Sawasdee-ka! Recently we spent two weeks in Amazing Thailand – spending a week each in Bangkok and Phuket. Thailand is a popular tourist destination for so many reasons … my personal favourite things about Thailand are its tropical weather, exciting food, unpredictability and zany style. I’ve spent a few months in Bangkok previously so it was nice to return and show my husband Jarred a few spots I knew – and also explore a few new ones with him.
Since we’ve been asked more than a few times by family & friends what to do / eat / see in Thailand – I thought I’d compile a few of our highlights:
Chatuchak / JJ Market
Someone told me Chatuchak is home to 4,000 stalls – the official website though claims it hosts 15,000 stalls. Who knows how many there really are, but one thing is for certain: it is huge. You can spend hours here and not run out of new stalls to peruse. We came here by tuk-tuk on our first morning in Bangkok (you can also catch the MRT to Kamphaeng Phet MRT Station). One gets a little hot and dizzy exploring Chatuchak but you can always get a cold drink and explore the sheltered bits when you get tired of walking in the outdoor area. It is well known for being a market in which pickpockets operate – so ladies, wear a bag with a thick strap and which you can keep very close to you at all times; men, no wallets in back pockets! No thick wads of cash! Leave your passport and valuables in the safe at your hotel if you can.
If you’d rather visit a night market – try Asiatique The Riverfront (free shuttle boat service provided from Saphan Taksin BTS Station). There are many options there for stylish souvenirs, dinner and more. You can also enjoy a view of the city from their ferris wheel (which we didn’t take on this occasion).
If you’re not looking forward to having to trawl through the malls with your wife who’s eager to shop (not that I imposed such a thing on Jarred) – you may change your mind when you’re in Bangkok because they are good places to escape the heat and also to grab a bite in air-conditioned and clean surroundings. Bangkok is full of comprehensive and well-designed malls – the most beautiful ones are to be found in the city centre in the vicinity of the Siam BTS station.
On this trip we spent most of our shopping time at Platinum Mall which you can access via BTS or by taking the khlong boat to Pratunam. Hubby bought more than me … haha! I didn’t take photographs at Platinum but it’s basically a fashion-focused mall where you can get anything from wigs to belts, cosmetic jewellery, handbags and elaborate gowns … some for close to wholesale prices. Vendors are accustomed to interacting with tourists. I find it best to just enjoy the experience of bargaining and try to strike a deal which is fair for both, or be willing to walk away as the next good buy is never far away!
Pictured below: Central Embassy mall
While we’re on the subject of malls … Siam Paragon (right next to Siam BTS Station) is a luxe mall, where you can enjoy delicious food and window shop for cars (check out Coffee Beans by Dao on G. Floor – relatively upmarket by Thai standards but always reliably great food, along with the luxury cars upstairs … )
We came here with my friend Håvard – good to catch up again :-)
Embassy Diplomat Screens by AIS
I wanted to surprise my movie-buff husband – and I was in luck, as Bangkok is home to the Embassy Diplomat Screens … a cinema which doubles as a pampering experience. You can book your tickets online as we did. Located on level 6 of the Central Embassy mall (close to Phloen Chit BTS Station) – arrive at least 30 minutes before your movie is scheduled to start if you can, so you can enjoy the lounge experience before you snuggle up in your cocoon seat or daybed for the movie. Best to pick a engaging movie to watch or you may find yourself waking up at the end with drool trailing off the edge of your open mouth ;-)
This is not the cheapest cinema ticket you’ll ever get – but in my opinion it is worth experiencing at least once, and preferably on a date with someone you like!
Bangkok is the Venice of Asia, and one can easily forget it when catching the comfortable BTS train, feeling stuck in horrendous traffic or attempting to bargain with a tuk-tuk driver … but don’t miss the chance to explore the city via its waterways. Not only is it picturesque and refreshing, it is also a very inexpensive way to get around.
Khlong Saen Saep
For part of our trip we stayed at an Airbnb apartment in the Thong Lo area which was conveniently located right next to the Thong Lo pier. We loved it that we were able to catch a khlong boat to Pratunam (city centre) each day for 15 baht (approximately NZD$0.50), and arrive in 15 minutes!
Some find the smell and occasional splash of canal water offensive (though they have a good system in place to deal with sprays) less than appealing, but if you can get past that it is well worth it!
Chao Phraya Express Boat
One thing about the boats: they are speedy and great, but the system can be a little hard to figure out when you first get there. The easiest option is to purchase an all-day pass for the Chao Phraya Tourist Boat from Sathorn pier (close to Shangri-La Hotel / Saphan Taksin BTS Station). It costs just 150 baht (approximately NZD$6) and you can hop on and off as you wish at piers located very close to a few of Bangkok’s key attractions including Yaowaraj (Chinatown), Khao San Road, Grand Palace and Wat Pho.
If you do hop on this for a day … don’t miss …
Farm to Table
Get off at Pak Khlong Talad pier and take a look at ICP Flower Market en route to Farm to Table Organic Cafe, a 5-minute walk from the pier (use Google Maps). This little treasure serving delicious fare and handmade gelato is well worth a stop for lunch (and leave room for dessert).
Still on the subject of water and food (two of the best things in the world, no?) – there is a yummy way to enjoy the Chao Phraya River at a leisurely pace. I signed us up for dinner on a Supanniga Cruise … where we got to enjoy some Thai delicacies over a 2.5 hour cruise along the river. We got a perfect sunset and evening – and as a bonus, albeit to my embarrassment as well, we were the only passengers on board that evening with about 9 crew members attending to us! We had more than enough to eat (and the food was swoon-worthy!), the boat was nice and new, the crew took photos of us all evening on my camera, and we enjoyed our evening with them.
The verdict is also that I will probably not ever opt to privately charter a boat with a substantial crew as I simply feel too embarrassed ;-)
Bangkok’s street food is truly an attraction in itself. Hygiene isn’t always on the top of the list at some of these places, so choose carefully (or be willing to put up with the consequences) – on this trip I took us to Convent Road (a stone’s throw away from Sala Daeng BTS Station). Incidentally it is also very close to BNH Hospital should you require quality medical attention for anything.
We had some delicious chicken rice, a delectable banana and nutella crêpe (so crisp, sweet and hot!) and spicy chicken (not pictured).
If you’re still in the vicinity of Sala Daeng BTS Station in the evening and it’s fine weather, enjoy a 10-minute stroll to Moon Bar at the Banyan Tree for a drink 61 storeys above ground level. There is an option to dine too at Vertigo (the adjoining restaurant). Dress code is smart casual – in our case we were unprepared, but they graciously provided a perfectly fitting pair of trousers for Jarred and a wraparound skirt for me. Seats are limited but it didn’t take us long to find a cosy spot. The view was breathtaking and our drinks were delicious (I recommend the Thai Sabai!)
Soi Thonglor / Sukhumvit Soi 55
Our Airbnb apartment was located very close to Sukhumvit Soi 55, which seemed like a very vibrant street from what I read about it through my Google research. We certainly enjoyed walking down it one night, taking in the sight of all the colours and exciting-looking restaurants, though we had unfortunately already had dinner that night. We did, however, take our time to explore a few gems …
We had our morning drinks at Roast – I can wholeheartedly recommend their iced espresso latte, a very creative and delicious way to enjoy iced coffee! We hung out for a little while afterwards downstairs in the common area, just people-watching and chatting. Enjoyed the concept and visual layout of this place – a thoughtfully designed community hub.
It also turned out to be a ‘beauty day’ for both of us … Jarred went to a hairdresser then chilled in the nail parlour while I had my nails done :-D
Later still after a dinner interlude, we returned to Thong Lo to visit the much talked about Iron Fairies bar. It was too dark to take good photos, but we liked the design and creativity in the place, the calm atmosphere, the great live music and how it felt like we had disappeared down a rabbit hole into another world :-) I hear the food and cocktails are good – perhaps something to try next time (this time we just had beer for him and Perrier for her, after a huge dinner!)
The aforementioned big dinner we had was at Sorabol with my friend from uni, Nam, and her boyfriend Trust. We took a cab there from where we were staying (if catching a cab and your cabbie needs more details around where it is, say it is close to K-Village). We had a great time catching up over Korean BBQ … seriously there are few better ways to feed a hungry tummy!
Obviously eating out lots can leave one hungering for simpler, home cooked fare. For our days spent at our Airbnb Jarred made us delicious oatmeal in the morning which we enjoyed with fresh mangoes bought from a street vendor. Seems we had arrived in good time for the annual mango season … mmmmm … they were so ripe and juicy, almost sexy!
When we were planning our trip we were faced with a somewhat pleasant problem: WHERE to stay with the plethora of options available online! In the end we decided to pick a place each in Bangkok, where we would spend half the week. Jarred’s pick was Uma Residence which was very affordable at NZD$162.40 for 4 nights including a daily breakfast at the time we booked. Our room wasn’t huge, but it was very tidy, comfortable, well ventilated (something which we really appreciated when we got to our Airbnb apartment), and we really enjoyed hanging out by the pool before we headed out each day and when we got back in the evenings. They also had a complimentary cookie and coffee station which was a very lovely touch for guests.
In terms of location it is situated in the older Dusit area of Bangkok, very lovely and local, tuk-tuks and taxis easily available a few minutes’ walk from the front door, 9 minutes’ walk from a boat pier (which we only discovered towards the end of our stay). We’d love to stay at Uma again on a future trip to Bangkok.
It’s easy to spend a week or more in Bangkok with so much to explore – next time I’d love to take a cooking or massage class, visit the Floating Markets, Wat Pho, islands and other attractions in the vicinity of Bangkok, and re-visit Dasa Books, Lumphini Park and Talad Rot Fai … :-)
Have you been to Bangkok? What are your favourite spots / activities?