NOTE: This is NOT a blog post, this is an in-depth guide based on my experiences in Bangkok. The following will be image-heavy and rather wordy. But I promise that I have put my all into this so everyone gets to experience Bangkok like they should!
So…I am almost redoing this guide from scratch because so much has changed since I last went to Bangkok. However, I would like to first make it a point to mention that my guide might not be 100% accurate, Bangkok is ever-changing and these photographs have been collected over different trips to the city over the years. Nevertheless, I promise you will have a great time be it for business or pleasure.
1. Pack light! You want to save plenty of room for your shopping! And I suggest not to bring more than a pair of flip-flops or sneakers. You're bound to buy shoes anyway. Even if you don't bring any clothes or toiletries, its honestly nothing to worry about.
2. Getting there
These days, there are tons of deals you can get for flights online and they're really reasonable so yay! I usually fly on budget, either Jetstar or Airasia. Their planes all have leather seats from my experiences which makes it bearable for the short flight. You also get the luxury of duty-free shopping at Terminal 1 so thats definitely another plus point! I hate Tiger Airways. And for many reasons- 1. You go to the Budget terminal which really sucks. The best you can get out of shopping there is probably Charles & Keith if I remember correctly 2. There is no waiting lounge at the boarding gate in the budget Terminal, you stand and queue while waiting to board the plane before climbing the stairs up. 3. Only 15 kg of baggage is allowed for check-in unlike Jetstar & Airasia where 20kg is the norm. This 15kg of check-in baggage is also usually not included in the package you get. Thats from my experience sitting Tiger..
Its also rather worthwhile if you want to get full luxury out of the trip so Thai Airways and Singapore Airlines are definitely the best choices. Prices do not differ as much from budget flights if you include the price of a meal. I flew on Thai during my most recent trip and the flight felt too quick. Food is served about half and hour after take off and you barely finish a movie and tadahh you have reached your destination. So I loved that.
Buckle up your seat belts & have a great flight! Don't forget to make some friends on the plane!
When you arrive in Bangkok, RUN to the immigration counter. I'm sorry but I've always had bad experiences at immigration, waiting time is crazy. I once has to wait for close to 45 minutes. Immigration is usually worse when you leave Bangkok.
3. STAY at The Ecotel. "A new 3 star hotel located right in the heart of Bangkok, clean and cheap with reliable services. " Rooms shouldn't go more than 70 sgd per night. Hotel is within walking distance to the ever-popular Platinum Fashion Mall, Pratunam Clothing Market and if you have the patience, Central World. The nearest sky train station will be Chitlom which is opposite Siam Square. This is the best budget hotel I've stayed in Bangkok. There aren't amenities like a pool or gym but it really doesn't matter since I assume most of you just want a clean and comfy place to retire for the night. Of course Bangkok has really good 5-star hotels. I've stayed in a few and they usually never disappoint. Rooms at The Ecotel are very basic but clean and comfortable. I always enjoy my stay here. You will be greeted by the friendly doorman. I think there is a new guy now, not sure about my friend though. He always never failed to make me feel so welcomed whenever I came back.
Hosanna and I used to love sliding along the doorways in our flip flops. Ha ha it was so much fun! If you're wondering why I'm in such a ridiculous outfit, Petchuburi road isn't the safest of places to roam around at night especially when you're alone. The roads get pretty dark and I wouldn't suggest it unless you really have to. Hosanna and I went to 7/11 across the road and the creeps were already making all those weird annoying noises so…(please do not judge but it really was a laugh then!) we devised a plan to make us look like 'goondoos' (for my international readers, that means crazy).
We put on our largest maxi dresses, piled tons of jewellery and wore huge shades that covered half our faces. Then, skipped out of the hotel arm in arm in the same manner of 'siao zha bors' (crazy girls) so the creeps wouldn't bother to approach us. I'm not trying to say that staying around The Ecotel is dangerous but its always best to play safe when you are in Thailand. If you're coming back late at night, take a cab and try not to be alone. A tuk-tuk at night will be rather unsafe because the drivers tend to go into small back alleys and roads and even through deserted areas, scared the hell out of me at that time.
4. If its a weekday, spend it at the Platinum Fashion Mall. Here you get to buy in either retail or wholesale prices. Wholesale prices tend to be cheaper but you need to buy out a minimum of 2 to 3 pieces for most shops. The good thing is you get to mix around and choose whatever designs you like. I would suggest shopping at Platinum before you head to Chatuchak because you might be able to get better deals there when you're paying wholesale prices and you also get a wider variety of colours and what not for a particular design. It is almost impossible to haggle prices there unless its your lucky day, wholesale prices are usually fixed. Most shops start to close at about 6:30 to 7 in the evening so don't bother going there at night!
5. There is absolutely NOTHING that can beat the Chatuchak Weekend Market, with over 10,000 stalls, you'll never come out empty handed wherever you head to. No trip to Bangkok can do without this gem. Eat your heart out, meet all sorts of people, and shop till you drop! It is the one stop place for everything and anything. You get animals, arts, culture, fashion, food, design and so much more out of this place. Its kind of like a maze of shopping in there so get a map to find your way around the different sections. My favourites are always the pet and clothing sections. This is where you can start haggling your way around to get the best deals out of your shopping. I always ask for a discount and 90% of the time they give me one. Apply tons of sun screen and drink loads of water!
How can you resist the most adorable little pups crawling all over you??
The clothing section is divided into 2 main sections : Used clothing which is the vintage section and just clothing where you get the new stuff. I really love the vintage section, its a treasure cove in there. Even if you're not very interested in the used sneakers stacked up or an overload of denim, it really is one of the places I love the most in Chatuchak. There is so much to see in just those 4 little lanes of shops. The stall-tenders there are the coolest people I meet in Bangkok, usually decked out in their denim ensemble or vintage cowboy leather gear. My favourites are the hippies of course, with their 60's hairdos and John Lennon glasses, how could I forget those bell bottom jeans? You also hardly get to find vintage clothing or bags in great condition this cheap.
There is plenty of food in Chatuchak so don't worry about going hungry. A local must-try Chatuchak delight is without a doubt the coconut ice cream! & my second favourite is the coconut jelly where you get coconut flavoured jelly in a coconut! OK…I know the scoop of the ice cream in the photo looks huge but sadly, they've almost halved that portion hur hur. And the price also went up to 30 baht. Its still really cheap but I guess you can't blame them since business is so good. Anyway, you get a free cup of fresh coconut juice along with the ice cream. There are plenty of other stalls selling coconut ice cream but this one is the best. Its hard to miss, at the corner of the main market road with umbrellas and chairs to sit and enjoy while you eat.
6. If you want some night life, Khao San is definitely a must-go. Its another favourite of mine and I almost never go to Bangkok without visiting the infamous Backpackers Trail. (Which its also known for) For those who want to Back pack in Bangkok, the cheapest places to stay are usually along here. The trail is full of bars, internet cafes, tattoo parlors, travel agents, clubs, market and food stalls and restaurants. Its always such a good time there. And quite an eye opener sharing alcohol with your friends from huge colored plastic mugs sitting on plastic stools. Or dancing along to the music in the background with a random group of people. I love this place! If I arrive in Bangkok in the evening, I usually try to make the rest of by night worthwhile by going straight to Khao San after putting down my baggage at the hotel. The road is closed at night so the pushcarts and stall tenders all move their 'gold' to the middle of the road. Its also the place if you want to get a fake ID or something. Anyway, because Khao San is a touristy place, its not recommended to shop there. Stall holders tend to jerk up the prices like crazy because they know you aren't local. Food on the other hand is not something to worry about.
The Sunset Bar is my favourite cafe there to have a late supper. Its hard to find it amidst all the crowds of people in the bars that look almost alike…so I usually look for Starbucks and you will see this alley which is the bar itself. You can sit along the road of course, the alley would be more quiet but outside where everyone is will definitely be more fun. Chicken wings there are the best, Hosanna and I had 6 plates during one of my visits there. So damn good!
A must try along Khao San road is the banana pancake. Which is actually prata with an egg and a whole banana sliced up in it. Then served with condensed milk and sugar. I know it sounds like the most sinful thing ever but it is so bloody good and only 25 baht. Where in the world can you get a prata with so much goodies for about a dollar sgd? Seriously? These 'prata' pushcarts are all over the streets of Bangkok though quite a rarity but almost impossible to not find in Khao San. I like to call it a Khao San specialty.
For those who have been following my blog since 2 years ago, you would know that I have had a huge admiration towards Central World. Central World is the 3rd largest shopping complex in the world, pretty much explains why its every girl's paradise when it comes to the shopping. From luxury labels to high street stores like Topshop, Zara and Forever 21. You can also play in an arcade or catch a movie while you're there. Movies are so cheap and the cinema in Central World is really of a great standard. I've had so much memories here in Central World. Especially in this restaurant called Gia Long Cuisine because I met a cute thai waiter called Yoo there and sort of wrote him a letter when I was younger in my more foolish days after 2 trips to Bangkok in 2009. I got my good friend Regina to pass him the letter when she went that same year. He was always so adorable whenever he was taking my orders and I went back so many times during my several trips after. Whenever I spoke to him, his boss who was such a kind lady, would translate everything patiently so we could have a decent Hi-Bye kind of conversation because Yoo was too shy to say anything at all. I laughed so hard in that restaurant till I cried for so many reasons. With my dad, with Cammy, Pong & her dad, with Regina and with Hosanna. It not only served great food but also was a beautiful place to dine at. Each time I came back, I would have so many stories to share with my loved ones just from that restaurant alone. I always came out of Central World happy! Otherwise maybe a little upset then if I didn't get to see Yoo before I left.
The above are really in memory of this lovely restaurant because as we all know Central World was one of the badly burnt properties during the red shirt anti-government protests and though I didn't get to really explore Central World since it reopened, I have to say I am pretty convinced Gia Long was affected in the fire. It was just beside the lifestyle trend megastore, Zen which was completely burnt down.. Still! Central World is a great place to visit. There is so much good food there, an ice skating rink…. shops after shops...and honestly, so much to explore in that mall alone.
In Bangkok, there are surprisingly a large number of Japanese restaurants serving authentic Jap cuisine. 3 of the most popular are Ootoya, Zen (not the departmental store) and Fuji. You can trust me that these won't disappoint. And you're only paying a fraction of what you normally pay in Singapore for quality food.
Another Japanese restaurant I recently visited for the first time was Sukishi. It is a small chain of restaurants serving Jap and also Korean food. It was quite an interesting time there. I love grills so this place was perfect for me. You are served your platter of raw meat and vegetables like quality beef, ribs, pork or beef sukiyaki, and seafood which you will put on your grill to cook. What I loved about this place was the mini extractor fan above our head which will be lowered to your desired height when you start grilling. So I didn't feel as 'gross' neither did I reek the smell of barbecue after my meal. The meat was really nicely marinated so everything was delicious. They also serve other authentic Japanese food like sashimi and everything you can find on a Japanese menu and also authentic Korean dishes like bibimbab.
7. Siam Center is my favourite mall in Bangkok. Its full of thai local designers and other branded goods. For the girls, I guess most of you love Jeffrey Campbell so there is a shoe boutique there which has all the JC shoes you can imagine right in front of your eyes. And its a hell lot cheaper too after doing some of my own calculations. You also save yourself shipping like when purchasing from american online stores! And for the guys, this really is THE place to shop for quality clothing with good aesthetic. Hands down, I really can't think of any place else. Things here are definitely more pricey but so worth it. Everything is so unique and you probably won't be able to find many people in Singapore wearing the same things. Even for the ladies, I feel like thai local designers really have the dope. I quote my previous post " Speaking of which, the thai local designers which never fail to make me in awe of their meticulously put together collections. Everything from the clothes and accessories to the lookbooks and store fronts. Their sense of direction is beyond comprehensible and leaves me thinking how in the world are they able to come up with something as genius as this?"
Siam really is the most inspiring place for me whenever I am in Bangkok. There are so many labels worth checking out. One of which is Greyhound. It is known for its sleek streetwear- basics with an edge. Under Greyhound, there are also spin-off brands called Playhound & Grey. And there is also a Greyhound Cafe at the first level of the mall which should be really good. Speaking of cafe, there are also plenty of cafes and restaurants around the mall.
Another must visit in Siam Square itself is Mob.F. Its a thai multi-label boutique of young designers with the same quality and aesthetic as the rest of the labels around the mall.
Its definitely worth visiting and sometimes you get to speak to the designers who will serve you when you shop there. This store is just as inspiring as the rest of the mall.
These are the rest of the following places that are worth visiting in my opinion. Or otherwise not. I'm sorry I don't have images!
Siam Paragon, The Emporium- simple to describe this place, a glossy magazine coming to life. Its the one stop luxury mall with labels like Dolce & Gabbana, Valentino, Lanvin, YSL…the list goes on. Oh and Siam Ocean World is located at the basement of Siam Paragon shopping mall. One of the world's leading aquarium operators.I have never been there but I guess it could be rather interesting… Also! There is a Bangkok's very own Madame Tussauds at Siam Discovery. I went to the one in NYC and it was fun camwhoring with some of the world's most famous people so it should be fun going with friends!
MBK center- This place was like of 5 years ago, so I'm pretty sure nobody goes there anymore. It used to be the #1 tourist mall but over time I guess Platinum took over. So really, don't bother going….
Chinatown- Its easy to go with a cab and worthwhile if you want cheap and good chinese style seafood. People here speak mandarin and other dialects. Everything is for a quarter for what you're paying here in Singapore. Think the bird's nest, the shark's fin soup, the tiger prawns…..
Speaking of chinese seafood, a restaurant really worth visiting is Somboon Seafood restaurant. It is most well-known for its original fried curry crab. Which is delish! I only have an Instagram photo for this as I didn't have my camera with me that day. They have 5 branches all over Bangkok which you can check out at their site here. Just give the address to the taxi driver and ask him to take you there. Its good seafood at good prices! And really packed too. But they're very quick. Its crab is so famous that even the Japanese Prime Minister ate there when he was in Bangkok. And members of the Thai royal family have visited the restaurant several times. Legend also has it that a Singaporean dude flies to Bangkok every month for his fried curry crab fix.
Nightlife- Patpong is one of the world's most famous red-light districts. I have no idea why but I used to go there alot as a kid with my parents. But mainly just to eat and shop…though there was really nothing to buy. It houses around 100 neon-lit strip bars offering risque sex shows, purchasable pole-dancers and post-op ladyboys. This place has a reputation so…you get the drift! Its also a night market for tourists and backpackers to shop for fake cheap thrills. Pat Pong night market is also famous for selling fake luxury goods because you choose what you want out of a catalogue and there are different grades when it comes to the quality and how similar they make it to be compared to the real deal. Guess it could be quite an experience to visit if its your first!
Another place for some night life you might want to go would be Zouk if you're the clubbing sort.
Dream World- Its an amusement park about an hour away from Bangkok. I used to go there with my family whenever we were in the city. You can usually book transportation to the place from your hotel, which usually includes a pick-up in the evening. Its a great place for some fun with friends and family and I have to say I really enjoyed the rides and would love to go again in the near future.
Safari World- Animal & Leisure Park! You can to drive through the Safari Park like you're in Africa, the tiger and lion feeding show is NOT TO BE MISSED. I remember seeing this human in a cage with buckets of meat then having the tigers crawl all over the cage while the guy feeds them. They have tons of stunt shows as well. I had a great time there as a young little teen. Especially when I got to feed the baby tiger cubs and carry it! Likewise, you can easily book transportation or tours from your hotel.
Places that can also be worth checking out if you want more scenic or traditional/religious spots-
River Kwai- This is a tour for you if you love history. A typical River Kwai tour includes a trip to the War Cemetery, a ride over the original 'Death Railway' which is the railway where thousands of POW and forced labourers lost their lives in the Second World War. Enjoy a scenic long-tail boat trip along the Maeklong River to the famous bridge over the River Kwai. Transportation to and from your hotel should also included in your tour.
Floating Market- This has really died down but if its your first, I would say go visit for the experience! Though, there isn't anything to buy from the boats, and they obviously know you're a tourist so prices are also higher than it normally should. And the number of floating stalls left have been decreasing each year. The tour you book will most likely include a few other places, that I really cannot remember where but overall, these tours are usually pretty O.K
Tiger Temple- Its a buddhist temple which is also a conservatory for tigers so basically you get to see a hell lot of tigers and probably get up close to them. If I'm not wrong, there are also activities you can do with elephants like getting a ride or feeding them.
Reclining Buddha- I'm not buddhist but I've been to the Wat Pho temple with the 'world famous' Reclining Buddha several times. This temple is the birthplace of traditional thai massage and masseurs get proper training from the temple in order to be certified before coming out to work in thai massage parlors. Unless you want to go for worship and such, its kinda boring.
Hua Hin- 3 hours off from bangkok, its a beautiful island. Known as Thailand's Royal beach resort. Mainly a resort where you can enjoy the usual good food, a nice beach, watersports, spa & golf. You can also explore around their parks, peaks, caves and waterfalls. I have never been to Hua Hin but after looking at the pictures, I am convinced I need to.
Very lastly, this really is for those who aren't aware of the closure of Suan Lum Night Bazzar. I know its kind of depressing. Suam Lum used to be the #1 night market right after the Chatuchak Weekend Market. Over the past few years, there has been talks about the market's closure but the area was on a borrowed lease so usually there was still quite a crowd whenever I visited. I loved that place, the shops were great and the food was good. Its sadly no longer operational. They officially closed the place down some time early this year.
A few other things to do in Bangkok:
1. Thai massage- of course, how can any trip to Thailand be complete without a traditional thai massage? Apart from the fact that the massages you get in Thailand is definitely authentic, its also so cheap I kind of feel bad towards the masseurs. I usually pay about 150 baht for a 60 minute foot and back rub, or 300 baht for a full body massage.
2. Manicure & Pedicure- The thais are definitely good with their hands! You can easily get a classic manicure and pedicure for half the price than what you normally pay for in Singapore. Apart from that, I also like to do nail art when I am there because it is dirt cheap and these ladies have so much talent. I did my zebra and Miu Miu nails at a tent stall outside of Pratunam Center. However, during my most recent trip there, the whole little row of tents outside the mall was gone. It was sad but anyway, you can pretty much do anything with your nails as long as you provide a clear picture of the nail art you want done to most of the manicure ladies.
3. Thai Cooking Lessons- They have been rather popular over the last year with tourists and I gave it a try with Angsana, who is just great. You can visit her site here. You pay 2800 baht for a private one to one class to cook 3 thai dishes of your choice. Each additional person is 2000 baht for a group up to 5 people. The class includes a pick-up from On Nut Station where she will drive you to the market to buy ingredients. This is optional of course but I highly recommend it. It was a first really immersing myself in thai every day life.
She will then drive you to her home where you will cook in her kitchen. I loved the class and managed to learn all my favourite thai dishes in a day. I was greedy so I requested to learn 5 dishes, each dish for an additional 700 baht. The classes are in English or Thai, and include all ingredients and also copies of recipes in english for you to take home. You also get to eat all the food you've prepared in the kitchen, otherwise you may choose to take them back with you in disposable boxes Angsana kindly provides. Cooking lessons is definitely a must-try in Bangkok! It was overall a great experience, from pounding my own thai green curry paste to frying my very own phad thai and drinking tom yum out of the pot. I especially enjoyed the trip to the market. So do give it a try if you have the time! All details are on her website. Just email or call her for any enquiries. She replies really promptly!
LASTLY…Getting around Bangkok is easy. Cabs are so cheap, and of course, so are the BTS which is their sky train system. Its very straightforward and easy to understand as long as you know which station you want to alight at. However, if you're going in more than a group of 2, sometimes taking a cab is relatively cheaper if you add it up together. Traffic in Bangkok is always bad though, so taking the BTS does save you a lot of time. The trains are very new and clean, just like Singapore's! Tuk-tuks are fun for the thrill but not very safe all the time. The drivers tend to offer you dirt cheap prices as low as 40 baht to get to your destination but a few metres after you hop on, they will usually try to set up some sort of deal with you to visit this place first otherwise you pay xxx baht. And if you disagree, they'll ask you to get off. They usually want to grab some sort of lunch or dinner 'coupon' when they send tourists to a particular shopping area. Hence the dirt cheap prices but I highly discourage anyone to allow them to take you to God knows where. This is likewise for the cabs as well. So its important to make sure that the metre is running for a fair deal. You will definitely get to your destination. Also like I said earlier, its always good to play safe in Thailand. Avoid taking a tuk-tuk at night because of the small alleys the drivers usually drive into to avoid traffic. They can be so dark by night it really feels unsafe. And try to have company with you all the time. There is also another form of public transportation though, which I have never tried before but my dad says it is worth the experience. The Khlong river boat taxis you will see along Saen Saep Canal, where Pratunam is, near Central World is the interchange station. You queue for the boat taxi and the conductor will collect the money from you once you are on board. The boats are the best for getting to and from Siam Square during the rush hour and cost a mere 12 baht.
To sum this guide up, Thais are generally very nice and friendly people. Be nice to them and they'll be nice to you too. Start off with a simple Sa-wa-di-ka (for the girls) or Sa-wa-di-kup (for the guys) which is a thai greeting, or simple to say it means, hello. And a Kup-kun-ka (for the girls) or Kap-kun-kup (for the guys) which means thank you. It is definitely always good if you have a local to bring you around because sometimes the stall tenders like to jerk up the price a little when they know you're a tourist. But even so, things are still relatively cheap there. Whatever it is, I guess my job is done here! Its 6:17 am right now and I've been doing this in-depth guide up for the past 5 and a half hours on full whack…I hope you guys enjoy it as much as I have. I also apologize if I happened to whine a bit along the way. Bangkok is a beautiful city. Its without a doubt a holiday destination wherever you are from in the world. I hope this guide has helped you! Thank you for bearing with me if you got all the way here! Its a very long post…I know. Feel free to leave a comment if you have any enquiries and I will try my best to answer them!