Bangkok’s come a long way baby… This city has got to be THE iconic gateway between East and West, where countless backpackers arrive, ready to begin their adventure backpacking in Asia.
But it’s been many years since Khao San road was a lesser-known strip of home-stays, a place where a weary traveller could rest their heads with local families and experience ‘the real Thailand’. In fact, we’ve even penned a survival guide to your first stay in Khao San here as it has become something of a rite of passage; a pulsing hive of activity and modernity with Khao San road – the Banglamphu district – the centre of the backpacker universe with every convenience you might expect (yep, it even sports those golden arches as well as a Starbucks and a Boots).
Yes, the times have certainly a-changed but that doesn’t mean you can’t still have a right royal blast in Bangkok!
Granted, it’s down and dirty and got something of a pollution problem, but we love this city – it’s buzzing with the spirit of adventure! It’s the city that barely sleeps and it’s geared to send your senses into overdrive and whet your appetite for your upcoming trip.
Still not sure? Well, here are our top 10 things you’ll love about Bangkok…
1. Street parties
You’ve just got off the plane after a 20+ hour journey and arrive under cover of darkness. Bangkok is bustling around you with noise and action as you weave through the crowds to track down your accommodation. Do you a) go straight to bed for a long nap or b) decide to take jet-lag by the horns and head out for a celebratory drink to get your bearings.
Those of the mind-set that you can sleep when you’re dead will find one of the best things about wandering the streets leading off Khao San and Rambuttri is the fact that, come sunset, it is like one long street party festival EVERY NIGHT.
Wandering around, taking in the sights and sounds is an experience in itself with young Thais coming out to play along with the visitors. You can pick up cheap cocktails from pop-up reggae bars or stroll the streets with a 7/11 beer in hand – basically, it’s just the place to celebrate your arrival. Don’t expect any chic clubs in Banglamphu, this is still backpacker territory – but as we’re the kind of girls that prefer the informal kind of roadside bar to a nightclub proper, this is our district or choice to party.
2. Street food
Food, glorious food! Bangkok street food would surely make the short-list for best street eats in the world. There is so much of it around it is always possible to pick up a late night snack of spring rolls or pad Thai. However, our favourite spot was Soi 38 in Sukumvit, a little night market with some of the better quality street food stalls in the city. Open 8pm-3am ish, you can pick up tasty meals for under 100B although be warned: you may want to sample several dishes!
3. Weaving in and out of the traffic in a tuk-tuk
A trip in these funky, little, motorized vehicles is like a rite of passage for a visit to Bangkok. However, for longer journeys a taxi is loads better value – tuk-tuks should be taken for short stretches and they are a lot pricier than you’d imagine so avoid picking them up around the touristy spots.
Also watch out for the old ‘this attraction is closed let me take you somewhere better’ trick – it usually turns out to be the driver’s mate’s shop that sells gems/suits/something else you don’t need or want. But zipping through the traffic with the wind in your hair is a great way for a whistle-stop glimpse of the city.
4. Bangkok shopping
Looking to blow some serious baht? Bangkok can certainly help you out. As well as the markets, the city plays host to a wide variety of shopping centres with something to offer all tastes. Mallrats hunting for bargains should try MBK, trend-setting types might prefer CentralWorld, and the more sophisticated shopper ought to check out The Emporium or Siam Paragon for a taste of the Bangkok high life.
One of our favourite areas to explore was Siam Square – this open-air complex has an artsy vibe where Bangkok’s creative types browse quirky boutiques filed with cool, slogan tshirts, funky accessories and local designer goods.
5. Views, views, views
Make the most of those bright city lights and visit one of the rooftop bars of Bangkok. Skybar on top of the state tower is a popular choice for a cocktail – you’ll have the whole of Bangkok at your feet with mind-blowing, panoramic views out into the twinkling night.
6. Super cheap massage
Massage is taken seriously in Asia and on the streets of Bangkok you can indulge in one every day should you so choose – that’s how cheap they are! Around the Khao San area, the street-side stalls offer great value and a view of the action – relax with a cold drink and let your stress melt away with an expert foot, back or neck rub. Bliss!
7. Rooftop pools
There are certain times of the year when big, Asian cities like Bangkok can become pretty humid and temperatures soar. At least when you are by the beach and the thermostat rockets to sweltering, you have the big, blue to leap into and sizzle your way back to feeling human. Not so on those Bangkok city streets. Unless, of course, you are savvy when booking your accommodation and choose a place with a rooftop pool. D&D Inn is one of our favourites – when it gets too hot to move or you fancy catching some rays, shrug off the heat with a cool drink and refreshing dip. Beach schmeach.
8. To market, to market
As well as the big shopping centres Bangkok is famous for, it is also the place to go for local markets filled with fun, quirky clothing that doesn’t break the bank. From the bright bikinis and comfy hareem pants of Khao San to the vintage dresses of bustling Chatuchak, where Sundays see the most famous market in Bangkok roll out its clothing wares – there is plenty to keep the avid shopper amused. Or for something a little different, visit the beautiful blossoms of the Bangkok flower market – fragrances, colours and garland weavers galore!
9. Top temples
As much as Bangkok is a thriving, modern metropolis, it is also the place to get to grips with traditional Asian culture – there are over 400 temples or wats to be found throughout the city.
Key sights include: the sparkling splendour of Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) where a tiny, jade figure presides over an Aladdin’s cave of wonder; the magnificent reclining Buddha of Wat Pho, his four metre long feet decorated in mother of pearl; and the iconic Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn) rising from the banks of the Chao Phraya river.
10. Easy travel planning
As we first mentioned, Bangkok is the gateway to Thailand and it holds the keys to all the beautiful beaches of the south and jungles of the north. There are countless travel agencies to shop around in order to book transport on to your next adventure – this is why many people who might prefer independent travel in Thailand just wait until they hit Bangkok before finalising their next move. Bangkok has been catering to travellers for so many years now that it has budget traveller transport down to a fine art – take advantage.
Love Bangkok as much as we do? We’re always on the look out for top tips to uncover more of this crazy city – let us know yours!