From the skyscrapers that stretch in almost all directions as far as the eye can see, to the delicate handmade shrines found on residents’ doorsteps, Bangkok encapsulates all that a 21st century city should be, and more.
With some eight million people, Bangkok is a storybook of contradictions – striking for its juxtaposition of ancient and modern architecture, religious and hedonistic cultures and glitzy shopping mall consumerism and old school market trading comfortably contained within.
First-time visitors to the city are bound to experience sensory-overload. Don’t fight it. Submit yourself to Bangkok’s mesmerizing milieus with this must-see itinerary.
Thanks to the Chao Phraya River that splits it in half, and the many canals that criss-cross it, Bangkok is sometimes described as the “Venice of the East”. At trip down the river is a must, and is easily accomplished on the many ferry services that operate to and from a series of piers. For example, Ratchawong Pier dumps you out in Chinatown, while the Thien and Chang Piers offer easy access to the Grand Palace and Wat Pho.
Whether or not you’re bedding down in the infamous ground zero of backpacker culture that is Khao San Road, this lively area crammed with foreigners, bars, travel agents and stalls selling cheap clothes and DVDs has to be experienced at least once. For now, fight the urge to join with fellow travellers over a few bottles of Chang. Instead, grab a bowl of Pad Thai from a street vendor to recharge your batteries and move on.
Be sure to wear clothes that cover your shoulders, arms, legs and ankles to tour the incredible Grand Palace, Bangkok’s ceremonial palace and former residence of the king. You can get here from Khao San by heading south on Thanon Sanam Chai. You’ll also want to discover the equally astonishing Wat Pho complex next door and, if you’re feeling a bit travel-tense, grab a deep tissue massage at the Thai Massage Medical School, which is housed in Wat Pho’s grounds.
From here, hail a tuk tuk and negotiate fairly with the driver for a journey to the Jim Thompson House. Designed as a residence by a former American CIA agent, the house now exhibits Thompson’s collection of Thai structures and Southeast Asian Art.
You might want to freshen up (and don your best outfit) before rehydrating with a cocktail or two at the Bamboo Bar inside the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Famous for its live jazz, the bar has a wonderful 1920s speakeasy feel and the huge cocktails are offer nice refreshment from the Bangkok heat.
Round out your hectic day with a trip to Patpong’s night market. This chaotic street market in the heart of the Silom nightlife district offers shopping well beyond 9pm. Once notorious only for its go-go bars, Patpong has really cleaned up its act. That’s not to say the shows that made the area famous don’t still take place, and if that’s your thing you’ll have no trouble finding the kind of entertainment that draw many a farang (foreigners) to the area.
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Written by insider city guide series Hg2 | A Hedonist’s guide to…