It’s been famously compared to Tokyo, New York, and my favorite (never) – Los Angeles. I wasn’t expecting to like it, especially since I usually grimace at the sight of swarms of people… but I ended up loving it and was sad to leave after about two weeks there.
My reasons for really liking Bangkok can be summed up in two words: Malls & food. I normally despise shopping, but one of my favorite past times abroad has morphed into shopping. Funny how that works – perhaps it’s because malls truly showcase detail to design (both interior and exterior). And the architecture of the malls in Bangkok surely don’t disappoint- they even trump Tokyo’s and Melbourne’s malls, in my opinion. There’s a damn good reason why every local had told me beforehand to just get ready to shop (which doesn’t have to mean spending all your money).
Oh yeah, and I absolutely abhor humidity (as I’ve written about at least 100 times), so mall hopping is the best way to get free air con and feel refreshed. It’s a win-win.
And the food. The food. Bangkok and Chiang Mai have the best Thai food, whereas I think the islands have the worst of it (because duh, all you get are drunk backpackers). Bangkok is also the mecca for all international foods, and you can get really good Japanese, Italian, French, etc. food here – whereas in Suratthani, it’s virtually impossible.
I had a killer Mexican burrito in Silom* during my TESOL training (AMANDA, thank you for being my amazing food buddy!) and my mouth is watering just talking about it. I’m really happy we trained in Bangkok (although it was exhausting) – the worst part was having to leave. Reminded me of how I had to transition from training in Fukuoka to living in Kumamoto…
*By the way, thank you for recommending Silom, Jono & Nuttinee! As the business district, it’s the perfect central area to access BTS and get around safely and easily without dealing with drunk backpackers everywhere
Why I Fell Head Over Heels in Love with Bangkok
Even more than the food, I couldn’t get over the beautiful malls. That sounds horribly American to say, but I’m entitled to my opinion! The malls in Bangkok are stunning and I spent every day visiting new ones.
I have to dedicate a little love letter to Bangkok’s newest mall, EmQuartier. It opened in March 2015 and is part of The Mall Group’s multi-billion-baht EM District project to transform Phrom Phong into one of the biggest retail hubs of the city. I was blown away by this complex, since it’s not just one mall – it’s three, all interconnected via elevators, walkways, and beautiful lounges. It is simply remarkable. If you only have time for ONE mall in Bangkok, go here. Seriously. I only got the chance to visit twice, but I vowed to friends that I’d live inside the mall huddled up in a mall if I could. I loved everything about the design and the layout – and possibly because it evoked lots of memories of Melbourne.
I visited twice, and it’s honestly my favorite thing in all of Bangkok. If I sound like a spoiled OC girl saying that, but I absolutely love beautiful, clean places, and this mall was simply the nicest mall I’ve ever been inside. EmQuartier is home to designer brands with beautiful futuristic designs including an elaborate atrium garden with a waterfall (yes, a whole floor is dedicated to that). I went in and out of this garden so many times in one day that the security guard by its door starting laughing every time I returned (I stand out with my tank top, boardshorts, and sandals). I was obsessed.
Like the rest of Bangkok’s malls, it’s located a few meters from the exit of Phrom Phong BTS Skytrain, which is incredibly convenient for all tourists (and locals).
The layout of EmQuartier is a bit confusing at first, since it’s so huge. The mall is split up into three quartiers, one of which is actually in a separate building connected by several walkways (Helix Quartier, which I’ll get to). The Glass Quartier, Waterfall Quartier, and Helix Quartier each require a couple hours to plow through their floors.
Waterfall Quartier is aptly named because this beauty decorates the outside (photos are almost repetitive of the ones above, BUT I DON’T CARE, IT’S BEAUTIFUL):
I mean, holy crap. That is beautiful.
Helix Quartier at EmQuartier opened in May 2015. It’s almost seen as a separate entity altogether, but it’s my favorite part of the mall because the outdoor garden is located here. In addition, the garden has stunning rooftop views of Bangkok CBD, a courtyard, benches, trees, a pond, and meerkat & sheep statues. I could live in this specific outdoor garden forever – my heart was just so happy here.
A 100-m rainforest chandelier hangs from the ceiling and a spiral staircase wraps around its view, so you get sweeping views as you make your way through mouth-watering restaurants to choose from.
I’m not ashamed to say that I chased after a random tourist to ask where he got his dessert, since that ended up being my glorious dinner (Emack & Bolio’s). An ice cream cone coated in Nutella Rice Krispies with a huge scoop of cappuccino ice cream? YES.
The 6th and 9th floors of Helix Quartier are actually called the “dining extravaganza,” and with 50+ places to choose from, that’s an appropriate title.
“EmQuartier Bangkok joins the recently renovated Emporium mall (originally opened in 1997), and will be the second in a trio of malls at the site, with the additional ‘EmSphere’ set to be the third and final venue as part of the EM District project. True to its name, the Emsphere will take on a distinct spherical design with a giant glass roof and mostly luxury stores inside. Once completed in 2016, the entire site will cover 600,000 square metres of downtown Bangkok and offer over 1,000 international local and international retail stores.”
Right next to EmQuartier is the recently-remodeled Emporium mall, which isn’t nearly as nice as EmQuartier, but it’s still worth a visit. I loved the iridescent and gold ceiling decor that gave the mall a minimalistic/clean feel. Whoever designs Bangkok’s malls seriously knows what’s up – they need to give massive tips to everyone in California, that’s for sure.
I even asked for directions to the Kids Creative Playground (don’t judge), and a security guard walked me over to the entrance of this mall – the reason I found this mall in the first place. While the playground was sadly closed by the time I got there in the evening, don’t be surprised if I revisit and buy a ticket. After all, this is the girl who sought out the kids Anpanman Museum in Fukuoka.
All this mall-hopping is mainly thanks to a high school friend’s sister who guided me around the city via texts. She endured my endless questions about food, where to buy things, appropriate pricing on things, etc. and I’m eternally grateful to her for putting up with me.
Terminal 21 was my second favorite mall, themed around international travel destinations such as Rome, Paris, Tokyo, London, San Francisco, Hollywood, and Istanbul. It has over 600 (yes, you read that correctly) shops, tons of places to eat, and I nearly screamed and fainted when I spotted a Nixon pop-up stand.
I absolutely loved the elaborate theming of all nine floors. Each floor was themed around a specific city in a famous country (i.e. London), which meant everything from benches to props to bathrooms were decked out in beautiful designs. Yes, I was that girl who went into every bathroom to get pictures of the themed bathrooms.
I discovered the amazing mecca of Thailand mall food courts in Terminal 21, and it’s safe to say that every type of food sucks in Surat cannot compare after tasting this holy goodness. It’s awesome how you just roll up to a counter, give a specified amount of money to put on a cash card (much like the ones you get at arcades), and then pay for food via that card. Oh, the choices. So many delicious choices.
The lobby has a large marquee of departing flights that is personalized to serve as a mall directory of respective floors, which is absolutely amazing attention to detail. Bangkok malls definitely ooze out elements of Disney in that sense.
Terminal 21 stands 42 stories high and has the longest escalators in Thailand (up to 36m). I was mainly enamored by the giant Golden Gate Bridge on the top floor that paid tribute to one of my favorite cities in California – San Francisco.
This mall boasts ritzy and luxurious designer brands, so it’s obviously not meant for people like me – but I loved it, because I gravitate toward all that fancy stuff. The rooftop bar looked absolutely breathtaking (I’m sure the views trump downtown LA any day), and it made me realize just why so many people work and live in Bangkok. Talk about lifestyles of the rich and famous in Bangkok, man…
An obvious favorite since it’s modeled around the Japanese lifestyle, and nearly every health/beauty/clothing/toy/book/etc. store and restaurant is centered around Japan. Prices of everything are double what they are in Japan (importing taxes, I assume), but I spent a lot of time in this mall just trying to soak up my feelings of nostalgia. I truly love Japan (especially the food and culture), so I’m hoping to visit again in the future.
This is another massive mall with floors upon floors upon floors of shops – and the food court is insane. Highly recommend this one, primarily for food exploration and some great photo ops.
This was actually my least favorite mall of all the ones I went to because of its lack of modern architecture – it’s a pretty average mall in general.
Sadly, Central Plaza happens to be Surat Thani’s main mall (some photos are below), and it’s all we’ve got – so take it or leave it. Better than nothing at 4-stories, but dude, Bangkok seriously spoiled me in terms of seeing the ritziest malls (possibly in the world).
This was the first mall I visited in Bangkok thanks to a group of Canucks – we ended up spending a whole day there, just browsing the floors. I watched my first film with them in a non-native-English-speaking country (I don’t mind Thai subtitles, and at less than $4 USD with ridiculously comfy seats, it was the cheapest screening I’ve ever seen with a recently released film).
This mall is primarily like a large, indoor mall of everything you’ll find in street markets. For the most part, the prices seem comparable to street vendors, but it wasn’t my type of mall since I’m not into all the fake/cheap stuff and gaudy elephant pants that every backpacker buys.
This is probably one of Bangkok’s most famous malls since it’s designed with gold lavish trimming everywhere. It’s absolutely beautiful. It reminds me of The Bellagio in Las Vegas a bit, but even more gorgeous. I mean, it has an aquarium on the bottom floor (SeaLife, the same in Sydney and Melbourne) that happens to be the largest one in all of SE Asia, Madam Tussad’s, a 16-screen Cineplex, and over 250 shops.
The beautiful color-changing water fountains in front look especially stunning at night – anything like that reminds me of World of Color. My Disney side is coming out again (I actually miss elements of Disney now – took me two years to say that).
Chatuchak Weekend Market (aka JJ Market)
I went here based on the recommendation of a local, and it was honestly too much for me to handle. I felt claustrophobic in the humidity and clusters of rows that barely gave you room to inch through (not to mention among thousands of other shoppers). I wandered aimlessly through various sections (there are 27 in total, and I know I didn’t through all of them) until realizing that I was just going in huge circles and couldn’t find my way out. Google Maps only helped me so much, and when I eventually found my way back to a BTS Skytrain station, I literally bolted for the platform headed for the nearest shopping mall.
Like I said, I really don’t do well in giant crowds where you’re up in everyone’s space, so I was a bit foolish to have gone – but I can say I experienced it*.
*This same day, I hit up 5 different malls in addition to this market and got back to my hostel around 11pm and collapsed from utter exhaustion. This is the type of traveler I am, ha…
Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha)
Thanks to a friendly group of Canucks (I absolutely love you Canadians!), we did some sightseeing that I would have normally overlooked since I’m not into temples. However, Wat Pho was beautiful and quite the sight – I’m really glad I had (awesome) friends to experience this with. Being in front of a 46-m. long gold Buddha is priceless, and I have to admit that I felt like I was in a scene from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug because of the vast size of the gold statue.
I’m pretty sure my mouth was gaping open the entire time. I’m a dead giveaway for a tourist.
Museums aren’t my forte, but I followed others here. Some of the exhibits were quite elaborate and beautiful in person.
The one thing I remember about the experience was that we got absolutely drenched in our first Bangkok downpour en route here. None of us had umbrellas or ponchos, and since we all were soaked, it was pointless to buy a poncho after the fact. Walking around like a wet dog in an air con-blasting museum is the most unpleasant feeling ever, and it was also the reason I invested in two waterproof ocean pack bags soon after.
This was another one of my favorite things about Bangkok since it was along a riverfront, and anything near water makes me smile with delight. It reminded me of Docklands in Melbourne because of the large ferris wheel (although the Melbourne Star obviously blows Sky Asiatique out of the water).
And yes, of course I played tourist and rode the ferris wheel because I love that stuff. Well worth the $7USD. I didn’t think the views were that spectacular (again, living in places like Melbourne and Japan spoiled me since those nighttime views from above were insane), but for $7USD and blasting air con inside (and I got a private gondola!), I was quite happy.
It was incredibly easy to get here – there’s a free tourist riverboat (marked “free” in a pink banner on top) that goes from the pier near Saphan Taksin BTS station to and from Asiatique every evening. Asiatique was one of those places I’d revisit frequently if I lived in Bangkok since it has everything I love: A waterfront, beautiful restaurants, street food, pop-up boutiques, and entertainment (janky light-up racecars and zorbing-esque balls). I absolutely loved the hangar setup of all the various boutiques and shops – I’m such a sucker for anything boutiquey since it evokes the whole California beach vibe.
My dear Bangkok, I’m sure I’ll reunite with you at least once more before I depart for other adventures. Thank you for welcoming me with open arms and for offering so much tasty food upon my arrival!