Every once in a while, i find it deeply rewarding to spend some alone time in a place away from ‘home’. More often than not, i pick a place based on cost of living and overall quality of life – so when i found return flights to Bangkok under 20K, i went ahead and booked my yearly ‘sabbatical’, if you may.
The agenda was to just experience life in a different city, and Bangkok has always been one of my favorite cities. Think reading, writing, keeping a healthy schedule, eating on time, going to bed before midnight and all this while soaking in the local culture, flavors, sights and sounds of an alternate ‘home’ / reality.
That really is the essence of travel to me – exploring alternate realities, or as i call it… ‘mini lives’!
This month long stint in Bangkok allowed me to retrospect, introspect, prospect and just enjoy what most people pass off as ‘just a pitstop’ as they scurry around to more ‘offbeat’, or perhaps touristy places – anything but Bangkok – because why would anyone live in a capital city for this long?
Allow me to explain, with nearly 20 reasons 🙂
1. Easy Visas (+ free upto end of April!)
I mean hey, we’re Indians! Visas are a luxury. And Thailand is rolling out the red carpet to Indian travellers till the end of April 2019 by NOT charging any visa-on-arrival fees. That’s right, FREE visas! However, i applied for pre-paid visa and got it beforehand in Mumbai since i knew my stay was for a month (visa-on-arrival for Indians is only valid for stays upto 15 days). Also – no waiting in queues at Thai immigration!
2. Affordable Quality Of Life
Bangkok felt like a cheaper Mumbai with a better quality of life for me – from hotel stay to food to getting around and even getting a drink or attending social events!
Here’s a gist of my recurring expenses:
* Coffee / Beer = ฿50 (₹100)
* Lunch / Dinner = Starting from ฿50 (₹100), averaging ฿100 (₹200)
* Laundry = ฿40 (₹80) per kilo, averaging ฿100 (₹200) per week
* Ferry = ฿15 (₹30) per ride
* Cab ride = ฿40 (₹80) onwards for distances i couldn’t cover on foot.
* Apartment hotel = ฿500 (₹1,000) per night onwards.
* Hostels with shared dorms = ฿200 (₹400) onwards.
3. Great infrastructure & public transport
As Mumbai prepares to upgrade out of compulsion, i can’t help but applaud Bangkok for having the foresight to plan its infrastructure and public transport way ahead of us.
From SkyTrain / BTS to underground metro to excellent biking lanes and my personal favorite – river transport via ferries, Bangkok has it all figured out and i love it all!
4. Amazing Food & Culinary Scene!
(Vegan / Halal / Jain friendly)
No metropolis or tourist destination could possibly thrive without a good food scene. In this department, Bangkok doesn’t just deliver – it excels! From some of the best street food in the world to the most amazing gourmet experiences, this city has it all. When i arrived, Bangkok was celebrating the Thailand Halal Assembly – reminding me that the city is also truly inclusive and ensures that communities, religious preferences like halal, Jain friendly and vegan food are all easily available.
Tip: Check out HappyCow.com for Vegan, Vegetarian & Veg-Friendly options.
I stayed within walking distance of the Khao San Road, which is street food haven. While Khao San can be an assault on the senses, Rambuttri Alley just parallel to it offers the same by toning it down a bit. Soi Samsen is another lesser known street food paradise which i personally preferred the most. Here are my favorite places and the foods i loved around these zones:
- Pad Thai at Born Free Cafe
- Ginger Sesame-Dumpling Soup at Hong Kong Noodle House
- Tom Kha Gai at The Press Sky Bar
- Happy Hours till 7 pm. at Streats (Ibis)
- Pretty much EVERTYHING at Sook Siam (NEW!)
- Spaghetti Bolognesa at La Rivetta
- Açaí (vegan) at Açaí Story / MAKAI Açaí & Superfood Bar
- Favorite Veggie Restaurant: Suananda
- Best Vegan Food: Bonita Cafe and Social Club
- Views: HOBS, Sheepshank, ViVi Coffee Place, River Vibe, Mango Tree
- Craft Beer: HOBS, Juntun, YOLO, Let The Boy Die, Beer & Cider House
If you’re looking to visit Bangkok purely for gastronomical reasons, look no further than Migrationology by Mark Wiens. He’s the absolute authority on Thai food, especially street food!
5. Energetic nightlife + morning life
As i approach my 40s, i’ve stopped oscillating between morning life and night life and started leaning more towards being a morning person. Even so, Bangkok offers something for both personality types of course!
With tons of parks and serpentine riverside promenades, mornings in Bangkok can be absolutely charming. My favourite places for a jog / run / bike ride are the Lumphini Park, Benchakiti Park & the Santi Chai Prakan Park by the riverside
6. Safe for women travellers
Even as the country works hard towards shunning its past image of a sex tourism destination, I feel that that has actually helped Thailand in ensuring that women feel safe as travellers. Lesser desperate incels means lesser crimes against women. Bangkok / Thailand makes for a pretty inclusive and safe destination for women travelers – even solo ones!
7. Stay options for everyone
Hostels, Hotels, Guest Houses, B&Bs, Condo Rentals, Luxury & Business Hotels – Whatever your jam, Bangkok has something for you. I tend to oscillate between hostels and B&Bs to condo rentals (for long term travels).
8. Very easily accessible from India
Bangkok is one of the easiest international destinations to travel to from India – Just a 4-hour flight from Mumbai, or adventurous folks could even attempt the newly opened road route via Myanmar. Recently, friend and fellow travel blogger Shivya did this successfully as a way to cut down her carbon footprint!
9. Most museums are free & awesome!
I was pleasantly surprised to find a whole host of fantastic museums and exhibitions that were either completely free to public (even to tourists like me) or pretty reasonably priced, for what they offered!
* Rattanakosin Exhibition Hall – ฿200 (₹400)
* Ratchadamnoen Contemporary Art Gallery – FREE
* Coin Museum – FREE
* The National Gallery (don’t miss ‘Beauty & Ugliness’ by Marsi) – ฿100 (₹200)
* Arts Gallery at Ban Chao Phraya – FREE
* ASEAN Cultural Centre – FREE
Temples & places of interest i loved:
* Wat Arun – ฿50 ( ₹100)
* Wat Pho (home to the Reclining Budhdha, and a stunning location to visit around sunset) – ฿100 (₹200)
* Wat Liap – FREE
10. Melting pot of cultures
Today, Bangkok is a throbbing hub for world travellers, sort of like an ‘urban Goa’, but once you land in Chinatown (Yaowarat Road) and the new LHONG 1919 Pier on the opposite side of the Chao Phraya river, you begin to sense the wonders of cultural integration in Bangkok – Walking along Chinatown and discovering the starkly different sights, smells and sounds makes for a rewarding experience in itself.
Of course there’s also a Little India in Bangkok (Phahurat Market), but i was thrilled to have experienced a bit of China within the city for now!
11. Shoppers’ paradise
If this is news for you, you’ve been clearly living under a rock! From street shopping to high end luxury shopping, Bangkok scores yet again.
Old timers will swear by the weekend and night markets of Chatuchak, Rod Fai and Khao San Road, the floating markets and the legendary mall district around Siam BTS station (Siam Paragon, MBK, Stadium One, Central Embassy etc.) and the riverside mall districts of River City, Yodpiman River Walk, Asiatique etc.
While those are fabulous for someone visiting Bangkok for the first time, my new favorites are the plush new IconSIAM which opened just a month before i arrived, LHONG 1919, Tha Maharaj and the Thewet Market for local street shopping.
Visiting IconSIAM is an experience in itself – you take a free shuttle boat from Saphan Taksin to reach their private pier (best around sunset to experience a bedazzling light show). Don’t miss the superbly curated SookSiam at the ground level, which is like walking into street shops across Thailand but in a cosy mall setting. Also, every hour there’s a beautiful water fountain show on the top level which is unmissable. Grab a beer at HOBS after the show, to then soak in the perfect view of Bangkok by the riverside.
LHONG 1919 was originally the pier which welcomed Chinese immigrants back in the day, and is now owned and managed by a wealthy Chinese family which has converted it into an experience zone with the Mazu Shrine, restaurants, art galleries and recreation grounds. You could add this to your Chinatown itinerary.
12. Inclusive yet private
Bangkok is the perfect place for a writer to go about his business without the distraction of annoyances; other writers, for instance. There is peace, if not quiet, and a kind of tolerance that is increasingly rare – and all the more precious for that.
Lawerence Osborne, novelist
I stumbled upon this serendipitous quote while browsing through some books at the Bangkok Public Library (also free to public, including tourists) and couldn’t agree more with him 🙂
13. Favorable climate and AQI
Before you cry foul and point me to the recent air pollution alerts in Bangkok, let me remind you that we’re comparing Bangkok to Indian megacities here. Personally for me, the climate was great, the pollution was more tolerable than back home in India and oh, i would wake up to birdsong and enjoy the nearly-zero honking! So in this department also, BKK wins my vote.
14. Events & MICE hub
Besides hosting an array of international conferences and events, Bangkok is choc-a-bloc with social events that are easy to find on Facebook or Couchsurfing. I landed up discovering one such fantastic community and event called ‘MundoLingo Bangkok’ – part of MundoLingo worldwide, where polyglots meet up to learn, teach and share knowledge of languages!
15. Emerging art & design hotspot
While i was in town, i was lucky that the Bangkok Bienniale was also on! I stumbled upon this before walking to MBK mall, and walked into BACC (Bangkok Art & Culture Centre) instead – this place along with the Silom District testifies that Bangkok is at the cusp of being recognized as an art and design hotspot. Mark my words!
16. Big on wellness
Massage is to Thai people as yoga is to Indians – a form of holistic wellness technique. In fact, it is more of a way of life for Thais (i don’t remember the last time i did yoga!) and people take wellness pretty seriously here.
17. Top choice for digital nomads
Don’t take my word for it – my favorite website across the entire internet, NomadList consistently lists Bangkok as one of the top 3 destinations for digital nomads around the world (currently No.3).
18. Great hub for day trips
This one’s a no-brainer, but its strategic position allows Bangkok to become a great hub to travel around Thailand / South East Asia – making it my last but perhaps most important reason for loving and choosing Bangkok as my base for an entire month.
By the end of the month (mid-December 2018 – mid-January 2019), i had…
- Regularized my sleeping schedule (bedtime was before midnight, and i’d wake up before 8 am),
- Moved on from 20 pushups to 75 pushups
- Went from zero physical activity in 3 years to being able to run upto a mile / kilometer with some minor discomfort (my ligament injury healed after 3 years),
- Got back to habit of writing – journaling and blogging regularly,
- Met at least 10 people on my trip (old and new friends),
- Discovered various facets of Bangkok, including finding great places to stay on my next visit.
My only regret about staying in Bangkok for a month was that i had to cut it short from my original plan to spend 2 months there, to make it to my granny’s 90th birthday! But hey, priorities 🙂