Cartier Masthead Final Weeks

7 reasons to hop off a plane in Bangkok

Lilani Goonesena

Bangkok is the most fabulous, energised city. Political riots aside, I could definitely live there. If you’ve never been or have only passed through the airport on your way to somewhere else, do consider staying a few days. Here are seven highlights that make Bangkok well worth your time.

1. Thai food.

My, oh my. There’s a reason why Thai is one of Australia’s favourite cuisines. It is so, so good. Red curry, green curry, massaman, panang, pad thai, satay, tom yum gong, fried rice… the list goes on. Everything is cooked fresh in peanut oil and fish sauce with lemon grass, chilli, kaffir lime leaves and ginger.

The best thing about Thai food in Bangkok is that it’s cheap and it’s everywhere. Visit any of the city’s numerous markets and you’ll feast on a generously heaped plate of deliciousness for about $2. You can’t beat that.


Or, if you prefer to eat your pad thai in air-conditioned comfort, there’s no shortage of fine dining. Trendy, upmarket Thai restaurants are popping up like mushrooms, fuelled by the return of many overseas-trained Thai chefs. Bangkok now boasts some of the world’s best Thai restaurants such as Bo.Lan, Issaya Siamese Club, and Australian David Thompson’s Michelin-starred Nahm.

2. All the other food.

Bangkok is truly a cosmopolitan foodie’s dream. In Siam Paragon, one of the city’s sprawling shopping malls, the food court takes up an entire floor. And it has everything – delis, cafes, sandwich bars, coffee shops, restaurants, and a gourmet supermarket.

Whether it’s upmarket or on the street, Bangkok’s endless foodie options are guaranteed to leave you dizzy with delight and an achingly full belly.

3. The markets.

The Chatuchak (“JJ”) weekend market in Bangkok is legendary. One square kilometre housing 15,000 tiny stalls selling everything you could ever want or imagine – fashion, handicrafts, home decor, shoes, books, crafts, and more. Take your walking shoes and a wad of cash (in small denominations). Nothing else. It’s very likely you’ll buy a cute wheelie suitcase there to cart all your wares away. And everything’s cheap without even having to bargain because it’s all made in Thailand.

Other buzzing hives of shopping activity include Sampeng Market in Bangkok’s Chinatown, Saphan Phut, popular with young Thai designers, and Pratunam for the latest hip threads. And for the night owls, there’s lots on after hours such as the popular Patpong Market in the red light district and the Pak Khlong Talat all-night flower market.

4. Sightseeing on the river.

Along the busy banks of the Chao Phraya River, restaurants jostle with high rises, hotels and the beautiful, gleaming Grand Palace. It’s well worth a walk or a bike ride, if you’re so inclined. Or, get out on a boat to cruise along the main drag and down some of the canals. You’ll see real river life – stilt houses, floating markets and dozens of wats (temples).

5. Thai people are so nice and friendly.

Even the police, if ever you should need them.

When we happened to be robbed whilst staying in a dodgy hotel in Phuket Town, we found the police most helpful, even charming. Our officer even gave us a history lesson about the King and modern day politics, and a lift back into town.

And the Bangkok airport takeover of 2008, which my husband narrowly avoided being stranded in, was surely the most well organised, orderly occupation ever. The protesters actually cleaned the airport before they left. Who does that?

In general, Thai people are frank, cheerful, and refreshingly down to earth. Which just makes it an even nicer place to holiday in.

6. Thai massages.

Not the kinky ones, of which Thailand has plenty. But the super-hard, back bending, contortionist massages administered by hefty women (and men) that leave you feeling like a steamed phat noodle. I’m not sure they even do gentle massages. There’s no oil involved but you wear a loose-fitting, cotton tunic that covers your modesty. Even a massage devotee like me struggles against emitting an occasional muffled groan of pain. For a lesser mortal, perhaps steer clear.

7. The art and the ambience.

All the bustle and traffic can make it hard to consider Bangkok as a tranquil place but step inside most buildings and the art and the zen decor can make you think you’re elsewhere. I’m talking about the cushion covers, table runners and curtains in gorgeous patterned silks or thick linens, the soft fabric lamps, delicate teak furniture and elegant artwork that make so many Bangkok establishments both hip and serene.

It’s a fascinating juxtaposition. And if you just want to replicate the cool vibe at home, you can pick up everything for a song at the local markets.

Have you been? What would you add?


Lilani Goonesena

Lilani Goonesena is a freelance writer and mum to two small, noisy people. She’s spent the last five years in Chile and Vietnam. She loves food, wine, thunderstorms, online shopping and social justice. When not writing at or procrastinating, she endeavours to finish a Masters of Sustainability. More about the Author

  • Janet McKinney

    And if you want to combine Thai Food, a visit to the markets, a cooking experience and helping families in the notorious Klong Toey slums – visit the famous Cooking with Poo cooking school

  • Chakriya Bowman

    Thanks for bringing back some great memories – how much do I love Thai street food? And it goes brilliantly with fresh chilled coconut juice!

  • I could never quite get over how nice the people are in Thailand. Even dirt poor i was always offered things to eat and drink and always with a smile. One of my favourite spots was the floating Gypsy VIllage! Now that’s an experience to have.