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Bangkok is the Capital of Thailand and one of the true shining stars of the orient. Known for its vibrant nightlife, ornate shrines, outstanding luxury restaurants and beautiful Royal Grand Palace, the city will astound and impress you in more ways than one. It provides a unique and luxurious experience to all of its visitors, and promises a truly unforgettable pastime.

bangkok photo

Photo by digitalpimp.

Check Out Where to Check in

Swimming pools, palm trees and a great place to take a load off and feel like you’re on a real tropical getaway – these are just some of the great advantages of staying at Anantara Siam Bangkok Hotel.  Also, the friendly staff and the uniquely comfortable, well-designed rooms will definitely delight you.
For a more modern and quite romantic feel, you can enjoy one of the rooms at the luxurious Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok.  This award-winning hotel features a spa, outdoor tennis court and even a salt water swimming pool. Guests can check in fast, and enjoy a stunning nighttime view of the city, as well as the most comfortable, modern rooms.
For a truly fabulous view of Bangkok from above, and a stunning rooftop restaurant the likes of which you’ve probably never even seen in movies, it’s definitely worth staying at the Lebua At State Tower – a 5-star luxury hotel that offers rooms with family-friendly facilities, diverse and high end amenities, private balconies and even sightseeing tours the hotel can organize at the front desk.

Food Places Galore

There are truly numerous food places and luxury restaurants to be found in Bangkok, and you don’t really have to go too far in order to spot them.  The eccentric and uniquely delicious dishes of this oriental marvel have long been considered some of the best reasons to visit Bangkok in the first place.

First on the list is what some critics have named the best Thai food restaurant in the world.  Nahm was born from the inspiration of renowned chef-author David Thompson, and uses ancient Thai secret recipes for the preparation of unique dishes such as chicken livers and smoked fish curry with prawns.

Likhit Kai Yang is found just behind Ratchadamnoen Stadium, and is considered one of the best older restaurants in Thailand.  Here you can enjoy delicious meals such as charcoal roasted chicken, without spending too much, and the friendly English-speaking owner and staff will guide you toward getting everything to your liking.

Finally, for anyone interested in learning more about, and even trying out some of the dishes that the Thai Royal Family enjoy, you can book a reservation at Krua Apsorn.  This homely dining place offers the best and most genuine dishes coming from central and southern Thailand.

Sightseeing in Bangkok

If you’re in Bangkok, you simply must visit the Reclining Buddha in Wat Pho.

Reclining Buddha in Wat Pho photo

Reclining Buddha in Wat Pho Photo by DavideGorla

This huge statue stands 15 meters tall, and the feet alone measure about five meters.  Wat Pho is a beautiful Buddhist temple complex that holds many more worthy sights, and is located on Rattanakosin Island, a little farther south from the Grand Palace.

The Grand Palace itself is one of the most beautiful places in the city, and definitely worth checking out.  It is more than 130 years old, and by far the most ornate and stunning building in Bangkok.  You can find numerous tour guides at a cheap rate, who can give you a sightseeing tour, and also provide you with a detailed and fascinating recounting of the Palace’s history.

When you’re tired of temples, shrines and the vibrant street life of Bangkok, you can also consider relaxing in the Rama IX Park.  This is the largest green space in the city, featuring a beautiful, large lake and a stunning botanical garden with exotic plants from around the world.  Despite being quite amazing as a venue, the park is surprisingly little-known among tourists.

Explorer’s Tips

Want to know how people in Bangkok used to live?  The best way to get a real taste of the city’s past is to head down to the klongs (the Bangkok canals) with a long-tail boat.

Here is where you can find the simpler, more natural life of Bangkok, as it was before the skyscrapers and tourists arrived. In some areas, you’ll even see traders and local inhabitants who actually live in these regions, and enjoy the peaceful atmosphere around renovated traditional teak houses.

Bangkok canals photo

Photo by adactio

How to Truly Enjoy Your Day in Bangkok – A Day Off the Beaten Path

While a typical day visiting Bangkok as a tourist might start with a sightseeing tour and a few quick visits at museums, temples or the Royal Palace, you might be interested in something a little more unique – especially if you’ve already done all that.

Where else can you start your day strolling down the street and spotting a 30-meter tall three-headed elephant in the middle of a big city?  Bangkok’s Erawan Museum is the home of this gargantuan statue, and a fitting place to start your day off the beaten path visiting Thailand’s capital.

The next place to visit would be the Papaya Vintage Shop.  Not too well-known among tourists, this shop is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, and it’s definitely worth a look.  You can find some truly bizarre vintage items here, some of them only put on display because they are truly out-of-this-world weird – and not because they might be for sale.  It’s worth going up to the top floor to also see professional photographs and models actually organizing unusual photo shoots inside the shop.

For adventurous visitors looking for the more bizarre side of Bangkok, there’s also the Bangkok Forensic Museum.  This museum features some of the most sinister and morbid exhibitions you’ll ever find – such as rooms dedicated to various parasites, and how they affect the human body, glass and wood cabinets featuring real skeletons, or plastic snakes, spiders and other creepy things.

In the evening, a great place to visit is Bangkok’s huge open-air bazaar, the Rot Fai Market.  Here, you can find anything from hippie knickknacks and old furniture, to vintage collectibles and memorabilia.  You can also spot vintage cars and traders selling modern apparel typical of Bangkok’s night markets.

rod-fai-market

Rot Fai Market

Bangkok is, without a doubt, one of the most vibrant and highly original cities in the world, blending traditional culture and modern technology in a striking contrast that has delighted and pleasantly surprised its numerous visitors for decades.

Tuktuk Ride

First tuktuk ride

It seemed easy enough getting out and about in Bangkok to visit the temples. Armed with a map and a lot of enthusiasm I decided to do the Bangkok Temple Run on my own and not rely on a planned tour: after all, I am an adventure (read stubborn) traveler and I live for the excitement of the unknown (read stingy and cannot afford a packaged tour!).

Honestly, it’s not that difficult to get around Bangkok. They have one of the best transportation systems in Asia.  The MTR, BTS Skytrain and the ferries are comfortable, reliable and safe. The cabs and tuktuks (local three-wheeled public utility vehicle) are a bit more challenging as they sometimes negotiate a rate that is higher than what you would normally pay…but then again it is a developing country, making it somewhat forgivable. But one thing is for sure, it is a safe place for tourists and I never felt threatened at all.

While getting around is very easy, language is still a barrier. There are signs in English but communicating with the locals, even just to order food, is at times frustrating and you can see how frustrated they get as well, knowing that you do not understand them perfectly.

There are traps though and being tourists means that we are easy prey, at times. But this shouldn’t discourage anyone from doing his or her own temple run. Here are 5 tips that could help one plan a do-it-yourself Bangkok Temple Run…I learned this the hard way!

Wat Arun in the background

1. Plan your temple trip at least one day before. While popular temples like Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha), Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of Emerald Buddha), Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn), and Wat Traimit (Temple of the Golden Buddha) are situated quite close to each other, it takes almost the whole day just to appreciate one.

We only managed to see Wat Pho, although we planned to see the Wat Phra Kaew inside the Grand Palace as well. We were diverted for reasons explained in tip #3.

Stylized Wat Pho grounds

2. Ask the receptionists from your hotel for the best route to take to get to the temples. They are usually very helpful and speak good English. Some hotels even have a tours desk and are more than happy to help, even if you decide not to get their tour packages. Word of warning though, Thai people are very persuasive and they do it in a very calm and sweet way…not that it’s a bad thing, but if you are looking for a DIY tour then this will defeat the purpose!

Map to Grand Palace

The receptionists at the hotel we stayed in, Imm Fusion in Sukhumvit, were very helpful. We told them which temples we were visiting and they carefully gave us directions using the city map as a guide. Their directions were complete with options of taking the Skytrain, MTR and the ferry, which stations to change trains at, and the costs of the fares.

3. No matter what the locals tell you, the temples are always open during their published opening hours! Believe me someone will tell you that the temples are closed and I was, embarrassingly, a victim.

We were on our way to the Grand Palace to see Wat Phra Kaew when we encountered a tourist police. No, I was innocent (this time I was…yeah right). We just got off from the ferry and were walking towards the direction of the palace; decided to light a cigarette (yeah nasty habit); the tourist police saw us and motioned us towards the designated smoking area; and he started talking to us. He asked us where we were headed and  we told him. He was very calm and told us that the temple was closed that day because of some Buddhist celebration that the monks were preparing for. He said that only one chamber was open and they were still charging the full fee.

He suggested a different temple to visit; supposedly a very ancient one and another place where we could buy cheap items that even designer stores go to buy their stock. He was very assuring and even hailed us a couple of tuktuks, bargained with them on the price of the ride (50 baht for both), and told them where to take us. We got hooked!

The temple we saw was small but still interesting. It had various figures of Buddha and still being used by monks to hold their daily routine…but it still wasn’t Wat Phra Kaew!

We lit incense and said our prayers then off we went to our next destination, excited that we were going to get bargain items…leading me to tip #4.

Buddha meets Buddhing!

4. Negotiate calmly and with a smile. The locals are making a living and they do not mean to rip you off, most of the time!

The tuktuk  drivers took us to our next destination, which was a jewelry store, and this is when it dawned on us that we were trapped in the temple run! I had read so much about this but my realization came late.

The jewelry, however, was authentic and beautiful with lots of interesting designs, and quite cheap. However, we were not prepared to buy anything and the feeling of being duped made us hang on even more tightly to our cash.

Temple Run

After going through the store our drivers told us that they are taking us to another store. We refused and asked them to just drop us off the nearest Skytrain station. They explained, with much difficulty, that they get paid petrol money for every guest they take to these stores, even if the guests do not buy anything. Were we being duped again? Perhaps, but it seemed plausible, so we said yes.

It was a worthwhile trip though. This other store had more stock and even a souvenir shop where we bought some Thai silk scarves. The saleslady was very charismatic and helped us get discounts for our purchases…even told us her life story in 45 minutes.

Once again, our drivers told us that there is another store where we could get nice suits. This time we really put our foot down and declined the offer, very politely. They did not argue anymore, smiled and took us to the nearest Skytrain station. We paid our fare as negotiated and off we went.

5. Be flexible with your plans. There will always be something that will challenge your plans and once it goes off track just ride the wave…traveling is an experience not a destination.

Yes, it’s a good idea to plan your trip itinerary but do not stress yourself out if it doesn’t go as planned. You are on vacation and supposed to be de-stressing not distressing!

We got to visit Wat Pho the following day, saw the huge Reclining Buddha and got to explore the temple grounds. It is amazing how these structures were built at a time when technology was not as advanced. So much hard work was put into its conceptualization and construction that I often wonder, what were they thinking? But the end product is marvelous and I am still in awe every time I see the photos I took.

Reclining Buddha

Eating Bangkok Food

I just concluded a 5-day trip to Bangkok, back in Manila now and I’m missing the flavors of Thailand. Thai food is one of my all time favorites. The flavors just explode in your mouth with the right balance of spicy, sweet, salty, sour and bitter…oh and did I say spicy? These flavors dance in your mouth even if you just order one dish. Each dish has a unique taste though and you can taste which ingredient is being highlighted with every spoonful. Oddly enough though its not the main ingredient like meat, poultry or fish that makes the dish standout but its the collection and blending of the minor ingredients that do justice to the meal. The red curry paste and the kaffir lime leaves to fish cake, the galangal (Thai ginger), lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves to  Tom Yum Kung (sour soup with prawns), the coriander and the lime to Som Tam (papaya salad), and the basil leaves and mint leaves to the stir fries.

The best Thai food, however, are the ones sold on the streets. You have to know how to order though because they do not always have a menu with pictures, or with English translations and explanations, and to further add to the excitement, the vendors know very little English to communicate. Your index finger and your hands are trusty allies as you communicate in signs. Patience is certainly a virtue in some situations.

Here is a short food guide on 5 popular Thai foods to eat to get the best out of your Bangkok trip:

Som Tam (Green Papaya Salad)

Som Tam

Made from a mixture of green papaya, carrots, red chilies, lime juice, coriander, fish sauce and tomatoes, beaten and mixed together using mortar and pestle to obtain that spicy, sweet and sour goodness. It’s amazing that the flavor of this dish remains consistent even if you eat at a local restaurant or at a makeshift stall on a street corner. Best one I’ve had though is right under the BTS Skytrain station in On Nut and the lady cook enthusiastically showed me how it was made. Not every stall sells Som Tam though and one way of finding out is to look for the mortar and pestle made of stone; if they have one then you’re in for a treat! There are also several varieties of this dish – with salted eggs or cucumber and the equally popular Lao variety with fermented crablets. Best eaten with Tod Mun Pla (Thai fish cakes) and sticky rice or on its own, if you can bear its chili goodness.

Tom Yum Kung (Hot and Sour Soup with Prawns)

Tom Yum Kung

This is the uber popular hot and sour soup usually served with prawns. The soup is distinctly flavoured with galangal (a type of ginger), lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and, you guessed it, chili! The semi-clear broth greets your pallet with the tangy goodness then flicks your taste buds as you feel the kick of the chili gently tapered by the sweetness of the kaffir lime leaves and galangal. This soup is a great starter for any Thai meal as it gently cleanses and prepares your palate for the other flavors of the succeeding dishes.

Tod Mun Pla (Thai Fish Cake)

Yummm :)

My absolute favorite and too bad that I haven’t tasted anything close to it here in the Philippines, so I really went for it while in Bangkok. I love the rubbery texture and the balance of fish and red curry paste made even more pronounced by the cucumber generously soaked in sweet chili sauce dip. Every bite is a delight! Thai fish cakes are different from western style fish cakes since they are not battered. The shredded fish fillet is held together by the red curry paste which also gives it the rubbery texture. Best ones I’ve tasted was after our floating market adventure at Damnoen Saduak on our way to the elephant show in Samprahan Elephant Ground!

Tom Kha Gai (Chicken in Creamy Coconut Soup)

Tom Kha Gai

This is chicken soup Asian style, chunky slices of chicken fillet in creamy coconut milk interlaced with the exotic flavours of kaffir lime leaves, galangal, coriander and fresh chilies, of course. The smell of the coconut milk, herbs and spices alone will make anyone crave for more. Similar to its cousin, Tom Yum Kung, Tom Kha Gai greets your palate with the sweetness of the coconut milk then leaves it with the gentle but powerful kick of herbs and spices. This dish is moderately spiced. Best one I’ve tried is in a local restaurant near the port on the way to Damnoen Saduak as we traveled to Samprahan Elephant Ground.

Stir Fries

Stir Fries

Mainly tried these from street vendors near our hotel, Imm Fusion in Sukhumvit. The stall had various sea foods, frogs, snake heads and vegetables. We were fortunate that they had a menu in English with pictures so we only had to point at the ones we found interesting. What was interesting is the distinct flavor of the basil and mint leaves that each dish had but the cook still managed to create uniqueness and individuality to each stir fry. We had 3 stir fried dishes –  one with clams, one with beef and a vegetable called mimosa, and one with ground pork – and stuffed egg, which is basically an omelet, Thai style.

There is also the ultra popular Pad Thai, a noodle dish with peanuts and tamarind sauce, which is something to order if you are extremely unfamiliar with the dishes or there is no English menu available – a safe alternative and very lightly spiced.

Eating by the road side

Thai foods are normally very spicy, but this shouldn’t discourage anyone from trying them out. Just make sure that you have a hefty serving of raw vegetables – cabbages, string beans and cucumber – to munch on in between bites. Whatever you do, do not drink water! It may provide temporary relief but after a while water, especially when cold, tends to aggravate the burning sensation in the mouth. A yoghurt drink is a good diffuser and they are readily available practically everywhere.  Milk also does the trick but it has a tendency to make you feel full and that would spoil the fun.

Food is one of the reasons that keep me excited about traveling and Thailand is one of those places where people are very passionate about cooking and creating the perfect meal. It was a pity that I didn’t have time to go to a Thai cooking class, but I know that this will not be the last time that my palate will be immersed in the sweet, spicy, tangy and fabulous balance of flavors that is Thailand.