Bangkok is a city of endless diversity, where boredom is never an option. There is a whole lot more to Bangkok than just its legendary nightlife.
Nightspots range from street side stalls where beer and whiskey flow cheaply, to huge nightclubs where trendy Thais get dancing to a wide variety of music. Around Silom Road, you will find theme pubs, gay/lesbian bars, street bars, live band clubs and every conceivable type of drinking place. The Sukhumvit Road area is similar, if more spread out, and also features several big nightclubs like Narcissus. Another string of diverse bars can be found in the Sarasin and Lang Suan area, with many featuring live bands playing anything from jazz to heavy metal. Also worth a look are Royal City Avenue (just off Phetburi Road) and Soi Inthamara in the Sutthisarn area, where bright young crowds hang out in loud, lively pubs and clubs. Finally, there are the 24-hour bars of Khao San, the backpackers' mecca, and the "artsy" joints tucked away on Phra Athit Road, just behind Khao San.
Traditional Thai Dance and Drama, Contemporary theatre and Cabaret
For something a little more cultural, Bangkok features some excellent examples of traditional Thai dance and drama. Known as khon
, these performances involve masked actors portraying heroes, heroines, monkeys and demons from the Ramakian
(the Thai version of the Hindu Ramayana
). Two of the best places to see khon
are the National Theatre and the Chaloem Krung Royal Theatre. In addition, there are many dinner theatres catering largely to tourists, where admission covers dinner and a show. Sala Rim Naam
, which is run by the Oriental Hotel
, features one of the more extravagant settings of any dinner theatre. Others worth visiting are Baan Thai and Maneeya Lotus Room. Lakhon kae bon
, a khon
variant, can be seen free of charge at the Erawan Shrine
and Lak Mueang, commissioned by worshippers whose wishes have been granted by the deities in these busy city shrines.
Also of interest for the theatrically inclined, the Bangkok Playhouse serves as a regular venue for contemporary Thai theatre and performance art. Lastly, there are at least two big tourist-friendly transvestite cabaret shows worth seeing—Calypso Cabaret at the Asia Hotel, which is the most famous and possibly the best, and Mambo Cabaret on Sukhumvit Road, a newcomer already packing the tourists in.
Culture of another sort, though no less incredible, the national sport of muay thai
is better known overseas as Thai kick-boxing. Two major stadiums and many smaller ones scattered around Bangkok offer ample opportunities to see muay thai
, complete with all its ritual rappings. Lumpini and Ratchadamnoen feature some of the best fighters in the country, with the matches alternating between the two stadiums over the course of the week. Apart from the action in the ring, added entertainment is provided by the musical accompaniment played by a traditional ensemble centreed around the pii
, or Thai oboe, plus the sight of the big, rowdy crowd betting away.
Bangkok has been recently hit by the multiplex revolution. Almost every big shopping mall has an attached cineplex showing the latest Hollywood blockbusters as well as some Thai and Thai-dubbed Hong Kong films. In addition, Bangkok hosts at least three big film festivals a year, while the cultural centres of the French, German and Japanese embassies show selected films once a week. Some of Bangkok's better cinemas include United Artists at the Emporium
, Major Multiplex at the Central World Plaza
and Lido Multiplex in the heart of Siam Square
Whether or not you are travelling with children, there are several big theme parks on the outskirts of Bangkok worth visiting. Dream World
, features rides that are a big hit with the kids on weekends. If you prefer to cool down, Siam Water Park will do just fine. With an enormous wave pool, lots of water slides, whirlpools and other forms of aquatic chaos, it gets crowded with families seeking to escape the heat. At Safari World, a drive-through wildlife park, you can enjoy observing a teeming array of animals through the windows of your car or tour bus.
Museums, Galleries & Libraries
Bangkok's many museums, galleries and libraries present an oasis of solitude in an otherwise hectic city. The National Museum displays Thailand's cultural treasures, and offers excellent guided tours. On the gallery front, while the National Gallery will certainly interest pure art fans, there is a surge in gallery/bar combinations. This is best typified by About Studio/Café, which succeeds admirably in presenting art in more relaxed surroundings. The Neilson Hayes Library in downtown Bangkok houses what is possibly Bangkok's best collection of English literature in a stunning 1930s era building.
If all this activity leaves you completely drained, what better way is there to revive your spirits than a traditional Thai massage? Nowadays, particularly in tourist areas, there is a plethora of reflexology and massage parlours, but you probably get the best value for money at Wat Pho, Bangkok's oldest Buddhist temple. Meditation courses also represent a good way to experience a different side of Bangkok. For non-Thai speakers, Wat Mahathat and Wat Pak Nam, both of which have had many foreign students, are probably the best places to visit.