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“One night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble
/> Not much between despair and ecstasy
/> One night in Bangkok and the tough guys tumble
/> Can’t be too careful with your company
/> I can feel the devil walking next to me”
Or so the song goes.
I can’t help but think that the Bangkok of Murray Head’s kitsch ‘80s flight of fancy is now a very different place.
Sure there’s still that wonderfully exotic air of adventure, the sense that anything is possible if you just let that tropical wind take you…but the seething mass of humanity that characterized Bangkok in the eighties has now been tamed (there’s a McDonald’s and a Boots on the Khao San Road!), even sanitized some might say.
Now Bangkok is a much calmer, centered place but certainly no less appealing for all that. Whether you’re a thrill seeking backpacker, or a family on a whistle stop tour, this city is a true gem in South East Asia’s crown and a must see destination on any tourist’s agenda.
A day in the life
Morning – The Khao San Road is the first port of call for any would be traveler to Bangkok and it’s a great staring point in terms of orientating your self with the city. It’s also an ideal spot to explore the Royal Palace, some of the most impressive temples in the city and the fascinating Chinatown quarter.
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Afternoon – The Sukhumvit area offers a very different taste of modern, progressive Bangkok and there’s plenty here in terms of dining and shopping. It’s the longest road in Thailand but happily the elevated Skytrain (BTS) stretches along much of it. Pockets of calm can be found in the sweet cafes, atmospheric restaurants and lush day spas that hide down many of its side roads.
Evening – Enjoy a good meal, a few drinks and a unique view of this vast city with a river boat cruise. After that, you just might be tempted to sample some of Bangkok’s world-renowned nightlife.
Best of the rest
For more day trip ideas see just how far the city stretches for the viewing platform atop Baiyoke Tower II or get up close and personal with pythons, cobras and mambas at the Snake Farm. A day trip to the ancient city of Ayutthaya is well worth the time, while you should also not miss the famous floating market.
The Bed Supper Club 26 Soi Sukhumvit 11, Sukhumvit Road. This trendy haunt is best described as a unique combination of upscale restaurant, club, art gallery, theatre and stage merged into one.
For about US$20 a night you’ll be able to find central, clean accommodation in a 2/3 star hotel smack bang in the city centre. Most budget travelers will want to head straight for the legendary Khao San Road where there are countless cheap hostels for you to bunk up in, endless stalls of counterfeit goods and I dare say quite a few pairs of fisherman’s trousers for wannabe trustafarians to slip into. Don’t forget to grab that Thai dye shirt.
But why not really push the boat out and spend a night in 5 star luxury? One evening in the Peninsula Hotel with its fleet of green Rolls Royces and its rooftop helipad will make a perfect start to your Bangkok stay.
Also popular with tourists is the bustling Sukhumvit area with an excellent choice of accommodation and eateries and easy access to the rest of the city on the Sky Train (more on this below).
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Bangkok at night
Dining – Bangkok is a food heaven; a sensational culinary journey and taste experience that is unrivalled and guaranteed to delight your taste buds.
Apart from renowned Thai cuisine with its blend of spicy, sour, sweet and salty, the smorgasbord includes every other famous type of cuisine found in the world. Eating options are limitless, night or day. Great value-for-money food courts, riverside eateries, Thai-style dining in antique teak houses, dinner cruises, trendy restaurants and food markets are only some of the options available.
And remember if you tire of Thai check out all that Chinatown has to offer.
Nightlife – Nightlife here is as good as it gets anywhere in the world, from modern bars offering every drink under the sun to banging nightclubs, the best DJ’s and pumping sound systems. Live music venues are plentiful and there are plenty of low-key bars for a quiet drink.
Inevitably, though, some tourists travel to ‘the city of angels’ for other reasons. Thailand’s sex industry is legendary and Bangkok is no exception. In certain areas sex is everywhere and some of the sights are not for the fainthearted. Officially it’s illegal but in reality it’s freely available. Centered around three main zones – Patpong, Soi Cowboy and the quite incredible Nana plaza – it’s full on and hard to ignore. Look but don’t touch and avoid being part of the problem.
Bangkok is a shopper’s paradise so get amongst it and have fun. Spend a day haggling at Chatuchak Weekend market (beware of the pickpockets), Patpong’s street stalls or the Floating Market. For the more sophisticated among you there’s shopping complexes at MBK, Emporium and Central World to name but a few.
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Getting there & away – Bangkok’s brand spanking new International Suvarnabhumi Airport, dubbed “The Hub of South East Asia” is as futuristic a start as you could wish for. Inexpensive metered taxis are by far the easiest and convenient option for getting into Bangkok, costing about US$10 per journey, and these can be caught outside the main exits of the terminal on the ground floor.
If traveling overland, buses and trains serve the city from all major cities and towns around Thailand and major cities in neighboring countries. For long overland journeys, nothing beats a bunk in a night train. The rail system serves many of the top tourist destinations, including Chiang Mai in the north and the tropical islands of the south.
Getting around – Taxis are also the safest and easiest way to get around the city itself. Day or night, there will always be a ‘meter’ taxi close by to take you where you want to go. However, be prepared for long journey times in the city’s notorious traffic.
When in the west of the city, the river is a great way to travel. Just hop on and off one of the excellent river taxis heading in your direction and you can get from the Khao San Road to the beginning of the Sky Train without breaking a sweat, and believe me sweat is something you’ll really need to avoid in hot and steamy Bangkok.
For keeping cool, the Sky Train (BTS) is just the answer. Modern, sleek and quiet, you’ll glide above the busy streets in air-conditioned bliss straight to most of the main destinations on your list.
Where the sky train doesn’t go the Bangkok Underground (MRT) will. Fast and efficient, the Mass Rapid Transit network has been a welcome and well-used addition to Bangkok’s public transport network since its hi-tech doors sprung open back in July 2004.
But if none of that grabs you and a taxi seems just too safe, hop in a Tuk Tuk and hold on tight! Thailand’s legendary 3-wheeled motorized hairdryers will take you anywhere.
One night in Bangkok? I’d take a lot more than that if I were you.
James Spencer has spent many years travelling in Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand. He has worked extensively in broadcast media as a multi-camera director and as a corporate video producer in the private sector. He now lives in London with this lovely wife Susan and their two kids, James and Emma.