8 Tips for Enjoying Bangkok

by Stuart McDonald / Apr 30, 2009 / 1 comments

In recent months, Bangkok has been popping onto the TV for all the wrong reasons. Manic red- and yellow-shirted street protests, burning buses, chaos and anarchy -- what happened to all those Thai smiles we hear so much about? Well rest assured the smiles are still there, and while it is worth keeping an eye on what is happening in Bangkok, overall the country remains largely safe. Keeping that in mind, here are some pointers on how to enjoy Bangkok -- regardless of what colour shirt you're wearing.


8 Tips for Enjoying Bangkok

Wikimedia Commons: Diliff, adapted by Wandering Educators


Bangkok is home to world-class accommodation -- be it six star pampered luxury or a comfortable dorm bed for under $10. If the vast range of choices is just too confusing, shortcut the process with Travelfish's list of the "Top 10 places to stay in Bangkok" for an eclectic list of guesthouses and hotels.

More attention is being paid to old Thai architecture these days. Check out the teak house of former prime minister MR Kukrit Pramol, incongruously situated in the heart of the financial district's sleek glass and steel towers; wander the grounds of Suan Pakkard Palace and admire the teak buildings and fine antiquities on display; or visit the bounty-filled home of Jim Thompson, the former American CIA agent who saved Thailand's silk industry before disappearing in Malaysia's Cameron Highlands in the 60s.

Of course, shopping for Thai silk must be on your list of things to do. Any Thai will tell you to head straight to one of the several Jim Thompson outlets - except for the tuk-tuk drivers who insist on taking you for a ride to their brother's shop for free. Jim Thompson is certainly a better bet. But there's far more to buy than a silk throw. Check out Chatuchak Weekend Market -- a football field sized shopping extravaganza.

You can mix a love of architecture, shopping and food if you head to Cafe Siam, a beautifully-renovated house built by the first governor of the Thai Railways in the 1920s located in today's financial district. French and Thai food are served downstairs, desserts and coffee in the lounge upstairs. Colonial throwbacks aside, it's possible to eat out satisfactorily for years in Bangkok without ever having to go to the same place twice - but chances are you'd want to return to some of the best. For Thai food, there's elegant Baan Khanita or understated Lemongrass, located across the road from the gleaming department store, Emporium.

The arts are finally coming into their own in Bangkok, film festivals come and go, and there's a bunch of slick galleries across the city. Check out the installation art at the hip About Cafe and Gallery, near Hualamphong railway station, and sip a traditional cool Thai drink while you're there.

Sanook means fun in Thai and there's no shortage of monuments to fun in Bangkok, where the bar and club scene gets more sophisticated by the month. The Silom 4 area is popular among teens and the gay scene, but New York-style Q Bar and outer-space-style Bed Supperclub show that the Sukhumvit area can be classy too.

Bangkok's soothing spa scene has most certainly come of age. Even if you're not staying at the gorgeous Oriental, head to their spa across the river for some of their exceptional Thai or foreign treatments, or further downriver try the Mandara Spa at the Marriott Royal Garden Riverside for tropical treats at their best. If that's going to bust the budget, wander into any shop house massage joint for a hour-long foot rub for less than $10 -- after plying Bangkok's streets, you'll have earned it.

Skytrains and subways
Bangkok still suffers more than its fair share of jams. Things have changed for the better with the opening of the Skytrain (a monstrous elevated train line) and the subway, which between them make a huge area of Bangkok much more accessible. Neither systems quite make it to Bangkok's old city where many of its best cultural attractions lie, but this area is accessible by boat along the Chao Phraya, the coffee-coloured river that divides the city in two. Make good use of all three systems -- they're affordable and run throughout the day and evening.


Bangkok skyline

Bangkok skyline



Stuart McDonald is the SouthEast Asia Editor for Wandering Educators

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