7 places in Bangkok to visit
BANGKOK - As the world returns to international travel, Bangkok's streets and beloved tourist enclaves are rumbling to life.
The past two years have been devastating for Thailand, which relies heavily on its tourism and hospitality sector. And having witnessed the empty streets and shuttered stalls, I can say the resumption of international travel signals new hope and promise for many.
When I boarded the train at Asok BTS station last week, my heart swelled as I overheard two women chatting about street food in a distinctly Singaporean accent.
But beyond shopping, massages and weekend markets, the city has much more to offer - revamped green spaces, novel only-in-Thailand experiences and a taste of the past. Welcome back to Bangkok.
1. Jodd Fairs, open-air market
While many people mourned the closure of the popular Ratchada Train Night Market due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a new one has opened to fill the void.
Jodd Fairs, which is located behind Central Plaza Grand Rama 9 mall, is accessible by MRT. The market, which opened last year, has food and shopping vendors similar to the ones at the train market.
Jodd Fairs is a much cleaner and more organised version of the typical night markets, and it is definitely a hot spot for locals and travellers.
The open-air market runs daily from 11am until midnight and entry is free. I suggest coming in the evening, when it is cooler and when the bazaar buzz really starts and you see the open-air bars, trailer cafes and vintage cars light up.
With more than 600 vendors, you can take your pick from grilled skewers to beef bowls. You can also tackle a mountain of pork ribs or even try seasoned live shrimp (59 baht or S$2.40).
2. Sansiri Backyard x Chul Farm
This organic farm is a popular weekend spot for city-dwelling visitors to get close to nature without travelling too far.
Nestled in the On Nut neighbourhood, the Chul Farm at Sansiri Backyard is relatively new, having opened about two years ago. The open-air compound allows visitors to roam freely and explore its rice field, duck pond and greenhouses.
I try my hand at picking some eggs from the chicken coop and feeding sheep in a large pen.
Entry to the compound is free and activities cost about 40 to 100 baht.
Centred on the theme of sustainability, the farm helps visitors learn more about food sources and offers the ultimate farm-to-table experience, where you can harvest lettuce, chillies, melons and tomatoes directly from the soil or vine.
I harvest a basket of kale and Swiss chard. It costs 99 baht to fill a basket and I use the greens for salads over the week.
Getting to the farm is a 10-minute taxi ride from On Nut BTS station.
If you feel peckish after "farming", you can fuel up on Thai and Western dishes such as wood-fired pizzas, herbal salads and pastries at Rong Sabiang, a cafe on the grounds.
3. Revamped MBK centre
Among the biggest draws at MBK Centre is the large Don Don Donki outlet on the second floor.
Previously, the shopping centre had a reputation as a tired mall for folks looking for knock-off designer goods or pirated DVDs.
Now, it exudes a younger, hipper image - successfully attracting a new visitor profile - judging from the hordes of young people and uniformed students I see there.
The usual stores selling clothing, handbags ("Chanel" clutches for $8 apiece), electronics and knick-knacks are still available, but I also notice swanky new co-working spaces and public seating, an arcade and even a dance studio.
Overall, the mall is worth checking out if you are looking to score a good bargain or just curious to see how it has evolved.
You can pop by the Bangkok Arts and Cultural Centre across the sky bridge to see the ongoing exhibitions, have a coffee or marvel at the interior of the building, which is itself a work of art.
4. City biking in Bang Krachao
A five-minute boat ride across the Chao Phraya River, Bang Krachao has long been a hidden gem for locals looking for a breath of fresh air in the city. The island is known as Bangkok's green lung as it is believed to help counter the city's carbon footprint and air pollution.
You can take a taxi from Khlong Toei MRT station to Khlong Toei Pier (it is next to Khlong Toei Port, so be sure to give the driver the right location) to get on the boat.
It costs 10 baht for a one-way boat trip and the service comes every 10 minutes and runs until 8pm daily.
For my journey to the island, I get a little rickety wooden boat, which can seat at most three people. This may not be comfortable for families with children.
But for my return trip, I get a proper ferry, which can accommodate about 20 people.
On the island, you can rent a bicycle for about 80 baht for a full day.
Once you set off, it is hard to believe you are near Bangkok at all, with the sprawling jungles, wooden houses and water bodies.
I take a leisurely ride in the Sri Nakhon Khuean Khan Park, which is home to vast gardens and wildlife.
You can stop for a meal or drink at any of the cafes dotting the island and, if you visit on a weekend, pop by the Bang Nam Peung Market.
5. Charoenkrung arts district for the old and new
While admiring the vintage architecture and street art, you might spot the legendary Prachak Roasted Duck, which has been roasting the bird Cantonese-style for more than a century.
Try the mixed sample platter for 160 baht, which includes roasted pork and sausages. The meat is juicy and well-seasoned and goes well with the sauce.
For the more adventurous, have a taste of some fish sauce caramel ice cream at Yora.bkk. Each cup costs 99 baht at the takeaway shop, which is also known for its Japanese-Thai artisan desserts.
6. Benjakitti Forest Park
The park is usually packed in the evenings - it is a popular spot for joggers, families and those looking to admire the sunset, so visit on a weekday to avoid the crowd.
The park is a 10-minute walk from Asok BTS station. After you are done at the park, visit Terminal 21 Mall. It boasts an air-conditioned foodcourt that sells affordable street food - my favourites are pad thai and oyster omelette.
7. Forgotten recipes, modern spin at Aksorn
Inspired by Thai cookbooks from the 1940s to the 1970s, celebrated chef David Thompson recreates these old and sometimes forgotten recipes for the modern diner at Aksorn.
The 13-dish tasting menu (2,800++ baht) features a unique take on sardines on toast, using crispy beancurd instead of bread, and red curry with green bananas and pork so succulent that the texture surprises me.
But what stands out is the crab (below) with fresh rice vermicelli, coconut and chilli, which is doused in green bean sauce, a combination I never thought I would relish.
"It's like coming to your grandmother's kitchen. But your grandma is a bit more hip and she likes to drink," says Mr Thompson, who opened Aksorn in late 2020.
This rings true for the Michelin-starred restaurant as you get a front-row seat to catch the chefs working the mortar and pestle in the open kitchen. The red-brick building that houses the fine-dining restaurant is on its own a walk down memory lane. It is the site of the Central Group retail empire's first retail store opened in 1950, Central: The Original Store.
(Updated as at April 18, 2022)
Thailand plans to treat Covid-19 as endemic by July and is looking to ease more domestic and border restrictions in the coming months.
But pandemic travel still requires extra planning, paperwork and patience.
Travellers need to apply for the Thailand Pass to enter the country. You are advised to apply at least seven days before travel as processing time varies.
Most vaccinated travellers will use the "Test & Go" scheme, in which you undergo an on-arrival polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test and stay at a government-approved hotel to wait for the results.
If the results are negative, you are free to explore the country. But you must take a self-administered antigen rapid test (ART) on day five of your stay.
Documents you will need to apply for the Thailand Pass:
Passport (and visa if required)
Medical insurance with a minimum coverage of US$20,000 (S$27,300)
Paid booking confirmation at an SHA Extra+ or alternative quarantine hotel. This should include the one-night stay, one PCR test, one ART kit and airport transfer.
Tip: The system accepts only JPG/JPEG files, so make sure to convert documents to that format.
Once your Thailand Pass is approved, you will receive a QR code.
The pass is valid for seven days before and after the the registered departure time and date, so you need not worry if you face flight delays or cancellations.
You will be asked for your Thailand Pass and paperwork on arrival. While it is fine to present it on your mobile phone, some travellers recommend having hard copies.
Next month, the authorities plan to replace the on-arrival PCR test with an ART one. The compulsory hotel stay will also be scrapped.
(Updated as at April 18, 2022)
Restrictions vary in Thailand, in line with a colour-coded zoning system to reflect the Covid-19 situation in each province. Most provinces and major destinations such as Bangkok, Phuket and Chiang Mai are classified as blue zones and have relaxed restrictions in recent weeks.
Nationwide, masks are expected to be worn in public - indoors and outdoors - and temperature checks are done at most venues. Restaurants can operate and serve alcohol until 11pm. But some entertainment venues, such as nightclubs, remain closed across the country.
Get updates on Thailand's entry requirements at the website of the Tourism Authority of Thailand. Get daily updates on Thailand's Covid-19 cases at the website of Thailand's Department of Disease Control.