this is an early draft and I’m shipping anyway
Yuri, since our last trip in the area together, I’ve picked up a few things. We’ll have to do it again sometime.
Here’s what I wouldn’t do, especially on honeymoon:
Phuket. A black mark on Thailand. The only upside is that it has an airport so you can get out faster. If you insist, stay at sixsenses.com/resorts/yao-noi/destination and don’t leave the grounds. Apparently, there’s some junta-lead effort underway to clean up the island, but I suspect the Russian mobsters will be harder to unseat than the local jetski scammers and taxi cartel.
Samui is also on my list of places to avoid, along with Pattaya and Ko Phi Phi. On the plus side, it has an airport nearly walkable to the beach.
Thais are active tourists in-country, and places Bangkokers visit are almost always more pleasant than those frequented by their foreign counterparts. You’ll find them on Koh Samet or Koh Chang instead of Phuket or Samui.
Or on the smaller, more remote Koh Lipe, which has a bit of everything; is small but has every amenity, remote but accessible. Fly to Hat Yai for $30 from Bangkok on LionAir or to Trang on Nok Air, then a scenic bus ride to a speedboat. Total transit time is only a little longer than to Phuket. Stay at idyllic. Can’t recommend it enough. Rainy season starts in September around there, I believe, but do check. It’s not far from Langkawi, the duty-free Malaysian island, accessible by ferry.
I usually stay around Thonglor, Sukhumvit1 Soi [side street] 55. That’s across town from the the infamous backpacker area, Khaosan Road, which is awful except for Brick Bar (live music) and Phra Nakhorn’s rooftop. Nice if you’re 20, Australian and want to buy a bad suit and fake ID.
Let me know what you guys are into and I can give you more specific notes on Bangkok.
Hotels: totally based on budget. Keep in mind that you can get a 4* for maybe $80, 5* for barely over $100. I’m partial to boutiques like Muse or Hansar. A suite at the Shanghai Mansion is perfect if you want to check out Chinatown (Yaowarat) for a day or two.
Re: temples, check out Wat Ratchanatdaram (วัดราชนัดดาราม) to get away from the crowds at the Grand Palace and Wat Pho. Wat Arun (วัดอรุณ), across the river, is essential. The cruises are tourist traps. You get largely the same experience, and quicker, without any karaoke, on a canal boat.
Food in Bangkok:
* The Local, near BTS Asok, for authentic classic Thai dishes. They’ve revived old recipes you won’t find elsewhere and cover a wide range of regions. It may not be apparent immediately, but Thai cuisine is not monolithic. I’m partial to Northern Thai myself.
* Street food on Sukhumvit soi 38, head immediately right off of the Thonglor BTS [Skytrain] station. Phad Thai (phad sie euw is a better friend noodle dish, IMO), mango sticky rice, satay, every other kind of standard Thai dish and an awesome burger truck.
* Gaggan, for deconstructed Indian, run by an acolyte of Ferran Adria.
Street food around Victory Monument, especially the boat noodles.
Seafood in Chinatown. I’m partial to the guys in the red shirts, Rut & Lek, not the more well-known T&K in the green shirts.
Lebanese food, but more important, the best and perhaps cheapest shisha in Thailand at Bamboo, Sukhumvit Soi 3 - Soi Africa, opposite Soi Arab, across Sukhumvit from the red-light district of Soi 4 (Soi Nana). Open 24 hours, strangest mix of people. Staff warm up to you after like, the 10th visit.
If you’re in the Grand Palace are, visit Thammasat university. The adjacent pier - Prachan, I think - has a lot of food.
Siam Paragon, the most instagrammed place in the world. Get lunch at the Northeast (Isan) Thai papaya salad joint, Som Tam Nua, on the other side of the street. Thai-style (vs., for instance, Lao-style) papaya salad (som tam thai), sticky rice (khaaw ngiew), fried chicken wings (piik gai tot), grilled pork neck (khor muu yaang), pork salad (laarb muu).
* Mandarin Roast Duck on Thonglor.
* Rung Rueng noodles on soi 26, next to the Arize hotel (not much of a landmark, I’m afraid).
* Tawandang (“German Brewery”) on Rama 3 is a fun experience with a group of people.
Western food, Opposite Mess Hall.
Best chicken rice (khaaw man gai, ข้าวมันไก่) at Pratunam, across from Central and Platinum malls. Everyone will know it. Details: eatingthaifood.com/2012/03/thai-khao-man-gai-chicken-rice.
Street food around Soi Ari, on the way to the Chatuchak market. See this map for most of the street food spots I mentioned. Can hardly go wrong.
Best market: Talad Rot Fai, which has since moved near Seacon Square; kind of a hike, but who cares when taxis won’t run you more than $5? Chatuchak/JJ Market (“Weekend Market”) is larger and more famous, worth a go if you love markets. I mean, really love markets. There’s also a wet market across the street, one of the cleaner ones - vs. Klong Thoei, which is way more interesting but something of a slum.
The floating market is 100% tourist. You can still find real ones in Burma, but that way of life is over in Thailand. And it’s outside of the city.
Best coffee: Casa Lapin, Roots, Pacamara, One Ounce for Onion, Rocket. Most are further up Sukhumvit, away from the tourist areas.
Rooftop bars: Lebua is in some ways the best and worst. Crowded, overly touristed, but the views are spectacular. The Octave Sky Bar at the new Marriott in Thonglor is a more pleasant experience and in a cooler neighborhood. Alternately, Above 11 at the Fraser Suites, soi 11, especially the uppermost level. All have a basic dress code. Covered shoes, a shirt with… sleeves. Sleeves alone probably exclude 85% of the backpackers. Shoes did Yuri in.
Cocktails: find Sugar Ray, open three days a week, in Ekamai, for a legit Thai hipster experience. Spot-on drinks. Bad Motel and Iron Fairies are worth visiting in Thonglor, both near one another.
Clubs: Demo, Funky Villa, RCA (Route66, Cosmic Cafe if it hasn’t moved yet). WIP for after-hours.
Beer, hit up 8 Owls for an extensive selection of Hitachino and Japanese food, Mikkeller for 30 taps of pretentious craft beer, Brew for imports. Anywhere for Leo or Singha over ice (Thai beer is meant to be taken with ice, jing jing).
General: get a SIM card with data. True Move gives out free tourist SIMs at the airport. Don’t take tuk-tuks unless they’re absolutely the only means of transportation and you know the right price. Do take the BTS and use taxis, insist on the meter, rinse and repeat until one accepts. If you find that no one wants to take you by meter, you may be standing on the wrong side of the street or you’re asking to sit in traffic for 40 minutes. Take the BTS in that case. Mototaxis are awesome and outside of the tourist areas, won’t rip you off. Prices are typically 20-40 baht for a moto ride.
Except for traffic, Bangkok is a safe city. If you find yourself lost, there’s little chance of you stumbling into a dangerous area, if such a thing exists.
Pull cash out of ATMs. Beware the $6 fee. Don’t rely on credit cards. If you have to change money, do it at a Super Rich.
If you’re staying in Bangkok for more than a couple of days, get a transit card for the BTS at any ticket counter. Average ride is 40 baht (a bit over $1).
Depending on what time you land, your hotel and baggage situation, consider the Airport Rail Link. It bypasses rush-hour traffic.
Don’t put your feet up on things, take off shoes when going into people’s homes, don’t wai everybody, especially not at a 7-11, learn the words for hello (sawadtee khap/khaa [m/f], e.g., “swastika” - good fortune to you) and thank you (khop khun khap/khaa [m/f]), smile and be calm - jai yen, especially when negotiating. Do eat the street food. Don’t worry about ice or water. No one will give you anything from the tap to consume.
Catch a movie at the new Central Embassy mall Diplomat theater or at the similar one in Paragon (Enigma or the lesser VIP screen): bk.asia-city.com/city-living/news/bangkok-best-vip-cinemas. The classiest way to watch giant robots punching each other in the face.
The main thoroughfare, and supposedly longest street in the world, with a Skytrain line overhead. ↩