Guide to Bangkok by Grantourismo

From Australia we flew to Thailand’s capital Bangkok – which Aussies lovingly refer to as ‘Bangers’ these days, such is their familiarity with the place, one of Australians’ favourite destinations. We spend a lot of time there for work and know the city intimately, so we thought we’d bring you a guide to Bangkok, with a local theme.

DO After a sweaty day’s sightseeing at the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, Wat Arun, and all the other glittering temples for which Bangkok is famous, you’ll be dripping with sweat and dying for somewhere to sit back, catch your breath, and cool off. Head to these Bangkok’s parks for an insight into everyday life, as well as a rest: Lumphini Park is the city’s largest park and is as fascinating and full of life as Sydney’s Centennial Park or London’s Hyde Park. Locals practice tai chi, work out at the outdoor gym, and do yoga, ballroom dancing and aerobics classes. Benjakiti Park is a perfect spot for a breath of fresh air if you’re near Asok BTS station. Boasting jogging and bike tracks, directional arrows, and signs measuring the distance of how far you’ve walked, it’s beloved by fitness fanatics. The swan-shaped pedal boats are kept busy with locals out for some fun. Adjacent to Emporium Mall, Benjasiri Park is the spot to head when you’ve had enough fluoro lights and air-conditioning. Featuring sculptures by renowned Thai artists, there’s a skate park, and markets, concerts and festivals are held here sometimes. When the crowds and stresses of shopping Bangkok’s busy Chatuchak Market become too much, relax on the manicured lawns between the market and train station. With stalls lining the rim of the park it’s an ideal spot for a mid-shopping snack or lunch break.

SHOP In most cities, the last place we’d recommend you go is a shopping mall, but Bangkok has some of the world’s best malls. The swankiest is Siam Paragon (BTS Siam), a swish mega-mall that has something for everyone, from Paragon department store and designer boutiques, from Prada to Pucci, to lots of shops selling Apple laptops and gadgets, bookshops, and even car showrooms! There are also cinemas, an aquarium and bowling alley, and on the lower ground floors some of the city’s best mall eating. Next door, Siam Centre, which has just been renovated, is where you’ll find Bangkok’s hippest clothing boutiques, including scores of Thai fashion designers, including FLYNOW, Theatre, Tube Gallery, Wonder Anatomie, Tipayaphongpoosanaphong, Greyhound/Playground, and Palette. A little further down the street, MBK (BTS National Stadium) is the place to shop before you go travelling for cameras and cheap electronics and especially before heading to the beach, for the hippy tie-dyed dresses, Singha beer t-shirts, gem encrusted flip flops, it’s all here. It’s also the place most travellers head before going home – for cheap luggage to carry home everything they bought on their trip.

BARGAIN Bangkok is home to countless markets but our favourite is sprawling Chatuchak Market or JJ Market. A trip to Chatuchak Market is as much about the atmosphere as the shopping. Puppy-hugging hipsters, banjo-plucking cowboys, lipstick-wearing coffee pourers, and Birkenstock-clad tourists are all here. Along with plenty of eateries serving tasty Thai food, countless shops selling funky home-grown fashion, the largest range of Thai handicrafts and souvenirs in Bangkok, along with a few cool bars that come alive after dark, such as VIVA (Section 8, close to Gate #2) a stylish interior décor store. For shopping, my favourite bits of the market are Sections 24 and 23 for little shops selling cool clothes, shoes, accessories, bags, and jewellery. Just don’t forget to bargain! If you do stick around for a drink, you’ll see young Thai hipsters arriving at around 5pm to sell their wares, spreading out sheets on the bitumen to sell everything from screen-printed t-shirts they’ve made themselves to counterfeit Polo shirts and knock-off sunglasses.

BUY When it comes to souvenirs, we always like to recommend Thai made gifts. Jim Thompson is the place to head for Thai Silk but I like to go to Exotique Thai, a big beautiful store in Siam Paragon (fourth floor) for exquisite Thai-made handicrafts and gifts. Must-buys include fragrant Harnn and Thann home spa products, essential oils, and incense; Tichaa organic teas and tea sets; Vuudh aromatic candles, charms and sachets; colourful Rapeeleela placemats made from palm leaves, sea-grass, and hyacinth; and silk scarves and colourful baskets. In Siam Discovery Centre (BTS National Stadium), Propaganda has kooky, colourful Philippe Starck-like Thai-designed gifts, knick-knacks and accessories. Their iconic piece is the Mr P Table Lamp by their main designer Chaiyuth Plypetch. If you can’t carry a lamp home, they have cute lightweight corkscrews, bottle openers, and swizzle sticks. In the same mall, LOFT is a one-stop-shop for all kinds of quirky and kitschy gifts, gadgets and gizmos from all over Asia, including lots of Japanese trinkets.

EAT Bangkok is one of the world’s best eating cities with brilliant, cheap street food to be found all over the city, as well as superb restaurants. As it’s impossible to provide a guide to the city’s best restaurants – there are just so many – we thought we’d focus on the best Thai restaurants. Set in a beautiful 1920s two-storey Thai house amidst tropical gardens, Issaya Siamese Club (4 Soi Sri Aksorn, Chua Ploeng Road, Sathorn) is where you should dine if you only have time for one meal. Here, the country’s finest Thai chef, Ian Kittichai, delivers delicious creative cuisine inspired by the dishes of his childhood, his mum’s home cooking, market fresh produce, and his global travels. Order the sublime Massaman curry. The Aussie master of Thai cuisine, David Thompson, seeks his inspiration from old Thai cookbooks, serving up some of the most authentic Thai food you’ll find in Bangkok at Nahm (Metropolitan Hotel, 27 South Sathorn Road, Sathorn). Be daring and try the fermented fish with prawns and pork. Another Aussie, chef Dylan Jones and his Thai chef wife Bo, run Bo.lan (42 Soi Pichai Ronnarong Songkram, Sukhumvit 26), an intimate restaurant in a renovated old Thai house. Like Thompson, they are uncompromising and committed to authentic flavours. Have for the ‘Bo.lan Balance’ 10-course tasting menu. A Thai-style take on a Japanese izakaya, American food writer Jarret Wrisley’s Soul Food Mahanakorn (56/10 Sukhumvit Soi 55, Thong Lor) is the spot for sublime street food-inspired Thai food, killer cocktails and a superb soundtrack. Try the nam prik pao (Thai chilli relish) and smoked duck larb (a warm minced duck salad).

DRINK Much more interesting than Bangkok’s glam rooftop bars that travel magazines continually write about are the local neighbourhood bars. With a quirky sense of style that’s uniquely Thai, cool soundtracks, affordable drinks, and fascinating people watching, these drinking spots are much more fun than expensive hotel bars. While Soul Food Mahanakorn, above, is a restaurant, it also does some of Bangkok’s best Asian-inspired cocktails, which you can sip while snacking tapas-style at the bar. Try the delicious lemongrass daiquiri. The cocktails at Happy Monday (Soi 10, Sukhimvit 63, Ekamai) won’t win awards for creativity, but we love the living room vibe, laidback clientele, and great music (the owners are musicians). Try the tropical-flavoured Happy Monday, with Malibu and pineapple juice. One of Bangkok’s most chilled bars, Tuba (Soi 21, Sukhumvit 63, Ekamai) is decorated with funky retro furniture, all for sale, and has a pool table and plenty of cosy spots for quiet conversation. Located in an old shophouse on a quiet lane, Shades of Retro (Soi Thararom 2, b/w Soi 16 and Soi 18, Sukhumvit Soi 55, Thong Lor) is another low-key bar furnished with vintage décor like vinyl records and colourful glass vases, with great music and good cocktails. A narrow, dimly lit bar with an iron staircase to nowhere, The Iron Fairies (394 Sukhumvit Soi 55, Thong Lor) is a blacksmith’s shop by day where owner Ashley Sutton, a former Western Australian miner and kid’s book author, makes tiny iron fairies and other curios. At night, it’s a bar with a resident jazz band. Cool and low-key, with an arty vibe, WTF (7 Sukhumvit Soi 51) is ran by four Thai and expat friends, all creative-types. There’s a gallery upstairs and regular exhibition openings and special events, like pop-up dinners and poetry readings. Try The Orchard, made with gin, lychee, lemongrass, lime and soda.

This post was written by our Lara Dunston and Terence Carter of http://grantourismotravels.com. We would like to thank Lara and Terence very much for sharing their passion for travel. If you would like to contribute to our blog by sharing your travel experiences with us, please contact us at info@insureandgo.com.au.

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Places: Thailand