Bangkok’s official Thai name consists of almost one hundred characters, so it’s not surprising that Thais prefer the shortened version – Kungthep or ‘City of Angels’. With a population of in excess of six million and possibly the worse traffic you’ll ever experience, Bangkok is the very epitome of the modern Asian metropolis. The Guiness Book of Records credits Bangkok as the world’s hottest city due to its limited seasonal and day/night temperature variations and in the rainy season the city is also very prone to floods. But despite this Bangkok has a certain charm with numerous sights, excellent food and good shopping dotted around the city. Boredom is something you’ll rarely experience during a stay here.
PLACES OF INTEREST
Wat Phra Kaew
Also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha Wat Phra Kaew adjoins the Grand Palace and within the 945 000 sq metre grounds are more than 100 buildings that represent over 200 years of royal history. At Wat Phra Kaew you’ll find the so-called Emerald Buddha, actually made from a type of jasper, which is considered a talisman of the Thai kingdom. The Grand Palace is today used by the King only for certain ceremonial occasions such as Coronation Day, but is closed to the public.
The National Museum is the largest museum in southeast Asia and houses all periods and styles of Thai art. Room 23 contains a well-maintained collection of traditional musical instruments from Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia and in the Buddhaisawan Chapel you’ll find one of the country’s most revered Buddha images, Phra Phut Sihing. Excellent free English language tours are given on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Call 02-215 8173 for details.
This wat or temple features the largest reclining Buddha and collection of Buddha images in Thailand. It’s also the national headquarters for the teaching and preservation of traditional Thai medicine including Thai massage. A massage school convenes in the afternoons and you can enjoy a massage for a fee.
Chao Phraya River Express
Observe urban river life on board the Chao Phraya River Express. Board at Tha Wat Ratchasingkhon, just north of Krungthep Bridge. Express boats run every 15 minutes from 5.30am to 6pm daily
The collection of animals at Bangkok’s 19 hectare zoo includes more than 300 mammals, 200 reptiles and over 800 birds. Originally a private botanical garden for King Rama V it was converted to a zoo in 1938 and is now known as one of the premier zoological facilities in southeast Asia. A couple of lakeside restaurants on site serve a range of cheap and tasty Thai cuisine.
The largest and most popular of Bangkok’s parks, Lumphini Park includes a large artificial lake, surrounded by well tended lawns, wooded areas and walking paths. One of the best times to visit the park is early morning, before 7am, when the air is relatively fresh and legions of Chinese practise tai chi on its glorious lawns.
Bangkok’s Chinatown is an excellent place to shop since goods are cheaper here than almost anywhere else in Bangkok, and the Chinese proprietors also love to bargain. Chinese and Thai antiques are available in the so-called Thieves Market, but it’s almost always better for browsing than buying.
At the edge of Chinatown is a small Indian district known as Pahurat. Here you’ll find dozens of Indian-owned shops all selling a range of fabrics and clothes. As a result this is the best place in the city to bargain for such items – especially silk. The prices and range of goods is unbelievable. Thai shoulder bags or yaams are also sold here and are the cheapest in Bangkok, possibly in Thailand!
PLACES TO EAT
Wherever you are in Bangkok you’re never more than 50m away from a restaurant. The variety and quality of food in Thailand is astounding and you’ll find something in every price range in each district. Some areas have higher priced restaurants than others (i.e. Siam Square) but other areas such as Banglamphu and Chinatown are full of cheap but very tasty eats.
Banglamphu & Thewet districts: Best for cheap eating!
Gullivers Traveller’s Tavern: Serves cocktails, shots, beers and boasts an international cuisine to a backdrop of very loud music.
Orm : Produces fair Thai, international and vegetarian meals at cheap prices.
Buddy Beer Garden, Restaurant and Swimming Pool: A large restaurant serving good Thai and farang food at reasonable prices with a barbecue and pool outside.
Chinatown and Pahurat districts : Best for Chinese and Indian cuisine!
Laem Thong: Offers an extensive menu and dim sum before lunchtime
Lie Kee: An excellent and inexpensive food court on the third floor of a building at the corner of Th Charoen Drung and Th Bamrungrat.
Royal India: The best north Indian restaurant in town is this Royal India in the Pahurat district, offering an excellent range of curries. There is another Royal India in Banglamphu but it’s not as good.
Siam Square: Best for American fast food! You’ll find a battery of fast food restaurants here if you don’t fancy the local cuisine, including Dunkin Donuts, Burger King, Pizza Hut, McDonald’s, Shakey’s Pizza and KFC. Prices are close to what you’d pay in the US.
Hard Rock Café: Serves good American and Thai food. Prices are about the same as other Hard Rocks around the world.
S&P Restaurant and Bakery: An extensive menu offering mostly Thai specialities with a few Chinese, Japanese, European and veggie dishes.
All the major hotels in Bangkok have international-style discos but only a few of them can be recommended. Those at the Dusit Thani, Shangri-La, Grand Hyatt or Regent Bangkok hotels are worth a visit. But Bangkok is more famous for its huge high-tech discos that hold up to 5000 people and feature giant video screens and the latest in laser technology.
Phuture: One of the ‘in’ discos on the north side of the Chaophya Park Hotel.
Galaxy: A popular nite spot with many Japanese who patronise the ‘no hands’ section of the club, where hostees feed the customers so they never have to lift their hands.
Narcissus: Popular with Thai celebrities, this is a more exclusive club.
For live music head for the three storey Saxaphone Pub Restaurant, south east of the Victory Monument circle. On the ground floor is a bar/restaurant featuring jazz from 9pm to 1.30am; next floor up is a billiards hall with recorded music, the top floor has live bands playing reggae, R&B, jazz or blues from 10.30pm to 4am. There’s no cover charge and you don’t need to dress up.
Bus: Getting around Bangkok can be difficult for first-timers, but once you’re familiar with the bus system the whole city is accessible. Get a copy of the Bangkok Bus Map (Walking Tours) published by Bangkok guide if you plan to do a lot of bus riding.
Boat: Having said that although bus routes are comprehensive, traffic congestion slows down bus journeys to a snail’s pace. So one of the nicest ways of getting around Bangkok is on the river.
Tuk-Tuk: In heavy traffic tuk-tuks – small three-wheeled taxicabs – can weave in and out to get you to your destination faster. But they’re not air-conditioned and can easily flip over when braking into a fast curve. Beware of tuk-tuk drivers offering to take you on sightseeing tours, they’re often touting overpriced goods.
Bangkok doesn’t have an emergency phone system staffed by English-speaking operators so between 8am and midnight your best bet for English-speaking assistance is the Tourist Assistance Centre on tel 02-281 5051 or the Tourist Police on tel 1155. If you can speak Thai the city’s main emergency numbers are:
Police: 191 or 123
Ambulance: 252 2171/5