Bangkok is city of 7-Elevens and tons and tons of people. Most people stop in Bangkok to enjoy the nightlife and as a home base for short trips outside of the city but still within Thailand. The main reason for my travel party and I to stop for a few nights in Bangkok was to get our Vietnam Visas. Unless you apply in your home country and know exactly what days you will be in Vietnam, getting a visa can be a little difficult. For most backpackers, all you know is your departure and return date to your country of record. For everything else, you go with the flow. You can have ideas of where you want to go and when, but a majority of the time, when you get to a destination, you barely even know what you are going to do the next day. Typically, you check into your hostel and meet fellow travelers, and from that, you get advice on what to see not only at your current location, but also in your future travels.
My friends and I had a set schedule. We knew exactly where we were going and when. I still considered us backpackers because we didn’t know our program of activities and we traveled on significant budgets, using public transportation, and traveling through and staying at hostels. Two of us had our visas, but Amy and I had also been working overseas for the past two years, so applying for a visa in Madagascar wasn’t an option.
We arrived in Bangkok after a little longer than expected overnight train from Chiang Mai. It wasn’t significantly late, but it did throw a wrench in our plans that we wanted to get our passport visas the day we arrived. By the time we got to the hostel, checked in, and delivered our luggage, the cut off for next day processing had already passed. We had factored in an extra day for official travel documents so we just rearranged our program of activities.
For Vietnam visas, you must apply at the Vietnam Embassy in Bangkok. If your next destination is Cambodia, you can apply in Phnom Penh, but if you are just passing through, you won’t have enough time to get it approved. Bangkok is your last chance. Getting to the Embassy can be a little confusing. If you are coming from the Phloen Chit BTS Station, it isn’t well marked. Make sure you take Exit 2 that will spit you out next to the Mahatun Plaza. Keep walking down that road and on the corner of Phloen Chit and Wireless is the Embassy. There is no sign hanging over the tourist entrance, but the door is protruding on the corner of the building, nearly perpendicular to the street, with blue walls on the interior. Honestly, follow the tourists and most likely the line. You won’t miss it.
As for prices, they vary. On multiple websites, it’s listed as follows:
1800 baht for four business days
2300 baht for next day
2800 baht for same day
I personally paid for next day and paid 3300 baht, so just make sure you have enough cash on you to pay a little extra. 5000 should be a safe amount.
Unless you are waiting at the Embassy first thing before they even open, you will most likely not get your passport back for same day processing. My friends and I arrived at 9am and barely made it for next day processing since the line was so long and next day processing requests have to be submitted before they close at 1030. Remember that while you might be on a go with the flow mental attitude, businesses in Thailand typically are not, so if you have a strict schedule you have to follow, don’t take chances with running late. You also have to leave your passport there for processing, you cannot leave the Bangkok area, but there is plenty to see in town.
Bangkok is home to the Grand Palace. The Grand Palace was the official residence of previous Kings until 1925, and since then has been preserved as a national monument. The size alone is a little overwhelming. The number of people is even more such. It doesn’t seem that the Palace has a capacity, but rather allows anyone that pays the admission price to come through the gates. If you’re looking for raw tourism, the Grand Palace is not the place to visit. However, if you’re looking for some of the most gorgeous buildings plated in gold and precious stones, then the Grand Palace is a place to visit. You can spend anywhere between a few hours to your entire day there, so plan accordingly. Make sure you visit the Temple of the Emerald Buddha to see just that, the Emerald Buddha. Cameras are not allowed within the temple, but you can still admire it while taking in the rest of the décor.
The Temple of the Emerald Buddha
The Emerald Buddha (sans flash) taken from outside, from the steps
Around the corner from the Grand Palace is Wat Pho. If you can, it would be productive to see them in the same day. Proximity. Wat Pho is where the 46 meter long Resting Buddha lies. No pun intended. You will have to take your shoes off to enter, so make sure you wear socks or are completely fine with walking around bare foot and possibly contracting Athlete’s Foot. There is something to see at every angle, intricate details even on the backside. All in all, an hour would be the right amount of time to allot to this visit.
If you are traveling to Cambodia, it is cheaper to travel on your own. By taking the train from Bangkok to Aranyaprathet, tuk-tuking to the border, and walking across, you save a considerable amount of money. We met people at the border who paid 3000 baht to be driven to Siem Riep. We paid 50 baht for the train and 100 baht for the tuk-tuk. There are two trains: 5:55am and 1:30pm. It should take a little over five and half hours to arrive at the border. But, as you will come to know, unless you are traveling in countries with great infrastructure and set transportation schedules, you are going to be late. A couple of hours late. If you plan to take the afternoon train, make sure you have all of your transportation mapped out. There’s nothing worse than arriving at the border, and not knowing how to get to your destination. Once you get into Cambodia, you have to find your own transportation to Siem Reap. This is the place to be careful about scams. A lot of people will promise to drive you for a certain amount of money and then not deliver you to where they were supposed to. Check with your hotel or hostel before leaving Bangkok. A majority will set up a private car to pick you up at the border, regardless of what time you arrive and drop you off at the hotel.
I really wish we had a little more time in Bangkok to enjoy the overpopulated city and see all of the sites. To enjoy the free museum at the end of the BTS line near the Vietnam Embassy. To see a few more temples. To find the large market. To maybe take a few days and travel down to Phuket, or out of Bangkok to another destination. But we had a schedule to keep to and the best of our trip was to come. Cambodia was the country we were all looking forward to, especially Angkor Wat. Two countries down, two to go.