Living Like a Local in Bangkok

My confidence has obviously grown ten-fold since my first ever visit to Bangkok over 15 years ago. But there was a time when I was somewhat timid in the city, reluctant to explore beyond my personal comfort zone, and I even avoided the simplest of daily interactions. Yet, to this day, it is still the simple day-to-day interactions that feel the most meaningful with life in the city. But things were never so easy in my day, when tours were relatively generic, and the only way to truly immerse in Bangkok was by awkwardly befriending locals. Whereas these days it is so much easier to discover the local culture with tours by local folk who can easily introduce you to their culture, gastronomy and their city. Anyway, here I share just some of the simple, day-to-day things that make living like a local Bangkok so enjoyable.

Local Temples

For the early risers, there will always be the opportunity to make offerings to the morning monks in Bangkok, when they do their alms rounds in the local streets (normally around 06:00 – 07:00AM) before retiring to their temples for the remainder of the day. At the same time, it is simple to just call into any temple, during any time of the day, to pray with the monks. And, if lucky, they may offer a small blessing with a “sai sin” sacred thread bracelet in return. There will almost always be small alms bundles on offer as well, which typically include simple temple requisites like candles, flowers, and incense sticks, that are made as an offering to the main shrines of the temple. In return, expect lots of good karma.

Park Life

Local parks will be the obvious place to rub shoulders with local folk in Bangkok, and they are perfect venues for some good ol’ fashioned people watching in the city. At the same time, they are also great places to join in various activities, as most parks will have outdoor gyms and games courts, running tracks, and more-than-not a lake to feed the turtles and fish. But evenings will forever be the better time to visit, when it’s cooler outside, and the parks come to life with after-work crowds. And this is when more group activities take place; like dancing and aerobics, tai chi maybe, and there will always be “Sepak Takraw” courts where the national sport of Thai foot volley take place.

Street Food

Street food will always be my favourite part of local living in Bangkok, at the same time there is more to Thai street food then just grabbing a bunch of skewers to-go from a roadside grill. As much of Bangkok’s best street food is found at the small shophouse stalls, and kerbside eating areas, where you really need to take a seat at a table to truly savour the experience. And my personal preference in street eats would be the Isaan barbecues; serving charcoal grilled meats, spicy soups and salads, along with sides of fresh local greens and sticky rice. As eating doesn’t come much better. Then there’s also the noodle soup stalls, and the “ahan tam san” stir fries (made to order) eateries, and I could talk about street food all day long. (Here for our street food favourites).

The Barbershop

There was a time when I’d be sure to have my haircut before travelling to Bangkok. Now I always hold off until I arrive. As once I had braved my first short-back-and-sides in the city, I quickly learned to love haircuts in Bangkok. Because it never is just a quick trim like I am used to back home, and, at times, I have even had a free shampoo and head massage thrown into the deal. Otherwise my regular barbershop visit, which costs around 200 Baht, includes a styled short-back-and-sides, a full ‘cut-throat’ shave, as well as an ear and nose hair trim. Which are all just so weirdly therapeutic.

Local Liquors

I can think of few quicker routes to local immersion than boozing with the locals, and the stronger the alcohol, the faster you get there. But I personally have little interest in nightclubs and bars, meaning I have to make do with Bangkok’s roadside “Yaa Dong” stands. An evening pastime popular with local motorbike taxies and labourers, selling a rather delightful concoction of local rice whisky (Lao Khao) with medicinal health (and libido) enhancing herbs. This potent cocktail comes served along with a salt, chilli, and sugar dip (prik glua), as well as cuts of sour unripe mango (mamuang priew) bringing together the sweet, salty, sour, and hot signatures of Thailand’s famed cuisine. It’s a bit like Thailand’s equivalent to the “tequila shooter”.

Thai Massage

A Thai massage shop opened in my hometown recently, in an industrial estate, between an electrical appliance shop and a local delivery route. They charge £45 an hour for a simple Thai massage which is roughly 10 times what it costs in Bangkok. Therefore I always make the most of them when in Thailand. At the same time, I was a bit reluctant for my first proper Thai massage, partly because I was in no hurry to strip off in front of strangers, and then there’s always that stereotype of lads going to Thailand for “massage”. But the experience is a lot more relaxed and less intrusive than expected, and now I can think of few things more exciting than perusing the various aromatherapy and massage options of the local spa.

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