Ask anyone who’s been to Bangkok and you’ll receive nothing but raves. In the past year I’ve been on some considerably good Southeast Asian trips where unforgettable food and places such as Penang’s Char Kway Teow and HCMC’s Le Jardin left me ranting to my envious peers up until today, but I have to say that my 4D3N stay in Bangkok has been the most remarkable.
Every tourist destination will have its ups and downs. Being in a foreign city jam-packed with businesses and people, it’s essential to plan your itinerary with care; don’t expect to get a restful stay here if your days here are numbered and you want to make the most of your trip!
Hit: Cheap Eats
Big bites are to be discovered every small step through this food haven. Don’t bother searching for a notable restaurant or settling for international food – when you’re in Bangkok, the streets are the only way to go. Just seat yourself at any beaten up roadside table or coffee shop and you’re likely to be in for a gastronomic surprise. It amazes me how street side delicacies anywhere in this place can easily beat most hawker fare in Singapore. And if you’re lucky, you even get served complimentary iced water to go along with your meal.
Savory: Be sure to at least try three or four varieties of iconic pad thai as they’re cooked and presented differently at every stall. And you can’t miss their beef/pork vermicelli/noodle soup - just give any variety a go - complete with thick, succulent slices of meat and juicy meatballs in bone broth and generous servings of greens.
Sweet: Cut fruit is abundant in every corner and you’ll find the sweetest, most ripe mangoes here so be sure to savour their khao niaow ma muang (mango sticky rice). But my favourite sweet treat would still be khanom bueang: crispy bite-sized crepes filled with a sticky cream that is reminiscent of marshmallows and topped with shredded coconut.
The variety of delicacies are really too extensive to cover in a single post, but those are just a few of my choice picks. Bottom line is, try everything as long as you see a steady buzz of locals around and each dish remains below 70 baht. It only takes a couple of Singapore dollars to fill your stomach – slap your face silly with unbelievable value for money!
Juicy chicken steak and prawn fritters complete with a slice of French toast, coleslaw and fries for about 110 baht. Cheap, cheap cheap! This place is a popular Western dining outlet among the locals. My first meal in Bangkok while waiting for waiting for my hotel room to be ready.
Restaurant-wise, Eat Am Are @ Jo Place (pardon the strange grammar) is also a delightful place to drop by for crazy-cheap Western food. We were drawn to this eatery because it was crammed to the ceiling with patrons. The pork and chicken steaks are delish and shockingly value-for-money!
Hit: Downscale Shopping
If you’re on a budget, forget the up-scale malls at Siam, i.e. Central World, Siam Paragon/Central. Instead, be prepared to spend the entire day shopping your feet off at Chatuchak where you can find almost everything ranging from exotic pets to souvenirs and kitchenware. I visited this bustling weekend market on a Sunday, packed with both tourists and locals who flock there for their every purchasing need. Buy a lamp shade. Buy some glittery trinkets to accessorize. Buy a nice office blouse for 150 baht or less. But beware of pickpockets and nasty cheats, and always keep in mind to ask around for the price of a similar item before making a decision. This place was so large that it was impossible to cover the entire stretch of Chatuchak – 8 hours here and we only managed to finish browsing about half of the market.
Common household bunnies, kittens and puppies litter the market at Chatuchak. You can also find more 'exotic' pets such as snakes and porcupines here. Girls, get ready to go gaga with kawaii-overdose!
Skip the Platinum Fashion Mall and Pratunam Wholesale Market because there’s a gem just a stone’s throw away. A prime place to visit if you’re looking for cheap and trendy clothing would be the Indra Square, right next to the Pratunam Wholesale Market. It’s a run down building where every level is full of lovely factory outlet-priced goods, from office skirts to casual shorts and Korean-styled tops, usually for less than 200 baht, even at non-wholesale prices. I went mad at the superb quality and feel of the material and workmanship. We spent our last day here just two hours before heading to the airport – and would probably stay longer if we didn’t have a flight to catch.
Hit: Nightlife at Khao San
Another popular tourist destination consisting solely of backpacker inns and kitschy hangout pubs & cafes. What I really loved about this place was the atmosphere – the streets in between are full of food stalls, including exotic eats such as fried insects: choose from scorpions, maggots and crickets to munch on. And if you want to take snap away, these mercenary vendors will charge you 10 baht. You can also find stalls selling the usual rip-off souvenirs, t-shirts and trinkets, as well as dread-locking services. With live music, glowing neon signs and shisha in every corner, a stroll through this stretch is a good idea on the first couple of nights to whet your appetite for night life in Bangkok.
Khao San is also famous for ripping tourists off when it comes to buying valuable items such as gold and silver jewellery, so stay away from the stores. We had dinner at Tom Yung Kung, a famous Thai restaurant with delicious tom yum soup in a tiny hotpot. Just ordering a couple of dishes will set your wallet back by about 1000 baht - a pleasant but pricey experience.
Hit: Nightlife at RCA
I had the time of my life here. I absolutely cannot emphasize on how absolutely sensational my experience at Route 66 was: $200 baht entry (that’s less than $10 SGD) with a complimentary Smirnoff cocktail – and other cocktails of the menu priced for even less; posh, up-scale ambience; mesmerizing laser light shows; and a marvellous mix of music. According to both website research and Red’s Thai sister-in-law, Route is one of the top clubs in Thailand and the place to be.
The classy and up-beat exterior of the club. Don't be put off by the misleading open-air concept, as the air-conditioning is satisfactorily cool inside.
A cybermatrix-green curtain of green laser jets greeted us at the entrance.
Take your pick among live music and performances, where music videos are projected onto a large screen behind the stage and the band plays alternately with good mixes from the deejay. There was a very, very cute male singer on-stage that night and his stage presence was electrifying.
If live music and chillin’ is not your thing, then move on to the real deal at the dancing area on the other side: at 1am, this place was already filled with a good mix of foreigners and locals partying to a funky mix of techno, hip-hop, pop, trance and R&B all rolled into one. I’ve never heard anything like it, and the transitions were pretty smooth! After my complimentary Smirnoff Big Apple cocktail, I ordered a yummy Mai Tai and proceeded to dance the night away.
Drink in the lively atmosphere, thrilling laser light displays and superb sound system at the dance floor of Route 66.
Even the Ladies' boasts a breathtaking sight with a humongous 4-section: the smoking area, two waiting lounges (this is one of them) with luxuriously cushioned seats and a flat-screen television, and a cleaner who graces you with royal service by opening the cubicle doors for you.
Another attractive-looking club with a similar concept next to Route 66 was Flix & Slim - I’d definitely give this a try when I return.
Hit: Happy Hours at Tuba
Located in the area of Ekkamai, we got a little lost attempting to take the Skytrain there. We later learned from a helpful local that it was more advisable to take a taxi. Rated as the #1 among Things to do in Bangkok on Lonely Planet, this place certainly isn’t the #1 thing to do on my list, but is a very lovely place for a chill and relax session after a long, gruelling day of exploring the city.
Huge glasses of yummy cocktails (from left: a Midori drink and their signature Mojito) come with a crispy welcome snack served with a tomato-based meat sauce.
Drinks here are promoted as 1-for-1 (about 250 baht per cocktail on the menu) from 5 – 8 pm, and come in massive cocktail glasses. They pack a mean punch as well, and I was feeling a little heady after just one drink. Their thin-crust pizzas are pretty crispy as well, but I wouldn’t recommend them as they’re priced at about 400 baht and you can easily chomp on similar cuisine for the same fare in Singapore.
Miss: Rip-off transport services from the airport
Taxi drivers at any airport in every corner of the world will attempt to rip first-time tourists off. Upon arrival, signs will point you to the lower levels where you queue for cabs to be assigned to you. This was the very first mistake I made: taking a cab with a rigged metre.
The glowing red numbers will jump by 2 baht every five seconds or so, and you’d think it was the normal fare if you’re unfamiliar with the currency. By the time I arrived at my hotel near Pratunam, the fare was well above 400 baht, not including the so-called 50 baht airport “surcharge” and checkpoint fees of about 75 baht. Keep in mind that transport by taxi actually costs less than half the price for the same distance! The solution? It’s best to grab a cab from an alighting passenger at Level 4, where you’ll meet more honest taxi drivers who are just on their way out.
Miss: Proficiently multi-lingual locals
On our first evening, we flagged a cab to Khao San and were initially pleasantly surprised and how fluently the driver spoke in English. He convinced us that the area was only open around 10 pm or so (it was around 8pm), and suggested that he bring us to a ‘fantastic seafood restaurant nearby’ for dinner. “If the food there doesn’t meet your standards, you can kill me!” he swore.
I had a sneaking suspicion that he was probably paid a commission to do this, but reluctantly agreed because he spoke with such fervour and enthusiasm. We ended up getting dropped off at a god-forsaken building full of empty tables, with just a couple of tables being patronized by gullible-looking Caucasian tourists – and where the menu read a shocking price of 300 baht for a plate of stir-fried vegetables.
While shopping, it’s also crucial to beware of local merchants with the gift of the gab. They’ll flatter and impress you with compliments and seductive purchase suggestions, usually with the prices marked up triple or even ten times more than you can normally find them anywhere else. A lady tried to sell me bust enhancement cream (Red was considering this as a present for a flat-chested friend of ours) for 750 baht, where we later found the very same brand selling for a flat rate of 100 baht. We eventually concluded that it was better to stick with merchants and taxi drivers who’d communicate with us in mere gestures.
Miss: Nightlife at Patpong and Soi Cowboy
Famed for sleazy ‘Thai Girl Shows‘ and strip clubs, you’re bound to get hounded by plenty of ‘pushers’ trying to scam you into paying a so-called 100 baht for a Thai Girl Show at Patpong – with the intention of charging you thousands of baht, according to Red. We took a slow walk through these places while being careful not to relent to these persistent salesmen, who can be quite grabby at times.
Soi Cowboy is another popular tourist destination for strip clubs and prostitution. Girls as young as 16 or 17 parade outside these bars in skimpy outfits, trying to lure lusty Caucasian men in. We had a drink at one of the A-go-go bars, KISS - where topless dancers stand listlessly glued to their poles. It was quite funny to watch because at times, they stand on-stage looking bored and even chatter among themselves; Red dubbed them as ‘lazy strippers’.
If you insist on viewing the famed Bangkok Thai Girl show, try approaching a taxi driver loitering at the exit of Soi Cowboy and it’s likely he’ll bring offer to you to a cheaper, shady underground bar at Nana Plaza where you pay a cover charge of 500 baht to see a small group of ladies do the standard tricks such as pulling out chains and ribbons, play ping-pong, open glass Coke bottles, write and smoke with their V-jangjangs and even end the performance with a bang (literally): a live 5-minute sex show. It’s a unique experience here but I wasn’t particularly entertained or impressed, as I have a feeling that most of the tricks performed had a simple technique or mechanism behind them which didn’t take much skill. No photos here as they’re pretty strict on keeping your recording / photography devices tucked away!
I left Bangkok feeling exhausted, but so very happy and in love with the city – especially with bursting bag full of buys. Excluding hotel and flight fares, I spent less than $400 SGD here with plenty of shopping, good eats and entertainment that’ll barely graze your pockets.