5 Days in Bangkok…Chow’s Retirement Party
Bangkok – you are beguiling, bewildering, subtle, brash, sensual, and spiritual. You gave me a run for my money and are an intriguing city. Your glittering temples, saffron-robed monks, gourmet food, food stalls, crazy cabbies, ‘bargaining’, hustle and vibrancy made you one of my favorite cities ever.
Side note: My best friend, Linda Gomes, has always been the Alan to my Chow (read: Hangover characters). We are lovable misfits that just do crazy things together (give me some sugar!). On this adventure to Bangkok (remember Chow’s appearance in Hangover 2?), I was determined to retire this alter-ego in true fashion – I had 5 days. This leg of the trip was gonna be my wheelhouse!
- Currency: Baht
- Tipping: Not necessary, but 10% appreciated.
- Respect the Food:
- Must have: Phat Thai (Thai Fry), Sticky Rice, Tom Yam Kung (Signature dish – hot & spicy soup with chili, lemongrass and galangal served with prawns/seafood), Drunken Noodles, Tom Kha Gai (my favorite coconut soup with chicken).
- Enjoy the spices in every meal – the flavors are bold and explosive.
- Misc: Never insult the royal family, appropriate attire (covered shoulders, remove shoes) in temples, Lady Boys are real, Thai massages are heavenly.
- Basic Language:
- Hello: sa wut dee
- Good Bye: lah gorn na
- Thank You: korp-kOOn
- Yes/No: chai / mai chai
- I don’t speak Thai: poot pah sah tai mai bpen
- Temple Attire Rules
- No short skirts and shorts or even shortened trousers (you should always wear full length). Skirts that fall below the knee are permitted.
- No tight fitting trousers such as leggings.
- No clothing that has holes in, such as ripped jeans.
- No vests or any top without sleeves, you can wear t-shirts.
- No tops with sleeves rolled up, even if it’s warm keep your sleeves down.
- No sportswear of any type
- No sweat shirts or sweat pants.
- Perhaps unexpectedly you can wear sandals and flip-flops (in a suitable design) but it’s best to wear full shoes for comfort when you’re walking around.
- Bangkok earned the biggest traffic jam award recently – there was never a day/time without traffic. LA you’ve got nothing on this city.
- Taxis: Their hustle and rudeness was legendary. Make sure they use the meter.
- Tuk Tuks: An experience in itself, and one you must try. Negotiate the price before the journey begins. There are no seat belts so hold on for dear life.
- Boat: There are water taxis and many of the hotels located on the Chao Phraya River (River of Kings) provide free boat service. This was a godsend for us while staying at The Peninsula.
- BTS Sky Train (above ground subway): Efficient, safe and convenient mode of transport.
We learned very quickly that Bangkok lives up to its reputation. It’s cultural, sexy, hard, manipulative, and it tested every sense Keith and I had. It was one of the most memorable cities I’ve visited for good and bad. Be wary of the scams though – here’s a list to prepare if you go.
Classic Brielle Moment: Totally got bamboozined – #6 Scam got me good. I heard of the Somboon Seafood Chain and wanted to try. Well, trusting our cab driver and not remembering the exact spelling, we wound up at Somboondee Seafood Market. Upon leaving, we took a taxi back to our hotel in the pouring rain. As if we needed more drama that day, we both looked at the medallion (picture of a man) and it was a woman driving. After about an hour drive with the meter running, we made it home safely and agreed we would better map our destinations moving forward because our trust level was going down.
- The Peninsula Hotel: One of the greatest hotel experiences ever. It was a spiritual, physical and mental oasis for us every day. The amenities were fantastic, the service went above and beyond…
- Anusan at the Concierge was a life-savor.
- Thiptara Thai Restaurant (at Peninsula Hotel): Try everything on the menu. The flavors were explosions in your mouth – truly unforgettable.
- Sala Rim Naam (at Mandarin Oriental Hotel): Think dinner theater. Take in a cultural show accompanied by a gourmet dinner.
- Terrace Rim Naam (at Mandarin Oriental Hotel): Lon Poo Talay was outstanding.
- Saffron (52nd Floor at Banyan Tree Hotel): Exquisite Thai dishes. There is also a dazzling cityscape from the 61st floor at the Moon Bar.
- Hard Rock Café: Had to go and get my Hard Rock Bangkok shirt in honor of Chow.
- Smoking Pug BBQ (http://www.smokinpugbbq.com): Danny and Dana are a husband and wife team that opened this slow-cooked Texas-style BBQ restaurant. This was a godsend for Keith and I when we were itching for familiar American food. We stumbled upon it while in starvation mode and knew it was meant to be when we saw the name – the featured black pug made us think and miss Rambo. The BBQ and fried chicken were delicious.
- Sirocco: Situated halfway to heaven, this is a pretty amazing place for a meal (Italian) at the State Tower. The views are exquisite.
- Blue Elephant: Royal Thai cuisine
- Next2 Cafe (at the Shangri-La Hotel): Bangkok’s famous buffet (yeah, we found it) in a prime riverside setting. Market-style spread of various regional, along with Continental and Asian à la carte menus. It received the Editor’s Choice Award for “Bangkok’s Best Restaurant – Buffet Category” by Bangkok Best Dining & Entertainment Magazine for four consecutive years. Amazing ribs and the coconut soup was so rich and flavorful.
- The Bar (in Peninsula): Chay the bartender was terrific. Remembered our cocktail orders and was so friendly. Can we say delicious bar snacks!
- Sky Bar: The scene of Chow / Hangover, and a spectacular panoramic view from the 64th floor of the State Tower. They even have a Hangover-tini.
- Silom Area: Patpong Road – it is everything they say…and more. Those are ‘off-line’ stories.
- Soi’s = Sub Streets
- Sukhumvit: Soi Cowboy (street where Hangover was filmed)
- Tapas: Bangkok’s beautiful people with good food and drink
- E book walking tour link: Bangkok Walking Tour
- Chinatown is home to many examples of the architecture of Bangkok’s early years. About 14% of the buildings in the district have been designated as historical landmarks. Most of them are off on side streets. One of the most well-known is the is the Tang To Gung gold shop on Sampaeng Lane around Mangkon Road.
- Sampaeng Lane: Chinatown’s original main street is a small narrow alley which runs from the Phahurat Market all the way down to Songsawat Road. The lane is too small for cars, and is now a crowded market selling mostly inexpensive household items. Near the Tang To Gung gold shop is a very old Chinese pharmacy that is definitely worth a look.
- Thieves Market: I think this is self-explanatory…only in this city.
- Phahurat Market: The market is home to a huge number of stalls.
- Day Trip to Ayutthaya: The Peninsula Concierge set up our private tour. From the 14th century onwards, Ayutthaya was the capital of an independent kingdom until the city was sacked by the Burmese. It is now UNESCO World Heritage site. This ancient city transports you back to the splendor of the former capital.
- Aside from Keith and I living out Kickboxer and Mortal Combat moments, we were captivated by the architecture, history and artifacts. The Buddha’s head encased in a Banyan Tree was surreal.
- Wat Arun: Under construction. Named for Aruna, the Indian God of Dawn, it translates into Temple of the Dawn. It has 5 distinctive prang (towers) made of colorful broken porcelain, which are used as a logo of the city.
- Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo: Give yourself 2 hours to walk around. Make sure to follow the attire recommendations. This is a dazzling complex of Thai religious art and architecture featuring over 100 temples. Rama I established this as Bangkok capital in 1782. It houses the country’s most precious Buddha image.
- Wat Phra Kaew – Home of the Emerald Buddha: The Emerald Buddha is made of jadeite rather than emerald. It is the most sacred image in the kingdom, and is only 26 inches tall. The Buddha is adorned in seasonal attire. For our visit it was summer. Classic Keith Moment: We went into the temple (remove shoes, can’t take pics – although I snapped one from outside and added a google image shot so you could see what the little guy looks like). Keith goes through all the motions: kneels, bows, prays. We leave and I’m feeling blessed. At dinner later that evening, I go “Wasn’t the Emerald Buddha amazing?” His response? “We saw him? When?” To which I replied, “When we went in the temple, you removed your shoes, kneeled and prayed?! How did you not see him?” I laughed so hard. I guess because he’s so small Keith was overwhelmed by all the other decor…OR, he simply was not paying attention.
- Wat Pho: Bangkok’s oldest and biggest temple with the Reclining Buddha (symbolizes his arrival at Nirvana) and the Thai massage school – WATPO
- Thai Massages: In my life, I have never had a massage like this. The stretching & precision… it was the most intentional massage I’ve ever had: 2 hours = $15USD. How can you beat that? I had one everyday.
- Where I went: Serene Spa and WATPO Thai Massage School: Not easy to locate. It’s behind the Wat Pho temple (Reclining Buddha).
- Heard these were also great:
- Ruen nuad massage studio
- Change Foot Massage and Spa
- Health Land: the Walmart of massages
- *Perception Blind Massage: Launched in December 2014, it offers Thai massage while providing employment for blind or visually impaired therapists. Perception let’s the therapists demonstrate their unique talent for massage therapy showcasing their sense of touch in a way others cannot. http://www.perceptionblindmassage.com/aboutus
- Rajadamnern Boxing Stadium: In Thai, it’s translated to Sanam Muay Rajadamnern, an indoor sporting arena. Along with Lumpinee Stadium, the Rajadamnern is one of the two main stadiums for modern Muay Thai. If you want an evening of exotic, violent, raw, oriental entertainment, sit ring side for a boxing match. This national sport with the punching, kicking and Thai spectators is a spectacle. There are traditional dances performed by the boxers accompanied by wailing instruments before each match. Watching this made me want to go back to karate again.
- Chatuchak Weekend Market: The mother of all markets – Bangkok’s biggest market held every Saturday and Sunday – you can find anything here. With over 15,000 stalls and products grouped into easy to navigate sections, it’s a shopaholic’s paradise. Had so much fun haggling and buying everything from the most fragrant soaps, to spices, to shorts!
- Bang Pa-In Royal Palace, also known as the Summer Palace, is a palace complex formerly used by the Thai kings. It lies beside the Chao Phraya River in the Bag Pa-In district, Ayutthaya Province. It pays homage to King Rama 5’s love for international influence. (He was the son of the King Rama 4 – the King and I!)
- Asiatique: It’s a 29 acre extravaganza – formerly the trading port and warehouse site of the East Asiatic Company. It’s a remarkable riverside destination of boutiques, cheerful restaurants and entertainment outlets. We had dinner at Why97 Pub and Restaurant. Gim, our server, was a clever, smart-ass, entertaining person.
- Baiyoke Tower: Bangkok’s hightest bar, The Rooftop Bar, is in its tallest building.
- To Buy: Jim Thompson Thai Silk anything!
- Enjoy a cruise up the Chao Phraya River or a boat ride up one of the canals – the 3rd pic is of their convenient store(!)
- Amulet Market: Pick up a talisman.
- Snake Farm: Watch snake venom being extracted.
- Silom – Thailand’s ‘Wall Street’ is by day a place of financial institutions, law firms and multinational corporations. By night however, Silom slips out of its suit, transforming into a bustling shopping street and frenetically paced hedonist’s playground. Alongside a cramped but creatively stocked night market (think bootleg DVDs, tourist trinkets, T-shirts, fake watches), sit some of the city’s most renowned and raucous streets, namely red-light district Patpong, Soi 2 and Soi 4.
- Soi 2 and 4 present Bangkok’s most noticeable gay scene with the former being home to the huge DJ Station club and the latter presenting around a dozen fun, laidback and undeniably camp bars. Walk three minutes to Patpong or Soi 6 and it’s a completely different story; most of the bars here are all about the go-go dancers, with things becoming more X-rated if you head upstairs. For cleaner fun, try Soi 4, head up to the stunning Cloud 47 rooftop bar on the main Silom strip, or venture further west towards the river to find an all-time favourite Bangkok bar, the inimitable Maggie Choos.
- Fish Spa: While not legal in the U.S. whenever Keith and I go overseas we get this done. Fish spa treatment basically involves customers placing their feet into a water tank filled with toothless garra rufa fish – also known as “doctor fish”. Within seconds, an army of fish will gather at the customer’s feet and nibble the dead skin tissue away.
Bangkok in summary? How I loved it. It’s so teeming with everything that should be forbidden: the Muay Thai fighting, it’s so provocative, the environmental management arrangements, the continual attention of con-artists and snatch-theives, quaint local customs, a glittering and tortuous history, bewildering architecture and flavors that will spike all you senses.
As the ‘One Night in Bangkok’ song goes:
…And we had 4 nights…