THAILAND: Sky High in Bustling BangkokGetting around Bangkok day or night no matter what the weather, is actually easier than it looks in this city of 17 million, where the inimitable road chaos seems to overwhelm first time travellers. If you are travelling with a family, the first thing to remember is to pass out hotel cards of where you are staying in case someone gets lost.
AUTHOR & PHOTOGRAPHER: ©Shane Boocock 2010
It’s not often the difference between a millipede and a centipede is discussed at a cooking class, but then the course I attended in Thailand is no ordinary foodie’s fancy kitchen. The Amita Thai cooking class is hidden among the riverbanks of the Chao Phraya River, one of the hundreds of watery arteries that run through the old town of Bangkok.
It was here I met Tam, a smallish gentle Thai woman who gave up a legal career to follow her passion and to teach traditional Thai cooking techniques. Adjacent to her nursery herb garden, which you duly get to inspect, Tam runs a cooking school where you’ll learn, hands on, how to prepare and cook four Thai dishes with recipes such as Khang keaw wan gai (green curry chicken) or Gai Hor Bai Toey (deep fried chicken wrapped in pandanus leaves).
Aside from the long millipede that wandered out from the garden that Tam also gave a lesson about, she imparted her knowledge of Thailand’s two seasons of weather, “hot and damn hot,” she called it, “a bit like some Thai recipes, yes?”
Getting around Bangkok day or night no matter what the weather, is actually easier than it looks in this city of 17 million, where the inimitable road chaos seems to overwhelm first time travellers. If you are travelling with a family, the first thing to remember is to pass out hotel cards of where you are staying in case someone gets lost. Another good tip is to always have some loose change and a few hundred baht handy for that unexpected taxi ride. For a smoother, less crowded, slightly cooler way to weave your way through parts of the city, hop on an array of ferries or long-tail passenger boats that effortlessly plow the river and arteries.
However, nowadays Bangkok also has a city transport system to rival the world’s best. Gliding above street level is the elevated systematic Skytrain, and below ground there is the ultra efficient MRT subway. Before going anywhere by road a price must be agreed upon, whether there is a meter running or not. On the crowded streets there are regular taxis and every traveller’s favourite mode of transport, three-wheeled tuk-tuks as well as motorbike taxis that Lonely Planet now rates as one of the 10 most exciting experiences in the world.
For nightlife I aimed high; taking the velocity launching elevators skywards to the top of some of the city’s tallest buildings. There are a number of rooftop bars worth lingering in around Bangkok ranging from one of the world’s highest, the ‘Skybar’ at the Dome State Tower, to the 68 storey ‘Moon Bar’ at the Banyan Tree Hotel where there are 360 degree views across the city, that flickers below like a gigantic computer circuit board. Both attract a wide ranging clientele young and old. As with all rooftop rendezvous points there is a snazzy dress code and their cocktails can be pricey.
Another skyscraper bar with rarified air is the ‘Red Sky Bar’ at the Centara Grand Hotel where rattan loungers allow for intimate encounters as the ever changing fibre optic lightshow behind the translucent bar lights up the sky where you’ll enjoy hi-octane views across the city 55 floors below. A little closer to earth is the ‘Panorama’ in the Pan Pacific Bangkok Hotel. Just 23 stories up will still give you a sense of vertigo as you sip juicy alcohol-fueled cocktails looking out over the Royal Bangkok Sporting Club and a typical Bangkok nighttime cityscape.
Of course Bangkok is also a shopper’s smorgasbord where kilometers of isles and choice of retail outlets can easily make your wallet lighter and your legs ache before you set foot inside. My first port of call is always the ‘MBK Center,’ a huge storied shopping complex boasting over 2000 shops and stalls blending modern styling with a bustling market plaza-like atmosphere, where you can pick up just about anything, brand name or bogus-brand bargains. Other shopping centers are located along Ploenchit Road to lure in credit-card junkies including, ‘Central World,’ said to be the second-largest shopping complex in Southeast Asia, ‘Central Chid Lom,’ ‘Siam Square’ and ‘Siam Centre’ and the ‘Peninsular Plaza,’ well known as the grande dame of Bangkok’s up-market shopping complexes.
For first time visitors to Bangkok, the tourism sites on everybody’s list include five major temple complexes, two royal palaces and the National Museum. Don’t miss the chance to take a river journey of some description – either a sightseeing excursion or a visit to the floating markets; even the trip to the Thai cooking class was by boat on the river.
There are also night markets including: Ratchada Night Market, a flea market selling all sorts of retro and secondhand stuff, (Fri-sat), Suan Lum Night Bazaar includes a beer garden and food court with a mix of crafts, textiles and knick-knacks, Pak Khlong Talad Flower Market next to the memorial Bridge and Nakhorn Kasem in Chinatown, known locally as the ‘thieves market.’
Full day excursions are also a great way to experience life outside of Bangkok. On one trip our group chose to visit Ayutthaya, the original capital city that stood for centuries until it was left in ruins after being sacked by the Burmese in 1772. In this region, only about an hour or 85km from Bangkok, there are over 400 temple sites, at times resembling Roman or Mayan ruins. It is estimated there were 1.8 million people living here at its zenith, half of which were foreigners. Today you’ll more than likely find just plain old tourists taking pictures and riding grumpy elephants.
It’s fair to say that you haven’t indulged in all that is Thailand until you experience a true Thai massage, known in Thailand as nuad pan boran – literally meaning ‘ancient style massage,’ and to be honest it’s hard not to in a city that claims to have more places to have a massage than any other city in the world. As in any other place, spa value can be gauged by the quality of therapists, lotions and oils used, as well as inspired atmosphere and sophisticated location.
So whether you’re shopping for bargain merchandise, exploring ancient cities and centuries-old forgotten temples, cruising up and down rivers, sipping cocktails in the clouds or legging it around back alleys and bustling markets, indulging in spa treatments or relaxing in health resorts or even getting creative and learning new cooking skills – Bangkok has much to offer and more culture than you can shake an elephant stick at!
Oh and to tell the difference between millipedes and a centipedes look at their legs. Millipede legs are short and underneath the body, whereas centipede legs are long and stick out along the sides of their bodies. Millipedes have two pairs of legs per body segment, while centipedes have one pair of legs per segment. Truly, it’s amazing the things you learn on a visit to Thailand!
Know Before You Go Info:
When to go:
Bangkok is a tropical city so expect it to be warm or hot most of the year. Avoid April and May when the weather is especially hot and sticky with temperatures hovering around 34 degrees. The best time to visit is from October to February where temperatures linger between 24c-28c. The rainy season is June through September and there can be lots of it.
What to wear:
Forget tight and clingy clothing and go for light, loose cotton clothing that is sensible. When visiting temples, certain museums and the Grand Place remember to dress appropriately. Shorts, singlets, spaghetti straps and open backed sandals are not acceptable. Remember a jacket is needed for formal meetings and at some top restaurants.
What to see:
Temples dot the Bangkok landscape so if you have a limited time try these suggestions to whet your appetite. The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew is the granddaddy of all Thai sites to visit, but beware of many touts and street scammers who mill outside this 218,400msq complex chasing your hard earned dollars. Wat Arun is another important and beguiling religious site across the river, and known as the Temple of Dawn. Wat Po is the Temple of the Reclining Buddha and is the oldest and largest wat in Bangkok, originating in the 16th century.
Amita Thai Cooking Class
T: +66 2 466 8966
Skytrain Day Pass
Unlimited rides for 1 day price, non-refundable and valid for date of purchase only.
Where to Stay:
T: +66 2344 8888
Mandarin Oriental Bangkok
T: +66 (2) 659 9000
Shane Boocock flew to Bangkok courtesy of Thai Airways www.thaiairways.com who operate flights daily and was hosted by Tourism Thailand www.tourismthailand.org
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