My sister always said if I ever went to Bangkok I’d need a minimum of five days. She was wrong. Five days merely scrapes the surface of this amazingly vibrant city that I have fallen in love with. But five days it was and I packed it in. The pressure was on.
We checked into the elegant Oriental Residence in the heart of the embassy and business district in Bangkok and after a quick shower met a friend of mine who was already in the city on business for a late supper and drink. We hopped onto our first tuk tuk and literally zoomed across town to Soi Rambutri near the famous Kao San Road. I couldn’t believe how easily the beer went down (I don’t really drink it) and proved the perfect beverage in the humidity and with the spicy food. We also encountered our first monsoon and it was like the sky opened up and dumped a wall of water on us. Instant flash floods. This also prevented us from wandering around and checking out the street food stands later. The tuk tuk ride home in the rain was our last. Despite thinking we bargained the driver hard, we soon realized that the tuk tuk is very much a tourist trap and despite how much fun they are, they are way more expensive than a metered cab.
Day one involved getting orientated and taking the Bangkok Mass Transit System (BTS) from Phloen Chit station to Siam station and exploring that area. Our first stop was at Siam Paragon and it was like stumbling into food court heaven. I never thought I’d rave on a about a shopping mall food court but this was next level. I’m not talking about the big chain fast foods brands – they were there but in another area. I’m talking about a plethora of food stands making every conceivable authentic Asian food delicacy spread around the Gourmet food market. It was nearly impossible to choose what to eat. This is the downside of going on a culinary adventure. You want to eat all the food but you simply can’t.
You can buy a prepaid card in the Siam Food Court but we landed up just paying the vendors directly. If you want to experience a wide range of dishes in an easily accessible, super clean and modern environment, this is the place to go.
You can walk from building to building in this whole downtown area on raised and covered walkways. The distance between stations is manageable so you don’t need to take the train.
On the Tuesday evening we met the social media manager of the Amari Watergate Hotel for a drink on their executive floor followed by a trip to Yaowarat Road, which is home to Bangkok’s China town. The Amari is where a lot of South Africans stay and in fact was the hotel recommended to me by a friend who travels to Bangkok regularly. They are soon to open their Amaya Food Gallery’s “food from the streets” concept.– which I guess is going to be similar to the Siam Paragon as described above. Keeping it as authentic as possible but without the hustle and bustle of a street food environment with hygiene issues. They will be bringing the street food to their guests in one central and easily accessible location on one florr of hte hotel. As it’s not yet opened, a trip to China Town for supper would give the next best impression.
We sampled a variety of food at the street food restaurants but our first stop was at T&K Seafood where we were presented with a yellow crab curry that was life changing. It was so delicious it nearly brought tears to my eyes and we ate like beasts. When I go back to Bangkok I’m going straight back for this.
Yaowarat is a shopping area in the day but at night turns into a lively street food area with many street carts and restaurants spilling out onto the pavement. You will spot T & K Seafood by the bright green shirts the staff wears.
We moved over to the Ramada Plaza Menam Riverside Hotel where we stayed for the remaining 3 nights. Set on the bank of the Chao Phraya River it was great to stay in a different neighborhood to our first hotel and experience another side to the city. We loved the laid back feel of the hotel which is 30 years old and despite being a little dated it was actually very retro cool. The staff were super friendly and we loved our time there. They offer boat trips every half hour to the nearest train station and have a tuk tuk on hand to ferry guests to the nearby Asiatique market. This is a great and super affordable place to stay, set slightly away from the heaving throngs of the city but with in easy reach.
On our third day we were taken on a private tour with the incredible guide Anu from Diethelm Travel to the Damnoen Saduak floating market about 100km outside Bangkok. On the way we stopped at the Maeklong Railway Market where we got our first exposure to a fresh market in Thailand. Fascinating. The actual Railway market is a busy tourist attraction and they line up in droves to see the train coming through at specific times and the stall umbrellas go up to allow it to pass. It’s a snapshot of a bygone era but was far too busy to get very close. The various stalls are set up literally centimeters from the track that the train goes by on. I enjoyed taking pics in the main market away from the railway though.
Sadly it was a very rainy day so we couldn’t take a boat trip to the floating market but visited it by car. It was interesting to see albeit teeming with tourists and a little washed out.
We had lunch at Polo Chicken a local restaurant in the business district of Bangkok that came highly recommended by a Thai friend of Kristy’s. They are known for their fried chicken and this was delicious. Along with a few more beers and the popular green papaya salad, this spot is recommended.
In the afternoon we visit the famous Jim Thompson house and took one of the 45-minute tours. Interesting to see this beautiful place set in a tropical garden but I was hoping to hear more about the silk trade that Jim had set up in Asia.
Our last day involved a blow out lunch to Nahm – voted by the prestigious World’s 50 Best Restaurants (No. 22) and Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants (No. 7) in 2015. David Thompson is the Australian-born chef at Nahm and is a widely acclaimed expert on Thai cuisine. We indulged in 7 courses (shared the starters) and were super impressed with the refined tastes and textures on the plate. The rosat duck broth with Thai basil and coconut was the dish of the day for me and was pure heaven. I didn’t want to stop eating it. The crab curry was also sublime. Lunch was followed by a trip to the Banyan Tree sky bar. Literally a restaurant and bar on the whole rooftop of one of the tallest buildings in Bangkok. The views were spectacular to say the least. We watched the sunset as we sipped on our extremely expensive cocktail.
The country was in the official mourning period for His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej so I cant say what it was like prior to this. Friends say it is much the same with most businesses up and running but just with the volume turned down. It was a little more sedate than normal. Like any of the big cities in the world that I love: Paris, NYC and London, Bangkok is one that I will want to visit again and again. My sister also said she would go back to Thailand blindfolded just so she could eat the food and she certainly has a point. From the highest end of the restaurant spectrum right down to the foods on the street this is a delicious city and I can’t wait to go back and eat some more.
A FEW OF MY TOP TIPS WHEN VISITING BANGKOK:
- If you want to remain connected 24/7 get a local sim card at the airport. I failed to do this and was unable to buy one as a foreigner in the city.
- Get a good map. If you dont have access to Google Maps your map will be crucial.
- Take the business card of your hotel which will have directions in Thai so you can show this to your taxi driver. Not every taxi driver knows every address and most dont speak or read much English.
- Take an umbrella when you go out in the city (rainy seasons). You can of course buy one there very easily and cheaply We were in Bangkok towards the end of the rainy season but were frequently stopped by sudden downpours.
- Carry water and drink a lot. It’s excruciatingly hot and humid and you need to remain hydrated.
- Take flip flops. We literally lived in ours and the best shoes to wear in a monsoon.
- Take insect repellent for the early evenings.
- Plan your trips. Bangkok is a huge city (bigger than I expected) and its fairly sprawling. Focus and plan where you want to be on a certain day and keep your outings localised vs trying to travel across the city too much.
- Take a tuk tuk for the experience and be prepared to bargain. Negotiate a rate upfront. The metered taxis in the city are reliable and trustowrthy and of course air conditioned which makes getting around much more comfortable. Insist that your driver turns the meter on. If he doesnt get out and find another one.
- The Sky train is the quickest way to get around town. Traffic (especially during rush hour) can be extremley slow so this is a better option.
- Take a river boat cruise or one of the public Chao Praya river boats to see city skylines and get around.
- Visit a sky bar at least once. Its worth the over priced cocktails.
I always prefer a visual story so here are a few of my pictures from Bangkok.
*Disclaimer – My holiday to South East Asia was self funded and arranged by myself. In Bangkok, The Tourism Authority of Thailand, represented in South Africa by Lesley Simpson Communications arranged my hotel accommodation, airport transfers and one day tour with Diethelm Travel.
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