So you’ve arrived at Bangkok’s Suvarnabumi Airport, collected your bags and need a taxi. Follow the signs to the lower level, give the assistant at the counter your address and you’ll be allocated a metered taxi. The deal is, the driver uses the meter and you pay him an airport levy of 50 baht on top of the fare. No need to haggle over price after a long flight. You will also have to pay the tolls so remember to get some baht before you jump in the taxi queue.
The bright lights of downtown Bangkok beckon as you speed along the highway. You’re headed for a hotel around Asok, there are plenty to choose from on Sukhumvit Road; The Sheraton Grande, the Westin Grande and Grande Centrepoint attached to Terminal 21 Shopping Mall. The Park Plaza is around the corner on Ratchadapisek Road, Tune Hotel is on Sukhumvit Soi 14, The Taipan on Soi 23, Ramada on Soi 12, the list goes on. All hotels mentioned are a quick walk to the Asok BTS station which is also the interchange station for the MRT at Sukhumvit station. This is public transport paradise. Of course you can always climb back in a cab but the traffic is notoriously heavy around this area and you really don’t need to go that far. Grab a motorcycle taxi for short rides or a tuk tuk if the trip is a bit longer. The motorcycle taxis all wear orange vests and sit together at street corners so if your legs are a little weary grab one to get you to the end of a long Soi.
You’ll need to do a little shopping so hit the streets in the evening. Sukhumvit Road at Soi 17 becomes a street market all the way down to Soi 11. Buy clothing, Thai souvenirs, mobile phone accessories and all manner of odd little trinkets, like scorpions framed behind glass! There’s also plenty of luggage if you need an extra bag for your purchases.
Robinson’s Department store on Soi 17 (next to the golden arches), has a fairly good range of clothing, accessories, footwear and underwear so if you’ve forgotten anything you should find it here. There’s a Tops Supermarket in the basement for anything else you’ve left behind. Moving along to Terminal 21 and entering through mock airport security you can visit London, Paris, Istanbul, San Francisco and the Caribbean by simply using the escalators. San Francisco is on level 5 and is basically all food. Something like 50 outlets and then there’s the food court. The food court, am I really going to say this? It’s excellent quality and really well priced! If you just want a quick snack though head lower ground to the Caribbean themed basement to get sticks, buns, pies, pizza and faster snack food. Mind you, if you can hold out for a snack, a more authentic experience is to visit the street vendors outside.
Anything goes on a stick; octopus, sausages, pork balls, bananas, there’s plenty of variety, so try a few! You can even get sticks of parson’s noses (chicken bums), the best part of the chook IMHO. Look for the busiest vendors with the highest turnover, just in case. While you’re strolling the main drag of Sukhumvit Road, take a peek down the Sois as you go. Soi 12 has an excellent vendor for Kor Moo Yang or char-grilled pork neck and his spicy Som Tam or green papaya salad is excellent. If you don’t like it hot get in quick and you can choose your own birds eye chili. Nui makes it from scratch so take a plastic seat and have a beer while you wait. His keg on the street is a venue for some of the local expats in the area and its always ice cold. You can Dine in or take away from Nui.
Further down Soi 12 is Cabbages and Condoms, famous in Thailand and the world over for being a symbol of the work Mechai Viravaidya has relentlessly pursued in family planning and poverty alleviation. He is the chair of the Population and Community Development Association (PDA) who operate programs for the rural poor such as mobile health clinics, free vasectomies, village income generation programs and environmental education programs. Providing the Thai people with the tools to improve their understanding and quality of life has been Mechai’s goal for 30 odd years. Widely referred to as the Condom King, Mechai is synonymous with the rubber sheath and as a result, a condom in Thailand is referred to as a ‘Mechai’. Aside from all that the food is great. They have farms providing the produce for the restaurant, cook books to help you learn to make their signature dishes and it’s worth a visit just for the clever condom craft. A serious subject presented with a sense of humour.
If you’re staying at the Ramada on Soi 12 and have an early flight tomorrow you could wander back there and have a night cap by the pool. However, if your night is not yet over, then head to Sunrise Tacos for a jug of frozen margarita or its neighbour V8 Diner. Run separately but both open 24 hours, they have been an institution in the area. The owner of the building is in negotiations to redevelop, but a couple of tenants still have lengthy leases and have invested large sums in their venues. At time of posting, grabbing a drink at Sunrise or V8 Diner is still a safe bet but may not be for too much longer.
Feel like dancing but can’t be knackered walking to the clubs on Soi 11? Then pop in behind V8 Diner to Insanity (previously Insomnia) and see who’s there. Drinks are not cheap so if you’re planning on staying a while buy the bottle of spirits option with the mixers, you’ll have time to drink it, Thursday, Friday and Saturday they’re open til sun up.
Not in the mood for Soi 12 and just want a cool casual bar and restaurant then Hemingway’s on Soi 14 is your destination. Built in the 1920s the teak mansion has a range of spaces to explore. The main entrance bar and restaurant, outdoor tropical garden, upstairs deck and restaurant and the jungle inspired corner bar offer somewhere for everyone to settle depending on the mood. Food is served from 11:30am daily and continues til late.
Across the road from Hemingway’s on Soi 14 is another local Thai restaurant with excellent food and is always packed, so if you haven’t eaten Thai on your one night in Bangkok then you could finish your pint at Hemingway’s and pop across for a curry. Hemingway’s isn’t going anywhere and could probably provide a fresh one when you return.
Cross busy Ratchadapisek (or Soi 21 or Asok Road, it’s all the same) on the elevated walk way and exit at Exchange Tower, turn left up Ratchada to Soi 16 and begin your evening on a high note. Long Table, on the 25th floor of Column Tower offers a roof pool bar with a great view, cocktails, small plates and a la carte dining. I suggest cocktails, Long Table bar opens at 5pm, take in the view, even enjoy some small plates but for dinner go to Balee Laos.
Balee Laos is quite a way down Soi 16 so when you’re ready to move from Long Table take the short walk back to the motorcycle taxis and hop on the back. 20 baht will get you there and they all know where they’re going so don’t worry. Balee Laos is Laotian and Eastern Thai cuisine. Spicy and delicious. The relaxed outdoor area is lovely on a balmy Bangkok evening and they have a decent wine list, some nights offering discounted wines. Try the minced grilled catfish salad, Isaan style (spicy) jumbo prawns, Grilled pork on the hot plate and you have to try the spicy jungle curry, you can choose your protein. The food is excellent along with the service.
That night cap, it gets you every time doesn’t it, well there’s somewhere very close to Balee Laos. Bar 23 is a little hidden gem across the road about 50 metres away. Keep an eye out for the brightly lit 23 above the heavy door. Inside its an indie warehouse feel and the owner is usually spinning discs while serving drinks. Bar staff are incredibly friendly, instantly making everyone feel like locals. Cocktails are mixed with enthusiasm and at a very acceptable price, 200 baht when I was there last. You wont hear rap, hip hop or trance from the speakers and there’s no apology for that. The music is fun, eclectic, garagie with surprises from the past. Time passes quickly but the staff will help you on your way when its time for them to close.
Bangkok is notorious for it’s gogo bars and one well known street is right by Asok intersection running from Asok Road through to Soi 23. Soi Cowboy has far too many bars to choose from but you have to in order to avoid being torn limb from limb. Up for a sailor’s outfit, a very short, very revealing sailor’s outfit or hang it, what about a gold lamé bikini? The usuals are on the menu; ping pong balls, cigarette smoking, girl on girl, there’s something for everyone. Just remember, nothing is free, tips are expected and Mamasan doesn’t miss a trick. Pardon the pun.
So that was a big night and you didn’t go much further than a block from your hotel. That’s the beauty of Bangkok, you don’t need to go far for everything you need. If you’re feeling ok this morning but need to sweat it out a bit why not go for a run? Your hotel likely has a gym but Queen Sirikit Park has a lovely running track and once inside the grounds running around the lake is a wonderful experience. The gardens are maintained beautifully with indigenous flowering plants, you can hear the birds and at times it is hard to believe you are in the centre of bustling Bangkok.
Not that energetic, then how about a massage? Lavana Spa on Soi 12 is a very calm and inviting spa with a menu featuring facials, body scrubs and other treatments in addition to massage. Welcomed with tea and a foot shower before being taken to your private room the experience ends with more tea and a junior home made ice cream, I know, just a little special. Very clean, well presented and so relaxing. Lavana gets very busy so booking is a good idea but you can also try the King and I, on Soi 12. It’s less special than Lavana but has many rooms, it’s no fuss and I can recommend the foot massage. Back at your hotel some quiet time by the pool is in order, you deserve it.
There will be more on other fabulous areas of Bangkok, a city we love….