This is the third instalment in a series recounting my visit to Bangkok in 2012 (click here for part one, and here for part two). Bangkok is such a fun city, and although it has changed a lot in recent years, there is still much fun to be had. Bangkokians know how to have a good time, and so of course I decided to sample the nightlife – both cultural and recreational – to form an opinion. Don’t worry, I know what you’re thinking – and yes, this article is suitable for work!
On a Friday night I met up with a friend to watch a muay thai boxing match. For the uninitiated, muay thai is Thailand’s form of kickboxing, and it draws whooping and whistling crowds in every weekend. It doesn’t get much more Thai then being part of an audience at a muay thai match – for my friend (a Thai, who was very enthused at my interest in the sport), it was
like my parents taking a foreign guest along to an AFL game. Muay thai is sort of like a crude form of judo, only in an American-style boxing ring. It’s also much rougher than judo – the winner is the person who manages to kick his opponent in the guts hard enough that he can’t carry on. If the two survive to the end of five rounds, the stronger contender is selected by judges. Needless to say, it’s not for the faint of heart, but simply being in the arena was a thrilling experience. A personal highlight was the interpretive dance which preceded each match. The two boxers would prance around each other in a kind of haka-style homage to their trainers. We witnessed this gentle, synchronized, almost elegant dance ten times in the evening, before the pair went on to kick the shit out of each other.
Later in the night I took a stroll down Soi Path Pong, better known as just “Patpong” -Bangkok’s infamous red-light district. Naturally I wasn’t there to participate, and that says a lot, because an area as famous as Patpong attracts tourists who go there simply out of interest. As such, while the famous ‘ping pong shows’ still go on, much of it is apparently put on for tourists, while the actual ‘action’ has long since moved on to another seedy part of town. I walked past a few clubs and could see lots of scantily dressed, thin-as-a-rake girls standing on table tops inside looking disinterested. The couple of women who were standing on tables featuring poles were hanging around them as if waiting for the bus. I wasn’t going to shell out the 500 bhat ($15) entrance fee for that, much less to sit there on my own and watch it, so I carried on down the soi. ‘Soi’ is Thai for ‘laneway’, and these make up a big part of Bangkok’s directions. Often, when giving directions to a taxi driver, people will tell him the main street (say, “Silom Rd”), to which he would reply “Which Soi?”. The Sois are numbered, and therefore dictate which end of a road you’re going to. So the address “5 Silom 7” is House Number 5, on the 7th lane off Silom Road. It’s baffling at first, but easy once you get the hang of it.
Saturday morning I took a tour bus out to Nakkon Pathom to visit Bangkok’s famous ‘floating markets’. I had woken up by the time the bus arrived at the network of canals, which is one of a handful of surviving examples of how business was once done throughout much of Thailand. As such, it’s all very contrived and touristy – lots of camera-clad foreigners clambering into wooden longboats to experience life as it once was – and I was gladly a part of it! As our boat paddled along, other boats sidled up next to us to display their wares. Occasionally one would reach out with a hook on a stick, dragging our boat to
them, or their boat nearer to ours, depending on weight. More than occasionally our boat got sandwiched between two other boats. We were never stuck however – a combination of the boat design and our self-described “chauffeur’s” skills saw to it that we slipped out the end and on to another stall. Although I wasn’t going to buy anything, I was constantly surprised by the variety of products on offer, much as I was on Khao San Road two nights earlier. Socks, stir-fried noodles (stir-fried on the boat), suits, coconuts, ice creams, beer, souvenirs, shoes, shampoo… it was literally a floating supermarket. I grabbed a young coconut for drinking, and sipped that through the journey. I also couldn’t say no to homemade coconut ice cream – served in a cup in small penny-sized scoops with a drizzle of condensed milk. Yum! The good food theme was continued that afternoon when I caught up with one more friend of mine. We went to a Thai-Italian fusion restaurant, a style of cuisine which was apparently all the rage in Bangkok at that time. Think seafood pasta in a spicy Thai basil sauce, coriander-pesto smoked salmon, and dried prawn and pomelo salad (amazing!).
When to go
December and January – it won’t be too rainy, or too hot, although you will have to share the sights with sundry other holidaymakers. The middle of the year can get very hot and humid.
Culture shock: 5/10
Language difficulty: 4/10
Quality of food: 9/10
Physical demand: 3/10
Advice and warnings
The usual precautions apply – no walking alone at night if you can help it, keep a close eye on your valuables, etc. Be aware of pickpockets, especially in crowded places. Check Smart Traveller or the British Foreign Office for more comprehensive warnings.
Most Australian passport holders are eligible for a 30-day visa on arrival, free of charge at Bangkok’s airports. Pakistanis must apply to the Royal Thai Embassy in Islamabad; visas cost PKR 4000 and take at least four working days to process. See the website for the list of documents required. Indian passport holders are eligible for a 15-day visa on arrival so long as they can produce the necessary documents on arrival at the airport in Bangkok. For stays longer than 15 days, Chennaikers may contact the Royal Thai Consulate – General in Chennai.
Getting there and around
THAI flies to Bangkok at least once daily from each of Melbourne, Lahore, Sydney and Chennai. All THAI flights arrive and depart from Survanabhumi International Airport (Bangkok’s main airport).
Melbourne (from $1079 return)
Lahore (from PKR 61,759 return)
Sydney (from $1096 return)
Chennai (from INR 23,306 return)
Discount airline Air Asia flies from Melbourne to Bangkok via Kuala Lumpur from $513 return, while Sydney to Bangkok via Kuala Lumpur is from $547 return. Air Asia flies directly from Chennai to Bangkok from INR 10,826 return. Note that Air Asia uses Don Mueang Airport in Bangkok, the older airport which is now popular with discount airlines. Discount airline Jetstar flies directly from Melbourne to Bangkok with fares starting from $563 return. They operate into the main Bangkok airport at Survarnabhumi.
Taxis in Bangkok are cheap, plentiful and should be metered – if not, then ask the driver to flick it on and they usually oblige. Occasionally a flat rate will be asked for during peak hours – it’s normally around the same, but feel free to shop around if you think you’re being ripped off. The BTS Skytrain and the underground metro system are both excellent, but not really useful for the old city – much better for the shopping areas. To get along the river, consider a riverboat – it’s cheap, scenic, and beats the traffic jams on the roads.