I love Bangkok. It’s busy, polluted and chock full of the evils of consumerism, but I love it. Scratch beneath the surface, and it’s a mass of contradictions – fun, naughty, hi-tech, old fashioned, beautiful, seedy, safe and friendly.
So firstly, allow me introduce you to Terminal 21, a shopping mall that has each floor themed as a different city; London, Istanbul, Paris, Rome, San Fransisco and Hollywood. Going to a shopping mall was not what I went to Thailand for, but I fell a little bit in love with this one.
And Terminal 21 has the best food court I have ever laid eyes on. Thai people eat there, which is always a good sign, and you can have a bowl of noodle soup, dumplings, custard buns, spring rolls, and a fresh fruit smoothie all for under £2. I know this because I ate all of that stuff in one sitting.
And don’t just get caught up in the hi-tech shopping malls, but venture into the street markets, and you’ll find treasures and snacks galore. Street food, although sometimes risky (nobody wants to spend their holiday in a hostel’s shared bathroom) is my absolute favourite thing about travelling, and the best way to eat local food at local prices.
5 things I love about Bangkok
1. Thai people. They are lovely. From the instant I walk into the airport I am greeted with smiles – from the immigration desk (how often do immigration officials do anything but glare?) to the metro stations, where the security guards smile and TELL YOU TO HAVE A NICE EVENING. In London you are lucky if they don’t shove you in front of a train. And they are gorgeous to look at, and have funny adverts (snail secretion whitening cream, anyone?)
2. THE FOOD. I ate about 7 times a day. Everything that I ate, EVERYTHING, was delicious. Pork dumplings with coriander, soy & chilli dipping sauce, fried chicken wontons on sticks, steamed buns, Pad Thai. All served by the side of the road from tiny carts. And then the noodle bowls. Blew my mind. But it wasn’t just the Thai food that was irresistible – with so many Italians in the city, it’s easy to find pizza, cheeses, cured meats, arancini, cakes, pastries and homemade limocello. I was in gluttony heaven.
3. The shopping. It’s cheap. Really cheap. And you can look around you at the stylish locals for inspiration. The shopping malls are everywhere, but the real treats can be found in the markets squeezed between buildings. I didn’t even bother to barter, because why would I when I can buy the exact stripey top I’ve been in need of for under a quid? I also got some excellent, definitely not fake Vans for a fiver. Win.
4. The bars. They are funfunfun. Sky bars, rooftop bars, sports bars, swanky bars, hipster bars and ladyboy bars. I love all of them.
5. Stuff works. I have been in Sri Lanka for a while now, and much as I love it here, it is sometimes a little testing on the patience. I cannot tell you the joy I felt when walking on a Bangkok pavement instead of facing death by bus squeezed up to the side of the road in Ahangama. There is a skytrain in Bangkok with A/C (where people smile at you) and toilets that not only give you a little downstairs clean, but warm the seat up for good measure. And the taxis are pearlescent pink, which I very much enjoy.
Where to stay
The first time we went to Bangkok, we stayed at the Asok Montri hostel, very close to Asok Skytrain – a very simple hostel, clean and with friendly staff. I would definitely recommend it if you are on a tight budget.
And we would have stayed there this time round, but there were no private rooms left (I have done my time in dorms, thank you very much.)
I am actually pretty glad because we stayed at a lush little guesthouse called T-Hostel, which is very close to Sukhamvit, and very easy to get around using the metro and skytrain.
Hidden away from the main road at the top of an apartment building, it is a new hostel, spotlessly clean, with lovely big beds, a nice lounge to chill out in, and a very cute roof garden.
Free tea, coffee, mineral water and biscuits, and you can buy a beer to enjoy on the terrace. Did I mention how cheap Bangkok is?
We stayed here for £8 a night for a big private room with A/C, with lovely staff and lovely pineapple biscuits.
Pizzeria da Luigi
Adam and I went to Bangkok for the first time nearly two years ago, and accidentally ate at a little Italian restaurant called Pizzeria da Luigi. I say accidentally, because we never would have found it if we hadn’t got caught in a torrential downpour. It was impossible to walk anywhere as the streets and drains instantly flooded, so we sprinted for cover. Cover happened to be underneath a patio umbrella in a brightly decorated courtyard, surrounded by tall buildings. Luigi’s was full inside (more people hiding from the rain) so we opted to sit underneath said umbrella and order a beer. Best thing to do in the rain, in my opinion.
We ended up staying for hours, eventually migrating inside the restaurant as Pierluigi told us stories about Italy, Bangkok, and his beloved Lazio, topping up our beers and homemade limoncellos with gusto. We had such a lovely time that we wanted to return. And return we did.
I was a little worried that it wouldn’t be as good this time around, or that this experience wouldn’t live up to the limoncello-tinted memories of Luigi’s. But I didn’t need to worry as it was as good, if not better.
Antipasto, Peroni, breadsticks, olives, Italian cheese and cured meats are all really nice. They are catapulted to this-is-the-best-thing-I-have-ever-eaten status when you have been in Sri Lanka for ages. Especially when followed with a fresh, tasty pizza, a massive slab of tiramasu, and a very strong glass of homemade, very lemony limoncello.
Pierluigi himself is full of character, friendly and proud of his food and heritage, but utterly in love with Bangkok and his life there. You should go to his restaurant, it’s really good.
As is Bangkok.