling different stuff. The energy was high and lively, reminiscent of Malate in its heyday — admittedly, I didn’t experience the Malate scene in its glorious days.
I expected to unload at the Mo Chit Bus terminal and then take the sky train to Sukhumvit, because I read from some blogs that that’s where the van service from the border drop off their passengers. This is not what happened, which made me think our van service was driving illegally, or what we call in the Philippines as “colorum.” This led to another challenge: finding my way to the hostel. Taking a taxi that would drive me directly to the hostel is obviously the best option, however, as a budget traveler, I find it to be expensive.
Good thing I was with Anj and Madonna, the Filipinos that I met in the Thai Immigration. We asked for directions on how to get to Sukhumvit, which proved to be a difficult task because of the language barrier. You see, unlike the Cambodians where people can converse in English, the Thais are a little behind when it comes to their English skills. I couldn’t help but compare them with my countrymen because in The Philippines, even our street vendors can speak in English. After realizing that our attempts at conversing wasn’t getting us anywhere, we decided to just take a cab. I was the first one to be dropped off at Hua Lamphong MRT station then the two proceeded to their place. This setup by the way, was difficult to explain to the taxi driver.
I was amazed when I arrived at the MRT station, all escalators are working, and the place is clean and spacious. It was hard not to compare their train station with what we have in Manila. In truth, we are totally left behind. For one, Thais are disciplined when it comes to riding the train; they fall in line and wait for the passengers to unload first before getting inside the train. In fact, I never saw a single incident of people pushing each other. Also, the train arrives on time and the wagon never gets crowded. These are the things that I hope we practice here in our country.
I looked for Analog Hostel using a map, showed it to people as I asked for directions. This was the first time that I used an actual map, the first time I felt lost in a city and actually had fun. Some people directed me somewhere that made me more confused. Indeed, communication was hard, but I was thankful still that they were willing to help.
Where to stay in Bangkok?
I was already feeling exhausted from the long drive and hours of walking, when finally I found the Analog Hostel. It’s approximately a 10-minute walk from Sukhumvit-MRT station and near the Holiday Inn Hotel. By far, this is the coolest hostel I’d ever been. Check-in was easy and the staff are accommodating and friendly. This is the first time I stayed in a hostel where footwear is not allowed. I booked a mixed dorm-type room for less than $12/night. The bed was comfortable, A C was working fine, and cleanliness was never an issue in the entire property.
You are allowed to heat food in the common kitchen area, place your leftovers inside the refrigerator, use dining utensils, and grab some complementary snacks. The common area on the second floor is where most of the backpackers hang out. There you can meet new friends or hear them share their travel stories. This was where I celebrated my 25th birthday with people I just met, which an experience like no other.
Where to eat and what to do in Bangkok?
The next day, I felt more comfortable walking around the city of angels. As long as you have the map and are familiar with the MRT and Sky train stations you will never get lost in the city. If I was impressed to see the MRT, I think I was astonished when I saw the Sky train. I’ve been traveling for more than 4 years using our trains, so I guess you really can’t blame me for comparing Thailand’s train system with the Philippine train system. I don’t even need to mention all of my horror stories in our own MRT. After seeing how efficient and effective the train system in Bangkok is, it made me sad that I and the rest of the Filipino commuters are being treated like second-class citizens in our country.
If The Philippines is the home of the impressive century old churches, Thailand, on the other hand, is the home of majestic temples. And the grandest of them all is the “Grand Palace.” The best way to visit it is by riding Chao Phraya Express Boat. Take the Skytrain and drop off at Saphan Taksin station, then take the express boat and unload at Station 9. Entrance fee at the Grand Palace is THB500. Below are some of my favorite photos along my river tour and inside the palace complex.
I can’t recommend any restaurant in Bangkok because I only tried one inside the terminal 21 mall. But I could guarantee that their street food is the best I’ve ever tasted. The best place is outside express boat station 8 near Wat Pho.
Aside from the impressive temples and flavorful food, Bangkok is also known as a shopping haven. Whether you are looking for a cheap, bargain or glamorous and branded items. Bangkok can accommodate your taste, budget, and style. Shopaholic will surely love this place.
Initially, I planned to visit Pratunam in the morning then Chatuchak Weekend Market at night; this didn’t go exactly as I planned. After 5 hours of walking, haggling, and shopping around Pratunam market and Platinum mall, I felt so drained that I decided not to see Chatuchak at night. I know that Chatuchak is a must-see place in Bangkok considering the fact that it is the biggest market. My highschool friend, Aliyah, said (who I met in Thailand after more than 11 years) that “You’ve never been to Bangkok if you didn’t visit Chatuchak.” Well, Aliyah, maybe next time! Chatuchak is another reason to revisit aside from the fact that I badly miss authentic Thai food.
To visit Pratunam, take the sky train and drop off at Ratchathewi Station. Then walk along Phetchaburi road, all the way to the Platinum Mall. Another option is to go to Chit Lom Station then have a side trip at Central World. Walk along Ratchadamri road all the way to Phetchaburi road.
I didn’t shop at Terminal 21, but it’s near the place where I stayed so it’s where I usually went whenever I had free time. If there’s one thing I loved about this mall, it’s definitely the concept of every floor, which changes from one culture to another. Someone said that when you visit this mall, you’d be amazed to see their restrooms. It sounded funny but it was true. Because each floor is of different theme, even the restrooms follow those themes. This is the only time in my life I visited all of the restrooms in a mall and had fun doing it. Below are some of my favorite restroom photos;
As a member of LGBT community, I heard a lot of stories about how lively the gay scene and night life in Bangkok are. I was afraid to visit the more “intense” gay places because, hello, I don’t even go to those kind of places in my own country. Luckily, I met a gay Filipino in Bangkok who invited me to visit a bar that night. We went to DJ Station in Silom; entrance fee is THB350 with free 2 drinks. They told me it’s like O-Bar in Manila, but I can’t tell for sure because I haven’t been there.
There is a mini cabaret show before midnight, which I had fun watching. After the show, the place gets darker, people became more energetic, music was louder and lively, then everyone started to party. It was indeed a crazy night where the first floor easily got packed with people from all over the world.
To visit DJ Station, take the MRT then take off at the Silom Station. The landmark is a Burger King. Don’t forget to bring your passport so you could get in.
Everything comes to an end and that’s the truth about traveling. Until my last hours in Bangkok, this place didn’t disappoint me. From Sukhumvit to Suvarnabhumi Aiport, which is approximately 24 km, I rode the MRT from Sukhumvit and took off at Phetchaburi Station. From there, I ride the Bangkok Airport link (Makasan Station) and in less than an hour I reached the Airport without any hassle. I recommend leaving your place at least 3 hours before your flight. I almost missed my flight because I didn’t expect the high volume of people flying out. I even fell in line for almost an hour including the one with immigration plus the ticketing station is far from the terminal gate.
“Same-same but different,” is what I normally heard from Thai when they learn that I’m a Filipino. It means that there are many similarities between these two countries; physically, we look the same, some roads of Bangkok made me feel like I was just in Manila including the traffic, Filipinos and Thais are both hospitable and sweet, both countries have a lot of shopping malls, and Thailand was once considered as a third world country. But there are also many differences, like the fact that Thai people are more disciplined than the pinoys, they have better transportation system, better airport, cleaner and safer roads.
As I head back to Manila, I found myself pondering inside the plane on why the Filipinos cannot do the simple things that made Thailand better. Why can’t we be just like them? Why can’t we fix our transportation system? Why don’t we have a better airport? Why can’t we have a cleaner and safer roads? Why we can’t have the kind of discipline that the Thais possess? I’m not an economist, but I believe that we were a more competitive country than Thailand many years ago. If we would base it from the GDP per capital during the 50’s, we were way ahead of Thailand, but now we are left behind.
I’m still hopeful that we will have a better country in the future. If our neighboring ASEAN country can do it, I’m positive that we can also do it. I admire how progressive Thailand is today and hoping that the current growth of our country will continue. I can’t wait to see a better Manila, a better Philippines, still proud of my country, but I love how amazing Thailand is.