10 things we love about Bangkok – Part 1

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 first installment of one writer’s humble attempt to do just that…

Chinatown

Every major city across the globe has a Chinatown and I have seen my fair few, from San Francisco to New York City. Bangkok, however, somehow manages to trump them all with the densely packed, chaotic madness that comprises its legendary Chinatown. The labyrinths of this famous neighborhood are brimming with herbs, textiles gems, temple goods, electronics, gold, pirated DVDs, street food and even guns for sale, if you know where to look. The “Flashlight Market”, also known as Khlong Thom, is most busy on Saturday evenings as the sun goes down and it is said that one needs a flashlight in order to fully appreciate the wide range of second-hand goods offered here. Another popular market in Chinatown is the “Thieves Market”, named for its history of offering stolen goods for trading. Although the wares are no longer stolen (we hope), this market is still a good spot for picking up electronics and other household items. Chinatown eventually spills over into Little India, known as Pahurat, which offers an incredible array of textiles for sale. Chinatown is perhaps best visited for the food, the people watching, and the opportunity to stumble upon oddities such as the Nightengale Department Store, which seems to be frozen in time, fully stocked with fashion, make-up and sports equipment from the 1970s – and apparently hasn’t been restocked since.
Water taxi to Ratchawong Pier.
MRT to Hua Lumpong.
Charoen Krung Road.

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Motosai crew. Pic: Sarah Waldron

Moto Taxis

There are many ways to get around in Bangkok – the BTS skytrain, the underground MRT, buses, taxis, tuk tuks and of course, the moto taxi. Probably the most dangerous method of public transportation, moto sai taxis are undoubtedly the quickest (and most fun) way to get where you are going. Every street in Bangkok has its own crew of motosai drivers, often clumped around a makeshift table playing cards and drinking Red Bull or M-150 (use your best judgement – ie. Don’t take one! – if they are drinking anything else). You simply state your destination and ask for a price. Moto taxis are often more expensive than taxis and, again, far more dangerous, so if you have any reservations it’s best to just hop into one of Bangkok’s famously cheap cabs and be sure to use the meter.

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Bangkok's Chao Praya River

Bangkok’s Chao Praya river bears a striking resemblance to the chocolate river in ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’. Pic: FBM.

Chao Praya River

The mighty (muddy?) Chao Praya river may not be an obvious choice on a list of Bangkok’s top destinations, but this congested waterway is not without its own delights. Running through the eastern side of the city, the Chao Praya is an artery fed by hundreds of small klongs (canals) and eventually leads down into the Gulf of Thailand. Resembling the chocolate river in ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ (please don’t drink it, tempted as you may be), the Chao Praya is a turbid, dirty river, without which Bangkok would most likely not exist. The beauty of the Chao Praya lies in its history as a major thoroughfare in Bangkok. Bangkok used to be known, quaintly, as the “Venice of the East” with much of the city being connected by the klongs and the river. Today, the river is still used as a mode of transportation, with a plethora of water taxis, longtail boats and barges chugging their way through the water. The Chao Praya can be used as a means of getting to many major tourist destinations, including Wat Pho, Chinatown and Khao San Road. If you take the BTS to Saphan Thaksin, you will find a pier, a map and a (somewhat) reliable schedule taking you to many of the different numbered piers up and down the river. The riverside itself is a microcosm of Bangkok life, from the crumbling waterside shacks and markets to the soaring 5 star hotels that dominate each side of the river. Klong tours are also a popular attraction, taking tourists on a more scenic route through smaller canals and neighborhoods, making the nickname “Venice of the East” a more plausible moniker for this bustling metropolis.
BTS to Saphan Taksin

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Chatuchak Market

Chatuchak Market, Bangkok. Pic: AP.

Chatuchak market

A visit to Bangkok wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Chatuchak market, one of the biggest outdoor markets in the world. Only open on weekends, Chatuchak truly caters to every shopper’s wildest fantasy. Spanning 27 acres, a trip to Chatuchak is not for the faint of heart (or hungover). With more than 15,000 stalls, Chatuchak sees approximately 200,000 visitors every day. If you choose to be one of them, make sure to slather on the sunscreen and keep yourself hydrated, as you peruse wares ranging from vintage clothes, kitchenware, plants, furniture and art to the (controversial) exotic animals section. Chatuchak is fully stocked with ATMs, food stalls and plenty of beverages to keep you hydrated. The market also offers shipping services if you get carried away and truly need to buy that seven foot wooden Buddha or would like to send a few live monkeys to that special someone back home.
BTS to Mo Chit

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Iron Fairies is just one of Bangkok's excellent nightspots

Iron Fairies is just one of Bangkok’s excellent nightspots

Nightlife

It would be truly impossible to sum up Bangkok’s nightlife in one paragraph. Bangkok is known for its wild side – the red-light districts, the ping pong shows, the ladyboy pageants. But there is much more to this dynamic city than the stereotypes and if you prefer to avoid the creepy, old sex-pats drowning in their Chang beer and delusions, Bangkok’s nightlife has plenty to offer. If you are into the more posh (read: expensive) club scene, Bangkok’s swankier hotels offer up plenty of clubs and rooftop bars to cater to your needs. The best of these include the Sky Bar on the 63rd floor of lebua State Tower (made famous in ‘The Hangover 2’), the aptly named Vertigo on the 61st floor of the Banyan Tree Hotel and Red Sky on top of the Centara Grand at Central World. For a good old-fashioned pub crawl, Sukhumvit’s Soi 11 can’t be beat. Located right off the Nana BTS, soi 11 ranges from the divey (Cheap Charlie’s) to the luxe (Bed Supperclub). Nestled in between are great restaurants (Tapas, ZanzibarCharlie Brown’s, Snapper) as well as a range of pubs: the Old German Beer House, the Australian Pub, the upscale Oskar and countless street-side bars serving whiskey out of VW vans. At the end of the soi, past Bed Supperclub, is the rooftop Nest bar, as well as “New York style trance and groove lounge” Q-Bar. If you are more into live music and dance clubs, then Royal City Avenue will be your weak spot. Known as RCA (tell this to any cab driver), this beloved (by Thai club kids and foreigners alike) stretch of road is jam-packed with hipster nightspots (like 808 and Route 66) and always stays open until the wee hours. If a quiet beer in a more laid-back environment is what you’re after, then be sure to check out Bangkok’s best small bars. And if you’re itching to rub elbows with the unwashed backpackers constantly streaming into Bangkok, throw on your finest Chang tank top and head on down to Khao San Road.

CONTINUE READING: 10 things we love about Bangkok – Part 2