This week, we head all the way back to Southeast Asia, where intoxicating smells, sights and sounds await. Today’s guest post, by Ross Fraser, guides us on how to navigate the chaotic streets of Bangkok, and find our way amidst the shimmering temples, floating markets and skyscrapers.
Bangkok: a thriving and vibrant capital, and home to over 6 and a half million inhabitants. Its perma-busy street life is, of course, part of its charm. But it’s also part of its problem. How can you navigate such an endlessly chaotic and confusing metropolis – especially if you’re short on time, and – more importantly – short on local knowledge?
The answer, of course, is to grab a guide: there are many excellent local guides offering a half day’s excursion here, or a historic building tour there. But, for our tastes, these guides tend to stick too rigidly to the beaten path and, if anything, only add to the congestion at the city’s tourist honey pots.
Take my advice – hire your choice of transport, complete with a driver, get off the well trodden tracks, and tell your private chauffeur to show you his Bangkok. Chances are it’ll be a million miles away from the tourist guide ‘must-see’s, and will offer a far more memorable – and authentic – slice of life in this often misunderstood mega-city.
Flickr photo by jensen_chua
1) Take a tuk-tuk
Tuk-tuks are, essentially, half rickshaw, and half scooter. As one of the most unique transport modes in the world, this quirky transport tool gets you around fast and easy. They’re nippy, cheap and agile enough to squeeze their way down many routes simply off limits to Bangkok’s fleet of Mercedes taxis.
Bargain your price down before you set off – not after the ride – and try to head out of the pollution-filled city centre. A good option is to head for the Phra Sumer Fortress on Phra Arthit (Sun Street). Then head to the exotic thrills of the Amulet Market, where glistening charms and finely worked gems are for sale. Don’t let the Tuk Tuk driver suggest ‘stopping at a few places on the way’ though, as this will usually mean shops where sales pressure is high (as is the commission to the driver!).
Flickr photo by Ian Fuller
2) Try a taxi
For longer journeys, a taxi still remains the best bet for comfort, speed and safety. Taxi drivers are also your best bet at jumping the queues at the busiest tourist spots. Head for Woeng Nakorn Kasem, the ‘thieves market’ of the Klong Thom Quarter. This is the place to pick up antiques and traditional Thai and Chinese goods – and it’s especially great for porcelain and delicate silk screens. So you’ll need a taxi to carry your fabulous, and fragile, new gift back to your hotel! Available taxis have a red light illuminated. Taxi hire starts at 35 baht, and thereafter, it’s around 2 baht per kilometre. Tipping isn’t required, but you can ‘round up’ the fare.
Flickr photo by tomasu.co.uk
3) Use your feet
There is much to explore, away from the crowds, is you simply stroll in the other direction. Bangkok’s riverside is the most alluring spot in the city. The tree shaded avenues leading to the water are lined with classic colonial-style buildings. Start your wanderings at the Saphan Taksin BTS station. Walk away from the river and take the first left into the Shangri La Hotel, and stroll along a peaceful stretch of open river front. This will take you to the lovely Assumption Cathedral, at the heart of Bangkok’s old colonial trading quarter.
A short trip down Soi 38 takes you to the Oriental Hotel, where Somerset Maugham, among others, worked on many of their novels. Another great way to spy the wonderful hotels and villas lining the river is to take a river taxi.
4) Boats and River Taxis
If you really want to creep up on the ‘real’ Bangkok, the ‘klongs‘ (canals) are the place to head for. River taxis and ‘tail boats’ ply the Chao Phraya River, connecting the centre with the outlying local suburbs on the Thonburi side. The Chao Phraya Express Boat Company have boats stopping at Sathorn Pier, and on to sites such as Wat Arun, the Grand Palace and plenty of markets and shopping streets along the way. You can buy an all-day pass for around 80 baht.
Alternatively, hire a private tailboat for a tour of the Thonburi side of the river, with its network of ancient canals, weaving past floating kitchens, old wooden houses and water hyacinth floating on the surface of the water. Agree on the price before departure (expect to pay around 400 to 500 baht per hour), and hire a boat at the Tha Chang ferry pier near the Grand Palace.
Flickr photo from Dean Croshere
5) Take public transport
Bangkok’s MRT (Mass Rapid Transport) offers a cheap, punctual and efficient way to explore the city. The Skytrain (BTS) and underground (MRT) rail systems connect the main shopping, entertainment and business areas of the city. The Skytrain, especially, offers wonderful panoramic views of the city.
Head to the Dusit area – a lovely, leafy suburb of elegantly planned villas, wide boulevards, and palatial complexes, laid out by King Rama V at the end of the Nineteenth century. It’s peaceful at weekends, as it’s home to Thailand’s Government buildings and embassies, and the wealthier residences, but you can visit the Vimanmek Teak Palace and neo-Baroque splendor of the Abhisek Dusit Assembly Hall. The Zoo and Chitralada Palace – where the Thailand Royal family live – are also worth a visit.
Flickr photo by Ian Fuller
This guest post was written by Ross Fraser who is a passionate traveller and travel blogger and has spent quite a bit of time during his travels in Bangkok.
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