Insider’s Travel Guide to Bangkok
Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, is a city that everyone should travel to at some point in their life. There is something to do for everyone – from biking around to the various temples and local markets to shopping in the local designers’ stores and hitting the spa. This guide dives deep into the best gems of Bangkok.
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Things to do
Liquid Bangkok: A longtail boat experience that’s great for a first day outside. Start on the canals to an old Portuguese neighborhood. You’ll go to a local bakery and stop for traditional sweets, and then back on the canal to a temple. Keep going on the canal until you see a local street with a puppet workshop.
Once you finish with lunch, wander around Lhong 1919, a restored Chinese mansion, and you’ll be able to make your way back to your hotel at the Peninsula by around 3 pm.
There are many forms of urban transportation to take you to the big sites and hidden corners of Bangkok – grab a tuk-tuk, jump on the skytrain or hit the ground by foot!
Another great option to see Bangkok is by bike. Ask me about my favorite local companies to book with! You’ll take a van about 45 minutes to a market, then bike to the temple and a local restaurant for lunch. After lunch, keep going to another temple. The biking is pretty even and easy – about 15.5 miles – with just a slight push in the end. After the last temple you can join a boat to go to an island in the river where there is a micro-brewery. It has fantastic beer, and quite a Brooklyn-type scene. They also carry other micro-brews from around Southeast Asia.
A great way to fill in some spare time in Bangkok and rest-up between activities is a traditional Thai massage. There are many, many places to have a massage in Bangkok and many of them are very good. Thai massage was invented at Wat Pho, and you can still get one there! It is customary to tip your masseuse, roughly 50-100B/hour of massage received if you enjoyed their services.
Lhong 1919: Art and Craft Zone. This new development on the river was an old factory that is now filled with high end local designers and restaurants.
Lhong 1919:. The culturally historic Chinese-Thai Huo Chuan Laung Steamer Pier built on the Chao Phraya in 1850 was reborn in 2017 as “Lhong 1919” for shopping and dining.
Chidlom/Siam Square/Pathumwan Area: Reminiscent of Tokyo’s Ginza district, the Siam and Pathumwan area of Bangkok is a retail paradise, with the luxurious Siam Paragon (located at Siam Skytrain station). Also on this block are Siam Discovery Center, MBK and the boutique lanes of Siam Square. From a Ferrari to locally-designed, hip streetwear, this is a shopper’s Mecca.
Nearby is the Central World Plaza, located near Chidlom Skytrain station, where Thailand’s principal duty-free shopping outlet is located on the 7th floor. Directly across from Central World Plaza is a local Thai antiques and gift center called Narayanan.
Across the street from here is Gaysorn Plaza, an up-market center for boutiques and global luxury brands.
Sukhumvit Road: Concentrated largely between Soi Nana (Soi 3) and Soi Asoke (Soi 21), several shops, shopping centers and department stores, culminating at the new Terminal 21 Center at Soi 1 offer a broad range of Thai and imported items. Good purchases here are clothing and handicrafts, and there are also several good tailor shops in the area (remember, to have a good suit made takes at least three fittings).
Chatuchak Market (“JJ Market”): This is rumored to be the largest weekend market in Asia. Even if it’s not, it sure is huge. Open all week, but with all stalls and shops open on Saturday and Sunday (the days to go), up to 400,000 shoppers and browsers visit this market each day on the weekend. You name it, they have it. Whether you’re looking for clothes, handicrafts, teak doors or pets, if it’s not here, Thailand doesn’t have it. The easiest way to get there is by taking the Skytrain to Mo Chit station or the underground MRT to Chatuchak station and follow the masses. This market is not for those with an aversion to crowds and hot places.
Train Night Market, Ratchada (Talad Nud Rod Fai): Located on the busy Ratchadapisek Road, the Train Night Market Ratchada is a spin-off from the larger but more difficult to reach Train Night Market at Srinakarin Road. The name derives from its original location when it was squatting on state railway land near Chatuchak Market. This relatively new market’s legacy is maintained with a guarantee of great food and a variety of stuff you can find good deals on. It’s a great alternative to Chatuchak as it's cooler, relatively open and there’s not nearly as many people. There’s a great mix of handicrafts, antiques, clothing and other cool stuff. Hanging out here at night can produce a reasonable modicum of joy as a lower key alternative to some of Bangkok’s chic restaurants and bars. Local craft beer is also served! The market is only a two-minute walk from the Thailand Cultural Centre MRT.
Art, antique and jewelry shops:
Bangkok Antiques, Art Galleries, Jewellery & Gems House of Chao: Good collection of antiques, religious items, furniture from SE Asia.
SK Antiques: Lots of nice pieces – Khmer sandstone 13C-16C, as well as 15C-17C Ayutthaya pieces. Belgian designers Pieter Compernol and Stephanie Grusenmeyer teamed up with Italian and Thai Bronze Masters, and Asian designers who mastered in Europe. Very cool furniture among other things.
The Verandah – Loft of Art: A Belgian lady and Thai man own this place. Very professional. They also have a shop in O.P. Place called Nirvana, and a jewelry shop called UMA. They have one more shop in River City that specializes in masks and tribal art. The couple owns a very nice apartment with dozens of art pieces. They often host meals for collectors, etc. and their apartment is often featured in magazines.
A note from Leslie
Shopping is one of Bangkok’s major attractions – some of my favorite purchases include Thai silk and cottons, modern and traditional jewelers, pewter ware, ceramics and clothing. Friendly bargaining in most stores and markets ensure favorable prices and service. When purchasing goods from street vendors, a good rule of thumb is to offer them 30 percent of the price they have quoted you and then work from there up to a happy compromise.
Shopping touts are people that approach you on the street and strike up a casual conversation with the goal of eventually taking you shopping. Though it may feel rude, it is best to avoid talking to people in these situations.
Travelers should not purchase goods made of tortoiseshell, horn, or ivory; import of items made from these materials is prohibited by most nations.
Travelers should be aware that goods identified as “antiques” may not be genuine or, if they are genuine, may be confiscated by local authorities who restrict the export of antiquities.
Places to eat & drink
Bitterman: This spot is near the Como Metropolitan. Its innovative western cuisine is fantastic – really good guacamole and baked brie – and often features local and expat bands.
Little Lebanon: This area is one street with smaller streets running off of it. Slide into one of the many eateries, enjoy some delicious food and watch interesting characters pass by.
Nahm: One of the top three restaurants in Asia, and prices to reflect. Renowned Australian chef David Thompson values the strong, fresh flavors of traditional Thai cuisine, and he delivers surprising tastes and textures in dishes of all varieties, whether savory or sweet, meat, seafood or vegetable. Dress well; reservations mandatory.
Quince: This Mediterranean restaurant is on the same street as the beloved Cabochon Hotel and the alluring Sing Sing Theater. It’s also the sister to Quince Saigon. Lovely contemporary atmosphere with exceptional food.
Cabbages & Condoms: This delicious restaurant was started by Meechai, a former Thai senator who rose to prominence as an advocate for family planning and raising awareness about HIV and using condoms. Today, his restaurant's profits support community development agencies, the atmosphere is great and the food is always full of flavor. His name is also now synonymous with condoms – walk into a store and ask for a ‘Meechai’ and you’ll get a condom!
Face: This is a super cool place to be. They have a really neat lounge, an incredibly stylish Thai restaurant and world-class Indian restaurant all in the same location. It also features a world-renowned chocolatier! Prices are comparable to those found in the west, but well worth it.
Supatra River House: A Bangkok classic, situated on the Chao Phraya River across from the Grand Palace, it’s tough to beat the atmosphere for a Thai feast. The menu is diverse and reasonably priced. Even Sir Mick Jagger dines here when in town. It’s a bit tough to find in a cab, so a better way is to call the restaurant to arrange to be picked up by their boat along the river.
Paste Bangkok: For a very good, creative and delicious Thai meal try Paste in the trendy Thonglor section of Bangkok. This is a chef-run restaurant with a focus on high quality ingredients and great service. Traditional Thai food, with a great modern twist. Great for couples and families with grown children.
The Diplomat Bar: This is a hip place to chat, sip sumptuous cocktails and groove. Sometimes a live jazz band, usually with a female songstress, croons in the background and the volume is reasonable enough that you can actually talk. This is Hi-So, dress up and enjoy.
Issaya Siamese Club: Issaya is the ground floor dining outlet that includes both a dining room and large outdoor terrace. The menu features Chef Ian’s unique signature Thai cuisine of traditional ingredients and flavors with international and progressive cooking methods.
Tep Bar: For something a little more local, try this new funky spot. Located in the crumbling streets of the up-and-coming Charoenkrung area, this restored shop-house has plenty of raw appeal, emphasized with mood lighting and simple wooden tables. Here, you'll find potent cocktails mixed with Thai fruits, herbs and spices. There's also a good line of home-infused ya dong (Thai herbal whiskey) as well as a kitchen specializing in Thai tapas (as well as a few classics like pad Thai). Come nightfall, enjoy your meal while Thai musicians take the stage to play traditional music from the Central region.
Never Ending Summer: One of the best riverside restaurants that serves Thai authentic dishes. Convenient for clients who stay in riverside hotels such as MO, Peninsula.
Clubs & nightclubs
Sing Sing Theater: If New Orleans Voodoo and 1920s Shanghai had a baby, it would be Sing Sing. Sister to some of the city’s best night spots, the scene here will never disappoint.
Vertigo: Want to feel like you’ve arrived? Then go to Vertigo. This stunning venue is perched right on top of the Banyan Tree hotel. There’s no glass walls, just a short railing and a glorious view. The restaurant serves swishy meals with prices to match.
The Moon Bar: A top place to drink a few cocktails while taking in views of the sprawling city. Prices are mid-high by western standards, but worth it for the atmosphere and view. It’s only open if the weather is good, so call before venturing out. Dress well and call for reservations if you will be dining. Dress code enforced – no sandals or beach wear.
Sirocco/The Dome at Lebua: A truly awe-inspiring rooftop dining experience. Set on the edge of the 63rd floor of one of Bangkok’s signature towers, Sirocco dazzles the senses with a dizzying air of grandeur. Fine cocktails, fresh sushi, an international oyster bar and a heart-attack view make it the height of excellence in Bangkok. Dress code enforced – no sandals or beach wear.
Need to Know
Be aware of tuk-tuk drivers who offer very cheap rides. They usually want you to visit gem and tailor shops and will take you on a run-around (circuitous route). Fares should always be agreed upon before beginning your journey. Also, remember that taxis should always use their meter.
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