I’ve travelled to Bangkok so many times that many of the traditional tourist attractions, though amazing, have lost much of their appeal to me. Bangkok is a big city with a tremendous variety of activities that cater to just about every interest. Activities for families, museums, the best movie theatres in Asia, art and design exhibits, towering restaurants on top of the city, shopping and yet more shopping, are all wrapped with a unique rich culture, and some of the friendliest people in the world. With frequent short visits I try to see something different, exploring different neighbourhoods, while hitting the usual haunts that make Bangkok special to me.
As soon as I arrive and before I get started, I always hit the grocery store where I stock up on fresh fruit, vegetables, water, and other essentials. I do this no matter which city I land in, but I’ve learned the hard way in Bangkok that not eating right can have some uncomfortable consequences. For groceries, Tops Market Place and Foodland are good choices, but even your local 7-11 will have a surprising selection of fresh food. My one risk is coffee to go from a street vender. It’s not a French café but there is something about starting my day with fresh Thai. coffee replete with condensed milk that marks the start of any day there.
It’s almost impossible to plan a timed itinerary into a short space of time here so I tend to write a laundry list of places I want to visit, and hope that I can manage to check them all off during my stay. Excluding all the usual meandering about with camera and the inevitable stops for banana shakes, the following is alternate itinerary for a short stay in Bangkok
Thai. Art & Design
Thailand Creative & Design Center (TCDC). The TCDC offers world-class design and creativity resources for all visitors, both Thai and foreign. An essential visit for the design enthusiast the TCDC holds regular programs, permanent and temporary exhibitions and the Shop@TCDC offers for purchase a wide range of incredible design objects from around the world. The TCDC Resource Center has a wealth of design knowledge and resources, which includes: books, journals, magazines, and comprehensive design databases. For more well-rounded design knowledge, TCDC also offers Material ConneXion® Bangkok for members looking to explore design materials and learn how to adapt them effectively. Non-members can get a day pass.
Take the BTS sky train and get off at Phrom Phong Station (E5). Enter the Emporium Shopping Complex and go up to 6th floor.
National Gallery. Housed in a former Royal Mint built during the reign of King Rama V, the National Gallery displays work by Thai artists from the 17th Century onwards. Inherited by the Department of Fine Arts in 1974, it includes permanent exhibitions of works by King Rama VI and H.M. King Bhumibhol Adulyadej, traditional murals from early periods in the capital’s history, and pioneering Thai modern art. Particularly evident is the influence of Western schools of art, like impressionism and cubism, on recent Thai artists. There is also an area featuring temporary exhibitions of art from home and abroad, everything from painting and sculptures to prints and installations. Open from 09:00 – 16:00 (Wednesday – Sunday).
4 Chao-Fa Road, opposite the National Theatre, Rattanakosin
C+66 (0)2 282 2639100
Tonson Art Gallery. Named after its street address, 100 Tonson Gallery is a striking space set in a private residence covering a total space of 100 square metres. At the forefront of private art spaces in Bangkok, 100 Tonson Gallery aims to promote the contemporary art scene and exhibits artworks by Thai and international artists including paintings, sculptures and photographs, as well as installations, new media and conceptual art.
Open from 11:00 – 19:00 (Thursday – Sunday).
100 Soi Tonson, Ploenchit Road
+66 (0)2 684 1527
Very close to Chidlom station; parking available.
La Lanta Fine Art. La Lanta represents talented Thai and Asian artists; it also features inspiring paintings and sculptures in its regular art exhibitions. La Lanta houses an extensive selection of international art prints for home decoration. Adult art classes at beginner and advanced levels are also provided, conducted in small groups by experienced artists. Art-related products such as notebooks and art frames are available for purchase.
Open from 10:00 – 21:00 (Tuesday – Sunday).
657 Baan Silom (corner of Silom 19), Silom Road
+66 (0)2 266 9180-1
You could probably contain all your shopping to Chatuchak Weekend Market and not be disappointed. In addition to Chatuchak, here are some other destinations.
Bangkoker. Started by a Thai architect with a passion for graphic design, this tiny shop has tees that are unique and visually compelling.
Samsen Road, in the Pranakorn area between soi 1 and 3, about a 15 minute walk from Khao San Road
+66 (0)2 628 9722
Fotoguffy: For cameras of yore. It’s a bit out of the way but might be worth the effort if interested in Lomo and vintage camera gear. The shop’s owner, Khun Boy, used up his savings to buy these hard-to-find gadgets off eBay, so you don’t have to. Most of the cameras here are secondhand, especially the Polaroids, but there are the new models of modern Lomography cameras.
Open Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Chulalongkorn Soi 50, Sam Yan
+66 (0)8 1647 7371
Suan Lum Night Bazaar, the “VIP outdoor market of Bangkok”, has a good selection of Thai crafts, souvenirs, clothes, and local food, all at very reasonable prices. Take the MRT subway to Lumpini station; the market is near Lumpini Park, a short walk from the station.
No visit to Bangkok is complete without a visit to Chatuchak Weekend Market. There are hundreds and hundreds of stalls selling everything from jeans to pets. Inside this hot massive space are more people than can comfortably fit, which is part of the fun.
Take the skytrain (BTS) to Mo Chit station and exit down the right-hand stairs, follow the crowd for a five-minute walk, and you’re there.
Pratunam Wholesale Market. Located at the intersection of Ratchaprop and Petchburi roads, Pratunam Wholesale Market is one of Bangkok’s major markets, selling clothes, shoes, and fashion accessories at wholesale prices. You can bargain if you like but with prices as cheap as they are here you likely won’t have to.
Zen at Central World. If funky, edgy designer goods are what you are interested in, and price is less of a concern, places like ZEN, Playground, Manga, Flow Now and Q Concept have all the latest design trends in the world covered. This is where all well financed cool and hip in Bangkok go to shop — so they say.
Ratchaprasong intersection, Pathumwan Central World Plaza
I’m not a foodie and bad experiences aside find that the best food eaten in Bangkok is often found on the street or street side eateries. But sometimes the smell of exhaust fumes and the comfort of cheap plastic chairs gets tiring so I look for more refined digs.
Eatme. A trendy restaurant with a regular exhibition schedule of international and local artists organised by H Gallery. The food is good but go there for the art.
“This coolly elegant restaurant, with seats in both the sleek dining room and the inviting outdoor garden features rotating exhibits of local artists, often in conjunction with the
well-regarded H Gallery”. – New York Times 36 Hours in Bangkok.
Located on Soi Phi Phat 2, Convent Rd near BTS Sala Daeng.
Café Ubuntu. A compact two-story café that somehow finds space to place art on it’s walls.
Shop 9, Silom Grand Terrace Bldg. 1/252 Soi Sala Daeng 2
Greyhound Café. This Thai-fusion café run by fashion house Greyhound has a number of locations around Bangkok, but the Emporium location is your best bet.
Emporium Shopping Mall, 2nd floor, tel +66 (0)2 664 8663
For better insight on food in Bangkok you should check out Modern Food in Bangkok. A great write up by Geoffrey Smith. You won’t go wrong by picking a couple restaurants from his list.
I no longer partake much in the way of nightlife, avoid crap like Patpong, so when in Bangkok I love spending my evenings going to the movies. Most new cinemas in Bangkok offer some type of Gold Class seating. For the price of a ticket in the West, you get a plush recliner, a pillow and blanket, and even a welcome drink. They bring the menu and you order what you want to eat and drink. The Paragon shopping mall’s Major Cineplex venue is newer, but the EGV Grand in Siam Discovery Center has nicer seats.
I hope you find something in this list that makes your stay in Bangkok an enjoyable one.