A stroll down any of Bangkok's thousands of sprawling and labyrinthine alleyways can bring untold adventures for visitors who are keen to unearth the real Thailand. First-time visitors are often amazed by central Bangkok's glittering modernity, and at the same time, delighted by the treasures found amid the grunginess of ramshackle back streets; it's very easy to stumble across hidden markets, museums, or spectacular temples.
Bangkok is famous for being just as vibrant after dark as in the day. Many of its largest boulevards are swathed in fairy lights, and a bevy of swish rooftop bars all offer fantastic night views. Admittedly, things aren't as crazy as roughly a decade ago, when the party scene ran nonstop until dawn, and alcohol flowed day or night. Still, Bangkok has many markets, bars, and clubs open until at least midnight, plus the big department stores and malls don't close until around 9pm -- which should sate even the hardiest shopaholic.
Cultural & Wellness Pursuits
Culture is all around you in Thailand -- and there are ample opportunities to take part in the daily activities, festivals, ceremonies, events, and practices that weave the fabric of this society. Keep an eye on free magazines, such as BK Magazine, or local newspapers, The Nation and Bangkok Post, for major events during your stay. You may want to check with the TAT (tel. 1155) or the Bangkok Tourism Bureau (tel. 02225-7612), though these organizations may not always be as well informed as the local press. The best part of Thai festivals is that, whether getting soaked by buckets of water at Songkran or watching candlelit floats drift downstream at Loy Krathong, foreign visitors are usually invited to join in. Thais are very proud of their cultural heritage, and opportunities abound to learn and participate.
Thai Boxing -- Muaythai, or Thai boxing, is Thailand's national sport, and a visit to either of the two venues in Bangkok, or in towns all over Thailand, displays a very different side to the usually gentle Thai culture. The mystical prebout rituals, live musical performances, and, of course, the frenetic gambling, appeal to fans of this raw, and often bloody, spectacle. In Bangkok, catch up to 15 bouts nightly at either of two stadiums. The Ratchadamnoen Stadium (Ratchadamnoen Nok Ave.; tel. 02281-4205) hosts fights on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday, while the Lumphini Stadium, on Rama IV Road (tel. 02251-4303), has bouts on Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday. Tickets cost 1,000B to 2,000B at both venues; ringside seats are only bookable in advance. In the second-class seats, you may still have a good view of the action in the ring and will see close-ups of the gambling action. The guys with multiple cellphones screaming and shouting often overshadow the action in the ring.
Keen to try some kicks and punches yourself? Check out the website www.muaythai.com, which details training camps for rookies.
Meditation -- The House of Dhamma (tel. 02511-0439; www.houseofdhamma.com) and Wat Mahathat serve as meditation centers for overseas students of Buddhism. The latter is one of Thailand's largest Buddhist Universities and has become a popular center for meditation lessons, with English-speaking monks overseeing students of Vipassana, also called Insight Meditation. Instruction is held daily; call ahead (tel. 02222-6011) to get the schedule and to make an appointment. Both offer good introductions to basic techniques.
Thai Language Study -- So you've learned your "Sawadee-khrup" or "Sawadee-kha," but want to take it a little farther from there? Thais are very gracious and welcoming with foreigners butchering their language (the tones make you pronounce the most mundane phrases in laughable ways), but there are a few good schools in Bangkok to help you get the pronunciations right. Among the many offered, try the superlative American University Alumni Language Center (179 Ratchadamri Rd.; www.auathailand.org; tel. 02252-8170).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.