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Bangkok, Thailand

Great Destination:

Value for Money:

Total Stars:

Personality Types that Like it Best

Did You Know … ?

  • Bangkok has the world’s longest official name (21 words) as follows: Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayutthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit.
  • The city’s Golden Buddha, made primarily of gold, weighs more than 10,000 pounds.
  • It is illegal to step on a Thai banknote because the king’s image is on it.
  • Chatuchak is the world’s largest weekend market (almost 35 acres).
  • Bangkok had no roads until the 1860s; canals were the “roads.”

Exotic, flawed — and loved

A lot of adjectives come to mind when meditating on the nature of Bangkok, Thailand’s capital. One such adjective is popular. Bangkok rates very highly with travelers, something that might seem unlikely considering some of the other adjectives that also rightfully apply: chaotic, crowded, hot, humid, polluted, squalid and darned near impossible to drive around in. It’s also home to a sizeable sex tourism business, and there’s a high incidence of AIDS (which the government combats with laudable vigor).

Nevertheless, Bangkok rates well. It is an exotic and vibrant city where there are numerous retreats (temples, parks and more), which provide instant peace and quiet. The Thais are friendly, prices are very attractive, the food is good and the city has numerous high-quality hotels. And, crucially, tourist attractions and activities are compelling or at least pique the visitor’s intellectual curiosity. For most travelers, these diversions render the sex tourism business invisible.

Clearly, this is a destination more favored by the adventurous, but there is plenty to attract all personality types. Most notable are the A-list tourist attractions: the Grand Palace, the outstanding Buddhist temples, programs that show off traditional dance and costuming, plus the city’s famous floating markets. Bangkok is good for souvenir shopping, beginning with antiques, silks and silk products and including jewelry, lacquerware, pottery and handicrafts.

For those who want more, the city offers things like kick boxing competitions, cooking lessons, tasty street food, open-air night bazaars and a wide array of clubs and other after-dark entertainment spots to choose from. In addition, some North Americans come to Bangkok for medical services.

Bangkok has seen civil unrest in recent years, something visitors and their guides strive to avoid, but the bigger threats are simpler and should be noted: the motorists who won’t give way to pedestrians and the occasional smiling con man.

The geography and traffic are challenging, but the inexpensive Skytrain and the MRT subway take the shopper/sightseer above or below the congested traffic. For all the contradictory indicators, in the end, the buzz of this city wins out— and draws in the visitors.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Bargain with a driver for your ride in a tuk-tuk, which is a motorized rickshaw — also open-sided, and hence no shield from pollution.
  • Attend a session of muay Thai (kick boxing) at Lumpini Stadium.
  • Explore backpacker central on Khao San Road. The area draws the very-low-budget-minded with its very cheap, and gritty, accommodations, plus cheap eateries and bars. (Beware: The area also draws police who regularly search Westerners for drugs. Getting caught would be very costly in money or jail time.)
  • Check out a few cocktail bars and clubs, where you may hear blues, rock, jazz and more. Bangkok Tourist says each of the city’s six nightlife districts is “packed full of unruly clubs.”
  • For a kicky experience, drop by the Lovesick Club, a live-music venue with the theme of lost love. Besides getting into the music, you can throw bottles at an image of your rotten ex or retreat to a soundproof room to scream at said rotten ex.
  • If you like to sample Thai food at every meal, take a cooking class. Also, you will learn about classic Thai food at Cabbages and Condoms, the restaurant with a funny name and serious purpose. Profits support family planning and AIDS prevention.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Eat street food and shop for Thai textiles and souvenirs at the Suan Lum Night Bazaar. Or, go to the huge Chatuchak Weekend Market (known as J.J.) for every kind of regional handicraft and a whole lot more.
  • Jog in Lumpini Park, but make that an early-morning event, given the hot humid climate.
  • Book a klong tour, meaning a boat ride through many of the city’s canals, to see markets, traditional wooden houses and more.
  • Take the kids to see the venom-milking demonstrations at Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute Snake Farm. But, then, you don’t have to be a kid to want to see this.
  • Watch a dance program that illustrates traditional — and very photogenic — Thai dance styles. Or, see a khon, or Thai mask performance, which combines dance with acting and is generally available as a dinner show.
  • How about a foot massage at Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha)? The temple is noted for its massage school, called the Wat Pho Thai Traditional Medical School.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Join a dinner cruise on the Chao Phraya River.
  • Have a drink at the historic Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Or, overnight there, in one of its signature suites. Several are named for well-known authors who have stayed here and are designed to reflect the authors’ personalities.
  • Take a tour of the Grand Palace, one of those must-see options, then tour as many Buddhist temples as interest you. Among others, there are important temples for the Emerald Buddha, the Reclining Buddha and the Golden Buddha.
  • Have dinner at one of the world’s largest restaurants, the Royal Dragon, and watch waiters move across the huge facility on skates or on a cable.
  • Put the Royal Barges Museum on your itinerary. It houses about 50 ornate longboats once used by Thai kings. Also, include the Museum of Counterfeit Goods, which was created as an educational tool, and the 81-room Vimanmek Teak Palace, the world’s largest teak building, filled with antiques and paintings.
  • Shop everywhere, from street markets to sleek new, upscale malls. Look for antiques, carvings, celadon pottery, lacquerware, masks and silk fabric and silk products. Also, have a suit or dress made in Bangkok (and have several fittings).

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Bangkok Tourism Division at www.bangkoktourist.com