CITY SPIRITS

Written by root. Posted in FEATURES

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Published on March 10, 2017 with No Comments

Mid-week gems and where to drop anchor in Bangkok prior to the weekend.

Words ANIS RAMLI

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Credit(s): Tourism Authority of Thailand

 

No one could ever fault Bangkok for its charm. Amid the luxury, antiseptic malls and soaring skyscrapers is a paradox of a city: tattered Sino-Portuguese shophouses, unsightly sprawling electric wires and broken pavements. Yet all these come together to create an alluring picture of the city.

It is these scenes that are often missed out by visitors who often race to do all the must-sees listed in travel books and social media. Often times, it means missing out on scenic homely dwellings, food-filled alleys and character-bursting everything that makes one look at Bangkok with fresh new lens. Perhaps the best way to begin re-exploring the city is to take time off during mid-week – when tourist crowds are thin, and the “real” Bangkokians come out to play.

Start with the old quarters at Phra Athit. The area is a perfect mixture of old buildings and discreet noble houses, new establishments and yesteryear’s shops. Running alongside the Chao Phraya with the stunningly preserved Phra Sumen Fort at the end of the road, you can explore the area and always find something new at every corner. Locals come here for the cheap legendary eats such as Roti Mataba. The hole in the wall shop still creates the much loved roti recipes founded by its immigrant Indian founder during World War II. If you don’t care for the roti, try other local Thai dishes on the menu such as ox tongue stew and mussamman curry.

Beyond the food, it’s the stroll along this road that lets you soak in the Thai-ness of the area. Opposite the shop is the Santichaiprakarn Park with the old fort towering over it. Locals gather here in the mornings for free aerobic classes – or whatever workouts are available at dawn. In the evenings, families and couples gather for a walk, taking in the breeze from the Chao Phraya or getting ready to hop on boats from Pier 13 to explore the river further afield.

A cool option, literally, to escape the heat is at the upscale Babble & Rum. Housed in the stylish Riva Surya boutique hotel, it offers a chilled-out riverside vibe, with a terrace overlooking the river to enjoy drinks and dinner. Riva Surya itself is a fine establishment to check out. Rooms with balcony overlooking the river offer a much needed respite from Bangkok’s typical traffic-logged streets, and it does feel you’re a long way away from the city’s bustle when a riverboat ride is all it takes to get you back in the groove.

Says Jularat “Joi” Ouepanarangsi, a local who works at Riva Surya, “Bangkok is a diverse city and you can choose how you live; between budget living, moderate living or expensive living. You can have different lifestyle depending on your budget.” The things she finds that makes the city exciting to live in is the food. “It’s tasty, there’s variety – again, you find an assortment of international cuisine but if you want local fare, there are the street eateries to take advantage of.” In short, she says, Bangkok is just richly filed with culture.

Willy Thuan, who runs the popular blogs BangkokUndercover.com and Phuket101.net, seems to know every corner of the city. He says, “Guests often overlook the fact that Bangkok is a bike-friendly city.” He suggests taking a ride on the nearby island of Ko Kret or in Bang Krachao, nicknamed the green lung of Bangkok. There are also various other parks to take the two-wheeler, such as Chatuchak, Benkakitti or Rama IX parks.

One of the more popular places to soak in the Thai culture is of course, the markets. Thankfully, some of the city’s markets also open on weekdays. For vintage goods and a cool vibe, Rot Fai Market (Train Market) is a popular hangout place. This authentic open-air bazaar sells an incredible array of vintage collectibles and memorabilia, from antique furniture to hippie fashion and kitsch everything. But there are also sections in the market where guests can browse for modern fashion and wares. Willy also recommends going to markets patronised by locals. Khlong Lat Mayom, a floating market near Bangkok, is reachable in just 20 minutes. Devoid of tourists, it remains an authentic place where locals shop their daily needs. Highlight of the visit is the abundance of cook-on-the-spot foods you can try.

Bangkok, says Joe Wigunya, is special simply because “people there come together despite speaking different dialects,” she says. Unlike other big capitals, Bangkok’s community still regards each other with deep respect – you can see the old and new generation getting along well. “So whether you are hunting for shaved ice dessert at 1am in the morning or getting lost in the maze that is Chatuchak, it is this spirit you see everywhere in Bangkok that makes any place a good place to be just to find the “real” city.”

 

 

Royal Brunei flies Bangkok 6x weekly. Discover things to do in Bangkok on www.muhibah.com.bn

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