I've lost count of how many times I've been to Bangkok. For the third time on this trip alone, I found myself back in the thriving city once more.
Whoever said all roads lead to Bangkok, really was right. What they didn't say, is that over time you will begin to see the craziness very differently.
When I visited Bangkok in May, I tried to see past the pollution, and the memories that clouded my mind from previous visits. I'd always seen it as a transit point with the grand palace and a few temples chucked in for the tourists.
That visit changed my view somewhat (see previous post: Same same, but not quite like this).
Then when I stopped off here for a few days in November, it almost felt like 'home'. I guess the familiarity and the availability of great food helped, particularly after what I had gotten used to over in Malaysian Borneo.
Visiting again towards the end of December, it's almost a different place. The high season prices hadn't deterred people and neither had the political demonstrations. It was busy.
We did a lot of exploring of Bangkok during our December visit, helped by the numerous geocaches placed here, which guided us to many lesser visited spots.
The most memorable was Bang Krachao in Phra Pradaeng district, perhaps better known as 'Bangkok's green lung' but still unknown to anyone who works in the tourist information office, and many of the residents of Bangkok it seems.
Unfortunately it isn't as unexplored as I would have liked, as there are a number of tour agencies offering tours here by bicycle. Looking at the prices, that start from around 3,500 baht (£65/US$107) I was intrigued at what was included that you couldn't cover off independently. Was it worth spending all this money?
Our budget wasn't going to stretch to one of these tours unless there was no other option, so I did a little research and we were soon enjoying the day exploring this hidden oasis by ourselves.
The weekend is the best time to visit, with a large floating market (only about 10% actually floating however). Otherwise take a picnic, as there are few places to eat there on a week day.
To get there from the city, it's necessary to pass through the Khlong Toei district. This is a bit of a slum area, but once at the pier there, you can look forward to the green that awaits just across the river.
A small boat (warning: you will potentially get a bit wet on it) costs just 10 baht per person each way.
There are bikes for rent at the pier when you arrive, but if they are all gone (as we found due to a late start) the botanical park also has them and is only a 1km walk.
The alternative is a motorbike taxi, which costs approx 30 baht across to the market (6km).
Ideally a bicycle is the best option to get around, so get there early.
There are no maps of the area available so prepare to get lost. We managed perfectly well with offline maps and GPS on my tablet, and by following the geocaches scattered around the area.
There are a few signs along the main road, but once you head down a board walk, mostly only Thai script can be found.
Places to visit:
Talad Bang Nampun (floating market) - very little of this market is actually floating, but the parts that are should be you first stop for a steaming bowl of noodle soup. The rest of the market is well worth a visit for items and goods you don't see in other Bangkok markets.
Siamese fighting fish gallery - this very well manicured garden around a lake is the setting of a rather odd gallery consisting of row upon row of glass jars with specimens of the famed Siamese fighting fish.
Si Nakhon Khuean Khan botanical park - areas of this park have seen better days but it's great to just wander or sit and relax. Bikes are permitted along the nicely maintained paths but there are some rougher areas which are more prone to swarms of mosquito's so take repellent if you plan to explore.
Herbal jos stick home stay - just a short walk from the east side of the floating market area, turn left at the end of the walkway at the bridge, head about 50m down the main road and you will see a board walk to your right signposted in Thai with a small sign directing towards the handmade incense home. You can try the art of making incense for yourself, as well as learn about the different herbs and plants used in the making of the different varieties that are also sold here.
Wat - nothing special about the temple located close to the market area, but it is a good spot to rent a bicycle from.
I will have to venture back sometime and search out the other recommended spots, including the eco friendly hotel (without walls) and its organic restaurant, perhaps even brave a bicycle tour.
From Baglamphu, this involves a ferry, BTS sky train, metro and taxi. The easiest route I found was:
Ferry to: Central/Saphan Taksin (15 baht)
BTS from Saphan Taksin to Sala Daeng (28 baht)
Metro to Khlong Toei (17 baht, advertised as 18?)
Taxi to Khlong Toei pier (approx 50 baht), it's worth having a map handy for this part as many taxi drivers don't know where it is. There's a wat by the same name located there so they may be more familiar with that. On Kasem Rat Road there a 7-eleven store on a corner just before a large archway to the temple. Head through this alley towards the temple and the pier is tucked away at the end.
Incidentally if you just get a taxi it will probably cost around the same depending on traffic. We went back that way and there was little traffic, and it cost 110 baht. Certainly worth it for more than one person.