So you want the right destination for an all-girls’ jaunt? A place that is not too expensive and yet promises loads of fun? A place to haggle over prices and sip exotic drinks without worrying about making a fool of yourself because they don’t make you tipsy? A place to shop for silk scarves and handbags; delight in jewellery? Then the capital of Thailand may just be the right destination for you.
Okay, once you’ve decided that Bangkok it will be, here are some important tips you should bear in mind. The first, and possibly most important one, is to pick the right day to reach the city. It is always advisable to be in Bangkok on the weekend beginning Friday, because that’s when all the markets are spread out in all their glory. The perfect season for some extensive street browsing would be between October and February, although all other months too are great, if only a wee bit warmer.
The famed night markets of Bangkok are okay for a one-time experience but the real thing is the weekly market – they set up on Friday and work through Saturday to Sunday evenings. There’s nothing quite like it, when so many craftsmen, so many stalls with affordable footwear, handbags and clothing come together with street food and music.
Talking of shopping, the glitzy city malls are a destination in themselves, built on an unimaginable scale. Take MBK, for instance. It comprises six gigantic floors packed with stalls selling everything from panties to plasma television sets. There are two distinct categories of malls, by the way. One is known to sell excellent duplicates of branded goods. “It is the first copy,” explained Akash, an acquaintance, as he flaunted a Rodeo watch that he had bought from one of these malls. ‘First copy’ means that the duplicate is made so close to the original that only the very discerning would be able to perceive that it is not an original. Best to take the advice of expert shoppers to guide you through this maze, and unless you know the price of the original you will not be able to negotiate a suitable price for that ‘first copy’.
In the other type of malls you can be sure that what you get are originals, places like Siam Paragon where many designers have their showrooms. They offer fabulous discounts, which, believe it or not, may sometimes make you feel that you’ve got more than your money’s worth! By the way, it’s no longer true that the clothes on offer, particularly for women, are of very small sizes. For instance, you get wonderful cotton shirts for both men and women in all sizes.
Thailand has its own rubies, jade and sapphires, but it also imports precious and semi-precious stones from Burma. So you can get yourself some very good jewellery in the city. Don’t go for just stones, even if you want to design a special piece of jewellery for yourself. Those that are already set and designed as jewellery are cheaper. The jewellery you get in the malls tends to be even cheaper and they also give you a certificate of guarantee for the purity of the stone.
Besides looking for the best bargains, Bangkok is the one city that also urges you to be adventurous. If you are bored with your face, you can change it right there. This citadel to the culture of beauty has a wide array of cosmetics from every country in the region, as well as its own. Not just that, there are innumerable salons waiting to give you a complete make-over – clearing massage, face massage, haircut and skin rejuvenation treatment, anything you want.
But, I personally found delight in the sun-ripened fruit of Bangkok. You can buy them fresh, or you can opt for the dried version – be it strawberries, mangoes, guavas or melons, they are delectable even with their wrinkled skins. Street side stalls offer them by weight, and that’s the right place to get them. You can also buy different types of dried and salted seafood.
Bangkok’s street food is something you may have heard about and read, but it is only when you get there that you understand what the street food experience is all about, with stalls that come up under neon lights after sun down. But the real stuff is far more confusing, exciting and varied, as the night wears on, there’s always a range of food on offer – from fried pork to cut fruit and even cocktails.
One cocktail, though, you cannot get on the streets is the Siam Mary. Fashioned after Bloody Mary, it is said to have lemon grass, Thai basil, Thai chilli, wasabi, fresh lime, coriander, tomato and vodka, Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco and lemon juice. Indians, who are used to something spicy, will love it. Talking of bars, it is only when you visit Bangkok do you understand why Pattaya is called the capital of sex life. In Bangkok, the red light areas are almost marked and girls in bikinis peep out from every nook and corner here trying to attract clients. But Pattaya is different. The whole street can sometimes take on the contours of a hi-design bar. It’s all about the business of creating the right ambience. Music, lights and business conversations swirl around these massage parlours.
Whatever you have been able to glean from your Google searches about Bangkok will be useful, but it’s only when you go there that do you realise how map-dependent the local people are. Since most taxi and tuk-tuk drivers here do not speak English, they arm themselves with a bilingual map of the city and ask, street-style, “Map. Where map?” As for acquiring a map of your own, don’t bother to buy one – most hotels give it to you free of charge.
Since commuting is expensive, it is useful to know what is on offer at the hotels. Many of them provide free drop offs to shopping malls, and major sightseeing spots. So the first thing you should do on checking-in is to pick up a map and get all the information about the free rides on offer. As for coming back, you can always hail a taxi or a tuk-tuk. Talking of which, remember tuk-tuks are low roofed, and you can literally hit the roof when it goes over a speed breaker. But, apart from this, tuk-tuks offer a clean and cost-effective commute.
Ultimately, Bangkok would not be Bangkok without its lovely people, always smiling, always polite, even when they are doing what they seem to enjoy as well – bargaining. For instance, if you were to commute for a distance that should cost 100 Baht, you will be asked for 400 Baht. So you say, “50 Baht.” The tuk-tuk driver will then say, “Oh Yes!” as he laughs and recognises you as one of them. But it’s now that the game really begins. He says, “Okay, m’daam, 300 Bahts.” You say, “Oh no, just 50, well, maybe 75 Baht?” He will then shrug, smile broadly and encourage you to be more generous, “Say more, m’daam, say more.” You finally end up saying 100 Bahts and he will respond, “Okay, 110.” That’s when you get into his vehicle!
So welcome to Bangkok, the city of bargains, in every sense of the term.