I seem to have a knack for following civil disobedience. After the Arab Spring in Egypt and the election violence in South Africa, I landed in Bangkok in the midst of the recent anti-government demonstrations.
Honestly, you’d think that being a vegan (in a bonafide meat-lover’s paradise), in the middle of the worst possible time for tourism, was as bad as it gets. But what struck me as truly surprising was people’s reaction to the fact that I was travelling alone.
Yes, I am a 20-something South Indian woman who enjoys travelling solo. My job allows me to travel to remote parts of the world, usually with no companion except my camera and my Kindle. So after successfully battling parts of Africa, South America, Eastern Europe and most of the US, I thought what could be easier than wading through South Asia alone.
Travelling as a single woman, in a place associated with ‘certain’ activities, can be tricky. However, a little planning, some spunk and a few sensible decisions make the trip completely worthwhile. Let us start with the basics: the best investment I’ve made as a solo female traveller is an iPhone. In fact, any smart phone is fine—as long as it has Google maps, an app to call a reliable taxi service and SOS numbers on speed dial. The first thing I do in every country I land is buy a local SIM card with a 3G connection. In Thailand, any department store will give you a 299 bhat (`600) tourist SIM card with unlimited internet for seven days.
Hotel: If you are travelling by yourself, invest in a good hotel. While Sukhumvit, one of the city’s exclusive districts, is the obvious choice because of the convenience that the Bangkok Transit System offers, don’t overlook more high-end hotels on the waterfront. Since these are not in the heart of the city, you get great deals (under `6,000 per night) for five-star quality. The most popular choices are the Shangri-La, the Millennium Hilton and the Peninsula Bangkok. I stayed at the Peninsula where I received the best customer service I have ever got.
Food: If you are on a budget, binge on street food. From street-side stalls in the various night markets to low-cost al fresco eateries across the city, you can find truly incredible food at affordable prices (Rs. 190 for a good meal for one). Being vegetarian, I indulged at the famous May Kaidee, but could find vegetarian pad Thai almost everywhere I went.
Safety: Bangkok is safe. But to be truly safe, you need to be sensible. By this I mean, be aware of your surroundings. As a rule, I refuse alcohol from strangers and in general stay away from anything stronger than a glass of beer with my dinner. Also, try and stay close to a BTS station—the trains are usually crowded and you always feel safer with people around you.
Air-Asia flights from `5,999 onwards, Thai Air business class approx Rs. 38,500 onwards. Details: makemytrip.com
Day 1: Take the BTS to Mo Chit where the weekend market is a thing of beauty. Handbags, shoes and designer rip-offs at prices that will make you giddy. Use your bargaining skills and ask for 50 per cent off the quoted price and don’t settle for anything less than a 30 per cent discount.
Once you make it back to the city, unwind with a Thai massage. If your pockets aren’t deep enough, find a mid-level spa (ask the hotel desk for recommendations). The average price is about 400 baht (`760) for an hour-long indulgence.
Day 2: I’m not the surf ‘n’ sand type. So I decided to give Pattaya a miss and, instead, spend the day in the less-explored Ayutthaya. Ideally, I would recommend joining a guided tour, which would pick you up from the hotel and drop you back in the evening (approximately 1,600 baht or `3,040), but I found a local artist in the ancient city who agreed to give me a lesson in exchange for helping him fill out a grant application in English. This was a fantastic experience for more reasons than one: I now have a hand-painted two-foot canvas hanging over my bed and I got to skip some of the more ‘touristy’ parts of the ancient city. His advice — instead of the customary elephant rides, take the time to visit some of the lesser-known temples like Wat Phra Ram and Chedi Phukhao Thong.
Day 3: When it comes to the city tour, hop on to the public ferry from the Saphan Taksin BTS station and alight at stop number nine: the palace. Remember, if you are visiting the royal palace and the Emerald Buddha, don’t wear shorts, sleeveless or skinny jeans as you’ll have to stand in a long line to ‘borrow’ appropriate clothes.
From the palace, walk 15 minutes to Wat Pho to see the reclining Buddha. And if you have the time, explore the grounds with a good camera. If you have the energy, walk another 20 minutes to the surreal flower market. Walking several hundred meters, through a million orchids, is the perfect way to hold on to the calm the Buddhist temples instill in you.
Finally, what is Bangkok if you don’t visit its night markets? I wasn’t too impressed by the famous Pat-Pong, and thought the slightly high-end Asiatique Night market a much better investment. If you can do only one, I’d suggest Asiatique. But if you have the energy, you can easily cover both in a single evening.