B A N G K O K C I T Y G U I D E
The City of Angels Beckons
By SHIRLEY BRADY
Shadow puppets by Annie Lee
The athletes have packed their medals and the sports fans have gone home, but the Asian Games that swept through Bangkok in December left a spirit of goodwill behind--good news for anyone planning a visit or stopover in 1999. While the baht's recent recovery doesn't make the City of Angels as "amazing" a travel bargain as tourism officials might have you believe, Bangkok still offers a banquet of ways to grab some sanuk, the Thais' own unique brand of fun--without breaking the bank.
The rebounding economy has also put more cars back on the roads, but you can avoid crosstown traffic waits of 45 minutes or more (the traditional bane of Bangkok visitors) by taking to the river. The Chao Phraya River Express, a water-bus system with frequent stops, is a dramatic introduction to the city's charms. Jostling among the skiffs, longboats, barges and ferries that ply the river, the Express costs less than $0.25 and journeys to riverfront attractions like the Grand Palace and nearby Wat Pho, home to a blissful reclining Buddha and queues for the $6-an-hour massages at the temple's school of traditional medicine (arrive early to get yours, or indulge in a $45 "jetlag massage" at the Oriental Hotel's spa). Cross the river here to scale Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn, a steep-stepped, broken-crockery-studded mosaic that boasts a great vista of the city's temple-dotted skyline. For a tour of the klongs, or canals, that once earned the city its nickname Venice of the East, you can rent a long-tail boat for about $20 an hour at the Oriental pier. Or head downriver to the Marriott Royal Garden Riverside Hotel, where the Manohra, a converted rice barge, departs at 7:30 p.m. nightly for an evening cruise costing $35 a person. The price includes a set meal of Thai food; drinks are extra (for reservations, call 662-476-0022).
Besides temple-hopping, Bangkok offers endless shopping. Once you're back on land, stick to metered taxis to get around--and on the off chance you get taken for a ride, contact the Tourist Police through a free multilingual telephone hotline set up by the Tourism Authority of Thailand. Dial 1155 from anywhere in the country--press 1 for the police and 2 for tourism information. If you are in the market for gold and jewels, shop in stores where you see a gold-and-ruby ring symbol on display (and use a credit card with purchase protection). Visitors with only a couple of hours between flights have been known to cram in a hasty buying spree for neckties and fabric at 9 Surawong Road--the main branch of Jim Thompson's Thai Silk Co. If you have the time, visit Lord Jim's former house-turned-museum, about 20 minutes away by taxi at 6 Soi Kasemsan 2, off Rama I Road. And pick up a copy of William Warren's recently updated biography, Jim Thompson: The Legendary American, for a glimpse back at Thompson's chic and exotic life on a once-quiet klong.
The place to be seen (and make the scene) in today's Bangkok is the corner of Soi Langsuan and Soi Sarasin. A popular hangout for locals and expats alike, this area north of Lumphini Park offers an eclectic mix of restaurants, cafes and nightspots. To get started, head north from the park on Langsuan. Sample the fare at the outdoor food-stalls along the way, or save your appetite for one of the neighborhood's many eateries. Choices include Nugan Lee, a popular Chinese restaurant; the Moulin de Sommai for French cuisine; the Pan Pan pizzeria; Air Plane, a romantic Italian trattoria; Whole Earth for Thai and vegetarian dishes; and Ramentei, a tranquil Japanese noodle house. Stop for an after-dinner drink at local pubs like Ad Makers or Dux (a quirky spot on Soi 5). There is live music at Round Midnight, on the corner of Langsuan and Sarasin, or nearby at Hurricane, Shakin' and Old West. Squeeze your way through the crowd in Brown Sugar to order up a local beer--after a few sips and a taste of live jazz and blues, you'll feel right at home.
With reporting by Morris Dye and Kim Gooi/Bangkok
R E L A T E D L I N K S :
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January 11, 1999
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