Arriving for the first time in a new city can be intimidating and confusing. For visitors from North America and Europe in Asia for the first time, Bangkok can be traumatic. Many people come away from Bangkok never wanting to go back. All they see is traffic and frenetic streets, with an unsavoury sprinkling of dirty backpackers and dirtier old white men with emaciated Thai girls. We think this a mistake and we want to suggest what you should do on your first night in Bangkok to convince you that Bangkok is a safe, vibrant and exciting destination.
Our recommended night out starts on Soi 5, on the Sukhumvit Road. If you are staying in a nice pre-booked hotel most likely it will be in the area Sukhumvit, so you won’t have to travel far to get to the starting point for your first night. For the uninitiated, Soi means street, and the way addresses are organised in Thailand by referring to the number of a Soi branching off a major road, such as the Sukhumvit Road.
When you get to Soi 5 go about a 100 metres up the street and on the right hand side you will see a bar called Gulliver’s Tavern Take a seat outside, they have smoking and non-smoking areas, and wait for the waitress service. They serve a full range of food and drinks, however, hold back on the food as we have a restaurant recommendation for you. What we love about the outside seating area of this bar is that it is one of the few places you can sit outside in Bangkok and watch the world go by without being hassled or overcome by car fumes. You can check out the bar on its website (www.gulliverbangkok.com).
Cabbages and Condoms
When you have finished your drinks walk back along the street and negotiate yourself a Tuk-Tuk to take you to Soi 12 on the Sukhumvit Road. A Tuk-Tuk is a three wheeled taxi made out of a converted motorbike. Tuk-Tuks don’t use fixed fares and you will need to haggle. Expect to pay between 100 and 150 Baht. Don’t pay more, just keep on asking until you find one that will take you. Where we are sending you is the Cabbages and Condoms restaurant. If you want the best seats, which are in the garden, you will need to ring in advance and book. The telephone number is 0066 (0)2 2655 5340 and they speak good English. This is my favourite restaurant in Bangkok. I first went there in 1999. The restaurant is a commercial venture of a family planning charity, hence the unusual name. The food here is Thai and absolutely great. My Thai friends really rate the cooking. Starters cost around 100 Baht a dish and main courses are around 200 to 300 Baht. If there are 5 or more of you can order set menus for around 600 to 700 Baht per person and it represents great value for money. Check out the charity and the restaurant on its website (www.pda.or.th).
Patpong Night Market
Ask the restaurant to call you a meter taxi. You are going next to Patpong Night Market. Meter taxis in Thailand are cheap, and you pay for the length of journey as measured by the meter. Expect to pay 80 to 100 Baht on the meter. Fixed prices negotiated with the driver represent poor value. Patpong Night Market is a lot of fun. There are hundreds of stalls selling tourist souvenirs and a full range of fake watches, handbags, and designer clothing items. The market is open from 6pm to midnight. You need to haggle with the stall holders. The initial prices they will offer you are sometimes 5 to 10 times the actual price you will end up paying with some persistence. As a guide pay 1,000 Baht for a good replica watch and 200 baht for a T-Shirt.
When you tire of the shopping there are plenty of places to go for a drink. Don’t bother with the go-go bars and head towards the Muzzik Cafe which is about a third of the way up the main market street, on the corner of a small side street between Soi Patpong 1 and Soi Patpong 2. The Muzzik Cafe (muzzikcafe.com) is a lively corner bar with live Thai bands nightly. They have waitress service.
When you feel like heading back to your hotel either take a taxi, or go to Sala Daeng skytrain station and get the train back for 30 to 40 Baht a person. If you are heading back to Sukhumvit you will need to change trains at Siam Square. There are several stops on the Sukhumvit Road, if you get off at Nana station you will be about 20 metres from Soi 5 where you started the night.