Free Bangkok Guide Part III-Skip or Avoid

This section will undoubtedly illicit some controversy. Some of the items below that make the skip of avoid list are tourist mainstays of Bangkok.

In particular, a lot of people disagree with the first site on the list, Chinatown. For me, after going there many times, I’ve just never liked it. There are interesting businesses and historical places in Chinatown, but most importantly this guide is not made primarily for expats who have plenty of time to dig deeper into a neighborhood. This guide is mainly aimed at visitors to Bangkok. Most travelers only spend a couple of days in the city, and for me I wouldn’t recommend that they spend their time wondering the congested furnace that is Chinatown trying to figure out what to see.

Thai people in particular might be outright offended that I’ve put the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaow on the list. But, for non-Thais raised without being bombarded with constant love-the-monarchy propaganda, the allure of the place just isn’t that strong. In a country where saying anything negative about the royal family lands people in prison for years and even decades, I would rather not recommend that people support this authoritarian institution and its old feudal domains.

Last update: 1 December 2013

Download complete PDF version of this guide

I recommend downloading this guide and putting it on your phone, tablet, or notebook computer, and using with the custom map where all the destinations have been pinned for you.

See all places on Google Maps

or paste this Google Maps link into your browser:
https://mapsengine.google.com/map/edit?mid=zIUhn38PaO3c.kUp8pgaEr0lc

If you happen to be in Chinatown on Lunar New Year and you see this guy, take his picture.

If you happen to be in Chinatown on Lunar New Year and you see this guy, take his picture.

Skip or Avoid

Chinatown
Nearly every city in the world has a Chinatown and there is this err, country called… China. So, why visit Chinatown in Bangkok? It’s overcrowded, full of traffic, a maze, and insanely hot due to all the concrete. Unless you’re just hunkering for Chinese food, which can be found all over Bangkok, or you really want to support the cruel practice of shark finning, then you can miss this place altogether. On the other hand, it’s worth a visit during the night time festivities for Lunar New Year. The Temple of the Golden Buddha (Wat Tramit) is quite nice, especially on a holiday. Reach Chinatown and Wat Tramit by walking towards the river from Hua Lamphong MRT/Subway Stn for about 350 meters.

City Pillar Shrine
Even if you’re just walking right by, you probably don’t even need to consider going out of your way to see it. It’s basically just a golden phallus in a temple crammed full of Thai people doing inexplicable worshipping activities. If you must see this sacred golden cock, then it’s just across from the Grand Palace and diagonal from Sanam Luang grassy mall off Ratchadamnoen Chai Rd.

Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaow
Considered a must see by nearly every visitor to Bangkok, this site can actually be skipped. The palace itself is a descent architectural site, but with an outrageous 500 baht entry fee, a strict dress code, and hordes of tourists, this place can be crossed off your list. The tour guides are generally lousy and get half their information incorrect, and you can only peak inside a few buildings. In reality, unless you are obsessed with the intricacies of Thai architecture, you can see plenty of similar looking temples in the area. If you insist on visiting, you can get their by taking the Chao Praya River Express boat to Tha Chang/N9 Pier. Never believe anyone who tells you it is closed, no matter how friendly and well dressed they are.

Patpong
Famous for the “ping pong show”, Patpong is on the low end of the flesh trade in Bangkok. Like carnival barkers, a hoard of men try to sell sex shows to tourists. These shows are bizarre to the say the least and more than a little depressing. As a woman well past her prime as a sex worker shoots darts out of her vagina in front of a picture of the Thai king and then her child (or maybe even grandchild) walks in the room, you don’t know if you’ll ever live down the shame contributing to that enterprise. Plus, the establishment managers (so called “mama sans”) are more than happy to make you empty your wallet before you leave using the threat of their hired thugs. Oddly, Patpong does have a decent souvenir market though. Located near Sala Daeng BTS/Skytrain Stn.

Tuk Tuks
Particularly around the historic sites in the old city, Kao San Road, and Chinatown, tuk tuks run schemes to try and rip tourists off. They offer a very low price, but then instead of taking you to your destination take you to a series of shops selling jewelry, tailored clothing, or trips. Since you have to negotiate the price, they generally try to charge tourists insanely overpriced rates if they are not running a shop visiting scam. Unless you know how much to pay, you’re better off avoiding them and taking a metered taxi. The novelty of riding in the open air soon wears off in a tuk tuk when you are stuck behind a diesel bus and you realize that you actually can’t see anything out of the vehicle due to its low roof.

Note from the author:
This guide reflects my personal recommendations, therefore, it is deliberately influenced by my own likes and dislikes. It is not intended to be a comprehensive or general guide to the whole of Bangkok. There are of course many great places that have been left out of this guide that I simply have never been. In particular, the Arts and Culture category is a bit lacking, and the Food and Beverage category could easily go on and on. For the restaurants listed, I have been to them multiple times so can attest to their consistent quality of food and/or experience. To keep this guide relatively concise and simple to use some quality restaurants were excluded. For example, there are quite a few excellent Italian restaurants, but I chose to list only the one I felt had consistently been the best. I am generally not a big fan of Indian food, hence, none of those restaurants made the list. But I am a fan of Middle Eastern food which is why two restaurants from that category made it into the guide. Some might be a bit crestfallen with some of the things in my Skip or Avoid section, but those are my opinions and I’m sticking to them.

This guide began when I was helping out with the hosting of a group of American exchange students to the university where I work. I decided to expand it, allowing me to have something to give out to visiting friends who would always ask for my recommendations anyway.

About Isaac:
Isaac Olson has lived in Bangkok for nearly five years. He originally came to the city to study for his master’s degree in Southeast Asian studies, which he completed in 2010. He stayed on in Bangkok working at a variety of jobs for international organizations, language schools, and universities. He’s admittedly not a huge fan of night life or shopping, but enjoys the outdoors, sites, and unique cultural experiences. He admits that like most expats his Thai could be better, but he has been slowly working his skills up, and can… shockingly… read and write in Thai and even carry on meaningless conversations with taxi drivers.

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Read part I, the Best of BKK>>

Read part II-Maybe, Maybe Not>>

City Pillar Shrine

There, now you’ve seen City Pillar Shrine.

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Free Bangkok Guide Part II-Maybe, Maybe Not

These places in BKK might interest you, but are sometimes over rated. If you miss them, it’s probably not a big deal.

Last update: 1 December 2013

Download complete PDF version of this guide

I recommend downloading this guide and putting it on your phone, tablet, or notebook computer, and using with the custom map where all the destinations have been pinned for you.

See all places on Google Maps

or paste this Google Maps link into your browser:
https://mapsengine.google.com/map/edit?mid=zIUhn38PaO3c.kUp8pgaEr0lc

Golden Buddha

“Oh look honey, another golden Buddha. We must still be in Thailand.”

  • Maybe, Maybe Not

Activities

Canal Boat (Klang Boat)
This boat runs up the Klang Saen Saep Canal, which is incredibly dirty, but an experience nonetheless. It’s a great way to get to Pratunam, MBK, the Bangkok Arts and Culture Center, and Jim Thompson’s House.

Arts and Culture

Neilson Hays Library
Built in 1922 to house English language books. This neoclassical building still retains its charm as a functioning library with a small art gallery and a quaint garden café attached. A traditional card catalogue is still in use. The library is located on Surawong Road about 1 kilometer from Chong Nonsi BTS/Skytrain Stn or about 1.4 kilometers from Sala Daeng BTS/Skytrain Stn.

Jim Thompson’s House
(see the Sites section)

Day Trips

Bang Pa-In Royal Palace
This royal getaway is rarely used these days, but it might be worth a wander to see the odd collection of buildings representing a variety of styles and cultural fusions. Most of the buildings were constructed in the late 19th century and often with a European sensibility, but Chinese influences and Thai adaptations are present. Don’t miss Wat Niwet Thamaprawat across the river from the palace, which you get to by taking an adventurous cable car over the river. The most prominent thing to see here is a Buddhist temple built in the style of a gothic Christian church. Get to the palace by taking a local bus from the Northern Bus Terminal (AKA: Mo Chit Stn) in Bangkok or a train from Hua Lamphong or Bang Sue Railway Stns. Trains will take at least 1.5 hours and are only several times a day. The local bus will take at least 2 hours. You can also get there by hiring a tuk tuk from Ayutthaya. It is possible to combine Bang Pa-In with a day trip to Ayutthaya, but you should get up early.

Food & Beverage

Cabbages and Condoms
A restaurant famous for its proceeds going to rural livelihood and development in Thailand. The food is decent, but overpriced and the service is slow. Seating is available inside or outside and the gift shop has a number of very unique souvenirs promoting safe sex. Located down Sukhumvit Soi 12, it’s about 300 meters from Asok BTS/Skytrain Stn or Sukhumvit MRT/Subway Stn.

Night Life

Kao San Road
The most famous backpacker haunt in all of Thailand. This road is most fun for watching the drunk, bizarrely dressed tourists stumble around looking bewildered and the Thais (or often other Asian nationalities) who try to entertain them and get them to buy useless junk. There are many bars, much street food, and a few clubs. For a little more laid back atmosphere, head to Soi Ram Bhuttri, which is right next to Kao San Road. In the day time, there is a lot of backpacker oriented merchandise for sale. The best way to get to Khao San Road is to take the Chao Phraya River Express Boat and get off at Phra Athit/N13 Pier. From there, it’s about a 200 meter walk. You can also take a taxi from National Stadium BTS/Skytrain Stn, but traffic can be horrendous at certain times of day.

RCA
Royal City Avenue is a major club street catering mostly to high-so customers. There are a number of smaller bars and restaurants at the ends of the street though. Get to RCA by a short taxi ride from Rama 9 MRT/Subway Stn. It can also be reached from Phetchaburi MRT/Subway Stn or Ramkhamhaeng Airport Rail Link Stn.

Silom Soi 4 area
This is the most famous gay district in Bangkok. Most people, gay, straight, or couples feel comfortable in this area. It’s close to the infamous red light district of Pat Pong, which is famous for its depressing and downright disturbing “ping pong show.” Several bars feature lady boy shows. However, the scene is exclusively dominated by gay men. The area between Surawong Soi 58 and Rama IV Rd is where the gay club scene really gets thumping. Most of the gay bars and clubs are located on a walking street with plenty of advertisements for “boys” between a Family Mart and a Leather goods store. The whole area is closest to Sala Daeng BTS/Skytrain Stn and near Silom MRT/Subway Stn. However, the thumping gay scene between Surawong Soi 58 and Rama IV Rd is also within walking distance of Sam Yan MRT/Subway Stn.

Sukhumvit
Sukhumvit Road is popular amongst expats and rich locals. Every Soi (side street) has something to offer.

     -Nana Plaza::One of the most famous red light districts. This is a building with an open courtyard featuring level after level of nudy bars, strip clubs, and everything in between to please pervy lonely souls and the curious alike. The game here is the same as every red light district. Women give customers attention so they will buy more drinks or other services on offer. It’s often just as entertaining to watch the male clients’ behavior as it is the working girls. Nana Plaza is directly across from Sukhumvit Soi 3/Nana just a few meters down Sukumvit Soi 4/Nana Tai. It’s about halfway between Ploen Chit and Nana BTS/Skytrain Stns.

     -Soi 11: This Soi has tons of clubs and bars which are popular among the diverse Bangkok expat community. For cheap drinks, buy from a street bar which are sometimes served out of converted VW Minibuses. One nice and popular roof top bar is Nest, which stays open even in the rain due to a retractable covering. Soi 11 is next to Nana BTS/Skytrain Stn.

    -Soi Cowboy:Possibly the most famous red light district in Bangkok. Every establishment features naked women dancing with numbers on them. They try to talk with patrons and get them to buy drinks and take them home. It’s worth a walk down the street just to see, and it’s up to you whether you want to go inside any place. Drink prices are higher than average. The small Soi is located next to Silom MRT/Subway Stn and about 100 meters from Asok BTS/Skytrain Stn. It’s between Sukhumvit Soi 23 and the very wide Ratchadaphisek Road.

    -Soi 22: A bit of an odd Soi full of small bars with famous Bangkok bar girls who try to get you to buy them a drink and maybe take them home later. Most bars are located on small side streets coming off the Soi. Just walk around and explore. No nudity, but plenty of middle aged foreign men hanging around. Soi 22 is located about 500 meters from Phrom Pong BTS/Skytrain Stn.

Thong Lo
A high-so destination between Sukhumvit and Pretchburi Roads. There are plenty of unique and trendy restaurants, bars, and night clubs catering to the Thai elite and anyone else who can afford it. However, not all places are absurdly priced. Get to Thong Lo from Thong Lo BTS/Skytrain Stn or even from Ramkhamhaeng Airport Rail Link Stn.

Junk Market
(see the Shopping section)

Parks

Santichai Prakan Park
If you need to escape the chaos that is Kao San Road, head over to this park, which is located on the river front. It features a fort and a nice pagoda. Just 200 meters from Phra Athit/N12 Pier on the Chao Praya River Express Boat and located off Phra Athit Road where the road begins to curve.

Saranrom Park
In the old city and close to lots of sites, this small park is a nice escape. It features ponds and miniatures of Thai traditional houses. It really gets lively after working hours when locals utilize the space for jogging, aerobics, and ping pong. Next to the Grand Palace and Wat Pho across Sanam Chai Rd., this park is easy to find. Located 500 meters from Tha Thien/N8 Pier on the Chao Praya River Express Boat.

Tae Chio Cemetery
Here you will find an old Chinese cemetery which functions more as a park these days. Walking through it and looking at the many graves in the middle of an urban jungle is a slightly odd but peaceful experience. Joggers dig it too. It’s 750 meters from Surasak BTS/Skytrain Stn. Turn down Charoen Rat Road, then go down Charoen Rat Soi 3 until you see a traditional gate.

Shopping

Junk Market
If this market has a name, I don’t know what it is. You’ll find a random assortment of stuff that often looks like it’s been picked out of the garbage. I’ve found used jars, cell phones, and old-school gaming consoles here amongst a lot of other random stuff. There are stalls selling new stuff too. This market is just across diagonally from the Grand Palace and next to the grassy mall known as Sanam Luang. It’s also about 500 meters south of Kao San Road and runs along Pop Krung Canal.

MBK
Once on my skip or avoid list, this place has grown on me due to some great bargains that I’ve found. It’s a discount shopping center popular amongst tourists. Some vendors can be rude, but with bargaining deals can be found, especially on cell phones and clothing. Connected to National Stadium BTS/Skytrain Stn.

Central World
(see the Shopping section under the Best of BKK, but it’s actually a Maybe, Maybe Not destination)

Sites

Jim Thompson’s House
Not a bad place to visit, since it’s nice to see a compilation of traditional Thai houses. Also, the café is located in a picturesque setting and there is an art gallery with constantly changing exhibits located on site. Get there by walking about 400 meters from National Stadium BTS/Skytrain Stn or from Hua Chang Pier on the Khlong Saen Saep canal boat.

Hindu Temple (Wat Prasri Maha Umathevi/Wat Khaek)
If you’ve never seen a Hindu temple, then here is your chance. Not particularly big, but this is the most famous Hindu Temple in Bangkok. Plenty of Indian businesses, especially tailors, have congregated nearby. You can find this temple on the corner of Silom and Pan Roads about 800 meters from Chong Nonsi BTS/Skytrain Stn.

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Read part I, the Best of BKK>>

Read part III, Skip or Avoid>>

Mae Thoranee Shrine

You could probably miss Mae Thoranee Shrine and not feel too bad about it.

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Free Bangkok Guide Part I-Best of BKK

This begins a three part series on my personal recommendations for Bangkok, Thailand. Here today we have the best of BKK (Bangkok) with subsequent posts covering places to maybe or maybe not visit, and places to skip or avoid altogether. This guide is aimed at visitors to Bangkok, but will also be useful to international residents in the city (so called expats).

Last update: 1 December 2013

Download complete PDF version of this guide

I recommend downloading this guide and putting it on your phone, tablet, or notebook computer, and using with the custom map where all the destinations have been pinned for you.

See all places on Google Maps

or paste this Google Maps link into your browser:
https://mapsengine.google.com/map/edit?mid=zIUhn38PaO3c.kUp8pgaEr0lc

After living in Bangkok for a number of years and showing numerous people around, these are my best of BKK recommendations. There are plenty of other places to visit in Bangkok, but these destinations are ones I have actually been to, so I can attest to their quality.

**** Means it’s on my personal favorites list. Find these listed first, then following destinations in alphabetical order.

This guide has three sections: Best of BKK; Maybe, Maybe not; and Skip or Avoid. But, this post features only the Best of BKK

Each section has the following sub-sections: Activities; Arts & Culture; Day Trips; Food and Beverage; Night Life; Parks; Shopping; and Sites.

Bangkok Sidewalk

Bangkok sidewalk, Chan Rd.

Best of BKK

Activities

****Chao Praya River Express Boat
A great way to get to sites located in and around the Grand Palace in the old part of the city, this boat is worth the ride itself. It cruises up the river past temples and plenty of interesting river traffic. The easiest place to catch the boat is at Central Pier next to Saphan Taksin BTS/Skytrain Stn, but it stops at many piers along the river. It ceases operation at about 6:30 at night or when it’s too dark.
Route Map

Lady Boy Show (Cabaret)
This is a one of a kind experience in Bangkok. There are a few famous shows such as Calypso and Mambo, but they are often not worth the price (find them pegged under Maybe, Maybe Not on the map) Although, if you book tickets for Calypso Cabaret online two days ahead, then it’s significantly cheaper. Calypso and Mambo are rated PG. To see a free lady boy show, go to the area around Silom Soi 4 off Sala Daeng BTS/Skytrain Stn. The area between Surawong Soi 58 and Rama IV Rd is where you’ll find the most shows. There is a not so discreet walking street with plenty of advertisements for “boys” between a Family Mart and a Leather goods store.

Massages and Pampering
Thai massage and other forms of pampering such as facials and manicures are widely available. A one hour Thai massage should cost 150-250 baht with a standard foot massage costing about the same price, but expect to pay more in hi-so and touristy places. Manicures and facials are more expensive, as are non-Thai massages.

Thai BBQ
Cook raw meat and vegetables on a grill over hot coals right at your table, and if you go to the right place it’s only 99 baht for the buffet. Unsurprisingly, it’s popular among students.

Thai Boxing
A number of stadiums exist, but foreigners have to pay an outrageous amount of money at Lumphini Boxing Stadium. On Sundays, near Chatuchak Weekend Market, you can see Thai boxing for free at Color Channel 7 TV studio. Arrive at 12:30 to get good seats, and fights begin at 1:30. The studio is located about 300 meters from Mo Chit BTS/Skytrain Stn, down Ruam Siri Mit Road.

Arts & Culture

****Apex Scala
A classic movie theater doing things the old-fashioned way. A surprising number of films are crammed onto this theater’s one screen. Comfortable seats with cheap popcorn and classic ushers great you at this movie house, not to mention an interior reminiscent of the golden age of cinema. Tickets are only 100 baht.

****House cinema
Bangkok’s only boutique cinema showing unique movies from around the world for only 100 baht. It’s located next to RCA off Phetchaburi Road at the top floor of a mall called RCA Plaza. Get there by taxi from Phetchaburi MRT/Subway Stn or by Ramkhamhaeng Airport Rail Link Stn. The theater also has a decent Thai restaurant.

Bangkok Arts and Culture Center
This place features a great deal of modern art with ever-changing exhibits. Get off at National Stadium BTS/Skytrain Stn or Hua Chang Pier on the Khlong Saen Saep canal boat.

Day Trips

****Amphawa Floating Market
Most people consider this the best floating market. It’s located about an hour outside of Bangkok. Vans to the market run from Victory Monument and make the return trip as well. Take the boat tour for 50 baht and you will be whisked around to nearby temples with their own markets on the river. If you are there at night you can also take a boat tour to see fireflies. Without the boat tour, it can be more or less just a crowded and touristy river market.

****Ayutthaya
This island city is the former capital of the previous Thai kingdom to rule most of the area we now call Thailand. Despite the fact that it was sacked by the Burmese in 1767, there are still quite a few standing ruins of palaces and temples. A few have been restored and at least one historic temple is still functioning (Wat Yai Chai Mongkon). All the major sites are within the Ayutthaya Historical Park, which charges entrance fees for popular sites. Most of the ruins are on the central and western part of the island, but some great sites are also off the island. The best way to see Ayutthaya is to get a tourist map and rent a bicycle, but if you’re feeling lazy, you can hire a tuk tuk for about 600-700 baht to take you around to all the major sites in a few hours. It is also recommended that you take a boat tour to the sites around the rivers and the canals because when the temples were built, they were intended to be viewed from these waterways. The only must see sites are Wat Phra Sri Sanphet, Wat Mahathat, and Wat Chai Wattanaram at sunset. It will take 1.5 to 2 hours to get to Ayutthaya. You can take a van from Victory Monument, a bus at the Northern Bus Terminal (AKA: Mo Chit Stn), or a train from Hua Lamphong or Bang Sue Railway Stns.

****Local Train to Samut Sakhon and Samut Songkhram
This is a slow but great way to get to Amphawa Floating Market. It’s about a 2.5 to 3 hour trip one way. Take the local train from Wongwian Yai Railway Stn in Thonburi (west river). The train ends at Samut Sakhon (Mahachai Railway Stn), where you have to get off then take a ferry across the river, find the nearby train station (Ban Laem Railway Stn), and take the train to Samut Songkhram. Along the way the old train bounces about while going along the coast past rice and sea salt fields. At the end of the line in Samut Songkhram (Mae Khlong Railway Stn), there is a market called Mae Klong Market which is set up over the actual railroad tracks! When trains come in, the vendors pull their booths back to let the train through. From here, you can take a taxi or Seongtaw (pickup truck with seats) to Amphawa Floating Market.

Phutthamonthon (Buddha Monthon)
A huge Buddha park located about 30 minutes outside of the city center off Borommaratchachonnani Road. The center of the park has a giant striding Buddha and next to a lake is a temple with the entire Buddhist canon engraved on marble tablets. This park is also where the Thai Buddhist Sangka sits, which is more or less the Vatican of Thai Buddhism. There are several Buddhist museums there as well and many ceremonies happen in the park. Generally, it’s just a good place to relax outside of the busy urban center of Bangkok. The only way to get there is by taxi or local bus. It’s not really a day trip, but it’s further from the city center than most visitors ever wander.

 Food & Beverage

Thai food can be found everywhere of course and at most places it’s quite good, but beware of non-hygienic street food. Most recommendations below serve foreign food, since finding quality international food is much more of a challenge.

****Bamboo
Great Middle Eastern food with Shisha (Hookah) smoking available. It’s on Sukhumvit Soi 3/Soi Nana about 200 meters up the Soi from Sukhumvit Road. Closest to Nana BTS/Skytrain Stn.

****Café de Norasingha
This coffee shop serves up coffee and tea along with other treats in a historic palace setting. It’s located at Phaya Thai Palace next to Phra Mongkut Klao Hospital on Rat Withi Road. From Victory Monument BTS/Skytrain Stn, it’s about 700 meters.

****Mae Kaidee’s
Here we have a vegan restaurant off Kao San Road serving up amazing and innovative Thai dishes. It’s located in the alley behind Burger King off Tanao Road at the end of Kao San Road. There is another location north of the canal and Phra Athit Road on Samsen Road near Soi 1.

Bei Otto
Here you can indulge in German food more authentic than you can often find in Germany itself. Cheap by European standards, but somewhat pricey by Thai standards. I recommend one of the German sausage plates such as the nurnberger bratwurst. This place is only about 100 meters up Sukhumvit Soi 20 and 400 meters from Asok BTS/Skytrain Stn or Sukhumvit MRT/Subway Stn.

Fatty’s Bar and Diner
The name says it all. This is a Midwestern American bar serving up some of the fattest burgers, sandwiches, and hot dogs in the city. The food, even with its artery clogging properties, is delicious and authentic. Many evenings feature unique shows by local foreign bands and other performance artists such as comedians. The American proprietor is a cross between a small town Wisconsin cheese-head and a hippy. Fatty’s is located down Rama 9 Road about 750 meters from Rama 9 MRT/Subway Stn towards Din Daeng. It’s located on the right (north) side of the road right next to an overpass road.

Hajime Robot Restaurant
Get a taste of Japan in Bangkok. This restaurant has a former automotive robot dressed in a samurai costume that serves your food. You can choose between all-you-can-eat BBQ or hot pot (broth with meat and veggies). You cook your own food at the table. Your all-you-can-eat time is limited and you order on a touch screen. The price is about 550 baht per person. The only way to get to the restaurant is to transfer to the BRT/Express Bus at Sala Daeng BTS/Skytrain Stn. Get off the BRT at Nara-Rama III or Wat Darn BRT/Express Bus Stns, and then take a taxi. The taxi should cost about 50 baht, and you should have the restaurant’s phone number on hand, so the taxi driver can call and ask for directions. The restaurant sits on Industrial Ring Road leading up to the Bhumibhol/Industrial Bridge in a small shopping center.

Mont
A unique place to get a Thai interpretation of western food. This dessert stop is very famous among Thais for serving up toast slathered in margarine and covered in an array of flavored puddings/custards (chocolate, pandanus, custard, vanilla, corn, peanut butter, sweet condensed milk, etc.). This place is supposed to have invented this toasty desert. You can also buy sweet milk and steamed bread to dip in sweet sauces. Most is located about 250 meters from Democracy Monument down Dinso Road on the right hand (west) side.

Mr. Sia
This is a nondescript but excellent Thai-Chinese fusion restaurant with dim sum and more. The cook and proprietor is a trained chef. To find this place, get off at Chong Nongsi BTS/Skytrain Stn and transfer to the BRT/Express Bus. Then, get off at Chan Road BRT/Express Bus Stn. From here, you can take a taxi. The restaurant is located next to Sathu Pradit Soi 12 on the west side of the Road and has a plastic chef above the sign.

Pizzeria Limoncello
Italian restaurants are ubiquitous up and down Sukhumvit Road, all offering varying quality food. Limoncello’s speciality is pizza, and they serve it up Italian style at reasonable prices. Find this pie shop about 400 meters up Sukhumvit Soi 11 behind Zaks Wine Pub and closest to Nana BTS/Skytrain Stn.

There are many other excellent Italian restaurants. Other notable mentions in the Italian field are: Pizzeria da Luigi, L’Opera Italian Restaurant, Pizzeria Bella Napoli, and Big Mama Pizzeria.

Red Snapper
Here you’ll find a small western fish and chips shop on the roof of the proprietor’s house. The owner is a very boisterous and friendly Thai man who formerly lived abroad. Very reasonable prices for quality food and drink, along with a nice rooftop full of plants on a quiet street. Get there from Sala Daeng BTS/Skytrain Stn by walking down Convent Road for about 300 meters, then turn right onto Phiphat Soi 2 and walk about 200 meters until you see a small sign with a fish on it on the right hand (north) side.

Shoshana
Authentic Israeli food with amazing falafel. It’s located next to Kao San Road on Chakrabpongse Road down a small alley.

Tawandang
This is a large restaurant and microbrewery offering kitschy Asian theatrical entertainment. Self-described as a “German Brewery” most people would be at a loss to find what’s really German about it. The entertainment includes Thai comedy, singing of Thai and western songs, acrobatics, and other acts that just leave you scratching your head wondering what the hell just happened (especially after a number of beers). Booking ahead is necessary on the weekend especially. From Chong Nonsi BTS/Skytrain Stn, transfer to the BRT/Express Bus and get off at Nara-Rama III Stn.

Terminal 21 cafeteria
Clean, cheap, accessible, and full of nearly every kind of Thai food, the cafeteria at the top of this shopping center is worth a feed. Some tables even provide views. Remember to swap your cash for a plastic card and to redeem your remaining cash before you leave. Enter Terminal 21 from Asok BTS/Skytrain Stn or Sukumvit MRT/Subway Stn, then go nearly to the top and all the way to the back of the mall.

Cafeterias are usually great places to try a variety of Thai food. Every mall and shopping center has one somewhere, usually on the top floor. Other great cafeterias can be found at: Central World (hidden behind the grocery store), Amarin Plaza, Central Chidlom (eclectic mix of Thai and foreign foods), and Siam Center (recently renovated).

Night Life

****Chao Phraya River Dinner Cruise
A night time dinner cruise along the Chao Phraya River is probably the best and most comfortable way to see all the splendor of Bangkok. This is due to the fact that sites are lit up at night, allowing them to stand out more than in the day time. The boats depart from different locations but take about the same route along one length of the river. Many boats depart from the River City shopping center’s pier. Hunt online for rates and bargains. Prices range from 500 to 2,500 baht.

****Flower Market (Pak Khlong Talat), Memorial Bridge (Saphan Phut) and Night Market
The Flower Market is not to be missed and is most lively at the latest times of the night/wee hours of the morning. Piles of amazingly cheap exotic flowers await visitors along with a mass of people sorting and arranging the delicate plants. Close to the Flower Market is Memorial Bridge. This industrial looking truss bridge is one of the oldest in Bangkok and features a walkway offering nice views of Wat Arun and the Chao Praya River. Young people like to hang out at the bridge and visit the local market next to it. The market sells random trendy merchandise such as clothing.

Sky Bars
Before going to any open air sky bar, call ahead to ensure that they are open because they will close due to rain.

    ****- Vertigo: Located on top of the Banyan Tree hotel, this bar offers amazing 360 degree views. The cheapest drink is 300 baht and the dress code is enforced. Weekends are often busy, but this means you might be able to sneak the view without buying a drink. It’s located on Sathorn Road about 300 meters from Lumphini MRT/Subway Stn or 1 kilometer from Sala Daeng BTS/Skytrain Stn.

    ****- Millennium Hilton: This bar is enclosed and offers 360 degree views. Its location on the Chao Praya River allows for nice views up and down the river and even sites such as the Grand Palace and Golden Mount (if you can spot them). The cheapest drink is 280 baht and the dress code is enforced. Also expect a lounge singer to be performing in the background. It’s located on the Thonburi (west) side of the river. You can get off at Saphan Taksin or Thonburi BTS/Skytrain Stns. After getting off the Skytrain, then you can take a taxi or if at Saphan Taksin, you can go down to Central Pier and wait for the Millennium Hilton boat.

     – State Tower: This famous sky bar and restaurant is usually packed, but this means you can be sneaky and get by without buying one of their insanely expensive 500 baht drinks. Technically there is a dress code but it is laxly enforced. The State Tower is a huge neoclassical esque building located on Charoen Krung Road about 500 meters from Saphan Taksin BTS/Skytrain Stn.

     – Balco: This is a nice laid back outdoor bar with a pool table on the roof of River City shopping center. It’s not on top of one of the tallest buildings, but you can watch the traffic on the Chao Praya River, and drinks are reasonably priced. Next to the bar is a Thai BBQ restaurant, which I would recommend trying. To get to Balco, take the Chao Praya River Express Boat to Si Phraya/N3 Pier or take a taxi from Saphan Taksin BTS/Skytrain Stn.

****Train Market (Talot Rot Fai)
(see Shopping section)

Asiatique
(see Shopping section)

Tawandang
(see Food and Beverage section)

Parks

****Lumphini Park
The most popular park in Bangkok, this huge space has a lake with boats to rent, many pavilions, and walking paths. There are also plenty of giant monitor lizards lumbering about in the grass and in the water. You might also see public mass aerobics, a distinctly Asian activity. Lumphini Park can be accessed from either Lumphini or Silom MRT/Subway Stns or it’s a short walk from Sala Daeng BTS/Skytrain Stn.

****Phrapadaeng
Probably the best place to bike in all of Bangkok. It’s technically not a park, but a traditional agricultural area located across the Chao Praya River where people live, and is known as the lungs of Bangkok. You can rent a bike and cruise around on the roads and elevated walkways through fruit orchards. There’s also a local market open on weekends selling snacks, crafts, and agricultural products. One of the more unique places to visit is the Siamese Fighting Fish Museum. To get to Phrapadaeng, you can take a ferry from next to Wat Khlong Toei at the Port of Bangkok. The Port of Bangkok is located about one kilometer from Klong Toei MRT/Subway Stn down Kasem Rat Road.

****Rot Fai, Chatuchak, and Queen Sirikit Parks
Here you’ll find three parks all in one area and next to a huge outdoor market. Chatuchak Park is right next to Chatuchak Weekend Market. If you walk up Chatuchak Park away from the market, then you can cross the road over to Queen Sirikit Park which is full of beautifully manicured gardens and a giant musical fountain. North of Queen Sirikit Park is Rot Fai Park, which is for bicycle riding. Bikes can be rented to cruise around this former golf course. Kayaks can also be taken out on a lake and there is a restaurant and butterfly conservatory in the park. Phahon Yothin MRT/Subway Stn is the closest to Rot Fai Park, but you can get to the other parks from Mo Chit BTS/Skytrain Stn or Chatuchak Park MRT/Subway Stn.

Shopping

Pratunam Area
This is a street market combined with several huge shopping centers full of small vendors. Very cheap clothing can be grabbed up and Pantip Plaza is close by. It’s located about 700 meters from Rachathewi BTS/Skytrain Stn, but closest to Pratunam Pier on the Klang Saen Saep canal boat. The area runs along Phetchaburi Road.

    ****- Prantip Plaza: Six floors of every electronics item you could imagine with other random things mixed in. It’s especially good for computers. Prantip Plaza is located about 700 meters from Rachathewi BTS/Skytrain Stn.

****Train Market (Talot Rot Fai)
Once a popular and hip night market only open on weekends, this market is in the process of relocating. It features trendy items and plenty of real and faux antiques. It was formerly a 450 meter walk from Kamphaeng Phet MRT/Subway Stn on Kamphaeng Phet Road.

Asiatique the Riverfront
Very unique night market for Asia. The market is built around some brick warehouses on old Danish port facilities located on the Chao Praya River. It’s full of many small shops and a number of restaurants and a food court. It also has the famous Calypso Cabaret, which is a PG rated lady boy show. On site, there is a giant Ferris wheel with short rides but in air conditioned capsules. At some point the famous Joe Louis Puppet Theater is supposed to locate there to show off its traditional Thai puppetry. This is a night market open from 5:00 pm to midnight. To get to Asiatique, go to Saphan Taksin BTS/Skytrain Stn, then walk down to the Central Pier. From the pier, there is an Asiatique boat which takes people directly to the market.

Chatuchak Weekend Market
Only open on Saturday and Sunday this could very well be the world’s largest outdoor market. It’s a maze of small shops. Most of the vendors between Mo Chit BTS/Skytrain Stn and Kamphaeng Phet MRT/Subway Stn sell clothing. Further from the stations you can find housewares, pets, furniture, trinkets, and on and on. Maps of the market are available, but if you see something you want to buy, you should probably buy it right away because it’s unlikely that you will ever find the shop again. It’s easy to find from Mo Chit BTS/Skytrain Stn or Kamphaen Phet MRT/Subway Stns because you just follow the crowds.

Siam Square Area
The area between Chit Lom and National Stadium BTS/Skytrain Stns and centered around Siam Square BTS/Skytrain Stn is full of large and small shopping centers. Siam Square itself has many small shops along with a few medium sized malls. The area with the small shops is located across the road from Siam Paragon.

    – Central World:One of the largest single shopping centers in Southeast Asia. This mall has hundreds of stores, a huge multiplex movie theater, grocery store, food court, and numerous restaurants. Despite its inclusion under the Best of BKK section, it’s really a Maybe, Maybe Not destination. It’s located off the sky bridge between Siam Square and Chit Lom BTS/Skytrain Stns.

    – Siam Paragon:Here you’ll find a huge hi-so shopping mall with a department store, shops, restaurants, food court, grocery store, movie theater (with IMAX, 3D, and 4D theaters), bowling alley, super cars, book stores, and just about everything in between. Get off at Siam Square BTS/Skytrain Stn.

Terminal 21
This is a giant mall with floors themed after cities or countries from around the world. It consists of mostly small shops and has one of the best food courts in Bangkok. Connected to Asok BTS/Skytrain Stn.

Sites

****Temple of Dawn (Wat Arun)
Probably the most unique looking temple in Bangkok. It’s located on the Thonburi (west) side of the Chao Praya River. There are great views when you climb to the top of the temple on its precariously steep steps. Take a ferry across the river from near Wat Pho (reclining Buddha) at Tha Thien/N8 Pier.

Golden Mount (Wat Saket)
This is a temple made on an artificial hill. You can walk to the top and enjoy views of Bangkok. It’s located near the first/last stop (Pier Phanfa) on the Klang Saen Saep canal boat. It’s not far from Democracy Monument.

Temple of the Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho)
This is where the famous giant reclining Buddha is located. It can be crowded in the high season, but the classic photo probably still makes a visit worthwhile. It’s great to combine a visit to Wat Pho with a visit to Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn), which is a quick ferry ride across the river.

Turtle Temple (Wat Prayun/Wat Rua Lek)
Here you can find a charming small temple with a pond full of turtles that you can feed. Shrines tucked away in coves, surround the pond, making it a fun place to explore. Find this temple at the foot of Memorial Bridge (Saphan Phut) on the Thonburi (West) side. Look for the tall white chedi (tower).

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Continue to part II-Maybe, Maybe Not section>>

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Pavilion at King Rama IX Royal Park

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Living up to the Hype, Overrated and Underrated Destinations- Part III

In this final part of the series, we will take a look at Mexico, New Zealand, Switzerland, Thailand, and the USA. Remember that an overrated label does not mean this is a bad place to visit, just that given the destination’s reputation, it does not fully live up to the hype. Conversely, an underrated label does not mean this would be a great place for everyone to visit. People of course have different tastes, but underrated destinations are more likely to be less overrun with tourists. This final part to the series also introduces a new rating, just right. In a sense, this is the highest rating a place can get, since it means that the destination’s reputation matches the reality.

For more on this series Read Part I- Argentina, Australia, Borneo, Cambodia, and Chile plus the series introduction>>

Also, read Part II- Germany, England, Japan, Korea, Lao, and Malaysia>>

Mexico
Underrated

Column left by the Toltecs in the city of Tula.

Column left by the Toltecs in the city of Tula

Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan

Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan

Mexico suffers from an abundance of bad press in American news in particular. This isn’t completely unfair since the Mexican government’s battles with drug cartels have seen a string of violence extreme enough to scare off even the most daring tourist. Despite the over hyped images of marauding drug cartels gone mad, Mexico is a much larger and more diverse country than most people give it credit for, and the drug wars have little or no effect on most places in the country, being confined mostly to certain areas.1

Come on, this is the country where chocolate originated from, and you can have a mariachi serenade you while allowing some of the best food in the world to tantalize your taste buds. Not only is Mexican culture known for its fun, food, and music, but Mexico itself features some of the world’s most stunning and massive archaeological sites, such as Teotihuacan and Chichen Itza.

Take a boat at Xochimilco in Mexico City

Take a boat at Xochimilco in Mexico City

Many people think Mexico only features a hot and dry environment,but its south is full of jungles with diverse wildlife. Mexico City is the crossroads of the country and features plenty of cultural and historical landmarks within it, not to mention a number of easy day trips close by. Mexicans are friendly people, but scams certainly do exist, especially in heavily touristed areas. Which brings me to one issue, which is like Thailand, a number of the country’s destinations have become overrun,especially popular beach haunts such as Cancun. On the budget side, even though the Mexican economy continues to grow, most visitors will find the country quite a bargain. Transportation is surprisingly easy with very comfortable and affordable long distance buses whisking people up and down this vast land.

Diego Rivera Mural

Diego Rivera’s mural of Mexican history at the National Palace, Mexico City

New Zealand
Just Right

The silver fern, a symbol of New Zealand

The silver fern, a symbol of New Zealand

With a savvy marketing campaign, positive word of mouth, and a number of picturesque fantasy movies, New Zealand is a highly respected country brand. But unlike its neighbor Australia, which has traditionally been better known, New Zealand truly lives up to its expectations. The reputation of this land at the bottom of the world rests on its stunning vistas, clean environment, accessible nature, friendly people, and unique plants and animals. There’s no doubt that films starring Hobbits gave this isolated island nation a tourism boost, but its remote location has largely prevented hordes of tourists overrunning the country’s sights. Also, there aren’t just several must see attractions drawing in crowds of people. Rather, people go to take in the whole environment, typically through road trips, tramps (hiking or backpacking), or a combination of both.

Otago Harbour near Dunedin

New Zealand invented bungee jumping and other innovative and safely conducted adventure sports await visitors. Many travelers only make it to the North Island, but this is a mistake since the tallest mountains and wildest lands are on the South Island. However, the situation has been changing with the expansion of more international flights directly to the South Island. New Zealand is not a cheap destination, especially considering that for most people a flight to the country will be very expensive. On the other hand, most people are surprised at the favorable exchange rate they receive when buying New Zealand Dollars.

Drinking fresh glacial water at Aoraki/Mount Cook

Drinking fresh glacial water at Aoraki/Mount Cook

Great tracks and vistas welcome visitors, Aoraki/Mount Cook

Great tracks and vistas welcome visitors, Aoraki/Mount Cook

The best way to get around the country is to buy or rent a car or caravan (RV). Fuel prices are high, but splitting the cost between travelers is a great way to keep on budget and meet new people. For those really stretching their dollars or even solo travelers, many hitch or arrange rides online. If you’re willing to drop some cash, there are plenty of quality package tours offered to effortlessly glide you across the landscape from one awe inspiring destination to the next.

Anyone can try the Luge with stunning vistas above Queenstown

Anyone can try the Luge and enjoy the stunning vistas above Queenstown

Switzerland
Just Right

Typical Swiss street, Chur, Poststrasse.

Typical Swiss street, Chur, Poststrasse. Photo by Tilman2007. Wikimedia

Long famous for defining what a stunning landscape is, Switzerland lives up to its reputation as a land full of mountain charm. The natural beauty combined with the Alpine culture is clearly the draw here. Switzerland has some of the best infrastructure in the world making accessibility to natural sites convenient. Walks even exist where you traverse a mountain cliff while connected to a cable. If you’re not afraid of heights, nearly anyone can do it. Of course skiing and snowboarding are world class too. You also can’t deny that Swiss chocolate is the best in the world. The quaint cities and towns full of pristine streets and buildings will fulfill your expectations of a quintessential European alpine environment, and sampling pots of fondue over Swiss wine is not to be missed.

Zürich. MadGeographer. Wikimedia.

Zürich. Photo by MadGeographer. Wikimedia.

Despite the charms, Switzerland is a high class destination due to its elite status, and the Swiss Franc has been more competitive against the Euro and the Dollar as those currencies have declined in recent years. Some people complain that the Swiss are boring, reserved, and not very open to outsiders, but these are stereotypes. In fact, the country is very diverse, featuring four unique regions all speaking different languages, German, French, Italian, or Romansh. On the surface, the Swiss might appear a bit sterile and homogeneous, but strike up a conversation and you’ll find plenty of diversity and interesting personalities.

The outflow of the Chüebodensee close to Elm, Kanton Glarus. Photo by Matthias Zepper. Wikimedia

The outflow of the Chüebodensee close to Elm, Kanton Glarus. Matthias Zepper. Wikimedia

Thailand
Overrated

Dock on Ko Samet

Dock on Ko Samet

Thai New Years (Songkran) in Bangkok is an all out water war!

Thai New Years (Songkran) in Bangkok is an all out water war!

Among country brands, Thailand is consistently rated number one in value for money, and one would be hard pressed to argue against this.2 The country not only attracts backpackers, but high end tourists have zeroed in on this destination as well. What all this means is that many of Thailand’s beautiful locations have become overrun with development and much of the country has lost its adventurous edge. Many formerly pristine beaches and reefs have become inundated with garbage and even sewage. While not wading through the hoards of flashpackers, trustafarians, or middle aged white men in speedos, you might have to fend off plenty of travel scams. The sex trade, although often over-hyped by the international press, is real and does attract plenty of undesirable hangers on.

Flavorful and spicy Thai food

Flavorful and spicy Thai food

On the surface, excluding heavily touristed areas, the generally friendly and honest Thai people give the impression that all is dandy. But, scratching the surface even a little will reveal a whole host of disturbing realities. A number of tourist attractions engage in exploitation of ethnic minorities or inhumane treatment of animals. There has also been an ongoing string of perplexing and unsolved tourist deaths from poisonings.

Waterfall at Khao Khitchakut National Park

Waterfall at Khao Khitchakut National Park

Fortunately, it’s far from doom and gloom in Thailand. Outside of the popular tourist spots are tons of off the beaten track destinations where scams are few and far between. The reality is that most people love visiting Thailand. With some common sense and a basic ethical compass, chances are nothing bad will happen, and you won’t contribute to any seedy enterprises. Thailand’s Northeast, commonly called Isan, is generally overlooked by visitors. Isan is the most traditional part of Thailand, and even lacking beaches makes up for this with authentic cultural experiences. Northern Thailand rarely disappoints and even with all the tourists in the bustling beach filled South, these are still amazingly beautiful locations. Concerning transportation, intercity buses are widely available from public stations or arranged through travel agents. Trains are very easy to use and plenty of domestic flights are available as well. On top of this, getting to the country has become quite cheap due to Bangkok’s world class airport facilities and the springing up of low cost airlines.

Government workers parade in Chantaburi

Government workers parade in Chantaburi

USA
Overrated & Underrated

Spearfish Falls in Spearfish Canyon located in the Black Hills of South Dakota

Spearfish Falls in Spearfish Canyon located in the Black Hills of South Dakota

Being such a large country it’s hard to place the United States. Suffice it to say that some parts are overrated while others are underrated. Let’s start with overrated, so we can end on a positive note. Plenty of people around the world still believe America to be the promised land. This notion is the result of the exporting of American pop culture from music and movies to popular TV shows. In reality, Hollywood dreams are rarely fulfilled. Many people who visit L.A., think they will casually run into celebrities, but the city almost universally disappoints. Disneyland is amazing. . .if this was still the 1950s that is. For that matter, most urban areas in America are overrated due to a lack of public transportation and neighborhoods suffering from decay. Not only is public transportation a mess in most cities, but intercity transportation, aside from flying, is some of the slowest and inefficient in the developed world. Driving a private car is usually the best option to travel, and even with generally low fuel prices compared to most countries, this option is still costly.

Undergrowth in Olympic National Park. Photo by Miguel.v. Wikimedia

Undergrowth in Olympic National Park. Photo by Miguel.v. Wikimedia

Only a few major tourist cities have hostels not full of creepy vagrants, so finding a budget friendly place to stay is also inconvenient. Getting a visa to just visit the USA for a lot of people around the world is expensive and inconvenient due to the ongoing security state from terrorism paranoia. To top it off, upon arrival many visitors will first be assaulted by ill mannered, impatient, and overly feely security personnel, usually in airports which saw their heyday 30 years ago.

The Grand Tetons in Wyoming by Little Mountain 5. Wikimedia

The Grand Tetons in Wyoming. Photo by Little Mountain 5. Wikimedia

Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Photo by Rainer Hübenthal. Wikimedia

Half Dome in Yosemite National Park. Photo by Rainer Hübenthal. Wikimedia

Despite all the above issues, many parts of the USA are over looked by foreign visitors.There probably is no other country in the world that can compete with the sheer variety of natural environments and landscapes across America. This includes temperate rain forests in the northeast, deserts full of rock monuments in the southwest, the aptly named Rocky Mountains, pancake flat prairies, and eastern forests full of yellow foliage in autumn. The key is to get out of the cities and enjoy the plethora of national and state parks.

Canyonstorm

The Grand Canyon, Arizona. Photo by Jean-Pierre Lavoie. Wikimedia

The best place for these is the American West where national parks featuring great camping, hiking, and climbing are located. Nearly all parks are accessible by car and the more famous ones such as Yosemite and Yellowstone have bus transportation options available, but it’s generally best to have your own wheels to maximize freedom. Even though it doesn’t seem necessary to stray far from your car in many parks, you in fact should get away and take some hikes because the crowds will fade within just a few hundred meters.

Downtown San Francisco with the Transamerica Pyramid. Photo by Graham Rogers (Rodge500), image (c) 2003 Graham Rogers

Downtown San Francisco. image (c) 2003 Graham Rogers. Wikimedia

There are also great outdoor activities outside of most major cities in America, including in the East. For instance, the Appalachian Trail is a favorite of more casual backpackers. Outside of the lower 48 states, Alaska and Hawaii offer contrasting, but equally stunning natural beauty. It’s also not to say that all cities in the USA are a nightmare, remember it’s a big country with plenty of options. Visitors usually feel that a number of cities meet their expectations such as New York, San Francisco, Boston, Orlando, Las Vegas3, San Diego, and Seattle. Furthermore, the weak US Dollar in recent years has made the USA a far more affordable destination. Finally, public transportation may be lacking, but plenty of highways and interstates4 make even remote locations accessible.

Monument Valley in Arizona and Utah. Photo by Moritz Zimmermann. Wikimedia

Monument Valley in Arizona and Utah. Photo by Moritz Zimmermann. Wikimedia

This concludes the series and I hope you’ve enjoyed it or at least it got your blood pumping on some level. If you liked this article and want more, then subscribe to this blog through WordPress or by e-mail (top of right hand side panel).

Don’t forget to Read Part I- Argentina, Australia, Borneo, Cambodia, and Chile plus the series introduction>>

Also, read Part II- Germany, England, Japan, Korea, Lao, and Malaysia>>

1Mainly the North

2Country Brand Index by Future Brand, http://www.futurebrand.com/

3I’m not entirely sure how I personally feel about Las Vegas, but if you’re going there, you generally know what you’re going for.

4The Interstate is a national road system featuring four lanes and faster speed limits.

Posted in Asia, Europe, Latin America, Mexico, Mexico, New Zealand, North America, Oceania, Switzerland, Thailand, Travel, USA | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Living up to the Hype, Overrated and Underrated Destinations- Part II

Continuing this three part series of overrated and underrated destinations, today we journey through Germany, England, Japan, Korea, Lao, and Malaysia to see whether their reputations match the reality. The final part in this series will include Mexico, New Zealand, Switzerland, Thailand, and USA.

Read Part I- Argentina, Australia, Borneo, Cambodia, and Chile plus the series introduction>>

Read Part III- Mexico, New Zealand, Switzerland, Thailand, and USA>>

Germany
Underrated

The Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church retains the scars of past conflict, but the rise of modern Germany as well.

The Jewish Museum blends art, architecture, and history.

Germany certainly receives millions of international visitors, but it has stiff competition from its more popular neighbors, France and Italy. The German Alps are also overshadowed by the neighboring Swiss Alps. In reality, modern German history is full of exciting episodes from the county’s unification under Prussia, its villainous role in the world wars, cold war change and division, then onto becoming a unified economic power in Europe. Throughout the country people can experience different aspects of Germany’s past even going back as far as Roman times in the town of Trier. No single city is really dominant in this country, but there are a number of eclectic metropolitan areas to explore throughout Deutschland.1

After the fall of the wall, the Potsdamer Platz in Berlin was rebuilt.

Most of these cities were destroyed in the second world war only to be rebuilt with distinctive modernist architecture, but plenty of historical structures survived or were rebuilt. The country has also been a great supporter of the arts and cities like Berlin maintain one of the world’s most legendary and vibrant art scenes (along with one of a kind Cold War history). To get a sense of more traditional Germany, the huge state of Bavaria and its capital Munich are the best examples. The German train system, the deutsche bahn, reaches nearly every corner of the country, but long distance rides are not cheap. More economical, the autobahn2 allows for efficient bus travel as well. The adoption of the Euro has made this a much more expensive destination than in the past, but any trip to Western Europe will not be cheap, so your expectations shouldn’t be otherwise. Fortunately for visitors, the Euro has declined in value over the last several years.

Charlottenburg Palace, Berlin

England (excluding Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland)
Overrated

Cafe in London

London’s hosting of the Olympics has raised expectations for England. Even though the event conversely led to less visitors, it will likely help the long term reputation of this nation. Despite this, it’s unlikely that England will live up to the hype. The nation has been long derided for its rainy weather, but Paris gets more annual rainfall than London. So, what is at work here? The fact is rainy weather is easy to blame for disappointing experiences. No one can control the weather, therefore no one can be blamed, and hence no one can be offended. The English are friendly enough but their reserved air and classism is a bit off putting. The English love their drink, which isn’t a bad thing in itself, but if you decide to go on a pub bender, then you might have more fun in Ireland or Scotland where the people and the surrounding are more down to earth.

Street and pub in London

Apparently, the north of England is quite beautiful, but I’ve never heard anyone say this area is better than the Scottish Highlands. And, most people find Stonehenge disappointing. Although, I quite liked it despite my hangover. What will really kill any English experience are the insane prices one has to pay for food, lodging, and transportation. Buying pounds is not cheap and even a ride on the London Underground will set you back at heart attack inducing rates. Okay, so maybe I’m being a bit harsh you might think. England certainly isn’t all bad. London is one of the world’s premier global cities with some world class history, museums, night life, and theater. I have to say that walking amongst the drab brick-work industrial era buildings while listening to the Clash or the Kinks suddenly enlightened me as to how the environment influenced this music. England also features a string of lovely small towns, such as Bath, strewn throughout the countryside. Anglophiles in love with English pop culture, and people who studied history shouldn’t be disappointed by what the nation has to offer. As for anyone else, they should be content with not giving merry old England a go.

Stonehenge on Salisbury Plain

Japan
Overrated

It’s a bit tough to give Japan this rating, since there are a lot of things I like about Japan, but we are comparing reputation against reality. Undoubtedly, Japan will be pleasing to a person’s aesthetics. The country is seen as an exotic destination that is high tech but steeped in tradition where geishas roam the streets and sushi is everywhere. To an extent there is some truth to these claims (except for the geishas roaming the streets). Although, cultural barriers can be significant. Japanese people are incredibly friendly and well mannered but can also seem cold and distant. If you violate what would seem to be a minor cultural faux pas, such as answering your cell phone on the subway, you might experience a telling off from an older Japanese man. If you walk into a local bar, everyone might suddenly become quiet until you leave because many Japanese people are uncomfortable around foreigners.

The shopping mecca of Shibuya with its on-the-go atmosphere is quintessential Tokyo.

One thing that can really hit you in Japan is the price. It’s not a cheap destination and hostels often have quite strict rules. It’s also not easy to travel outside of major tourist cities within the Japanese megaopolis stretching from Tokyo to Osaka, since public transportation signs are often only in Japanese with no Romanized3 script. On the positive side, the gardens and temples are amazing, and it’s quite a large country with a variety of beautiful natural environments. Also, trying to unravel and understand the culture to break down barriers can be a very rewarding experience.

Osaka Castle

Rock garden in Kyoto

Tokyo does fulfill its reputation as an exciting high tech mega city and Kyoto truly does have some of the world’s most stunning temples due to the Japanese tradition of creating a detailed oriented visual experience. One of the most charming aspects about traveling in Japan is that theft and scams are rare and leaving your wallet in a public place will often result in its return, assuming you can be found.

Korea (South)
Underrated

Namsan, Gyeongju National Park

Most people know very little if anything about Korea (aside from Psy’s “Gangnam Style”). While I was living there, friends and family from the United States would ask if it was hot (implying that they thought it was a tropical country, odd considering how bitterly cold the winters can be). I once had a friend describe Koreans as having a medieval way of thinking but with all the modern toys. This is an oversimplification, but Koreans often get typecasted in this way from the fact that many people rather unfairly compare Korea to Japan and believe certain stereotypes about Asians. It’s true that Koreans are not as manner obsessed as the Japanese, but this is just one positive aspect the Korean people can claim. Koreans come off as genuine due to their typical inability to hide their feelings and a certain bluntness about their beliefs. This has earned Koreans the unfair label of being close minded, but in reality Korea hosts a thriving democracy4  with a plethora of opinions.

Bridge at Wolchulsan National Park

Hikers in Korea go all out on top of mountains.

Visitors will notice that Koreans are often excited to meet foreigners and try to practice their English, especially outside of Seoul, since there are few visitors to the country. Korea features craggy mountain landscapes that sport amazingly well engineered hiking trails which pass Buddhist temples nestled in temperate forests. Expect the often geriatric hikers to encourage you to try their local food and fire water (soju) at the apex of a mountainous hike while overlooking a granite filled vistaTen years ago there wasn’t much impressive about Seoul, but a city beautification campaign has led to new parks and more recreational space. The volcanic island of Jeju is sub-tropical and offers beaches and plenty of often kitschy activities aimed at tourists and honeymooners.

Taekwondo practice at Hwaseong Fortress in Suwon

Transportation throughout the country is cheap and simple to use with nearly all signs being Romanized. And, learning to read the Korean alphabet takes as little as two hours. A strong flavor of garlic and chilies infuses the food, and there are plenty of unique alcohols to wash it down with. There is no singular world class sight in the country like the Great Wall to capture people’s imaginations, but the whole experience of visiting is worth the effort. And, just in case you’re wondering, Gangnam5is an actual place. It’s a rich neighborhood in Seoul that I personally never really thought was that interesting. But, don’t worry, there are plenty of other neighborhoods in Seoul to have unforgettable experiences in.

Cook with her jjigaes in Jeonju

Lao (Laos)
Underrated

Tad Fane Falls in southern Lao

It’s tough to say that Lao is underrated since more and more visitors have been flocking to this country every year. However, most travelers confine themselves to a few destinations and only stay for a relatively short time before heading to a neighboring country. Despite the increasing number of visitors, the Laotian people are still largely unjaded by all the tourists, and in less visited areas are still quite inviting. The inviting and open nature of the Laotian people is especially noticeable if coming from Thailand or Vietnam. Local Laotian food is plenty flavorful and you can even find some fine French cuisine as a tip-of-the-hat to the former colonizers. Ecotourism has been booming in this landlocked country. Tree houses accessible by zip lines, jungle walks, and river tours are highlights. Cultural landmarks such as Luang Prabang will bring out the inner archeologist in you. On the downside, Lao has gained a reputation as an anything goes destination, a place to get super cheap boos and plenty of drugs. Places such as Vang Viene and Don Det in the 4,000 Islands are popular amongst the tour-Asia-inebriated crowd.

Everyone gets a soaking during Lao New Year in April

Fortunately, most other parts of the country do not cater to this clientel, and the government has decided to crack down on this activity in Vang Viene. Like Cambodia, Lao has benefited from a regional road building scheme, making parts of the country that were inaccessible before, accessible. In particular, the mountainous and remote far north has opened up. Even though Lao appears to be a small country, travel times between destinations can be very long. On the budget side, the country is still a huge bargain, but as more people arrive, prices have been creeping up. One benefit of this increased visitation is that it has allowed the tourism industry to offer more options to different classes of guests besides just backpackers.

Things get a little wacky during Lao New Year

Fields on Don Som in the 4,000 Islands

Malaysia
Underrated

Bride and groom in Malacca

Malaysia is often overlooked by more popular destinations in the region such as Thailand and Singapore. However, an international advertising campaign may be changing this. This country offers quite a culturally diverse experience and some amazing natural beauty. To top it off, the country’s transportation system is quite modern and Kuala Lumpur is the hub of the discount airline, Air Asia. Traveling the country is not expensive, but also not quite as cheap as other destinations in the region. Malaysia is a good place to get a sampling of Southeast Asian Muslim, Chinese, and Indian cultures. This diversity also creates a unique selection of culinary options.

Batu Caves, a Hindu shrine

The jungles of Malaysia are actually rainforests and full of more wildlife and a greater number of unique plants compared to the jungles on mainland Southeast Asia. Kuala Lumpur is an easy capital city to get around without near as much of the traffic congestion and chaotic streets of other major Southeast Asian cities. The country is also an island and beach destination with a set of pristine islands off the east coast of the Malay Peninsula and the popular islands of Penang and Langkawi off the west coast. In addition to activities on the Malay Peninsula, the provinces of Sarawak and Sabah in Malaysian Borneo feature unspoilt rainforests, beaches, and world class diving.

Some westerners might feel slightly uneasy about traveling in a predominantly Muslim country, but Malaysia is a great place to challenge those prejudices and gain a greater understanding of Muslim culture in the region. Also, communication is not a significant barrier for most visitors because the majority of Malaysians speak English.

Old rickshaws on display at the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion in Penang

Don’t forget to Read Part I- Argentina, Australia, Borneo, Cambodia, and Chile plus the series introduction>> 

Read Part III- Mexico, New Zealand, Switzerland, Thailand, and USA>>

1Germany

2Highway system

3The alphabet used to write English and most other western languages

4It is one of the only real democracies in Asia.

5Literally meaning south river

Posted in Asia, Europe, Germany, Japan, Korea, Lao (Laos), Malaysia, Travel, United Kingdom | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Bangkok Living Costs, a City that Caters to All Your Wants and Needs

Plenty of people want to live in Bangkok, but how realistic is it? Take a look at the article I wrote for Latitudes about the cost of living in Bangkok to find out. After residing in the city for several years and keeping close track of my spending, I was able to write this very accurate and informative article. It’s a must read for anyone moving to or even just visiting Bangkok.

Full Article on Latitudes

Preview:

One major draw to Bangkok is the city’s reputation for having a low cost of living, which helps attract people from nearly every corner of the globe. However, maintaining a low cost of living is only possible with self discipline. Being a globalized mega city, Bangkok caters to all classes and price ranges. One can easily spend just as much money as in any other global city, since there are plenty of temptations competing for your baht. It can certainly be a low cost place to live with a little self discipline, but the temptation to scale up is always present.

Below are expenses contributing to the monthly cost of living in Bangkok.

Read more about Accommodation, Food, Transportation, Entertainment & Relaxation, Healthcare, Government Obligations, and Overall Expenditures in Bangkok>>

Bonus Photos:

Tuk tuks are famous in Bangkok, but usually not the best way to get around. Bicycle is a good option for navigating local neighborhoods.

Cheap and relaxing (depending on how rough your masseuse is), Thai massages can be gotten everywhere.

Food stalls cover Bangkok sidewalks

Produce is cheap and fresh in Bangkok

Row houses are a good alternative to condos and apartments

Hanging out at a street eatery

Fresh grilled fish

Ice Cream in a bun for only 10 baht, you can’t beat that!

Condos come in all shapes and sizes. This one even looks like a sail boat.

Kid hanging out by some street food

Plenty of dining options in Bangkok

Taxis come in all colors, but pink is common

Lots of healthcare options are available

Soi dogs and cats are always free

Don’t forget to read the full article on Latitudes!

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Living up to the Hype, Overrated and Underrated Destinations- Part I

“Is that a good place to visit?” This is one of the most loaded questions anyone can ask a world traveler because what is considered “good” is highly subjective and dependent on a person’s individual tastes. So, when someone asks me if a travel destination was “good” I follow up with a question- “What do you like to do and see?” Without this question, there is no way I can recommend any destination without potentially disappointing or outright pissing that person off after they visit a place which I personally thought was great. More importantly, this gets mixed in with expectations created through word of mouth or savvy marketing campaigns.

There’s no doubt that all countries around the world have a certain reputation for travel and can be viewed as brands in themselves. For some countries their reputation is deserved, while others it is not. This is why I have made a list of destinations I consider underrated or overrated. Although, keep in mind that I have not visited most places in the world. Unfortunately, I have never touched Africa and despite living in Asia for seven years, I still haven’t even been to China. On top of it all, this is just my opinion based off sometimes relatively limited experiences in a country. However, I have omitted countries that I never got an accurate sense for due to short visits or because it was so long ago.1 What I have done is compared the reputation these countries seem to hold against the actual experiences I had in them. To be fair, I have my tastes which no doubt differ from other people. For me I prioritize nature, value for money, and cultural experience the most, followed by ease of transportation.

Keep in mind that an overrated label does not mean in any way that these are bad places to visit. Rather it simply means that given a country’s reputation, it does not fully live up to the hype. The best tactic is to keep your expectations realistic before visiting a place, so you’ll have an experience to keep in the happy and satisfied section of your brain.

This is the first of a three part series looking at 14 different countries plus one nation (England) and one island (Borneo). Today, are the first five: Argentina, Australia, Borneo, Cambodia, and Chile. The next two parts in this series will include: Germany, England, Japan, Korea, Lao, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Switzerland, Thailand, and USA. Let’s begin by doing the tango in:

Argentina
Underrated

Boy dressed as a gaucho with father

South America is probably the world’s most forgotten continent, and Argentina sits on the Southern end of this amazing landmass. Sure, people might know who Evita is, but few people make the effort to actually visit Argentina.The country went through some serious economic turmoil in the early 2000s, but one benefit of this was the devaluation of the Argentine Peso making this destination an excellent bargain for money. Fortunately, along with its neighbors Brazil and Chile, the economy has picked up since that time. Argentina is a Spanish speaking country, but the Argentine accent has an almost Italian ring to it. The food has certainly been influenced by Italy and of course Spain, and there is probably nowhere else in the world where you can get such high quality steaks at such bargain prices. The north of the country is sub-tropical with jungles extending down from Brazil. This area features the mind blowing and under appreciated Iguazu Falls. In the western part of the country are the world’s most vertical mountains, the Andes,and Argentina has their tallest peak, Aconcagua.

Street in Buenos Aires

The capital,Buenos Aires, is a huge city with monuments, museums, history, and a vibrant culture. Found in the southern part of the country is Patagonia, which are remote and windy lands full of wildlife and natural escapes. Coming fairly close to Antarctica, the southern part of the country has the world’s most southern city, Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego. Transportation around Argentina is quite easy on comfortable intercity buses. One drawback is that getting to Argentina often entails an expensive flight, and distances between destinations within the country can be great.

Iguazu Falls, Misiones

Australia
Overrated

Surfers Paradise, Queensland

Australia was given the world’s number one country brand by FutureBrand in 2008, and has occupied a top five position since. Add to this a fair amount of word of mouth and an attractive set of famous Australian actors, and the bar is set quite high for Australia. In particular, the natural beauty is overrated. Most of this country is a brown dessert and the mountains that exist are underwhelming. However,coastal scenery and activities are better and the exotic fauna will meet your expectations. The price of getting to the land down under will break most people’s bank account, then upon arrival it’s not a cheap destination to travel around. Food and alcohol in particular are very expensive and the vast distances between places make driving usually necessary. Generally, the people are friendly, but there is an unfortunate propensity for racist attitudes that is often displayed quite openly. Culturally, it probably won’t be as exciting as most people hope, especially for guests coming from North America. If however, you have money, like to surf, just want to party, or have an obsession with weird animals, then Australia surely will not disappoint.

Ahhh!, what the hell is it? It’s from that movie Critters, right? No, it’s an echidna.


Borneo (Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia)
Underrated

Food cooked in bamboo, Temburong District, Brunei

Not a small space, Borneo is the 3rd largest island in the world and houses three countries. It is likewise home to one of the world’s largest and oldest rain forests. Wildlife such as orangutans, proboscis monkeys, macaques, pygmy elephants, and even rhinos inhabit this unique habitat. Development has been encroaching on this virgin forest through logging and palm plantations, but much of this island still remains unspoiled by visitors. The places most developed for tourism on Borneo are the Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah on the north side of the island. With the advent of cheap flights and even ferries, these states have seen a rise in the number of tourists who want to access the natural environment, but also to enjoy resorts. The most popular place to visit is Sabah where people go to climb Mt. Kinabalu and enjoy pristine beaches and world class diving. Sarawak also features diving along with other rain forest activities. The little visited country of Brunei is almost entirely off the radar, but in fact has a swath of pristine rain forest known as the Temburong District where people can hire river boats to penetrate the jungle and enjoy the environment through activities such as fishing and canopy walks.

Hiking in Borneo’s rain forest

Kalimantan is Indonesia’s massive slice of Borneo. This part of the Indonesian archipelago is sparsely visited and features plenty of pristine natural and cultural experiences, especially in the interior areas. On the other hand, getting around is not as easy as other parts of Borneo, since this is an off the beaten path destination. Visiting Borneo is a good chance to hit up three countries, but be aware that land border crossings into Kalimantan in particular are not in the most convenient places. As far as value for money goes, Kalimantan is the cheapest followed by the Malaysian states of Sarawak and Sabah, but Brunei is the second most expensive destination in Southeast Asia after Singapore.

Coastal Village, Sarawak, Malaysia

Cambodia
Underrated

Children are everywhere in Cambodia

If people know anything about Cambodia, it’s the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime that massacred a significant portion of the population in the late 1970s. Thankfully, people are becoming more and more familiar with Angkor Wat these days. There is however much more to Cambodia than this singular temple. Around Angkor Wat for instance is a whole ancient city full of other equally amazing temple sites.2 Most visitors make it less than a day exploring the ancient city of Angkor, then leave the country for Thailand or Vietnam. This is unfortunate because Cambodia has truly improved its tourism sector the past couple of years. Roads are beginning to crisscross the country due to a regional development scheme, making travel to different destinations much easier, and more flights have become available. Phnom Penh is a less chaotic city than some other capitals in the region, and the city still maintains an amount of its colonial charm. Beaches on Cambodia’s southern coast have only been developed recently and very few travelers have begun flocking to them. The country’s national parks are little visited by foreigners, but have plenty of natural beauty to take in, and hiring a guide is quite cheap. The currency of choice in Cambodia is the U.S. Dollar, and while food might not be cheaper than other countries in the region, it’s still a bargain (especially for beef). The real savings come from lodging which is quite cheap compared against some of Cambodia’s neighbors.

Ta Prohm, Angkor

Phnom Kulen National Park

Hindu God, Angkor

Chile
Underrated

Virgin Mary statue (Inmaculadacerro), Santiago

Chile is the most elongated country in the world stretching 4,630 km north to south but only 430 km at its widest point east to west. The biggest draw to Chile is its natural beauty, hosting a surprising variety of landscapes featuring a Mediterranean environment in the middle, coastal mountains and fjords in the south, and deserts and mountains in the north. The southernmost part of the country comes even closer to Antarctica than Argentina with the small town of Puerto Williams being the southernmost town in the world. Chile also has an easily identifiable and unique cultural site, Easter Island with its many odd and mysterious looking stone figures. Santiago is a compact and well maintained city making walking tours an enjoyable experience. The close proximity of the Andes Mountains makes for eye popping scenery, but on the downside the mountains trap thick smog in the city.

Ascensores, Valparaiso

The neighboring port city of Valpraiso features a maze of streets and strange old vertical lifts (ascensores)to ferry people up the many hillsides. Northern Chile extends onto a high Andean plateau containing lakes and volcanoes. Transportation around Chile is not difficult due to the availability of comfortable long distance buses driving on well maintained roads. The Chilean economy has remained strong, but most visitors will consider the rate for buying Chilean Pesos a bargain. And even though most Chilean wines are considered bottom shelf, there are plenty of excellent examples to satisfy the wine connoisseur in you.

Read Part II- Germany, England, Japan, Korea, Lao, and Malaysia>>

Read Part III- Mexico, New Zealand, Switzerland, Thailand, and USA>>

1These countries include: Austria, Burma/Myanmar, Canada, Czech Republic, Italy, Singapore, and Vietnam.

2 For an honest and reliable tuk tuk driver in Siem Reap call Mr. Tech at 09-253-3433.

Posted in Argentina, Argentina, Asia, Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, Chile, Chile, Indonesia, Latin America, Malaysia, Oceania, South America, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments