…if you have the right transport, that is.
In many western cities, most of the popular attractions are on well-established routes. Roads, trails, and pathways lead off of well-marked parking lots toward places that are on maps – either digital, or the ones given out at tourist stalls.
But in Asia – and Bangkok in particular – well-marked anything is often a bit of a stretch. And even if they are well-marked, some of the best attractions and most interesting places to visit are only accessible by modes of transport that require a little bit of inside knowledge to use. In true traveling fashion, getting there is half the fun.
Here’s a quick list of some of our favorite places in Bangkok to visit, and the best way to visit them. Sure, you could get in a car and spend two hours in traffic while the driver tries to figure out where you’re going… but where’s the fun in that?
Baan Bu Bronze Village – by boat / bike
Tucked away down a narrow alley that is itself tucked away from any big street, is the car free community of Baan Bu. Here, artisans produce beautiful handmade bronze bowls using techniques that go back centuries. While there, you can watch them work over open fires, pounding alloys into stunning bronze ware that has been given to royals and dignitaries for generations. You can get there via boat on the Bangkok Noi canal, or join us on a twisting, winding bike tour that will take us right to the gate. A bonus is the nearby Thonburi Train Depot, where 1950s-era steam locomotives are maintained for their occasional excursions.
Ko Kret – by boat
Okay, so it’s not like Ko Kret is unknown to tourists, but this island in the middle of the Chao Phraya River north of Bangkok is still not as easy to get to as one would think. Created when a shortcut canal was dug in 1722, the island was traditionally inhabited by the Mon people, who originally came from Burma. Today the island is known for its unique pottery, craft beer and laid-back vibe. Much of the island is thick jungle with concrete pathways veined throughout – a perfect spot for a relaxing afternoon walk. Getting there is relatively straightforward, but getting back is the tricky part – at least, it is if you don’t have a direct line on a private boat, like Smiling Albino has. We also know a few great bike routes through the charming Muslim villages on the other side of the river, a great addition to any visit.
Talad Noi – by foot / bike
This old and singularly unique neighborhood just off of Chinatown is easy to find and walk through, but only alley rats like ourselves know where all those narrow lanes go to – and which ones will reward with treasure. The towering piles of gears and engine parts are hugely fun to photograph, but unless you know the lay of the land you’ll likely never find the tiny open-air coffee shop with a water-level view across the river. Or the stone slab that was once used as an execution pedestal for royal family members on the wrong side of history. Or the oldest operating bank in Bangkok still doing business from the original 1908 wooden teller stations inside a stunning Italian-designed building. Or a 350-year old Chinese mansion with a scuba diving training pool in the main courtyard, with the best fruit smoothies in Bangkok.
San Saeb Canal – by Boat
The only entry on this list where the mode of transportation itself is the attraction, this is definitely one of our favorite ways to get across town. The boat service runs 15 kilometers in total, right through the center of Bangkok, but the canal goes for another 60 kilometers to the Bang Pakong River. If you want to avoid traffic, this is the way to do it, and a great way to literally see ‘behind the scenes’ of Bangkok as well as candid views of palaces and Jim Thompson’s back garden. Be warned – it’s noisy, smelly, and can be dangerous if you’re unfamiliar with how it works. Smiling Albino uses this boat service in conjunction with a few other modes of transport to make sure our guests see it all!
Chinatown – by Tuk tuk / foot
Yaowarat Road, Chinatown’s main drag, is set in an old, densely-built part of Bangkok not easily reached except by small tuk tuks that squeeze through the congested, narrow streets. The area is full of tourists come dinnertime, but the charm of this iconic area only really comes to light when you head down the narrow, winding alleys that branch away from the bright lights. Many would prefer to stick to the crowds, but we say bah! Follow us and sip tea with locals, or listen to old gaffers argue politics at a 100-year old coffee shop. One of our favorite alleys forces you to squeeze past a tree that’s nearly blocked the way, but on the other side you’ll find a great noodle shop and a seafood street chef famous for the two meter inferno of flames that shoot up from his wok. Things will no doubt change in 2018 when the currently under construction subway line opens allowing for easier access.