I'm back in Bangkok! Huzzah and hurray.
Did you know Bangkok is the hottest city in the world? The year-round temperature (day and night, winter and summer) is an average of 28 degrees C (671 degrees F).
Did you also know, Bangkok isn't just a souvenir-&-toilet stop on your way to ride an elephant or get drunk on a beach. It's a big exciting city with lots going on. Yes some of it is smelly and dirty - but if you can't rough it a little bit, you probably shouldn't visit the rest of Thailand either, right?
So, here are just a few of my suggestions to enjoy Bangkok as a real place.
Phra Athit Road
|Jazz happening at Jazz Happens! Bar|
But just a short walk away, towards the river, is Thanon (Road) Phra Athit, where locals hang out in foreigner-friendly cafes and bars. A few notable places include:
- Jazz Happens! Bar, where jazz actually happens. Inside this cute little bar, talented jazz students from the local university take turns on different instruments playing a mix of modern and traditional jazz. Occasionally they have notable Thai and international musicians stop by for a gig. Friendly place, great people and jazz. Nice.
- Dickinson's Culture Cafe is a European-style cafe bar where local DJs spin European-style dance beats and grooves. In Bangkok's pop-oriented bars, it's a welcome slice of something different.
- Escapade Burgers & Shakes make the most awesome burgers, shakes and cocktails. Replacing ketchup with a "home-made truffle sauce", this place is popular with young locals and students. Ask them to make you a personal shake/cocktail, they'll do it.
- Joy Luck Club (round the corner on Phra Nakhon) is a wonderful little restaurant/cafe named after the 1993 film (and 1989 book). The food is great, the decor is super cute, and the lady who runs it is amazingly friendly.
There's lots of other places too, have a wander around and poke your nose in.
|The 2 species mix together freely|
A lovely park in the middle of the sprawling metropolis, Lumpini (also spelt Lumphini) Park is a venue for many special events and home to 2 interesting species: joggers, and monitor lizards. Visit some time around 5-7pm and you can see both.
Many Thais enjoy jogging in the cooler and shady environment after work. Note that this occurs across 6pm, when everyone stops and stands still for the national anthem, which is worth seeing in itself. (You should probably check the time and stand still yourself, if you don't want to look like a disrespectful foreigner.)
Monitor lizards are usually seen near waterways, such as canals and the lakes of Lumpini Park. Adults are often 2+ metres from nose to tail tip and the 2nd closest thing to a dragon you'll ever see (short of an actual Komodo Dragon). They're great swimmers, and can happily climb trees (which is fascinating/terrifying to watch), but they generally move slowly and won't attack people unless you provoke them. Do not provoke them. In fact, just in case, avoid the risk of a bite altogether by taking photos from several metres away.
RCA (Royal City Avenue)
|Throwing shapes and singing along to Suede at Cosmic|
RCA is a government-approved/built clubbing district, and a popular nightlife destination for young Thais. There are a wide variety of clubs, from the biggest mainstream venues taking up the entire width of the street with outdoor tables & chairs, to smaller clubs catering for more niche music tastes.
Obviously it's best to go with a group rather than on your own. Even better, go with some Bangkok locals if possible - you can ask around or set up an event on social websites such as Meetup.com and Couchsurfing.org. In fact you should be doing this anyway!
It's definitely worth looking up the venues, clubs and events to find somewhere that suits your preferences, unless you're not fussy and enjoy generic dance/pop. My personal tip is Cosmic Cafe, which plays indie/rock/electro and sometimes has local bands.
Plan ahead with your time - RCA is not near the Skytrain (BTS) or the underground (MRT) and it's a long taxi ride across town from Banglamphu and Khao San Road.
Get high ... and watch the sunset
|Sunset from a BTS station -|
not even very high up
Bangkok specialises in sunrises and sunsets. So unless you're up super early for sunrise, take one or two days to get real high and photograph the sunset - it's spectacular.
Bangkok is close (ish) to the equator, so sunset is usually between 5:30pm (December) and 7pm (June).
A popular place to visit is the State Tower, where the Sky bar (featured in the film Hangover 2) occupies the highest place in Bangkok.
Take the canal boat into town
|Taking the canal at dusk|
The wonderful Skytrain (BTS) and its new cousin, the shiny clean underground line (MRT) are nowhere near Banglamphu. So if you need to get into the city from Khao San Road, why not take the canal?
It's a short (ish) walk past the Democracy Monument - follow the main road, cross the bridge, and hug the canal down to the right. This pier is Phanfah Leelard (spelt multiple ways, including "Panfa Lilat") and it's the last stop on the Golden Mount line (being next to the Golden Mount Temple) - the boat arrives facing the wrong way and then turns round.
The trip is 10B for a short trip, if you're just heading to the malls or to catch the BTS, or 20B for a longer trip. You pay on the boat - make sure you check which stop (pier) you need on the map at the pier.
The boats run until approximately 8pm and come every 5-10mins, so don't worry if you just miss one.
Yes, with walking it takes longer than catching a cab or motorbike taxi. But it's super cheap and well worth doing at least once. Remember to move up the benches to let people on!
Bangkok Art & Culture Centre (BACC)
Yes, Bangkok has both art AND culture! Go and check out the BACC near National Stadium BTS stop (Sapan Hua Chang pier on the canal). The galleries start from the 5th floor, but if you feel like buying something fancy or grabbing something to eat, wander up the 1st-4th floors.
Sukhumvit Soi 11-13 (& other ex-pat areas)
|Cheap Charlie's holidays and opening times|
Bangkok has 2 main foreigner areas: the backpacker ghetto, and the ex-pat district. Just a couple of days in Thailand and you should be able to tell them apart - ex-pats wear trousers, because they work, and also have lots more money, because they work.
Generally ex-pats hang out all over the central city, but particularly in the sois (lanes) along Sukhumvit Road. There are plenty of bars, clubs and restaurants along the sois aimed at both ex-pats and, increasingly, well-off Thais.
|The world famous Bed Bar doesn't|
want their sheets getting stained
Ask around and look up places to eat and drink, but a good place to start is Cheap Charlie's, an outdoor cult/dive bar on Soi 11 where the drinks are cheap and the talk is cheaper. Admire the bar made from random gifts, memorabilia and crazy junk accumulated over the years, and get talking with locals and ex-pats. Then head out on a random night in the bars and clubs - just be careful with your wallet, as these are capital city prices...
Also, as an honorary Kiwi I have to mention Snapper New Zealand restaurant (also on Soi 11) - a clear sign that Kiwi cuisine has arrived on the world stage!
Get amongst it
These are just a few things to see and do - there's plenty more, plus the usual stuff like seeing the Grand Palace and visiting temples and seeing some Muay Thai (boxing). Just do a little research, get stuck in, meet some locals, and treat Bangkok like a real city - your experience will be far far better.