Most people start their SEA backpacking adventure in Bangkok. Why? It’s got the best international flight connections on the SEA “mainland,” and if you’ve never been to Asia, Bangkok is a good place to get your bearings, as you are able to adjust to the chaotic streets while still enjoying a modern and English-speaking city.
Because I anticipate passing through Bangkok at least one more time on my journey, I chose not to sightsee this time around (especially since I planned to go on to Angkor Wat next, and I didn’t want to get templed out!). Instead, I did something strategically important to my trip:
You see, Bangkok is like your one-stop destination for everything you could ever need, both while traveling and just while living–and even things you don’t need but never thought that someone would sell. (Decorative snakes, anyone?)
You could, in all likelihood, arrive in SEA with nothing but a wallet full of money and buy everything you need for a typical backpacking trip, all the while spending far less than you would on the same supplies in the developed world. Backpack? Check. Hiking shoes? Check. “Kevin Clein” underwear? You got it.
In one of my crazy imaginings, I would love to do that someday: come to Bangkok with nothing, and purchase everything I need on arrival.
I had approximately 96% of the things I needed upon arriving in Bangkok, but there were a few things I still wanted: bikinis, and those ubiquitous “hippie pants” that backpackers in SEA seem to wear as one-half of their backpacker uniform (the other being denim cutoffs and a grungy tank top sporting some classy message like “I GOT HIGH IN VANG VIENG AND THE POLICE DIDN’T STOP ME”).
Let me tell you about those hippie pants. They’re heaven’s gift to SEA travelers. Costing $5-10 depending on your bargaining skills, you can do everything in them. Sleep in them. Throw them on after a swim. Wear them on long traveling days when you’re shuffling in between fiercely air-conditioned buses and the killer heat outside. Wear them in countries where you want to simply strip your skin off because it’s so damn humid.
I’m sure I will talk more about hippie pants in the future, but for now…
Where to shop (cheaply) in Bangkok:
Pratunam Market – Fantastic selection of everything if you dig a little. To get there, go to Ratchathewi BTS Station, walk west for 10-15 minutes until you start seeing stalls of market goods on the left side of the road. Enter the alleyways and start exploring.
MBK Centre – Basically an indoor street market, with the blessed addition of AC. Many backpacking goods can be found on the sixth (top) floor, although the quoted prices will be higher than the ones in outdoor markets. Located at the National Stadium BTS stop.
Khao San Road – Famous as the grungy backpacking street of Bangkok. You probably don’t want to stay here if you don’t want to be in a nonstop party scene. Getting here is trickier, since there are no metro or rail links. Best bet is by tuk-tuk, taxi, or local bus.
Chatuchak Weekend Market – The market to end all markets. Located at its own metro stop (Chatuchak Market, or Mo Chit BTS station), this market will probably be a bit too much if you’re only seeking a few specific things. However, if you’re a market fiend, you should get a kick out of wandering for hours here and seeing the many creative items for sale that merchants come up with.