10 things we love about Bangkok – Part 2

IN a city as diverse, widespread, and just plain insane as Bangkok, it’s a daunting task to try and narrow down just 10 things that we love about this place. Here is the second installment one writer’s humble attempt to do just that. Or if you’ve just joined us, you can find Part 1 here.

CentralWorld, one of Bangkok's many cavernous shopping malls. Pic: AP.

Shopping

Many visitors to Bangkok are shocked at the sheer number of shopping malls erected throughout the city, most notably along the Sukhumvit BTS line. Bangkok is a major destination for luxury shopping in Southeast Asia and malls like Siam Paragon, Emporium, Gaysorn and CentralWorld can attest to that. However, the city also offers up more than just Louis Vuitton purses (but if you want a fake, head over to the infamous MBK shopping mall), and around every corner is another opportunity waiting to purchased, wrapped and brought home. Bangkok is full of talented local clothing designers, whose eclectic styles can be found (for great prices) at both the night market and shops in Siam Square and at various boutiques in Siam Discovery mall, both located off the BTS Siam stop.  Terminal 21 offers up boutique designers in a mall atmosphere, with each floor being labeled (a bit bizarrely, but this is Bangkok) as a different “country”, though the vendors are all distinctly Thai.  If you are more into vintage styles, be sure to check out Bangkok’s best vintage shops. Souvenirs and handicrafts can be found throughout the city, but perhaps the best spots for this kind of shopping are Chatuchak market (see Part 1), the Siam Paradise Night Bazaar and the stalls near the Nana BTS. If you are feeling particularly masochistic, check out Platinum and the aforementioned MBK, both massive complexes with what feels like no rhyme or reason to the layout with randomly located escalators and an array and quantity of cheap goods sure to make your head spin.

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It's difficult to go anywhere in Bangkok without bumping into someone selling something tasty to eat. Pic: AP.

Food & Temples

Perhaps a bizarre mix, but these have been thrown together only because they are both definitely worth a mention.  Beginning to possibly dissect Bangkok’s culinary scene is nearly impossible in such a small space.  Bangkok is a glutton’s paradise.  Thai food, famous the world over, is obviously in abundant supply here, from the street stalls on every corner to the more upscale Thai restaurants, such as Bo.Lan.  However, Thai food is best discovered on your own and your own pace.  If there is a crowd gathered around a particular stall, then it’s a good bet that the food there is top-notch.  And at prices ranging from as low as a dollar a dish, if you don’t like your pad thai, you’re sure to find a better one just down the road.  With that said, some of the best Thai food can be found on Yaowarat Road in Chinatown, Mahachai Road, Soi Ari and around Victory Monument – although these opinions are subject to change depending on whom you talk to.

Temples are another ubiquitous feature of Bangkok life.  Local temples can be found around every corner, but the more popular destinations include Wat Pho, Wat Arun, Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and Wat Sutat.  Wat Pho has the famous Reclining Buddha, which is well worth a visit.  For more information on these and other notable temples in Bangkok as well as directions can be found here.  All of Bangkok’s temples are wrapped in stories and legends, but one of the more interesting is that surrounding Wat Mahabut, located in Prakanong.  Wat Mahabut is home to the shrine to Mae Nak, a legendary Thai ghost.  As the story goes, the beautiful Mae Nak died during childbirth, while her husband was away at war.  Upon his return, he realized that she was a ghost and fled.  Mae Nak, in her fury, continues to haunt the people of Prakanong, although she can be appeased by offerings made to her at the shrine at Wat Mahabut.  Something, as a resident of Prakanong, I have still yet to do…

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Street art by P7. Pic: Sarah Waldron

Art

Bangkok is sitting on a burgeoning contemporary art scene that has only recently begun to emerge.  With the advent of the Bangkok Art Map (BAM), more people are being exposed to different galleries and other cultural happenings around the city.  There are several different galleries offering varying types of exhibitions, including La Lanta Gallery, Bangkok Art and Culture Center, Chulalongkorn Art Center, 100 Tonson Gallery, and Toot Yung Gallery, among countless others.  WTF, one of Bangkok’s best small bars, has an upstairs gallery, and is also affiliated with art space Opposite, which is, well, opposite the soi to WTF.  Opposite offers live music, poetry readings, and exhibitions.  La Lanta Gallery and The Attic Studios both offer art classes, and The Attic Studios also hosts a monthly “First Friday” event at the gallery.  Bangkok also has a lively street art scene, including the works of promising Thai artists such as P7, who also works in drawing, painting, installation and design.

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Jim Thompson House. Pic: AP.

Museums

If you, like me, are interested in seeing the embalmed body of Thailand’s most notorious serial killer, then you can cross this off your bucket list by a visit to one of Bangkok’s stranger spots, the Forensics Museum at Siriraj Hospital. If you have a weak stomach, this museum may not be the place for you. Along with the aforementioned body, the museum also displays the fetuses (in jars of formaldehyde) of Siamese twins, a collection of blown apart limbs, and even a decapitated head. Again, it’s best not to eat lunch before a visit to this macabre spot, located in the oldest hospital in Thailand. If more traditional, family-style museums are what you’re after, Bangkok offers those as well. The Bangkok National Museum has the largest collection of Thai art and artifacts in the country and is located on the former grounds of the 18th century Wang Na Palace. The Jim Thompson House, actually consisting of six traditional teakwood houses, is located in a garden setting and is a popular tourist destination for its architecture, antiques and of course, the famous Jim Thompson silk.  Other interesting museums include the Corrections Museum, the Human Imagery Museum, the Bank of Thailand Museum, the Museum of Counterfeit Goods, the Philatelic Museum and if you really can’t get your fill, the House of Museums.  More information about these museums can be found here.

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Tourists walk across the bridge over the river Kwai in Kanchanaburi. Pic: AP.

Getting Out!

Sometimes one of the best things about Bangkok is the ability to get out. Luckily, this can be accomplished quite easily and Bangkok’s close proximity to some of the more beautiful regions of Thailand makes this a worthwhile choice. Buses, trains, vans or even taxis (for the right price) will whisk you out of the city to destinations such as Khao Yai National Park, Kanchanaburi, or the island of Koh Samet, all of which are only a mere two hours away.