Food is an inescapable part of everything in Bangkok, with every home, market and small alley continually throwing chopped ingredients into a hot wok. This has made nearly everyone an expert chef and food connoisseur, having the curious effect of the very best meals being made in the most unexpected locations. While ambiance is often wanting, peeling walls and plastic chairs provide just enough bare-bones restaurant amenities to serve the best food in the city. Portable food stalls line the busy streets, creating a continuous unofficial buffet. It is a mistake to be put off by such street vendors (as many tourists are), as they are Bangkok's great equaliser, bringing the very richest and poorest together at a table. However, wary travellers should try one of the food courts in the shopping malls and markets for equally cheap and tasty eats. These are also a great alternative on Mondays, when street vendors are banned from trading. Tourists should try the clusters of stalls in Surawong and Silom Roads, the Khao San Road Area, and the Suan Lum Night Bazaar. Choosing between one restaurant and another is a difficult task, but in general, it's useful to follow the local crowds. Some truly unique places can be found in Chinatown, with trendy dining along Sukhumvit and cheap western food in Banglamphu. The most romantic restaurants are along the Chao Phraya River or on it, aboard one of the many dinner cruises.
Anyone who's been to Thailand will know that the shopping in Bangkok is second to none. Prices are cheap, markets line the streets touting everything from fake designer wares to cheap leather sandals and tourist t-shirts, bargains are endless and haggling is a way of life. Many of the items for sale are the same throughout all the markets in Thailand, so it's best to scout around for some original-looking buys. Patpong night market is a must and great fun to wander through on a balmy Bangkok evening, though visitors should bear in mind this market is situated in the red light district of the city, and shouldn't be alarmed at the touts and half-naked ladies outside the bars. Khao San road is also brimming with stalls selling all kinds of counterfeit clobber. Plenty of snacks and eats can also be found on the side of the road stalls, but travellers should watch out for some of the more unconventional Thai delicacies, such as deep-fried locusts. The biggest market in Bangkok is the Chatuchak Weekend Market, which has more than 15,000 stalls and sells spices, leather goods, and practically everything under the sun that can fit inside a tourist's backpack. The MBK Shopping Centre in Bangkok offers more expensive and better quality wares than the markets on the sides of the streets, and prices there, when converted, are not much cheaper than in other countries. Other popular shopping malls include Central World, Erawan, and Panthip Plaza. Sukhumvit Road is the place to go for fashion, designer goods and custom-made suits. Many shops are open seven days a week and 12 hours a day, while street markets have longer hours, often staying open until 11pm. VAT in Thailand is seven percent and this can be refunded on goods bought to the value of THB 2,000 (including VAT) in shops labelled 'VAT refund for tourists'. Forms must be completed at the point of purchase and passports must be shown. Shoppers can obtain their cash refunds on goods of the minimum total value of THB 5,000 in the airport departure hall.
Neon lights, go-go bars, ladyboys and mysterious cocktails: Bangkok's nightlife enjoys an international reputation for wild abandon. Go-go bars in Soi Cowboy, Nana Plaza and in the strip clubs surrounding Pat Pong night market aren't only the territory of the unscrupulous, but are also expat hangouts with cheap drinks and an open-air feel. The bright lights, cat calls, costumed patrons and scandalous behaviour will make one's head start to swim. Hip clubs around Sukhumvit and Silom offer hip-hop beats and electro rhythms (often at the same place), and vie for hot spot coolness. Ratchadapisek (RCA) sports a block of trendy and densely packed clubs for young party goers. Khao San road is known more as a backpacker hangout but, underneath, are popular Thai clubs with a cavernous appeal and trance music mixing with the Billboard's top ten. Up and down Bangkok there are also the standard assortment of pubs, chic hotel lounges and bars. Many foreigners prefer sections closer to Sukhumvit Road but parts of Banglamphu (Khao San excluded) and Ratchadeaphiseck have more trendy local bars. Giant beer gardens are always a fun way to sample the local brew and entertainment.