This is part of the Trip Report So Long Mongolia, Hello SE Asia (December-January 2015) which covers:
- Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
- Bangkok, Thailand
- Chiang Rai, Thailand
- Yangon, Myanmar
- Ngwe Saung, Myanmar
- Mandalay, Myanmar
- Bagan, Myanmar
- Hong Kong
- Orlando, Florida
Catch up by reading the preview, The Banana Pancake Trail to Myanmar Starts This Monday, then the overview, Thailand, Myanmar, Hong Kong, Disney, Home, where the game time decision was made to leave Mongolia for good.
In the words of Rafiki, “It is time.”
It is time for the Bangkok Travel Guide using the Guns & Butter methodology:
- A trip is composed of two factors: Labor And Lazy
- Anything on the line (Production Possibilities Frontier for my fellow economists) is an efficient use of your time depending on your tastes and preferences.
- Anything inside the line is inefficient as should be avoided.
- Anything outside is aspirational but may be impossible to do given the constraints of time and resources.
- The opportunity cost (what is given up) for relaxing and being Lazy is gained by being adventurous in the form of Labor and vice versa.
Welcome to Bangkok!
There are some cities whose names are captivating: Helsinki, Hong Kong, Rio De Janeiro but there is only one Bangkok. Bangkok is the gateway to SE Asia, the hub of debauchery, and a city with a darker side beyond its captivating hustle and bustle culture.
Today I will focus on what you must do, what you should do, and what you’ll want to avoid. But first I’ll start with something that I did not do because I was too wrapped up in the other three. Bangkok has many beautiful ancient temples that are certainly worth a visit but I won’t blame you if you missed them as I have done each time. This may sound brash and unsophisticated but there are plenty of temples for you to see in SE Asia so don’t think yourself an Ugly American or whatever your country of origin if you fall victim to Bangkok’s vices.
The Ping Pong Show
Now for what you should not do: First, the obvious that becomes blurred like a copyright infringing Thicke rendition of Marvin Gaye: don’t get arrested. Though I have no experience myself, Locked Up Abroad does not paint a pretty picture of Thai jails. Leave your drugs at home.
Next, don’t drink the mushroom shake! We’ll save that for Guns & Butter: Koh Phangan.
Finally, don’t go see a ping-pong show. From a human rights perspective, it is vile and disgusting. As far as a primitive form of entertainment, it will leave you disappointed.
Note: Those are the impressions of the anonymous that have attended. I am 100% opposed to it.
I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether it is reprehensible or simply good fun to go to the ladyboy show.
Khao San Road
Fresh shower, filth rinsed off, it is time to detail what you can’t miss in Bangkok. Bangkok is much more demanding than Vegas so it’s important to pace yourself and not consume more than 2 Thai Red Bulls in a given day. With that, our journey starts on Khao San Road whose literal translation is ‘notorious’ in English. Sure the seasoned, smug Bangkok traveler will tell you to avoid Khao San Road but that advice, especially for virgins, is like saying avoid The Strip.
Khao San has a lot to see: Doe-eyed backpackers, the cheapest street food vendors, and general craziness. Also, when the party shuts down in the rest of the city, the after party is just beginning in Khao San. Finally, the Burger King right around the corner is my favorite in the world. If you do want to stay right in the heart of the action, check out Sawasdee House which is a bar, restaurant, and upscale hostel that is never closed.
Tired of Khao San but not ready to retire from Bangkok? Move to Sukhumvit 11 home of my favorite place to stay, Aloft Bangkok. Sukhumvit Road goes jab for jab with Khao San in terms of lunacy. Head down Sukhumvit a couple blocks and you will assuredly run into the intersection that takes you to ‘The Adult’s Playground’ of Nana Plaza. (It’s right next to the JW Marriott and where you can find the ladyboy show!) Nana Plaza is worth a peak but seeing all the LBH sex tourists (losers back home) flirt with Thai women is revolting. Have they no shame?
In the morning, Sukhumvit is lined with food vendors selling breakfast. In the evening, it is lined with vendors selling adult toys. In the night, the street food comes out but I’ll get to that in a moment. Besides the enjoyment of watching crowds of people wandering to who knows where, Sukhumvit is interesting because it is a cultural melting pot. From Indian restaurants to Iraqi cuisine, Sukhumvit has it all. Go explore and taste everything.
Bangkok has great nightlife if and only if you know where to go. Taxi drivers know where they want to take you but that is not where you want to go. On a prior trip, a local had told us of a nightclub yet every taxi insisted that the club was closed. We jumped in and out from one taxi to the next and the message was the same: that club is closed. Was this a conspiracy among taxi drivers or was it indeed not open? Annoyed, we insisted taxi #235 take us to the address so we could see for ourselves. Reluctantly he did and wouldn’t you know it, the club was open and packed.
Don’t trust the Thai taxi driver. More on that below.
So where should you go that isn’t a hooker bar? Here is a working list that is subject to change but the point is there are normal places:
- RCA Area: Local college nightlife area with tons of bars and clubs. Route 66 is my favorite.
- Ku De Ta Bangkok: Right next to the nicest W hotel I’ve ever seen in the Shilom district.
- Street drinking down Khao San, Bourbon Street style.
- Thonglor District: Various upscale bars and clubs that require ID even if you’re COG (creepy old guy).
- Whip: The Sunday night spot that was far from closed.
- The Rule: Unless a local knows the bar, whether it be aThai local or expat, it is a hooker bar.
- Exception: Levels @Aloft: This place is both. Personally, I’d skip it because the drinks are expensive and the clientele can be questionable.
The Street Food
Bangkok has street food for all tastes. I’ll break it down into two categories: edible and inedible.
Let’s start with inedible to ruin your appetite. Here are pics taken on Khao San Road of the sickest ish I will never try.
Why do tourists come to Bangkok? For delicious, inexpensive pad thai. The pad thai on Khao San is better and cheaper than anywhere else.
But besides pad thai there is great shawarma, insane fried chicken, and other Thai delights for which I do not know the name. Though you can’t walk and enjoy Tom Yum soup, it still falls under the street food umbrellas since street kitchens make incomparable Tom Yum in heavenly portions. (Lookout pho, you have a competitor.)
The Tuk Tuk
The graph above bends towards laziness with the next must do activity, taking a tuk tuk. This is true on paper. A tuk tuk is an excitebike rickshaw that can get you around Bangkok. The tuk tuk experience takes you back in time making you feel like a member of the landed gentry as you are elegantly transported to your destination.
That’s the fanciful view of tuk tuks. The reality is that a tuk tuk is a noisy, pollutant spraying, hardly safe, and generally overpriced method of transportation.
Note #1: Do not pay more than 100 Thai Baht to take a tuk tuk from Sukhumvit to Khao San. They will try to charge 200-300 Baht. Say no thank you or another expletive and find a taxi.
Note #2: Again, I have to point out that you should be aware of taxis. If the driver does not turn on the meter and you try to use my trick of turning it on yourself and are rebuffed, get out of the cab.
“Traffic jam boss,” is not a valid reason for getting ripped off.
Note #3: If you do find a taxi that is on the meter you will notice that Bangkok has some of the cheapest taxis in the world.
Thong Lor & Shilom
I mentioned Thong Lor and Shilom above as a great place for nightlife. It is also a great place to have a nice dinner and take a break from berserk Bangkok and see an area that a lucky expat wouldn’t mind calling home. I do not have exact coordinates for where to go in Thong Lor but this should get you on your way:
- Take the BTS (Bangkok Mass Transit System) to Thong Lor. Exit, go down the stairs, and ask one of the motorbike drivers to take you Thonglor Soi 16. That’s the main shopping area and tourist meet up spot for the House of Beers. Along the way, you’ll see nice bars and restaurants so tap your driver gently on the shoulder and tell him to stop. The cost should not be more than 20-30 Baht.
Shilom like Thong Lor is quite posh. Besides Ku De Tah, not much is happening at night though it is worth seeing in the day as it is the business district.
Enough! I’m Bangkok-ed out.
Now you know why the song is titled One Night in Bangkok. I’m sure you are lamenting the unwise decision to spend 5 nights in this city either on the front-end or back-end of your trip. If you do the former, then you’ll need 4 Thai Red Bulls to get you through the full moon party. If you do it on the latter, then it won’t matter if you aren’t flying Cathay First back home as you’ll perfect the Kama Sutra of Airplane Sleep without needing to peruse this tutorial.
Your only saving grace is unwinding at the Aloft pool. It may not have sun but who cares following that beat down in Bangkok.