Holiday in Bangkok - the lowdown for first timers

Nico Marco (Contributor) (The Philippine Star) - April 1, 2013 - 1:49pm


Bangkok has long been a favorite holiday destination by practically everyone, and in recent years - especially evident in the still increasing number of flights between Manila, Clark and Cebu - the "Big Mango" has become one of the top destinations of choice for vacationing Filipinos.

Though (deservedly) enjoying a reputation as the most tourist-friendly in Southeast Asia, Thailand's capital city - just like anywhere else in the world - isn't one not to have its own share of unspoken parameters for visitors.

I am currently on my second year in Bangkok, and almost every day I hear that distinct chatter among Filipino tourists in shopping malls, train systems and sidewalks. With most of the colloquial conversations I hear (or eavesdrop), there a few observations that particularly stand out for me as a Filipino based in Bangkok. And I'd like to address them here by providing some hopefully valuable tips and points, especially for the first time tourist to Bangkok.

1. Bangkok is NOT all sleaze. There are so much more insightful things to do and wholesome activities to experience in this city than what's being shoved in our faces by Hollywood. Please carefully consider and evaluate your life choices if you are basing your Bangkok holiday around Hangover Part II.

2. Know when you are going. Bangkok is one of those cities where it's almost hot and humid all year. It is also full of local festivals and international events. For example during April, Songkran is celebrated as the traditional New Year’s period for the Thais. Songkran is widely popular for its custom of throwing water and spreading chalk paste among street-goers. A major tourist draw, Songkran falls on the hottest time of the year in Thailand so summer clothing is encouraged, but be fully aware that it is also a religious holiday.

A crowd packs the street during Songkran

3. Thai food is really spicy. But awesome spicy. The Filipino food palate may not be generally accustomed to this kind of spiciness, but it’s definitely worth a hefty meal. Apart from tom yum, it’s also a must to try other signature Thai dishes such as som tum (green papaya salad) and larb moo (spicy ground meat).

Larb moo


4. Be respectful of Thai customs and beliefs. The Monarchy, temples and shrines (usually found on street corners) are all sacred to them so please act with rightful reverence.

The Reclining Buddha in Wat Pho

The Grand Palace

5. Do not just concentrate on one area. A typical weekend itinerary for tourists usually involves visits to the Chatuchak market or Platinum mall in the morning and then Siam Paragon area in the afternoon. These are prime spots no doubt, but there are other places worth exploring too. For example, Union Mall (MRT: Phahon Yothin) and Terminal 21 (BTS: Asok, MRT: Sukhumvit) are good alternatives for shopping and popular expat hangouts Thong lo (BTS: Thong Lor) and Sathorn (BTS: Salae Deng, MRT: Silom) have some of the best dining options in Asia.

6. Take advantage of the train system. Taxis are cheap but traffic can be crazy you might end up wasting several hours stuck on jam. Perhaps after Singapore, Bangkok has the most efficient public transport system in Southeast Asia. One of the best things about Bangkok is almost its entire major tourist spots are accessible via BTS or MRT, with the exception of the temple zone of the Grand Palace, Wat Arun and Wat Poh – which are all best reached via a scenic boat ride on the Chao Praya River.

7. Consider exploring other places out of Bangkok. The “Big Mango” is also a clever hub and starting point for other destinations in and out of Thailand. Only a few hours’ drive away are the beaches of Koh Samet and Hua Hin, and for the best ancient temples experience, Cambodia’s Siem Reap is accessible overland. Asia’s boutique airline, Bangkok Airways, also serves direct routes from Bangkok to Lao’s Luang Prabang, Myanmar’s Yangon and Thailand’s Koh Samui, Krabi and Phuket.

8. Go low-end and high-end. If there’s a destination that can boastfully claim both, it’s Bangkok. It is considered a major anomaly to be spending a holiday in Bangkok only hobnobbing from one five-star restaurant to another. Having a cocktail atop one of the city’s premiere sky bars is a signature Bangkok experience, but so is gorging on Thai omelet, barbecue and pork balls by the roadside. 

9. Be updated on discounted deals. Bangkok is home for the best accommodations in the world at the most reasonable prices. Asia’s leading hotels booking site Agoda.com (http://www.agoda.com/philstar) offers reduced rates year-round be it in two-star or five-star hotels. Most airlines also hold seasonal seat sales to Bangkok.

10. There's more to the Bangkok arts & entertainment scene than Mario Maurer and his movies. Bangkok has an energetic arts scene and its museums are relatively sprawling. A good start would be the recently opened Bangkok Arts & Cultural Center (BTS: National Stadium) and Thailand Cultural Design Center (inside Emporium Mall, BTS: Phrom Phong) for a taste of modern art. For rich yet accessible display of Thai art history, the Siam Museum is the ideal cultural point of interest. 

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