I’ve been living in Bangkok for 4 years and believe me, I can give you a local, not touristic insider knowledge that will help you move around this chaotic and extremely diversified metropolis.
Bangkok is known as the City of Angels, the shimmering metropolis where old Siam meets modern day Thailand in a riotous mishmash of ancient temples and state-of-the-art shopping complexes.
From the posh shopping malls of Siam Paragon and Central World to back alley street vendors serving up the best Khao Man Gai you’ll never see in a restaurant on the beaten path, Bangkok has something for everyone and is growing in popularity year after year. We’ve broken it down, section by section, so you can make the most of your time in the Thai capital.
Bangkok is full of distinct neighborhoods, each which lends its unique flair to the city.
Siam is the undisputed center of Bangkok. From the clusters of minibusses that congregate there daily, to the massive shopping complexes, to the convergence of the Siam and Sukhumvit BTS lines, Siam is the beating heart of the city. Siam can be a little overwhelming and confusing because there are so many people filtering through its jammed BTS station and crowded shopping malls, but it’s well worth visiting. With all of the foot traffic comes Bangkok’s most prestigious art museums and first-class malls that are unrivaled in any other major metropolis. You will not regret your stop in Siam!
Sukhumvit is a grab-bag of pleasures, from whimsical high-end bars, to grandiose shopping malls, to entertainment of the decidedly grown-up kind. It emerges as one of the major arteries from Siam and is by far one of the most popular places for tourists to explore. Sukhumvit is gigantic so choose your stop carefully in order to maximize your time there. Have time and feel ambitious? You can walk certain stretches. You’ll see interesting street vendors, Thai delicacies and captivating artwork and shrines. Although known for its adult entertainment, Sukhumvit is also a great place to check out authentic Muay Thai or local comedy. Dojos, open mics, and lady bars, oh my!
The Silom Line comprises the second artery that extends from the hub of Siam. Silom is known for its busy financial sector, booming downtown businesses and fancy rooftop bars from which you’ll catch a glimpse of the MahaNakhon, a fanciful tower crisscrossed with cubist designs. MahaNakhon is largely regarded as one of the most interesting buildings in the world and is while worth checking out while sipping a cocktail or snacking on some tapas.
Silom’s glamour is counterbalanced by the seedier elements of its Patpong district. Patpong is Bangkok’s original red-light district. You’ll also see the haunting visage of the Sathorn Unique Tower, also known as the “Ghost Tower”. Sathorn Unique was abandoned for reasons nobody quite knows. There have been rumors of suicides, mysterious accidents, and various ghost sightings. It’s twin, the State Tower, stands nearby and hosts one of Bangkok’s most popular rooftop bars. Silom is a place of extremes, so when you have your fill of Sukhumvit, switch trains at Siam and see the other side of town.
No visit to Bangkok is complete without checking out some iconic sights and landmarks. Hail a motorbike, tuk-tuk, taxi or hop on the BTS and get to these tourist must-sees.
The Grand Palace
The Grand Palace is a magnificent network of temples, pagodas and reception halls fit for Thai and foreign royalty alike. The Thai monarchy is steeped in proud tradition and The Grand Palace is reflective of the dignity of the royal family. The Grand Palace is located in a section of town that hosts other popular attractions, like the Reclining Buddha and Giant Swing so you can make a day of it. Pay your respects, marvel at the lush gardens and visit the Emerald Buddha, a cherished Thai treasure.
A short walk from the Hua Lamphong Railway and MRT Stations is Bangkok’s vibrant Chinatown. It’s a culinary playground, full of delicacies like hearty bowls of fishball soup, steamed coconut puddings and juicy roast pork with rice. If you’re lucky, you might even have a chance to sample a bird’s nest soup! Chinatown is also an amazing and inexpensive place to pick up unique souvenirs and do some sightseeing. Wat Traimit, containing the largest gold Buddha in the world, is located in Chinatown.
Khao San Road
Anyone who’s seen “The Beach” will remember the famous scene where Leonardo DiCaprio stops in front of a giant reclining Buddha before finding the map to his idyllic tropical island. The real backpacker paradise is Khao San Road, just a few miles away. Khao San at night is admittedly not for everyone. The Chang beer towers and trays of soy sauce lacquered scorpions may elicit scorn in those who’ve come to Bangkok for a cultural experience, rather than a drunken escapade, but you’d be remiss to skip it altogether. If you’re looking for a wild night out in the City of Angels, Khao San is your heaven of cheap Sang Som buckets and live music. If you want something lower key, skip the party and visit Khao San during the day. You’ll partake in the most fabulous Pad Thai you’ve ever tasted and do some inexpensive shopping.
Prapadaeng (Bangkok’s Green Lung)
Craving nature? You don’t have to travel far outside Bangkok to visit Prapadaeng, also known as Bangkok’s “Green Lung” for miles of bikeable jungle trails. Take the Sukhumvit BTS to Bang Na station and pick up a ferry or longtail boat to get to the island. Prapadaeng is a welcome oasis and a great place to recharge. For being in the heart of a major city, it’s very sparsely peopled. You can ride through a few miles in the jungle on elevated concrete pathways without encountering another person. Check out the fighting fish gallery and floating market. Stop to refresh yourself with ice-cold mangos or pineapples from roadside vendors. Prapadaeng is a little slice of “real Thailand” within Bangkok!
Bangkok Airplane Graveyard
For the small price of 100 baht, you can visit one of Bangkok’s most interesting attractions- that hasn’t yet hit the radar for most guidebooks- the airplane graveyard. Located near the Phra Khanong Sukhumvit BTS station, the airplane graveyard is exactly what it sounds like, the final resting spot for old planes that have been stripped of their seats and navigational equipment. Locals have taken up residence in the abandoned planes and will happily give you a tour. You’ll see how they’ve refurbished the old planes and transformed them into serviceable residences! Plan to visit the graveyard early because the plane interiors can get unbearably hot under the steaming tropical sun.
Mae Nak Shrine
Nearby Sukhumvit On Nut BTS station, you’ll find the notorious Mae Nak Shrine, built in honor of one of Bangkok’s most fearsome ghosts. When her husband Mak left a pregnant Mae Nak to go to war, she vowed to stay behind and wait faithfully for him. While he was away she died in childbirth. Uncontent to enter the afterlife without her beloved, Mae Nak remained a ghost. When Mak returned, he was delighted to find his wife and dismissed village rumors that she was a ghost. It wasn’t until he spied her hyperextending her arm to retrieve a piece of lime that he realized the truth and fled. In anger, Mae Nak terrorized the village of Phra Khanong until her spirit was contained by the local monks. Her shrine is one of the strangest and fascinating places you’ll ever visit, complete with a full wardrobe of clothes and television that remains ever on- the better to soothe the restless spirit of Mae Nak. Ironically, pregnant women pray there for safe childbirth.
Close to the Sala Daeng BTS station and aptly named Lumphini MRT, Lumphini Park is a green oasis in the heart of Silom. Unlike the Green Lung, you don’t need to jump on a ferry to get there and once inside, you’ll forget you’re in a big city altogether. Famous for its docile but massive monitor lizards and system of lakes and ponds, Lumphini is a favorite of runners and picnickers. Grab your sweetheart for a romantic paddleboat ride in one of their trademark swan boats, or take a stroll and admire the gorgeous foliage and flowers. Arrive in the morning and catch an impromptu Tai Chi or yoga class. Lumphini is the place to chill out in Bangkok.
Sathorn Unique Tower (The Ghost Tower)
Feeling adventurous? One of Bangkok’s greatest mysteries is the fate of the doomed Sathorn Unique Tower, which has stood in neglect and disarray while it’s twin, the State Tower has thrived. Why was the Sathorn Unique Tower left unfinished? Why has nobody purchased the 47-story would-be condominium and refurbished it? Those questions are troublingly left unanswered but if you’re lucky, you can explore the Sathorn Unique Tower for yourself. Occasionally visitors are granted permission to roam through the desolate corridors and rooms, but this is by no means a guarantee. You’re just as likely to find yourself admiring the tower from the ground. If you are able to ascend, do so at your own risk. The Sathorn Unique Tower is full of all sorts of dangers and is not for the faint of heart.
Bangkok Art and Cultural Center
A short walk from Siam Paragon, the Bangkok Art and Cultural Center, or BACC, always has a fresh and interesting new exhibit going on featuring both Thai and international artists. There are floors of multimedia, traditional, and photographic art designed to be thought-provoking and engaging. Many distinguished international artists and photographers have had their work showcased in its galleries. It’s impossible to visit the Bangkok Art and Cultural Center and not spend hours wandering the halls. With a design that echoes the Guggenheim in New York, the BACC is Bangkok’s premier art space. Best of all, many exhibits are free!
Jim Thompson House
In the same vicinity at the Bangkok Art and Cultural Center, at Silom’s National Stadium BTS, you’ll find the Jim Thompson House. Its artistic splendor is only eclipsed by the tragic and puzzling story of Jim Thompson himself, who vanished in the Malaysian jungle in 1967 despite years of jungle survival training with the United States military. Thompson had the opportunity to visit Southeast Asia during his time in the service and fell in love with it. He built his house as an homage to the fusion of traditional Thai and Western styles and it still stands today as a place of unrivaled style and beauty. See Thompson’s collection of treasures and then stop for a delicious meal at the adjoining cafe.
Bangkok has some of the best shopping in the world. From massive markets full of one-of-a-kind treasures, to first-class malls, you won’t be disappointed.
Siam Paragon Shopping Complex
Siam Paragon, “The Pride of Bangkok” has over 250 shops stocked full of luxury goods, world-class cuisine, and opulent decor. Boasting designer brands like Versace and Prada, as well as top of the line car manufacturer showrooms like Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati, Siam Paragon is where the wealthy go to spend loads of cash and the rest of us window shop wistfully. After you browse through some of the world’s finest products, head down to the basement where you’ll find a beautiful aquarium full of innovative exhibits and fascinating creatures from all seven seas. Siam Paragon is a wonder of engineering and design and is the last word in sophistication and style.
Asiatique is a sprawling open-air market situated on the Chao Phraya River. As practical as it is picturesque, Asiatique is a favorite among locals and tourists alike. Take the BTS Silom Line to Saphan Taksin and jump on a ferry to get to this Bangkok must-visit. You won’t miss the iconic electric blue Ferris wheel (take it, it will give you a bird’s eye view of the city!), or the rows and rows of glowing shops. Grab dinner to fuel your evening of some of the city’s best shopping and don’t forget to stop for a fish pedicure on your way out!
Chatuchak Weekend Market
Take the Sukhumvit BTS to the end of the line, Mo Chit, and experience Bangkok’s most famous market. Chatuchak Weekend Market, also known as “JJ Market”, is the place where you can find anything and everything. Grab a map to better navigate the labyrinthine corridors that snake through the heart of the market. Up and coming designers, rare art finds, incense, home furnishing, and inventive jewelry are only some of the finds you’ll stumble across. Chatuchak gets hot, so make sure you pick up a refreshing coconut ice-cream before losing yourself in this eccentric and delightful market.
The mammoth MBK Center, located at Silom’s National Stadium BTS, hosts a whopping 2,000 restaurants, shops, and kiosks, most of them geared towards the technologically minded. You’ll find Bangkok’s youth mingling with more adventurous tourists in this enormous shopping mall. Don’t get lost! MBK is very difficult to navigate and patience and a sense of direction are required. If you’re willing to brave the mob, you’ll find great treasures and low-priced electronics that you won’t find anywhere else. Get there early to avoid the biggest crowds and be prepared to negotiate to score a good deal. After you’ve shopped victoriously, you can head chill out and unwind at the nearby Bangkok Art and Cultural Center or Jim Thompson House.
Right next to Soi Cowboy at BTS Asok, exit 4, you’ll find the greatest mall in all of Bangkok. Siam Paragon might have cornered the market on luxury, but Terminal 21 is easily the most innovative. It’s food court also has some of the most delicious cuisine you’ll eat in the city. Each level in Terminal 21 has a different theme and is enthusiastically decorated. You’ll stroll through the Caribbean to Paris, France. London, Istanbul, and Tokyo are also splendidly represented. On the ground level, you’ll find the lavish marble bathroom of your dreams complete with intuitive space-age Japanese toilets. Terminal 21 is also logically designed, clean and beautiful to stroll through. You won’t regret a visit.
A Foodie Paradise
Bangkok’s street food alone is enough to put it on the map, but world-class restaurateurs have also made their home in the Thai capital! Choose from casual, fancy, traditional Thai fare or global menus.
Patpong Night Market
Patpong is your stop in Silom for all manner of earthly delights, as well as one of Bangkok’s best and oldest night markets. Night markets offer relief from the scorching Thai sun and are full of intriguing souvenirs and delicious authentic foods. Savor authentic curries, Pad Thai, noodle soup, tako (coconut cream jellies served in banana leaves), sizzling meat skewers and more. Located near Silom’s Sala Daeng BTS stop, the Patpong Night Market is full of great finds. Just be willing to negotiate and keep your eyes peeled for pickpockets.
Dog in Town
One BTS stop past Thong Lo, on Ekamai you’ll discover Dog in Town, a cafe devoted to dogs and dog lovers. The animals are adorably named after BTS stations and come in all breeds and sizes. They’re friendly, well-behaved and love people. Visit with them inside on comfy couches and pillows, or join them in the adjoining yard for some play and fun! If your idea of a chill afternoon is hanging out with fluffy pals, Dog in Town is for you. Grab a cold iced coffee and some tasty cafe fare and settle in.
For Bangkok’s best burgers we head back to Nana station and make a left down Soi (street) 11. Daniel Thaiger has been a household name since their food truck days and is known for serving up meaty, addictive fare like juicy beef and pork burgers and homestyle tuna melts. Get yours with a side of fries for a slice of pub food heaven in Southeast Asia. Daniel Thaiger is also known for its immense craft beer selection so you’ll have a big menu from which to pick the perfect poison to wash your burger and fries down with.
Sukhumvit Street Food
For a more legitimate Thai cuisine experience, pull up a colorful plastic chair and join the locals for a steaming bowl of street noodles. From Asok to Thong Lo to On Nut, each pot of broth is different and no two bowls of noodles are the same. Get yours filled up with delicate skinny or chunky noodles, bean sprouts, garlic in oil and red roast pork, shredded chicken, pork balls or wontons. Or feast on fried chicken and addictive skewers of pork or chicken served with glutinous balls of sticky rice. For a heartier meal, have a heaping serving of ground pork mixed with Thai basil and spices served over rice. Those in the know grab it with an egg on top, letting the runny yolk mix the meat and rice together. If you want lighter fare, pineapple, mango, dragon fruit or melon make a refreshing snack and your fruit vendor will be happy to chop them up for you right before your eyes. The takeaway lesson is to always pause and check out those pop-up food stands. You could find your new favorite Thai dish.
Tons of Nightlife Options
Take in Bangkok’s breathtaking skyline from one of its premier rooftop bars or visit the notorious red-light districts of Sukhumvit or Silom. Whatever your style, Bangkok has got you covered!
Centara Grand Red Sky Rooftop Bar
No trip to Siam would be complete without stopping at an elegant rooftop bar! Centara Grand Red Sky Rooftop Bar, attached to the stylish Centara Grand Hotel and part of the enormous CentralWorld complex is one of the finest rooftop bars in Siam. Boasting a sensational view and designer cocktails under a signature blood-red canopy, this bar is one the best places to rest up after a long day of shopping and sightseeing. Featuring Thai and Western favorite cuisines and innovative cocktails, you’ll wind down under the stars in extravagant style.
Nana Plaza and Soi Cowboy
Two of Bangkok’s most notorious red-light districts, Nana Plaza and Soi Cowboy, are on the Sukhumvit line. Home to the famous Thai “ping pong show”, which involves wildly inflated beer prices and very little table tennis, Nana and Cowboy are located at Nana and Asok BTS stations respectfully. Although both have seedy reputations, Nana and Cowboy can be enjoyed fully clothed. Many pubs and bars along these streets offer happy hour beers that you can drink while getting in some of the best people watching in all of Siam. Furthermore, you won’t find better shawarma anywhere in the city. Get them for 80 baht ($2 each) and wash them down with a cold Chang.
Sing Sing Theatre
From the creative imagination of Australian Ashley Sutton sprang two Bangkok legends, both near Sukhumvit’s Thong Lo BTS station. Sing Sing Theatre and The Iron Fairies are known for their distinct styles and ability to transport the visitor to a wonderland of Sutton’s own creation. Sing Sing Theatre’s decor is deliberately evocative of the far East at the turn of the century and features performers on swings and in giant birdcages. Festooned with colorful lanterns and dragons, the interior is like nothing you’ve seen before or likely will again. Sing Sing is on the higher end, so expect designer cocktails and corresponding prices, but the atmosphere is well worth the investment. Get dressed in your best and check it out.
The Iron Fairies
Iron Fairies is on Thong Lo Soi (street) 10. Get off at the Thong Lo BTS and hail a motorbike taxi. Keep a sharp eye out, or you might miss it. The exterior of Iron Fairies is humble compared to what you’ll find inside. Full of wrought iron and bottles of “fairy dust” and overstuffed leather couches, Iron Fairies reminds you of a benevolent magician’s study. Visit on the weekends for some superlative jazz music.
Ashley Sutton brings his genius from Sukhumvit to Silom with Maggie Choos. In the style of Sing Sing Theatre and The Iron Fairies, Maggie Choos is a trip to another world. You’ll be transported back to 1930s China. Maggie Choos is a clandestine speakeasy, a hushed whispered secret between you and the barman who serves you drinks under the unearthly glow of green lanterns. What’s more, Maggie Choos isn’t easy to find. You’ll walk past the inconspicuous wooden door next to the Novotel a million times before you locate it. When you do, sink into the leather couches and luxuriate in the carefully cultivated atmosphere of another one of Sutton’s ingenus venues.
Royal City Avenue (RCA)
Royal City Avenue, or RCA, is a club district within a quick taxi ride of Sukhumvit (Thong Lo or Ekamai) BTS lines, but more easily accessed by the MRT. You can also take a taxi, and most taxi drivers in Bangkok will know where RCA is. Always ask them to use the meter. RCA is known for keeping the party going seven nights a week Since it’s a little off the beaten path, RCA is a local and expat clubbing scene, hosting international DJs and regular concerts. Many clubs in the complex have dress codes, so show up looking good and be prepared to pay a cover charge. The return is worth it. You’ll get to party with the locals, have a first class experience and not pay extravagant prices for liquor.
Silom’s Gay District
Silom’s Soi 2 and Soi 4 near Sala Daeng make up Bangkok’s largest gay district. Full of bars for every taste, from clubs to karaoke bars and chill outdoor pubs, Silom’s Gay District is a refreshing alternative to the girlie bars of Patpong- although you can always visit both! Check out Soi 2 and Soi 4 for authentic Thai ladyboy cabaret shows. You’ll be amazed by the intricate costumes and incredible theater.
SkyBar Lebua (Hangover Bar)
The Hangover 2 made the SkyBar Lebua famous. Today, you can visit the location of that famous scene and even partake in a Hangovertini while you admire the view. Lebua is Bangkok’s most celebrated bar and no visit to the City of Angels is complete without a visit. Hungry? Check out Sirocco, the State Tower’s five-star restaurant that serves up a varied menu of delights from sushi to tropical fruit and Asian fusion. Sirocco and the Skybar Lebua have a strict dress code, so wear your finery or risk being turned away. Also, from your rooftop bar perch at Lebua, you might even catch a glimpse of the State Tower’s ghostly double, Sathorn Unique Tower.
Lebua might have movie star power but Cloud 47, located between Chong Nonsi and Sala Daeng Silom BTS stations, has the distinction of being the largest rooftop bar in Bangkok. Perched atop the United Center office tower, Cloud 47 scrapes the Bangkok night sky and offers a 360 panoramic view of the city. Beautifully appointed and decorated, Cloud 47 is a chill and classy place to kick back. Your first-class view extends from the Chao Praya River to Lumphini Park so you’ll be able to soak in Silom in luxurious style.
From Sukhumvit to Silom, the frantic mega-malls of Siam to the serene jungle passageways of the Green Lung, Bangkok has something for everyone. The City of Angels has been growing in popularity for years, shedding its reputation as a seedy trap for questionable tourism and emerging as the place to visit in Southeast Asia!
Not only is it Southeast Asia’s most popular hotspot, Bangkok also recently edged out London as the most frequented city in the world. 20.19 million people are projected to pass through Thailand’s capital in 2017.
Bangkok is a world-class, sophisticated, fascinating destination steeped in history, culture, fun and whimsy. Make the most of your time by visiting some of the places we’ve noted.
Co-written by: Matteo Ianna and Elizabeth Lavis
Pictures by: Matteo Ianna