"The most common question I get from guests is, "Where should I go or do in one day?" It is an easy but also a complex question," Weeka Taweesingsonboon exclaims. He has been in the hospitality industry for 18 years and is now the chief concierge at COMO Metropolitan Bangkok, located in Sathorn, otherwise the central business district of Bangkok. The district may be a little dry for seasoned travellers.
There are some landmark places that first-time visitors have to visit, namely the "Grand Palace, Wat Pho, Wat Arun, and Chatuchak Market". Beyond these tourist spots, visitors may visit the Pratunam and Nana district, Asiatique, and the trendy EmQuartier mall. Yet, when these options have been exhausted, travellers find themselves at a lost.
"Guests sometimes do ask for the hidden spots. These tend to be visitors who have been to Bangkok a few times," Taweesingsonboon observes. When asked for some off-the-radar travel destinations, he looked to his own weekend hangouts — places in Bangkok where he and his colleagues, the locals, actually go to. These are places that may not be the most tourist-friendly. There may not be English signs and directions sprawled all over. For that, when his guests are headed to these places, Taweesingsonboon hands them "a map and written instructions in both English and Thai so that they can show to the locals if they need help". To him, the language barrier should not be a cause for frustration. "Sometimes not sharing a language or culture creates the most beautiful holiday memories."
Here, three remote travel spots from a hotel concierge's own travel guidebook.
1. Bang Kachao Island
The history of this kidney-shaped island stretches back to the 1820s, the dynasty of King Rama II. It reportedly housed the ethnic Burmese minorities, Mons, alongside Thai Muslims and Buddhists. The native dwellers' traditions and way of life continue to be observed today. For its rich, tropical green landscape and clean air, Bang Kachao is known to foreigners as the "Green Lung" of Bangkok. Yet, in recent years, urbanisation has been a major threat to the island. Residents were averse to the fact that their green landscape will soon be taken over by Bangkok's concrete jungle.
The island sits on the Chao Praya river, southwest of the Sathorn district. To get there, there are two options — take a five-minute boat ride Klong Toei port (THB 20) to the Bang Kachao pier. On the western end of the island, there is another pier by the Bang Na BTS. The latter will bring visitors to the floating market and the Wat Bang Nam Pheung Nok temple.
"I personally like to rent a bicycle when visiting Bang Kachao Island," Taweesingsonboon quips. Biking is a common activity here in Bang Kachao. Bikes can be rented at the pier, for THB 80 to 100 a day. On the weekends, there is a floating market, the Bang Namphueng, where visitors can buy snacks and beverages off the boats. Otherwise, there is the local temple, Wat Bang Nam Pheung Nok. When done touring the island, visit the hotel Bangkok Tree House and dine at their in-house restaurant, Reflect.
2. Thai Artist's House
The Baan Silapin or Artist's House is located at Klong Bang Luang village ('klong' loosely translates to canals). The Artist's House is more than a house, it is a two-century-old cluster of floating homes and a market. The stalls and the traditional or contemporary art showcases are a recent phenomenon — a Thai artist by the name of Chumphon Akhpantanond launched the Baan Silapin in 2010.
The Klong Bang Luang village is nestled in the Thonburi district, located on the far western end of the city —the nearest landmark is, perhaps, The Grand Palace. There are several ways to get there, but mostly by car or the public BTS train — alight at Bang Wa BTS station.
"Thai traditional puppet show," Taweesingsonboon exclaims. The 15-minute show by the Kum Nai Hun Lakon Lek puppetry troupe is free for all, but the venue is small, so it barely fits a few dozens of viewers and bystanders. That aside, wander around the stretch of food and contemporary arts and crafts stalls. There are famously a few contemporary art sculptures dotted around the compound — a cheery fat-bellied red man and a series of men in white paint, all sitting by the edge of the walkway and looking out to the canals.
3. Klong Ladmayom
Quite like the village mentioned above, the Klong Ladmayom is another of Bangkok's water villages. The history of Bangkok's waterways is closely tied to the city's beginnings. They initially served as a water management system for rice plantation irrigation, water retention and drainage, and transportation. The urbanisation of Bangkok and its shift to tar roads made these water canals almost redundant. In many popular floating markets that tourists often visit, the domestic waste generated left the waters polluted, emitting a foul stench. Yet, here at the Klong Ladmayom, the majority of visitors are locals. The waters are muddy but clean.
The floating market is located in the Taling Chan district, on the far eastern end of Bangkok. There is only a two-way road that leads to the entrance of the Klong Ladmayom. For that, visitors have to arrive by motorbike or car. It is easy to get a Grab ride to and fro the floating market.
By the entrance, right next to the drop-off point, is a food market where visitors can settle at the shared tables for a meal. Buy some fresh fruits off the boats, the prices are relatively cheaper — the locals and foreigners were all offered the same prices. "I will sometimes do my food shopping at Klong Ladmayom, so do some of my colleagues. When we tell our guests that something is local, it is usually because we like to go there on a weekend ourselves," Taweesingsonboon adds.
By the food vendors, visitors will find a small boarding point for a local boat tour. This tour is operated by the locals who live there, and they do not speak English. It costs THB 20 for an hour's ride per person. The boat holds up to eight or ten persons at any one time. The operator will row his boat slowly, pass the market, stalls, historical exhibits, and into the village where the locals live. Occasionally, he will stop outside floating huts and explain to visitors what they are — a convenience store next to the owner's house, a cafe, a hydroponics garden. Later, he will bring visitors through narrow streams in the forest, and circle around a large, muddy lily pond before returning to the Klong Ladmayom market. At the market, there are alternative boat tours — motorised speedboat tours that costs THB 100, and they do not bring visitors to the homes and ponds.
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