Getting to Our Meeting Point: Water Taxi & Skytrain
At the bottom of our hotel, The Peninsula Bangkok, right off the patio where we ate breakfast every morning was the dock where we could catch the hotel’s water taxi which had a few local stops across the river (including stops to catch the local commuter ferries or the skytrain). Our first morning in Bangkok I arranged for a city tour with Context Travel. We only had two full days in Bangkok and we wanted to make the most of them. We took the water taxi to the other side of the Chao Phraya river where we caught the BTS (skytrain) to National Stadium station where we were to meet our guide, Ren with Context Travel. I was quite pleased with our ability to navigate multiple modes of transportation on our own.
City Tour with Context Travel
We made it to the station on time, but we couldn’t find our guide anywhere and began to worry that there had been some miscommunication. We figured we looked pretty obvious and easy to spot sitting on the steps on the metro station. Finally about 20 minutes later, Ren came racing into the station and apologized as he had been stuck in really bad traffic. We were just happy to find him!
He whipped out some maps and showed us where we’d be going.
When booking our tour, I chose to add on the option of having a photographer from Flytographer join us and take candid shots of us around Bangkok. I thought it would be a good chance for me to get in some shots and fun to see someone else’s perspective of Bangkok. But back to the tour…
Traveling by boat
Ren led us through some twisting roads & alleys to our first stop, a khlong (canal) from where we’d catch a commuter boat—the Saen Saeb Khlong Express Ferry.
Since this was a commuter boat we had to be ready to get on & off quickly!
Our first stop was the Golden Mount, just a short walk from the ferry stop.
The Golden Mount is one of the city’s oldest temples. It isn’t the holiest site, but it has one of the best views of the city and gave us a chance to better understand the city’s layout. Ren gave us a history lesson, explaining how Bangkok became the country’s capital after the fall of the Ayutthaya dynasty.
We climbed 344 stairs to get to the top. Along the way, there were lots of bells & gongs to ring. We rang them all, of course.
For a small donation, we were able to get a little packet with three incense sticks and a golden leaf. Ren showed us the proper way to pray and put on the leaf.
At the very top, we had 360 degree views of the city. We also sat in the shade and drank water. If we look hot and sweaty it’s because we were. It was SO hot and humid – definitely the hottest stop on our trip.
On the way back down, there were more gongs and bells that we had to ring.
At the bottom, we all crammed into a tuk tuk to get to our next stop. Well, we actually had to take 2 tuk tuks as the five of us plus Ren couldn’t fit into one. This is where our Flytographer left us as our time with him had run out. But we continued on with Ren for another couple of hours.
Visiting a Local Market
Next, we walked through a market. It was pretty empty by the time we arrived. There were still plenty of vendors, but not many customers. We had a chance to get a good look at all the vegetables, fish, and live frogs (!!). The kids loved seeing the frogs, but I’m not sure they realized they were being sold as food. There were buckets of fish and some even jumped out onto the ground. My daughter took a large scoop and was racing around looking for fish to pick up and put back into their buckets.
We went back to the Chao Phraya river to catch another boat. We bought a bag of fish food and while we waited for our ferry the kids threw the food into the river where a ton of catfish were swarming. It was a good distraction from the heat.
To get to our next stop, Wat Mahathat, we took a detour through an amulet market. The kids loved looking at them all: tiny buddhas, swords, animals, coins. Some were set behind glass because they were more expensive, but we really couldn’t tell the difference just by looking at them.
Wat Mahathat is a Buddhist temple in Bangkok. It is one of the 10 royal temples of the highest class in Bangkok and is home to the most important center for the study of Buddhism and meditation.
At Wat Mahathat there were prayer sticks available. Ren showed us how to take the vase full of sticks and shake them until just one stick came out. Each stick had a number that corresponded to a cubby with a fortune in it. We all had fun reading our fortunes!
Was It Worth It?
I thought the cost of the 3-hour tour (which actually turned into a 4+ hour tour) for $267 with Context Travel was well worth the cost.
Our Flytographer was an additional $500 for approximately 1.5 hours and 45 digital images for me to keep and use however I want. This was definitely more pricey and about what I would expect to pay in the US for a similar service. Most years we hire a photographer to take family photos at home that we use on Christmas cards – so this year we decided to spend it on photos while traveling. I thought coupling the photographer with the tour would be great because we didn’t want to just walk around the city posing for pictures – that’s not our style. In retrospect, however, I do wish we had taken more family shots (even if they did seem a bit posed) and wouldn’t mix a tour with a photographer again. Tom wanted us to slow down and take some shots, while Ren was clearly trying to keep up a good pace so we could see everything. So I found there to be a slight conflict of interest between the two agendas.
So, yes, each individual piece was worth it, but I wouldn’t recommend doing them together.