"The Hangover 2" shaped many people's impression of Bangkok, Thailand. But despite what the movie showed us, this city is more than just a great place to spend a drunken night, Bangkok is overflowing with great eats, spas, nature and more. I recently took a trip to this magical city and brought back just a taste of what Thailand’s jewel has to offer. Join me as we go from cooking classes at Blue Elephant and luxe time at The Oasis Spa to nature hikes through Khao Yai National Park during the day and strolls through the infamous red light district at night. So sit back, relax and enjoy…The Bangkok Experience.
First things first, you might be thinking a trip to Thailand is way too far out of budget, but trust me when I tell you this trip is not a complete budget buster. I took a package deal from FriendlyPlanet.com for $1500 (paid in installments…score!) that included airfare, tours, a few meals and stays at amazing hotels like The Rembrandt. Your money also goes further in Thailand with one U.S. dollar equaling about thirty Thai Baht, a drastic contrast from the dollar to euro exchange where one U.S. dollar equals about 0.75 Euro. So nix the idea that you have to be a big baller shot caller to take a trip like this, Thailand is one destination that almost anyone can afford. It even makes a great girlfriends getaway, don’t believe me, you can ask any of the 16 friends who came along for the ride!
First up on our journey is a little something to awaken your taste buds and test your culinary prowess. Bangkok is known for its great food and no place shows you how to throw down in the kitchen like a local better than the world renowned Blue Elephant. Blue Elephant stays true to the culinary cultures and influences of Thailand and when you sign up for one of their cooking courses, not only do you get hands on experience making authentic Thai dishes like Massaman Curry with Beef, Hot and Sour Soup with Prawns and Stir-fried Chicken with Black Pepper Sauce, but you get a cute chef to show you the ropes, a cool apron, recipes to take home, a Blue Elephant Curry Cooking Set, a certificate, and best of all…new friends to sit down and share your yummy meal with! I love taking cooking classes when I travel and the Blue Elephant certainly didn’t disappoint.
If you don’t feel like spending money on a cooking class, then check out some of the amazing street food Bangkok has to offer. On practically every corner you can find super cheap and tasty delights like pad thai, coconut pancakes, deep fried bananas, fried chicken and even crickets and silk worms topped with soy sauce.
After flying literally 24 hours to the other side of the world, you’ll need a little rest and relaxation. Well look no further! The totally Zen Oasis Spa lives up to its name and provides a quiet oasis in the middle of the hustle and bustle that is Bangkok. The friendly staff provides relaxing treatments that can rival any major chain and at affordable prices. I had a body scrub, massage and facial for just under $100 USD, and trust me it was worth every penny! Still need something a little cheaper? Bangkok has tons of local massage parlors on practically every corner where you can get a Thai massage or a foot, head and shoulder massage for as little as $6.50…no that was not a misprint. My friends and I lived in a little place near the Rembrandt Hotel called Ayothaya Massage. Heaven. On. Earth.
The beaches in Thailand are breathtaking! You haven’t been to a beach until you’ve visited a beach in this country, but from Bangkok popular beaches like Phuket involve a plane ride, which means spending more cash. But if you’re looking to get your tan on (which you’ll definitely get in the near 100 degree weather!) and have $6.58 USD to spare, you can take a train to visit serene Hua Hin beach located just three hours south of Bangkok. Hua Hin is the perfect mix of culture, food, luxe and relaxation, and when I stepped off my ridiculously early morning train ride and heard nothing but birds chirping I knew I had made the right choice. Hua Hin is more of a family destination compared to other local beaches so don’t expect too much to be going on. If you’re looking for something a bit more fast paced, you can visit Pattaya beach which is also about three hours outside of Bangkok. Pattaya is like the Miami Beach of Thailand with its strips of flashy stores and restaurants, old Russian men spending long money on young Thai women and lots of partying until the break of dawn.
Shop ‘Til You Drop
You’ve eaten great food, been pampered and got a much needed tan, now it’s time to spend some of that Thai Baht burning a hole in your pocket. Like any other city where tourism is booming, Bangkok boasts many street stalls where you can buy everything from souvenir magnets to local art for unbelievably low prices. Hands down the best place to shop for quality Thai goods on the cheap is Chatuchak Weekend Market (better known as J.J. Market). This market place is 35 acres and 8,000 stalls of shopping heaven, J.J. market is so enormous that it can literally take you an entire day to navigate its mazes and see everything it has to offer! Everything is on sale here and if you have a friendly face and some good bargaining skills you can walk away with some of the best shopping deals in Bangkok.
Street stall shopping isn’t all there is to the city’s shopping scene. Bangkok’s MBK Center is legendary among locals and tourists and boasts eight floors packed with 2,000 shops that sell everything your heart desires. But Bangkok isn’t just about cheap shopping, luxury is definitely alive and well in the city and can be found in the behemoth that is Siam Paragon. This luxury mall is 500,000 square meters of designer shopping from Gucci, Prada, Louis Vuitton, Dior, Versace, Burberry, Hermes and more. Oh, but that’s not all. Siam Paragon also houses a royal concert hall, bowling alley, movie theaters, karaoke bars, Ferrari and Lamborghini dealerships, schools, a gourmet market and food hall, and if all that wasn’t enough, there is the world-class aquarium Siam Ocean World in the basement.
Culture, Nature & Elephant Rides…Oh My!
Now that you’ve gotten all the superficial stuff out of the way, it’s time to learn a little something about the majestic city of Bangkok. The history of Bangkok and Thailand as a whole is a rich and deeply spiritual one and no trip would be complete with a visit to one of their many “Wats” or temples. Must see sights include Wat Arun, the magnificent temple of Dawn, Wat Po, the oldest temple in the city and home to the Reclining Buddha, the Grand Palace which once served as the home of the King, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew), a structure built to house a large Buddha image carved from a solid piece of green jadeite and Wat Trimitr, where you'll view the 700-year-old Golden Buddha. After getting your spiritual fix you can take a relaxing canal boat ride to get a close up view of traditional Thai life or check out a cultural show at Siam Niramit.
Temples and cultural shows are great, but if you’re a bit more adventurous, spending the day at Khao Yai National Park should be right up your alley. Khao Yai is Thailand's second largest park and a World Heritage Site famous for its dense virgin forests, streams and waterfalls. Here you can get up close and personal with nature. Hiking trails will test your fitness (seriously), wild monkeys wait to greet you on the side of the road (they’re quite friendly) and the highlight of the visit, an elephant ride through the jungle, cannot be missed.
The Freaks Come Out At Night
Night life in Bangkok is bananas! I’m not much of a party person, but I had the time of my life partying with locals at the rooftop lounge of the Banyan Tree Hotel where they played everything from local Thai hits to N***as in Paris. And before you ask, yes they censored the N-word. I even got my Hangover 2 fix on the 64th floor of luxury hotel Lebua at State Tower (a few scenes were shot here), where I sipped a Hangovertini with my new Australian pals and took in spectacular views of Bangkok. However the real excitement when it comes to Bangkok’s nightlife happens in its infamous red light districts. Bangkok’s Soi Cowboy, Nana Plaza and Patpong need no introduction and a quick Google search will tell you all you need to know.
Men (and a few women) come to Bangkok from all over the world just to indulge in the sexual freak fest of the red light districts. From go-go bars in Soi Cowboy where the girls wear numbers for easy choosing and glass ceilings provide panty-less peek-a-boos to lesbian spanky shows at Nana Plaza and the infamous ping pong shows of Patpong, sex, sex and more sex rules the night in Bangkok. Of course you can’t mention Bangkok’s red light districts without mentioning the main attraction…ladyboys. These “ladies” are a prominent feature in Bangkok’s night life and while most ladyboys are easy to spot, some are tucked and dressed to perfection. Even my friends and I had a hard time picking out the ladies from the boys on occasion and we’re from New York! Since we simply couldn’t leave Bangkok without a ladyboy experience, a few friends and I enjoyed some wine and a ladyboy go-go show in Soi Cowboy and had so much fun. We drank, we laughed, we got felt up…good times!
This mini journey doesn’t even begin to cover the wonders of Bangkok. The sites, the sounds and the people all make Bangkok a must see destination on every travel wish list. Hopefully you’ve gotten a feel for the city, and maybe even some inspiration to plan a trip of your own!