One night in Bangkok…and a bit longer

From a rich culture and shoppers paradise to top notch food, Matt Taylor shares the things to see and do when visiting Bangkok.

Exploring Bangkok

So, obviously, most people don’t plan to spend a whole week in Bangkok and you can do the major attractions in the space of a few days but Bangkok is the  a city that you can spend longer in and not get bored, especially if you find a hotel as we did, where you have the advantage of a pool and an outdoor area. This can be somewhat of a luxury in any large city.

We chose to stay at a hotel on the Chao Phraya River. In your search a hotel such as the Hilton Millennium (which is a good medium priced option) The Ramada Plaza or the Chatrium Hotel would be a good place to start. Mainly because most of these hotels have shuttle boat services to the Bangkok Skytrain at Saphan Taksin Station. From here you can take the Silom Line which runs between Bang Wa and National Stadium which is in close proximity to many restaurants, street vendors and other sights, sounds and smells of the city.

Chao Phraya River by night, Bangkok

Chao Phraya River by night

Firstly, for any of you who have been to a city as a tourist destination such as New York, London, Dubai or even Singapore the first thing that will probably be evident is the sheer randomness of Bangkok. Five star hotels sit with apartment blocks and shops that look like they are ready for renovation. This is part of the charm of the city itself. High technology and shiny shopping centers such as the Siam Center nestled beside dust and dirt of side streets with bustling markets.

So, what should you see when you are in Bangkok? Well firstly, you should probably go see one of the many temples, such as Wat Arun (The Temple of the New Dawn) and also the Grand Palace in the old city. Make sure you observe local customs whilst visiting though. It tickled me somewhat and appalled me at the same time that the Thai authorities felt that they needed to issue a ‘guide’ to certain tourist groups. Be aware of customs of taking pictures and buying souvenirs of Buddha. The Thai people are very friendly but customs should be observed.

There are also many other things to do and see in the city and it is actually a very safe city, we got lost on many occasions during the trip. I can honestly say, I never felt unsafe in any part of the city, the taxi drivers and tuk tuk owners were not so in your face and bartering was not as pushy as you may expect. I felt safer here than in New York and London both cities city I once called my home city.

Eating in Bangkok is an experience in itself, there is everything here from street vendors selling the most amazing tasting spiced skewered meats right through to some really excellent restaurants. One of my favorites was Tongue Thai, which is located at Soi Charoenkrung off the Charoenkrung Road. The Banana flower Salad is pretty amazing and the cocktail menu is extensive as the cocktails are potent. This is not what you would probably consider as one of the main tourist areas but it is an area that is deserving of some exploration. There are many winding alleyways and roads to discover and there is always a local who wants to help. Not far from here is also the Mango Tree Restaurant on Thanon Surawong for those of you who want to play it safe, but still enjoy some Thai Dishes. The service is somewhat slow but the garden is pretty idyllic with a water feature set in a pretty courtyard. Just make sure you are suitably protected against mosquitos. They are only too happy to sample western blood. Bangkok and indeed wider Thailand is a place where hospitality is seen as important. The service here is always pretty good even if there are some language issues. Nowhere was this more evident than at the Sirocco Restaurant at the State Tower. This restaurant is set on top of this colossal structure and hotel on Silom Road.

Sirocco at State Tower, Bangkok

Sirocco at State Tower

This sixty third floor restaurant is really one of those blow the budget places but the chefs sample menu is quite amazing (I am not a foodie person) and the wines are also of great quality with a wide selection to chose from. Be willing however to leave the best part of four hundred euros poorer as a consequence.

For those of you who really want to melt the MasterCard and do some hardcore shopping there are many places in Bangkok where you can have some great retail therapy. Thailand was or is known for its imitation items and cheap merchandise but that is only part of what makes up Thailand’s appeal as a shoppers paradise. There are so many wonderfully quirky and shiny malls such as One Siam Square and its three other connecting malls where you can find not only any sort of shop your heart desires ,but also some pretty good eating places as well. In One Siam Square some of the Japanese food you can find is (in my opinion) a rival to food I have had in Osaka or Tokyo.

Bangkok is also known for its Gay friendly attitudes, those of you want free pour spirits and friendly bars will find them at Silom Soi. If nothing else this is a great place to people watch and the surrounding areas are close to the Skytrain and some of the best t-shirt stalls in Bangkok. This is also very near to the Patpong night market, which is an experience in itself.

If you want an area rich in restaurants, markets and shops selling about anything a tourist could possibly want, there is also the Asiatique night market (if you stay on a hotel by the river you will no doubt see its iconic big wheel) and if you chose to stay at the Millennium Hilton or another of the Riverfront hotels the chances are that your hotel has a boat service that will take you right to the door. If you are staying away from the river there is a free shuttle boat from the Saphan Taksin Pier next to the Saphan Taksin Skytrain, just be prepared to wait and queue.

Bangkok really is a city to explore and discover and although you can just do it in a few days it is great to be able to spend a little bit more time and soak in the atmosphere. Hotels in Bangkok are reasonably priced and it is always possible to find a nice restaurant or bar along the way no matter where you are. It is true that Thailand is not the ridiculously cheap tourist destination it once was, but it is still a place that should be on everyone’s tourist agenda if they like to explore. I thoroughly recommend it. A flight from Europe will usually take around twelve to thirteen hours with flights arriving in the morning. A taxi to the center should be around four hundred baht but if you are staying at a nicer hotel the cost could be a little more at about six hundred baht. If you make friends with a taxi driver you can also ask about rates to destinations outside Bangkok, there are many beaches just an hour away that taxi drivers are only too happy to drive you to and will wait for you to take you back.

As a side note, anyone who keeps up with the news will be aware that there has been some political unrest in Thailand in the past few years which has resulted in the tourist industry being particularly hard hit. It is advised you check the advice of your country before travelling.

Click here to view the travel advice of the British Foreign and Commonwealth office for Thailand.

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