8 Things to Know Before You Go to Bangkok
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A vibrant, glittering city filled with street markets and $10 massages, Bangkok seems to have just the right mix of upscale shopping centers and fancy rooftop bars without losing the city’s heart and soul. Among the frenetic Asian metropolis’s many charms, you’ll still be able to find hole-in-the-wall noodle shops but also have access to Michelin-starred restaurants. Here are eight things you may not know about Thailand’s vibrant capital city, and why you should plan a trip there soon.
1. You Can Have a Peaceful Vacation
I’m the first one to associate Bangkok with craziness, but there are some peaceful spots hidden among the hustle and bustle of the city. One of them is the Jim Thompson house, an oasis of teak buildings surrounded by jungle and koi ponds. As you roam the grounds admiring the tropical flowers and silk adornments, you’ll feel a million miles away from the busy city. Other peaceful escapes include rowing a boat along the lake in Lumphini Park, exploring a lesser-known temple — avoid the Grand Palace if you want to relax, as it’s always full of tourists — or getting a massage at one of Bangkok’s tranquil spas.
2. There’s No Shame in Selecting Your Hotel Based on Its Pool
Having a hotel with a pool in Bangkok is essential. The temperatures are sweltering year-round, and coming back to your hotel for a dip is the perfect cure for a hot day out. And it’s completely acceptable to pick your hotel based on the pool. In fact, many of the hotels in the city are known for having special pool-based attractions, like pool parties, family-friendly pools or pools overlooking the river. For example, the SO Sofitel Bangkok is known for its epic pool parties, held on the last Saturday of each month, so if you’re looking for that Miami-style party scene, stay there. Families will love the Mandarin Oriental, with its dedicated kiddie pool. Adults looking for views should check out the Peninsula Bangkok or the Royal Orchid Sheraton’s riverside pools. If you want chill house music while you relax poolside, stay at the W Bangkok.
3. Skip the Sky Bar
When The Hangover 2 came out and made the amazing shots of Bangkok all but a new member of the cast, everyone wanted to check out Lebua State Tower’s cool Sky Bar. But many incredible rooftop bars have opened since then, offering the views and the vibes without the $20-a-drink price tag — put it this way, you could probably eat 15 meals on the street in Bangkok for the price of one drink at the Sky Bar. If you must go to Sky Bar, just go for a drink — and mind the dress code — then head elsewhere. I love The Nest, with it’s cabana-style couches at Le Fenix Hotel. Sky Moon Bar is popular with locals who want to take in the epic views, while the recently opened CRU Champagne Bar is super-trendy right now. For sexy beats and a club vibe, Octave and The Speakeasy offer house music that seems to echo off the surrounding skyscrapers.
4. Take the River Ferry, Not the Banana Boat
All the locals use the Chao Phraya River Express boats, which are basically city buses on water — the experience is a lot more awesome than being on a bus, though. The boats can be crowded, but the breeze as you fly along the river will keep you nice and cool. Expect to pay around 15 to 20 baht (~$0.50) per trip, and in most cases, you’ll want the boat with the orange flag. The best part has got to be the people-watching. Observing the locals go about their business as you head to various tourist attractions is fun and you’ll see folks heading to work or school, or even monks going to pray.
If the orange-flagged boat seems too crowded, the Chao Phraya Tourist Boat (the one with a blue flag) is usually emptier, so you can almost always get a seat. This one costs about 40 baht (~$1.15) per trip — or you can buy day passes for 150 baht, or about $4.35, if you plan to take it several times — but you’ll miss out on the local experience since this one only stops only at piers with tourist attractions. It may be a quicker way to get where you need to go though.
As you head toward the many river docks, you may be approached by people trying to sell you boat trips in teeny banana boats for anywhere from 300 to 700 baht (~$9-$21) per person. You can bargain with them, but you’ll always end up spending more than the ferry, and you’ll have to wear a stinky, sweaty life jacket. Be ready to get splashed, too, as those little boats speed up fast and are known for not always being safe. Don’t get caught up in the hassle; instead walk confidently to the Chao Phraya line and let another unsuspecting tourist get pulled into the banana-boat trap.
5. Certain Parts of Bangkok Have a Small Town Feel
It may seem like there’s constant chaos in Bangkok, but it is possible to find quiet little neighborhoods where you’ll actually feel like you’re in a small Thai village. Just behind eight-lane Sathorn Road is a quaint area along Soi Charoen Rat 1 Yaek 9, home to my favorite boutique spa, Orchid Nails Massage and Nails. Head into the alleyways off Charoen Krung Road for miniature havens where you’ll discover cute coffee shops and small stores selling porcelain. The alleys off Sala Daeng are also great places to stumble upon vintage shops and charming local restaurants.
6. Lesser-Known Night Markets Are Worth Visiting, Too
While everyone raves about the Chatuchak Weekend Market, I love visiting the neighboring JJ Green Market on Friday evenings, which is smaller and more boutique but just as cool. This hippie vintage market sells all sorts of special items, from antique home furnishings to handmade jewelry. There’s also a small food court and various restaurants and bars throughout, plus bands and musicians that play live music, giving you a fun soundtrack to shop to.
7. You Can Visit an Aircraft Boneyard
Most of us TPG readers are plane-obsessed, so imagine the joy you’d experience actually climbing inside and exploring an abandoned 747 aircraft and two MD-82 planes lying in ruins along the side of the road. The planes, which were once operated by Orient Thai Airlines, were abandoned after a venture to open a bar inside them failed. Covered in graffiti and resting among growing brush, you can enter the planes, but be careful: Although they’re “manned” by a Thai family who uses part of one of the planes as their home, there aren’t any real safety measures in place to make sure you won’t cut or injure yourself. The site is also rumored to be haunted. That being said, go have a ball! You can enter, climb and explore wherever you want inside and outside of the planes once you’ve paid the 300 baht (~$9) price per person to enter. Most of insides of the planes have been stripped but still contain traces of carpeting and their original overhead bins, cockpit controls and bathrooms. Scattered about, you may notice oxygen masks, life vests and other debris. The planes are located on Ramkhamhaeng Road Soi 103, and you can get there by taxi or ferry.
8. The Museums Here Are Super Quirky
Most tourists are too busy visiting temples to even bother checking out the museum scene in Bangkok, which is decidedly weird. There’s the Bangkok Dolls Museum, which features traditional Thai handmade dolls. Or the Siriraj Medical Museum, nicknamed the Museum of Death — it’s actually several museums in one, featuring a pathology museum, an anatomical museum and a forensic museum all under one creepy roof with exhibits featuring dissected human bodies and parasites. There’s also the Tilleke & Gibbins Museum of Counterfeit Goods, which houses 4,000 items that have infringed-on copyrights — of course, you could just hit up Khao San Road to see fake goods. More delicate souls will enjoy visits to the Bangkok Seashell Museum or the Museum of Floral Culture.
What are some of your favorite things to do in Bangkok? Tell us about them, below.
Featured image courtesy of wichianduangsri via Getty Images.
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