“It’s a bit like marmite, you’ll either love it or hate it,” was one accurate piece of wisdom from one person I spoke to regarding our trip to Bangkok.
I think anyone who visits will hear a number of mixed opinions beforehand, ranging from it being dubbed as the louder, busier, crazier and glitzier London – to somewhere that’s likened to a hot, humid hell. I think the latter description is a little harsh but after visiting, I can see both sides of the coin. Bangkok is an acquired taste – but if you’re only staying for a couple of days, it’s a city break you’ll most likely love for the right reasons.
I mean yes, it’s pretty crazy. It’s not relaxing in the slightest and you do feel a little on edge as tuk tuk’s whizz by you at the speed of light, followed by mopeds with a family of six bundled on board. It’s hot, it’s humid and there’s a lot going on. You do have to keep your wits about you and be careful. But it’s an incredible city and there’s so much to see and do. It’s one for the adventurers for sure, but it has something to suit every taste.
What to see
Bangkok is so huge that you could quite easily spend two weeks there, doing different things every single day. However, if you’re visiting en route to the islands, then you probably only have a few days to spare – in which case, you’ll want to make the most of your time.
Often dubbed as the ‘Venice of the East’, I’d recommend dedicating at least half a day to hiring a boat and exploring the Klongs, which are essentially a series of waterways which weave through the external parts of the city.
But bare in mind that it’s not the water or the boat that will capture your attention, but the hundreds – if not thousands – of tiny crooked wooden houses that crowd the waters edge.
Some are quite literally falling into the water, built on stilts that a health and safety officer would never pass. It was so fascinating to see – especially since there are actually residents still living in these places – with their pots and pans hanging from their tin roofs on rusty nails – TVs balancing precariously wooden shelves blaring away.
From the water, you can see into these peoples homes, into their world – and it feels strangely eye opening. Because for as little as they have, they were probably the happiest people I’ve ever seen in my life. Each occupied home we sailed past, we were greeted with a big smile and a wave from the elderly ladies, orange-clad monks and little boys that resided within them.
They all looked content, serene and at peace with their surroundings – which really made me contemplate the world we live in today and how we’re never quite at home with ourselves, constantly striving for the next big thing. Ambitions are wonderful, but happiness is the most rewarding in the long run. And seeing the way people live along the Klongs was so eye opening.
We got a little ripped off with our boat trip, as we spent 2400 baht on an hour’s trip – which is just over £50 and extortionate when you compare it with everything else we spent – however it was our first day and we had absolutely no idea what anything cost. Really, you should be looking to spend no more than 800 baht per person on this kind of thing – but haggle more if you’re not happy with the price. We opted for a long tail boat, which is essentially a tuk tuk on water – but there are also private tours, ferries and canal boats – so take your pick. You might even catch a glimpse of the monitor lizards who also reside within the waterways – they can grow upto 6feet long and are pretty menacing looking up close. We passed by a family of 6 and it was amazing to be up close to such a majestic (albeit scary) looking creature.
If being on the water isn’t your thing, there are a number of temples to explore – including the most famous of the bunch – the Grand Palace. We actually bypassed it during our trip, because the queues were very long but it’s around 500 baht each to get in, so not massively expensive if you do fancy a visit. During our boat trip, we stopped off at the Wat Arun, which means Temple of Dawn – and it was really rather impressive. Every inch of the place was emblazoned with glittering gems or beautiful gold plated buddha statues.
Where to eat
Foodies will be absolutely spoiled for choice in Bangkok, because everywhere you turn – there’s something to eat on display. The brave among us may opt to try out the street food, which if I’m completely honest – turned my stomach because it looked so unappetising, however those with fears of spending the next day in the bathroom will opt for the more formal dining options.
We found a vast array of dining options in the huge shopping malls and so largely stuck to those when it came to eating. I can’t really remember the names of the places we tried, but we opted for traditional Thai cuisine, a pizza parlour, an ice cream store and a little trip to the Moomin cafe. We ate like kings for little over £15 per meal – and drinks wise, you have to go for a freshly frosted watermelon shake every time. Honestly, once you’ve tried one of those things, you won’t ever look back.
For something a little more special, you could try one of Bangkok’s rooftop bars – which are dotted around the city to soak up the amazing glittering view the city has at night. You may remember one infamous bar in particular, for it featured in the Hangover, playing a part in a rather prominent scene!
We however, opted for the Octave Bar – which we were told was the most chilled of them all – and offered the most incredible cocktails. Our recommendations didn’t disappoint. Located at the very top of the Marriott Hotel, there are three levels to the bar – each offering incredible panoramic views of the city and a selection of snacks, drinks and different music styles. Unfortunately it started raining halfway into our meal, so we had to pack up our Pina Coladas and take shelter – but even if you are visiting in rainy season, I’d definitely recommend a visit. It’s just breath taking to see such views and a stunning way to spend the evening.
I completely underestimated the shopping in Bangkok. I mean, I’d heard it was good but I didn’t expect quite how seriously they take it. It makes both Westfield’s put together look tame, honestly.
The majority of the shopping is located in malls, which are air conditioned for comfort and rather snazzy looking – some of which have eight floors and vast water features. We started off in Central World, which is a mix of high street and designer outlets, before moving into the food court, into Siam Center and then Siam Paragon – before eventually ending up in MBK, which is essentially a place for copied designer goods. I was slightly shocked to see that iPhone copies were being sold. I’m not sure I’d want to take the risk!
But anyhow, there’s a real mix of stores – offering something for everyone, regardless of budget, preferences or taste. The one thing you will need is stamina, because there is a LOT of walking involved. All of the malls are ginormous and they’re connected by sky top walkways, so you don’t have to attempt to cross the ridiculously busy road – but you do have to trot a fair way in between.
I know it’s not necessarily seeing the history and the culture of the place, but the shopping malls are a really great insight into how the locals live and work in their city – and also gives you a little look into the modern Thai lifestyle. I was glad to escape the humidity for a couple of hours and experience the inner workings of the city, rather than just the tourist attractions.
Price wise, it’s not drastically cheaper than anywhere else in the world, especially if you’re looking to purchase an item from a store that is international anyway. Sephora was the same sort of price range as elsewhere, however designer wise – Valentino seemed to be offering a very generous discount in their Bangkok store (not sure if this was intentional or just the exchange rate) and I very nearly bought a pair of their rock stud sandals. Very nearly…
Where to stay
Depending on what sort of thing you’re after, Bangkok offers a very extensive selection of accommodation options – ranging from five star luxury pads to £2 a night hostels. Even the most expensive of hotels won’t set you back more than £150 a night but even so, if you do some digging on the internet – you can probably get them cheaper.
We stayed in Bangkok for three nights in total, two at the beginning of our trip at the Hansar and then one night just before our flight home at the Eastin Grand Sathorn. Depending on how long you’ve got and what you’d like to explore, I’d recommend them both for different reasons.
The Hansar is in the perfect location for shopping, whereas the Eastin is amazing for exploring Chinatown and nearby restaurants. They’re both pretty equal distance to the Grand Palace, Emerald Buddha and other attractions so it depends on the kind of atmosphere you prefer. The Hansar is a little more informal, chilled and spa-like, whereas the Eastin is your full five star, sparkling luxury. As I said, we couldn’t fault either.
Have you been to Bangkok? Do you have any recommendations?