Bangkok was my first stop on this South East Asian journey. I landed here on the 27th May, right after the Military Coup and when I arrived, the Army had just imposed a general, nation-wide curfew. Everyone had to be in doors before 10 PM and was not allowed to leave again until 5 AM. It felt like being a school kid again: “And iiit’s sleeeeping timeee!” Then it got a little better. They moved the curfew to midnight and eventually to 1 AM. By that time, people just didn’t care about it any longer. And to be very honest, I felt that all it did was add an element of danger to the adventure – not that Bangkok isn’t adventurous enough without the curfews. I won’t write too much, also because I am putting this post together a whole 6 weeks after visiting the city. Plus, it had such a good vibe that I am certain to go back [and obviously write more]. Yet many people don’t like this city for various reasons. The most common ones are the crowds and the huge population, the traffic, and the whole ‘come-in’ red light ping pong show culture. And yes, I can certainly see where that comes from. Personally, I found a vibrant cosmopolitan mega-city, with great public transportation, amazing sights, and so much to offer that it’d be difficult to get bored.
1. The best roof-tops I have ever seen: I love roof-tops, the higher the better. They’re usually way more expensive than your usual bars but hey, I do get a kick from them. Being up 200+m and overlooking an entire city gives me a feeling of achievement. Not personal achievement (unless I had to actually climb the stairs to reach there) but more some sort of pride for how far humans have come. And yes, please feel free to give me all kinds of shit for that.
Whether it was the Sky Bar on top of the Lebua Tower (featured in the Hangover movie), Cloud 47 somewhere in Siam Complex, Vertigo or simply the top of my high-tower apartment complex, the view was always breath-taking. In fact, on Lebua tower I was lucky enough to experience one of the most violent thunder-storms that I have ever seen – and captured some of it on picture. See the two photos above. Incredible experience.
2. Temples, monuments and parks: Overall, much of the architecture is modern sky-scrapers and they all look the same. Yet the historic parts of Bangkok are pretty damn impressive too. And some of the temples are simply breathtaking. I’ve put some pictures of the slightly less obvious ones that you might actually miss if you don’t look for them. The most spectacular I found to be the Wat Arun temple though. I’ve only seen it from a boat off the Chao Phraya but it looked like out of a fairy tale. Or a very dramatic Jackie Chan Kung Fu movie.
(Wat Chansongkram Temple)
Lumpini Park is another place I’d like to mention. While it was closed recently due to various protests taking place, I spent a wonderful afternoon in the middle of it, escaping all the hustle and bustle of the city. It’s the equivalent of Bangkok’s Central Park, surrounded by very tall skyscrapers all around creating a feeling of being inside some sort of futuristic bowl. Sitting on a quiet bench for about two hours reading a football book – Zlatan’s autobiography I think – was the perfect way to recharge before another big Bangkok night. And then it’s only a 15 minutes walk to Chitlom.
3. My swimming pool
Right – if there’s a reason why I didn’t see as much of the city as I probably wanted to – then it’s this one:
Renting a flat in Bankok is comparatively super cheap. And they all come with perks such as clubhouses, video game rooms, gyms and most importantly – swimming pools like this. Given that there was a supermarket and a restaurant just within the complex, why would anyone ever want to leave the place?
4. Streetfood, posh restaurants and little hipster bars Unfortunately, I’m not much of a food photographer but some of the best food I’ve had while travelling in Asia was in Bangkok. Whether it was the street grills near Ramkhaeng (where I lived) or the proper street food market near Thong Lo – it was delicious. Of course there’s China Town too or the Little India area. In fact, Little India had the most authentic Indian food I have ever seen outside India and it was all cheaper than an ice-cream at the North Pole (apologies for the silly analogy). To find some of those places you’ll need guidance from a local, from an expat who is into food, or a friendly tuck-tuck driver. I was lucky enough to be guided through the darkest, smelliest and oddest little side streets just to find some food oasis at the end of it. But as someone has pointed out, the best food in Bangkok is always a few meters down your street, so go try it!
Of course, there’s upper scale dining in Bangkok too, and by that I don’t mean KFC but properly fancy restaurants. One of them was down by the Rama VIII Bridge. What a sight, and what delicious food.
(Some quirky little cocktail bar in Nana – Arab Street)
One of the best nights I’ve had in Bangkok was in fact an ‘Afro Hipster Party’ somewhere in China Town. The location was a little bar called ‘Soy Sauce Factory’ with a very high ceiling and projections on all walls. The music was…well…afro hipster I guess and the atmosphere one of the most laid back I’ve experienced. People were either dancing or having some form of intellectual conversation – not sure how to describe it, but the whole evening felt like a Woody Allen movie. At some point, there was a guy walking around with his three year old daughter which gave me this feeling of total confusion. Was this cool? Was it terrible? And all this lasted until the police came, at which point, everyone ran away (yes, it was past the curfew). Eventually we went to some Irish looking little bar and I got home in full daylight being chased by dogs. But yeah, maybe I should elaborate on this in the ‘Stories’ section.
The next day, the organisers sent the following message:
“Thank you all for coming… Sorry that we had to interrupt the party when the police came in. They finally left with a big smile on their face… No one in jail, not big trouble… Next Trouble planned on next Friday!”
Gotta’ love it!
5. The red light districts
It somehow never felt right to take pictures in the red light districts and the ones I have actually taken are pretty bad so no pictures here (just Google really and it will do). But Soi Cowboy with its super bright neon lights, Shukumvit Road, Nana and all those places – they do have something about them that you need to experience yourself to understand. To more serious things, I can’t believe so many women work in the sex sector of Thailand, yet the Thai Government (even pre-Army coup) censors even the slightest sex scene in Western movies. While walking around these areas, people try to sell you things and drag you inside the go-go bars and massage parlours and what not. This can be rather intimidating and annoying. Yet still not as annoying as I’d later find out Kuta can be. Overall – it is difficult to describe the atmosphere in this places but everything that Bangkok is famous for (rightly or wrongly so) comes together here. If you visit Bangkok, make sure you walk around these streets, if only for the ‘in-your-face’ atmosphere that I have never experienced elsewhere.
The one area that I found to be ‘too much’ was Patpong. The market is huge and the street is plastered with ‘ping-pong’ spectacle shops. I’ve never been inside but was told that you are very likely to be massively ripped off. While you order a beer, your bill at the end includes a lot more expensive items that you probably have not requested. If you deny ordering them, mobster-like figures might show up making sure you still pay. But as I said, never actually been so all I can comment on is ‘hear-say’. Just walking around Patpong tired the hell out of me and I went back home and sat by the pool. Tough life 🙂
6. Khao San Road
This backpacker’s Mecca is one of the places to see in Bangkok (especially given its proximity to all the temples) – yet somehow I managed to not find the time to explore it properly. It does have a very distinct atmosphere – completely different from the rest of Bangkok. The people walking around look different, the little stands are selling properly cool t-shirts, and you can even buy the odd deep-fried scorpio. You can hear music come out of everywhere – be it funky, heavy or quite jazzy and I think most of it is live. And, not to forget, the foot massage that my local friend Januars recommended was absolutely phenomenal. Probably my favourite massage in Asia so far. Definitely a place that I will need to see in more depth when I return.
7. Public transport
While this might be a bit of a surprise – I really loved using the public transport in Bangkok. Whether this was the crazy fast river boats, the sky trains or the free window-less buses – they all had so much personality and were usually extremely convenient. The boat rides are absolutely a must-do.
– If you need visa on arrival, make sure you have a return ticket or access to the internet. I came on a one-way ticket so was refused entry. I had to buy a ticket to Singapore from the Airport. Luckily, there’s free WiFi and luckily, there are plenty of cheap airlines in this part of the world. AirAsia, Jetstar, Bangkokair etc…
– Don’t let the Taxi drivers rip you off. Just make sure you ask them to turn on the meter. And if they refuse, get a different taxi. You’ll never have to wait long, eventually you’ll get one that works by meter.
– Make sure taxi drivers take you to the actual destination. I was dropped once in a wrong location at 4 in the morning. By the time I figured it out, some stray dogs were barking at me and I was saved by the street cleaners. So watch out for that.
– Ask for a helmet when you get onto the back of a scooter. They need to have one to be allowed to operate and given how they ride, I was sometimes properly concerned. Also – my hat flew off once and a car ran over it. Don’t want the same to happen to your head.
– Don’t get into taxies at rush hour. Very straight forward but it is A LOT MORE PAINFUL than you can actually imagine. I needed 2.5 hours for a distance that I could have done in 30 min max on the BTS
– Some flats/ hotels/ accommodation claim they are close to the SkyTrain. Note that the BTS is the actual Sky Train. The airport links, while very fast too, are often further away and run a lot more sporadically so you’re waiting times could easily be 15 minutes or more
– Explore! Asian mega-cities might seem impossibly big. Yet I thought that areas in Bangkok are certainly worth exploring by foot, and just like European cities, rather aimlessly without a clear purpose. That’s how I discovered Phra Sumen Fort for instance – and what a marvellous sight it is, especially at night.
– Don’t stay to close to the water when you are taking the river boats. A boat coming from the opposite direction may splurge so much water that you are soaked. While this may sound refreshing on a hot Bangkok day, I’ve been told that the water is absolutely disgusting and you will need to go home and shower in disinfectants (slight over-exaggeration here).
– Don’t get ripped of in Patpong. As my AirBnB host explained – if they try to rip you off, just stand your ground. Threaten to call the police, don’t get intimidated. That’s what they hope. Even better, make some local friends and ask them to join you. You should be a lot safer this way.
And that’s it really. Bangkok is an extraordinary city. No surprise so many expats who live here just love it. I am certain I will be back within the next 2-3 months and I am properly properly looking forward to it. More about it then.