We sadly said goodbye to Bangkok after spending almost three weeks taking in the city, riding on trains and boats, getting lost down side-streets and shopping till we dropped (or Asha was warned to wind it up).
We both think its one of the best cities in Asia. We will be back, to visit if not to live and work, but for now we have put together a list of ten things we loved or hated about Bangkok.
Seven things to love
No, seriously. 711’s are everywhere in Thailand, and you can barely walk a block in the capital without bumping into one. And they sell everything!!! Beer, spirits, hot dogs and burgers, a baffling array of yakult and so many random asians snack you will freak out – all of life’s necessities in one fluorescently lit store.
I have seen two 711’s about 20 metres apart. I’m sure somewhere in this country there must be a place with two 711’s side-by-side. I even bought a 711 singlet.
Update: There is even a 711 in the Chiang Mai zoo. You can see deer out the window.
Matthew Henderson and his wonderful apartment
People might talk about Jim Thompson’s house as being the most special in Bangkok – but that would be ignoring the charms of Hendo’s residence at the Bangara Suites in Silom. We spent 18 days free-loading here, living in the spare room. Did Jim Thompson have a pool, multiple plasmas, icy air-condition, daily cleaning, free wi-fi and a freezer full of liquor? I don’t think so.
Thanks a whole heap for having us Hendo (even though you were in Myanmar for nearly the entire time). It was great to catch up for a few days before we left.
For comparison, here is Jim Thompson’s place:
– A and R
For a city of more than 8 million, Bangkok is incredibly easy and cheap to get around (if you know what you are doing). Yes, traffic can be a nightmare, but the combination of an underground train (the MRT) and a futuristic skytrain (the BTS) make it easy to avoid the congestion during peak hours.
Outside of peak hours, taxis are the best bet – especially with two or more people. Make sure you make the driver put the meter on – if he tries to make you agree to a price before you go, refuse, refuse, refuse. The meter will ALWAYS be the cheaper option. This way taxis are really cheap (we never went anywhere that cost more than a couple of dollars), and they mean you can get out of the heat and fumes that you are subjected to in a tuk-tuk.
For short trips, zipping from place to place, tuk-tuks are good fun.
When possible, you can also integrate a boat trip up the surging river. It isnt usually the quickest way to get around, but its a good way to see ‘the Venice of the East’.
One thing I never understood is why people always harp on and on about Singapore or Hong Kong being the Mecca for shoppers. These folk have obviously never been to (or heard of) Bangkok. Bangkok pretty much has a shopping centre for everyone. Whether you’re looking for designer goods, tacky souvenirs, computer gadgets, fake leather goods, pirated movies, mobile phones or even local designers- Bangkok has a shopping centre where you can get it.
I’ve zeroed in on my favourite shopping haunts and faithfully call upon them every time I visit Bangkok. It’s a great way to escape the heat because shopping centres offer everything you could possibly access on the street such as massages, food stalls, cinemas and the obligatory sushi train.
My personal favourites are MBK and Siam Paragon, both pretty much in the centre of Bangkok on the BTS line (they’re about 5mins walk apart…)
So when visiting Bangkok, don’t feel as if you are shunning “the real Bangkok” to swan around in the aircondioning and shiny tiles- this IS the real Bangkok.
Getting everything on the street
Walk outside your apartment building or guesthouse in the morning, and you will most likely be greated with a bewildering array of breakfast options. In Silom, street vendors setup early in the morning to dish out fruit, sandwiches, coffee (hot or iced), pancakes – feeding the hungry masses on their way to work.
Come back to the same spot at lunch, and the breakfast peddlers will be gone (well most of them anyway), replaced by the lunch-food peddlers and their prawn cakes, chicken and pork on a stick and sticky rice.
But come back at dinner, and that’s when the gourmet street food really kicks off. Walking one block will provide a plethora of sights and smells to tempt even the most culinary conservative customer. Fish balls in soup, strips of sweet roasted pork, bags of every sauce and condiment imaginable, fried rice, pad thai and spring rolls, crunchy deep fried cakes of prawn and batter, birds eggs wrapped in wontons and fried till crispy, curries, vegetable dishes, chicken feet, live fish and crabs in tanks, its all here – and this is just a regular street, not a food hall or market by any means.
Its everywhere. Bangkok may have been 36 degrees most days we were there, but really it was more like 22.
When the stress of eating so much street food starts to nag at you, step into one of Bangkok’s 600,000 massage parlours. (OK there aren’t that many, but it feels like it. Actually, there probably are, has anyone ever counted?)
Cheap and amazing, and less likely to leave you with a back injury than the beach massages at Koh Phi Phi (I still havent forgiven you, small Thai woman), a one hour massage rarely costs more than 250 baht ($8).
3 Things to Hate About Bangkok
Asia is stinky. No doubt about it. Often when walking down streets in Bangkok, one may pass through a mystery cloud of stink. Do not breath this in. Sometimes the hot cloud of stink is so thick you can feel it climbing up your leg from the sewers below, or grabbing at your arm as you walk by a mound of rubbish. Just hold your breath and walk on. All part of the big city charm- right?
Alcohol selling hours
So you can’t buy alcohol at shops between 2pm and 5pm in Bangkok. Doesn’t sound like much of a problem. But we quickly realised this is the only time we seem to (attempt) to purchase beer. Whenerver we were were in shop looking to get a few Leo’s and Singha’s, we would remember the strange rule, glance at our new (fake) watches, and realise it was 2:05pm and our afternoon beer plans had been thwarted once again.
Often, when walking down streets or laneways in Bangkok, a dirty drop of water will land on your head. I thinks it because of the airconditioners strapped to the sides of buiding highs above. Its gross, but funny when it happens to Asha.