Bangkok Book Of Secrets
Travelling to really far flung and exotic locations has it’s obvious advantages, such as the exploration of a totally different culture from your own, experiencing new food, hearing new music and a different language and seeing monuments you may have previously only dreamt of being near after seeing them in films or photographs. After all, the world is a big place, but as soon as you start to travel a bit, it only takes a few experiences to understand how small it really is. That being said, being comfortable, to a certain degree, is of utmost importance to many people.
There is a price to pay for all of this “exoticness” and life changing experiences and that is that you can never really know what this far flung place is like until you get there and you have to trust that you will know what to do, where to go, how to avoid potential pitfalls and make sure you don’t miss those fantastic off the beaten track spots.
Marina and I have lived in Thailand for quite some time now and have loved exploring Bangkok, both the obvious tourist spots and the not so often seen unique spots you can’t miss.
Read on for the Bangkok book of secrets to help you plan the trip of a lifetime and not miss out on anything that this amazing Thai city has to offer.
Bangkok is the capital of Thailand and is vastly more populated than other Thai locations. Bangkok has a daytime population of 9 million people, nearly that of Los Angeles, and the madness shows as well as being named the most visited city in the world in 2013. It is famous for its Royal and Buddhist temples and museums as much as it’s shopping and nightlife so really is a city with something for everyone. Bangkok might sound like an intimidating city to many, and while it is easy to be overwhelmed in many cities, Bangkok (or BKK) as the Thai’s call it, really is able to keep people of all different persuasions entertained, young, old, adventurous and thoughtful.
Dating back to the 15th century, Bangkok was built around the might Chao Phraya River which winds its way through the heart of the city to this day. While Bangkok has vastly different neighborhoods, it is, in many regards, still a quant city along the river. With the explosion of a metropolitan and hip younger generation, the city is as vibrant as ever, still holding on to its deeply religious and cultural roots while boasting some of the fastest growing trendy neighborhoods, clubs, bars and a happening music scene.
Accommodation offers are varied and range from very simple beach huts through to luxury stays at five star hotels such as the Siam Kempinski Hotel. When deciding on your accommodation consider how much time you will spend at your hotel. Is your break mainly about relaxing in a luxurious retreat with generous spa facilities and grounds for relaxation? Or is your break mainly about exploring, using your accommodation only as a base?
Finding the right accommodation will take so much stress out of your trip that it really is of great importance. Luckily Bangkok might have the widest range of accommodation options of any city we have ever been to. If you feel like saving your pennies, there are loads of hostels across the city to house the massive backpacking population that travels through Thailand. Want to step it up a bit but not break the bank? Search for boutique hotels in the Sukhumvit or downtown areas, away from the madness of Khao San Road but still close enough to everything. There are even some amazing 4 star hotels right on the banks of the river, with rooms for as little as $30 a night.
Damnoen Saduak is the original floating market and despite it’s increasingly touristy vibe is still not one to be missed. While it doesn’t have the charm you might expect from the postcards you have seen, visiting a floating market is a great experience and there is no better place than Bangkok. Chatuchak is another landmark market with over 8,000 stalls trading in a diverse range of merchandise attracting over 200,000 visitors every weekend.
To regain a bit of balance, visit the calming temples of Wat Arun or Wat Po, opposite each other on the river. Both are massively popular to tourists but try to plan and visit them either very early in the morning or in the later afternoon, not only will the crowds have died down but the light will be beautiful and the temperature less intense. Just remember to bring bug spray as the mossies like to bite around sunset!
A trip to the reclining Buddha and Grand Palace cannot be missed either, but remember to cover your legs, both men and woman, and to arrive before 3:30pm, when they stop allowing visitors in. Tickets to the reclining Buddha (Wat Po) are cheap, around 100 baht, and Wat Arun even cheaper, around 60 baht, but be ready to pay 500 baht to visit the Grand Palace, and while the most expensive temple/palace to visit it is well worth it.
Getting across the river is easy as ferry boats cross regularly about every 5 minutes and only cost 3 baht one way, so don’t be stressed about catching the ferry as there are tons of great food and gift stalls around the pier to keep you entertained while you wait. We recommend getting a bowl of 30 baht noodle soup, you won’t be disappointed.
Tom Yum soup is the one that can’t be missed, a fiery broth like curry topped with kaffir lime leaves that is bound to get the tongue tingling. Thai street food has got a deservedly fantastic reputation and from the stalls it is Pad Thai fried noodles that draws the most interest. For the more adventurous how about eating live Shrimp? If you fancy giving it a bash then ask for Goong Ten, a strangely writhing salad that delivers a salty crunch when you bite. You should even try you hand at a Thai cooking class if you are really interested in bringing home the skills of a Thai chef with your from your holiday!
One thing you will notice in Bangkok are the endless street stalls of a vast variety of foods for every palate. One of our favorites is fresh coconut ice cream, found around many of the Thai temples. For the SUPER adventurous eaters out there, you can always try eating bugs, which you will undoubtedly find at many of the markets or popular food stalls. While not the most appetizing option for many tourists, insects are a long time favorite of many Thai’s and provide a delicious and crunchy snack for those willing to give the crickets, grasshoppers and maggots a try. Sure sounds gross but it really isn’t that bad.
If there is one thing Bangkok does well it is nightlife. Whether you are looking for the most insane night of your entire life or a quiet wine bar to sip a glass of red with your spouse, the city provides endless opportunities to get out and relax. The up and coming Sukhumvit area has some of the most trendy new bars, such as Above Eleven, a cool and relaxing bar 32 floors above the streets, and Bourbon Street, the most well known American bar in the city. For the adventurous, there is a Paris themed Absinthe bar hidden inside Sukhimvit 11’s most well known bars, but we’ll let you discover it for yourself, the journey is half the fun with this one, but when you find it and step inside the secret door you will be amazed you are even in Asia.
For the backpackers and college kids, head straight to Khao San Road, made famous by the movie “The Beach” this never ending party street is chalk full of the cheapest bars, hostels, restaurants and night clubs a kid could ever ask for. While it might not be your cup of tea, it sure is entertaining enough to visit, just leave before nightfall if you want to remain sane.
So, “Should I rent a motorbike in Asia” is a common thought we hear from tourists, and a valid question to ask yourself when coming to this part of the world. While not all people feel comfortable driving a motorbike, especially on the wild streets of Bangkok, it really is the preferred and easiest way to get around. If with a family, children or the elderly, you might want to think about renting a car during your holiday, however in Bangkok the tuk-tuks are an especially authentic and cheap way to get around the city. While you might not fit the entire family in one tuk-tuk, there is little less exciting than running around the big city with your friends in tuk-tuks if you have never experienced this exciting Thai way of traveling. For the more traditional you can always hire a car or take the more than accommodating MRT, or metro system which weaves its way through most of the city. But seriously, rent a motorbike, they are great fun and give you a special sense of freedom and excitement.
If you really want to have an unforgettable time in Thailand and want to head home with a more permanent memory, head just 30km outside of the Bangkok city limits to Wat Bang Phra Temple famous for its Yak Sant tattoos given by monks in the traditional thai bamboo style. These tattoos are a sacred symbol in the Buddhist religion and many temple goers do not even know the tattoo they are going to receive until it is completed. Definitely for the bold, a yak sant bamboo tattoo is a special way to remember your time in the land of smiles.
Photos provided in part via Flickr and Prachanart Viriyaraks
.H . Jeff Johns is the co-founder and editor of Latitude 34 Travel Blog. Through 65 countries on 6 continents he has accumulated a seemingly endless stream of odd information, interesting stories and helpful tips and tricks to better travel. Jeff’s goal is to visit all 204 countries on Earth before he is too senile to remember them all. A graduate of the Visual Journalism program at the Brooks Institute, his true passions lay in honest visual storytelling, documentary filmmaking, Thai food and a good laugh. Together with his girlfriend Marina, they run Latitude 34 Travel Blog as a source of helpful information for those who love to travel or those who simply dream of it. If you have a comment or suggestion, send them an email at email@example.com and they’ll respond super fast!