View of Bangkok's skyline, Bangkok, Thailand

A Different Side of Bangkok

Jan 21, 2015 - Julie

Our first visit to Bangkok was cultural and historical – filled with temples and more temples, palaces and more palaces. With those staple landmarks out of the way, we were able to focus on seeing other aspects of Bangkok the second time around. While we waited for some paperwork to be ready, we checked out what modern Bangkok has to offer as well as its notable markets.

Sky Bar @ Vertigo Moon Bar

We have to credit our good friend Abby for having the idea of visiting a sky bar in Bangkok – we probably would not have gone ourselves and we would definitely have missed out (thanks Abby!). After perusing many options ranging in location, height, and style, we chose the Vertigo Moon Bar at Banyan Tree Bangkok in the center of Silom near Lumpini Park.

View of the Vertigo Restaurant, Bangkok, Thailand
View of the Vertigo Restaurant, Bangkok, Thailand

First and foremost, the view was sick. 360 degrees of downtown Bangkok, no roof and unobstructed. Most tall buildings we’ve visited like Taipei 101 have heavily fenced outdoor observation decks. Not Vertigo Moon Bar. There was something thrilling and real about looking down and out without any barriers.

What surprised me the most was that the city of Bangkok spread out for as far as the eye could see, into the horizon, on all sides. Lumpini Park was within sight, but dark. Chao Phraya river could also be seen, but further into the distance. I think I still prefer other sky views that include water and mountains to balance out all the skyscrapers like the Hong Kong harbour view. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful cacophony of lights, and the air from up there was quite fresh.

View of Bangkok's skyline, Bangkok, Thailand
View of Bangkok’s skyline, Bangkok, Thailand

There was a dress code, but it was not as severe as we thought. No flip flops, torn jeans, and sportswear. Otherwise we saw people wearing all sorts of different things. We went for a casual drink at the bar, but there was also an area of tables where guests could eat. Drinks were on the pricey side; however, there was no admission fee, so the drink also paid for the unbeatable view. We sat up there and chatted for quite a while – there was no rush. I really liked how the sky bar was a whole different side to Bangkok that we had never experienced before and a completely new way to see the city.

Floating Market

We missed visiting a floating market last time we were in Thailand, so we thought we would check it out this time. The only one available on a weekday at reasonable hours was the Damoen Saduak Floating Market. We booked a half-day tour as it was cheaper than finding transportation ourselves. The tour included roundtrip bus (1.5h one way) and long-tail boat ride into the market area. While the bus rides were usual, the long-tail boat ride was loud with crazy acceleration.

Boat at the canal, Damnoensaduak Floating Market, Bangkok, Thailand
Boat at the canal, Damnoensaduak Floating Market, Bangkok, Thailand

Thai floating markets were distinctively different than floating markets in the Vietnamese Mekong Delta. The Mekong was vast in comparison to the narrow canals in Thailand, meaning large boats were replaced with much smaller boats. Each boat in Vietnam specialized in one particular item (i.e. pineapples) while boats in Damoen Saduak sold a range of related products (i.e. all souvenirs). We absolutely needed a boat to take us to the market area in the Mekong, whereas we could see all of the action in the Thai floating market by walking around the canals and bridges (though we did take a short boat tour for the experience).

Boats at the floating market, Bangkok, Thailand
Boats at the floating market, Bangkok, Thailand

It was super crowded and overall more touristy than I would have liked it to be. There were more boats carrying tourists than actually selling goods. All of those pictures or postcards where the canals are filled with colorful boats selling fruits and vegetables? Not real… at least we didn’t see it. Besides a few food and drink vendors, most other vendors sold typical souvenirs on the side of the canals. The extra boat ride was in the most jam-packed canal area – we basically moved at a glacial pace, being jostled around by other boats more than anything.

Bird's eyes view of the floating market, Bangkok, Thailand
Bird’s eyes view of the floating market, Bangkok, Thailand

We definitely tried to make the most of our limited time at the floating market. It still boggles my mind that people live on the water with their small boat as their livelihood. I found it especially interesting to watch the few food vendors in the canals. I can barely manage to cook edible meals regularly in a fully-equipped kitchen back home, yet these people were creating tasty dishes in record time on a small boat. There were stoves and ingredients and everything. Simply amazing.

Boat selling fruits at the floating market, Bangkok, Thailand
Boat selling fruits at the floating market, Bangkok, Thailand

Final verdict: if markets are not your thing, then you can skip it without feeling like you’re missing out. However, if you’re curious, then it’s only a few hours for the chance to see something unique. Plus many people consider floating market a must-do in Bangkok – you should decide for yourself!

Bangkok Malls

For many tourists, one of Bangkok’s main draws is its huge shopping malls! As you can imagine, we were not exactly looking to buy new clothes or accessories or even souvenirs. Regardless, a mall visit had its perks, even for us. There’s AC, pretty windows to browse, a ton of activities, as well as lots of food choices. It’s our go-to place on a bad-weather day. Bangkok malls were especially extravagant and large – you could literally spend days there.

Stairs at the Siam Paragon Mall, Bangkok, Thailand
Stairs at the Siam Paragon Mall, Bangkok, Thailand

Siam had one of the biggest collection of malls – Siam Center, Siam Discovery, Siam Squares 1-5, Siam Paragon, and MBK Center nearby. There was even an aquarium there with real penguins! (I think the idea of penguins in Bangkok is kind of absurd.) Another one we visited was Central, a chain of malls that we previously went to in Chiang Mai for movies. Unless you’re looking for a particular store, there were big and small malls everywhere, you don’t have to walk long without stumbling into one.

Asiatique

It would be easy to classify Asiatique as a mall, and in some ways it was a mall; however, it felt more like a little carless community of cute shops and nice restaurants. An open-air area by the Chao Phraya river, Asiatique was born when former warehouses were transformed into hundreds of stalls and shops. It was open daily from 5pm to midnight, perfect for a night out. If all of that was not enough incentive to go, a free ferry from the Sathorn Pier (Central) sealed the deal.

Asiatique The Riverfront, Bangkok, Thailand
Asiatique The Riverfront, Bangkok, Thailand

I liked how Asiatique was away from all the hustle and bustle of downtown. When I think of Bangkok, I think of a crowded metropolis of tall skyscrapers and endless traffic. At Asiatique, there was space to walk around and room to breathe. It really felt like we were in a different district with a much slower and calmer vibe and atmosphere. The river view was lovely – across the river, upstream, as well as passing boats lit up in the night. For those wanting an even better view, Asiatique Sky is the tallest Ferris wheel in Bangkok. The shopping and food were definitely pricier than regular street vendors, but the best parts of Asiatique can be enjoyed for free.

Chatuchak Weekend Market

The largest market in all of Thailand, Chatuchak Weekend Market had over 8000 stalls (yes, you read that right, thousands). The market is so big that it is split into 27 sections, ranging from clothes to pets to ceramics to plants. We went more to check it out than to buy anything in particular. Let’s just say it was not for the faint-hearted. We only walked a very small section of the market near Gate 2, but it was already so easy to get lost and walk around in circles. At one point we realized we had seen those exact stalls only moments before.

An afternoon at Chatuchak was pretty fruitful. We had lunch at some food stalls right outside the entrance (not as good as our favourite corner), but decent. We saw some crazy things being sold like a giant tortoise. We bought a backup iPhone 5 charger cord (only $1.60 and it works!), fake Havaianas to replace my real ones that broke ($3 but I miss my old ones), and sunglasses (unexpected but only $1 and more for looks than functionality). Clearly everything under the sun was sold there for some great deals if you can find them!

Considering our constant travel (we are rarely in the same place for more than 2-3 days), Bangkok is the closest things that we have to any semblance of a “home base.” Visiting Bangkok this second time around was even more enjoyable than the first, mostly because we already knew what to expect. There were downsides, of course – taxis being a big one this time as we struggled to find ones that would use the meter – but many more upsides. Bangkok is a huge hub in the area, a great place to get paperwork sorted, and Thailand is visa-free for both of us. It’s an enormous city with so much to do and see and experience. We have plans to come back a third, maybe even a fourth time and we’re already looking into ideas for our next Bangkok adventures.

For more pictures from our second time in Bangkok, please visit the gallery!