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Bangkok: My List of Die-Die-Must-Dos

No. 1: Mahanakhon Skywalk

Perched on the 78th floor of the iconic King Power Mahanakhon building, at a height of 310 metres, is Mahanakhon Skywalk, where one can walk, scooch or crawl across a glass tray overlooking the cityscape of Bangkok. Depending on your level of acrophobia, you'll either marvel at the buildings, cars and pedestrians all the way below with wonder, or convulse in fear.

When we visited in June 2022, there didn't appear to be any queue system nor attendants to monitor the maximum number of people and maximum time each person was allowed on the glass tray. Everyone entering the 78th floor of the building was issued shoe covers made of black cloth. When we were ready, we slipped on those covers, took a deep breath and stepped onto the glass. Once done, simply drop the shoe covers into a collection box.

Take the steps next to the Skywalk up and you'll arrive at an observation deck called The Peak with 360 degree views of the city. At 314 metres high, it is Thailand's highest observation deck. We timed our visit such that we'd be there to catch the sunset and watch the twinkling city lights come on across the sprawling metropolis. We were mesmerized by the stunning panoramic views and easily spent 2.5 hrs there, slowly taking in the experience at sundown.

It is possible to book your tickets from the Skywalk's website, but Klook was running a promo at the time when I was sourcing for tickets, and they were a lot cheaper. It usually costs THB836.00 (S$32.00) per adult, but I only paid S$14.90 per adult on Klook. A steal indeed!

No. 2: Midnight Food Tour by Tuk Tuk

We did this tour back in June 2019 and it was definitely the greatest highlight of that trip. The tour not only covered the best eats in Bangkok, it also brought us to Pak Khlong Talat (flower market), Wat Pho temple at night, as well as Eagle Nest roof-top bar which overlooks the Chao Phraya River and a brilliantly illuminated Wat Arun temple.

I look back on the things we've done on our trips to Bangkok, and there's no doubt in my mind that the tour was one of the best things we've ever done there. Although we didn't join the tour a second time in June 2022, we returned to the restaurant which served the best meal on the tour - Ann Guay Tiew Kua Gai, the Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurant famed for their chicken fried noodles with runny egg.

The wok-crisped noodles were packed with wok hei and they successfully lived on in our memories as Bangkok's best noodle dish. At a mere THB50.00 (S$1.90) per bowl, we really had to fight the urge to order third helpings by reminding ourselves to save some tummy space for tasting street food at the nearby Yaowarat Night Market.

No. 3: Yaowarat Night Market

Aside from Thai massage, the one activity which we did more than once on this trip was to visit Yaowarat Night Market. We did so on a Sunday and a weekday night, and I must say it was far more crowded and the atmosphere livelier on a Sunday, with street hawkers out in full force and buskers performing alongside them.

It was fun to soak in the atmosphere at the night market, and all tourists to Bangkok should do this at least once. However, I didn't think the food there was anything much to rave about. Perhaps we're used to eating similar foods in Singapore, so everything appeared fairly ordinary to me. Or perhaps the queues for food heightened my expectations, and I became disappointed when they didn't taste anything special.

For instance, Pa Tong Go Savoey, which sells dough fritters with various dips, bears Michelin's stamp of approval, so naturally they are ubiquitous in food blogs on Yaowarat. We joined the long line in front of the stall on Sunday night and had the great fortune of getting the last portion of their world renowned pandan coconut custard that night. To be honest, it wasn't worth the wait nor calories. It was simply cut up pieces of youtiao eaten with a dip similar to kaya. We were left scratching our heads as to what the hype was all about.

Yaowarat has 2 highly popular seafood stalls facing each other - T&K Seafood Restaurant and Lek & Rut Seafood. These stalls have no shortage of glowing reviews online, and long queues form in front of them all the time. On both the nights we were there, we noticed that the queue in front of T&K was longer, so surmised that they must be better and promptly joined the line.

It was a long wait before we were ushered up a steep and narrow flight of stairs to a table on the 4th floor of their air-conditioned building. The space was like an attic with around 4 or 5 tables only. All the customers seated there sounded Singaporean, and we had the unfortunate experience of spending three quarters of that evening listening to a particularly animated, loud-voiced one lambast her bosses and colleagues. She was so loud that it was impossible not to overhear every detail spilling out of her mouth, which reverberated in the attic. It was so unbearable that 2 teenage boys at another table eventually exclaimed in frustration: "Talk so loudly!" and "Shut up lah!" This was followed by their mom going: "Shhhh..." Not sure if she was desperately trying to shush her own boys or the inconsiderate female, but an awkward silence ensued with the latter staring daggers at the boys.

We had ordered a tableful of food, but it was hard to process our thoughts when all we could hear was the woman's deafening voice, let alone enjoy the food. My memory of her complete lack of etiquette overshadowed that of the taste of the food. The food wasn't bad, but neither was it great. Just very ordinary cze char style cooking which you can get from any coffee shop in Singapore without having to line up. I'm glad to have given them a try so I can cross them off my bucket list, but won't be returning to them the next time I'm in Bangkok.

No. 4: Chatuchak Weekend Market

Missing out on Chatuchak Weekend Market ("Chatuchak") on a weekend in Bangkok would be like travelling to Beijing and not seeing the Great Wall of China. With more than 15,000 stalls spread over 35 acres, this is the largest weekend market in the world, selling everything imaginable from t-shirts to exotic wildlife!

To get there, we caught the subway to Mo Chit Station, took Exit 1, then walked for less than 5 mins to arrive at Entrance 3 of Chatuchak on our right. From this entrance, we were able to pick up free maps of Chatuchak which helped us navigate our way through this massive market.

My girls went berserk on their shopping spree at Chatuchak. We spent several hours on a Sunday afternoon checking out the stalls there, but only scratched the tip of the iceberg before calling it quits. The intense heat in Bangkok made it too uncomfortable to continue exploring.

Even though the temperature and humidity in Bangkok aren't that different from Singapore's, the lack of trees in Bangkok probably made the city feel much hotter. We found ourselves lusting after icy cold drinks and ice-cream all the time. For me, the best thing at Chatuchak was the coconut milkshake from Coco Juice, and the coconut ice-cream sold a few doors down from them. The coconut milkshake was so cold it gave me brain freeze. Just what I needed in that weather!

No. 5: Jodd Fairs

Jodd Fairs is a fairly new night market which opened its doors in December 2021, and is quickly establishing itself as a very hip and chill after-dark hangout.

Open from 1700 to 0000 hrs daily, Jodd Fairs was started by the organizers of the former Train Night Market Ratchada (also known as Talad Rot Fai), which was shut down by the government in April 2021. Many of the popular stalls at Talad Rot Fai have since reopened at Jodd Fairs.

One such stall is Maeklong Noodles & Leng Zaab, well-known for their Leng Zaab or sometimes spelt as Leng Saap, a spicy pork spine soup served in a ridiculously humongous pile and heaped with chopped green chilies and herbs. It isn't difficult to find them because you'll definitely see the queue before you even see the stall!

The Leng Zaab was served in 4 different sizes - M (THB150), L (THB220), XL (THB290) and XXL (THB699). We chose XL, so we could have room to try their other dishes. The meal was wonderful. The pork was fall-apart tender and the broth was very flavourful. We felt like primitive cavemen, digging into the mountain of pork spine with our hands and baring our teeth to gnaw on the bones. Hilarious meal which made for some seriously unflattering pix!

After dinner, we explored the rest of the market. There were more than 600 stalls, arranged in an orderly sequence, which made browsing very enjoyable. The food stalls were all very clean. One thing which impressed me in Bangkok was the lack of houseflies. Even with the abundance of street carts selling food and intense heat in the city, we hardly ever saw flies. Aside from food stalls, there were plenty of stalls selling other items too at Jodd Fairs, ranging from clothes to cannabis. Yes, cannabis!

Three days before our arrival in Bangkok in June 2022, Thailand legalised the growing of cannabis and consumption of cannabis-infused food and drinks, and delisted it as a narcotic. The Thai government gave out a million free cannabis plants, and stalls started popping up across Thailand to sell cannabis-infused products, including Ape's Bar at Jodd Fairs which sold cannabis-infused drinks.

We didn't get high on pot, but my girls did go ga ga for the desserts at Jodd Fairs, trying cookies, crepes, mochi, ice-cream etc. They also bought some clothes and pet accessories, and were thrilled with their haul.

Having been to quite a few markets in Bangkok over the years, Jodd Fairs stands out as a clear winner. It may not be as local and authentic as Wang Lang Market, but its good hygiene standards encourage us to venture out and try many different foods without fear. It may be a fraction of the size of Chatuchak, but the diversity of its offerings is more than sufficient and it is not so massive as to be overwhelming. In addition, walking around Jodd Fairs at night was much more pleasant than wandering about under the hot sun in a day market. I'd definitely return to Jodd Fairs again and again in future trips to Bangkok.

No. 6: Pathumwan Shopping Belt

A visit to Bangkok wouldn't be complete without a proper dose of retail therapy at Pathumwan shopping belt. I like to start the day at MBK Center, then make my way across the road to Siam Discovery, Siam Center, Siam Paragon, and finally end the day at my favourite mall in Bangkok - Centralworld.

Centralworld is the 11th largest mall in the world and its range of stores far exceed what we have in Singapore. After a long day of shopping, I can head to my favourite spa in Bangkok, Let's Relax, which is conveniently located within Centralworld, for some much needed pampering.

When I'm hungry, the food court on its 7th floor serves one of the best oyster omelettes I've ever tasted. Thai oyster omelettes are different from the Singapore version, which tends to be more starchy and gooey. The Thai version is ultra crispy and they're usually paired with beansprouts which help to take away some of the greasiness. I've tried the oyster omelettes at several places in Bangkok, and the ones at the foodcourts of Centralworld and Terminal 21 have impressed me the most.

Interestingly, 3 important Hindu shrines can be found in the immediate vicinity of Centralworld. Side by side, in front of Centralworld, lie Trimurti Shrine (pray for love) and Ganesha Shrine (pray for success).

Diagonally across from Centralworld is the most famous of them all, Erawan Shrine (pray for favours), which has a reputation for answering prayers. Devotees who had their prayers answered return to give thanks by hiring traditional Thai dancers to perform for the deity, and bystanders can watch the performance for free.

Erawan Shrine was the target of a vandalism attack in 2006, when a mentally ill Thai man destroyed the statue of the deity with a hammer, and he was himself beaten to death with a steel bar by 2 trash collectors who were nearby. Then in 2015, a terrorist bomb attack at the shrine claimed the lives of 20 victims and injured 125.

No. 7: Getting a Thai Massage

If I had to choose between having a Michelin-starred meal or getting a good massage done, I'd gladly forgo the meal to be kneaded by a pair of healing hands. Having visited several massage places in Bangkok, I'd give top marks to Let's Relax @ Centralworld for creating a professional, clean and relaxing environment, where clients feel totally pampered at an affordable price.

Using Shopback along with promo codes in Klook, I essentially paid S$40.00 per person for a 2-hour Thai massage. Not the cheapest in Bangkok, but I felt it was worth every penny for their professionalism and level of service. The price in Klook was also lower than booking directly with Let's Relax.

The outlet at Centralworld was huge, but we had difficulty locating it the first time we went there because the it was located at an obscure corner of the mall. Eventually, we had to walk through another store, Mango, to get to it. Perhaps tourism hadn't quite picked up yet when we were there in June 2022, as it was relatively quiet and no prior appointment was necessary. We walked into the outlet to make sure they had availability and paid for the Klook voucher on the spot.

As we enjoyed the green tea and chilled towels brought to us, therapists helped us change into disposable slippers, after which we were led to a warm footbath. The therapists washed and dried our feet, then brought us to our massage room where soothing music was played.

We changed into Thai-style satin clothing before the therapists dimmed the lights and started our 2-hour Thai massage. Most of the therapists spoke little or no English, but they could generally understand us when we wanted more or less pressure to be applied, or that they concentrate on a certain area of the body. The therapists we encountered were all very skillful, and the sessions were immensely pleasurable.

After the massage, the therapists led us to a lounge area to relax, and served us some really delicious mango sticky rice and more tea. For the amount we paid, we couldn't have asked for better service than that!

No. 8: Tour of Rattanakosin by Tuk Tuk

Rattanakosin is the Old Town of Bangkok, where famous landmarks like The Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) and Wat Pho are located. I was eager to explore the temples, forts and streets in Rattanakosin on foot and learn about the history of Bangkok, but getting the family to walk with me in the sweltering heat was a monumental task.

In the end, I found a private half-day tour of Rattanakosin by tuk tuk in Pelago, and convinced them to come with me. After using promo codes, I paid S$30.36 per person for the tour. Although we didn't have the comfort of an air-conditioned coach, it was definitely more fun to travel in a tuktuk and feel the wind in our hair!

Our tour guide met us at our hotel and walked with us to Phaya Thai Station, where he bought tickets for us to National Stadium Station. Our tuk tuks were parked along a street near the stadium, waiting to take us for a spin around Rattanakosin.

In 1782, King Rama I moved the capital of his kingdom from Thonburi on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River to a village on the east bank called Bang Makok (Place of Olive Plums), where he felt was a better location to guard against enemy attacks. Thai tradition required a city pillar to be erected upon the establishment of a new city, and this was done and consecrated in a ceremony on 21 April 1782. Today, the pillar can be found within the City Pillar Shrine.

King Rama I then went about fortifying his new capital with city walls and forts. In total, 14 forts were constructed in 1783, of which only 2 remain today - Mahakan Fort and Phra Sumen Fort. Our tuk tuks took us to Santi Chai Prakan Public Park, where Phra Sumen Fort sits. We also got to see a pavilion used for royal ceremonies, and Rama VIII Bridge which spans across the Chao Phraya River.

In 1784, The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew were completed. We could see the buildings across the road from the City Pillar Shrine, but did not enter them during our tour. King Rama I named the new city "Rattanakosin", meaning Jewel of Indra. Rattanakosin was the only place in Bangkok where I noticed large portraits of King Maha Vajiralongkorn (Rama X) being displayed prominently. The rest of Bangkok seemed to have portraits of the Queen on facades and inside buildings, but not the King. This is in stark contrast to the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej's (Rama IX) reign, when I remember seeing his portraits everywhere.

Another monument from 1784 which survives in Rattanakosin today is the Giant Swing, which stands in front of Wat Suthat. The Giant Swing was used for Brahman ceremonies. During these ceremonies, a bag of gold coins would be hung at a height of about 50 feet and participants in the ceremonies would use the Giant Swing to launch themselves as high as possible to reach the bag of coins. Over the years, many men were injured and some even lost their lives trying to reach for the bag of coins. The ceremonies were eventually discontinued in 1935 and the Giant Swing fell into disuse.

Our tuk tuk went past the Khao San Road area and our guide shared that the backpackers' enclave had suffered badly from the fall in tourism numbers due to the global pandemic. However, in recent days, crowds have re-appeared to buy cannabis related products from pop up carts along the road.

The last stop of the tour was Wat Saket (The Golden Mount). This temple actually existed as Wat Sakae from the Ayutthaya period, when the capital of Siamese kingdom was still in Ayutthaya, and is one of Bangkok's oldest temples. King Rama I renovated the temple and renamed it Wat Saket.

In 1820, Bangkok suffered a cholera outbreak and more than 30,000 people died. Wat Saket was the main crematorium for the cholera victims and it struggled to cremate the large number of corpses. Many of the bodies were left in the open and vultures swooped down to devour them. Cholera continued to plague Bangkok until 1881.

Today, Wat Saket is popular with tourists looking for a bird's eye view of Rattanakosin. Although the view couldn't rival that from Mahanakhon Skywalk and we didn't stay long enough to catch the sunset, it was the perfect place to finish our tour. Our tour lasted 3.5 hrs and it gave us a good overview of the old town of Bangkok.

No. 9: Chao Phraya River

I fell in love with Chao Phraya River many years ago when I first laid eyes on it. It was not a sleepy river gently meandering through a quiet town. Rather, the lifeblood of Bangkok coursed through a bustling city, evoking an energy which captivated me.

I watched young Thai kids jump, swim and dive in the waters, just inches away from the menacing propeller blades of moving boats. Their youthful exuberance and innocent, smiling faces are still etched in my mind after all these years. I watched boatmen steer their longtail boats and motorised crafts expertly, avoiding other boats which were moving in all directions on the busy river. From the river, I marveled at the changing skyline of Bangkok, evolving from the traditional Thai architecture of The Grand Palace and ancient temples to the shiny facades of modern skyscrapers and shopping malls.

Trip after trip, the Chao Phraya River beckoned and I returned. The best way to see the river is from a boat, and there are various ways of taking one. The priciest and most luxurious way is to go on a dinner cruise. Then, there's the Chao Phraya Tourist Boat (blue flag), a hop-on-hop-off service which stops at all the major places of interest located along the river, like The Grand Palace, Wat Arun and so on. The tourist boat is an inexpensive and convenient means of transport, but there's an even cheaper method which is by Chao Phraya Express Boat (orange flag), the public boat service which plies the river. It only costs THB16 (S$0.60) per trip.

Lastly, there're the complimentary boat services run by various riverside hotels, Asiatique, Iconsiam. Technically, it is possible to hop on and off these boats and travel a fair distance on the river for free.

Avani Riverside Hotel was one of the hotels which operated a shuttle boat service to and from Sathon Pier. We used the shuttle boat when we were staying at the hotel, and were impressed with their service. On a hot and humid afternoon, chilled lemongrass-scented face towels and cold bottles of drinking water were handed out to everyone on board. Although we were staying at the hotel at that time, we noticed that the boatmen never once asked to see proof of our stay. The same is probably true of the complimentary shuttle boats run by other hotels too. After all, these hotels have cafes and restaurants which serve the general public, so anyone would be welcome to use the boats.

Asiatique is the riverside marketplace with the ferris wheel. It provides a free 10-min shuttle boat service to and from Sathon Pier between 1700 to 2300 hrs. We've yet to visit Asiatique, and the last I read, many stalls folded during the pandemic and, sadly, the marketplace is now a shadow of its former self. Hopefully, the stalls and crowds will return in time to come and we'll get to enjoy the marketplace on our next trip.

Iconsiam is the largest shopping mall in Bangkok. Prominent brand names from around the world are all present at Iconsiam. On the 6th floor of the mall, there's a 15m waterfall which looks very similar to the 40m tall Rain Vortex waterfall at Jewel Changi Airport. Since Iconsiam was opened in 2018, and Jewel only came about in 2019, the waterfall at Iconsiam was actually unveiled first! There's much to see and do at Iconsiam, including a nightly multimedia light and water show and a large foodcourt which is modelled after a floating market.

Iconsiam provides free shuttle boat rides from 2 piers, Sathon Pier and Si Phraya Pier, between 0900 to 2300 hrs. The duration of the boat ride from Sathon Pier is longer than the one from Si Phraya Pier, but the neighbourhood where Si Phraya Pier is located, Talat Noi, is well worth a visit.

Talat Noi is one of the oldest parts of Bangkok, and it lies on the periphery of Bangkok's Chinatown. Here, you'll find a network of narrow alleyways, quaint shophouses, ornate temples and colourful street art. In addition, there's also River City, an art and cultural centre where free exhibitions are regularly hosted.