Within the past twelve months, I have been lucky enough to visit Bangkok about 10-12 times. During this time, I have developed a real fondness for the “City of Angels”, due to its vast array of culture, food and entertainment. It’s fair to say that Thailand has unfairly developed a reputation for being purely a “sex tourism” or party destination. Whenever I tell people I am going to Bangkok for work, it is often met with a wink and a playful punch, “Off to Bangkok again? Why do you keep wanting to watch the ping pong and ladyboy shows?”
Thailand’s tourism industry, while completely necessary for the nation’s economy, has resulted in Bangkok (the capital) becoming overrun with many tourist traps and activities to cater towards the millions of holidays who visit each year. Some common ones are the day safaris, ladyboy shows, staged Muay Thai fights, river cruises etc. Consequently, many first-timers to Bangkok are left with inaccurate impressions as to what is really on offer in this amazing city.
I must admit that during my first visit to Bangkok back in 2007, I was guilty of restricting myself to merely the tourist activities – as such, it only provided me with a very narrow perspective on Thailand. It’s common for tourists to spend most of their time around Siam Square and MBK, and fail to realise that Bangkok is much more than tuk-tuks and elephant souvenirs.
In my opinion, I believe Bangkok is the best city in South East Asia and it doesn’t get the credit it deserves. My recent 8 day trip has given me further realisation as to some of my favourite aspects of this city:
1) Best cafes in South East Asia
Bangkok has some of the most amazing cafes in the South East Asia region. Most tourists will think Starbucks is the best available (mainly because Siam Square and Sukhumvit area are saturated with Starbucks every 100 metres), but there are many cafes within the CBD that would give their Melbourne rivals some serious competition.
Most of Bangkok’s popular cafes are located in a trendy part of town named Thonglo. This area is frequented by high society, or “hi-so”, such as celebrities, fashion designers, young professionals and the like. The cafes in this area will usually use beans imported from Australia or South America, and serve incredibly tasty food to go along with their coffees. In fact, some of the best brunches I’ve eaten have been in Bangkok cafes. The cafe food on offer is always interesting – their chefs often have culinary experience from across the world, contributing to some unique dishes that you wouldn’t normally find in Australian restaurants.
My personal favourite is Roast at The Commons complex on Soi 55. They serve up one of the most creative (and delicious) iced coffees, as well as a creative menu that contains anything from ribs and burgers to healthy granola.
2) Incredibly convenient public transport
When people think of transport in Bangkok, they assume everyone rides around in tuk-tuks. However, despite Thailand being classified as a “developing country”, the Bangkok public transport system easily surpasses their Australian counterparts. There are two main forms of public transport in Bangkok, the MRT (a subway system commonly found in other key cities in Asia, especially Japan) and BTS (a skytrain system).
Together, these services allow one to access nearly all of the key areas in Bangkok, and at a relatively low price. The best thing about the MRT and BTS is their speed and availability – obviously they allow one to bypass the infamous Bangkok traffic but they also provide services every few minutes. Having such a convenient public transport system takes the hassle out of trying to navigate a large city.
3) High-end shopping malls
Speaking of the BTS, it seems that almost every main station is located adjacent to a high-end shopping mall. Tourists are usually drawn to markets such as Chatuchak market, or to the MBK complex – as such they are left with the impression that Bangkok’s shopping merely consists of souvenirs, fake brand wear and counterfeit soccer jerseys.
However, Bangkok actually provides one of the best shopping experiences in Asia. In recent years, several high-end malls have been established across Bangkok and often contain brands that would not be available in Australia. The EmQuartier mall, located in Phrom Phrong, is renowned for housing blue-chip fashion labels, but also houses an impressive food court and various family activities.
My personal favourite is Terminal 21, located in Sukhumvit. This mall contains a mixture of boutique and commonly known brands, as well as two floors of restaurants and a cinema.
4) Impressive gyms and activities
Increases in disposable income have given rise to a huge variety of gyms and fitness centres, and across Bangkok you will find all kinds of physical activities to suit your interests. When in Bangkok, I usually frequent the RSM Academy – a “high-end” Muay Thai facility that incorporates the core elements of Thai boxing alongside modern fitness practices.
Additionally, one can find hip-hop dance studios, a plethora of yoga centres, Crossfit gyms, kung fu centres, gymnastic facilities and much more. When I was in the Thonglo area, I even witnessed some kind of rollerblading fitness gym…I’m still not entirely sure how that workout goes.
In fact, Bangkok probably has one of the most unique Crossfit gyms I have seen – Crossfit BKK is located on an open-air rooftop on one of the main intersections, providing a unique workout experience above the hustle-and-bustle. When I have more time on my next trip, I am also keen to check out Bangkok Wing Chun, a gym that utilises techniques from both traditional Wing Chun Kung Fu and Muay Thai.
5) Quality Japanese food
I believe that outside of Japan, one would be hard-pressed to find a better range of Japanese food than what is available in Bangkok. The Ekkamai and Thonglo regions are home to Bangkok’s Japanese community, and contain many restaurants and shops that you would expect to find in Osaka or Tokyo. Famous restaurant franchises such as Gyu-Kaku and Ippudo Ramen have branches in Bangkok, and there are also many izakayas across the city serving authentic Japanese fare. What’s more, the price is often much less that what one would pay in Japan or Australia for the same meal. As a fan of Japanese food, this is a great aspect of Bangkok for the very rare occasions when I have had enough Thai food.
These are only five of my favourite aspects about Bangkok, but obviously there is much more to experience in this city than commonly expected by tourists. As the Thai economy grows, new businesses and complexes will inevitably grow to add even further excitement to Bangkok’s already-bustling CBD.
Despite already visiting Bangkok around 15 times in total, I’m sure there’s still much more for me to discover, and I look forward to my next visit!