INSIDER GUIDE TO BANGKOK
Roam the streets of this city of contrasts where the best of the traditional and modern world clash in a mixture of Michelin star food, good fun and world-class urban exploration
Words: Aleksandra Georgieva
Photography: Joshua Rawson Harris
21 December 2020
Much like the clashing flavours of an authentic plate of pàt tai, Bangkok is a city where the exotic and traditional collide bring out the best of the two worlds to the surface. The capital is a small universe of its own where generations-old customs greet travellers of the modern world and the urban exploration of influencial cultures.
While Thailand is bursting with sun-kissed islands, travellers can often discard a trip to the cosmopolitan street life in the capital city. The protests of 2013-2014 and the political tension in the Nineties make some unsure of visiting Bangkok. Yet, the heartbeat of the tropical metropolis is changing to an upbeat rythm of start-ups, new working spaces, inventive restaurants and lively street life.
Bangkok is a city of contrasts; a land of contradictions that define the character and charisma of the Thai culture. This is the place where slowly moving traffic merges with long-tail boats sliding past by the river ways and canals. Century-old village homes have been preserved throughout time and history to neighbour with megamalls equipped with tech like climate control. The ever-evolving cosmopolitanism of the city is increasingly evident as part of the modern Thai life. Golden glazed temples are homes to Buddhist monks who roam the city streets to buy the latest technological breakthroughs. Futuristic restaurants set on skyscapes' rooftops overlook some of the world's best street food stalls and vendors. Life in Bangkok is a race for the future of existing in harmony with old and new, ancient and modern, what we've been taught and what we are yet to learn. Visiting if only to witness the diversity within the city of contrasts is a life-changing experience that can hardly be put into words.
Apart from the evident clash of tradition and cosmopolitanism, the Bangkok streets are world-famous as the best place on the planet to taste Thai food. Few other areas meet locals and visitors with Michelin star restaurants scattered around the streets opposite food stalls that offer a single-dish mastered to perfection over decades of cooking by a single family. The streets of Bangkok are an intense mix of exhaust fumes, sweaty crowd and the steamy scent of freshly made seafood and noodles. Yet the curtain of sweet, sour, spice and salt that falls over the city brings a particular charm quite unlike anywhere else.
If you love food but don't need a shiny dining setting, Bangkok could turn into your favourite alongside best-value dining destination in the world by far. Immigration brings various twists to traditional Thai cuisine into the capital city diversifying the local culinary scene even further.
The Thai people are known for bringing an element of sà·nùk (fun) into all aspects of everyday life. Despite the seemingly huge language barrier, whether you are haggling at markets, ordering street food or getting cash, locals give away smiles and a dash of flirtation.
Very few other places on the planet dive into street life quite like the Thai people do in Bangkok. The capital city effortlessly blends nearly every aspect of living onto its streets turning into a beautiful and undeniably rewarding destination to explore as a tourist. From tasting the culinary masterpieces of some of the city's best food stalls found in Chinatown to meeting a monk on a stroll alongside Banglamphu’s off-road tracks and visiting a tucked away market on an extended boat trip, travel memories in Bangkok happen on the streets. When dusk falls head for the Skytrain (BTS) to Sukhumvit to enjoy the dynamic nightlife of the city.
The raw charm of Bangkok is also continuously being reinvented by a new generation of ambitious creatives. The streets bursts with traffic where motorbikes swing past honking cars and no one ever stops. The seemingly intimidating scene of busy locals, teeming markets and disoriented backpackers make up the "old Asia" charm of the city.
Here successful family-owned printing houses are transformed into museum-hotels. The young generations are breathing new life into the city reinventing authentic architecture, customs and art into structures and business that welcome modern attributes of unconventional character and sustainability. Factory compounds are turned into cafés, restaurants and home décor shops. Furniture from old factories such as vintage magazines, antique bookshelves and leather-bound editions of Bangkok Weekly create the interior of newly restored buildings. Emerging artists hang their work in art galleries that were once warehouses.
Instead of always building new, the youth in Bangkok sees the potential in what is local. The young generations add twists to what is already good making the city more flavourful, inventive and unconventional than ever before. Green spaces are used for concerts and markets on weekends providing working professionals with a much-needed escape within the boundaries of their own city. Abandoned WWII warehouses become hubs for creatives. Open-plan courtyards, design shops and riverside complexes lay where once stood family-owned rice warehouses.
While the Thai city rivals with cosmopolitan places such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan, today there are more benefits than the undeniable opportunities to be inventive there. Combined with affordable cost of living and reasonable rent prices, Bangkok unfolds as a hub for the creative youth where dreams turn into ideas that with a dash of ambition and hard work can actually turn into reality.