My husband and I have almost mutually exclusive tastes when it comes to holidays. He acts as though he is going to drip towards an inevitable death if the temperature rises above about 20 Celsius, whereas I happily went for a run during my first humid night in Singapore; he likes to keep himself to himself, whereas I will go out of my way to talk to anyone I meet. When recently booking flights to the US the website asked if we wanted to pay extra to choose our seats in advance. He declined. “What if we don’t get to sit together?” I asked. “Then I can go to sleep and you can spend nine hours talking to whatever poor bugger sits next to you.”
Bangkok was my turn, and my victory. After years of exploring what I considered to be more interesting destinations alone, I dragged him with me with vain promises of historical sites and food that wouldn’t kill him. And this was a little mean of me.
Bangkok is everything I love about Asia, and everything that convinces him that next year we should just go to Lyme Regis – disorganised, loud, busy, full of cheerful people and so, so hot – the kind of hot that makes your glasses and your camera lens steam up. It’s a powder keg of chaotic joy with something for everyone – from the Gap Yah students stumbling down the Khao San Road to the aging hippies, with their reluctant teens in tow, reliving their youth, albeit in upmarket comfort off the back of their city salary.
Things got off to a bad start – our taxi driver took us to the wrong hotel, and was quite insistent that we should stay there anyway, even after the staff of said hotel almost physically pushed us back into the car and gestured wildly in the opposite direction. We finally arrived hot and bothered only to be told the swimming pool was closed for renovation and the café wouldn’t open until dinner time.
Tip 1 – In the same way that, in London, you are said to never be more than 10 feet from a rat, in Bangkok you are rarely more than 10 feet from a shopping centre, and they are invariably open 24 hours a day and, crucially, are air-conditioned. Our hotel turned out to be opposite the fabulous if bafflingly British-themed Terminal 21, and an hour later, refreshed and over-fed at very little expense, we happily made our way to the centre.
Tip 2: Bangkok is very big (it appears as one of the 20 largest cities in the world on most lists) and has the traffic jams befitting of an oversized capital, but not necessarily the public transport to match. We were staying in Sukhumvit, which is amazingly well-connected if you’re there on business, but less so if you’re a tourist and want to do touristy things. I’m aware that public transport has probably improved a lot since we were last there, but plan your route wisely. Although my husband wasn’t keen, I’m a big fan of tuk-tuks – they’re small enough to weave through the choking traffic, and if you find you’re being taken in the wrong direction you can always just leap out (warning: not actually recommended.)
Tip 3: Avoid temple fatigue. There are a LOT of temples in Bangkok, and an awful lot of people visiting them. We went to the Grand Palace (by convoluted route involving Sky Train, MRT, tuk-tuk and boat) and, though it is invariably one of those “must sees”, it’s also rammed with tour groups and every kind of hawker under the (intensely hot) sun. I would recommend a longer visit to Wat Pho, deservingly famous for its incredible reclining Buddha.
Tip 4: Actually, do go for the tourist boats, or, if you’re staying in one of the plush hotels on the banks of the Chao Phraya, make use of their private crafts, of which we were quite jealous. I fear our marriage almost ended as I cajoled my husband onto a rickety riverbus full of schoolchildren and monks, worryingly low in the water with a disconcertingly spluttering engine. “It’s an experience,” I told him. “Yes.” He agreed curtly. “So is dysentery. It doesn’t mean I want it.”
Which brings me on to…
Tip 5: the Sky Bar at the State Tower (dress code applies) is a gorgeous place to wind down, though the owners know it and charge for drinks accordingly – a meal will set you back even further, so we went elsewhere, but it looked wonderful and probably worth it for an anniversary. Go there for sunset, as we did, and, tourist trap or not, you can’t help but be impressed.
But if the city does become too much…
Tip 6: there are many daytrips just an hour or two out of Bangkok where you can experience the more sedate side of Thailand, along with its beautiful scenery (more on this another time). The brave can go it alone as trains in particular are excellent, or there is a plentiful supply of tour companies willing to charge you for the full service so you don’t have to think about anything.
Tip 7: RELAX! Bangkok may be frenetic and loud and, with its bright lights and spicy foods, an attack on all the sense at once, but it’s also home to many luxury hotels, great restaurants and spas, as well as those vast shopping centres. Largely due to the presence of air conditioning we found ourselves in a bowling alley at the other-worldly Siam Paragon, which also turned out to be the home of the most extravagant ice cream parlour. And why not?