15 fun things to do in Bangkok
I’m pretty sure that every blogpost I ever wrote about Thailand and Bangkok in particular was essentially just one big lovefest. It’s true that the most popular of destinations in Asia is simply always guaranteed to provide a good time, pretty much regardless of weather, company or budget. It’s a bit like a disneyland for adults with fun people, amazing food, stimulating culture, great nightlife, incredible beaches – and trust me, that list can go on and on.
Consequently, it was essentially a no-brainer when Thai Airways sent me an email back in November, asking if I would be interested to join a trip to Bangkok and a nearby beach town called Hua Hin. Of course I wanted to join! Now in all honestly, I usually shy away from group trips, I’m just not very good at keeping a schedule on when to eat, where to go and who to hang out with. But in this case – hey, this was Thailand – it couldn’t possibly be bad. And what do you know? I was right.
First lucky strike was that despite an otherwise international team of bloggers, my buddy Marlen who blogs for Ignant was also invited, so together we had a pretty good time going for sunrise swims in the giant pool of the Dusit Thani Hua Hin Hotel, spending a lifetime haggling with cabdrivers for semi-fair prices, shopping clothes on Bangkok street-markets and eating in some really incredible restaurants.
Now I must admit, it seems that every time I do go to Thailand something crazy just happened or is still in the process of happening. The first time I went just shortly after the Tsunami hit, the next time I was there during the insane floods of fall 2011 and this time the long-term demonstrations as part of the current political crisis were in full swing. While I have heard a few comments about people cancelling or postponing their Thailand trip due to those unrests, I can assure you that in the 4 days we spent in Bangkok we noticed none of that. We were merely informed that cabdrivers had to take detours to get from the center of the city to popular backpacker mekka Khao San Road, but we didn’t even deal with that by simply taking the boat ferry. More fun anyway. I guess what I’m saying is, if you’re considering a trip to Bangkok or Thailand, don’t let political or weather conditions curb your enthusiasm.
After a total of about 8 trips and at least 2 full months spent in the Thai capitol I feel quite entitled to give you a quick low-down on what the city is all about and what should definitely make it on your to-do list while there. Most to-do lists for Bangkok one finds on the web are all about temples and theatres, here’s a bit more relaxed attitude to what not to miss while in one of the world’s most exciting metropolis.
1. Try all the street food your stomach can fit. Yes, even the insects, you only live once. But whatever you do, don’t mis out on sticky rice (khao niaw), it’s my favorite.
2. Take tuk-tuks, they’re great fun. Stay away from the ones that are waiting outside touristy spots as they might try to scam you. Always opt for tuk tuks you hail off the street. For longer journeys (air-conditioned) taxis are best – in polluted Bangkok your lungs will thank you. Always negotiate prices first or insist on the meter.
3. Shop til you drop. There might be no other place on earth with this many malls, markets and shops to buy from. And it seems there is something for everyone, except of course those taller than 5’5.
4. Go for a ride on the river ferry, because you can’t beat spending 30cents on a cruise.
5. On sundays go to Chatuchak market, the world’s largest weekend market. Seeing it all in one day is a challenge so come early, take breaks, bring cash. This is a prime spot for vintage shopping as many marketeers import their vintage clothing from Japan. This is especially awesome for petite girls, if you’re tall, buy some presents for your friends back home.
6. Splurge and treat yourself to dinner at Vertigo, the restaurant on top of the Banyan Tree hotel. Reservations are necessary as this place is seriously popular.
7. Want the views but can’t spare the cash for the food? Grab a drink at Sky Bar atop the State Tower. Or at any of these great roof top bars.
8. Look out for nightmarkets. Khao San is the obvious choice and probably best at catering to backpackers but my favorite is actually Siam night market, starting at 6 every evening, located right by Siam Station.
9. Ride the sky train, but never during rush hour.
10. Get a foot massage. Or a Thai massage. Or any massage, because they’re usually cheap and awesome and easy to come by. My personal favorite are the footrubs on and around Khao San Road. Enjoyed at nighttime, smoothie in hand, this is a top spot for people watching while getting the full spa-treatment.
11. If on a budget stay at a hotel in the Khao San Road area, but never directly on Khao San (far too loud). I like the Wild Orchid Villa (cool balcony showers!)
12. Let yourself get lost. Wander the streets for ages, sit inside a public bus and let it take you to somewhere new. Bangkok is so easy to live adventures in, take advantage.
13. Relax hard. For a busy city like this one it’s remarkable how easy it can be to come down for a few days. The Khao San area is light in traffic and pedestrian friendly. Grab a seat at one of the guest house restaurants along Chana Songkhram and watch a movie while slurping your 3rd banana milkshake of the day or order some pancakes. My favorite spot for this is New My House Guest House. Then smile at the fact that this set you back a mere dollar or two.
14. With all the budgeting and cheapness, don’t miss out on one or 2 nights at a fancy hotel of your choice. The Kempinski is a good one in a great and central location. Great breakfast here, too!
15. Get out of town. One of the beauties of Bangkok is that the nearest beach is only a couple of hours drive away with Hua Hin being your easiest option to reach. We stayed at the Dusit Thani Hua Hin, which was beautiful and offered great food at any time of day. Hus Hin itself is a bit slow during the day but the nightmarket here is awesome. A perfect little spot for a weekend away.
Last but not least, it’s important not to let the 6.3 million people who call Bangkok their home get to you. Yes, it’s a big city, there is smog and traffic and it can sometimes unnerve you if you let it. But just like most other large cities there is beauty in the hustle and bustle and it never gets boring. Always a new place to discover, a new flavor to taste, a new experience to live. Come here with an open heart and an open mind and just like many others before you, you will fall for this city.
I’ll leave you with a few more impressions of Bangkok, city of roof-top bars, spa-treatments, night-markets, street food, traffic jams, skyscrapers, river boats and so much more.
If you’re looking to go to Bangkok or Thailand, Thai Airways offers international direct transfers at good prices. Check out their website for deals.