Bangkok is one rockin’ city. Culture, cuisine and climate combine to offer a very unique day-to-day experience, one that has seen the capital of Thailand develop rapidly into a true urban playground for its youth - both expats and locals alike. Somewhat smack bang in the middle of Asia, the Thai way of life is exotic and ever-changing, and still, from my experience, has maintained a strong sense of the familiar in it’s longstanding efforts to make life as carefree as can be.
After moving here for a few years back in 2008 with my family, I’ve since seen the nightlife grow into something very ‘special’, albeit a little exuberant and in many cases a severely obvious tourist trap. As a visitor to the city, it is often as easy to fall victim to a Khao San Road scam as it is to order Pad Thai at a restaurant (as opposed to venturing into the Thai-food equivalent of 'the unknown’ - seriously, just do it!!!). Thai people are easily some of the loveliest folks I’ve met in the world. You can rest assured that for every tuk tuk driver gunning to scam an extra 100 Baht out of you, there are hundreds of friendly locals, taxi drivers, street-food and market vendors who will go out of their way to give you countless reasons to return to the city time and time again.
This trip I stayed with friends who still live and work in BKK, but for those without this kind of luxury, there are plenty of fun little flats on Airbnb. If you are looking for somewhere a bit more upmarket I’ve stayed in the Sheraton in Sukhumvit and highly recommend it.
For a bite to eat, I am obsessed with Suk 11, an awesome spot in an alley that runs off Sukhumvit Soi 11 (note: it also doubles as a hostel if you’re looking for somewhere super cheap and wonderful to stay). For a dish other than Pad Thai, their Som Tam (Papaya Salad) is absolutely mental, or the Penang Curry is just as good for those less-inclined to the whole chillies thing. Treat yourself to a Mango Sticky Rice afterwards - trust me when I say it’s not just a dessert, it’s a national treasure.
If we’re talking shopping, MBK Mall is a world of its own; levels upon levels of counterfeit electronics, clothing, shoes and so on. If you’re looking for a place where you can find everything in one spot, MBK will not disappoint. Walking along Sukhumvit Road at night or through Chatachuk Markets on the weekends, however, provide a much more authentic market shopping experience. Just be weary of your belongings wherever you go, unfortunately there are some shady people around. Go hard with the bartering, it is not uncommon for buyers to shave at least 25% off the initial asking price with a mere smile and a bit of grit.
For the most part, Bangkok is a place for all the laid-back cosmopolitans out there. A person’s experience widely depends on how open-minded they are to the cultural differences at hand. Spend a few days searching for things you love doing at home, but might be unusually interesting in a Bangkok context, rather than succumbing to the whole mainstream tourist scene. For me, this included hunting down a local art & design bookshop and a few different cafes packed with businessmen and women on their lunch breaks.
Don’t get me wrong, spending the night at Khao San Road (the go-to backpacker strip), drinking mojito buckets and watching the blurry world go by is a night of regrets I always recommend to friends who visit the city - but a single night at that. To base your Bangkok experience solely off this location and others of the same variety is a mistake far too many travellers have made. Just remember to steer off-track into the less-populated districts, observe and chat to the beautiful people that crowd the streets, and soak in the cultural extremities right in front of you.