Bangkok is one of the most beautifully complex cities in the world.
Its ability to teach a traveler the lessons of life make it one of my favorite destinations. I’ve been about 20 times and just when I think I’ve figured it out, I realize I don’t know a thing about it. The song says, “one night in Bangkok makes a hard man humble” and the common wisdom is that the lyric pays homage to the town’s sex trade and adult nightlife, but I don’t see it that way.
Bangkok has cleaned up its act…a lot.
Sure, there are plenty of bar girls in the typical beer joints catering to pathetically lonely male tourists, but compared to the early 90s when I first visited Thailand, the city resembles Dollywood more than the Sodom and Gomorrah image it’s unfairly saddled with. I think the humility comes with trying to navigate a complex city and an even more complex society. And the harder the man the tougher the lesson. Be soft in Bangkok.
Approach the city with an open mind.
Throw away your watch; wearing it won’t help your patience levels with the traffic. Walk. The city is vast but the BTS (sky train system) can get you from neighborhood to neighborhood, and walking the neighborhoods is the only way to learn how this place operates. Bangkok is a shopping city, everything is for sale and it’s all sold streetside.
Eat Street Food
Night markets sell fashionable clothes, art, food, electronics, sex, t-shirts, you name it…check it out. Go to the Bangkok Art & Culture Centre on a Friday night and wander the galleries. Eat the street food, it’s everywhere and it’s where I take most of my meals. Sukhumvit Soi 36 is a street with some superb stalls as is Soi 38 just 2 blocks over, and don’t skip Chinatown, also called Yaowarat. Wander it for a day and you still won’t see half of its hidden mysteries. Go to the sporting events, I can’t recommend a night of Muay Thai boxing enough. Seats are cheap, the gambling is fun and the food stalls outside the arenas are often the best in town on a night with a good card.
Good Bets for a Fancier Meal
For tonier restaurants I like Soei, Baan, Bo-Lan, Nahm, Le Du, Issaya Siamese Club and a bunch of others. Check out Sra Bua to get some boat noodles at night behind the Victory Market at the stalls, or Wattana Panich for beef noodles and Thip Samai for some good pad thai on the cheap. Stay at the most expensive hotel you can afford. There is nothing in the world like the service at an ultra luxury Bangkok hotel. The Peninsula is a fine choice without getting too crazy.
Originally published on TravelChannel.com.