The internet is full of information about Bangkok. Where to sleep, what to see, where and what to eat and so on. Even people who have never been to the city know which are the must-dos and must-sees of the Thai capital. For those in search of a different experience during city-break in Bangkok, here are my first-hand recommendations. I hope it helps on your first or next visit.
Day 1. Sky bars and erotic shows.
I should better say day 0 as this is when you arrive in Thailand, usually at the end of a very long and exhausting flight. Add to that the humid heat, the traffic jams and the millions of people and motorbikes. Bangkok is hot and wet, polluted and dirty in some areas but all these don’t make it any less charming.
Since you are tired today, I suggest you take it slowly. Suppose you landed while there is still daylight, check-in to your hotel, take a shower and go out to get a first glance at the city. How about you try seeing it from above, like from a rooftop bar?
Above Eleven. Affordably high.
When talking about sky bars, most of the people consider the luxury Moon and Sirocco, first on top of the Banyan Tree hotel, second on The Dome at Lebua restaurant. But there are sky bars all over the city. If the trend keeps going, I think we will have a sky bar on each building in a few years. Anyway, for the adventurers who like to go off-trend, my recommendation is Above Eleven, an uber cool bar on the 32nd floor of the Fraiser Suites building.
The bar offers an excellent panoramic view of the city, and you don’t have to sell a kidney to afford a few drinks and maybe some appetizers. A bottle of wine, two coffees and three bottles of water will be roughly 50EUR, which is not bad at all considering you are in the heart of Bangkok. Be aware of the dress code, especially for gentlemen – avoid wearing tank tops and flip-flops.
Nana Plaza. Don’t try this at home!
Once you’re done checking the city from above you are left with two options – go to bed or go partying. I would bet on the second and recommend the infamous Nana Plaza which is walking distance from Above Eleven. Angel Witch Bar is a good place to have a few beers while watching the show on the stage. The entertainers are all women, beautiful, wear sexy attire, and their choreography is quite good.
Day 2. Temples and rivers for washing all your sins.
It is better to visit the places I suggest for today in the afternoon thus you can sleep in, enjoy a lazy breakfast and maybe a massage at your hotel’s spa. Today’s trip takes you out of Bangkok and to a neighboring province called Samut Songkram.
Wat Bang Kung. The tree temple.
I‘ve seen quite a few temples in my eight years in Thailand and trust me this one is one of the most spectacular. It doesn’t make any impression based on its size as it is tiny, maybe 20sqm. Not even by the holy possessions inside as there is nothing much except for a Buddha statue. What’s remarkable about this place are the banyan trees growing from inside the construction all the way around it. The trees are practically hugging the temple, keeping it sheltered.
Wat Bang Kung served as a military training ground two and a half centuries ago. The army under the command of Taksin the Great was training here before counter-attacking the Burmese army. The garden nearby the temple abounds with real sized statues of Thai soldiers practicing Muay Thai.
Mae Khlong Market a.k.a. The Railway Market.
Asian traders are incredibly creative in regards to both what and where they are selling. There’s no better proof of this statement than the Mae Khlong Market. Looking to avoid the fees one usually pays for renting space in a market, the vendors from Mae Khlong area decided to use the railway tracks for displaying their goods.
Don’t get it wrong, though – not space next to the railway but the tracks themselves are where they sell fish, fruits, and veggies. Once the siren rings, everyone pulls the stalls aside, let the train pass and right the next second push the merchandise back on the tracks. The train passes this route eight times a day (four times back and forth), so you have plenty of chances to see the show yourself.
Amphawa. The “other” floating market.
Bangkok is no stranger to floating markets among which Damnoen Saduak is the most popular one. Not that is has anything exceptionally different to offer but because agencies prefer to take the tourists here instead of all the others. I recommend avoiding it as the influx of tourists made it lose its authenticity and turned the traditional trade into an aggressive swarm.
The better alternative, I think, is the Amphawa Floating Market, just 15-minutes drive from the temple and train market mentioned above. The floating market is open Friday to Sunday in the afternoon. Most of the people visiting are local tourists from Bangkok or neighboring provinces. There are plenty of fruits and vegetables, but the place is mainly famous for the fresh seafood sold from the little boats floating along the canal. Be sure the fish and seafood are always fresh here as the sea is just minutes away by boat.
In case you want to spend the night, there are plenty of guesthouses along the Klong river.
Bonus: Erawan Museum. The billionaire’s dream.
If you arrive in Bangkok during the week and you haven’t planned to stay the weekend as well, then forget about the Amphawa Floating Market. You can instead visit the Erawan Museum. Driving on one of the many suspended highways which cross Bangkok from North to South you can spot the building – an impressive three-headed elephant is sitting on its roof. No chance of missing it.
The museum was built by Mr. Lek Viryaphant, a Thai businessman who wished to show its gratitude for the good luck he’s had in becoming one of the richest men in the country. Mr. Lek is no longer with us, but his Buddha statues collection is – you can admire it in the museum. The collection is estimated to be worth a few million dollars.
The entrance fee is 8-9EUR.
How to get to Samut Songkram.
The province is 60km SW of Bangkok. It takes 45-60 minutes on the highway from the city. Public transportation is available, but it is complicated to use on this route. It is best to hire a local guide from a travel agency. They usually sell this as a private tour, picking you up from your hotel around noon and bringing you back at approximately 8 pm. The price is 100-150EUR per car including the tour guide, private transportation, fuel and a boat ride on the Mae Khlong river.
Day 3. Around the city on Chao Praya River.
By now everyone seems to know it: the best way to move around Bangkok is either by BTS or by boat. I recommend the second option for multiple reasons: it is cheap, it avoids all possible traffic jam, and will not be freezing on a boat like you would on a sky train. You can jump on a public boat (tickets are sold on board) and stop wherever you want – Wat Pho, Wat Arun, Grand Palace, the flower market.
Chinatown (Yaowarat Road). Is everything made in China?
Get off the boat at Rathcawongse station, walk for 3 minutes on Yaowarat Road and you are in Chinatown. You can find anything here from original Nikon lenses to snake soup, from paper dragons to jade statues and jewelry. Allow yourself to walk around for at least one hour, and by the end, you will know 90% of everything sold anywhere in the world is made in China.
On a side note – a walk through Bangkok’s Chinatown offers plenty of photographic opportunities as it is colorful and very much alive, with something happening in every little corner.
Pak Klong Talad. The Flower Market.
If you love flowers and anything else that comes from the soil you better stop at Pak Klong Market. The fruit and vegetable section is closer to the water bank. They are super fresh and impressively abundant. If you walk away from the river you will reach flowers heaven – tens of different kind of orchids and roses are sold and bought here in vast quantities.
The Flower Market is minutes from Wat Pho (the boat station for these is Tha Thien)
Asiatique The Riverfront. Good food, good photos.
Built on the grounds of the former Pier of East Asiatic, Asiatique is one of the biggest shopping attractions in Bangkok. There are plenty of small boutiques, most of them selling young designers clothing, but there are plenty of choices for foodies as well – gourmet restaurants, ice cream stalls and wine bars. A chic place to spend your last evening in Bangkok. You can watch a traditional puppet play at Joe Luis Theatre or the famous transgender show at Calypso.
A friend of mine told me about this and I feel I must pass it on – hang around the river bank around 5 pm and have your camera ready; the light turns beautiful and the youngsters fooling around taking selfies make a great subject if you are into portrait photography.
How to get there: free shuttle boat from Central Boat Station (next to BTS Saphan Taksin) between 5 and 11 pm.
In case you are not tired or still have time to kill, here are a few more suggestions.
A romantic dinner at Vertigo.
Vertigo is the world-famous rooftop bar and restaurant on top of the equally famous Banyan Tree hotel. Make sure you book a table in advance as the place is packed even off-season. Beware they ask for smart casual dressing – closed shoes, no backpacks, no top tanks. The restaurant is open 6 to 11 pm. Prices start at 300THB++ for a snack and go up to 11,000THB++ for a 7 course set menu for two.
Nahm. An immersion into the Royal Thai cuisine.
For real traditional Thai food, I suggest booking a table at Nahm. The award winning restaurant offers high flavored Thai cuisine. The restaurant provides a variety of dishes, savory or sweet, meats, seafood or vegetables. Must-try, in my opinion, is the Coconut and turmeric curry of blue swimmer crab with banana blossom and Asian pennywort. Prices start at 300THB++ and go up to 800THB++. Do not take a chance but book way in advance.
Bangkok shopping tips.
If you are into shopping, you will love Bangkok as there is something for everyone. On a Saturday morning, you can go shopping frenzy at Chatuchak Market where they sell anything imaginable. Be patient and wear comfortable shoes – the place is huge and extremely crowded.
On any other day, there are plenty of fancy options at Siam Paragon, Central World, Platinum Fashion Mall, Central Childom and many others. Once you are done with those while walking back to your hotel, drop a penny to the street vendors as well, even if you don’t like what they sell; everything is cheap to any foreigner but to them is a fortune and possibly the only source of income for a whole family.
(Translated from the Romanian version by Elena Stanciu)