Why Bangkok is the Perfect Introduction to Asia
Posted on 07/14/2017
For most tourists, Bangkok is a city of temples, markets, malls and, of course, traffic. It is, first and foremost, THE hub for mainland Southeast Asia. As such, it draws tourists and business travelers from throughout Asia Pacific. Its status as an international city is more noticeable today than it was even a few years ago. With venues and whole neighborhoods catering to visitors and expats from certain countries, Bangkok has become a great place to experience East and South Asia’s different cultures.
Hong Kong and Singapore are often touted as the best introductions to the regions because of their user-friendliness and cultural diversity. However, both these places are very expensive compared to Bangkok.
Catering to Regional Visitors
Bangkok has well-established Chinese, Korean and Japanese enclaves. However, you do not have to seek out these neighborhoods to get an introduction to East Asia. All you need to do is wander into one of the city’s teeming shopping venues. The sit-down section of the food court at Siam Center, one of a trio of malls outside the Skytrain’s central Siam Station, is dominated by Korean and Japanese eateries.
One of Bangkok’s unparalleled lineup of night markets, Asiatique the Riverfront, is extremely popular with tourists from the region. A Thai puppet theater, Muay Thai show and cabaret give some strong clues about where you are, but the well-lit shops, adjacent amusement park and focus on specialty foods means that you could pick up Asiatique and drop it in Singapore, Seoul or Tokyo and it would not seem at all out of place. (The night market operates a free ferry from the dock adjacent to the Saphan Taksin Skytrain station).
Nihon Machi, Japan Town, is a mall on Sukhumvit Soi 26 that features Japanese-themed establishments. This includes the stereotypical izakaya-style drinking houses that are found everywhere in Tokyo. Food fans can also get a good bowl of ramen on Sukhumvit Soi 33. Both the aforementioned streets are walking distance from the Phrom Phong Skytrain station.
Like most other places to the east of India, Bangkok has developed a fascination with South Korean culture and the influence is visible in malls and on shopping streets. There are a few streets in the city that could be described as “Little Seouls.” An arcade called the Korea Town Plaza—with restaurants, a couple of small bars and karaoke joints—is on Sukhumvit Soi 12. It is within walking distance of both the Asok and Nana Skytrain stations. Most of the places here have either picture menus or menus that include Roman script so non-Koreans will feel at ease.
Thai Chinese have been in the country for more than a century in Bangkok’s historic Chinatown, Yaowarat. This district features a huge ceremonial Chinese gate and plenty of Chinese restaurants and celebrations (such as those held during Lunar New Year). Some of the Buddhist temples in this area are worth visiting because they follow Mahayana Buddhist traditions. This is a different branch of the religion than the Theravada school, which is common in Thailand.
India is next to Chinatown. Known as the Phahurat Market, it is a haven
for food from the region. The eats are cheap and the settings very
basic, and you can wander through textile and apparel shops for dessert,
perhaps picking up a few bootlegged Bollywood DVDs along the way.
Phahurat Road is also home to Sri Guru Singh Sabah Temple, the second
largest Sikh temple outside of India. Certainly not as large or
impressive as Singapore’s Little India, Phahurat is nonetheless a great
introduction to the Subcontinent.
A New Angle
Mr. Chattan Kunjara na Ayudhya, who heads the Tourism Authority of Thailand’s marketing department, referenced Bangkok’s diversity during a discussion with the media at last month’s Thailand Travel Mart. He spoke about different aspects of the city that usually escape tourists’ notice.
“With every big city, there are still pockets of discovery to be made. I think a big city can always reinvent itself... Maybe [tourists] have come before 10 times, but if we can present new angles...”
The international flavor of Bangkok is an obvious “new angle” that could prove attractive to visitors, especially those who think that a trip to Hong Kong or Singapore is out of their price range.
PHOTO: Asiatique the Riverfront in Bangkok. (photo by Josh Lew)