First Impressions: Thailand, The Land Of Smiles

Continuing my First Impressions series, the new country this week is Thailand, known as the Land Of Smiles. And for a good reason too. Most everywhere I’ve explored the locals have greeted me with a smile, especially in some of the more rural and non-touristy areas.

However, once I started walking through the slums of Bangkok it was impossible not to notice that people stopped smiling and started staring at me with a “What the fuck?!?”-type expression. No one said anything, they just stopped what they were doing to stare. Only if I smiled first was I able to occasionally elicit a smile back.

Walking along the Bangkok railroad track slums. Definitely not the land of smiles here. Those people in the distance were gambling, some sort of game I’ve never seen before. It was quite clear they did not want me taking any photos though, unfortunately.

Of course few tourists ever wander through slums by themselves. But then again I’m not your traditional tourist, as readers of the HoliDaze will already know. Far from it. Nor am I your traditional travel blogger. However now is not the time for that discussion, we’re here to talk about Thailand.

Arriving In Thailand

The majority of international flight arrivals land at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok. Given Thailand’s status as one of the preeminent tourist destinations in Asia it should be no surprise that the airport is well-equipped to handle the flood of visitors. Immigration counters are numerous and the queue always moves quickly. In fact I had to wait longer to get a SIM card after passing through immigration than I did at immigration itself.

Welcome to Thailand, here is a free SIM card. What a great first impressions of Thailand, the Land of Smiles! Behold, the aptly named “Happy Tourist” SIM card from DTAC. Only 299 baht (around $9USD)

After purchasing the SIM card I took a 30-minute train right into the heart of Bangkok.

  UPDATE   SIM cards are now distributed for free at the immigration counters of most international Thai airports. If you don’t see a stack on the side, ask the officer.<

Transportation In Bangkok

Bangkok has a rail system set up from the airport into the heart of the city as well as several routes around the city and a ferry system. While the network is not as extensive as it could be, they are currently building more stations and have big plans for the future.

Routes of Bangkok BTS, subway, airport rail link, ferries and more -- useful for first time visitors to Bangkok, Thailand This map shows the Airport Rail Link, SkyTrain, MRT and BRT lines, as well as the piers along the ferry route. Save it for later πŸ˜‰

Like most major urban centers the BTS Skylink and MRT routes are fairly self-explanatory and easy to navigate, even for foreigners who speak not a word of Thai. The only possibly troublesome aspect could be deciding which exit to take from the station, as each one has many. For this I would recommend keeping track of your direction (N-S-E-W) and using that to select the most appropriate exit.

Of course besides the mass transit options there are also the infamous tuk-tuk drivers.

While these guys are smiling just as much as the other locals, it is a deceiving smile. Despite whatever pleasantries they might exchange with you or “help” they offer, do not be fooled. All they want is your money. If there is one type of person you cannot trust in Bangkok, well unfortunately it is the tuk-tuk driver. That is not to say every one of them is bad…just nearly every one. (While there is always an exception to the rule somewhere, I certainly have yet to find one here.)

A tuk-tuk ride is a requirement of everyone's first trip to Thailand, the Land of Smiles Regardless of their notoriety, no trip to Bangkok is complete without at least one ride in a tuk-tuk.

First Day In Bangkok

Whenever I arrive in a new country one of the first things I always do is just walk around for a solid day or two. No map, no itinerary, just walking and talking to random people on the road….and sampling the food of course. But before I get to the food, first comes the city itself.

Street vendors near the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand Street vendors outside of the Grand Palace in Bangkok

First Impressions of Thailand? Bangkok electrical wires are chaotic, to say the least. I'd hate to be an electrician in Thailand. Bangkok is an electrical city. Wires are everywhere, usually in a mess such as this. I’d hate to be an electrician here after a bad storm.

First Impressions of Thailand? There is random street food for sale everywhere. Just a random street in Bangkok a few minutes before it started raining. There is street food for sale everywhere in Thailand.

Giant Buddha statue in Bangkok, Thailand Looking up at a giant Buddha statue in one of the 416 Buddhist temples located in Bangkok

Buddhist temple and giant Buddha statue at Wat Khun Chan in Bangkok, Thailand Another photo from Wat Khun Chan temple

Cruising the backwaters Of Bangkok Cruising the backwaters of Bangkok

The responses I got to that tweet were quite interesting but no one gave me a real honest answer to my question. Do you know what that place is? If so then please leave a comment below with the answer. Thanks!

After five months of motorcycling around Indonesia this was the most walking I had done in a long time. In fact I dare say I did more walking here in one day than I did in this one weekend then in all five months in Indonesia. As such I was certainly working up an appetite!

Mmmmmm….That Delicious Thai Food

I’ve loved Thai food long before I ever visited Thailand. In fact as a few of my TBEX buddies may remember from our post-TBEX Thai feast, I’m that one crazy guy who tells the chef to make it “as spicy as possible.” In fact it’s a wonder I haven’t burned all my tastebuds off yet.

From iconic Thai dishes such as pad Thai and massaman curry to lesser known ones such as mu ruam luak chim (pork odds-and-ends boiled and served with fried garlic, spring onions, and of course a spicy dipping sauce), nothing about the food here disappoints!

Bangkok’s Street Food

First Impressions of Bangkok street food Bangkok has no shortage of street food. The only hard part is deciding what you want to eat.

First Impressions of Bangkok street food Anyone feel like chicken tonight?

Bangkok street butcher In Bangkok even the butchers and the meat markets operate on the sidewalks.

Bangkok street meat market Gloves…what are gloves?

First Impressions of the Bangkok street meat scene I mean who wouldn’t trust trash bags of meat sitting on the sidewalk? It’s Bangkok street meat baby…mmmmmm! πŸ˜‰

And now I leave you with what you all came here for: Food Porn!

Each of these delectable dishes cost between 35 and 40 baht ($1.10-$1.30USD). These photos were all taken with my handphone when I was more concerned with eating than how the photos turned out. So please forgive the quality.

Thai street food in Bangkok

Thai street food in Bangkok

Thai street food in Bangkok

Pad Thai street food in Bangkok And last but not least some Pad Thai

Yes, this city has definitely impressed me already. Plus I still have several more days to explore Bangkok before Mike (Nomadic Texan), Ryan (Lost Boy Memoirs) and Seattle (Seattle’s Travels) join me here — who knows what sort of excitement and adventures we will get ourselves into this week! πŸ˜‰ Expect much more coming soon!

  Have You Ever Been To Bangkok?

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About Derek Freal

"Some people eat, others try therapy. I travel." Β  Cultural enthusiast. Adrenaline junkie. Eater of strange foods. Chasing unique and offbeat adventures around the world since 2008. Derek loves going to new destinations where he does not speak a word of the local language and must communicate with hand gestures, or places where he is forced to squat awkwardly to poo -- supposedly its healthier and more efficient. For more information (about Derek, not squat pooing) including popular posts and videos, check out his bio.

26 thoughts on “First Impressions: Thailand, The Land Of Smiles”

  1. You weren’t even born, the last time I was in Bangkok (1976), I am guessing. I am so excited to see the changes and sample the food. I really hope we can meet up, even if for an hour or so! So glad that I am going back! I loved Bangkok the first time and this was before all the let’s say “nightclub” stuff started. It was nothing but an Asian city at that time and I was a young kid with eyes wide open! Can’t wait mi amigo!!!

    • Yup, that was nearly a decade before I was born. Well I have no doubt you’ll be impressed by the food, but you’re right some of the nightlife here has gotten wild and out of control. Or so I hear at least…haven’t investigated any of the claims people so often speak of yet.

      I will definitely see you here in a couple days buddy. Travel safe!

      • Derek,
        I appreciate the exposure you gave me in your post and I WILL see you in Bangkok and buy you several beers! Be safe and take it easy until we meet up. Can’t wait to meet Seattle and Ryan for the first time. So glad we met at #TBEX in Toronto!!!

    • Thanks brother! I’m walking one of Bangkok’s red light districts now being offered ping pong shows and “boom-boom” and everything else imaginable. Wish you were here! Since I’m alone every girl (well half are probably ladyboys, I can’t tell) is latching on to me. Having to use my phone as my excuse, just type-type-typing away on emails, tweets, FB, and texts…

    • Don’t know if it’s improved or not Cecille. All I know is that this city is nowhere near as stressful as Jakarta, and that’s where I had been spending a lot of my time the last 8 weeks. Only for 1-2 days each of those weeks, certainly not 8 weeks straight, but still even in those small doses that’s more than enough time to get sick of Jakarta…

    • You really think it’s a karaoke bar? Then why so many tweets back from Bangkok locals telling me not to go in there? And why the dark tinted door and the places next to it that looked identical? Do you really need four karaoke bars in a row? Honestly now I’m kind of curious to go and check it out firsthand myself. Although I will admit, last night I went to Patpong and got my first taste of the Bangkok nightlife. Definitely could see where you were coming from in your post on BKK.

      Walking the dual parallel alleys that make up Patpong while drinking a couple beers the offers were unavoidable. Everyone was promoting ping pong shows or banana acts or “boom-boom” or “free looks” but I didn’t feel like seeing that side of Bangkok. In the end though once my second beer was downed I decided to step into one of the clubs, just for the hell of it.

      There I passed the remainder of the night chatting with the hottest girl in the establishment — and yes, I am pretty damn positive she was really a girl. At least I hope so. Really hope so. We were pretty close and spent quite a long time talking, of course all the while with me paying for her drinks. She did ask a few times towards the end if I wanted to pay the bar fine and go with her to a hotel, but I kept making excuses. Had to finally end up leaving before I got too drunk and decided to take her up on the offer.

  2. Indeed, Thailand is the Land of Smiles! I have yet to step foot in vibrant Bangkok but from my trip to Krabi, I’m already in love with Thailand – its friendly people, colourful culture, tasty food and eye-catching sceneries. They just amaze me. πŸ˜€

    • Definitely share your same feelings Erika! Unsure if I will have time to make it to Krabi though I’ve heard good things. Actually have done very little research on this country and other than Chiang Mai have no idea what areas I will be visiting over these next few weeks. Guess that depends on what the others want to do…

  3. After living there for 7 months, I can say…the place is wild. My first impression was not a good one. As it is an urban jungle of filth, but it grows on you. So much going on. Great photos.

    • It can be a bit of an “urban jungle of filth” but since I came from Jakarta — a truly filthy city in every sense of the world except for the nightlife — I found it to be cleaner and with much less traffic. But you’re right, Bangkok grows on you fast. Initially I didn’t think I would like but WOW, was I wrong! So many places to explore too. I stayed as far away from the tourist path as I could. No KSR for me LOL πŸ˜‰

    • Was Thailand your first Asian country Cipri? Before this trip it was one of the few I had not visited. However with the exception of Singapore I dare say it is the most Westernized Asian country. Makes a great destination for new travelers to pop their Asia cherry but as a veteran of this corner of the world, I found the country isn’t for me. The food is certainly amazing though!

  4. Hello Derek,

    I love your site (and Bangkok..) ! One thing I will have to disagree with is the waiting line at the airport… you got lucky man (really)! Out of 16 times there or so (from European flights or from Burma), 2 went fine without having to lose 2 hours waiting for the damn stamp…

    Enjoy your trips πŸ™‚

    • Well first off thanks for the kind words, much appreciated πŸ˜€ And secondly, really?!? Glad to hear I got lucky, whew πŸ˜‰ I arrived on a Friday around 6pm…would have thought things would have been worse around then. 18 trips though, you are much more of a Thailand expert than me. Five years since I fell in love with Asia and that was my first trip there. Shame I couldn’t stick around longer but I’ll be back soon!

  5. When I was reading Your article and got inot tuk-tuk had the same experinece. Once only I try it and with my friends he took us into some weird, dark place around Patpong. Then we had to go somewhere else because in this place was only some kind of building and couple people outside waiting for us to come inside. We just said to tuk tuk drive to take us to ping-pong show so he took us here…
    …Then never again took tuk-tuk. Even it is more expensive then taxi driver and especially motor bike taxi.

    • Yeah I rarely take tuk-tuks anymore…but everyone has to try them at least once! Although if you let them pick the destination, they will always take you to the seediest of places with nothing else nearby.


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