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Bangkok – A City of Dizzying Contradictions
Arriving in Bangkok is one of the most mesmerising experiences in world travel. Blisteringly hot and completely chaotic, the steaming streets are awash with majestic temples, open-air food stalls and colourful tuk-tuks traversing the constant traffic jams at high speed. An intoxicating mix of old and new sees climate-cooled megamalls nestled next to centuries-old village homes, sacred shrines sharing space with neon-lit strip joints, and street-food vendors serving traditional treats in the shadow of high-rise hotels. As with any major metropolis, first-time tourists are susceptible to scams, so a little pre-arrival research into the most common pitfalls is prudent.
The City of Angels’ Must-See Sights
Be it glittering temples, majestic palaces, maddening markets or relaxing river cruises, Bangkok offers its visitors a seemingly endless supply of exciting excursions. Wat Phra Kaew, or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, is a temple of national significance and a major attraction. The vast, magical complex of ornate courtyards and golden walkways includes the majestic Grand Palace, another must-see for first-time visitors. Looming large on the banks of the Chao Phraya River is one of Bangkok’s most recognisable landmarks, Wat Arun. In spite of the throngs of smartphone-wielding tourists, a powerful sense of serenity prevails. Almost as essential is a trip to the spectacular Jim Thompson House, a museum shrouded by jungle which houses a jaw-dropping collection of Asian artefacts. Amongst the largest markets on the planet, Chatuchak is about as surreal as shopping gets; from accessory to antiques, paintings to pets, there’s almost nothing you can’t buy here.
Few cities in the world have an after-dark reputation quite like Bangkok, and yet, as anyone who has spent any time here will tell you, there is so much more to it than the pole-twirling temptresses of Patpong. While depravity till dawn is an option, the city has evolved to become a more sophisticated and dynamic entity where a wider variety of tastes are catered for. Brimming with sky-high cocktail bars, bouncing basement clubs, revitalising spas and exclusive eateries, nightlife in Bangkok is as diverse as it is unforgettable. Backpackers drowning in Tiger Beer abound along the infamous Khao San Road, while locals and farangs alike gather on the bleachers of Ratchadamnoen Stadium for an electrifying evening of traditional Thai boxing. Romantic river cruises are a top choice for couples, while families can see seven centuries of Thai culture condensed into one breath-taking spectacle at performing arts centre, Siam Niramit.
Hit the Streets for Serious Eats
While there are countless opportunities to savour supreme cuisine at sophisticated sushi bars, or gorge on familiar fare at a fast-food franchise, to say you’ve eaten Thai-Style, you have to trade the tablecloth and silverware for chopsticks and a small plastic chair. First-stop for foodies should be Chinatown, where the snaking sois hide a myriad of intriguing eating-options serving barbequed satay with spicy shallots and sugar syrup, amongst other dishes to die for. The Yellow Bridge area has a long-established tradition of classic cuisine where you can sweat it out by the side of a fume-choked street and sample some of the finest cooking on earth. Head to Old Town for a treasure-trove of traditional Thai fare, including spicy green papaya salad. If the waiter is kind, he’ll ask you how spicy—and if you are wise, you’ll answer, “Nit noi”.
Shop till You Drop – Then Shop Some More
You don’t need to spend too long in the Thai capital to realise just how much spending is going on. From futuristic malls to floating markets, this is a city obsessed with shopping. From traditional teak curios to a tailor-made suit, from a vintage bag to a Bugatti Veyron, there simply is nothing you cannot buy (or dream of buying) in Bangkok. Looking for bargains on well-known brands? Head to MBK. Looking for designs so trendy only Japanese teenagers can pull them off? CentralWorld is for you. Have a whole lot of money to spend, or simply want to window-shop in a world where a watch costs more than your house? Try Siam Paragon. Wake up and think, “I want to buy a suit of armour and a shoal of swordfish?” Swing by Chatuchak market. Looking for the latest tech at wallet-friendly prices? Take a tuk tuk to Pantip Plaza.
Where to Stay in the City
From glittering riverside resorts to traditional teak guesthouses, towering high-rise hotels to humble backpacker pads, there are thousands of places to lay one’s head after a heavenly day in the city of angels. At the north of the Old City is Banglamphu, a colourful neighbourhood where you’ll find an abundance of accommodation that won’t break the bank. Numerous small hotels have appeared here in recent years to cater for the throngs of partygoers heading to Khao San. Bang Rak abounds with upscale residences, while the area around Lumphini Park is a good bet for something a bit more authentic. Silom and Sukhumvit play host to some of the finest hotels in Bangkok, while Chinatown’s labyrinth of snaking streets conceal a charming hotel or two. If your plane lands late or takes off early, why not avoid any unnecessary stress and spend a night at a hotel near the airport?