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Relaxing on an island in Bangkok

Sep 16 2015

 

Exploring an island for a day without leaving Bangkok sounds like you’ve got your guidebooks mixed up, but there’s a peaceful little island that makes an ideal morning getaway. Ko Kret sits in the north of the city in the center of the Chao Phraya River, and all you need to do is take a bus, taxi or a boat to Wat Sanam Nua Pier, and it’s just a short ferry ride across to the island. When you land, it feels like you’ve entered another world.

Relaxing on an island in Bangkok

The inhabitants are predominantly Mon, an ethnic group that originated from Myanmar. These are the people who brought Theravada Buddhism to Thailand, and you can get a real feel for both the traditions and their local culture on the island. While you’re here be sure to wander the markets, where sellers offer a wide assortment of baked red clay pots that make a great souvenir, and it’s the only place in Bangkok where cars aren’t allowed, so you don’t have to worry for the traffic. If you’re running out of space in your luggage don’t worry, order an iced coffee from just about any seller on the island and they’ll give you a small clay pot as a souvenir.

Strolling around the island soak in the lush greenery, and enjoy the feel of heading backwards in time, as the wooden-shack style houses, temples, and village feel make it the perfect place to visit with your family or if you just want a little peace and quiet. It’s totally different to the buzz of Bangkok, especially if you visit during the week. On the weekends it can get crowded, especially in the evening in the market areas, and the narrow paths through the stalls reminiscent of almost any popular area in the city. Apart from the pottery, there’s a famous dish you need to try, known as tort man nor galah. It’s really just a snack, made from ground fish that is turned into patties and then deep fried. What makes it special is the fresh herbs, colorful flowers, mushrooms and the aquatic vegetable nor galah that are cooked in. Served with sweet and sour sauce, it really is excellent.

Because there’s so little to do in Ko Kret, which doesn’t particularly sound like a selling point, but it actually is. The whole reason to visit is the fun of seeing the rural life in Thailand. There’s a winding path around the entire island, with small little restaurants for lunch and shops that sell pottery (of course) as well as many other interesting souvenirs. Around the island there are temples, a museum and plenty of kilns to see, and the best way to navigate is to forget the map and just start ambling along the path. It takes around an hour to circle the island, but if you need to hurry back there are bicycles to rent, water-taxi’s and even motorcycles to take you back to the pier. The wooden huts that line the road, encroaching jungle and exotic flowers make this a place to visit, and you can’t miss the flower garden which is packed full of blooms you never knew even existed. Following the walkways it feels like you’re in your own secret garden.

The biggest sight on the island is Wat Poramai Yikawat, which is a Buddhist temple that’s directly opposite of the main pier in Ko Kret. The Buddha statue inside is crafted in typical Mon-style, and the museum inside is packed full of local pottery and religious artifacts. But this isn’t the most popular landmark. Visitors come to see the leaning stupa, a landmark on the north-eastern corner of the island that is over 200 years old. Don’t miss this one.

You can take a tour with an English speaking guide around the island, and there are plenty of tourist boats that depart every morning. Personally though, you’re much better off getting to Ko Kret on your own, it can take a little effort, but you’ll be able to enjoy the island at your own pace. For accommodation you do have a couple of choices to stay on the island, but most people are able to get their fill of peace and quiet in just a few hours, and then head back to the city for the evening. It really depends on you.

Most of the shops on the island are dependent on tourists, but the majority of visitors are Thai’s, coming to take a breather from Bangkok. Foreign tourists usually miss Ko Kret as they head in search of Thailand’s white sandy beaches, but stop in for a visit if you have the chance, you’ll get to experience a totally different side of the country.

Getting around in Bangkok like a local

Sep 09 2015

 

When you want to explore Bangkok, it goes without saying that you need a means to get around the city. With over 26 million visitors to Thailand every year, many of them spend part of their time in the capital which (in addition to the locals) makes things a little busy. There’s so much to see and do, the only way you can fit it all in is by knowing the local tricks and how to get around.

Here’s what you need to know.

Getting around in Bangkok like a local

Taxi’s

Probably the easiest means of transport, there are taxi’s everywhere in the city, and they’re still very affordable. Most tourists jump in-and-out of taxi’s all day long, and many will also offer day rates to take you around the city for a fixed fee. To find a cab, head to a busy road and put your arm out, call 1681, or use an app like GrabTaxi.

  • You’ll need to pay additional fee’s when you’re using a tollway, which range from 25-55 THB, and can shave hours off your total travel time. Definitely worth it.
  • If you get a bad feeling about a particular driver or way they’re driving ask them to stop, get out and find a new taxi. There’s so many available you can easily just hop in the next one.
  • It’s common for taxi drivers in Thailand to refuse a fare, which can happen if you’re heading into a particularly busy part of town, or it’s rush hour. Don’t let it get to you, and just keep asking, you’ll eventually find a driver willing to take you.
  • Only ever take metered taxi’s, which may mean you need to walk past all the parked cars that sit outside of all the hotels and tourist attractions, and flag down one that’s driving past.
  • You can’t expect every taxi driver to know every part of the city, so try to have at least a general understanding of the “right” and “wrong” directions, especially if you’re staying somewhere off the beaten path.
  • If you’ve had a good driver and they’ve looked after you (particularly if you hired them for a day), consider buying them one of the flower garlands being sold at the traffic lights. They range from 20-40 THB, and are meant to bring good luck and protection on the roads.
  • When it’s rush hour, Friday night or it’s raining, taxi’s aren’t going to be your best bet.

The Skytrain (BTS) and the MRT

One of the most efficient means of transport through the city is the BTS Skytrain, taking you in air-conditioned comfort to many of the most central areas of the city. It runs from 6am until midnight, and with only two separate lines that connect at Siam, it’s straightforward and easy to navigate. There is typically a BTS stop at most major destinations, unless you’re headed to Chinatown or some of the older areas of the city. Often you can take the skytrain most of the way, then get in a taxi or a motorbike taxi for the last leg. Bangkok’s underground train system, the MRT is a nice accompaniment to the skytrain, taking you to different areas of the city, while connecting to the skytrain at BTS station Asoke, and BTS Sala Daeng.

  • Instead of buying a new ticket for every trip, get a Rabbit card that you can use for both the BTS and the MRT, saving you money and helping you to avoid any queues.
  • You aren’t allowed to take any food or drinks onto the trains, and there are guards here who will be keeping an eye out.
  • Local customs dictate that the elderly, monks and children get preference on a train, and it’s expected for you to give your seat up for them. Monks will generally sit in the seats near the doors, and because they’re not allowed to sit next to a woman this often means seats need to be shuffled.
  • If your children are under 90cm they can travel free.
  • The Airport Link via BTS Phaya Thai makes for an easy ride out to Suvarnabhumi Airport.
  • The entry gates open and close fast, so if you’re trying to navigate small children or armfuls of shopping, give your ticket to a guard and ask their help getting through the big gate next to the ticket stand.
  • You don’t need to worry about getting to the door before the train stops, especially during rush hour the trains are so full this is near impossible. Wait until you’re almost at the station or for the train to stop first, and people will let you through.

Tuk Tuks and the Motorbike Taxis

The Tuk Tuk is one of the most iconic symbols of Thailand, and no trip to the country is complete until you’ve had a ride on one of these. Plus, they’re a great way to get around if you’ve only got a short distance to go, or need to weave through busy traffic. Despite their ramshackle nature, it costs more-or-less about the same as a normal taxi ride to ride a Tuk Tuk. What is really handy though, are the motorbike taxis, especially when you’re on your own. If you need to get down a small street to reach your hotel they’re perfect, but try to avoid them if you’ve got anywhere far to go, or need to head down a main street. They get you where you need faster, but there is much more risk, and always wear a helmet.

  • Spending 100 baht or more on a trip means you’re getting overcharged, or you’re going really, really far.
  • Similar to taxi’s, avoid any Tuk Tuk drivers who are sitting waiting at tourist attractions or outside of a large hotel, they’re going to charge you more.
  • Even if you see the locals doing it, don’t take young children in a Tuk Tuk or on a motorbike taxi.
  • When taking a motorbike taxi, always wear a helmet, and if they dont offer one just ask. They will have a spare for you tucked under the seat or at the taxi stop.
  • Girls, always sit side saddle when you’re wearing a skirt on a motorbike.

Public buses

The bus system in Thailand is incredibly organized, they’re regular, go absolutely everywhere, and are usually on time. They are also outrageously cheap, which is perfect for the budget traveler or anyone wanting to see a different side to Thailand at a grassroots level.

  • Always plan your journey ahead, and pick the best route possible so you’re not going to get stuck in a part of town where you’re completely lost.
  • Download the app for the bus routes, or check online to determine the right buses to take.
  • Riding the bus in Bangkok isn’t always an easy ride, and when you’re a pedestrian keep a wary eye out for any speeding buses when you’re crossing the roads, even when you’re at a set of traffic lights.
  • You may need to energetically wave down the right bus as it approaches your stop, and once you get on the driver will take off again, so be sure to take hold of something and get to a seat as fast as possible.
  • The small switches near the doors are the “please-stop-at-the-next-stop” bells.

The river

You’ll be acting like a real local if you start travelling by boat, and it’s often the most efficient way to get around because Bangkok is a city built around the waterways. Aside from the local culture you’ll get to see, the water taxi’s race up and down the river all day long so you’ll always be able to get one. Of course during rush hour the extra commuters can increase the wait, and if you’re wanting to take in all the local sights the Chao Phraya Tourist Boat is your best bet, at 150 baht for a day ticket which allows you to hop-on and hop-off at each pier along its route. There are also colored express boats that head to specific piers if you have a certain destination in mind, and these are also far cheaper as well.

  • If you’re on the side of a water taxi there’s a chance you’ll get wet, so keep watch and leave your phone in your pocket.
  • Mind the gap as you pull up to a pier, and don’t be afraid to go a little slower or take the hand of one of the staff to help you get back onto solid ground.
  • Don’t wait until the boat comes to a stop before making your way to disembark. The boats come in fast and leave just as quickly and you don’t want to miss your stop!
  • Follow these tips and you’ll be navigating Bangkok just like a local, it’s really not that difficult once you’ve been here for a day or two and braved the different forms of transport available.

Taking a breath in Bangkok

Sep 02 2015
Taking a breath in Bangkok

 

Bangkok can be a little overwhelming to a first time visitor, as the energy of the city and the endless buzz leaves you reeling. After tasting the world class restaurants, exploring the myriad bars and nightclubs, and spend your days zipping through traffic as you take in the sights, you’re probably looking for somewhere to unwind. If you know where to look, there’s plenty of green oases in the center of this urban capital.

Taking a breath in Bangkok

The most well known is also the easiest to find, right in the heart of the city you’ve got Lumpini Park. It boasts 142 acres of lush green grass, waterways and plenty of open spaces where you can rent a bike to cruise along the pathways or a paddleboat to explore the lake. It’s also a favorite of the locals, and you’ll see a mix of people jogging or exercising on the equipment, families relaxing on mats by the water’s edge, and plenty of kids running around that gives it a real community feel. Don’t miss sunset when the open-air aerobics starts us, feel free to join in or just watch the big crowds working out in unison to the Thai pop hits.

Benjasiri Park is a favorite of mine, and if you get there just before sunset you can enjoy the fountain shows displayed right at the front of the park. Again, there’s groups practicing Tai Chi, and the entire park has a nice mellow feel which is the perfect way to wind down after a day’s shopping along Sukhumvit. There’s also a skate park with the locals showing off their skills, and usually you’ll find the courts full with guys playing takraw, a game similar to volleyball where you’re only allowed to use your feet. For the kids there’s a couple of great play areas on either side of the park, and there’s a swimming pool right at the back that always seems to be quiet. More people head to the park as the sun goes down and the temperature cools off, and a romantic stroll along the lake is a perfect way to relax.

Out by Chatuchak market (also known as JJs or the Weekend Market), there is plenty of green space once you’ve had your fill of shopping and the inevitable crush of people. Three parks are nearby, which are easy to get to, the largest sits just next to the sky-train station Mo Chit, and there are vendors right at the gate who will rent out a rattan mat for you to sprawl and enjoy the sunshine. Plenty of nearby street carts offer food and drinks, and you can sit back and let your kids run wild on the playground. Because of the area it’s a tad busy here on the weekends, but there’s no better place to people watch as all the shoppers head to the market.

Just next door is the more peaceful Queen Sirikit Park, that has a somewhat regal air and plenty of exotic flowers for you to marvel. The lake in the center is huge, and the botanical gardens are excellent, packed full of rare plants, lotus and water lilies. For the kids the Children’s Discovery Museum is a great activity, that has both indoor exhibitions and a large outdoor activity area. When you need to get back to nature, this park is one of your best options in Bangkok, especially when you want to keep your kids entertained and away from the busy city streets.

In the same area is Rot Fai Park, and at 148 acres is the ultimate picnic destination in the city. Home to the Bangkok Butterfly Garden, you can admire all the colorful insects that fly freely in the dome, or hire a bicycle and explore a little more of the park. There’s plenty of shady spots to enjoy a picnic, but you may need to bring your own as it’s a little more local here. As you lay back in the shade and enjoy the green surroundings as the cyclists cruising past, you’ll quickly forget that you’re still in the city.

When you know where to look there are plenty of green spaces in Bangkok, and the massive expanses of nature are both refreshing and an ideal way to unwind after the rollercoaster that most tourists find themselves on when they arrive in Thailand. So kick back, find a shady spot, and do what the locals do for an afternoon, and you’ll enjoy a much more sedate version of the city.

Enjoying Bangkok from up-high

Aug 26 2015

 

At ground level Bangkok is both frantic and energetic, in an appealing way that leaves every visitor wanting more. The 14 million inhabitants of the “Bangkok Metropolitan Region” ensure you will get a full taste of the local life, sounds and sights, which is what makes it such a fascinating city to visit. As you discover just how big Bangkok really is, you realize the depths of how much there is to explore. Tuk tuks weave through the standstill traffic, modern office buildings tower over beautiful old temples, there is no shortage of delicious street food to try, and you don’t think you’ve left enough time to see it all!

Enjoying Bangkok from up-high

One of my favorite ways to take a step back and really appreciate just how big Bangkok really is, is to head to a sky bar and enjoy the view from up-high, with a cocktail in hand. For anyone who is just visiting Bangkok, make sure this is one of your “must-do’s” when you’re here. There’s nothing like enjoying the posh surroundings, the view, and the skyline from one of the great sky bars here, and is a great start to an evening as you watch the sun go down and the city begin to wake.

The most famous bar among the clouds is aptly named “Sky Bar” and at 63 floors up it’s one of the world’s highest open air bars. Located at the top of the luxury hotel Lebua at State Tower, the entire place screams prestige, and has plenty of places to take great photos, like the impressive dome and the sweeping outdoor staircase. If you’re feeling like celebrating and spending a little more time on the rooftop the Sirocco restaurant is right next to it, giving you a unique view of the city and a memory you’ll always cherish. Head back into State Tower and there’s another section to the bar that’s much more chill, with big leather seats to recline in as you enjoy the panoramas out over the city.

Another favorite is the sophisticated Vertigo Grill and Moon Bar, which sits atop the chic and classy Banyan Tree hotel. Located on the 61st floor you can enjoy the al fresco restaurant, or just grab a drink at the moon bar. On all sides you have sweeping views, with tables and chairs right up to the edge so you’ve got an uninhibited view of the city. Compared to Sky Bar the Moon Bar’s tables and seating is a welcome retreat, giving you and your partner enough space to enjoy an intimate night out while enjoying a busy crowd. For a refined and luxurious night out, you won’t find much better.

For a futuristic feel as you gaze down from up-high, check out the Red Sky Bar at Centara Grand (it’s part of Central World). Decidedly chic and modern, the terrace wraps right the way around the building to offer guests a 360° view of the heart of the city. Every night there’s live jazz, and you can enjoy upscale bistro fare from the menu, alongside a wine list that literally has hundreds of different options. When you’re looking for a relaxed yet trendy spot to start your evening, the comfortably curved seating of the Red Sky Bar is definitely the spot to enjoy a drink or two.

As a landmark you can’t go wrong with the Baiyoke Sky Hotel. Standing at over 300 meters it’s Thailand’s highest hotel, and one of the tallest in the world – and at 83 floors above the city, it’s no wonder this is an iconic location to see, with its retro decor and floor to ceiling windows, from the observation deck you can see out to the Gulf of Thailand. It’s perhaps less trendy than some of the newer sky bars in the city, but Baiyoke Sky Hotel were really the first ones to build a bar in the sky, and they’ve got several different restaurants you can try as well. Well worth a visit in my opinion.

If you’re more interested in design and fashion, you can’t pass on the opportunity to visit Long Table. The dark and inviting space contains both a bar and restaurant that will have you feeling like a supermodel, in a relaxed, smart-casual atmosphere. In the al fresco terrace bar you overlook the indoor restaurant and it’s 25 meter “long table,” which is surrounded by smaller and cozier sections packed with big leather seats and chic sofas. The romantic lighting adds to the intimate experience, and waiters actually need flashlights so you can read the menu. Sitting just 25 floors up, the view is high enough so you can look down on the city, but you’re not so high you feel detached from it.

The best sky bars in Bangkok deliver a magical experience, and they’re the place to visit when you want to celebrate, feel a little special, or just want to raise your glasses and enjoy the best “red carpet treatment” Bangkok has to offer. Sipping cocktails as you overlook the city makes you realize just how cosmopolitan Bangkok really is, and what better excuse to get all dressed up?

Bangkok for the romantics

Aug 19 2015

 

Thailand is one of the world’s top destinations for honeymooners, and today we’re going to give you a little inspiration to spark the romantic in every reader who visits the nation’s capital.

Bangkok for the romantics

The glittering architecture of Bangkok, alongside the stunning boutique hotels, and sky-high bars and restaurants give every couple a thousand and one different ways to enjoy their quality time in the city. Whether you want to be pampered or relax in luxurious living, many couples choose to spend a couple of nights of glam after their idyllic trip to the islands. If you’re looking for a taste of the exotic, here’s what you need to know to add a little flavor to your romantic getaway.

Where to stay

Bangkok really is a cosmopolitan hub of glamorous living. You have plenty of choices when it comes to amazing hotels, and the cream of the crop is definitely the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok. Here you can relax in the colonial decor, right by the river. Another exclusive is the Banyan Tree, where chic contemporary design meets the modern day Thai-style, to create an atmosphere that is simply unique. Anyone seeking a tad more intimacy, try the boutique Eugenia, and enjoy the converted colonial-styled house that just screams class, or enjoy views from one of just handful of rooms out over Wat Arun, from the eclectic hotel Sala Arun.

Take it to the spa

When you’re wanting to up the romance the first step is to get in harmony with your loved one and the best way to do this is with a spa treatment. There are literally hundreds of options for a relaxing spa that will leave you feeling pampered and reconnected. Many spa’s offer couples private rooms which gives you space to unwind between treatments, as you enjoy the calming lighting, soothing tones and fragrant aromatherapy. The trick is to look for a soothing oil massage instead of the potentially painful traditional Thai massage, and with body scrubs, wraps, facials and manicures, there’s no end to the ways you can relax. And an insider tip, always ask about special promotions for couples, usually there will be a discounted rate.

To take your day spa to the ultra-luxurious, there are many high-end options available. CHI is fantastic, or you could also try The Spa at Shangri-La Hotel, the hot herbal balls at Asia Herb Association, or just soak up the tranquil surrounds of Face Spa. If you’re feeling a little adventurous, why not try the traditional Japanese hot springs at Yunomori Olsen.

Seeing a flick

A night out at the movies in Bangkok doesn’t need to be a typical experience, there are many extravagant additions you can buy that make enjoying the latest blockbuster a quality date night. VIP service in particular cinema’s offers a waiter service to bring you snacks, drinks and even cocktails, all from the comfort of your own remote controlled recliners. If you’re looking for a 5 star level of service, try the Embassy Diplomat services at Central Embassy, you can sink into a comfortable recliner, and they’ll even bring you pillows and a cover. In Central World you can also try the First Class section in SF Cinema, while enjoying canapés before the film and a never-ending supply of popcorn and soft drink, and of course alcoholic beverages are available too. Next door, the Paragon Cineplex offers Enigma, again with the seat-side service, but what I like best about this cinema is that all the seats have been replaced with sofa’s, so you feel like you’re watching the movie in the comfort of your own home.

Grabbing a drink

You have an almost endless selection of bars in Bangkok to add a little spark to an evening, and give you an excuse to dress up for a night on the town. Nothing screams romance more than red, and if you’re wanting to impress that special someone take them to the RedSky Bar at Centara Grand, and you’ll set their head spinning. Lounging 55 floors above the streets, sit back and enjoy the uninterrupted 360 degree panorama of the city.

Next, step into the surreal world that is Iron Fairies, and you’ll feel like you’ve just walked into an adult fairy tale. The quirky nature of this bar makes it one of a kind, and you’ll have a ball wandering throughout this gorgeous bar. When you want to cuddle up with your special someone, Nest at the Fenix Hotel is one of the coziest options, with wooden walkways leading to private cabanas for a little more privacy. Finally, you can’t go past Smalls, a darkly lit bar that’s reminiscent of the New York jazz clubs, with satin padded walls, regal velvet and gold chairs, and a small rooftop space that is the perfect chilled out space for a drink or two.

Dining in the capital

Last on the list is dining in Bangkok, and there is no shortage of hidden gems to glamorous restaurants in the sky for a romantic evening. Follow the Chao Phraya River at night on an antique, and fully restored river barge for the Manohra Dining Cruise, and enjoy their open air dining under the stars. The best French restaurant in the city is arguably to classic, Le Normandie in the Mandarin Oriental, where you can also soak up the ambience of the riverside views. If only the very best will do try Nahm at Bangkok’s Metropolitan Hotel, famous as their London branch was the first ever recipient of a Michelin star for Thai cuisine, or spend an evening in pure luxury at Sirocco in Bangkok’s State Tower, the world’s highest all open-air restaurant.

Bangkok is certainly a place that will help you fall helplessly in love, and there’s plenty for you to do with your sweetheart while you enjoy your time here.

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