My Favorite 40 Things to do Bangkok – Understand
Bangkok has developed a global reputation as a party capital and gateway to the Thailand beaches. Most of the 38 million visitors a year come through Bangkok and it's amazing that the city is not more jaded by tourists
. Make no mistake, it is jaded
and there are tales aplenty but given the enormous scale of tourism, it is still somehwat in check.
The classic city center is Sukhumvit which is incredibly crowded and polluted but features most of the hotels. Further east is Thonglor which is the hip, artsy and more expensive area and further west is Silom - likely my favorite of the Bangkok neighborhoods. If you go further out, make sure you have access to public transportation and that you don't mind insane crowds at rush hour, as traffic is horrendous.
While you can still find deals, accommodation, food and many services geared to tourists are now approaching US prices. Decent meals are $10 per person and coffee is $5. Going more local (or away from the city center) will save money but also exposes you to heat, scooters, and noise. Tough call.
Thais are generally a friendly bunch but are ‘in it for the money' and long-term residents complain about people being as fake as in L.A.
(though on a very different level).
Thais are famously inward-looking and even after decades of millions of visitors each year, English skills are minimal or non-existent even in touristy areas. Yes, you can make yourself understood but it does not reflect the huge number of arrivals.
Bangkok is always after new ideas to attract visitors and Thai entrepreneurs always find a way to part you from your money.
My Favorite 40 Things to do Bangkok – Get Around
Bangkok is famous for its gridlock and given the many new skyscrapers and missing new roads, this has gotten worse over the last few years.
There is some public transportation in place but it's badly inter-connected and does not stand up to the huge demand. If you are close to a BTS Skytrain station or MRT subway station, you will likely follow those lines anywhere you go in Bangkok.
Just half a mile away can often be insurmountable as the heat will drain you and sidewalks are tiny and in bad shape.
I had success getting reliable taxi drivers from the hotel and they used their meters. If they do it correctly, a half an hour ride costs about THB 100-150. Uber
and GrabCar are in town but since traffic is so gridlocked, the pickup times are long and fares are often about twice as high as the rather new and clean taxis. I only used Grab for short rides in low traffic settings.
My Favorite 40 Things to do Bangkok – Safety
Crime is generally minimal here but there are plenty of scams around. It can be hard to get a taxi driver to use the meter and it is often hotwired. Plus traffic is dangerous here; as tempting as it is, don't take the motorcycle taxis. Get a safe Uber or taxi driver or simply get out if you feel a driver is too crazy.
I had people come over at Starbucks and tell me they needed to do a ‘security screening' and to go through my backpack items with me. Yeah right! Violent crime, however, is rare and you can easily avoid it by de-escalating a situation. Simply walking away or leaving a venue is all you need to do to save the day.
My Favorite 40 Things to do Bangkok – Connectivity
Thailand is included in T-Mobile's Simple Choice plan
. However, I was constantly thrown off the network and data connections barely worked. Skyroam
works well up to 600MB, replacing a WiFi connection at times. Plus many coffee shops and Regus have fast Internet.
My Favorite 40 Things to do Bangkok – Pollution
While it has gotten better, there are still many old cars and buses and the pollution near roads is sky-high. For some reason, it has become fashionable to ride a motorcycle with an extremely loud exhaust here and often the Skytrain above you works as a close tunnel, making noise pollution a big issue.
There are just a few parks and green areas in Bangkok and unless your hotel offers a quiet area, the noise will eventually get to you.
Bangkok still smells of sewage and environmental protection is just non-existent. I can easily overlook issues when a country is just starting to get rich but Thailand has been riding the boom for 20 years and needs to tackle its issues or at some point, they will curb its growth.
My Favorite 40 Things to do Bangkok – Sights
For all its fame, Bangkok is famously short on real sights. This hasn't been a hindrance though, as there are still plenty of things to do.
Bangkok has gotten a reputation for shopping. It is still doing well but, frankly, it has gotten much more expensive.
A trip to Guangzhou or Addis
will open your eyes to how much better value you COULD get. I even find electronics much cheaper in Singapore
these days. However, Bangkok has it all – huge indoor shopping malls and too-big-to-be-believed outdoor ‘wet markets'.
เอ็ม บี เค เซ็นเตอร์
The MBK mall is still worthwhile, with its many non-chain shops.
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Picture courtesy of MadFroG
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Picture courtesy of Chainarin T
Directly opposite MBK in Siam Square is the Siam Paragon mall, which is much more boring.
Siam Square is a city square that has been overtaken by several interconnected malls.
พันธุ์ทิพย์ พลาซ่า ประตูน้ำ
(Pantip Plaza Pratunam)
The Pantip Plaza mall is dedicated to electronics and camera equipment.
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Picture courtesy of Chalit
(Chatuchak Weekend Market)
The most popular outdoor market is the Chatuchak Weekend Market. Plan a whole day and get ready for crowds and debilitating heat!
(Train Night Market Ratchada)
I went to the Train Night Market Ratchada and loved it. There was so much interesting food to discover and so many places to shop that I spent two hours there (though I'm by no means a shopper when I travel).
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Picture courtesy of MD
Bangkok Thai Massage
(Health Land) and Urban Retreat
While there is no shortage of mom-and-pop massage places, I tried out Health Land and Urban Retreat on my visit in March 2015. Both have places dotted all over the city. A two-hour Thai massage starts at 600 baht ($17, Health Land) and 900 baht ($26, Urban Retreat). It is usually necessary to call ahead for an appointment, especially at the weekend, as these places fill up completely.
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Urban Retreat picture courtesy of NooNornae G
The massage therapists are usually well-trained and won't break your back (as I always fear with some of the painful Thai massage techniques).
Bangkok River Cruise
(Chao Phraya River)
Getting on the Chao Phraya River is a great way to see Bangkok from a (relatively) calmer perspective. BTS Skytrain Saphan Taksin
allows easy access. The cheap 'local' boats are now much less frequent and the 'tourist' boats have taken over. The good news is that they are quieter and less crowded and get you all the way up to Khao San Road
(but not much further) for 50 Baht.
(MOCA - Museum Of Contemporary Art Bangkok)
Bangkok's Museum of Contemporary Art
takes a bit of effort to get to (though it is close to Chatuchak Market). This will change once the new Skytrain line opens in 2019, with a stop right outside. The museum is surprisingly well-organized and the art on display is interesting.
(Wat Pho) and วัดหัวลําโพง
(Wat Hua Lamphong)
Both Wat Pho and Wat Hua Lamphong Buddhist temples are Bangkok landmarks and well worth a visit. Crowds are usually worst between 11AM and 3PM so it's best to visit outside of these hours.
Day trip to Ayutthaya
is a pleasant town just one hour north of Bangkok. It is easy to reach by minibus (just 50 Baht one-way) and impresses with fabulous temples.
My Favorite 40 Things to do Bangkok – Coffee
Somewhat surprisingly, coffee mania hasn't gripped Thailand much yet. It's decades behind even Jakarta
or Kuala Lumpur
. Coffee shops
are still a rare breed and Thais don't drink coffee - period. It's also (surprisingly) expensive.
Roots is just a stall (think the SF
Ferry Building) at theCOMMONS
. However, the baristas are good and the coffee is excellent. Expect to pay $5 for any espresso drink (free fast WiFi is thrown in, though).
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Picture courtesy of Ruslan K
Phil Coffee Company
Phil is hidden in an alley off an alley off an alley. But it makes up for it with a cozy (co-working-like) atmosphere and freshly roasted coffee and desserts. Despite what Foursquare says, Phil Coffee Company isn't cheap - expect US prices or above.
Ceresia Coffee Roasters
Ceresia Coffee Roasters is a small spot in a strip mall hidden in an alley. I liked the coffee here and the desserts were good, too. Credit cards aren't accepted and there is no WiFi, though, so don't expect to get much work done.
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Picture courtesy of Julian S
Size S Coffee & Bakery
This small coffee shop in Silom is so tiny that I walked by twice and missed it both times. No wonder it is called Size S – it is basically just twice the size of an espresso maker. I liked the coffee but it's just a few bar stools and a barista. Chat with him (or her) if you speak enough Thai.
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Picture courtesy of Akkaranant T
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Picture courtesy of SiLiCaTE
Pacamara Boutique Coffee Roasters
(at King Chulalongkorn Memorial Hospital)
Pacamara has a few outlets across the city but the caffeine addiction keeps this hospital alive. I liked the coffee a lot and found the interior really cozy despite the sterile hospital surroundings. There is no real food here and the WiFi needs a hospital or university login, though, so...
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Picture courtesy of Eugene W
Which coffee shop has a 'happy hour' two-for-one from 7AM - 9AM? Well, Rocket Coffeebar does :) Good coffee, great atmosphere, fast WiFi and solid (though expensive) food make this place a winner!
Luka is ranked number one for healthy breakfast food in the city. The staff are hit or miss, with friendly smiles and bossy attitudes changing at any time. I have been back a number of times and I feel the often bad attitudes, just ok food and so-so coffee don;t justify the high price tag (anymore).
แฟคตอรี่ เอสเพรสโซ่ บาร์
(Factory Espresso Bar)
Along a busy road and with the Skytrain rumbling above is this grungy, bare concrete coffee shop. They recently discontinued their food offerings but the coffee is solid and wortwile.
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Picture courtesy of Plearn P
Coconut Shake is a tiny little stall within the Siam area (the Foursquare marker is spot on though). They have delicious coconut shakes (water or milk-based) for just 40 Baht.
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Picture courtesy of Prapob J
My Favorite 40 Things to do Bangkok – Food
Northeastern Thai food
During my last trip to Thailand, I fell in love with Northeastern Thai food, which is spicy and makes use of lots of seafood. Generally, the food seems to consist more of salads and small tapas-style portions that are to be shared.
I found a number of healthy, great-tasting places in Bangkok where you can grab Northeastern Thai food.
I swear I did not make the name up! North East is one of the leading eateries for Northeastern Thai food in Bangkok. The interior is rustic and the kitchen is entirely outside. However there is inside seating and the food is more Chinese influenced. It's a good place to get food in an air-conditioned environment.
This was likely my favorite place in all of Bangkok - a small restaurant filled with super-friendly staff and every salad I tried was superb in taste. It is also very cheap and you can pay with credit cards; what else do you need in life?
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Picture courtesy of Sunisa P
(Som Tam Nua)
Som Tam Nua is still a solid choice for papaya salads and grilled seafood items. I did not like it as much as last time but still enough to go back several times :)
Another solid place for Northeastern Thai food, with a menu that comes with so many yummy pictures that you will find it hard to wait for your food.
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Picture courtesy of DH K
If you are interested in more traditional Thai 'comfort food' in still very affordable places in Bangkok, give these a try...
Queen of Curry
Yes, curry is the name of the game here. The yellow curry is decent, though this place somehow felt super-touristy to me. What did you think?
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Picture courtesy of TripAdvisor
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Picture courtesy of Katie M
I could not decide if this was a tourist trap or if I'd just hit an off day. It's not cheap but the portions are big and the soup and curry were good quality. The staff do not speak a word of English (despite all the TripAdvisor signs). There was something odd about this place and it's not easy to get there as it is in the middle of constantly gridlocked Thonglor.
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Picture courtesy of Edmund C
This well-designed place specializes in pad Thai. It's just OK, though; maybe it wasn't spicy enough?
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Picture courtesy of Huang S
As per an official ordinance, street food has been banned in Bangkok. People thought this was a joke, as Bangkok can't live without the millions of stalls but the idea was to ban street food vendors in unsafe places and move them to semi-fortified areas with permits. To my surprise, this has been a success and you now see the vendors at night markets and in areas that have a roof. While this moved the places to get street food a bit, it makes it a better experience without a much higher price tag.
The Victory Monument area
is largely devoid of street food now (though the Boat Noodles
shops are still around).
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Picture courtesy of Clark K
There is still some street food around Sukhumvit Soi 36
but much less than before (but also now much better organized!)
My Favorite 40 Things to do Bangkok – Rooftop Bars
Bangkok is so built-up that rooftop bars provide a Manhattan-esque experience but unfortunately with the same price tag now. My former favorites Vertigo
and Sky Bar
now extract $12-$25 per drink (incl soft drinks!) and now feel ridiculously touristy.
Above Eleven is a solid choice, though the view isn't special.
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Picture courtesy of Fabiane M
I discovered The Speakeasy on my last visit and liked it a lot for its drink prices of around 150 Baht, kind staff and a great, authentic, speakeasy vibe.
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Picture courtesy of Kochcowboy
My Favorite 40 Things to do Bangkok – Co-Working
Co-working is a trend in Bangkok and there are a number of co-working offices and coffee shops around. Many of them are not exactly near a Skytrain or MRT station and you can't easily reach them during rush hour so it only makes sense to use them if you are staying or live close by.
Regus is a solid place to work for a few days but after that, the sterile environment becomes an annoyance.
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Picture courtesy of Marco
Too Fast To Sleep
Too Fast To sleep is more a university library but also features cheap food and drinks from the downstairs vendors. The Internet is fast (limited to three hours per purchase) but it's a great concept.
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Picture courtesy of Awiruth V
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Picture courtesy of The Man W
The Hive Thonglor
The Hive can be found in several cities in Asia and delivers a solid work experience. This area in Thonglor is not easy to reach and by the time you get there you will be drenched from your walk from the BTS station.
My Favorite 40 Things to do Bangkok – Where to Stay
Bangkok drowns in hotel offers and has a huge number of midmarket hotels and a decent number of luxury hotels. I liked the Royal Orchid Sheraton
for its location and lounge (but not for its old hardware), the Renaissance
for its location and modern design (but not for the missing outdoor pool) and the AVANI Atrium
for its great value (but not so great location).
I also liked the Park Plaza
by Carlson Rezidor for its location near Asoke and the Marriott Sukhumvit
for its gorgeous outdoor pool and big rooms.
I also liked the Holiday Inn Silom quite a bit. It is near a busy intersection but in a good area. The staff is friendly (though a bit helpless at times). The Premier Rooms are at Intercontinental level and the pool area is lovely. Room rates hover just around $60 - a steal in my eyes!
Bangkok has just too many options to cover them all. In general, miles and points only have limited use; I found the Best Rate Guarantee
my weapon of choice when in Bangkok.