bangkok – or ‘wat you want, you get’
bangkok has a lot of wats (temples). in fact, bangkok itself is a huge wat. because it has everything to suit all kinds of travellers. the gourmet, the shopper, the party-animal, the religious, the cultural-ist, the hedonist, the backpacker and so on.
it is tourist-friendly because the thais are such warm and easy-going people. moreover, there’s still that quaint charm that comes from it still being constantly at the cusp of development – the new juxtaposed on the obstinate old; it makes bangkok interesting to explore.
when i go to bangkok and these are some of the things i try to remember.
grab a few (different) maps from the airport. then decide which one is best for you. don’t be daunted by the chaos at the arrival area. but it will be chaotic.
get a taxi from the departure level (take lift, go to 3rd floor). this is a tip i got from the net. you avoid the surcharge, the touts and the queues. fares are based on meter so it will usually turn out cheaper, less than 300B or slightly more depending on traffic conditions.
the skytrain and bts systems are not necessarily faster or cheaper. and they are not connected to each other so you can forget about smooth uninterrupted transfers. they operate like 2 distinct, separate lines: separate stations even in same location, separate cards, separate tokens. and the gantries are uber sensitive so be careful not to cross it with your bags or shoppings in front of you.
even so, it will do well to remember some very important station names such as siam station. chit lom. silom. because you probably will/should take it at least once. and it is quite fun to watch those excellent local tv advertisements they spool in the trains.
for a group of 3-4 pax, taxis are almost always a better option (cheaper, faster, more comfortable). but many drivers dont speak english so it can be a challenge if you are going off the beaten path. dont be shy to ask for the exact change back right down to the shillings. i had many encounters where taxi drivers returned me less than the exact change and left me stupefied, wondering if i would appear rude and calculative to ask for the exact amount. they got away with it because i was a tourist and didnt know better. so, know that you are perfectly entitled to get your full change back.
i usually avoid tuk tuks. i had used them before when i was a newbie to the city. only to realise that they were more expensive than taxis, made you suffer the smog from traffic, subject you to the whims of the weather. and they work with establishments to bring you to shops to buy things.
an interesting option is to take the canal boat. that is, if you dont mind jostling with the locals and getting splashes from the putrid canal water. but it is a very good way to experience the real bangkok. plus it gets you to your destination faster since you avoid the traffic jams. the cost was about 10B/pax/trip some years ago. look out for those bridges over the canals. the ‘stations’ are tucked alongside.
one of the must-gos is paragon. the basement is a gourmet’s paradise. and the second level is a lady’s haven (i’m referring to undergarments) and you have the de rigeur upmarket brands and thai labels like naraya, jim thompson etc as well. if you are not so concerned about getting the best (cheapest) bargains, you can actually do all your shopping here at paragon.
my next destination is typically centralworld. usually i will get lost in its labyrinth of stairs and pillars and corridors. but i always manage to find supersports. the one place where i must go to get my (cheaper) sports attire such as booties, rash guards, compression tights etc. having all the sports stuff under one roof is indeed very handy.
a new mall that opened not too long ago is terminal 21. each floor is styled after a particular city. think san franciso. think tokyo. think paris. i think it is a bit kitsch for me but that’s just me. but i appreciate the toilets that came installed with bidet sprays!
other to-go malls include platinum mall (next to centralworld), pratunam market (across the road from platinum mall), suan lum night market (moving from lumphini to chatuchak), chatuchak etc. nowadays, i skip the local places to avoid buying all kinds of useless knick knacks which i have a tendency to do. but it should be fun to go once in a while.
never pass up the chance to eat street food in bkk (they have never given me the runs so far). chinatown is a good place to start. or suan lum night market or the streets @ silom. or victory point.
normally i will head to chinatown first. come evening, the pavements will be crowded with stalls selling all kinds of food. this goes on for 500m at least. on the other side of the street, there will be the restaurants, birds’ nests, sharks fins and dapaidang.
at chinatown, you can have your choice of zichar or restaurant or roadside stalls. rut & lek seafood was a name tossed up by a colleague who used to live in bkk and we were not disappointed. although it was super packed till the tables spilled onto the road, the service was fast, portions were big, price was reasonable and food quite tasty. for a more local flavour experience, it will be fine to just trawl the stalls and eat as you go.
my other favourite local food haunt is the saochingcha district. i always start from the red gate which the locals named the giant swing. (that’s the only way i knew how to navigate).
around and along saochingcha street, there are many coffeeshops serving interesting eats. for me, the highlight is always the dessert stall which has the best mango glutinous rice in bangkok. i like their banana dessert more but they no longer make it.
but the real star is the mango glutinous rice especially the rice. yup. we saved our stomach for this one.
the next must-go is nanaporn ice-cream. freshly made and stored in a traditional container.
another pretty good spot turned out to be tucked in a very convenient location – taling pling at centralworld. a thai friend brought us there. the cafe entrance looked like a dessert place so i wasnt expecting to see authentic thai dishes to be served up. not exactly streetfood but normal tasty thai fare which we can eat again and again.
ruen nuad at soi convent opposite bnh hospital (026322662) was highly recommended and it will be wise to make reservations before heading down. the facilities is nestled in a nice garden setting but otherwise i think it was ok, not exceptional. lek massage is the one i often go to. it is opposite novotel near siam station. lek does good foot massage.
a good rule of thumb is to stay near the nodes of (your) activities. for example, if you are big on shopping, staying near siam station is a good idea. if you are not too concerned about being far away or want to try something refreshing, then the lovely boutique hotel tenface is an excellent choice. the nearest skytrain station is Pleonchit; it is not exactly ‘within walking distance’ but the hotel has free tuk-tuk service to the train station so it is quite convenient and you can have the tuk tuk pick you from the station back to hotel when you call. the last time we were there, our 1 room suite was spacious, there was free internet and the beds were super comfortable. what more could we ask for?