When I tell my friends and colleagues I’m going on vacation they often laugh and say “Weren’t you just on vacation!?” I just as often smile and say “Yes.” Some people take a long summer holiday to escape the sweltering Dubai heat. I creatively leverage weekends and public holidays to cram as much of the world as possible into my 22 days of annual leave.
My most recent holiday was in Thailand in May. I had not yet been to Asia but for years I have heard nothing but rave reviews about gorgeous Thai beaches, lush green palm trees and $8 massages. I had to see it for myself.
Before making our way to Koh Samui for a relaxing week by the beach, my husband and I decided to spend the weekend in Bangkok with Canadian friends who had given us an open invitation to visit them there. Bangkok, with its foreign language and red light districts, seemed a bit overwhelming so we were thrilled to have our own personal tour guides to navigate between the interesting and the questionable.
Day One – Shopping and Nightlife
We landed in Bangkok early on a Friday afternoon, unsuspecting tourists arriving just in time to get a taste of rush hour traffic. Apparently, by 5:30pm it can only be described as legendary. We settled in at our friends apartment near the Lang Suan area popular with Western expats, then wandered through the sticky afternoon heat to the nearby Siam shopping area. Known for its strip of huge mega malls interconneted by a concrete skywalk, destinations such as MBK and Siam Paragon could rival any shopping experience in Dubai.
That evening, our friends arranged for us to have dinner at one of their favourite restaurants, Long Table Restaurant. The trendy, dimly lit atmosphere was inviting after a long day of travel and the friendly Thai staff made us feel welcome. After removing our shoes, the four of us climbed into a cozy booth overlooking the contented diners seated at a 25 meter long table in the middle of the restaurant. We ordered cocktails but soon realized it would be impossible to choose between the tempting Thai fusion dishes on the menu. We left all decisions in the expert hands of our friends who didn’t disappoint us. Soft shell crab, duck curry, chicken and cashews, and just when we were so stuffed we couldn’t possibly have another bite, we were told that we must have the Mango Sticky Rice for dessert. So we did. It was fabulous.
After a trip to the outdoor terrace bar which offers a stunning view of the city from the 25th floor, we moved onto our next next stop for the evening. Soi Cowboy is the tourist friendly version of the red light districts you hear so much about in Thailand. Soi means street in Thai and this particular street is almost carnival-like, filled with bright lights and beautiful Thai women luring crowds of tourists and a few locals into their strip clubs. No trip to Thailand would be complete without a visit to the red light district but I will leave what goes on inside to your imagination. Reality is much more interesting that I can depict in words but perhaps you can watch The Hangover 2 for some ideas. The strip club scenes were filmed at Soi Cowboy.
Our last stop was Royal City Avenue or RCA as it is more commonly called. (I actually had to look up what RCA stands for to write this post.) RCA is an entire street lined with mega clubs and bars. Closed to traffic in the evening, it is one of three designated nightlife areas in Bangkok. We made our way to Route 66, one of RCA’s popular mega clubs so big it is split into four separate wings – north, south, east and west. We found a place for ourselves outside, ordered a bottle to avoid long trips to the bar and enjoyed the loud music as people streamed into the club. Fashionable young Thai’s wearing colourful Ray Bans without lenses, tipsy tourists from all corners of the world, young expat professionals celebrating the start of the weekend. No one seemed to mind the thick, humid air that enveloped us. Then, just when I thought the evening couldn’t get any better, the sky opened up and heavy rain cooled us all down. The huge crowd scattered in search of cover but when it became clear it wasn’t going to let up anytime soon, the party resumed, in the rain. A memorable end to a wonderful evening.
Day Two – Sightseeing
The next day we slowly made our way through unfamiliar streets jammed with hot pink taxis (the royal colour), noisy motorcycles and colourful tuk-tuks, to one of the most popular tourist attractions in Bangkok, the Grand Palace. At first impression, the palace with its glittering gold surfaces and jewel-tone accents was a bit gaudy, the interior of the Burj Al Arab comes to mind, yet you can’t help but be impressed by the silent worshippers bowed before the Emerald Buddha and the painstaking effort that must have gone into the intricate designs of the temple.
A short walk from the Palace is a small pier where we hired a private boat to take us on a tour of the Khlongs, a network of narrow canals through the city. We boarded a long, rickety boat just wide enough for two people to sit side by side. Our friends had taken the questionable boat a few times before and assured us it was safe enough. Their advice? Don’t accidentally swallow the water and whatever you do, don’t fall in!
As our boat entered the dirty, stagnant water of the khlongs, we were introduced to a different view of the city than we had seen the day before. Crowded along both sides of the canal were small wooden shacks with tin roofs, balanced precariously on skinny stilts that jutted from the water. Crooked water pipes snaked between them and colourful displays of freshly washed laundry, cooking pans and potted plants hung from their balconies. As we passed by, the men and women inside flashed us big, happy smiles, children waved excitedly and others, used to the daily onslaught of noisy boats, went about their business without noticing us. Near the end of our tour we stopped to buy bread from a nice man waiting by the river so we could feed the fish. It sounds innocent enough but our friends sat back and smiled knowingly. When the bread hit the water, hundreds of huge fish (with teeth!) suddenly rose from the river in a vicious battle for every last bite. And it became clear why you should never, ever fall in.
Dinner that evening was at a tiny, hole-in-the-wall restaurant which serves some of the best authentic Thai food you’ll ever have. You know the food will be fantastic when 90% of the customers in the restaurant are Thai. It was just down the street from where we were staying, and our friends who had tried every dish on the menu, ordered for us. They even had trouble deciding what to choose this time so by the time all of the food had been delivered we could barely see the table beneath the dishes. The aromatic smell of deep fried beef, spicy chicken, massman curry, papaya salad and mango sticky rice was intoxicating and we could barely move by the time we finished it all.
After popping into a nearby shop for an $8 massage on the way home (because we could), we dressed up a little and headed to the Banyan Tree Bangkok to enjoy our last evening in the city. The Moon Bar, located on the rooftop of the Banyan Tree, is one of the most spectacular sky bars I have ever been to. On the 61st floor, it offers breathtaking views of of the city as far as you can see in every direction. When we arrived around 10pm it was crowded and there was nowhere to sit. We hadn’t even managed to order a drink when it started to rain. Lucky for us, by the time the wussy people cleared out a few minutes later, the rain had already stopped and we had our choice of places to sit and enjoy the view. I’m sure it would be a great place to visit at sunset, but my heart has always been drawn to the glow of city lights at night. Surely Moon Bar is the best place to see Bangkok’s.
Thank you friends. Your exceptional guide services have given me a new appreciation for Bangkok. Next stop, Koh Samui.