‘I can’t get to the bottom of Bangkok, and I never will’ – Lawrence Osborne
When it comes to holidays, a twin centre type deal isn’t always my favourite concept. We got it horribly wrong when we went to Cuba in 2011 where we did the beach aspect first and by the time 3 nights in the hustle and bustle of Havana came around we were far too chilled out, lazy and suffering from a case of ‘rum tummy’ to be able to appreciate it. We did, however, get it horribly right on honeymoon in 2013 when we visited Australia, New Zealand, Australia again, and Dubai – but we had a month to do it so wasn’t as fast paced.
All that being said, if we were going to be travelling on two sequential 7 hour flights to the other side of the world on a recent holiday to Thailand, we were going to make the most of it.
Bangkok is one hell of a crazy city and if you had the wherewithal you could definitely find enough stuff to amuse yourself for a week or a fortnight. But as the sandy beaches, palm trees and free slowing Chang beckoned us in Phuket, we only had 3 nights there. So here’s how we made the most of the limited time we had there:
We arrived at our hotel at about 8pm at night after an hour long transfer from the airport into the centre of Bangkok. Traffic in Bangkok is crazy at any time of day or night so make sure, if you’re getting a taxi from the airport, you negotiate a set price to your hotel. If you rely on the meter it will cost a fortune, as you’ll spend most of that time sitting in traffic.
We checked in (to the lovely Radisson Blu Soi 28), dumped our stuff and had a quick walk along our street to grab some food and a beer. Sukhumvit is the main street running through Bangkok with smaller side streets (called Soi’s) running off it. Don’t be fooled by any poorly scaled map though, Sukhumvit is 8 miles long. We found a lovely restaurant right next door to our hotel and indulged in our first (of many) Pad Thai and some cocktails, then headed to bed at a decent time to start exploring the next day
With so much to do in such a short space of time it’s hard to know when and where to start however we’re not really ones for easing ourselves in gently to these things so after a hearty breakfast at the hotel we headed to the sky train to visit some of Bangkok’s main attractions; the Grand Palace and Wat Po.
There will be loads of temptation to book a guided tour by taxi or tuk tuk either through your travel rep or hotel, my advice would be – don’t. The sky train is a really pleasant way to travel, all signs are written in English (as well as Thai – obviously!) and anyone familiar with the London Underground or Tyne & Wear Metro won’t struggle too much. It’s also only about 80p a journey and the trains are air conditioned. Asok was our closest stop which meant we travelled to Siam then changed lines to get to Saphan Taskin. Here you walk straight off the train to the water taxi which will take you up the Chao Phraya River to the Grand Palace, Wat Ho and Wat Arun (on the other side of the river but accessible with the same ticket) the boats are Tourist boats, are hop on/hop off and only cost about a fiver each.
I won’t go into the ins and outs of each palace or temple as you’ll already had a good idea of whether or not this will be of interest to you but if you want to see some fascinating architecture, lavish paintings and a helluva lot of Buddhas (Buddhi?) then these are your places to go.
A few tips though; there are some strict dress codes where knees and shoulders must be covered, which isn’t the most comfortable in 30 degree heat. A maxi shirt and a vest top with a jumper I could scrunch up in my handbag did the trick for me, although I wish I’d just worn a normal sleeved t-shirt now to save taking the jumper on and off.
We also hopped back on the boat to go further north to visit Khao San road which is where all the cheap bars and hostels are. We were there mid-afternoon before it got dark and the craziness began for which I’m pleased. We looked at the market stalls, sampled a scorpion and I bought a knock off pair of Raybans for £4 (which broke 2 days later).
After getting back to our hotel the same way we left – hot, sticky and tired we had a quick dip in the hotel pool with a cocktail to freshen up then headed out for dinner; again just staying on our little road (Soi 18) and sampling more local food. The starters of fishcakes and spring rolls were amazing and better than any generic thai place at home. For mains I had a thai green curry that was baked inside an omelette, which was a culinary delight.
Fully refuelled and well watered on cheap beer and cocktails we ventured over to Soi Cowboy across the road which is a ‘watered down version’ of what the Khao San Road turns into at night. It’s a short street jam packed with neon lit bars where scantily clad Thai girls try and lure middle aged western men behind dubious looking velvet curtains – to have a chat about life and their hopes and dreams for the future, I can only imagine. It’s full on and in your face but worth a visit if you don’t think too long and hard about what goes on behind those curtains. You can only hope it’s regulated and everyone’s having a jolly good consensual time! Fun fact: we found out the day after visiting that the Tilac Bar was used in the filming of Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and The Hangover part 2. Which I like to think in some small way brings me that little bit closer to Bradley Cooper.
As luck would have it day three for us fell on a Saturday which meant we were able to visit the Chatuchak Weekend Market which is one of the largest markets in the world. We took the sky train all the way from Asok to Mo Chit. You’ll have no problem finding out where to go from there, just follow the crowds. Chatuchak market boasts almost 15,000 stalls of which you can find anything from an knock off pair of adidas trainers (with 4 stripes instead of 3) to a live baby squirrel (we didn’t see any of them – but that’s what the guide book reckons!). It’s not for the faint hearted or the hungover/jet lagged, as we experienced but it is *the* place to get all those souvenirs to take home. You’ll also be able to get a spot of lunch at one of the many food stalls. Guide books recommend putting aside a whole day for a visit however a few hours were more than enough for us for a mooch around, the purchase of a new bag and a few scarves and a wander around the beautiful Rod Fai park which is right next door providing some tranquility among the madness.
We made our way over Siam (the central shopping district), ate some pink sandwiches and walked along the BTS sky walk which links a couple of the central stations. It’s a great way to see some of the other temples in the centre as it’s above street level so less crowded and sheltered from the sticky heat.
One thing that really was a must for our trip was to visit a Skybar to get some views of the city. There are plenty to choose from, the obvious choice being the Sky Bar rooftop at Lebua State Tower made famous by appearing in the Hangover. However the Longtable was recommended to us and was a 5 minute walk from our hotel. The bonus of the Long Table is that they have a happy hour from 5-7pm (right at sundown) where drinks are 2 for 1 (you have to have 1 each, you can’t share) and it worked out at about £8 per drink.
The views were indeed lovely, our only regret is that we booked the table too early (5pm) because it took a good hour for the sun to start setting however there are worse places to be than drinking cocktails on a Bangkok rooftop at 5pm!
We were flying on to Phuket on day 3 so only had the morning to to spend before we got our transfer to the airport at about 2pm, so we stayed local. We had a walk 5 minutes down Sukhumvit to Benchasiri Park which is right next to a large shopping mall where you’ll find lots of eastern shops; GAP, Bath & Body Works, Michael Kors etc. The park is a lovely little oasis in the middle of the city with turtles in the lake, a public swimming pool, tennis and basketball courts and exercise areas.
Now, I’m not saying this is how you have to spend your time, but this is how we made best use of the short time we had. Bangkok is a strange city. It felt like we were non stop from the moment we arrived to the moment we left but then also felt like we barely scratched the surface. If temples are your thing, there’s plenty. Is shops are your thing. There’s plenty. If street food is your thing, there’s plenty. If prostitutes are your thing… I’ll stop there.