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If New York is the city that never sleeps, Bangkok is the one that doesn’t even bother to lie down. It’s as if everyone in this decadent, delicious, sprawling and sprawled metropolis is living on a permanent caffeine high. The buzz is palpable, the energy effervescent and all you have to do is let go and enjoy the ride.
Bangkok is hot – in more ways than one. Hemmed in by high-rises, cornered by crowds there’s a feeling of claustrophobia in the narrow streets that adds to the prevailing sense of urgency. But while the ‘City of Angels’ is famous for its devilish side – take a bow, Patpong – it’s also a city of paradoxes.
From Ratchadaphisek, where the locals go for nightlife and entertainment, to Yaowarat and Phahurat, where you’ll find Bangkok’s Chinatown and Indian Quarter respectively, you’re just as likely to be scammed by pushy vendors as you are to meet a host of friendly and soft-spoken Thai people.
With Bangkok, you’ve got to take the rough with the smooth. That way, you’ll be able to satisfy all your desires, be they cultural, religious, culinary – or sensual.
Bangkok’S Top 10
10. Wat Pho Home to the longest reclining Buddha in the world. And presumably the most chilled.
5. Jim Thompson’s House Be dazzled by the Thai silk industry at this complex and museum, named after the American who helped revitalise the industry.
9. National Museum Teleport yourself into Thailand’s past. Learn about history, costumes, weapons, textiles and more. We’re expecting a full report on your return.
4. Wat Arun The Temple of Dawn renowned for its porcelain ornamentation. It’s also one of the tallest religious sites in Thailand. Ironically, it’s best to go at sunset, not dawn.
8. Patpong You may not want to, but you’ve got to, got to, GOT to visit the pinnacle of hedonism: the red light district. Seriously, no visit to Bangkok is complete without it.
3. Chatuchak Weekend Market Gobsmacking in size and scope. It has anything and everything. An absolute must for shopping fanatics.
7. Damnoen Saduak Floating Market Alive with sights and smells, and with boats for stalls, it’s a bizarre bazaar.
2. Ayutthaya is about an hour away from the City Centre, but oh so worth it. See the ruins of the former capital of Thailand.
6. Ancient City (Muang Boran) About a 40 minute drive from the city centre, the Ancient City is, paradoxically, completely modern. It displays significant (and often reconstructed) buildings in an effort to preserve the past. Illuminating and deserving of a visit.
1. Grand Palace Bangkok’s most famous landmark thanks to intricate and ornate architecture. It’s grand, it’s a palace and it also houses Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddhas). As the spruikers in Patpong will tell you, you can’t beat a two for the price of one deal.
Bangkok Art & Culture
- Siam Niramit – An incredible must-see presentation with more than 150 performers telling the history of each area of Thailand.
- Transvestite Shows – These famous cabarets include singing, dancing, costumes, glamour and comedy.
- Chinese New Year Festival – Takes place in January and February with wonderful Chinese dragon and lion processions.
- Songkran Festival – The Thai New Year celebration is held in mid-April and celebrated throughout the city of Bangkok.
- Loi Krathong – The Festival of Lights is held in November on the night of the full moon, marking the 12th month on the Thai calendar.
- Siam Square – The place to go for upscale shopping in Bangkok, with many small designer shops.
- MBK Centre – One of the two top shopping malls with great prices.
- Siam Centre – Another top mall in the Bangkok area with impressive bargains.
- Siam Paragon – A large shopping area with high prices, limiting those who shop here.
- Banglamphu Market – The place for go for great knockoffs.
Bangkok Gay & Lesbian
- DJ Station – One of the most popular spots for great drinks and wonderful music.
- Babylon – Voted the top sauna in Southeast Asia, offering great wet and dry saunas, a pool, gym, restaurant, hotel rooms and cabins.
- Bed Supperclub – This disco goes on into the wee hours of the morning and includes a burlesque show and a variety of satirical sketches.
- Twilight – Find that special something that tickles your fancy, with everything from sexy shows to go-go dancing and more.
- Silon Soi 4 – Hip bars, restaurant, karaoke and great pubs in a friendly, upbeat environment.
- Lumphini Park – Bangkok’s version of Central Park is a great place to go for a walk or run.
- Chatuchak – One of the city’s largest parks, with tennis courts and soccer fields.
- Rama IX – A wonderful location that includes botanical and other types of gardens, sports clubs, lakes and ponds.
- Bungsamran Fishing Park – The best carp and catfish fishing in the world.
- Benjasiri Park – Known as the “Queen’s Park” and displaying many wonderful Thai sculptures.
- Rajadamnern/Lumpini Stadium – Boxing enthusiasts can enjoy exciting fights in either the Rajadamnern Stadium or Lumpini Stadium.
- Kite Fighting – Kite fighting can be encountered in the parks in the centre of the old city.
- Kite Festival – For a wonderful kite festival, check out the area of Sanam Luang in February.
- Golf – Bangkok offers great golfing, including the Navatanee Golf course.
Bangkok LocalSiam Square
If you’re a shopping extremist, or even if you just enjoy air-conditioning, Siam Square, which is the closest thing Bangkok has to a city centre, is the place for you. You’ll find Siam Center, Siam Paragon, Siam Discovery Center and CentralWorld Plaza here, where big labels cost a fraction of the price they do in the West. If you’d rather focus less on labels and more on stores and stalls (plus very cheap electronics), try the MBK shopping centre.Silom
If you’d rather ditch the duds altogether and make bling your thing, ignore Siam Square and head for Silom. Formerly the main trading district, it’s still the place where jewellery and gems swap hands – not always legally. Silom is also Bangkok’s financial area. Soi Patpong region of Silom.
Go-go bars, brothels, strip clubs and ping-pong shows abound. Sticking around isn’t for the faint-hearted, but if you’ve got a broad mind and a sense of adventure, it can be loads of fun. For something a little different Silom Soi 2 and 4 make up Bangkok’s gay district and are home to some happening nightclubs.Khao San
Khao San Road is the backpacker area, so head here if you’re on a budget. Get a cheap suit made at one of the many tailors or pick up a more portable bargain in the street market. Chow down on Pad Thai – or fried bugs, if you’re brave – at one of the little carts set up on the street to line your stomach before a big night in the many bars, pubs and clubs. If you need to get a message home or update your Facebook status from ‘drunk’ to ‘seriously drunk’, Internet café’s abound. Tattoo parlours are also there (for when you reach ‘incomprehensibly drunk’ level). Just don’t get a tattoo of a Buddha (now illegal in Thailand). And don’t get hepatitis B, eitherRattanakosin
Rattanakosin is the historic hub of Bangkok, and the Grand Palace and many of the main temples can be found in this district. Other than the well-known Wat Pho and Wat Arun, other temples include Wat Saket and the Golden Mount and Wat Suthat and the Giant Swing. Visit to understand the meaning behind the fantastic names, but remember to be appropriately dressed when doing so. In particular, cover up your shoulders and legs.Dusit
The political centre of Bangkok, Dusit is also its European core. If you visited the Grand Palace in Rattanakosin, your ticket also includes entry to Dusit Palace. The palace itself isn’t as spectacular as the Grand Palace, but the daily traditional Thai dances (10am and 2pm) certainly are. Dusit is also home to a variety of museums, including the Ancient Cloth and Silk Museumand the Royal Ceremonial Photography Museum.
Bangkok Eats & Drinks
Although Bangkok eateries tend to be more expensive than elsewhere in Thailand, they are still comparatively cheap internationally. Plus, because there are more of them, the quality and variety is much greater. Relish in Thai fusion meals or international fine dining.
Bed Supperclub Super trendy and noted for serving international cuisine on a bed, it’s a little kitsch but still rather fun.
Bo.Lan Follows the slow cooking philosophy. So it goes without saying that it’s classed as ‘contemporary’.
Long Table Has a 25-metre-long table that diners are seated at. Hence the name. The food is Thai with a contemporary twist.
Cabbages & Condoms Statues made of condoms adorn the venue. Frankly, it’s a little off-putting.
Breeze Dine above the smog on Level 52 (didn’t they used to be a band?) of Lebua.
The Sukhothai The Sunday buffet brunch is insanely popular. Start queuing now to get in.
Red Pepper Specialises in Thai and fusion dishes and located at the Rembrandt Hotel, it’s on the pricey side.
The Mayflower Frequented by VIP guests,it’s the most popular Cantonese in Bangkok.
Blue Elephant Want to learn how to cook authentic Thai food? Roll up here for a class (bookings essential). Don’t want to cook but still want to eat authentic Thai food? Roll up here for the restaurant (bookings still essential).
Zanotti The best Italian restaurant in Bangkok. Take a breather from Thai food and indulge in some decadent pizza or pasta.
In January or February, join in the festivities during the Chinese New Year Festival. To make the most of it, head to Chinatown.
Songkran(Thai New Year) is in April. It’s water, water everywhere, so expect to get drenched.
In May, the Royal Ploughing Ceremony at Sanam Laung predicts whether the approaching growing season will be bountiful.
The Festival of Lights, Loi Krathong, usually takes place in November. Float a krathong (made of banana tree trunk, bread or styrofoam), lit up with candles and incense, down a river.
The King’s birthday is on December 5, transforming Bangkok into an exciting city filled with festivities and patriotism. Sneak a peak of the King as he is driven from Sanam Laung to the Chitralada Palace.
When To Go
Located a mere 14 degrees north of the Equator, Bangkok usually has a steady temperature of around 30°C (86°F).
The best time to visit is during the cool season, which lasts from around November to February.
Around March and April, the hot season kicks in. It can get scorching and the rain is close to non-existent.
The wet season lasts from May to October, where you’ll be faced with heavy rain and horribly high humidity.
Getting There And Around
Most international airlines include a route to Bangkok. Luckily, Thai Airways is also a praiseworthy airline to consider. Part of their service is to present you with a lovely purple orchid that you can pin on yourself.
Within Bangkok, choose between public transport or taxis. The BTS (Bangkok Mass Transit System) Skytrain is very clean and quick, but it doesn’t reach all the nooks and crannies. The train fare will cost you between 15 and 40 baht. Public buses (from 6.50 baht and up) are not as reliable as the Skytrain, but a cheaper and more comprehensive option. Opting for the Chao Phraya Express Boat System will cost from 9 baht. You can also take taxis, but make sure the cab driver has the meter on. Lastly, there are the tuk-tuks, which are fun, but not always the safest or the cheapest.
What To Miss
Beware of tuk-tuk drivers at Khao San Road – they’ll try to get you to go on a gem tour or another tourist destination and they’re also likely to over-charge you.
Traffic congestion in Bangkok is getting worse. So avoid taxis when you can. A taxi driver may even just drop you at a BTS station if he thinks the traffic isn’t worth it.
If you’re on a tight budget, avoid the malls and stick to the backpacker areas for shopping, food, and entertainment.
Never make fun of Thailand’s king – even as a joke. It’s a quick way to end up in prison.
Bangkok has the ability to tickle the tastebuds with its world-class cuisine, bedazzle with its majestic temples and shock shopaholics with its jaw-dropping maze of a market! It is one of Asia’s most exciting capitals owing to a variety of places to see and things to do to fill one’s holiday with.
The lifeblood of Bangkok runs via the major artery of Chao Phraya river that separates the capital in two areas, the majority of temples lie on its banks.
It’s difficult not to be exhausted from temple-hopping, like so many tourists each day, as there are hundreds to be found in Bangkok. The most famous ones include Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) located near the River, that is recognised as one of the highest religious structures in the country and Wat Po which houses the reclining Buddha, the longest in the world. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha or Wat Phra Kaeo, is at the Grand Palace, where the most sacred Emerald Buddha holds fort. It is known to usher blessings for the Kingdom. Also in the same vicinity, the Vimanmek Mansion, a beautiful golden teak building is a must to see.
If you’re ready to spend in crazy amounts, then you’ll find Bangkok much to your liking. Handicrafts, textiles, jewelries, art and antiques won’t burn a hole in your pocket as prices are affordable! The best place to find everything under the sun is Chatuchak Market (more commonly known as JJ market amongst locals). Be prepared to spend your Saturday and Sunday here as it is virtually impossible to explore hectares and hectares of stalls amidst the heat and crowds! So wear light clothing and do keep an eye on your purse as pickpockets can pull a fast one on you.
Worry not if you’re skipping a weekend in Bangkok, there still is the relatively new Suan Lum Night Bazaar in Lumphini area which is open every night. The size is not as daunting as JJ and the items are more pricey but choices are good and watching the live bands playing on the big stage up front is a good way to relax those tired feet. Traders opt for the wholesale markets of Pratunam’s garment district and Sum Pang in Chinatown to haggle their way for some bulk purchases.
For a more relaxing time however, you can always seek the much cooler confines of shopping malls in the heart of the city. Mah Boon Krong or MBK is of gargantuan proportions having six levels of shops and eateries for another wearisome experience. Siam Square, on the other hand, has trendy boutiques laid out in mini arcades one after another, becoming a hangout for local youngsters. And for upmarket finds, the Emporium Mall in Sukhumvit Road and Central Chidlom along Ploenchit is screaming with designer savvy!
For a bit of local fare, the stadiums of Lumphini and Ratchadamneon holds Thai boxing matches for those interested to learn about this sport.
Right across from the National Stadium, Jim Thompson’s House has exquisite Thai silks woven directly from this charming compound comprising of six traditional teak houses.
April 2012 – Latest Bangkok Update
If all you do wandering the streets of Bangkok is turn your eyes skyward, all you’ll see is business hotels and shopping malls. It’s tempting to slot into this new, luxe version of the Thai city, but keeping your focus at street level will definitely deliver a grungier and arguably more authentic experience.
From the inevitable pull of Patpong Market (think haggling and cheap knock offs) to the pricier and more brand focused Siam Square, the shopping options here can keep you occupied for days. And while those ritzy rooftop bars have their Mecca-like haze, you can get your drinks cheaper and stronger on the ground. Wong’s Place bucks trends in every way with an indoor smoking area and an honesty bar where you hand over cash and help yourself to the beer fridge. Cheap Charlie’s may make you sit on the street, but the extremely cheap drinks make it all OK.
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