My first visit to Bangkok was in 2004... before Facebook, Skype and Keeping Up With The Kardashians.
I had such a blast that I decided to return to the Land Of Smiles. So here I am 8 years later (minus the blonde highlights, midriff t-shirt and cheesy mall)!
I'm in Asia for the next month on a "bizcation" - working and vacationing. I'm lugging around my MacBook, iPhone and iPad and it's an inferno here - temperatures reaching 38+ by lunch time! But it's pretty amazing that almost a decade later, I'm able to Blog, Tweet and share my travel adventures with you in real time.
Most people fly into Bangkok for a short stopover before heading to one of the islands. Generally a good amount of time to explore the city is about 3 days so hold onto your tuk tuks and get ready for the ultimate cultural immersion, incredible urban eats and organized chaos!
WHERE TO STAY:
Amari Watergate Bangkok puts you in the heart of the vibrant Pratunam neighbourhood which is known for its bustling shopping bazaars and sidewalk restaurants. If you need to be plugged in like moi, Wifi Internet is on the pricey side ($20 per day) but it's available in the lobby for free. Amenities include a gym, pool, Breeze Spa and a gorgeous rooftop garden. There are a few restaurants inside the hotel - Thai On 4 serves up authentic Thai dishes and the bar at Cascade is great for people watching. Rates start at $100 per night for a standard room.
Riding in a Tuk Tuk is a must and quite the experience... from negotiating a reasonable rate (offer at least 30% less of what the driver asks) to the thrill of swerving in and out of Bangkok traffic. Tuk Tuk drivers have mad manoeuvring skills so it is safer than it looks. Really!
Otherwise, jump into a Taxi-Meter (the cars are pink or a bright colour so you can't miss them). Tip: if you want to avoid getting ripped off, ask to pay according to the meter rather than a flat rate. Also most drivers speak a bit of English but the street names in Bangkok are long like tongue twisters - so remember to get your hotel's business card so you can show the address rather than trying to pronoun "Soi Thanakhan Krung Thep".
WHERE TO SHOP:
Pantip Plaza. Gaysorn and Siam Paragon houses all the luxury brands. Platinum Fashion Mall is where you find trendsetting fashion and accessories at penny pinching prices - think 5 storeys of H&M or Forever 21. Central World (photo above) has all the mid-range global brands and MBK Centre sells a mish mash of everything from mobile phones to video games, luggage, Lacoste imitations and even Louboutins-inspired red heeled shoes! Terminal 21 offers a really unique shopping experience - you can find things from all over the world under one roof. And if you haven't had enough, you can shop the night markets into the wee hours. Tip: check to see if the tax on your purchases qualify for the tourist VAT refund and keep your receipts!
WHAT TO SEE:
Chatuchak Weekend Market - everything can be found in this labyrinth of 8,000 stalls selling clothing, jewellery, food, toys, souvenirs and obscure items like shrunken heads and contact lenses that make Asian eyes appear bigger and prettier. Things that make you go hmmmm... (Budget 2-3 hours + commute time.) Tip: let them tell you the price and then haggle, haggle, haggle! Often you can get it down to 40% off.
Grand Palace - For about 150 years, this was the home of the King and his court, as well as the entire administrative seat of government. For 400 baht / $13 CAD you can marvel at the beautiful details and timeless elegance of these temples and structures. Tip: This is Thailand's most sacred site so proper dress is required which means shoulders must be covered and no shorts/skirts and sandals. (Budget 2-3 hours + commute time.)
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market - for that picture perfect postcard, you will have to sacrifice some Z's and head out at 6am to see this but it's totally worth it. Book a day tour with your hotel to witness the old style and traditional way of selling and buying fruits and vegetables while drifting down a canal in a long boat. (Budget 2 hours + 2 hours commute time each way.)
Muay Thai Boxing - a martial art and Thailand's national sport, it's more or less no holds barred as fighters punch, elbow, kick and knee their way to victory. It is quite the atmosphere just being in the audience but if you don't want to commit to a whole evening of blood and sweat, you can drop by Wednesday Fight Nights at MBK Mall for a free match or two. (Budget 2 hours + commute time.)
EAT & DRINK:
If you are not a hardcore foodie, Thailand will turn you into one. Every morsel of food I've indulged in was love at first bite! I'll be sharing all the goodies in an upcoming "Urban Eats in Bangkok" post so stay tuned for more...
Here are other wonderfully weird things to see and do in Thailand.
Lisa Jackson was also in Bangkok recently so check out her city guide here!