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Travel: a Quick Guide to Bangkok

Travel Nov 29, 2013

Bangkok is one of my favourite Asian cities, it has so much to offer, from beautiful temples, to amazing hotels, food and rooftop bars.  It’s also one of the best destinations if you love markets and rummaging as much as I do, that day long hunt for something special (usually DIY supplies) and the satisfaction when you find it. Luckily there’s also lots of other things to do there , and so BKK is pretty much an amazing getaway for everyone, including your boyfriend or lady friends who aren’t into markets. And yes, in case you were wondering, there’s definitely a bit of a seedy underbelly in the red light districts and some of the nightclub areas, but if you know where to go and what to do you’ll be set.

The first thing to know about Bangkok is the traffic is horrendous, so try to stay out of it. The best option is to base yourself somewhere near the Sky Train or Underground, which is useful when it’s like a zillion degrees and 99% humidity. Get a taxi from the airport but from that point onwards try to stay away from the traffic other than at night after dinner or drinks.

Before I get into the nitty gritty, to me a good short (weekend) itinerary for BKK could go something like this:

  • Day 1: Chatuchak Weekend Market shopping, lunch and then drinks in the local bars after
  • Day 2: Half a day around Siam area, half a day long boating, Nahm for dinner, Maggie Choos for drinks.
  • Day 3: Half a day at the museum of contemporary art, half a day around the pool (hoping you have one!), evening rummaging at Talad Rot Foi with dinner in the local street stalls there.

The above may seem like the weekend from hell for anyone with an aversion to markets, but never fear, there is loads of other stuff to do!

Stay

There are so many great hotels in Bangkok, and generally they tend to be relatively affordable (yay!). You can either choose a simple hotel for a very affordable rate, a lot of which have pools on the roof, or pay a little more (still cheap compared to what you get in Europe) for a nice hotel. Since I’ve started doing very short trips I have begun to pick a little bit nicer places to stay – in the past I used to stay with friends or pick the cheapest I could find but a few years on, it’s all about bed comfort – #gettingold. I’ve stayed in a few different areas in BKK including Sukhumvit and Sathorn, and both are quite good. I like the Sukhomvit area because it has a finer grain in the side streets than the main roads of Sathorn, but would happily stay in either area. I recently stayed at The Met and it was fantastic. I probably sound like my grandma when I say this (who, fyi , has a to-be-expected Sri Lankan preoccupation with food), man the breakfasts are good! I’ve also stayed at The Eugenia which I also really liked, completely different, more rustic colonial hipster vintage furniture style but equally fun (there was a mix up with our room and they were pretty nice about it too!).

See

So much to see in BKK, these are my faves:

  • The Grand Palace: Absolutely gorgeous place to visit, try to get in as the doors open so you don’t have to deal with the crowds, and remember to wear modest clothing so you can actually get in.
  • Long Boating: This is one of the experiences we enjoyed the most, although the sound of the long tail boat engines feels like a drill to the side of the head after a while and you get the impression the boat captains are all racing each other. On the opposite side of the river from the palace in Thonburi there is a network of canals where you can glimpse the daily life of Bangkok people. Jump on the boat at Tha Chang Pier (or one of the many other piers around, ask your hotel for the best one) and do a half day, make sure to have some lunch in the floating market, we had salt baked fish which was amazing. Make sure you look around and bargain a little when getting on the boat, we pretty much got stitched up for the trip, although it was still super cheap.
  • Jim Thompson House: An American guy famous for revitalising the Thai silk industry in the 50’s and 6o’s before he went missing in the Cameron, Jim Thompson’s house is an impressive compound and an oasis of calm in the centre of Bangkok. Well worth checking out, and although the tour feels like it goes on forever (zzzz), it’s the only way to see all the nooks and crannies which is quite interesting.
  • Bangkok Museum of Contemporary Art: We made the mistake this trip of going to the Bangkok Arts Centre in Siam instead of the this gallery which is actually near Chatuchak, the former had almost no exhibitions on and zero atmosphere. Although it was probably the time of year we went, I would recommend the extra travel involved with the MOCA – which is basically a local  telecommunications magnate’s personal collection of modern art.

Shop

The shopping is out of this world on every level (ie markets, luxury etc):

  • Chatuchak Weekend Market: this is a must for anyone who likes to rummage like me, read my guide from earlier this year by clicking on the link.
  • Talad Rot Foi Market: This retro/vintage market used to be located in an abandoned train station right next to the Chatuchak Weekend Market but isn’t anymore (do not make the mistake of turning up there… you hear me now?). It is now located what seems to be a while away from the city (correct me if I’m wrong BKK locals), we caught a taxi and found it tricky to track down (as in, looking around wondering whether our taxi driver was taking us on a not-so-scenic scenic route) but once we got there it was seriously amazing so I would say it’s well worth the trek. A huge market area with loads of different stalls and then a big section of warehouse type spaces selling vintage furniture towards the back etc. Pretty much a hipster’s wet dream. We were there sourcing for a restaurant project my boyfriend is working on and the quality of vintage furniture rivals that of the Paris markets (or so he tells me). The address is: Sri Nagarindra soi 51, Khwaeng Nong Bon, Khet Prawet, Krungthep Mahanakorn 10250 – it’s part of the Bangkok Racing Circuit on Google Maps (get your hotel to write it down in Thai for you) and is on Saturday and Sundays from around sunset to midnight. 
  • Siam Area: If it’s a mall you want, a mall you will get. Around Siam square there are a huge number of shopping centres including Paragon, Gaysorn, Central World, Siam Centre etc  that will meet your every shopping need, from fantastic Thai designers to major luxury brands, to shops like Topshop. For a quick snapshot of what Thailand has to offer, the Thai designer level at Paragon Department Store is a great place to start. The designs are so gorgeous, my friend who is a Thai designer junkie introduced me to brand like Stretsis and Disaya and I was seriously impressed. Sadly they tend to be pretty pricey but it’s definitely somewhere to check out, particular if you like the cutesy look but still with an edge. If you love to shop, take a day to explore all the different malls and shops around this area, there are some smaller malls that have cheaper clothing but still nicely designed. Wandering the malls of the Siam area was enough to tire my out in under an hour – how is it that I have so much energy when it comes to markets but regular shopping, not so much.

Eat

  • Nahm: Amazing Thai eats by Australian chef David Thompson, this is a great place to go for that special night in Bangkok.
  • Long Table: Another place for a special Thai fusion meal with a nice view which is also good for drinks.
  • Bo.Lan: A restaurant on my list for next time which is supposed to be really really good. How is it that I have been to BKK 3 times this year and I haven’t managed to get there? Book in advance.
  • Baan Khanitha: I ate here the first night of my first trip to Bangkok and the food was great and it was lovely to sit outside in the garden. A good traditional option.
  • Nest: if you’re staying around the Sukhumvit area this is a good place for a relaxed cocktail, there is also loads of other bars around this area, some good and some not so good (the not so good ones seem to be filled to the brim with guys on stag do’s. eek).
  • 25 Degrees: Burger joint in the Pullman Hotel which is great if you get Thai Fooded out (although I rarely do).
  • Maggie Choos: We had drinks here after dinner one night and it was super fun, a basement bar done in colonial Shanghai-ese style complete with blues music and girls in Cheongsams. We loved!
  • Soul Food Mahanakorn: This is on my list for my next visit but I am told that the food here is fantastic.
  • Rooftops: Just about every hotel has a rooftop bar and they are a great way to end a day in BKK. Everyone goes to Sirocco because it was in the Hangover, but to be honest when I went I found it crowded, touristy and although the view is impressive to me it was better being somewhere more relaxed. Scarlett is a good rooftop option for a relaxed glass of win sans a zillion tourists, although we weren’t that blown away by the food.

If you’ve been to Bangkok and have any extra tidbits or recommendations, I would love love love to hear!

The pool at The Eugenia | Wandering the Khao San Road area

Tiles at Scarlett wine bar.

Floating food market during our Long Boat ride | dinner at Nahm

Flower offerings in the temples

Floating markets

Street food in the Sukhomvit area.

We gobbled down this fish at a stop off on our long boat ride.

A glimpse of blue sky

Favourite time of the day… lunch!

Chatuchak market | Lychee Martini at Nahm

Khao San Road area

Night markets

Chauchak market | street food at the market

Lillies at the Jim Thompson House

Hunting for gems | Nature decoration at Chatuchak Market

Long Boat riding

Daily life in Thonburi

Cafe at Chatuchak market | Maggie Choos

I have a slight obsession with tiles

One of the many Wats along the river.

Talad Rot Foi Market

Silks being made at the Jim Thompson House

 More of Talad Rot Foi

Tiles at Eugenia

Stopping for a break at Chatuchak | Heading home

Thanks to my friend Emma who gave me lots of tips when I went the first time!

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