Bangkok Musings: The Basics

Finally a non European post

As you may (or may not) know, I am from the Philippines (it’s a bunch of islands in South East Asia).

I go back “home” a least once a year (in quotation marks because what is home really – this has become a very deep and philosophical question) – normally during the Christmas holidays.

What does this have to do with Bangkok you might ask. Well, everytime I go home, I always try to travel somewhere in the Philippines or Asia. I mean I’m already there, what else is there to do.

Anyway, this year we decided to do a short 3 day trip to Bangkok, Thailand just before the new year. I’ve always found it extremely amusing how I, someone who has lived 30 years in South East Asia, have not visited any of the backpacker SEA countries that most Europeans travel to when they go to that region.

Not to be snobby but my reasoning was always, why go to a place which is so similar to where I live?? Which I find is the same reasoning some people have here when finding out I’ve visited more places around Europe than they have (so you know, it’s not that weird).

a view of Bangkok from the hotel terrace

Anyway, Bangkok. A city which is almost like Manila, but cleaner. Yes CLEANER. I am amazed and at the same time embarassed for Manila because damn, if Bangkok can do it, why can’t we?? Transport system is also way better, proven by the fact that we could travel almost anywhere we wanted to go just by metro.

So Bangkok is known for a couple of things, but more famously in my circles, it is know for 2 things: FOOD and SHOPPING. A lot of the cheap clothes you find in the markets in the Philippines (like Greenhills) are sourced from Bangkok.

With that, I am sorry not sorry to admit that I came to Bangkok with 2 goals in mind:

Eat as much as I possibly can, shop as much as I possibly afford. And ok, we did SOME sightseeing as well.

Disclaimer: So anyway clearly this is NOT a backpackers tour and there is no mention of Patpong or Khaosan road in my post (aside from this sentence).

But first… the basics.

The Hotel AND SURROUNDINGS

We chose a hotel that was:

  1. Near the shopping mall MBK
  2. Near a metro station

And so we ended up staying at Hotel Mercure Bangkok Siam, located here

View of Mercure from the National Stadium Station

I would recommend this hotel for its great location and the great room and amenities. The hotel is literally right in front of the National Stadium station and you only need to go down the stairs (yes it’s stairs on the side of the hotel so beware if you have big luggage) and you are in front of the hotel. It has a rooftop pool (which sadly did not have time to use) and a really nice terrace to view the city.

Rooftop Pool at night

Mercure shares the building with Ibis, and there is a 7/11 as well as an ATM downstairs. Both are Accor hotel properties, the only difference is the “level”. Ibis is a more low scale version of Mercure. At night, street vendors are present in the pedestrian area in front of the hotel selling various fruits, drinks what have you. There is also a Mc Donald’s a couple of buildings down at the bottom of a Holiday Inn, in case you crave for something more familiar. MBK and all the malls nearby have food courts as well, so you are never far from a place to eat.

MBK open air food court

*TIP: Maybe it’s just me but the open air food stall at MBK is expensive.

There is also a Thai massage quite nearby called Lek Massage House. I’ve seen that this place gets terrible reviews, but it was the only place available at that time and honestly we had a good experience. There is a bit of a wait though as it’s really quite popular. Perhaps the foot massage isn’t so nice but we got a whole body massage which was quite well done.

Private room at Lek Massage

TIP: It’s quite hard to book a massage at a well-reviewed place in Bangkok. Book this early, as soon as you get there.

There’s a bunch of malls around and a super nice elevated pedestrian crosswalk that you have to cross to get to MBK.

Paragon Mall is around a 10 minute walk – here you will find the famous Thipsamai pad thai in their food court. The food court is crowded, but it’s not impossible to find a table. The Thipsamai stall serves only their special version of the Pad Thai and nothing else. But hey, at least you don’t have to wait in line for a ridiculous amount of time.

Thipsamai Pad Thai at Paragon

AIRPORT TO HOTEL

Getting to the hotel is super easy. From the airport, take the city line up to Phaya Thai and then change in Phaya Thai to the Skytrain (green line). These are 2 different tickets. You buy for until Phaya Thai in the airport machines and buy again in Phaya Thai for the Skytrain. Note that some of the machines only accept coins or cash and do not accept cards.

It takes around 40 minutes to an hour (depending on timing of trains and lines in the ticket machines).

Bangkok Metro

BTS Station

I was a bit confused at first with the Metro system in Bangkok. As far as I understand, there are 3 different kinds: The line from the airport, the BTS (Skytrain) and the Metro line. All these lines DO NOT share the same ticket, so if you have to change, you have to buy a new ticket each time.

Not in any way connected to whoever wrote this, but this site has a good explanation of the Bangkok Train System.

SHOpping areas

We concentrated our efforts on a couple of well known shopping areas.

Note that these shopping places are the market place type. It is not the usual mall type kind of shopping where there are shops for each brands. Also, a huge disclaimer, we were there for serious shopping (suitcase bringing levels) and so doing floating markets was not on our agenda.

Pratunam floating market

MBK – the nearest shopping mall. Huge, multiple floors and has a lot of different clothing and other dry goods options. I didn’t spend that much time here but it had decent options and out of the 3 places we went to, had the 2nd most cheap options. Pros for this place is it was super accessible from our hotel (we only had to walk), and it’s airconditioned.

Platinum – one of THE most famous clothes shopping areas. You have EVERYTHING imaginable here and it’s got so many floors you just give up. This place is amazing for finding really fashionable and great items that are of good quality. Clothes are a bit more expensive than MBK or Pratunam, but you find a lot of more trendy items here. This place is also airconditioned.

It’s a bit harder to get to Platinum from the hotel as you have to walk around 15 minutes, but you can do it by walking through an elevated (and most importantly) shaded pedestrian walk way which also makes you go inside some airconditioned malls. Going back from Platinum/Pratunam, we always took a grab taxi.

Pratunam – Just in front of Platinum is the real classic market Pratunam. If you want to find souvenirs, cheap classic Thai stuff, and of course clothes, Pratunam is the place to go. This place has THE CHEAPEST prices out of all of the places and it is HUGE. Unlike Platinum and MBK though, this place is NOT AIRCONDITIONED. Dress accordingly.

Note that out of all the places, it was the easiest to haggle in Pratunam. Platinum would give you set discounts if you buy bulk, but in Pratunam anything goes.

MONEY MATTERS

BRING CASH (Thai Baht). The true enjoyment of being in Bangkok is buying from the food stalls and the market stalls, and it’s safe to just assume that these places DO NOT ACCEPT CARDS.

I normally just take money from the ATM, but if you’re from somewhere in South East Asia, it’s normally best to get your money exchanged to Baht at your bank. It’s slightly cheaper than withdrawing money from the ATM.

OTHER THINGS TO DO/TOURS:

For the purpose of making our lives easier, we booked 2 tours for our trip, both of which I HIGHLY recommend:

  1. Best Eats Midnight Food Tour by Tuk Tuk
  2. Bangkok Highlights Private Tuk Tuk Half Day Tour – which we booked through klook coz it was cheaper there but ironically turned out to be operated by the same guys as the food tour

*Klook is a super popular travel tool in South East Asia. You can book/buy all kinds of tours, shows, sim cards, hotels, transport tickets etc etc at a discounted price. Beware and read well before buying though!

And yes, we really maximized our Tuktuk time. I mean you’re already there so why not do the most cliched things possible (but in a regulated let’s not be scammed way)!

Anyway that’s it for this part of Bangkok, more to come about the food tour and the half day tour!

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