Many of my friends and acquaintances have a common opinion of Bangkok, they don't like it much. It is manic. It's busy, it's noisy, it smells and you get accosted by tailors, porn dealers, bar owners and girls on the streets vying to get you to eat at their restaurant. The Tuk Tuks tell you they will take you on a sight seeing trip for 60 minutes for 20Baht. But they will take you to a string of massage parlours, beer bars, and restaurants.
You won't see a car without a dent in it. I once hired a brand new limousine, This "limousine" had 3000 kilometres on the clock and had been banged more times than a PatPong bar girl. But that's the appeal of Bangkok or as it's called in Thai, Krung Thep Mahanakhon.
The locals shorten it to Krung Thep (ignore the h as in Thai) even though it is already short for a name that is in the Guinness Book of Records. Road signs have the Thai and English names on although the name Bangkok is for our benefit and that is the Thai ethos. 'happy enjoy'.
The city has such good public transport that it doesn't matter too much where you stay but strangely it all stops at about 11.30pm and you are at the mercy of the Taxi Meters who will take you anywhere except where you ask them to take you. They're not all the same, but like the Tuk Tuks during the day, they are paid 20Baht commission for taking passengers there and a 50Baht bonus if you stay. It took me 35 minutes to travel the length of Ratchadapisek Road at 2am. It should have been 10 minutes. Add to that my having to calm my mate down who when drunk and tired has zero patience I found it can be an irritating experience. To avoid late night frustration find the best placed hotel. Or pre-book your taxi at the hotel. Or learn a little Thai and call your hotel to book a taxi. But whatever you do, do not let the club you are in arrange your taxi, or you will get shipped to the next club who also pay a commission to the doorman of the previous club. Conversely, if you are on a lad's night out (or ladies as well) tell the taxi driver. He won't disappoint you.
are good fun but if he stops for you, shake your head or say 'no thank you'. He will understand you. If you hail a tuk tuk, tell him where you want to go and ask how much before you get in.
The Chao Phraya River Line
runs several boat routes along the Chao Phraya (jow prey a) the best of which is the floating market tour. See the links page for more but the local boats run from 9 to 30Baht and every 20 minutes and the tours around 400Baht but you have to check the timetables. And it is a great day out that won't break the bank. You don't need to book in advance but you pay for local routes onboard and for the tours at the boathouse or pre-book at your hotel.
called the Skytrain, is quick and frequent but it isn't finished yet so not all the stations are where you want them. But don't be put off, it is designed to fit in with the MRT subway system and has stations at all the key locations. The route now goes out to the airport and future plans are to roll it out much further. Using both systems is easy. In the entrance of BTS stations is a map of the stops and a list of what code for how many stops. Put coins in the machine and it gives you a token which you use to get through the turnstiles. At the kiosk you can buy tokens if you have no change or a day pass and most of the staff understand requests for information spoken in English. Last I knew it was 120Baht for a day pass but you need one pass for the MRT and another for the BTS. Both boast frequency and safety but it is understated. Every train both in the air and below ground is spotlessly clean. They run absolutely on time, which is difficult to miss when it's every 5 minutes, and the signs are in English. The underground has glass barriers on the edge of the platform and sliding doors that match the carriage with absolute precision. It really is worth a ride just to admire the engineering even though the girl who tells you to mind the gap has an annoying American accent.
are as cheap as the tuk tuks and only charge for distance. During the day you can just get in and tell him where you want to go. Generally you have to hail one that is moving because when they are in a taxi bay they are usually on waiting so ask the driver if he is available before getting in. All the taxi meters are regulated by groups who have their own livery so they tend to be bright pink or blue and red but most seem to be yellow and green. Some journeys require using toll roads and have taxes applied. The fixed charge of 450Baht from Suvarnabhumi is set by the operators. It isn't the driver's fault despite Bangkok Scams complaints. If you take the time to read the blog it is worth noting that complaining to the Police will be wasted time and insisting on the meter being switched on will probably put you further back in the queue. The whingers save 100Baht and probably wouldn't consider a tip. So, if you use the taxi rank, don't ask how much to wherever, just get in, tell him where you want and to turn on the meter please. If you resent the 450Baht give him the amount the meter says plus 100Baht to cover the tax and toll. From Bangkok central to Suvarnabhumi should be about 300Baht but he has no legal obligation to use the meter or to take you.
Taxi Meters do have a bad press but for the most part they are exceptional and the meter runs at 35Baht for the first 2 kilometres and 2baht for each subsequent. They are all air conditioned, they know their way around (to a degree), and you can get to the city centre for less than £1.00 Give the driver a good tip and he will be your best friend and pick you up anytime you want and wait for you if you need him to and he will switch off the meter while he is waiting.
There are bus stations at each corner of the city but I confess I have only used one of them.
Ekkamai (eck am I), but they are all the same. This is not a good option for the novice unless you are fluent in Thai. The local as well as Aircon coaches run from the same terminus and I once got on the slow coach by accident because I couldn't read the sign at the ticket booth. What you see is two ticket queues for Pattaya (for example) but the bit about via where and aircon is written in Thai. I was subsequently joined by chickens and one small black pig and the fresh air was provided by opening all the windows affording a nice warm breeze during a four hour journey. But at least you only make these mistakes once.
If you want to know more such as routes and fares etc., Thaitransit may have an unusual interest, but he is pretty much an expert!
Is king in Bangkok. The malls and centres are plenty and modern but the markets are best by far. All the market traders expect you to barter but I like to find stalls with two or more items or maybe a pair of something that I want and then try to do the deal. This is a purely personal thing because I don't like to feel unnecessarily like a Scrooge. Americans won't thank me for saying it and no doubt they are completely unaware but they do not have a good reputation with Thais in all walks and especially with traders because they do not tip, are not generous, want something for nothing, and complain too audibly. I am not saying we are better than the Yanks. We are not, but the English are more suited to the Thai culture hence every Thai uses the saying, 'Phuh dee Angrit' (English are gentlemen - a reference to our table manners but used for everything to describe us).
I read recently about how to barter in Thailand and it was a good reminder for me. The seller will tap the price they want into the biggest calculator they could find and show it to you. You shake your head and they press C and give the empty calculator to you. The first time this happened to me I had no idea what to do. You think I jest? I saw a silk embroidered reversible dressing gown with hand stitched golden dragons on black and inside black dragons on peach. It was heavy and warm and perfect for my ageing mum. The chap asked (via his calculator) for 1200Baht - at that time about £16.90. I pursed my lips in thought and he mistook this for dissatisfaction. He wiped the calculator and passed it over to me. How much would you have offered? In the UK I would hazard a guess this gown would be about £250 or so. I offered 800Baht with my invisible angel screaming in my conscience 'YOU TIGHT FISTED B****RD', but he nodded in acceptance, so I gave him a 1000 note and told him to keep the change. I saw him again 8 months later and he was overjoyed to see me, gave his money apron to his sister and insisted on going for a beer with me. And that sums up Thai mentality, all embracing, befriending and never forgetful.
But there is a better way to get the right deal. Take the time to learn a little Thai. It is a painfully difficult language to grasp but there are some good resources on the web. Take a look at my Language page and also Learningthai.com. I like this site but be aware, just like all the sites I have tried, it does have errors (more on that in my language section) but don't be afraid to try. There is nothing more satisfying than picking up an item and asking, "Khor thoat khrap, rah kah thao lai?" (Excuse me, how much is this?).
There is a two-tier system in Thailand for Falang and Thai and that is reflected in market stall prices so try asking in Thai and you generally get offered a more sensible price. I am saddened when tourists complain about this dual pricing. No one is making you go there and this pricing has come about because of us. Most traders expect us to barter and they enjoy it, so expect the price to be high except where it is displayed. You see bars and restaurants in Pattaya with signs that read 'No Thais' and menus in English only, how do you think that makes Thai men feel? And most monuments offer a discount to Thai's not two prices. They do not charge tourists more, they give a discount to those it belongs to and usually this is because of a subsidy from the Culture Ministry. It has nothing to do with ripping off tourists. There are some services that do take advantage of the discounting rule but you still have a choice of whether you want to use it. For the most part Thailand is a very safe place but read everybody's do's and dont's including mine.
I am told King Power near Victory Monument is great for shopping. I wouldn't know, I have never been because it was built for tourists and sells real Breitlings. I want a copy so I can buy another when I get bored with it. It is illegal to import copy goods into the UK but Customs Officers don't bother with it, with the exception of a holdall full of clothing, CD's and DVD's, and despite the claims of designers I am not costing the manufacturer any lost income because I would never spend £2500 on a real one. Each to their own, but I want to buy Thai things from Thailand or as you might say, 'when in Rome'. As a result over the last two years my entire set of kitchen utensils have been transformed. Those who have been to LOS more than once will know what I mean...
Lumphini night market (in the Lumphini Park main entrance) makes a great night out if you're shopaholic. There is plenty to see but it feels sterile. I have never understood 'atmosphere' but I know Lumphini hasn't got one. There is plenty to buy at inflated prices and all the stallholders speak English and there is no excitement. It is big and clean and beautifully laid out. A bit like Bentalls really.
PatPong night market round the corner from Lumphini is the exact opposite. It is grubby and tired and been there too long and the Yellow Shirts want to close it down. It is crowded and noisy and rambling and you name it, it has been copied and is for sale here. There are open air bars with loud music and girls and private peep show clubs with flashing lights and the air is thick with beer and Moo Yang and Ghai Pot (see the food section) and the hustle and bustle of every race of people. You tread carefully to avoid a slip on spilt food and ices and if you drop something you'll never see it again. And after an hour you prey you'll find an exit and two minutes after you do you want to turn round and go right back in. This is one of my favourite places in the world and yet it occupies only three short and narrow streets. If you enter from Silom, walk through the main covered area of Talat (Thai market stalls) and out onto Surawong. On the other side of the road, opposite the Pink Panther Club is one of the best open air restaurants in Bangkok and wrapped around it is an indoor Talat that sells great souvenirs. A friend of mine was looking for a leather wallet and in this market was a stall with too many to choose from.
He picked one out and asked the lady how much? We were both taken aback when she said 4000Baht and it is instances like this when Bangkokscams is justified in its complaints. I offered her 500Baht and she said she had paid more than that for the wallets. We left with her following us around shouting, "Come back, I want to do business with you." Nobody deserves to be scammed but this is about as clever as the scams get in Bangkok and if you travel anywhere in the world you should be aware of your vulnerability. Check out the exchange rate before you travel. The best one I find is Coinmill and I always work out a formula for a quick simple conversion. At that time she was asking for about £60.00, which is a rediculous sum for a wallet. My pal had to wait a whole year before he went to Thailand again and bought one in Pattaya for 450 Baht but by then the recession had bit and the arse had fell out of the GBP so it cost him 9 quid instead of 6, we had to laugh.
To the left of the aforementioned restaurant is a T-Shirt shop that sells top quality cotton copy clothing (to heck with the Customs) and the girl will barter for quantity. I seem to buy 10 or 15 shirts every time I go there but that's only because my Thai missus doesn't understand the 'cold wash only' on our English automatic washing machine. I wear them once then the kids get them. If you have kids I think it's ok to take them to PatPong but hang on tight to them. There is so much going on it is easy to get distracted and not only do you not want to lose them, they could wander into a private peep show. Having said that, all of the bars have door staff to prevent unwanted access and Thais are strict about public etiquette.
Along Silom Road are lots of small traders with watches and jewellery and kids toys and novelties and if you want a watch there are three qualities: Low grade which should be up to five or six hundred Baht, B Grade which are usually 1000Baht for leather strap and 1400 for bracelet, and Grade A which will be as much as 3000Baht and more. Most of these can be bartered down to as much as half the asking price. My friend paid 2500Baht for a Brietling chronograph that hasn't missed a beat in two years and I have an array of automatics that drive my missus mad so email me if anybody wants one.
October is a good time to visit Bangkok because it is a little less hectic. It is also the King's official birthday and though you may expect a street party or a national holiday in reality it lasts a week. Having eaten at the rustic ranch-house style restaurant opposite Pink Panthers we considered it time to lunge back in to PatPong. We worked our way through the isles crowded with traders setting up their stalls from flatbed barrows and the open end of Toyota estates and pickups making ready for the nights trading. Appearing out the other end, which is only about 2/3 of the way to Silom at which point it changes from market stalls to bars, there is a narrow street with no name that connects PhatPong1 to PhatPong2, which has a row of small shops some of which I am unable to determine quite what they vend; because I am always keeping my left eye on the bar facing the street where a couple of girls are always trying to grab and drag in passing estranged men and the right eye on an open bar with two stunning girls who like me more than I want them to and more than is good for my health if the missus finds out.
One of these unsigned establishments is so small it only has a doorway and stairs that lead to who knows where and on this occasion the proprietors had beyond all the laws of physics managed to fit a karaoke machine, a widescreen TV, two youths and a very inebriated old lady with one tooth, into the foot of the staircase. The old lady with one tooth staggered (which was clearly the wrong word to use because her victorious navigation deserved some sort of recognition) over to us and demanded we join in her jubilant celebration by sharing her Sang Thip straight from the bottle. Unlike my mate I am not an Olympiad drinker and most of Asia will not try to drink the lethal rice whiskey and he is not brave enough to attempt to sing karaoke. Similarly we didn't want to offend the old lady with one tooth so we sipped with trepidation. My mate went first and almost exploded with the sudden and uncontrollable augmentation of Fahrenheit. Scared? Of course I was but I couldn't back out now and it wasn't long before we found ourselves joining in with the karaoke. After that is a blur.
PatPong is open 24/7 but the market kicks off about 8pm. I like to go about 10pm onward because the party warms up by then. By 5.30am you can use public transport again to get back to your digs, and trust me, by then you will need them.
Chatuchak Market is open all weekend during the day. It is easily the best of all Bangkok's markets and a must if you are in town over a weekend and new to Thailand. There is a good write up and photos about Chatuchak at www.bangkok.com. Sadly it has fallen foul to the inextinguishable backpackers who so popularised the market the traders have taken to selling higher quality goods at higher still prices but don't let that put you off. I still find it greatly frustrating that one day is not long enough to shop there. Chatuchak is in stark contrast to PatPong. I went several times before I realised why. It is because they have cleaners and the sunlight pours through the semi-translucent awnings lighting everything up giving it a feel of Oriental Bazaar. Even though it is compressed and forbodingly overcrowded with its narrow isles it still feels light and airy compared to PatPong. There is much more to choose from at Chatuchak and the quality has a better feel about it even though the larger part of it is aimed at Thai shoppers, which means you will find those traditional Thai utensils and home furnishings like the Buddha and wood carved Thai dancers that you only otherwise see in your hotel reception..
If you are on stopover through Suvarnabhumi airport (pronounced sue wan a boom) I recommend the Thong Ta Resort in Lat Krabang Road. We stay there every time we have to go to Bangkok because it is so good. It isn't exceptional but it is as good as it gets for Suvarnabhumi. If you arrive late there are four restaurants along the same bit of road, and within walking distance, the first of which is seafood and is truly wonderful. The second is Thai and is as it should be. My partner, who is from Issan, thinks the third restaurant is staffed by Cambodians and the Moo Thawt we had served to us was awful. We won't be going back there. All four are open all night and serve cold beer. Two of them have music and if you are travelling alone some of the girls are also available. If you book through Maneeda Tours they will arrange transfers at no extra charge. Avoid the airport taxi rank for the reasons about Taxi Meter above because Lat Krabang is only 3 kilometres and there are no tolls or taxes.
Opposite the Thong Ta is a newly built complex of rooms that are a bit cheaper and below are several shops for laundry, beer, sauna come massage, and a 7/11. I can vouch for the quality of the very economic food in the Canary Diner. And on the main road, Thanon Lat Krabang, outside the complex is a couple of Thai (local style) restaurants for moo yang and hot spicy/sour soups and larb etc that we really enjoyed.
The Siam Beverly in Huai Kwang is good for families. It is 1200Baht p.p. but it has all amenities including a rooftop swimming pool, a gymnasium, games room, restaurant etc. and is in a quieter part of town. Next door is the Swissotel Le Concorde and is proper 5 star, or on the other side of the road is the Emerald. Below the Emerald is an excellent shopping centre and a few clubs that cater for singles. They're not noisy or seedy so it's ok for the kids (not inside obviously) and around the corner in Pracha Rat Bamphen is a fascinating night street market catering for Thais but please, don't be tempted to try the deep fried insects or baked flies. Thai people have a taste that is quite unique and a skill in eating unknown to us, such as you do not eat the beetle, you're supposed to remove the shell and eat the eggs. I found that out the crunchy way.
If you are a couple go to the Shangri-La Hotel in Silom. You will be enchanted. A level of service you see in movies. You can have your own butler, who will run your bath and iron your clothes, silver service, a suite. Shangri-La provide things you simply do not expect.
If you are on a budget places like Sawasdee Banglumpoo in Talat Yot are good value but this is better known as Khaosan Road and is the favourite haunt of backpackers. Nothing wrong with backpackers apart from always being skint but it does mean you have to pre-book because the hostels are always full.
If you want cheap there are plenty in the Soi's off Sukhumvit Road such as Peep Inn 3, Playboy Hotel (PB), or Star Inn Hotel. Be aware, these are short-time hotels and sleep is at a premium with all the coming and going in the other rooms that are often only used for an hour or so. In desperation at all the hotels in Ayutthaya being fully booked I once took a short time room for one night. There was no door key so we couldn't leave our luggage in the room, the shower was cold and the bathroom floor tiles were cracked and there was old blood smeared down the inside of the door presumably where some poor soul had slipped over on the green slime that lived where there is usually grout. The TV was padlocked to the wall and only showed porn movies. You didn't need the non-existent remote because everything could be controlled from the headboard. There was no tea or coffee and no breakfast. The ceramic floor was softer than the mattress whose incontinence sheet creaked every time one of us moved, waking me instantly. In between the sheet rustling, car doors slammed, drunken bar girls giggled, and one chap accidentally leant on his horn (if you'll pardon the expression). I will never use one of these establishments again and my other half has yet to forgive me because she is convinced everybody, including the hotel receptionist, thought she was a bargirl.
There are numerous street vendors in every area. It is impossible to go hungry and the sticks of BBQ chicken and pork run out at about 10 Baht each. There are burgers that really bite with the chili and sausages that are smokey beyond kipper flavour. Samosas and spring rolls, deep fried chicken and battered meats of every kind. Fishballs and meatballs and sweets such as fried banana and Thai ice cream tastes so much better than back home.
In Huai Khwang Shopping Mall on the left below street level is a truly superb Thai fast food restaurant opposite the supermarket. It was remarkably cheap and the flavours and textures were stunning. If you go to Silom Village there are restaurants that put on classical Thai dance shows while you eat and they are thoroughly enjoyable. I have yet to try Ruen Thep but it is high on my list for my next visit after being recommended to me. The best known for Thai Traditional Shows is The Nopparat Restaurant in SuphanBuri (334 Muenharn Road, Thapiliang Muang, Suphan Buri). This is a good jaunt from Bangkok and is where I suggest you stay if you intend to visit Ayutthaya although if you can stand the two hour journey most of the hotels in Bangkok will arrange a tour for you for about £20 p.p.
Out of sync' with being in Thailand is Nomads, Sukhumvit Soi 12, Wattana. It is a Moroccan Restaurant with a Night Club that plays good music. Although I am now middle-aged and dance like your dad at a wedding (actually when I was 20 I danced like your dad at a wedding) but I have always kept in vogue with music. I don't understand why everyone believes the only good era was the one they grew up in. Music evolves and I want to move on with it. I like contemporary artists like the Killers and Snow Patrol but on a night out you want to hear a DJ who has an ear for what will mix well. 808 know this and have professional DJs but if you enjoy music like Enigma, Sheila Chandra, and Armand Van Heldon then you will love the Moroccan version. Go to the Nomad website and turn on your speakers. I have a pet hate for websites with background music but this is one worth listening to. It is so good I don't need to sing its praises and if that wasn't enough the menu tastes as good as it looks and be fair, every now and again you have your fill of Thai food.
When suffering yet another bout of 30-second boredom my mate said "Let's go for a walk and see some real Bangkok people". These languid stints occur because for most afternoons you are taken back to the days of Empire and lounge around on verandas partaking Tiffin and G&Ts beneath Punka fans and one of these days I am going to buy me a white suit and a cravat or maybe even some stripes or bibs like they wear at the Henley Regatta so I can make my imaginary Edwardian world complete. This is Thailand, you can live out any fantasy here but whilst this is very pleasurable, at least once a day for about 30 seconds, you get the urge to do something before your vacation expires.
My travel companion is by day a computer geek, by night a drunk and by holiday, a completely different entity who can make a vacation a very enjoyable one. As a result if he says let's go walkabout, I neck my beverage (because in Thailand you always have something lukewarm and liquid nearby), which seemingly always transforms me into a sheep. Without a map and following our noses we took a dead end and were quite shocked to see the real lives of, in one instance, a house made from wood and corrugated iron that was half over the narrow river that runs through Huai Khwang. The stench from the river was convulsive and an old lady was cooking over an open fire that filled the room with smoke that billowed out through the gaping hole where several doors would be a natural requirement. She looked at us with shame in her face and I had to look away to save her further embarrassment.
Thailand is a proud nation but they take no pride in their poverty. We about faced, to escape the acrid aroma more than not wanting to swim across the putrid river, and set off again to be blockaded by two East African men in their twenties who asked us if we knew the area. They explained they were businessmen who needed help with getting the appropriate visa for some filming or some other bullshit that was patently obvious. This kind of scam is too obvious and is always perpetrated by non-Thai's. Many have argued with me claiming they have been defrauded by Thai's but they haven't, they only think they have. Gemstone traders from Vietnam, dodgy dealers from Cambodia, bogus beggars from Kampuchea. You probably see what I'm getting at here, they may look Thai to us because they all look the same. We chose the wrong option and entered into conversation with these Afrikaans and the more reticent we became the more aggressive the dialogue from them until I'd had enough and said goodbye. We succeeded in leaving in one piece but I did feel intimidated. You don't need to fear them, just say no thanks and walk away or do it the Thai way and just completely ignore them as if they were not there as you brush past.
We tried to keep a straight line as we zigzagged through the narrow streets because we had on a previous juncture managed to go full circle and after walking for two hours found ourselves objectionably back at our hotel. We came purely by chance upon a unnamed street barely one cars width somewhere off Pracha Songkhro and my friend spotted a sign for beer. There was no shop front, a restaurant with no door or window. A double fronted aperture with a rollershutter above and the smoke and aromatic vapour decanted to everyone's benefit. The only patrons were locals and the owner looked very worried at the advent of falang. My pal asked if we could have beer, no food, but the poor chap could only reply 'jap miia phom mai' and ran off.
I learned two things that day when he came back with his wife who translated jap miia phom mai into I'll get my wife and what a moo yang restaurant was. Thais love moo yang, it is their favourite food and usually they have their own cooker at home as well as possessing a thorough appreciation for the restaurants. And so will you enjoy it. Finding them is not easy and sometimes you have to resort to asking a taxi driver to take you to the nearest one. Yet that can prove difficult because even in Bangkok Central you will manage to find the only driver who doesn't speak any English. To that end it is worth carrying a few phrases round with you and/or ask the bellhop or concierge at your hotel to speak to the driver. If you get an English speaking driver, on arrival ask him if he would like to join you. I did once and the three of us got absobleedinlutely smashed and his brother had to come and drive us all home. Moo Yang consists of a big clay pot shaped like a flowerpot with hot charcoal in and an aluminium pan shaped like a sombrero. There are some photos of one of our visits to moo yang whilst in Udon Thani here. The one my mate and I found was a 'all you can eat for 100 Baht' and around the wall was lots of pots to select from of prawns, pork, liver, and several things I didn't recognise that once lived. There are vegetables that you put around the edge of the pan and make a soup while the meat juices run down into to give it flavour. This is an invention of genius proportions and I do not understand why it hasn't caught on over here. If you're after a business venture in the catering industry then this is surely it.
Wherever there are shops (raan) in Bangkok there is food but one place that will delight, and especially the night shopping (seuu khaawng [see oo ko-or(silent 'r')ng] is the traditional Thai but modern Thai say chop bping), is Thanon Yaowarat Road in Samphantawong. Called China Town because of the Chinese architecture, Rick Stein describes it in his cookery series Far Eastern Odyssey as his favourite place in the world (seems he and I have a common interest) though it isn't like Chinatown in Birmingham that is Chinese, because the Thai and Chinese cultures are intertwined by their universal faith in Buddhism. You will find Chinese Temples in all the major cities because of the migrating Monks (Phra). There is some useful information on how to get to Samphantawong and the different streets at Bangkok Traveltips as well as a useful list of very cheap hotels. But the best thing about Chinatown is the people who live there and their lifestyles. Go whilst it is still light and don't forget your camera..
I confess that I have never visited any temples nor the Royal Palace, which is called a Wang, but at least I can claim to know what it is called and what it looks like. You are not, and as far as I am aware, never will be, allowed to tour or to photograph Wang Chitralada (Chi' rel lard), the official residence of King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
So despite searching the web for some considerable time the only images I could find of the Royal Palace were of the building in the picture on the left which is of Wat Phra Kaew and I know tourists will make mistakes but photos of this palace are so prevelant that I suspect someone is telling porkies to the visitors. Despite this the temple is so magnificent, and was many years ago a reception house and courtyard to Royal visitors, it is well worth a tour. The centre image is Wat Pho and right is Wat Arun both of which should be included in your itinerary if you are planning to tour majestic buildings and you can get more to see if you're mad for it from Bangkok.com
This travel companion (ok - a mate of mine) and I were bored and he thought it would be a good idea to go walkabout (again? yes I know, repetitive!). We found ourselves back in Silom in the middle of the afternoon and thirsty. Despite the male imagination of capacity for sexually orientated entertainment, the truth is that after a few days you really have had your fill, and on this occasion albeit a temporary respite we wanted a beer without being accosted, probed, and molested by girls half our age. As I write this I find it hard to believe but honestly, sometimes you just want a beer. I had become disorientated and didn't know where we were or which way was North when a Thai asked in very good English if we were lost.
You will find this happens a lot in Bangkok and we told him we were looking for beer. He instinctively pointed us in the direction of PatPong (at least I now knew which way was North) but my pal said "not being funny or anything mate but we don't want girls we just want Lager". I was amused enough that my companion would expect a Thai in Bangkok to understand his colloquialism with a Black Country accent and although the only beer in Thailand is Lager they have no concept of the label. My pal however has overcome the language barrier by the old fashioned way of talking louder, a function which he executed to full implementation on this occasion. To my sheer delight the chap drink" and I could only assume he deemed my colleague to be deaf. My friend turned to me and asked 'how much beer could one Thai drink?' A dangerous contemplation in Thailand despite their diminutive physique but I did point out that it would be half each which halves the liability.
We set off following him through streets and parades of shops and crossing roads and we were both becoming suspicious as well as exhausted and so said so. The reply was nearly there but we had also become accustomed to 'nearly there'. In Thailand 'not far' is anything from 2 seconds and ten yards to next week and 500 miles. When he said 'we are here' there was nothing there and I started to giggle at the notion we had no idea what was going on and we still wanted a beer. He chattered away to another Thai who promptly set out a folding camping table and placed tall glasses and serviettes along with a jug of iced water and an ice bucket on it and pointed at us and the seats directing "Come, come. Sit, sit". Another attribute to which you become habituated is the Thai way of repeating words to emphasise. You can always spot the tourists who have been to Pattaya because they are wearing a tee shirt with the words 'same same' printed on it. Lashings of beer arrived in two litre jugs, with condensation dripping down the outside, and came out of an ice cream barrow and was refreshingly cold. After an hour the chap's girlfriend arrived to join us having just finished work at one of the tourist information centres and her English was even better. We spent a very pleasant four hours sitting in the sunshine with a parasol, instead of a dark beer bar with naked go-go dancers and loud music, drinking and eating freshly prepared papaya salad and moo yang, discussing how contrasting our lives and careers were, and paying a bill for about twelve quid. I apologise for sounding like an Enid Blyton book but in Bangkok you never know where the next piece of entertainment will come from and it greaves me that I have lost this chaps mobile number. But at least I know where to get cheap beer in Silom.
If you have been blessed with little darlings there are two theme parks in Bangkok. Dream World of which you can find a video on YouTube and is a typically Disney style amusement park. And Wonder World Fun Park which is similar to Alton Towers but with sunshine. Hopefully you will have chosen to visit the real ones instead of disappointing the loved ones to maximum effect but if you are trying to escape their demands for a day then the parks do at least exist and you can hire a nanny at reasonable cost. Ask at your hotel as they may provide a service. If not the concierge probably has a sister or cousin, they always do! But another worthy visit with the kids is the Hajime Restaurant in Monopoly Park. Famous for its robot waiters and ordering service.
I consider merriment to be a very individual article and one that is subjective to the purpose of your travel. My personal range of taste in what amuses me could be described as catholic but it is also adult. I got bored with amusement parks a long time ago. To quote a Tim Rice song "One night in Bangkok and the world's your oyster, the bars are temples..".
If you're on tour and out to party then the infamous Soi Cowboy is going to deliver and so will Nana Plaza. Go to Nana on the BTS and head toward the Expressway for Nana Plaza which should be on your left. For Soi Cowboy go to Asok BTS and Soi Cowboy is behind the station or you can go to Sukhumvit MRT and Soi Cowboy is across the road to the right. Both districts are within walking distance of each other but PatPong is not. You'd have to get back on the BTS and go to Sala Daeng. Exit the station on the right platform, you can see Soi Thaniya with bar signs all up the sides of the tower blocks, and down the steps. Walk straight ahead and the third on your right is Thanon Phat Pong Neung and you will see 'The Pavilion Place' sign. From that point on you're on your own and at the mercy of Lucifer and the short time falang hunters.
I was once accosted by a very petite and without question, attractive middle-age woman in Silom who asked if we wanted to see a show. I asked if she would accompany me but she wouldn't take me seriously and told me off for teasing. This also seems to happen a lot in Bangkok although it might be that it happens a lot to me? I'm not entirely sure, but one afternoon I was walking toward the steps of the MRT when a truly beautiful woman was very upset with the young lad who was helping her to hand out leaflets. I asked her what was wrong and with tears in her eyes she said the lad was teasing her about her age. I told him to show her some respect because if his mama knew she would be very angry with him. He said sorry to her and as I took her hand I told her to ignore him because she was not old. She said she was born in 2509, which back in 2007 made her 40.
She belied her age even though she looked a little undignified. I said her husband was a lucky man but I was presumptuous. She was single and asked me to take her home with me. I jokingly remarked about home is England and taking home a woman who loves me as I walked away up the steps but she audibly told me off for making fun of her and she did love me. Women falling instantly in love with you is also something that happens with incredible regularity but Thai women are customarily pragmatic and capable of making impassive decisions on the spot to craft stability in their life. Sometimes this can backfire and I know of men in the UK who have gone to great lengths to import a girl who has later on decided she no longer wants what she has. Try to remember at all times that the bar girl you are with is a real person and has feelings and emotions. Be good to her and treat her as if you were courting her attentions instead of paying for them but also be aware that she may fall for you and she doesn't deserve to be hurt.
Soi Cowboy is packed with bars, some good some not so, and in the past (before I met the missus) I used to check with Bangkok Bar Girls as to what was in or out last season. I have always thought the best job in the world would be a holiday critic or travel reporter but the guys at Bangkok Bar Girls take that notion to a euphoric level. 2009's best rated bars were Lucky Star, Rawhide, and Shark. I have only been in Shark and that was in 2007 so it must be consistently good. Have to say I liked it. The drinks were almost reasonably priced, the dancers were good, though the first girl I talked to and bought a drink suddenly ran off to do her turn on the dance floor. The second, I paid the bar fine as well as the drink so she wouldn't follow suit. When you start to party like this you spend a fortune and it's more fun if you don't think about the money but you will easily burn a hundred quid. But boy will you have a good time doing it !!
I was recently introduced to the Beergarden on Sukhumvit soi 5 and some of the surrounding bars in the corridors of indoor market stalls and cheap eateries. It is on the opposite side of Sukhumvit to Nana Plaza and needs searching out a bit though anyone along the street market will tell you where it is. It is worth a mention in my opinion because it is such good fun, and incidentally, so is the Beergarden but be aware these places are for the more experienced beer bar tourist.
Nana Plaza used to be on a much grander scale and regardless of your taste is worth a visit just to have a look for entertainments sake. It could do with a lick of paint but it is still loud and in party mood. Even so I think Soi 7 and Soi 5 have more appeal and less of a short time atmosphere about them.
Bangkok Bar Girls recommend Angel Witch, G-Spot, Bottoms Up, Rainbow 1, 2, 3 and 4. This is either because both the quality goes up and down and some get refurbished like Bottoms Up, which used to be Pretty Lady or because again, it depends on what entertains you. This does mean that any recommendation from me is meaningless but I can only tell you where I would or wouldn't go again and Pharoes and in particular Playskool are a definite. Having said that, anywhere in Nana Plaza is a pleasure whilst it has become Soi Cowboy that is being overtaken by mafia style bosses and there are bars that are not worth the visit. Don't bother with Our Place, Midnite Bar, or Spice Girls. Avoid any bar where the door staff don't smile or do not look friendly or you can't see the bar inside without going in because usually that's because they don't want you to see how crap it is inside. Don't lose any sleep over it because I have never had a bad experience in Bangkok and I don't know anyone who has and for the most part Bangkok's red light districts are very safe places to visit.
Some other useful maps:
It isn't all sex industry in Thailand and if you want some traditional Thai dancing read the food section further up this page. If you want modern there are some good clubs like the Inch Club at 49-60 Ratchadapisek Road, Din Daeng, which is not far from the Siam Beverly and Emerald hotel. 808 Club on RCA Royal City Avenue, Phetchaburi who have proper guest DJs and Ibiza music. Old Skool Bangkok on Soi 63, Sukhumvit. Or Titanium on Soi 22, Sukhumvit. But by far and away the best place to enjoy the music and food is Nomads, see the food section above.
Royal City Avenue is the favourite of Thais for a night out and they always refer to it as RCA. It is a long curving stretch of road from Thanon Kamphaeng, Phetchaburi to Ratchadapisek Road and is lined with Thai restaurants, bars, night clubs and nowhere will you be surrounded by Thais and not feel more at home or at ease with your surroundings. It is more suitable for couples or falang who have got a girlfriend and want to escape the seedier redlight districts. Google Maps location.
If you have managed to read all the way from the top to here I would by now find myself compelled to ask of you; What's not to like about Bangkok?