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How To See Bangkok Like You Live There

Thailand’s capital isn’t all bar hopping and shopping. Set out on these must-do adventures and experience a side of of the city most tourists miss. Here’s how to see Bangkok like a local.

Discover the best of Bangkok’s street eats

Bangkok like a local street eats

Image: Author’s own

Bangkok’s street eats are legendary. For just a few baht, you can feast on sizzling satays and glossy fried rice, hawker noodles and gai yang barbeque chicken.

Chang Rak Market on Charoen Krung Road is a good breakfast stop for custardy khanom krok tarts, fresh tropical fruits and bananas barbequed in the skin. A short tuk tuk ride away is Chinatown’s Tha Din Daeng Road, a foodie haunt in an area known for its large concentration of street eats.

For the ultimate dining experience, don’t miss the crab omelette ($35) at Raan Jay Fai. The tiny shopfront in the Banglamphu district won a Michelin star in 2017. Arrive early to beat the crowds.

Pick a fight (*not really)

It’s known as the “art of eight limbs” for good reason – muay thai, or Thai kickboxing, is a combative sport that uses punches, kicks, elbows and knee strikes. It’s also a great work out and the national sport favoured by the King of Thailand.

Learn it from the best at one of two classes daily ($20) at Muay Thai Academy. The Sukhumvit Road gym is run by Grand Master Toddy, a former martial arts champion with a reputation for training kickboxing champions.

Or, step it up a notch and train at the gym frequented by Thai royalty – The Siam Hotel. It’s the only luxury muay thai gym in Bangkok, with tailored programs for beginners through to advanced that run for a day or a week.

Visit a local’s floating market

Image: Author’s own

There are three floating markets near Bangkok – but Klong Lat Mayom is the only one without the tourist crowds. A 20-minute drive from the city, this low-key favourite sits on both land and water and is bursting with locally grown produce and hawker food.

Dive into sweet coconut pancakes and steamed banana leaf custards, barbeque pork belly, salted Nile fish and other fresh grilled seafood.

Afterwards, do what the locals do and jump aboard a longtail boat ($10 per person) for a leisurely tour of the bougainvillea-lined waterways. The route passes through a large coconut plantation and floating gardens and ends in a lake blooming with pink lotus flowers.

Where: Soi Bang Ramat, Bang Phrom, Taling Chan, Bangkok. Open weekends and public holidays 9:00am-7pm

Bliss out with a traditional Thai massage

Image: Mandarin Oriental Bangkok

Bangkok is the wellness capital of Asia – and the place to get a traditional Thai massage. The no-oil technique developed for monks uses pressure points and yoga-like stretching to bring about deep relaxation.

At Healthland Spa and Massage, a stately old home on Sukhumvit Road with large neon sign out front, the two-hour Thai Massage ($25) is so popular you need to book ahead. Newcomer Perception Blind Massage is attracting lots of buzz for giving employment to blind people – for a cool $18 an hour, you can get an in-tune massage and support a great cause.

For an indulgent splurge, head to the Mandarin Oriental Spa, a peaceful oasis on the banks of the Chao Praya River that can only be reached by the hotel boat. Continue the zen afterwards with a signature cocktail in the hotel’s riverside bar.

Cruise the Klong Waterways

Swap the traffic and tuk tuks of Bangkok for a cruise along its little-known klongs, or canals. Once known as the Venice of the East, these tiny waterways are home to water villages built on stilts, floating markets and remote temples.

West of the Chao Praya in Thonburi is the city’s oldest klong (built in 1542), and the ancient temples of Wat Arun and Wat Ratcha-orot, seldom visited by tourists and definitely worth it for its beautiful golden reclining Buddha.

The quirky artist community of Khlong Bang Luang and Artist’s House is another worthwhile stop along the way. You can hire a longtail for around $40 an hour from Saphin Taksin Pier, but be sure to barter. For a guided tour, check out Anantara Hotel’s Klong Guru Tour.

Take home a souvenir to last with a traditional Sak Yant tattoo

Image: Sheila Dee / Flickr

It’s only been open a few years but the Opium Spa in the Siam Hotel is popular with devotees of Sak Yant who come here to be inked by renowned master Ajarn Boo. The ancient tradition made famous by actress Angelina Jolie is more than 3000 years old and was used by warriors as a talisman against evil, though there are many meanings associated with the different sak yant tattoos – be sure you understand what they mean before you commit!

In a consecrated space adorned with Buddhist masks and antique art, Ajarn, a former novice monk, uses a stylus to create the sacred yants, or prayer lines, animals and geometry. After getting their tattoo, guests can have it blessed at Wat Bangphra, a temple about 40 kilometres west of the city. At $1200 for a small five-line yant, it ain’t cheap to get a sak yant tattoo, but it’s definitely a souvenir to last.

Now: Check out our guide to shopping like a boss in Bangkok.


(Lead image: Florian Wehde / Unsplash)