Welcome to Krungthep, where never-ending fun and excitement await at every corner.
By John Howe.
Bangkok is a crossroad between traditional Buddhist values and breakneck capitalism, between East and West, between what old and what is daringly new. So where to start in this frenetic city? Nowhere better than the modern god of consumerism – shopping.
dotted with small specialist boutiques, threaded with tailors, laced with shoe shops, lined with Thai arts and crafts outlets and hemmed with street and night markets. The city does not have the equivalent to London’s Oxford Street, New York’s 5th Avenue or Paris’s ‘Triangle d’Or’ but what it does have are massive modern shopping malls that protect from worse of the heat and rain. Perhaps the best of them are Siam Paragon, Siam Discovery, Central World Plaza, and the newest addition, Terminal 21 – virtual shrines to global consumerism where luxury brands from Hermes to Louis Vuitton Cartier to Cadeaux, Rolex, and Omega abound. But the more modest pocket is not forgotten; global retailers like Marks and Spencer, Next, and Isetan stand side by side with less illustrious counterparts. Chinatown is one area that must be on every one’s ‘to visit’ list. Chinatown is a thriving, heaving maze of alleys and lanes fed by the main Yaorawat Road where you can expect to find everything from offerings to dead ancestors, ethnic jewelry and particularly food, food, food. Lively by day and night Chinatown does not sleep, it is a magnet for modern gourmands who flock to the area to sample delicious street cuisine. Chinatown is home to gold shops galore, browse two or three of them but don’t expect to bargain for that necklace, bracelet, or ring.
Chatuchack Market, open only on weekends, is a massive semi-covered Aladdin’s cave of treasures. To avoid the madding crowds and the heat of the day arrive early when it is possible to browse in some comfort. It seems that everything is available for sale besides the usual shirts, trousers and shorts, look out for replica Buddha ‘relics’; pets from cats and dogs to snakes and exotic fish.
At the other end of the scale there’s Cheap Charlie’s, always full from opening to close with an early night crowd of office workers chilling after a day at the office to the later crowd of revelers off to enjoy late night reveries at other salubrious hostelries around Sukhumvit Road. Calypso ladyboy show is an explosion of spectacular sets, gorgeous dancers, fantastic frocks and energetic musical numbers. Here is it possible to meet Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson, and 40s Brazilian bombshell Carmen Miranda all recreating their well known numbers. Calypso is a show that every member of the family from the youngest to the oldest will enjoy. Their new venue is at Asiatique.
Bangkok’s secret train leaves Thonburi’s Wong Wian Yai station on the hour every hour starting at 4.30 a.m., from Thon Buri’s Wong Wian Yai station and exactly one hour later the journey ends at Mahachai, a fishing community in Samut Sakhon, the line terminates at this pretty little Gulf of Thailand town, the train then trundles leisurely on the return journey to Thonburi. The passengers are as varied as the ever-changing scenery outside. Office workers, school kids, shoppers carrying fresh fish, vegetables and fruit from Mahachai’s markets, and job seeking hopefuls fill to capacity the three carriage train as it passes lush, green paddy fields, forests and palm oil plantations. The train stops at each station where ramshackle characters blend with the ramshackle station buildings. The journey is worth all the Bt45 for a round journey ticket. Try and you will not forget it.