They are both cosmopolitan Asian cities, but Hong Kong and Bangkok have very different personalities. Bangkok continues to hold the title for the most-visited city in the world – with 22.8 million overnight visitors in 2019, according to Mastercard’s annual Global Destination Cities Index – and it’s easy to see why. Bursting with culture, divine cuisine and exhilarating entertainment, there are plenty of things to do in Bangkok that you simply can’t do anywhere else. Here we highlight 10 things that Hongkongers won’t find at home.
We’re used to ferries in Hong Kong – but zipping across busy Victoria Harbour is a world away from gliding down the network of khlongs (canals) that crisscross Bangkok. Some of the prettiest khlongs can be found in Thonburi, with open-air long-tail boats offering tours of the neighbourhood and quaint lock systems. It’s one of the most peaceful things to do in Bangkok. Alternatively, visit the colourful chaos of Bangkok’s floating markets: Damnoen Saduak is one of the biggest, while more authentic charms can be found at Taling Chan floating market – just 12 kilometres from downtown Bangkok.
There’s no accusing Hong Kong of having a shy and retiring nightlife – but Bangkok takes things to the next level with large venues and larger-than-life entertainment. Head to the Hollywood-starring Sky Bar for dizzying rooftop views and a Hangovertini, slip on some thick-framed glasses and explore hipster hangouts in Thong Lor, or put in your bucket order (quite literally a small bucket loaded with booze) on boisterous Khao San Road. From a thriving LGBTQI scene to underground EDM clubs, there’s something for every kind of party-seeker.
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Is Bangkok cooler than Hong Kong? The city’s artsy waterfront renaissance might just swing it. The Jam Factory was one of the pioneers of cool multipurpose lifestyle spaces that have popped up across the city. The former warehouse has been transformed into a serene complex featuring a cafe, homeware store, gallery, restaurant, bookshop and office space overlooking the Chao Phraya river. Architect Duangrit Bunnag has repeated his successful concept on the opposite bank with Warehouse 30 – a one-stop shop for all hipster-needs, with cool local fashion boutiques, artisan coffee, film screenings and TEDx talks.
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Culture hounds will have no problem finding temples and heritage sites to explore in Bangkok, from the Grand Palace complex to the Erawan Shrine. One of the most popular is Wat Pho, home to the famous 46-metre reclining Buddha. Take coins with you to drop into the 108 bronze bowls for good luck – which correspond to the 108 actions that led Buddha to enlightenment.
Bruce Lee is revered as a kung fu master across the world – but could he have defeated a Muay Thai fighter? Thailand’s popular national sport is known as the art of eight limbs – a ferocious combat sport involving fists, elbows, knees and shins. Watch the professionals in action at the New Lumpinee Boxing Stadium , with fights taking place on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, or kickstart your fitness at centres like Jitti Gym , where ex-champions will whip you into shape.
While Bangkok wins the unwanted title of having the worst traffic congestion in South East Asia, it arguably also wins the honour of its most charming mode of transportation. The humble tuk tuk, a motorised three-wheel rickshaw, is a cheap and cheerful way to zip across town and one of the most iconic things to do in Bangkok – but ensure you agree the fare price before you set off, haggle hard and don’t be afraid to walk away. You could also up the ante with a pimped-out party tuk tuk, complete with sound system and disco lights.
Trade Chinese opera for this traditional Thai entertainment at the Joe Louis Theatre , located in the Asiatique night market, on the banks of the Chao Phraya. The mesmerising hour-long performances feature ornate figurines requiring up to three or four skilled puppeteers to handle, and are a fun way to get acquainted with legends from the Ramakien, derived from the Hindu epic Ramayana featuring epic tales about gods like Hanuman.
You can buy silk in Hong Kong – but not from the home of an ex-spy. Brightly coloured, finely woven and formed into stunning traditional costumes, Thai silk has become sought after across the world. A large part of its fame lays at the hands of Jim Thompson, a former Second World War spy from America who later landed in Thailand and revitalised the silk industry. Visit the Jim Thompson House and Art Center to learn about the history and culture of silk, and to shop for your own gorgeous garments.
Not many cities can rival Hong Kong when it comes to sheer volume and quality of food – but the Thai capital’s plentiful plates of pad thai and som tam (green papaya salad) present a compelling argument. In Bangkok, you can happily munch your way through Michelin-starred restaurants and mouthwatering street food on the same stretch of road. Better yet, tick both boxes at Jay Fai , the goggle-wearing, wok-wielding cook who’s been serving her signature crab omelettes for over 40 years. At the more refined end, sample sustainable Thai cuisine at Michelin-starred Bo.Lan , or treat your tastebuds to two-Michelin-starred Sorn ’s renditions of southern Thai dishes cooked using traditional claypot cooking, charcoal grilling and leaf-steaming.
There are plenty of tattoo studios in Hong Kong, but the sacred art of sak yant is a Thai tradition that’s worthy of a pilgrimage. To experience the full ritual performed by Buddhist monks, head to Wat Bang Phra monastery 50 kilometres west of downtown Bangkok, where orange-robed sak yant masters wield bamboo rods to mark your skin with traditional designs that each carry a different significance – from protection to luck.
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