Bangkok or more correctly Krung Thep - The City of Angels, with its 8+ million population, over 1,000 skyscrapers and the home of "Thai smiles" - can create an impression of a huge loony bin, badass cuckoo's nest and absolute nuthouse. But, if you take a closer look - you'll see its charm, warm nature and quite a lot of order within the apparent chaos. And that's why we love it!
Bangkok is dramatically different depending on where you go and when you go. Areas with expensive and posh shopping neighbor slums, all-night-party districts neighbor sacred places and majestic temples, half meter wide snake-like alleys lead to 8 lanes boulevards, business district by day turns into very naughty area by night.
The entire Bangkok lives, works and entertains itself on the streets or so it always seems. Streets is where everything is happening. Streets is where everybody seems to be all the time. It's buzzing day and night, hustle and bustle filling up the city most of the time. Sounds like a nightmare, right? Well, you get used to that as soon as you start seeing all the gems this city has to offer.
What are Thais like? As soon as you get to Thailand you'll start noticing a couple of very special things about Thais. Everywhere you go you'll hear a very lovely sounding sawatdee-kraup (-kah) (hello!) in combination with the widest and kindest smile you've ever seen and a little nod. Thats the "Thai smile" and I have to disappoint you - not that it's fake, but the smile along with many other "authentic Thai" cultural things were artificially fabricated into everyone's lives in 50' during the start of nationalism/Thaification. And guess what - the smile, certain clothing and certain manners were enforced by law! So yeah - the smiles are probably sincere most of the time, but there's no such thing as authentic Thai smile.
Thais are cheerful and fun loving people - they're laughing a lot and most of the time appear happy. They have a very complicated social order, but even the poorest accept their social status with grace which allows them to experience that cheerfulness no matter what. They love their King (who really seems to be a nice guy), they have a huge respect for His Majesty and it's reminded on every corner and wall with pictures of the King and Queen.
Thais are excellent cooks (doh!) and I'm not talking about upscale restaurant chefs - every little eatery, every food cart, every street stall has an excellent chef whose cooking is a real delicious home style food. We absolutely loved street snacks, Thai curries and soups, Arabic and Chinese food.
We did quite a lot in Bangkok (returned there 4 times!) - it was amazing, especially with our best friend, Ufoby, who visited us from Lithuania and stayed with us in Thailand for a month. We had some crazy nights, ridiculous adventures and generally a lot of good times!
Here are our highlights from Bangkok:
You can of course spend all your travel time in air-conditioned pink taxis, or take a metro or a tuk-tuk, but you can really discover Bangkok only by walking and getting lost (preferably) You'll find all sorts of local gems just by choosing to get from point A to point B on foot.
Bangkok is an exciting place to shop - it has so many options, from world famous brands around Siam Square and its never ending shopping centers to wholesale markets, to local Thai designers boutiques (Thai designers are really good btw). Our favorites are - The Platinum Mall, Pratunam market, Chatuchak market (huge weekend market where you can find absolutely anything and a lot of unique fashionable stuff for affordable prices) and Talad Rot Fai afternoon/night market near Chatuchak - a really hip and artsy area with lots and lots of gorgeous, vintage and kitschy stuff for sale.
GET A TUK-TUK & SEE CHINATOWN IN THE EVENING
You have to try Thai tuk-tuk - they are smaller and less comfy than Cambodian ones, but they use some special engine that makes them accelerate and race like crazy! You just have to have this crazy ride through the colorful night Bangkok! In Chinatown - do the markets and night food streets, prices for dishes here are a bit more expensive at both street eateries and restaurants, but you'll have an excellent experience! And take a tuk-tuk back home! ;)
HAVE A BLAST PARTY NIGHT
This is a must in Bangkok! Go to Sukhumvit district and have a nice dinner - you can get any kind of cuisine here just along the Sukhumvit road (we recommend Arab, Israeli and Indian food area around Soi (alley) 3-5 on Sukhumvit road. Have drinks around the same area (we recommend the legendary Cheap Charlie dive bar on Soi 11) or try Soi Cowboy (Bangkok's red light/entertainment area) Get to see some live music shows - jazz/blues scene is particularly nice in Bangkok! And then you can continue on the legendary Khao San road - backpackers district, where the party goes on all night long, in every tiny beer or cocktail place, outside drinkeries and just on the street. Khao San is also full of excellent cheap food places and snack stalls, so you can combine your drinky drinky time with some mouthwatering Pad Thai or fresh BBQ, most of the time without even leaving your spot - just grab a plate from street vendors who usually cruise around and cook on the spot in the middle of all that crazy street party!
CHECK OUT THE NAUGHTY BANGKOK
Go to Patpong area in Silom district - during the day it's a business district, at night - it's just naughty! Have a look around, maybe check out some Go-Go places, watch tourists buying viagra (yes, they do, right on the street :) or just hang out on the street with your own drinks as we did. Be aware that for most people it's enough to just see Patpong for an hour or so, hanging out for longer here gets annoying since all girls working around will try to get you into their bar or lounge on every step. There's also a lot of rip off going on here, our rip off deserves a separate blog post, but in short - we decided to check out the famous ping pong show (lets just say it involves some circus around ping pong balls and vagina) - it's not exactly something you'd want to see more than once but being 3 best friends and feeling adventurous we went for one :) Long story short - they took all our cash threatening with "a talk" with some gangsters who would not let us out. Conclusion 1: all these shows are rip offs, conclusion 2: have very little cash with you.
DO SOME SPLURGING
Splurging is cheap in Bangkok (I mean relatively), find a 4-5 star highrise hotel with roof top pool, sauna and great view over the city and get a penthouse room with jacuzzi (cost us $50-60/night) and enjoy a couple of nights there! That's what we did before coming back to the West :)
Bangkok is an amazing place and there's much more to do than the highlights I mentioned, it's too huge for one story. I miss it a lot!