When I visited Bangkok in the summer of 2015, I felt like a foreigner there. Even though I was born in Thailand, I lived most of my life in the United States. I wasn’t aware of how many things work in Thailand. When I visited Bangkok, I saw the opportunity to improve myself by learning how to get around on my own. I challenged myself to only use public transports to visit beautiful landmarks of Bangkok.
Getting around the biggest city in Thailand may look simple with all the options of transport available. However, several small factors make it difficult. First, Thailand is usually very hot. Walking around is not fun. Second, Bangkok is very polluted. Breathing the air can make a person tired easily. And finally, the bus map is not easy to read. So I had to always ask around.
I chose to use the buses because they reach more places in Bangkok than the BTS (Skytrain). Plus, they’re old school and I can get lost with them. I feel more adventurous that way. Taxis are always an option if I get lost. But with the slow traffic in Bangkok, taxis can be very expensive.
The center of public transit in Bangkok is the Victory Monument. Regardless of where I am in Bangkok, I can find a bus to any surrounding places from the monument. The monument commemorates the victory in Franco-Thai War in 1941 which resulted in Thailand regaining lost territories from France in 1893. During World War Two, Thailand was neutral until 1941 when Japan asked Thailand for passage to invade British colonies nearby. Without much choice for resistance, Thailand joined the Axis for this reason and fought with France. Later in 1945, when the Allied won the war, France got its territories back from Thailand. So today, the monument does not really mean anything significant.
Even though the area is busy and very polluted, I enjoyed watching people and cars move by. Getting on the right bus is not hard from here. People are very helpful. There seems to always be someone to ask direction from. I even asked directions from a coffee cart shopkeeper, security guards, and police officers. Not once did they fail to answer my questions. I didn’t bother remembering the bus number during my brief visit there. But I remembered the person who I asked the directions from. Fortunately, he didn’t remember me.
When asking direction, the key is to know the name of the area where you are going. Most Thai people can barely speak English. But if you know where you’re going, they can at least give you the bus number and show you where to wait for a bus. Be careful with the area names. Some names can be confusingly similar. I once got on a wrong train to Nakhon Sawan instead of Nakhon Ratchasima,
There are several types of bus. Yellow and orange buses have air-conditioners. Red buses do not. Some red buses are free. The fare is always less than a US dollar on any bus for one ride.
Getting on the bus can be difficult. In Thailand, buses don’t stop unless someone waves his arm out to signal. I learned this the hard way and had to wait for another bus to pass. At the Victory Monument, this is not a problem since all buses stop there.
When getting on a bus, a purser will ask each new passenger where he is getting off at. This is to determine the fare. Since I didn’t know where the bus stops are, I often asked the pursers to alert me when the bus is approaching my stop. They are very attentive to my request and never forget to tell me when to get off. On the buses that have no purser (free red buses), the drivers helped me just as well. I really appreciate these people who genuinely care about their passengers.
Another way to know when to get off a bus is to use a GPS app to track my location. I’d highly recommend this for people do not speak Thai.
Most of the places I wanted to visit are around Sanam Luang in Phra Nakhon district. Many buses from the Victory Monument stop here since this area is a popular destination for both tourists and locals. This area is the historical center of Bangkok. There are several important places such as temples, universities, palaces and government offices.
The Grand Palace is probably the biggest tourist attraction in Sanam Luang. But I was mostly interested in the temples like Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha, located inside the same compound as the Grand Palace) and Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha). These temples are inspiring pieces of art. Every time I visit, I can’t help but imagine how much work the artists must have put into this.
Wat Phra Kaew, Temple of the Emerald Buddha
The temple is very beautiful and popular to tourists. This style, known as Rattanakosin, is relatively new compared to other temples of Thailand. I had a difficult time taking photos because there were too many tourists walking around. They weren’t the interesting kind of tourists who travel alone or in small groups. Most tourists are part of Asian group tours of about 20 people per group. They tend to stay together and block a large part of a view, making it very hard for me to capture the images of the temple. So I aimed my camera high to avoid having people in the photo.
I like shooting long exposure when the sky is moderately cloudy to show the motion of the clouds. Each picture takes a total of two to eight minutes to take depending on how fast the clouds move. I had to stand next to my camera, in the sun waiting. Had I brought an umbrella with me, I would be less tan.
I wish I could spend more time here. I will have to go back to explore the temple’s interior. If you plan to go, dress conservatively and prepare for the heat. There is a checkpoint at the entrance for bags.
Wat Pho, Temple of the Reclining Buddha
Located directly south of Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Pho is just as beautiful. Wat Pho is the oldest temple in Bangkok. For me, the highlight of this place is the stupas. They have incredible details on their surface. Their styles are also different from one another.
Wat Pho is the first public university in Thailand. Today, it is still the school of Thai traditional medicine and massage. I didn’t know this before visiting. It would have been nice to get an authentic Thai massage. There are many massage parlors in Thailand. But very few are actually beneficial.
I happened to visit this temple at dusk. As part of their daily practice, the monks gathered in the main hall to chant Buddha’s teaching. They allowed visitors inside. Many other smaller temples do not allow anyone but monks there.
Siriraj Medical Museum
Not too far from these temples is Chao Phraya River. It’s a major river that flows from the center of Thailand through Bangkok. There are many interesting shops along the river. At the other side of the river, there is Siriraj Hospital. It’s the oldest and largest hospital and medical school in Thailand. The hospital contains a medical museum of dead bodies that is available to the public. The foreigners like to call this the death museum. It attracts a lot of tourists as well as medical students and monks.
I visited the museum to remind myself that everyone must die in the future. In the first section, I saw bodies of babies who died soon after they were born due to birth defects. The sight was a little shocking to me. I feel thankful to come to this world without all the things that could have gone wrong. The other sections include human bones and organs of violent crimes’ victims. There is also a preserved body of a serial killer who eat children’s heart. The museum also contains a section about contagious diseases and how to prevent them.
Unfortunately, the museum prohibits photography. I don’t have any pictures. However, you always google “Siriraj Medical Museum” if you don’t need sleep today. Despite the disturbing sight, I learned a lot from the museum.
Conclusion and Tips
These are the places I visited during my short time in Bangkok. I will go back because there are still a lot of places I have not explore through Skytrain.
If you are going to explore Bangkok on public transport, I’d recommend getting a pollution mask and an umbrella. Bangkok’s air is very polluted, anyone who is not used to it will get tired quickly. A mask that filters out pollution will give you more energy to explore. The two temples open mostly the during the day. Chances are most you will visit when it’s really sunny. An umbrella will keep you cool while exploring the temples.
For riding buses, a map on a smartphone is a must if you are not familiar with Bangkok. I use HERE Maps. It allows users to mark a position for future reference easily. This is important because I needed to remember which exact spot where the buses stop.