The opportunity to be transported (mechanically) from one place to another in a buffet of different ways was one of the highlights of Bangkok. If you don’t want to be stuck in its infamous traffic jams, there are more fascinating ways of getting to your destination and seeing the city of angels.
Airport Rail Link
The new-ish Airport Rail Link (“ARL”) from Suvarnabhumi Airport (the announcer pronounced this Sue-wanna-pooom”) to Makkasan Station (for a 10 minute walk to Phetchaburi MRT Station) or to Phya Thai (for a 3 minute walk to Phya Thai BTS Station) gets you to the city in about half an hour (including waiting time). For THB 35 – 45 (S$1.40 – S$1.80), you can look out a window and gawk at old houses on stilts over waterways, cows in padi fields, ponds dotted with pink lotus bloom, and in contrast, the uniform gated communities, before this gives way to the shiny commercial buildings of the city centre.
Ok, these multi-coloured vehicles are actually active contributors to the traffic jams, but the glowing red “vacant” signs are welcome beacons of light when caught in an unexpected heavy downpour in monsoon season in a dodgy part of town.
It’d be fun to start a collection of the dashboard kitsch, amulets hanging from rearview mirrors and tattoo-like designs on the ceilings of Bangkok cabs.
Common scams include refusing to use the meter and instead demanding a fixed fee once you’re in the cab and on your way, bringing you to a different destination, “oh I have no change” especially when travelling to and from the airport when you yourself are unlikely to have small denominations. Some avoid the hassle of active scamming by modifying the meter so that it runs much faster than normal but there’s nothing you can do about that.
One shouldn’t assume that every taxi driver is out to scam though – many may not know the nook of every soi in Bangkok or may genuinely not understand what you are saying so a map on hand and the address written in Thai would help them serve you better; sometimes, they know traffic in a certain area will be bad and so decline to take you there; they may actually not have any change, having just started their shift; also, if they’ve had to cough up at the tollbooth, they’ll pass the cost to you.
Passengers and drivers usually just round up the fare to the nearest 5 or 10 baht. Taxis from the airport cost an additional THB50 service charge on top of the metered fare.
Good for photo ops, not much good in wet weather and when a sitting behind a black exhaust-spewing truck in heavy traffic. No meters so agree on the price with the driver beforehand.
Motorcycle Taxi (“Motocy”)
The orange-vests and their (t)rusty steeds very useful in heavy traffic – they go against traffic, ride on pavements, weave in and out between vehicles and basically put both your lives in danger to whisk you to your destination in double-quick time. The risk is yours.
I use motos for longs distances, days on end in Vietnam and Cambodia but in Bangkok, i manage my risk by employing them mainly for short trips. Also, Thai law requires the pillion rider to wear a helmet which is a stinky affair.
BTS and MRT Trains
The BTS Skytrain and underground MRT train enable you to get around in air-conditioned comfort without waiting in traffic. They service most of the touristy places except Khao San. The Skytrain and MRT use separate magnetic fare cards. There are one day passes for unlimited travel within that day but since I was in Bangkok over two weekends, the stored value cards were most useful to avoid having to queue for a single journey ticket each time.
Air-conditioned and Normal Buses
Buses are great for getting a feel of the city. The air-conditioned buses are larger and you enter through the rear door, while the normal ones are non-airconditioned and have drivers who aspire to F1 careers while balancing babies on their laps. Bangkok Mass Transit Authority has a list of suggested buses for places of interest. Transit Bangkok also has a useful route planner.
Chao Phraya Boats
Choose between the Chao Phraya Express Boats and Chao Phraya Tourist Boat. For the express boats, get your tickets onshore or just rock up to a boat, hop on and wait for the ticket collector to come round. Fun for sunrise/sunset rides. Try to work out the boathand’s special whistle signals.
Khlong Saen Saep Boats
This is the smell of authenticity. Vestige of Venice of the Orient khlong boats operate along the Saen Saep canal – flag down at one of the khlong boat piers and hop on to get to Pratunam, Thong Lo etc while getting a glimpse of old houses on route. Buy tickets on board from the motorcycle-helmeted ticket collector making his precarious trip up and down the port and starboard of the boat. Passengers usually help to raise the makeshift screen to avoid a fine spray of eau de pollution.
This was the most sanuk mode of transportation, sanuk-ness helped along by my failing to fall into or otherwise lose anything in the stinker.
There seems to be something for everyone in Bangkok, which is probably why so many come for a holiday and never leave. If it is the destination rather than the journey that is the draw:
For the chattering Luxe guide class – “hi-so” (high society) in uniquely Thai vernacular and wannabes:
Mostly for luxury designer goods and to be treated you think like a tai-tai should.
Siam Paragon – newer, with gourmet market but crowded with gawkers
Emporium – one of the first malls for the upmarket crowd
Erawan Bangkok – usually taken together with afternoon tea at Erawan Tea Room
Central Chidlom – older but with gourmet market selling organic products
Chidlom and Thonglor areas
Jim Thompson and the Jim Thompson factory outlet in Surawong – because even hi-sos like a bargain.
Restaurants, Cafes, Bars
Best Bangkok High-End Thai Restaurants
Sra Bua by Kiin Kiin – deconstructed “authentic Thai food with a modern flair”
Sirocco – go for the view or Sky Bar
Nara Thai Cuisine
For the more modern Monocle-flipping design-conscious
Soul Food Mahanakorn
Taling Pling – 60 Thanon Pan Silom off Th Silom. “You know you’ve picked well when Thai families outnumber expats. And you get a stylish setting, pretty enough for Bangkok gays. A few menu standouts include yam plaa salid taling pling (a fried fish salad with the namesake sour vegetable), chicken wrapped in pandanus leaves and phàk dam lung (stir-fried gourd leaves).”
Attempts to spruce up budget space
Lub D, Siam Square – fantastic location literally next to National Stadium BTS and so walking distance to MBK, Siam Square, Siam Paragon. Knowledgeable receptionists who are very enthusiastic in the morning and are still willing to problem solve in the evening. Computer terminals for internet access, laundry and dryer facilities.
Room@Bangkok – about a 10 minute walk from Asok BTS or Suhkimvit MRT. Stairs to the rooms are steep and narrow. The nice receptionist offered to carry my pack but i declined, seeing his slim build and wedges. Breakfast in your room or on the roof.
For retro vintage hipsters:
Siam TLR Classic and Lomo Camera – a small cramped unit on the 11th floor has cupboards ladden with Lomos, Olympus Trip 35s, Yahsica 635s, Leicas etc. Bring a photo ID along to exchange for a pass at Mercury Tower, then go to the reception on 11/F and ask for “Siam TLR”.
Talad Rod Fai – the train market in a disused railway venue. Kampaeng Phet MRT Station. Get out at Exit 1, turn right and walk against traffic along Kampaeng Phet Road.
Ratchada Saturday Night Market – Ratchada-Ladprao intersection, Ratchadapisek Rd., between MRT Ladprao and MRT Ratchadapisek. Open Sat 6pm-midnight
Klong Thom Saturday Night Market – bounded by Sieuh Pah, Worachak, Charoen Krung and Luang Roads. Saturday nights to early hours of Sunday
Vintage denim at MBK
Chatuchak Market – Rotsaniyom (รสนิยม) etc
Restaurant at The Atlanta – signs say that the restaurant is only for hotel guests and reserve all rights not to allow you to enter, especially if you look like a sex tourist.
Chakrabongse Villas – “built in 1908 by HRH Prince Chakrabongse, Chakrabongse House was originally used when he attended royal ceremonies in the Grand Palace and also for picnics and excursions on the river.”
Old Bangkok Inn
Resort Bang Phlat
Phranakorn Nornlen – “family-friendly vintage guesthouse”
Phamai Baan Krau – Jim Thompson’s old silk weavers. 837 Soi Phayanak, off Petchaburi Road. After Jim Thompson’s place, turn left and wander along the khlong until you get to an eatery. Cross the bridge over the khlong and turn left. You will hear the looms along a very narrow soi.
Ban Baat (monk’s bowl village) – “Ban Baat is the only remaining village of three established in Bangkok by Rama I for the purpose of handcrafting bàht (monk’s bowls), the ceremonial bowls used to collect alms from the faithful each morning. As cheaper factory-made bowls are now the norm, the artisanal tradition has shrunk to about half a dozen families. You can usually observe the process of hammering the bowls together from eight separate pieces of steel, said to represent Buddhism’s Eightfold Path. The joints are then fused with melted copper wire, and the bowl is beaten, polished and (usually) coated with several layers of black lacquer. A typical bàht-smith’s output is one large bowl per day; more for smaller bowls.” Th Boriphat Soi Ban Baat. Get off the Khlong Boat at Tha Phan Fah.
Bamrung Muang – “Thanon Bamrung Muang is famous as the best place in Thailand to buy Buddhist paraphernalia, or sanghapan, and is well worth a browse even for tourists. The road is lined with shops selling everything a good Buddhist might need, from household offertory tables to temple umbrellas and cellophane-wrapped Buddha images up to two metres high. They also sell special alms packs for donating to monks, which typically come in saffron-coloured plastic buckets (used by monks for washing their robes, or themselves), and include such necessities as soap, toothpaste, soap powder, toilet roll, candles and incense.”
Eating Thai Food Guide
40 Bangkok Foods We Can’t Live Without
Bangkok’s 15 Best Street Food
Hunting for Bangkok’s Dining Greats
Bangkok’s Best Street Food Neighbourhoods
Victory Monument’s Top Street Food
The Street Food Eating Tour of Ratchatewi
Ten of Bangkok’s best street food stores
Kai Thawt Jay Kii (Soi Polo Fried Chicken) – 137/1-3 Soi Polo, Th Withayu. “This Cinderella of a former street stall has become virtually synonymous with fried chicken. Although the sôm đam, sticky rice and lâhp (spicy ‘salad’ of minced meat) give the impression of an Isan eatery, the restaurant’s namesake deep-fried bird is more southern in origin. Regardless, smothered in a thick layer of crispy deep-fried garlic, it is none other than a truly Bangkok experience.”
Taling Chan Floating Market (ตลาดน้ำตลิ่งชัน). Not as touristy as Damnoen Saduak Floating Market and, though set-up only recently, is patronised by locals so feels “more authentic”. Vendors are local farmers who take their produce there on weekends. On the Chak Phra canal. Take Bus 79 there. It will stop just before the banana sellers in the photo above.
Mass conspicuous consumption crowd
Chatuchak Weekend Market (JJ Market) – thousands of stalls selling almost everything you can think of. Take the free tram around the outer fringe of the market to familiarise yourself with the place.
Patpong Night Market – fake branded bags, fake boobs, pirated music and videos
Somboon Seafood – mmm curry crab. Cab drivers are known to take tourists to restaurants posing as Somboon Seafood, so make sure you get your tummy to the right one!
MBK Food Court
Any number of hotels packaged with flights.
“Museum of Thai Pharmacy (พิพิธภัณฑ์เภสัชกรรมไทย), 40 Sukhumvit Soi 38 (BTS Thong Lo), ☎ +66 2 391-6243. M-F 10:00-16:00. The museum is on the third floor of the Pharmaceutical Association of Thailand under Royal Patronage Building. It was established to publicise about traditional Thai medicine from past to present, so that later generations would learn and treasure it. The exhibition features various topics, such as the birth of pharmacy, the evolution of oriental pharmacy and basic wisdom, the evolution of western Thai pharmacy and the evolution of herbs and natural products. Make contact in advance if you are visiting with a group. Free.”
If you’ve got a chronic illness that requires expensive medication but don’t have your expenses covered by your workplace or if you’re taking The Pill to maintain that flawless complexion, Bangkok’s non-research-based pharmaceutical industry welcomes you. Other than ubiquitous Boots and Fascino, there’s also:
South East Pharmacy – reputedly the cheapest in Bangkok. 207-9 Soi 15, Sukhumvit Road. Tel: 02 252-824.
Bangkok Drugstore – Sala Daeng. You can check their prices online.
Worth asking the store pharmacist about the generic drug in place of the trademarked one.
Bangkok is also a hotbed for cosmetic surgery and the more drastic sex-change stuff.
Jetstar 3K515 – S$86.95
Taxes and surcharges – S$28.00
Decline to select seat – save S$4
Pay by credit card – add S$8 (no savings here unless you have a Jetstar Mastercard)
Total – S$122.95
If you decline to pay more to select your choice seat, you can check-in online. For international flights, web check-in is available between 48 hours and 2 hours before your flight’s scheduled departure. You can change your assigned seat then. Check out seatguru to make an informed decision for seating on the A320.
Jetstar’s basic Starter Fares permit the carrying of one main item of carry-on baggage and one other small item, with a total combined weight of up to 10kg. The dimensions of main item must not exceed 56cm (width) + 36cm (height) + 23cm (depth). No checked bag allowance unless you pay for it. I found this perfectly adequate for a 10-day trip.
You have to pay for refreshments onboard (S$8.00 for microwaved “Japanese curry rice”) and you’ll have to bring your own inflight entertainment. No problem if you, like me, start snoring before the plane has left the runway.
Bangkok to Singapore
Because of the way Jetstar’s accounting system was set up, there were savings to be had by purchasing this leg separately instead of a return trip from Singapore.
Taxes and surcharges THB950.00
(No extra charge for paying by credit card)
Total – THB3,499.00 (S$140.96)