Bangkok is beloved by Singaporeans for its great food and shopping; it’s near impossible to make a weekend trip to the Thai capital without running into at least one or two other Singaporeans. However, Bangkok native Pattrawan Muongrattana says there’s so much more to do than just eating and shopping.
Whenever people describe Bangkok, they often mention the ever-ending traffic jams, the hot weather, the spicy food or maybe even cheap shopping. But having grown up in Bangkok, I know my city has so much more to offer. Here are 10 things locals want you to know about the “City of Angels”.
1. We have winter in Bangkok
No, we don’t always have to put up with temperatures of 33 degree Celsius and above. In fact, Bangkok, and actually more than half of Thailand, have three seasons a year, which include mild winter! Try visiting Bangkok between December and February and you will be treated to cool weather of 18 to 25 degree Celsius. Locals often take advantage of this refreshing weather by heading outdoors to enjoy the breeze. During this cool respite, try the Outdoor Beer Festival. Every year, the large area in front of Central World is converted into an outdoor beer garden where you can get towers of beer from brands such as Singha, Chang, Heineken, Federbrau, and many more. Beware of long queues if you arrive after 6pm.
2. Avoid traffic by taking motorbike taxi or canal boat
Dangerous as they may seem, these modes of transportation are simply the way of life for many locals. If you’re in a rush, the motorbike taxi is your best bet. Many locals — including celebrities with their full-on hair, makeup and dress — have turned to the service of motorbike taxi if they are rushing for that important meeting, exam or event. They are relatively safe and cheap, and definitely fast. Another way to beat the traffic jams is via canal boat. Although it does not cover every part of Bangkok, the canal boat connects the outlying suburbs to inner Bangkok. Many piers are situated nearby BTS, MRT or bus stops, which provides the connection to various places. Visit http://www.transitbangkok.com/khlong_boats.html for the route and timetable of the canal boat.
3. There’s more to Thai food than just Tom Yum Kung and Padthai
With its abundance of fresh ingredients and long history of culinary arts, Bangkok is a veritable food paradise. Some local favourites to try include:
“Kuey tiew rer” (boat noodles): This comes in variation of small or big bowls, and either soup or dry. You have the choice of different noodles, as well as pork or beef.
“Somtam” (green papaya salad) and larb (minced meat salad): These foods are characteristic of Northeastern Thailand but enjoyed throughout the country. Although the original version is very spicy, you can tell the chef to make a less spicy or non-spicy version for you to enjoy.
4. We love everything sweet
In general, most Thai people have a very sweet tooth. You will notice that we have both salt and sugar set out on tables in restaurants or food stalls, so be careful to distinguish between the two before adding them to your food. Also, if you prefer your beverages to be less sweet, always ask for less sugar. Most street vendors would be willing to comply.
5. Rooftop restaurants/bars for different budgets
Most of you would have heard of Sirocco, The Dome or Vertigo as the must-visit rooftop restaurants and bars in Bangkok. However, for those who do not want to spend so much on a night out, there are other rooftop bars you can visit without burning a hole in your pocket. (Do note that some of these places do not give you the view from up above, but they still provide that much-welcome breeze in your hair and the “rooftop vibe”. Here’s a list of some places to visit:
- Cloud 47, 47th fl, United Center, Silom Rd.
- Above 11, 33rd fl, Fraser Suites Sukhumvit, Sukhumvit Soi 11
- Scarlett, 37th fl, Pullman Bangkok Hotel G
- Zeppelin, 45-46/F, Le Ruk Condominium, 1595/500 Sukhumvit Rd.
Upbeat and happening
- Speakeasy @ Hotel Muse (Ekamai),
- Enchanted Bar, J-Avenue (Thonglor)
Laidback local bars
- Sky Train Jazz Club, 2nd fl, building at the start of Soi Rangnam near Victory Monument
- Jham-Jun Pranakorn, 5th fl, Fortville Guesthouse, Phrasumeru Road
- Phra Nakorn Bar, 58/2 Soi Damnoenklang Tai
6. Check out those riverfront promenades
Thailand’s main river, the Chaopraya River, runs through Bangkok in a southward direction. This means there are many riverfront destinations where you can take a leisurely stroll or sit down for that romantic sunset. Most of these places are in the old city so be sure to drop by these riverwalks for a bit of old-world charm after visiting the Grand Palace or the Temple of Dawn. These riverwalks are accessible both by car and ferry. Some riverfront destinations to check out:
- Asiatique: Converted from old warehouses, this is the biggest of the three suggestions here. Other than restaurants and a shopping arcade, there is also a giant ferris wheel where you can hop on for a spectacular view of the riverfront at night.
- Tha Maharaj: Located just opposite to Wat Mahatat and the nearby Grand Palace, this walkway is a little community for locals. There are also pop-up stores on certain weekends.
- Tha Yodpiman: This is a newly-opened riverfront destination. To get here, you will have to walk through either one of two very local markets – one being the busiest flower market in Bangkok and another, a local wet market. Here, you will get firsthand experience of the hustle and bustle of a local market and stock up on local food and souvenirs.
7. Flea markets are popping up everywhere at night
For years, Chatuchak has been the all-time favourite shopping place for locals and foreigners alike. However, night markets are now the preferred choice where you can take a leisurely after-dinner stroll while shopping for clothing or homeware. These places are open from 5pm till well after midnight:
Talad Rod Fai (Train Market): This market is heaven for those into antique home décor or second hand clothing. Apart from that, there are also clothing and accessories at very affordable prices. The fashion here may not be as trendy as Siam market but it can definitely rival Chatuchak. Talad Rod Fai has two locations now – the original is at Srinakarin Road (just next to Seacon Square shopping mall) while the new one is located behind the Esplanade shopping mall, accessible via MRT Thai Cultural Center Station.
Siam Gypsy Junction:The stuff you’ll find here are similar to what you can find at Chatuchak market but there are a lot more handmade items. There’s also a showcase of vintage cars and live music. Be sure to check out the food stalls as they serve some really yummy food to fuel your walk. This market is open from Wednesday to Sunday, 5 pm-1 am.
Art Box Bangkok: Located next to Airport Link Makkasan station, this is the latest market to join the crowd of the hip and chic flea markets. This place boasts local creativity and innovation as most shops sell their own designs of assorted items – from clothing to accessories, stationery, and plants. Another interesting point is how the entire market is built using shipping containers, giving it the nickname “Container Market”.
8. Try learning some Thai
Thai people adore foreigners who speak or try to speak Thai. Learn some simple phrases, smile while you speak, and you are sure to get a smile and sometimes a small discount in return. Or, you can try addressing people who are older than you as “Pii”, which means elder brother or sister, or “Par”, which means auntie. When they hear this, I’m sure the locals will be even more willing to talk to you.
9. There are many parks in the heart of Bangkok
Bangkok may be a concrete jungle but there are also many parks you can stop by for a jog or leisurely stroll, or simply to get your dose of untainted oxygen. Do note that some of these parks have specific opening hours so look it up if you plan to go late in the evening.
Lumpini Park: The second-largest park in Bangkok, Lumpini Park is situated right between the business district, Silom, and Siam shopping area. It is situated at the Saladaeng Junction and accessible via BTS Saladaeng station or MRT Silom or Lumpini station. Like most parks, you are free to ride a bike, jog, practise yoga or rent a paddle boat in the lake.
Benjakiti Park: This park offers the view of Sukhumvit skyline, which is especially beautiful after sunset. It is situated within the premises of Queen Sirikit National Convention Center and is conveniently accessible via MRT Queen Sirikit National Convention Center Station. There are bicycle and jogging lanes around the large lake. Bicycle and paddle boats are also available for rental.
Benchasiri Park: A medium size park situated just next to Emporium shopping mall. It is accessible via BTS Promprong station. Here you can jog, walk or just sit and relax. Just be sure not to lie down as the guards here impose strict rules against lying down as they want to prevent homeless folks from using the space to sleep.
Suan Rod Fai (Wachirabenchathat Park): Not to be confused with the Rod Fai market or the train market. This is the biggest public park in Bangkok. Here, you can rent a bicycle or paddle boat, or bring your own kick-scooter for a fun-filled activity day. There are also running and bicycle tracks covering almost the entire area. This is probably the place where you can find the most greenery in Bangkok but if it’s still not enough, this park is also adjacent to two other parks. To get here, take BTS to Mochit station or MRT to Jatuchak station.
Chuvit Garden: A privately-owned garden situated on Sukhumvit road between BTS Nana and Asoke stations. This small garden has a short jogging track, some benches, fountain, and of course plenty of trees. While it may be too small for avid runners, this garden is perfect for a spot of relaxation amidst the lush greenery.
10. Nourish your artistic soul
After all the eating and shopping, you may want to slow things down by visiting some of Bangkok’s museums and art galleries. Here are some worth exploring:
Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC): Opposite the famous MBK mall, you will see a white building which houses the BACC. This multi-storey building has a constantly rotating roster of art exhibitions. Due to its large space, many exhibitions are on display at any given time time. Be sure to check out the current or upcoming exhibitions from the website or just drop by after your shopping trip at Siam.
Thailand Creative & Design Center (TCDC): TCDC has been opened for many years and it’s neatly tucked away on the fifth floor of Emporium shopping mall. This place is, in fact, a library which houses a wide collection of books on everything related to design, be it colour, texture, fabric samples, architecture, and so on. There are also various exhibitions on-site.
Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA): This museum exhibits Thai contemporary arts from artists of different generations and you’ll find the works of many famous Thai artists here.