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Seven ways to enjoy Bangkok...

1. Use metered taxis or the skytrain...

Many first-time visitors to Thailand make the mistake of either trying to walk everywhere or hiring three-wheeled 'tuk tuks' to get around town. Walking long distances in Bangkok's pollution, up and down the uneven pavements, and risking life and limb crossing streets where pedestrians do not have right of way is not advised. Tuk Tuks meanwhile expose you to both pollution and scams -- drivers quoting you highly inflated flat rates or insisting on detours to a gem shop, tailor or other tourist shop where they get commissions -- and they don't get you where you are going any faster than a taxi will. Metered taxis are available all over town. Avoid parked taxis waiting for customers as these drivers are often the ones that refuse to turn on their meters. Wave a passing taxi down instead and then make sure they put on the meter when you get in. Small tips of B10.00- B 20.00 are appreciated, but not expected. You can also use the skytrain to reach many of the city's top shopping areas. It is new, clean and comfortable, the only setback for visitors being the three stories you have to climb to get to the station, not so easy if you are carrying several packages.

2. Take a private river boat trip...

Rent a private long-tail boat for your own tour of the 'Bangkok Noi' area. It's a good two hour trip and may cost you about B300.00 (US$ 7.50) per person these days. Bring a sunhat, sunlotion, your own drinks and you'll enjoy seeing the contrasts that make Bangkok so special: orchid farms between factories, mansions beside old wooden houses along the inner canals, skyscrapers and bridges that mark the Bangkok skyline, etc. You can rent boats privately from the 'tour desks' at the ferry stops next to the riverside hotels (Oriental, Royal Orchid Sheraton/River City). I suggest that you go in the early morning or late afternoon to avoid the midday heat.

3. Find the free ferry...

Have a drink on the other side of the river. Visitors often try to visit The Oriental, one of the world's best hotels, for a drink by the river, but I recommend the new Peninsula Bangkok for the best riverside view -- its situated right opposite the Shangri-La and the Oriental. To get there, catch the hotel's free ferry from the pier next to the Shangri-La hotel.

4. Afternoon Tea in Authors' Lounge...

If you do wish to see The Oriental, aim to make it for afternoon tea in the old Authors' Lounge. This part of the hotel has been very well preserved, the almost colonial ambiance retained, the walls decorated with images and articles about the many authors who have stayed in the hotel. It represents the historic role of The Oriental for westerners in Thailand as a hotel, boarding and social institution. If this interests you, pick up a copy of "The Occidentals," one of the only novels about old Bangkok by a western woman who lives in Thailand.

5. Enjoy the chocolate buffet at the Sukothai...

Another one of Thailand's top hotels, The Sukothai hosts a chocolate buffet on weekends from 2:00 PM to 7:00 PM. Well worth a visit if you have a sweet tooth and an interest in mixing with Thai high society. Forget about the extra calories. You'll burn them off sightseeing and shopping.

6. Price products downtown before venturing into the markets ...

Visit the second floor of Narayanaphand (opposite the World Trade Center) and the new Thai Craft Village in the basement of the Le Meridien President Hotel, both in central Bangkok. Both carry a range of crafts generally direct from the factories but priced at slightly higher prices than elsewhere. If you absolutely must have something you see here, buy it. Otherwise, take note of the prices of items you like and use them as guidelines when bargaining at the Weekend Market or the new Night Bazaar. (Note: The Night Bazaar, located opposite Lumpini Park on Withayu (Wireless) Road, is very young and still building traffic so you're likely to find some good bargains there - check out the Ayutthaya Section, Sois 1-9, one 'block' of shops on your right after entering through the main gate.)

7. Visit Jim Thompson's House...

This tourist attraction is a must-see for anyone interested in Thai architecture, interior design and silk. American expatriate Jim Thompson revived the silk trade in Thailand and later disappeared without a trace while on holiday in Malaysia. His life story and his accomplishments as well as his love of quality Thai products are all part of the guided tours of his former residence.

More on Chiang Mai...





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