21 Reasons We Fell in Love with BangkokLost Girls RTW Adventure, Thailand — By Amanda P on April 12, 2007 at 9:08 am
Lost Girls Executive Editor
New Yorkers tend to assume (or more aptly, believe with a deep, zealot-like conviction) that there’s no big city on earth that’s as funky, hip and prodigious as the one they call home. And, having spent most of my twenties falling in love with and ultimately moving to one of the world’s fastest moving metropolises, I tended to agree with my fellow Gothamites. Where else can you rub elbows with A-list celebs at the corner bodega, sample two dozen flavors of rice pudding at 2:00am, argue with cab drivers in 142 different languages and grab cocktails with your friends every night for a decade-never visiting the same spot twice?
Blame it on our stubborn NYC pride, but we just didn’t expect Bangkok-a city we were scheduled to pass through four times during our trip to Southeast Asia-to give the Big Apple such a run for its money. We often remark that it only takes a day to form a first impression of a new city, to decide whether or not you’ll love or hate it and if you’ll want to spend several weeks exploring its hidden corners-or use it as little more than a one-night crash pad.
Blame it on the five-star coach treatment we received on our overnight flight into town on Emirates, but the decision to fall for Thailand’s capital city took less than a New York minute. After our Bangkok flights touched down, the girls and I joined three other American backpackers we’d met at the airport and made a beeline for the campy but well-loved Kho San Road. Our plan: To skip out on one of the fancier hotels (at least, until my family arrived the following month) and check out Big John’s hostel instead. With time to kill before our hostel opened (it was only 5:00am!) we flagged a waitress and ordered our very first round of Tiger Beers.
The following encompasses just a few of our favorite things about Bangkok. Sure, its quite a laundry list, but believe me-we could have kept right on going!
1. Gourmet Street Vendors
As much as the Lost Girls love to splurge on crispy dumplings with dipping sauces and heaping bowls of chicken stir fry (yum!), we’re huge fans of lighter treats that you can buy cheap on the street. Bangkok’s got both in spades-stands serving up heaping plates of noodles and carts where you can get melon, pineapple, papaya sliced to order and served with sugar (optional, of course) for just about 30 cents. We also loved the takeaway cartons of steamed spring rolls and sushi-all freshly made and available for just a few Thai baht.
Situated down an unassuming side alley off the massive Siam Center super-complex, this clothing and accessory market boasts the original works of up-and-coming designers-all of whom are personally ringing up the wares they’ve just created and sewn. Warning to mainstream label lovers: what’s here isn’t upscale mall gear but completely original fashion, from jackets designed for punk rock goddesses to heavily trimmed baby doll dresses to unabashedly adorned stiletto boots. You can amp up your entire wardrobe in Little Siam for what you might spend on a single boutique piece back at home, so bring a fistful of baht-most designers seem averse to Visa and Mastercard.
3. Bargain Basement Beauty
As twentysomething gals staring down the fine-lined of thirty, we decided it was time to get serious about skincare. Fortunately for us, this mission to remain fresh and glowing for the next several decades coincided with our arrival in Bangkok, a place where women (and body conscious men) can get all manner of treatments for a fraction of the price in the United States. While we’re not really ready for any major surgery, the girls and I opted for a series of three photofacials, a process that lightens spots, diminishes fine lines and evens out skin tone. While it was tough to fork out $100 for each treatment (we are backpacking after all!), we all saw results almost immediately and effectively saved ourselves about $600 over doing the same thing at home.
4. Daily De-stress Sessions
If there’s one activity guaranteed to put a smile on our faces (besides digging into an extra large chocolate dessert, of course), it’s hitting the spa for a long, languorous full-body massage. Back home in our real lives, forking over $100 for a rubdown would actually create more tension than it would remove, but here in Bangkok, we could get unbelievable, spine-twisting, muscle kneading, acupressure sessions for the mind-blowing price of for just $8. Add scented oil or an extra half hour and you’re looking at $10 to $12. For those prices, we could-and did-hit spas all over town. In case you’re wondering, no-you can never get too many massages!
New York City may boast some of the world’s most recognizable buildings, but there’s a reason that LaGuardia and JFK airports aren’t among them. As airports go, NYC doesn’t have a lot to brag about, but Bangkok can definitely be proud of its gleaming, ultra-modern Suvarnabhumi terminal. Completed just last year, this mammoth airport services thousands of international and domestic flights a week-yet there’s hardly any wait at customs and immigration. By the time you’ve gotten your passport stamped, your luggage is already parading its way down the baggage carousel. Metered taxis abound, there’s dedicated office waiting to help you store extra baggage and a zillion ATM machines so you never have to wait in line to withdraw Baht. When you’re ready to zip off to your next location, the bargain-basement carrier Air Asia (hubbed in Bangkok) can transport you all over Southeast Asia for the same price-or far less-than a train ticket to the same destination.
Dedicated readers of this blog know that I’ve have more than my fair share of run-ins with surly cab drivers, but I could hardly find a single cabbie to duke it out with in Bangkok. While several drivers still tried to haggle for a set price rather than turn on their meter (the latter always a better deal for the passenger), most eventually agreed to do so and ended up practicing English with their three chatty passengers. I have to give these guys credit-Bangkok’s streets aren’t easy to navigate and it’s incredibly easy to get lost. Rather than leading us all around the city, most of our drivers played it straight and were incredibly grateful for even the most modest of tips.
I went to check out this fabulously huge supine statue when my family flew to Bangkok to visit me during the month of February. This Buddha is one of the city’s most touristed landmarks, but the teeming masses don’t detract from the big man’s appeal. Lying on his right side with a satisfied half-grin spreading across his face, it’s almost as if he’s reminding the visitors that its okay to kick back and chill out once in a while. Who are we to argue with that?
8. Thai Kids
How adorable are these little ladies??
9. Sukhumvit Neighborhood
Indisputably the “Soho” of Bangkok, this lovely little area once played host to the city’s notorious sex trade. Thanks in part to the introduction of the Sky Train (which runs through the very heart of the neighborhood) and the overall revitalization of the city, Sukhumvit is now better known for its upscale bridal boutiques, swanky cafes, gourmet grocery stores and lemongrass-scented spas. Its also home to…
10. Big John’s
The hostel we returned to again and again during our weeklong stints in Bangkok. This six-story guesthouse, opened by a burley Australian who named the place after himself, has become mecca for savvy backpackers who’d rather avoid the cheap-n-dirty hostels found along Kho San Road. We loved Big John’s air conditioned rooms, friendly café and the massive chocolate-chip cookies sold there for just 60 cents apiece.
An incredibly efficient mode of transport completed not long before our arrival, this two-line, elevated monorail system was Bangkok’s answer to the endless traffic choking off every major roadway. Now it’s possible to bypass the bumper-to-bumper action by hopping on one of the spotless, air-conditioned cars and catch a series of quirky commercials and music videos being shown on flat screen televisions. Thanks to convenient transfers between the river ferry system and city’s underground metro, you’re always bound to arrive at your destination far faster than you would in a cab.
12. Lumpini Park
We still maintain that very few urban green spaces can hold a candle to Central Park, but Lumpini (named after Buddha’s birthplace) provides a blissfully peaceful space for the masses to take a much needed break from hustle and bustle of Bangkok. The girls and I went running in later afternoon and were delighted to find thousands of spandex-clad locals performing extremely high-impact aerobics to some unrecognizable tunes blasting from the outdoor speakers. Everyone looked insanely happy to be there-most notably the Thai Richard Simmons-type leading the whole group-and if I could figured out a single step, I might have joined in. Instead, I kept running and was surprised once again when at 6:00pm–as if some giant electric plug had been yanked from the socket–every single sound and movement in the park stopped cold. Not knowing what else to do, I froze in place and listened as strains of Thailand’s national anthem piped through the park’s speaker system. Locals all around me sang along and I felt inexplicably pleased to witness this evening ritual.
13. The Gem District
My cousin Cerise and I picked up gorgeous strands of semi-precious stones at one of the many wholesalers in the city’s Silom district. While buying precious rocks like emeralds and rubies can be tricky-pay too little and you may end up with a bagful of cut glass-you can still get a real bargain through a reputable dealer. You can find one by contacting the Thai Gem and Jewelry Trader Association.
The guestrooms in this boutique hotel are so chic and stylishly designed, they makes ones at Manhattan’s W and Hudson look like prison cells. When my family and I stayed here during our Bangkok reunion, the hotel staff graciously upgraded us to the Ambassador’s suite, which came with sweeping views, a steam room and a hot tub for eight. All this for under $175 per night…
It seems there’s one in every major city, but my family and I got to hang out in Bangkok’s during Chinese New Year on February 18th. Lots of noise, street food and shiny toys for everyone!
Okay, I know I mentioned the sub-par hostels above, but there’s a certain charm to this tiny, ultra-touristy lane (yet another stop on Leonardo DeCaprio’s The Beach tour). Where else can you pick up a mini iPod speaker, a fake press badge, a beach sarong, a bootleg Beyonce CD, discount antibiotics, a miniature laughing Buddha and custom-made dress, all for under $100?
There must be hundreds of these green, red and-orange emblazoned convenience stores smattered throughout the city and it’s almost impossible to walk more than three blocks without accidentally strolling into one. And thank heaven for 7-11-they contain miniature versions of everything we could ever need to get through the day, from cereal to conditioner to Snickers bars. The only major flaw? There are no Slurpees, Big Gulps or Kraft caramel apple lollypops at the Thai 7-11s, good things I’m sure that got sacrificed to make way for the red bean bun and pork dumpling stations.
Visitors to town should not miss this fairyland of blooms located not far from the Memorial Bridge on Thanon Chakphet. Some ceremonial creations take dozens of man- and woman-hours to make, but the finished result is spectacular.
19. Coffee, Coffee Everywhere: After months of traveling through countries where all of the rich, delicious java beans are shipped to overseas markets (and Nescafe is de rigueur), we were thrilled to sip the real thing in Bangkok. Thais absolutely adore their espresso drinks and have even instituted new ways to drink them. Coffee in a plastic bag? Even caffeine addicted New Yorkers never thought of that one!
20. Praying Ronald McDonalds
Pass one of these red-haired burger guys, and you’ll be unable to resist posing. Promise.
You’ll find plenty of Americans who dislike their president (and plenty of folk abroad who despise him), but the Thai people have nothing but love for their royal highness. During out time in Bangkok, the kindly looking King Bhumibol Adulyadej celebrated his 80th birthday, and the outpouring of love for the man was overwhelming. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could elect a leader who inspired such adoration? You chance is coming in ’08 people….get out there and vote!
Check out these related posts: