Thai capital Bangkok is much like Marmite – people either love it or hate it. While most tourists head to Thailand to enjoy the country’s picturesque island hotspots such as Phuket and Koh Samui, Bangkok offers a more authentic Thai experience.
The islands are lovely, indeed, but chances are you’ll only meet fellow holidaymakers and their selfie sticks on overcrowded beaches. In fact, most of the country’s islands operate primarily on tourism, and cunning locals will constantly try their luck to get you to spend more money than you need to. If you want to experience the real Thailand and its people, you’re better off heading to bustling Bangkok.
As the famous saying goes, New York is the city that never sleeps. Perhaps, yes. But in the exotic East, that accolade belongs to Bangkok. Is it dirty? Yes. Is there traffic? Yes. Is it noisy? Absolutely. But that’s part of the charm. The Thai capital is always buzzing, all year round.
From its busy markets and shopping districts to its 24-hour restaurants and famous nightlife, there are plenty of highlights and never a dull moment.
Shop ’till you drop
If retail therapy makes you feel good, prepare to feel ecstatic. Shopping in Bangkok is serious business, and you might want to pace yourself. Besides, there are only so many shopping bags one person can carry. From the night market in Patpong and the Damnoen Saduak floating market to the luxurious Siam Paragon shopping mall, there is something for every calibre of shopper.
But if you’re already a regular at the Gulf’s glamorous mega malls, then skip the shopping centres and explore the city’s fascinating markets instead. You’ll find items you never knew existed for prices you never thought were possible.
If you’re only in Bangkok for a short visit and you only have enough time for one major shopping splurge, look no further than the famous MBK in Siam. MBK is like an indoor Chatuchak market, with more than 2,000 shops and stalls occupying seven floors.
Its main selling point is the price and diversity of its collection of products, predominantly mobile phones, photo equipment, video games, luggage, street wear, souvenirs and ornaments First-timers need a full day (or two) to get through everything that’s on offer. And don’t be afraid to bargain. It’s the perfect place to test your bartering skills.
Tantalising Thai cuisine
Different people have different tastes, but we’ve never met anyone that doesn’t love Thai cuisine.
Even if we only had a few hours in Bangkok, we’d spend that time guzzling as many flavoursome Thai dishes as humanly possible. And while we often have to splurge at fine dining restaurants back home to experience a taste of Thailand, it’s a different story once you’re actually here.
Districts like Silom and Sukhumvit have endless roadside restaurants that often stay open 24 hours. And it doesn’t matter which one you choose, because the quality and prices largely remain consistent. You’ll have the best and freshest Thai curry served to you in record time at some amazing prices.
However, no trip to Bangkok is complete without sampling the enormous variety of street food. Put your diva tendencies aside, grab a roadside table alongside the locals and be adventurous with your taste buds.
A hearty meal will set you back 40 baht, which is approximately Dhs4/QR4. It will also be a lot more authentic than what will cost ten times more at Thai fine-dining restaurants in the Gulf.
Where to stay
Sofitel So Bangkok
If you’re looking for a luxury hotel in the heart of the city near famous landmarks, shopping districts and party spots, try the Soﬁtel So Bangkok in Bangrak. From the bold staff uniforms and the visionary installation in the lobby to the unmistakable design stamp at the enchanting Club Signature lounge, it’s one of the most fashionable hotels you’ll ever set your sights on.
A short stroll from MBK and Siam Paragon, this stylish budget option is a great choice. It combines rustic design with modern amenities at a great price, plus the friendly staff are full of useful information about the city.
Emirates and Thai Airways fly from Dubai in about six and a half hours. From Abu Dhabi you can travel direct with Etihad, and from Doha with Qatar Airways. There are plenty of flights each day.
You’ll never be short of transport options in Bangkok. Taxis are readily available practically everywhere in the city at dirt cheap rates. The meter taxis are so cheap that the drivers usually just charge a set rate depending on the distance, but insist on the meter if you don’t want to be ripped off. There is also the BTS metro system that connects all the major landmarks, which is a clean and convenient option. There are also tuk-tuks and motorbike taxis for getting around the crowded streets.
When taking taxis or tuk tuks in the city, always barter the price down. Taxi drivers will always try their luck by bumping up the price, but don’t fall for it. Alternatively, the BTS metro is by far the cheapest method of transport, so don’t be afraid to give it a go. The locals will be more than happy to assist you if you need help.
Bangkok’s 18th International Festival of Dance & Music, the city’s biggest annual arts festival, stages top or second tier opera, dance, ballet, jazz and classical music. It’s happening between September 8 and October 19 this year, so check the website for the full line-up of events.