Raise your hand if you love Bangkok!” was our post on a popular web board recently, and the replies were a bit startling, ranging from, “Absolutely hate it. It’s a chaotic city with lots of criminals, pollution and heartless people,” to “Just so so,” and, “Love is such a strong word. Can I just like it?”
To us, though, Bangkok is like a first love, an old flame—the passion might have faded a bit, but there’s a sentimentality still there you just can’t get out of your head. And since there seems to be so much bad news and negativity out there, on the occasion of BK’s 6th birthday, we thought we would celebrate some of the good and quirky things that make Bangkok such a special place.
1. Street food. No other city comes close to our combination of great taste, low price, variety and convenience. Hungry? There are vendors all over at all hours of the day grilling, frying, boiling, cutting, stirring, seasoning, wrapping and bagging. Bangkok is the best place in the world for street food, period.
2. Chatuchak Market. Aside from the skanky pet zone with its cruel vendors, there’s a lot to love about JJ, which has an incredible range of bargains on offer that make a hot, sweaty trip into this crowded mega market worthwhile. With good haggling skills, you can get a whole new outfit from head-to-toe for less than B1,000. If your sense of orientation is lacking, check out www.jatujakguide.com.
3. Khao San Road. A melting pot of young locals, dek naew, backpackers and strident Bible-preaching farangs, Khao San Road is the ultimate spot for people-watching. It’s also a good place to do some shopping, eat fried bugs, sip on an espresso, get a tattoo and party. (Not necessarily in that order.) And did we mention the Captain Jack Sparrow look-alike? If you see him, tell him we said hi.
4. TCDC. Two thumbs up to the Thailand Creative and Design Center (6/F, The Emporium, 02-664-8448, www.tcdc.or.th) for having brought together a museum, a library and a shopping mall and pulling off the impossible: making throngs of Thais go to art exhibitions. At least something good came out of the Thaksin era.
5. Wang Lang Market. A non-touristy haven for those with good eyes who don’t mind rummaging around for the perfect find, Wang Lang is home to secondhand goodies like cult Adidas sneakers, authentic Lacoste polos and other vintage accessories, all at extremely low prices. Wednesday is the best day to drop by, when most shops bring in their new stuff. When you’re done shopping, refuel at one of the small eateries or food stalls serving tasty chow. (See Taste Trek page 20).
6. House. We love King Naresuan, but does it have to be screened every 15 minutes? That’s where an alternative theater like House (31/8 Royal City Avenue, New Petchburi Rd., 02-641-5177, www.houserama.com) comes in and saves us from the deluge of mainstream releases. They screen quality flicks that can’t make it in the big circuit in an intimate, homey setting. And if you’ve missed any of the films, check out the recently opened Little House DVD shop.
7. Suan Lum Night Bazaar. The spot for after dark shopping (sorry, Patpong), Suan Lum Night Bazaar (Rama 4 Rd., MRT Lumpini) sells the stuff you won’t find at Paragon, and it sells it cheap. For clothes by young local designers or CDs nobody bothers to import, this is the place. Then rest your limbs and feast on soggy pizza and cold beer in the beer garden. For a romantic bird’s eye view of the soon gone market, hop on the giant Ferris wheel. Enjoy it now while you can.
8. Motorcycle Taxis. Yes, their driving is bad for your stress levels, and so is their honking, but their zigzagging skills are often your last chance to get to that appointment at all (forget being on time, this is Bangkok). And hey, it’s nearly as exciting and a lot cheaper than a roller coaster ride.
9. Boats. Taking a boat down the river in the morning is a pleasant way to beat the traffic if your home isn’t blessed with MRT or BTS routes. But it’s not just transportation. Boats are a way of life, and our last connection to our long lost title of “Venice of the East.”
10. Malls. We have more than we need, but we do need some. If Sophie Kinsella plans to continue her Shopaholic series, we highly recommend Bangkok as the backdrop. With so many mega shopping malls well connected together with BTS and MRT, and year-round sales, she’d better wear comfy shoes take a whole month off to cover them all!
11. Thai massage. Don’t you hate it when you are the only inflexible one in a yoga class who can’t reach your feet? We do. That’s why we are so glad to have the trained masseuse do all the poses and stretches for us. For a traditional rubdown, drop by Health Land (Try Sathorn branch, 120 North Sathorn Rd., 02-637-8883, www.healthlandspa.com. Open daily 9am-11pm). Or learn from the experts at Wat Po Thai Massage Medical School (2 Sanamchai Rd., 02-221-2974, 02-662-3533, www.watpomassage.com).
12. Boxing Stadiums. After a long, hard week at work, it’s great to blow off steam and vent out your frustration and stress at a boxing ring. Though you aren’t the one fighting, it’s still fun to root for your favorite contender and be blown away by the explosive speed of feet, hands, elbows and knees. If you’re the delicate type, ripped bodies in small shorts are still a good enough reason to watch our national sport. Book a ringside seat at Ratchadamnoen Stadium (Ratchadamnoen Nok Ave., 02-281-4205, 02-280-1684).
13. Dude/Sweet. When it comes to parties, Dude/Sweet never disappoints. It has attracted hordes of fashion designers, photographers, columnists, indie celebs and dek naew clubbers. All flock to a killer bash with the same mission—to tear down the dance floor. Networking is a bonus. For the next event, visit www.dudesweet.org or www.myspace.com/busypartyboy.
14. Taksura. It’s tucked in a small, unassuming alley. From afar, it appears haunted and the music can sometimes be cheesy. But who cares! This 100-year-old house-turned-bar (156/1 Tanao Rd., 081-818-6256. Open daily 5pm-1am) knows exactly how to please its regulars: tasty pub grub, friendly service and most importantly cheap booze.
15. Gay Culture. Not just gay, but LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi, transgender) culture is everywhere in the capital. There’s so much of it, we can’t even begin to scrape the surface in just a few lines. It would take an entire issue. Come to think of it, it WILL take a whole issue. Keep your eyes peeled for our next special “G” magazine.
16. Patravadi Theater. Synonymous with performing arts, the open-air theater (69/1 Soi Wat Rakang, Arun Amarin Rd., 02-412-7287/8, www.patravaditheater.com) spruces up traditional performances with avant-garde twists to appeal to a wider audience. Feed your belly as well as your mind at its riverside Studio 9 Dining Theater, where every Fri-Sat, 7:30pm onwards, a troupe of performing artist serves up a delightful repertoire to accompany your meal.
17. Joe Louis Theater. Officially known as Naatayasala Hun Lakorn Lek (Suan Lum Night Bazaar, Rama 4 Rd., 02-252-9683-4, www.thaipuppet.com), this puppet theater is the last surviving place in the country where you can still catch a mesmerizing show of this ancient art form. Hurry though, the future of this award-winning troupe is cloudy as the night bazaar is scheduled to become yet another mall.
18. Cheap DVDs. The subtitles usually suck and it’s illegal, but how else are we going to see Borat? In addition to the availability issue, it’s also much easier and more convenient to grab one as you’re walking down Silom on your way home. It’s not just that we’re cheap, really.
19. Don Muang Airport. How can you not love the 93-year-old airport? The place has character. And we’re not huge fans of golf, but where else can you find a course nestled between runways? At the Kantarat Golf Course (171 Viphawadee Rangsit Rd., 02-523-6441. Open daily 6am-5pm), badly dressed men tee off against the deafening engine roars with the smell of jet fuel filling the air.
20. Vimanmek Mansion. Step into the leafy complex of the world’s largest golden teakwood mansion (Ratchawithi Rd., 02-628-6300 ext. 5120, www.vimanmek.com. Open daily 9:30am-4pm) and be transported back into the golden era of King Rama 5. The old palace has western architectural influences mixed with traditional Thai elements for a charm you just can’t beat.
21. Colorful taxis. New York has yellow cabs as an icon of the city, while Hong Kong is filled with red taxis. But here in Bangkok, you can choose a cab according to your favorite color or mood! Plus, compared to other capitals around the world, Bangkok taxis are cheap-cheap—great for people who use them, but not so great for the drivers.
22. Temple Fairs. It may be hard to believe, but yes, modern Bangkok still has temple fairs and we absolutely love them for bringing back memories of the good old Thai ways. One of our favorites is at The Golden Mount (Wat Saket, Chakrapatdipong Rd.) in November around the Loy Kratong festival, where you can hit a shooting booth and win some stuffed dolls.
23. Fairy Lights on Ratchadamnoen. Every year, during the festive season(s), Ratchadamnoen Avenue is elaborately lit up with thousands of fairy lights, making a stroll down the street dreamy and romantic.
24. BTS and MRT. Though still modest in reach, the subway and skytrain have completely changed life in Bangkok. They’re clean, easy to use and the most reliable ways to get around in the city center—plus they take some of the pressure off our traffic jammed roads. They’re also a good place to get phone numbers.
25. H Gallery. Housed in a charming colonial mansion, H Gallery (201 Sathorn Soi 12, near Bangkok Bible College, 081-310-4428, www.hgallerybkk.com) showcases the work of up-and-coming Thai artists who have the potential to go inter.
26. Maruey Knowledge & Resource Center. There’s no excuse not to read anymore as this modern library (1-2/F, The Stock Exchange of Thailand Bldg., Ratchadaphisek Rd., MRT Queen Sirikit Convention Center, 02-229-2063. Open Sun-Thu 8:30am-11pm, Fri-Sat 8:30am-midnight) stays open until late
27. International Gourmet Dining. In addition to our amazing local food, Bangkok has some world-class restaurants at bargain—by international standards—prices. Not only that, we are able to attract visiting chefs whose restaurants are nearly impossible to get into (or afford) at a fraction of what it would cost in their home countries.
28. Drinking Freedom. We sound like alcoholics, but we appreciate how you can sip a beer as you’re walking down the sidewalk or in a park and not get arrested. And where else can you drink in movie theaters? OK, so there are ridiculous laws regulating the hours you can buy booze (we can understand after 1am, but the afternoon ban is silly), but you can always find a mini-mart or mom-and-pop shop where they’ll sell you a bottle of Sang Som at any hour of the day.
29. Traffic Jams. We all complain about the traffic jams and wish they’d disappear. But when you’re stuck, think of it as your special time—to plug in your Nano, read BK, call up some friends or just daydream. No excuse necessary. Plus, if the traffic started flowing permanently, BKK would be paradise on earth, millions of people would flock to our city and rents would go up.
30. Smart Traffic Signs. Though they aren’t exactly “smart,” they are another distraction for when you’re stuck on the roads. Many capitals don’t have these. We’re so high-tech.
31. Sanam Luang. The huge lawn is an assembly point for people from all walks of life—beggars, middle-class, blue collars—whether for chilling out or for asking for the head of the prime minister. Definitely the place to be for a dose of reality.
32. Samyan Market Foodcourt. Those willing to sacrifice setting and service for big plates of steaks with all the side dishes you want (spaghetti, salads, fries…) on offer for less than B100 shouldn’t miss this favorite haunt of university students.
33. Wat Phra Kaew. We’ve taken this temple for granted for way too long. Mom Juk Mok admitted in BK that he has never been there. Don’t follow his bad example and don’t let the tourists have all the fun. It really is amazing, like nothing else on earth—and it’s right in the middle of the city. Plus, it’s free for Thais!
34. The Grand Palace. Well now that you’re going to Wat Phra Kaew, you might as well do the whole deal. Why don’t you drop by Wat Pho and cross over to Wat Arun while you’re at it. Remember to wear a ridiculous hat and a camera around your neck. It’s fun to be a tourist (See #35).
35. Tuk Tuks. Who doesn’t love being hideously overcharged? Disguised as a tourist, ask them about local temples (all closed for renovation or for today’s special religious holiday), how much it costs to go down the street (B200), or how to get from Democracy Monument to the Grand Palace (a winding path that stops by every jewelry and handicraft store in town). Great for smokers, too.
36. Siam Square. So many shops… so little real choice. Don’t despair, if you don’t want to look like a Siam Square clone, there are ways. Dig deeper, look harder, walk longer, and you will find your look.
37. Accomodating Cops. It’s so nice to have a helpful and understanding police force that saves you the trouble of having to go out of your way to pay a fine at the station when you break the law. Just pay Thailand’s finest right on the spot and be done with the matter. They know how sorry you really are.
38. Beautiful Girls. Sometimes they aren’t even biologically female, but beautiful nevertheless.
39. Beautiful Boys. Sometimes they aren’t even gay.
40. Fat Festival. Heaps of indie icons, fresh-faced artists, a handful of international acts, as well as short film directors, rock it out at this music festival that is expanding its fan base beyond dek naew crowds.
41. The Weather. Unlike other places where you’re at the mercy of the weather, here we have seasons on demand. Feel free to celebrate Christmas on your balcony in a bikini or your summer break in fur and scarf in one of Paragon’s permafrost theaters. You won’t get sick, though you might get locked up.
42. Affordable Plastic Surgery. You can get a new face cheaper than a new car. No insurance, though.
43. Thonglor. For a life that makes soap-ops look like hard-hitting documentaries—if you can afford it.
44. Distribution of Wealth. Pratunam, CentralWorld and Nana are the golden areas for beggars who are said to make around B7,000 a day—no taxes. Are they connected?
45. Everyone Can be Famous. Just put on your chicest, coolest, or weirdest dress and walk around Siam Square, tell the world that You are Here and say Cheeze. Before you know it, you’re in a magazine! As easy as that.
46. Saxophonist on Silom. Against the annoying backdrop of car horns, squealing tires and blaring techno tunes from California Wow, he provides the only sane noise on the street that adds some bounce to your step. Spare the guy some change, please.
47. View From Vertigo. The rooftop restaurant (61/F, Banyan Tree Bangkok, South Sathorn Rd., 02-679-1200. Open daily 6:30-11pm) presents incomparable views of Bangkok skyline that will take your breath away.
48. Parking Attendants. They will miraculously pop up when you’re trying to park and assist you even though you don’t want them to. But people being nice is nice, right?
49. Easy Access to Porn. Especially near our office. Deeweedeeweeseedeesek, anyone?
50. Massage Services. On every block and all hours, even in pub toilets. For happy muscles, not happy endings, of course.
51. BK. We are exclusively available in Bangkok, you know.