I must admit, I actually googled “Where-to-take-your-parents-when-they-visit-you-in-Bangkok.” Mostly because I like ridiculous google searches but also because I did not feel completely confident, despite being here for 8 whole months, in my knowledge of my new hometown. Sadly that search came up mostly with results of what to do with a new baby in tow in Bangkok, which I think my friend at HotPotDc did fantastically here.
Parents can be tricky, you want to show them your world, but in a place like Bangkok, there’s a grand spectrum of things to see. Everything from meat on a stick off a street car vendor to fancy pants roof top bars. You want to give them a balanced experience without breaking the bank, you want to give them an honest impression without parading them down Soi Cowboy. It’s hot here too, so taking in account the sweaty fatigue factor is important.
So here’s what I did with mine, in hopes that maybe down the road someone else who likes ridiculous google searches will find some tips:
My parents flew in Sunday night and left Saturday morning, so it was a quick trip (although the jet-lag was surprisingly absent). Jaunts up to Chiang Mai or down to the beach were out of the question, so this trip was to be purely a Bangkok one.
Day 1: They hit the ground running with a day trip to Ayutthaya, one of the old Thai ancient capitals, having not been there myself I’ll leave a review of it to later. I do know that the drive one-way from where we live in the Northern suburbs was about an hour. I figured lots of sun and lots to do would get their body clocks on Bangkok time. We paid our driver about 1500 baht which included gas and tolls. My parents loved visiting the old ruins and probably could have done it by themselves, but luckily they had Phil as a guide (and photographer).
For dinner on Day 1 we hit up River Tree House (also known as Baan Rabiang Nam) with some of my friends from work. Again, a restaurant that merits its own blog post later. Here Mom discovered her love for deep fried morning glory and the day was a success.
Day 2: An easier day, which involved a trip to school, a trip to our backgate Issan restaurant (man, I’ve got some blog posts to write) and a trip to Siam Niramit.
As my parents are both musicians they were interested in taking in something involving Thai theater, music and dance that they had read about prior to their trip. My assistant and expert on all things Thai at school had recommended the daily show at Siam Niramit as a great intro to all things culturally Thai. I had my reservations that this would be too touristy but it ended up being a very entertaining evening. The theater is set in a cultural park, where, before the performance, you can pet the elephants that will be on stage later, see Thai crafts and cooking and walk through examples of traditional Thai homes from every region of the country. The show itself is nothing less than spectacular. In three acts the recount this history of Thailand, the mythology embedded in Thai culture and a quick run-through each of the cultural festivals throughout the year. There’s a river on stage, flying angels, the cheeky Hanuman in khon attire and more. It’s quite a sight.
Day 3: We set my parents off for some time on their own. My mom hit our favorite spa, Asia Herb Association (a full day spa package costs 3000 baht or 100 USD) while my dad and Phil hit the May Kaidee Vegetarian cooking school. Both took the whole day. From there we all met at the Asadang Hotel (which is becoming our go-to spot for a weekend in the Old City) where we would be staying for the rest of their stay. We hit Chote Chitr for dinner and Muay Thai for dessert.
Muay Thai, or Thai kickboxing, was a bit of a sketchy choice as parents might react differently to kids kicking the crap out of each other. Phil and I had scouted out the Lumpini Stadium earlier in the school year and we were underwhelmed. We took my parents to the Ratchadamoen Stadium in the Old City and we would highly recommend it. It isn’t cheap though. VIP tickets (which are usually only foreigners sitting on covered chairs ringside) are 2000 baht, 1500 baht buys you standing room tickets (which are usually in an area where there are not a lot of people, so you can sit. If I find myself going back I’d go for these). I’ve been to Muay Thai twice now and both times I find myself wondering how much the hoards of Thai men pay to stand in the nosebleed sections. While the kickboxing is interesting and the music that accompanies it is entertaining the real show is in the local wagers that happen between each 3 minute round.
Day 4: Old City Day. We started our morning at the Grand Palace and Wat Pra Kaew (the Emerald Buddha), which I would recommend as there’s not a lot of shade in the royal compound so its best to get it done before the heat of the day. It’s also good to get done early as the Grand Palace has a strict dress code involving long trousers and shirts that cover the shoulders. We had read on a couple of sites that you needed closed-toed shoes but we didn’t have any problems wearing sandals.
Following the main attraction we stopped at the Tha Tien Ferry Pier next to the Grand Palace for some of our favorite market stall gai yang/moo (barbecue chicken/pork). This coupled with come sticky rice, cold water and really hot weather was about all we need for lunch. Next stop, air conditioning.
The shophouses and restaurants on Phra Athit are really lovely (back in the day it used to be dubbed as Bangkok’s “West End”). Now its home to little boutiques and bars that university students can afford. There’s plenty to do on this street. We had coffee at Baan Phra Athit (or Coffee and More), roti at Roti Mataba and picked up some tourist trinkets.
Once we had cooled off we made our way to Wat Pho and the reclining Buddha. Home to the birthplace of Thai massage we also took advantage of the reasonable and very effective massage services on premises. Our fantastic discovery of the day happened when our massages were finished and we were leaving the Wat (between 5-6pm) as the sun was starting to set. Many of the buildings of Wat Pho have reflective tiles or glass pieces to them. Every time you turned around the light was catching the Thai architecture in a new way. I highly recommend going to see this.
Another reason to time your visit to Wat Pho later in the afternoon is because a great place for sundown drinks, Amorosa and for dinner, The Deck are in rolling distance of the site. Come as soon as the bar opens (which I believe is 5:30pm) to get a riverside seat overlooking the stunning Wat Arun (or ironically, Temple of the Dawn). The food downstairs is a mix of Thai and Western fair and was a delicious way to end our day.
Day 5: Shopping. A quick walk through Jim Thompson’s house and lunch on the premise was the perfect start to my parents last day in town. Thompson was a business man who dealt in textiles who built a beautiful house out of several traditional Thai houses and outfitted it with amazing antiques, mostly from China. You can take tours of the house and imagine yourself in Thompson’s shoes.
Before my parents came I also googled “Where to go shopping when Chatachuk market is closed.” Chatachuk market is a giant market open on the weekend and is your one-stop shop for Thai crafts and goods of any nature. You have so much to choose from it fits any budget and taste and is a great place to visit even if you don’t want to buy anything.
But my parents weren’t visiting during a weekend (crazy, considering that they were coming from the States) so here’s what I was able to find: both MBK and Amari shopping centers have Thai craft floors that have very similar stuff to Chatachuk (just not at the same scale) and Rivercity is supposed to have great, more expensive Antiques, however we opted for the Exotique Thai at Siam Paragon because it was virtually empty and albeit more expensive, a less stressful for tons of shopping.
So there you have it. I’m sure our itinerary for house guests will change the longer we live here but overall this was a really affordable (mostly because we only ate local food) comprehensive look at Bangkok. Sure, we could have done the Calypso Caberet or a dinner cruise down the Chao Praya. We could have hit more nightlife, a museum or an art gallery. But rule number one when your parents come to visit, is visit with them. We were so thankful to have them come out and see our world and it was the best decision we made not to pack too much in. Who knows, maybe they’ll be back!