September 7, 2007
The Lost Girls, a plucky trio of world travelers and IgoUgo members from Manhattan, fell for Bangkok in less than a New York minute. They explain how Thailand’s capital swept them off their feet—and why it will do the same to you.
New Yorkers tend to assume (or more aptly, believe with a deep, zealot-like conviction) that there’s no big city on earth that’s as funky, hip, and prodigious as the one they call home. And, having spent most of my twenties falling in love with and ultimately moving to one of the world’s fastest moving metropolises, I tended to agree with my fellow Gothamites. Where else can you rub elbows with A-list celebs at the corner bodega, sample two dozen flavors of rice pudding at 2am, argue with cab drivers in 142 different languages, and grab cocktails with your friends every night for a decade—never visiting the same spot twice?
Blame it on our stubborn NYC pride, but my travel buddies Jen, Holly, and I just didn’t expect Bangkok to give the Big Apple such a run for its money. We often remark that it only takes a day to form a first impression of a new city, but as it turned out, we fell for Thailand’s capital city in less than a New York minute. Here are The Lost Girls’ top reasons why:
1. Gourmet Street Vendors: As much as The Lost Girls love to splurge on crispy dumplings with dipping sauces and heaping bowls of chicken stir-fry (yum!), we’re huge fans of lighter treats that you can buy cheap on the street. Bangkok’s got both in spades—stands serving up heaping plates of noodles and carts where you can get melon, pineapple, or papaya sliced to order and served with sugar (optional, of course) for just about 30 cents. We also loved the takeaway cartons of steamed spring rolls and sushi—all freshly made and available for just a few Thai baht.
2. Little Siam: Situated down an unassuming side alley off the massive Siam Center super-complex, this clothing and accessory market boasts the original works of up-and-coming designers—all of whom are personally ringing up the wares they’ve just created and sewn. Warning to mainstream label lovers: what’s here isn’t upscale mall gear but completely original fashion, from jackets designed for punk-rock goddesses to heavily trimmed baby-doll dresses to unabashedly adorned stiletto boots. You can amp up your entire wardrobe in Little Siam for what you might spend on a single boutique piece back at home, so bring a fistful of baht—most designers seem averse to Visa and MasterCard.
3. Bargain Basement Beauty: As 20-something gals staring down the fine-lined of 30, we decided it was time to get serious about skincare. Fortunately for us, this mission to remain fresh and glowing for the next several decades coincided with our arrival in Bangkok, a place where women (and body-conscious men) can get all manner of treatments for a fraction of the price of those in the United States. While we’re not really ready for any major surgery, the girls and I opted for a series of three photofacials, a process that lightens spots, diminishes fine lines, and evens out skin tone. While it was tough to fork out $100 for each treatment (we are backpacking after all!), we all saw results almost immediately and effectively saved ourselves about $600 over doing the same thing at home.
4. Daily De-stress Sessions: If there’s one activity guaranteed to put a smile on our faces (besides digging into an extra large chocolate dessert, of course), it’s hitting the spa for a long, languorous, full-body massage. Back home in our real lives, forking over $100 for a rubdown would actually create more tension than it would remove, but here in Bangkok, we could get unbelievable, spine-twisting, muscle-kneading, acupressure sessions for the mind-blowing price of just $8. Add scented oil or an extra half hour and you’re looking at $10 to $12. For those prices, we could—and did—hit spas all over town. In case you’re wondering, no—you can never get too many massages!
5. The Reclining Buddha: I went to check out this fabulously huge supine statue when my family flew to Bangkok to visit me during the month of February. This Buddha is one of the city’s most touristed landmarks, but the teeming masses don’t detract from the big man’s appeal. Lying on his right side with a satisfied half-grin spreading across his face, it’s almost as if he’s reminding the visitors that it’s okay to kick back and chill out once in a while. Who are we to argue with that?
6. Sukhumvit Neighborhood: Indisputably the SoHo of Bangkok, this lovely little area once played host to the city’s notorious sex trade. Thanks in part to the introduction of the Sky Train (which runs through the very heart of the neighborhood) and the overall revitalization of the city, Sukhumvit is now better known for its upscale bridal boutiques, swanky cafés, gourmet grocery stores, and lemongrass-scented spas. It’s also home to…
7. The Sky Train: An incredibly efficient mode of transport completed not long before our arrival, this two-line, elevated monorail system was Bangkok’s answer to the endless traffic choking off every major roadway. Now it’s possible to bypass the bumper-to-bumper action by hopping on one of the spotless, air-conditioned cars and catch a series of quirky commercials and music videos being shown on flat-screen televisions. Thanks to convenient transfers between the river ferry system and city’s underground metro, you’re always bound to arrive at your destination far faster than you would in a cab.
8. Lumpini Park: We still maintain that very few urban green spaces can hold a candle to Central Park, but Lumpini (named after Buddha’s birthplace) provides a blissfully peaceful space for the masses to take a much-needed break from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok. The girls and I went running in late afternoon and were delighted to find thousands of spandex-clad locals performing extremely high-impact aerobics to some unrecognizable tunes blasting from the outdoor speakers. Everyone looked insanely happy to be there—most notably the Thai Richard Simmons leading the whole group—and if I could have figured out a single step, I might have joined in. Instead, I kept running and was surprised once again when at 6pm—as if some giant electric plug had been yanked from the socket—every single sound and movement in the park stopped cold. Not knowing what else to do, I froze in place and listened as strains of Thailand’s national anthem piped through the park’s speaker system. Locals all around me sang along and I felt inexplicably pleased to witness this evening ritual.
9. Kho San Road: There’s a certain charm to this tiny, ultra-touristy lane (a stop on Leonardo DiCaprio’s The Beach tour). Where else can you pick up a mini iPod speaker, a fake press badge, a beach sarong, a bootleg Beyoncé CD, discount antibiotics, a miniature laughing Buddha, and a custom-made dress, all for under $100?
10. 7-Elevens Galore: There must be hundreds of these green-, red-, and orange-emblazoned convenience stores smattered throughout the city and it’s almost impossible to walk more than 3 blocks without accidentally strolling into one. And thank heaven for 7-Eleven—they contain miniature versions of everything we could ever need to get through the day, from cereal to conditioner to Snickers bars. The only major flaw? There are no Slurpees, Big Gulps, or Kraft caramel-apple lollipops at the Thai 7-Elevens, good things that I’m sure got sacrificed to make way for the red-bean bun and pork dumpling stations.
11. Flower Market (Pak Khlong Talat): Visitors to town should not miss this fairyland of blooms located not far from the Memorial Bridge on Thanon Chakphet. Some ceremonial creations take dozens of man- and woman-hours to make, but the finished result is spectacular.
12. Coffee, Coffee Everywhere: After months of traveling through countries where all of the rich, delicious java beans are shipped to overseas markets (and Nescafé is de rigueur), we were thrilled to sip the real thing in Bangkok. Thais absolutely adore their espresso drinks and have even instituted new ways to drink them. Coffee in a plastic bag? Even caffeine-addicted New Yorkers never thought of that one!
13. Praying Ronald McDonalds: Pass one of these red-haired burger guys, and you'll be unable to resist posing. Promise.
14. The King: You’ll find plenty of Americans who dislike their president (and plenty of folks abroad who despise him), but the Thai people have nothing but love for their royal highness. During our time in Bangkok, the kindly-looking King Bhumibol Adulyadej celebrated his 80th birthday, and the outpouring of love for the man was overwhelming. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could elect a leader who inspired such adoration?
See more reasons Bangkok charmed The Lost Girls, and read about their around-the-world journey and homecoming, at their travel blog.