This article was first published on 2 June 2018, 9:40AM PST; updated on 2 June 2019, 3:04PM PST and 6 July 2023, 2:45AM PST.
In 2018, I had a four-night stay in Bangkok as I attended an Asia-Pacific Conference on 22-24 May 2018. In 2019, I stayed in Bangkok for two days but I was able to visit Pattaya and Ayutthaya. In 2023, my first visit after pandemic (it was supposed to be an annual visit), I was with family (with my brother’s girlfriend) and went back to my favorite places and did activities I was not able to do during my first visit.
You may want to watch my video detailing our Thailand 2023 adventure:
Table of Contents
In 2018, I came from Cambodia to enter Thailand. I arrived at Poipet, Cambodia around 9AM. The crew of the travel agency offloaded our things. I brought my things inside the ‘Departure’ building. I completed the necessary information needed on the departure card stapled in my passport when I entered Phnom Penh from Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam and joined the queue. Tip: Bring a pen during your trip, this will save you a lot. We should not be paying anything but the immigration officer asked us to pay KHR1,000. I don’t have KHR at that time, I paid in USD – he accepted it. After taking prints of my ten fingers, the immigration officer stamped my passport. I continued walking until I entered the arrival area of Thailand.
Thailand currently offers visa-free travel to nationals of 57 countries, including the Philippines. Philippine passport holders are visa-exempt in Thailand up to 30 days. However, the exemption is granted at most twice in a calendar year when entering overland or via a sea border but there is no limitation when entering by air.
Before going upstairs to get my passport stamp, the guard gave me an arrival and departure card. I completed it and joined the queue. After the immigration process, I followed the signs where buses and vans wait for passengers. Tip: Look for the crew of the travel agency that brought you to the border. From Poipet, you will see unfamiliar faces in Ayanpratet, Thailand. Just talk to the crew who has the same uniform with the crew from Poipet. You will not get lost. The crew guided and brought me to their office where other passengers of the bus from Phnom Penh wait.
From the departure area in Poipet to the arrival area of Ayanpratet, it took me an hour and a half to complete the process. The travel agency gave us time for lunch and we left Ayanpratet for Bangkok at 11AM. Th normal travel time going to Bangkok is 4 hours. We had two stops on our way to Bangkok. The bus that took as to Poipet was not the one that brought us to Bangkok – they took us to the capital of Thailand with a VVIP van instead.
Airport to the City
The immigration at the airport is more hassle-free. From the airport, I took a taxi going to my hotel. There is a fixed price of THB900 from airport to Bangkok but the driver only asked me to pay THB600, maybe my hotel is just near Khao San Road.
Compared to its nearby countries, Thailand has a left-hand traffic which means to say that people drive on the left side of the road. Why is Thailand uses this kind of traffic if this is the only Southeast Asian nation to never have been colonized by any Western power? Before, people drove on the left side. In the 20th century, communist revolutions encouraged some countries to switch to right-hand drive. In the case of Thailand, they did not follow most of the Asian countries. They considered driving on the left side as habitual – after all, this was the way mostly done for a long time.
What you need to know about Thailand
- Thailand is bordered to the north by Myanmar and Laos, to the east by Laos and Cambodia, to the south by the Malaysia
- The country has always been called Mueang Thai by its citizens
- By outsiders prior to 1949, it was usually known by the exonym Siam (pronounced as Sayam)
- Through the 18th and 19th centuries, Siam faced pressure from France and the United Kingdom, including forced concessions of territory, but it remained the only Southeast Asian country to avoid direct Western rule
- Following a bloodless revolution in 1932, Siam became a constitutional monarchy and changed its official name to “Thailand”
- According to George Cœdès, the word Thai means “free man” in the Thai language
- The politics of Thailand is conducted within the framework of a constitutional monarchy, whereby the Prime Minister is the head of government and a hereditary monarch is head of state
- Males over the age of 21, who have not gone through reserve training of the Territorial Defence Student, are given the option of volunteering for the armed forces, or participating in the random draft
- The centre of the country is dominated by the predominantly flat Chao Phraya river valley
- Rainy season in Thailand starts in mid-May and ends in mid-October
- The elephant is Thailand’s national symbol
- There are more than 20,000 public free WiFi hotspots
- The official language of Thailand is Thai, a Tai–Kadai language closely related to Lao, Shan in Myanmar
- Thailand’s prevalent religion is Theravada Buddhism, which is an integral part of Thai identity and culture
- Islam is concentrated mostly in the country’s southernmost provinces
- Thai culture has been shaped by many influences, including Indian, Lao, Burmese, Cambodian, and Chinese
- Muay Thai is a native form of kickboxing and Thailand’s signature sport
- Currency is Thai Baht (THB)
- There are also two specially governed districts: the capital Bangkok (Krung Thep Maha Nakhon) and Pattaya
- Asian tourists primarily visit Thailand for Bangkok and the historical, natural, and cultural sights in its vicinity
- Many Western tourists not only visit Bangkok, but also the southern beaches and islands
What you need to know about Bangkok
- It is known in Thai as Krung Thep Maha Nakhon
- Towards the north of the city, and easily reached by skytrain or underground, is the Chatuchak Weekend Market
- The night markets in the Silom area and on Khaosan Road are mainly tourist-oriented, selling items such as T-shirts, handicrafts, counterfeit watches and sunglasses
- Taling Chan Floating Market is among the well-known markets in Bangkok
- Yaowarat is known for its shops as well as street-side food stalls and restaurants
- Bangkok has acquired the nickname “Sin City of Asia” for its level of sex tourism
- Older public transport systems include an extensive bus network and boat services which still operate on the Chao Phraya and two canals
- Taxis appear in the form of cars, motorcycles, and “tuk-tuk” auto rickshaws
- With nearly every part of Bangkok you would want to visit having a train station, travel could not be simpler with Skytrain
What you need to know about Pattaya
- Resort city
- Administered under a special autonomous system since 1978
- Popular activities include golf and go-kart racing
What you need to know about Ayutthaya
- In the 16th century, it was described by foreign traders as one of the biggest and wealthiest cities in the East
- Was a Siamese kingdom that existed from 1350 to 1767
Things to do in Bangkok
Compared to Vietnam and Cambodia, the public highways in Thailand is far better. But when you ask me about the traffic – it’s almost the same with Manila, it’s heavy.
Tip: Whatever country you go, the best deal of foreign exchange is in banks. Our hotel in 2018 is Shangri-La. In Shangri-La Hotel where our conference held, I got a room with a view from Chao Phraya river. Shangri-La is one of the prime hotels in Thailand. I was not able to have a day tour in Bangkok as our Data and Analytics masterclass runs from 8AM to 5:30PM. I only had a nightlife during my stay.
First night – I had a dinner at Golden Mango Cafe in Silom. Of course, I did not fail to check two of three in my food bucketlist. I tried Pad thai and for dessert, sticky rice with mango and coconut milk. These are two dishes in Thailand commonly ordered by tourists. Pad thai is one of the locals’ favorites. I also tried their Tom Yum soup and chicken wings. As the name implies, the cafe has a lot of mango drinks, meals and dessert to choose from. For those who are looking for an Instagram-worthy place, this is for you. The photographs and paintings displayed in inside the cafe blends with the whole ambiance. Price ranges from THB200-400 for main dishes, while THB80-150 for beverages.
During the first day of our masterclass, we met new-found friends from KPMG Hanoi, KPMG Ho Chi Minh and KPMG Phnom Penh. I was planning to go to Nong Nooch Tropical Garden and floating market after our masterclass but they invited us for a dinner. Thanks to our friends for bringing us to Asiatique The Riverfront. We had a ten-minute walk from Shangri-La Hotel to Saphan Taksin BTS station. Asiatique operates a free shuttle boat service between around 4PM and 11PM from Sathorn pier, beneath BTS Saphan Taksin station. The night market has over 1,500 boutiques and restaurants. It did not fail to serve as a one-stop shop serving as a mall, night market, food park and an entertainment hub to its visitors. Goods here are affordable. I was able to buy three elephant pants for THB300. Asiatique is open until midnight.
We had a dinner at Fire & Dine Bar n’ Restaurant. As the name suggests, this is a bar with acoustic performances everynight. It offers Thai cuisine. You will be satisfied with the amount of serving and Instagram-worthy plating. Price ranges from THB150-400.
In 2023, I went back there with my family and tried Peppery Thai Bistro. I was surprised, they have variety of options. Plus, my favorite is their wide range of beverages.
At Asiatique, I was able to check my third in my food bucketlist – pink milk. I have been searching for this pink milk (I’ve seen this in my favorite Thai series) – Love Milk food truck did not fail me. I found this food truck near the rides.
During the second day of our masterclass, I was planning to visit world-famous temples but we finished late so I decided to go to Chinatown (Yaowarat). Going there from the hotel with GrabCar costs THB110 (20-minute drive). It is a place with an endless choices of street stalls and restaurants. Before having a dinner, I bought some ‘pasalubong’. With THB500, I was able to buy packed squids, packed seaweeds, mango candies and a box of crepes. I was able to try the famous Nai Ek Roll Noodle House. With THB150, you can buy a bowl of roll noodles, pork spareribs stew with rice and a Chrysanthemum drink. Most tourists and locals visit this noodle house.
Third day – I really planned to go to Siam City Park to have a Thai massage there. Before travelling to Vietnam, I bought a voucher from Let’s Relax Spa Treatments via Klook for an herbal compress Thai massage. Tip: The said massage parlor is popular in Bangkok. You need to reserve a slot as early as one day before the day of your scheduled session. Yes, I failed to reserve a slot there. So I look for other massage centre near the place. Thanks to Bossotel Spa for a relaxing and affordable traditional Thai massage (I paid THB400. This is THB500 cheaper than Let’s Relax Spa). This is near Shangri-La Hotel (two-minute walk).
But before that massage session, had a dinner at Centralworld where a number of Thai food stalls can be found. You’ll get surprised with the affordable price and the amount of serving. According to our Cambodian friend, this is where the king of Thailand shops. Centralworld sits beside the other high-end shopper’s paradise like Siam Paragon, which houses many different shops for high-end fashion designers and Southeast Asia’s largest aquarium.
In 2023, I didn’t expect that we’d be able to meet Rossarin Queen of Squid herself at Centralworld Street Food Market.
I managed to visit the following tourist destinations in Bangkok:
Grand Palace – a huge complex of Thai temples and historical buildings. You’ll find here the Wat Phra Kaew, known in English as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and the Chakri Maha Prasat hall. Entrance fee for non-Thais is THB500. If you’re staying along the Riverside, take the Chao Phraya Express Boat to Tha Chang (N9) pier, then walk through the riverside market to the Grand Palace.
Wat Pho – located within walking distance of the Grand Palace. This temple is open from 8AM to 6PM, with a THB100 entrance fee. It is next to the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew in the Rattanakosin district of Bangkok. Wat Pho’s most famous feature is the Reclining Buddhawhich is one of Thailand’s largest Buddha images.
Wat Arun (The Temple of Dawn) – take a THB3 cross-river ferry from Tha Tien (N8) pier, near Wat Pho. There’s a THB50 entrance fee.
Chatuchak Weekend Market – home to more than 8,000 market stalls. My mom and my brother really enjoyed shopping. I felt like my mom will go here every year just to do shopping. LOL. Tip: Prepare your budget and bring cash. Vendors here don’t usually accept debit/credit cards.
With my family, in 2023, we explored Thailand’s iconic floating market, Damnoen Saduak Floating Market and got immersed in the authentic local life. Damnoen Saduak is the biggest and most famous floating market. We were welcomed with a fresh milk pudding. Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is actually located in Ratchaburi province, 80 kilometers west of Bangkok and borders Myanmar to the west.
We also didn’t miss to visit Maeklong Railway Market, which offers a unique shopping experience that interrupted by a train regularly running right through the market space. We were able to watch the train running right through the middle of the market. You would notice some red lines. It means that when the train is running, you should be inside the red line. When they hear the train, vendors would start fixing their stores, but not totally closing them.
The best thing to do here is to buy some stuff from the local vendors. In that way, you are able to support them. At the floating market, a bought a hand-made notebook and we tried some food like Thai pancake, the infamous coconut ice cream and I was able to prepare my own Thai milk tea. My brother is really fond of supporting locals so we bought a painting from Nas, a local artist there. We were supposed to ask him to paint a family picture but we had a limited time. We promised that we will go back there or bring Nas home to paint for our family portrait.
We had our lunch at Bogie Cafe & Bistro Maeklong Railway Market. It offers some of the best local dishes. Here, we also tried mango sticky rice.
In 2023, I booked a family room at Maitria Mode Sukhumvit 15 Bangkok – A Chatrium Collection. For four nights, it cost me only THB23,444. The staff and receptionists were really helpful when I asked them to prepare a surprise for my mom (for the Mother’s Day), my dad and my brother (for their birthday).
How we ended our almost two weeks of stay in Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand? A Chao Phraya Princess cruise! For two hours, we were able to see those places we visited – Bangkok’s most famous and sacred landmarks from a scenic viewpoint. The dinner cruise features a grandiose buffet with Thai dishes, as well as a selection of international treats. Along with a live band to grace our dinner with throwback tunes and a dose of nostalgia, the Chao Phraya Princess Cruise provided an entertaining and memorable night.
Cruising time is 7:30pm, but you need to check in at starting 6:00pm to 7:00pm. The checkin counter is located at Sook Siam Zone (next to Naraya Shop) at the ground floor of Iconsiam. You can easily find the pier outside the mall. What to expect? Huge number of people! But definitely, you will enjoy it and it would be a night to remember!
Things to do in Pattaya
In 2019, straight from the airport, I checked in at Wild Orchid Villa in Bangkok, then went straight to Ekkamai to take my 7AM trip to Pattaya. I arrived there at 10AM. I didn’t know that the last stop is Pattaya beach. So I walked around the place. It was nice and many tourists are trying water activities there. After an hour, I got tired so I decided to go to our meet-up location. Our meet-up time is supposed to be 12:30PM. The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary team is really kind and helpful. They even picked me up to go to their office first. At 12:45PM, I was picked up by the driver and we talked about cultures and current news in the Philippines, Thailand and Cambodia.
I must say that this ethical elephant experience is the best adventure I ever had. At the first hour, we were briefed by the sanctuary’s keepers. After which, we fed the elephants. We also got a chance to have some good clean fun by taking a big mud spa with the elephants, and helped them wash off afterwards in the elephant swimming pool. I also learned how to make paper from an elephant poop.
I have two more best things about this team. I did not worry about taking pictures since I was a solo traveler then. The team has its own photographer. After the activities, we were treated to a delicious Thai cuisine.
There are two other elephant nature parks in Thailand which are located in Chiang Mai and Phuket.
During the briefing, I learned the following:
- Asian elephants are smaller than their African counterparts.
- Elephants eat a huge amount, needing to consume an average of 150kg of food each day just to survive.
- Asian elephants usually sleep for a mere 4 hours at night, and spend most of the rest of their time eating in order to satisfy their appetites.
- It is estimated that at the turn of the century, Asian elephants numbered approximately 100,000 in Thailand alone (and likely in the millions globally). Currently the worldwide population has decreased to around 30,000. Of these, only 2500-4000 live in Thailand, and most of those live in captivity.
- Elephants are not designed to carry weight on their back. They have evolved to support a mass amount of weight suspended below their spine. Elephants spines are not like horses for instance.
In 2023, I went back there with my family. I realized when we were travelling from their office, we were taking a different route. I asked Nana whether they changed location. They did two years ago. They have now a bigger place. Previously, the place that the sanctuary was using was a rented place. Now, the sanctuary owns the bigger place. It’s always fulfilling to complete an ethical elephant program. I also did some different during that time. As part of my commitment to save the Planet and its People, I donated and will donate annually to The Care Project Foundation. It is a non-profit organization that is aimed at doing extracurricular activities that either directly benefits the plight of domestic elephants, or, the communities where the elephants are being housed, i.e. schools, women empowerment programs, education program.
You may also want to include Nong Nooch Tropical Botanical Garden, a 500-acre botanical garden and tourist attraction in Chonburi Province. This is close to Pattaya and known as the largest botanical garden in South East Asia.
Temple run in Ayutthaya
From Bangkok, it took me less than two hours to get to Ayutthaya. In 1991, part of Ayutthaya Historical Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site under criteria III as an excellent witness to the period of development of a true national Thai art. A THB50 ticket would allow you to visit the entire park, plus one free temple – Wat Mahathat. The most photographed object here is the iconic head of a sandston Buddha image entwined in the roots of a tree. Please note that I am not posting any Buddha pictures here in my Indochina tour to respect the gods of these locals.
The ladies at the entrance offered me to buy a THB600 ticket that would allow me to enter all temples within the park but I did not get it as I only visited three popular temples in the place.
Locals say that Wat Phra Si Sanphet was the grandest and most beautiful temple in the capital and it served as a model for Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok.
Other temples include:
- Wat Chai Watthanaram
- Wat Phanan Choeng
- Wat Ratchaburana
- Wat Lokaya Sutharam
You may also watch my 2019 video here:
For a detailed budget and suggested itinerary, visit my Indochina Tour Series 1 main page.
About the Author
PJ is a CPA, writer, storyteller, environment and youth advocate. As a writer, his articles on national development were published in a Spanish newspaper and local news network Rappler. As a storyteller and environment advocate, his documentary films on mining and environment were featured by ABS-CBN News and GMA News. He launched his career as a CPA at KPMG in the Philippines in late 2015. He started his professional journey as an external auditor of a global workspace provider (the largest audit client of KPMG in the Philippines), global bank, leading MFCG in the Philippines and a number of shared service centres. As an auditor, his team won the KPMG Asia-Pacific Data & Analytics Challenge and coached the Philippine team that placed third to the KPMG GlobalRunner Cup. More than two years later, he led KPMG in the Philippines’ Network of Audit Innovators and Data & Analytics Champions and its academic arm, while serving as a member of the KPMG Asia-Pacific Audit Digital Transformation Workstream. He served as a member of the Audit Methodology Group and Root Cause Analysis Team of KPMG in the Philippines. He was a regular training facilitator of KPMG on audit methodology, innovation, data and analytics, professional standards and regulatory updates. He also served as a coach for newly promoted supervisors. PJ was also the Firm’s System of Quality Management Implementation Manager and a Workforce of the Future Champion. He was also a Sampling Specialist of the Firm. In 2019, PJ was a member of the Philippine Institute of Certified Public Accountants (PICPA)’s Technical Working Group on Audit Methodology. PJ led in developing some of the innovative solutions of KPMG in the Philippines. Above all, PJ is a people investor. He invests on people who have potential and talents. That makes him a coach and mentor to some young professionals in the profession and served as a People Committee member of KPMG in the Philippines. He leads advocacy projects that help communities. He produces vlogs thru his YouTube channel, PJspirations which features stories of different individuals. As a volunteer, he is the Academic Master and Head Coach of PREMIER International Learning and Development Center, which provides coaching, mentoring, training and learning programs and platforms that promote growth and development in every individual’s life and career. He is also with the Middle East and Caspian regions of KPMG as a member of its Professional Practice group and Audit L&D for the Saudi Levant Cluster, providing subject matter knowledge and guidance on audit methodology, and learning and development programs to its offices. He is a proud Ilocano and a graduate of Northwestern University.
He also conducts #IamRemarkable sessions, a program initiated by Google for women and underrepresented groups.
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