What to do and what not to do in Bangkok
Despite its popularity, or perhaps because of it, Bangkok is not an easy city to love. The sewage system is overwhelmed, giving the city a permanent odour akin to sour milk mixed with rotting fish guts. In an attempt to relieve the congested roads, an overhead rail system blights what would have already been a pretty unattractive city, and walkways are littered with broken paving slabs, and blocked by food carts. So why go to Bangkok? Well, it does have some qualities, this is how to make the best of Bangkok.
1. Get out of Bangkok.
A short ride out of the bustle of Bangkok you can reach the Unesco World Heritage site of Ayuthaya former capital of Siam. Despite its locale this ancient temple complex is remarkably quiet, which adds to the splendour of the sites. You will have the opportunity to visit ancient temples, stupas and numerous statues (including the famous head of Buddha in the tree roots). We’d recommend hiring a driver to take you around the major sites so you don’t miss the best, this cost us 500 baht (£10). Don’t worry, you won’t have any problem finding one, they’ll find you. To get to Ayuthaya from Bangkok, head to the Victory Monument BTS station (N3) where you can hop on one of the local minibuses to Ayuthaya – ask around if the mini-buses don’t have the signs on the windscreens. The minibus cost just 60 baht (£1.20) and it took about an hour.
2. Don’t go to the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha)
What………? Don’t go to the No.1 tourist destination in Bangkok??
Yes, you heard me right. I’m sure that if you hit the Grand Palace on a quiet day it’s amazing, but unless you happen to be King Bhumibol that is not going to happen. You will be queueing for hours, and you will be shuffling round the sites shoulder to shoulder with half of Asia, and be 500 baht worse off for the privilege.
The old town of Bangkok is certainly not short on temples, most of which cost little, if anything to visit, and some which you may have entirely to yourself. Individually they may not have the grandeur of the Grand Palace, but trust me the experience will be much more enjoyable.
These are some of our favourite alternatives to the Grand Palace.
Wat Pho – Temple of the reclining Buddha located just behind the Grand Palace.
Loha Prasat – The Iron Palace or Metal Palace near Khao San Road
Wat Saket – The Golden Mount near Khao San Road
Wat Arun – The Temple of Dawn. This is on the west side of the Chao Praya river so you’ll need to get the boat across.
Wat Traimit – Temple of the Golden Buddha near Chinatown’s Yaowarat Road
3. Don’t go to Khao San Road.
Khao San Road is the place to meet other travellers, but an authentic Thai experience you will not find here. A short road consisting mainly of bars, and fast food joints, fronted by souvenir stalls Khao San road really is a boil on the butt of Bangkok.
If you are looking for bars, Rambutri Road which runs parallel, and Sukhumvit Soi 11 are much more palatable options. That said neither of these are going to give you a particularly Thai experience, for that you need to get off the main roads and wander the back streets.
4. Don’t go to Patpong Market
Patpong night market (Thanon Patpong 1) sells predominantly tourist tat, copy bags, copy watches, t-shirts etc, at very much tourist prices. It is flanked on both sides by dodgy bars, and dodgier touts promoting ping pong shows and the like.
And things don’t get any better on the next street. Patpong 2 is a wide Soi dominated by Japanese restaurants, but come nightfall sushi isn’t the main thing on sale here. You can read more about this on http://www.lategapyear.com/5-nights-bangkok/
If you are looking for a night market you should head to Talad Rot Fai (Train Market). With an artsy vibe, numerous food stalls and surrounded by bars, Talad Rot Fai is a great place to amble away the evening along with locals as well as other tourists. A second location has recently opened in Ratchada Road right next to the Cultural Centre MRT station, making it much more accessible than the original site. The only down side being the market only operates Thursday – Sunday night.
5. Don’t go to Damnoen Saduak floating market
Well, really, don’t go to any of the floating markets. The two main ones, Damnoen Saduak and Amphawa have migrated into nothing more than floating souvenir shops, and the smaller ones (Khlong Lat Mayom, Taling Chan, and Bang Nam Phueng) aren’t really floating markets at all, rather markets at the side of a waterway.
Your best option is to forget the floating bit altogether, don your comfortable shoes and visit the 35 acre mother of all markets, Chatachak market (also known as JJ market). With over 8,000 stalls, there is very little that you cannot buy from Chatachak, and with easy access from both the BTS line (Mo-Chit station), and the MRT (Kampheng Phet station), you’ll save yourself a big transport headache compared with the floating markets almost 2 hours outside the city.
Another market that we really liked was Wang Lang Market. On the west bank of the Chao Phraya River, this market is very authentic, but is a little less chaotic than the other “authentic” Thai Markets (yes Pratunam we’re talking about you!).
6. Don’t eat street food.
I’m not saying the street food will kill you, clearly people eat it and Bangkok isn’t littered with corpses (that said, this would account for the smell!). I’m just a bit squeamish about the hygiene standards, and I prefer my food with a little less fly. On my last visit to Bangkok I saw a woman, who I can only surmise was a chimney sweep, pick up several different pieces of fish, only to put them back on the grill for someone else to enjoy. Yummy.
Bangkok has a number of shopping malls that house excellent food courts. Amazingly the prices at these are similar to what you would pay on the street, with all the benefits of seating (well, in fairness you may struggle a bit with this), refrigeration, and sanitation. Pier 21 inside the huge Terminal 21 mall on Sukhumvit Road is a great example.
7. Go to the Park
Bangkok has several impressive green areas throughout into the city. The most famous of these, and the largest is Lumphini Park. Despite being steps away from the chaos of Silom Road Bangkok’s answer to Central Park is remarkably quiet. But you can’t have the whole place to yourself, you have to share the space with the monitor lizards.
So is it worth visiting Bangkok at all? Well it’s not really for us to say, it’s certainly not our favourite city, but it’s not all bad. It’s cheap, it’s easy to get around, it has some impressive temples, the people are super friendly, and there is some terrific food available (particularly Indian food??) You’re just going to have to try it for yourself. Please let us know what you think by leaving a comment below…..