Bangkok travel guide: Eat, sleep, drink, shop

Filed under featured, Thailand

 

Best places to eat, sleep, shop and drink in Bangkok

by Kristie Kellahan

This guide made possible by Travel Associates

INTRO

Thailand’s vibrant capital is full of intriguing contradictions: shiny skyscrapers and ancient palaces share the same streets; air-conditioned ultra-modern malls and frenetic street markets tempt and delight keen shoppers; the best meal of your life might be had at a glamorous rooftop restaurant overlooking the Chao Phraya river, or at a roadside stall where delicious chicken satay can be had for a dollar.

The Big Mango, as it’s cheekily known, stimulates the senses and provides an unforgettable introduction to the beating heart of the Land of Smiles. With an estimated 8 million residents spread over more than 1500 square kilometres – and a major traffic congestion problem -, the best way to navigate Bangkok is as the locals do, via the public transport network. Skytrains whiz passengers from Silom to Sukhumvit to Siam, high up above the gridlock of cars and buses below.

Don’t miss the opportunity to see the city from the mighty Chao Phraya river as it surges past sacred temples, historic palaces, grand Buddhas and some of the world’s most fabulous hotels. Cruises depart regularly, as do the more rustic longtail boats used for exploring the canals where floating markets sell everything from kiwifruit to kitchen knives.

 

SLEEP

One night (or several) in Bangkok can be enjoyed in luxe accommodations at a fraction of the price you’d pay in other capital cities. The Thai capital offers big-chain hotels, sleek designer digs and charming boutique properties throughout the city with an unparalleled level of delightful hospitality.  

Mandarin Oriental Hotel

This elegant hotel on the banks of the Chao Phraya River can claim the honour of being on the site of the first hotel built in Thailand (back in 1876 the original structure opened as The Oriental). Today it’s a Mandarin Oriental flagship hotel and offers faultless service and luxurious accommodations.

Siam@Siam Design Hotel & Spa

Part of the growing trend of modern design hotels in Bangkok, Siam@Siam Design Hotel & Spa has 203 rooms decked out with unique artworks and large picture windows to frame the city views. Located in central Bangkok, the hotel is close to a Skytrain station and MBK shopping mall. The infinity pool is hard to resist.

Pathumwan Princess Hotel

Shoppers love this hotel for its location next to MBK shopping centre, in the middle of Siam’s countless stores and street stalls. Spa and fitness facilities are top-notch (tennis courts, a pool, a jogging track and a meditation room plus the usual gym machines and massage service).

Anantara Riverside Bangkok Resort

Bangkok’s frenetic pace will be forgotten when you check into this riverside idyll. Landscaped grounds and a fabulous big pool with spa jets are just some of the creature comforts on offer. There’s also the award-winning Mandara Spa and 10 dining destinations. Regular boat transfers take guests to the Skytrain station.

Banyan Tree Bangkok

The city’s only 5-star all-suite hotel, Banyan Tree is also one of the tallest properties. Enjoy the views from Vertigo, the glam rooftop open-air grill and bar, or take in a different view as you glide along the river on Apsara, the hotel’s floating restaurant. Banyan Tree’s award-winning spa is legendary, with treatments inspired by those enjoyed in royal Thai palaces.

 

Shangri-La Hotel, Bangkok

Forget about ticking off your Bangkok bucket list: you won’t want to leave the resort grounds. Shangri-La boasts 10 restaurants, a sublime spa, CHI, a 10,000-square-metre fitness centre and gorgeous river views. Traditional Thai decor (with modern conveniences) makes a nice change from the same-sameness of some hotel chains’ bland design direction.  

 

The Peninsula Bangkok

The “Pen”, as it’s affectionately known, sits regally on the banks of the Chao Phraya River and is a favourite with visitors from Asia. Restaurants include Mei Jiang, serving Cantonese cuisine, and Thiptara for authentic Thai dishes. The outdoor pool is surrounded by traditional Thai salas, the perfect spot for an open-air massage.

 

Oriental Residence Bangkok

Close to Lumpini Park, Oriental Residence Bangkok has a great location in the heart of the Sukhumvit neighbourhood. Siam Paragon Mall and Siam Square are an easy cab ride, as is the Patpong Night Market. 145 smoke-free guest rooms are lavishly decked out, and facilities include indoor and outdoor pools, plus a free area shuttle.

 

Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok

Aptly named, this hotel is indeed grand and impressive. Located across the street from Central World in downtown Bangkok, it is also close by Gaysorn Plaza and dozens of top restaurants, bars and stores. Featuring one of the best international buffet spreads in the city, the hotel is the place to go for Sunday brunch, wine tasting and high tea.

 

COMO Metropolitan Bangkok  

Sleek and refined, COMO Metropolitan Bangkok is a stand-out property with its minimalist-chic design and intuitive service. Home to one of the city’s best Thai restaurants, nahm, the hotel also offers guests the services of COMO Shambhala Urban Escape Spa and serves healthy cuisine at Glow.

 

AREAS

Bangkok hums and throbs with the energy of its 8 million residents, sprawling across more than 1500 square kilometres of densely populated cityscape. Neighbourhoods have distinctive personalities, from the grandeur of riverside hotels to the risqué bars of Patpong. Choosing the right nayb for your visit is an important consideration: grand palaces to the left, go-go bars to the right.

  • Sukhumvit

Well-heeled expats and high-society locals love Sukhumvit and the sky-high real estate prices reflect its popularity. Expect to find trendy restaurants, elegant stores, sophisticated wine bars and vibrant nightlife. Connected by Skytrain to the rest of the city, Sukhumvit is home to fashionable malls, including Terminal 21 and Emporium. The malls are open late, as are English-language bookstores and boutiques. A number of the city’s most glamorous hotels, including Oriental Residence Bangkok and Bangkok Marriott Hotel Sukhumvit are found in this downtown area.

* Silom

The powerhouse financial centre and business district of Bangkok slips into a different guise after dark when street food hawkers fire up the woks and the party people come out to play in Patpong. By midnight the LGBT-friendly bars and clubs on Sois 2 and 4 are hopping, while the Patpong girlie bars are teeming with international tourists in search of the naughty side of Bangkok. Silom is also home to Bangkok’s biggest downtown park, great restaurants and upscale hotels, including Dusit Thani and W Bangkok.

  • Siam

The heart of downtown, Siam is a favourite with locals who love shopping at all hours in the city’s mega-malls and street stalls. At Siam Discovery Center, pick up everything including the kitchen sink, or brave the humidity to shop outdoors for edgy street fashion and food. An artsy neighbourhood, Siam is the place to pick up original art and handmade souvenirs. Hip bars and nightclubs can also be found here.

  • Riverside

You can’t really know the Thai capital until you’ve spent time on, beside and above Bangkok’s life-giving artery, the Chao Phraya River. Snaking its way through the city, the mighty riverside is home to ancient temples and modern high-rise hotels, community markets and grand royal residences. The river and its banks are best enjoyed at night, when the twinkling lights of the city dance on the water. Enjoy a leisurely dinner cruise or hop on a traditional long-tail boat to explore the khlongs (canals).

* Chinatown

Locals call this part of the city Yaowarat, and they’ll tell you it’s the place to find authentic Chinese architecture, food, shopping and culture. An abundance of temples line the streets, nestled side by side stalls selling traditional medicine and Chang Beer T-shirts. Well-connected by public transport to other neighbourhoods, Chinatown is located north-east of Silom. It should come as no surprise that some of the city’s best Cantonese and Szechuan cuisine is found here.

  • Old City

When you’ve had your fill of malls, skyscrapers and nightclubs, explore the history and origins of Bangkok in the Old City. Ancient architecture and sacred temples continue to stand next to modern buildings, evidence of the city’s “adapt or die” mentality.

If you visit only one attraction, let it be the Grand Palace. Built in 1782, the Palace’s golden grandeur must be seen to be believed. Nearby, Bangkok National Museum houses the largest collection of Thai art and artifacts in the country. At Wat Pho, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha is a priceless historic treasure.

EAT

Thais love to eat (and many would say, they live to eat). From street food so full of flavour you’ll be licking your lips, to glamorous fine dining in the city’s five-star hotels, there is an abundance of food to suit all tastes and budgets. Mix it up and try a bit of everything: as the Thais like to say, the choice is up to you.

  • Hip hotels: Some of the best Bangkok restaurants can be found at the city’s top hotels. Well worth a try are Park Society Restaurant & Bar at SO Sofitel Bangkok and Lord Jim’s at Mandarin Oriental Bangkok.
  • High tea: Although Thailand was never colonised, the fine colonial tradition of afternoon high tea crossed over from Singapore and Malaysia. Many of Bangkok’s luxury hotels offer English afternoon tea on tiered stands with scones and cream, sandwiches and cakes. On weekends many serve afternoon tea buffet-style, with a glutton’s delight of bites to choose from. Try the Shangri-La Hotel, the InterContinental and Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok.
  • Food courts: Take a break from mall shopping to fuel up on tasty, affordable nosh from the international food courts found in the city’s malls. Serving a terrific selection of Thai, Asian and other cuisines from around the world, food courts are popular with locals, expats and tourists. MBK’s food courts spread out over two levels, with enough variety to keep even the fussiest diner happy.
  • Fine dining: Applauded as one of the most outstanding restaurants in the world, nahm at COMO Metropolitan Bangkok is special occasion dining at its best. Australian chef David Thompson (ex-Darley Street Thai) is an expert on traditional Thai cuisine and brings his love for the country to the kitchen by creating unforgettable dishes. Advance bookings are highly recommended.
  • Street food: For the equivalent of a dollar you can feast on pad Thai, curry, stir fries, satay or crunchy spring rolls at Bangkok’s bevy of street food stalls. Follow the locals to the most popular vendors and remember to go easy on the chili if you’re new to spicy food. Street food stalls – often a moveable feast, attached to the back of a motorbike – can be found all over the city. For a wide range of options, head to Chinatown after dark.
  • River cruise: One of the most memorable Bangkok dining experiences surely must be cruising along the mighty Chao Phraya River while feasting on fabulous Thai cuisine. Book a seat on Manohra Cruises’ dinner sailing, departing from Anantara Riverside Resort at 7.30pm nightly. Menu highlights include Tom Yum Goong, Massaman curry, and crispy sea bass fillets.
  • Gaggan: Mix up the menu and treat your palate to the exotic flavours of Indian cuisine at Gaggan. Hailed as a celebrity chef in Bangkok, Gaggan Anand arrived in the country in 2007 for a short contract and simply never left. Today he serves what he describes as progressive Indian cuisine at his restaurant off Ploenchit Road in Lumpini.
  • Eat Me: Follow the international jet-set to Eat Me, a chic, modern restaurant off Convent Road in Silom. Serving the best of global flavours and ingredients, you’re more likely to taste burrata salad and pan-seared sea scallops than green curry. Aussie dollars accepted; reservations recommended.
  • Mango madness: April through June is the best time to eat mangoes in Thailand if you want to enjoy them at their ripest, juiciest best. Served with sticky rice and coconut cream, or blended in fruit smoothies, mangoes are often available from street vendors. A chain of cafes called Mango Tango claim to serve the best in Thailand. Find them at Siam Square and Asiatique.
  • Cabbages and Condoms: Established in part to raise funds for the family planning work of Thailand’s Population and Community Development Association (PDA), Cabbages and Condoms restaurant serves tasty Thai food from its Bangkok location near Sukhumvit Plaza. Food is guaranteed not to cause pregnancy.

 

DRINK

Raise a glass to Bangkok: from skyscraper rooftop bars to fresh fruit smoothie stands and barista coffee shops, there are plenty of spots for relaxing, refueling, and revving up. In the heat of the day seek out air-conditioned shopping mall food courts or the cooling breezes off the Chao Phraya River.

  • Rooftop glamour: Soar above it all at Banyan Tree’s rooftop al fresco Moon Bar. Located on the 61st floor of the hotel, Moon Bar – and the adjacent Vertigo restaurant – attracts the city’s elite with its sublime views and exemplary service. Open until 1am; dress code applies.
  • Set-seeing: Sip on a Hangovertini as you mingle with an international crowd of taste-makers at Sky Bar, atop the 5-star Lebua hotel. The drink was created for the cast of The Hangover Part 2, filmed in part at this stunning rooftop bar.
  • Shake it up: Fruit shakes are everywhere in Bangkok, as ubiquitous as Coca-Cola. Blended fresh from fruits of your choice (lemon shakes are delicious, as are mango, banana and watermelon), beware the liberal dose of sugar that’s often added to the fruit and ice. Expect to pay about a dollar for a large shake.
  • Craft beer: Local beers (Chang and Singha) are popular in Thailand, though there is a growing appreciation for craft beers and IPAs in Bangkok’s sophisticated circles. HOBS (House of Beers) in Thonglor on Soi 12 offers a wide range of brews and a convivial atmosphere.
  • Coffee fuel stop: The city’s mega-malls are teeming with Western-style coffee shops, including the wildly popular Starbucks, though we recommend seeking out a less syrupy, more authentic cup of joe. Look for branches of Casa Lapin, or Kuppa on Sukhumvit Soi 16. Ceresia Coffee Roasters, also in Sukhumvit, roasts and blends its own beans.
  • Go-go bars: Bangkok is famous for adults-only bars and clubs where bikini-clad dancers perform risqué routines on podiums. Definitely not for the faint-hearted, many go-go bars are clustered around Soi Cowboy, Nana Plaza and Patpong in Silom.
  • Cabaret shows: Expect to pay through the nose for the obligatory two-drink minimum at Bangkok’s famous ladyboy cabaret shows. Bedazzling performances of disco routines, diva impersonations and traditional Thai dances are presented by gorgeous transgender and transvestite performers in clubs throughout the city. Playhouse Cabaret at Suan Lum Night Bazaar is one of the more reputable clubs.
  • In the Club: Bangkok’s party scene is fuelled by an abundance of dance clubs where the cocktails are strong, the music is loud and the moment is now. Get your buzz on, drink and dance with an international crowd at Ce La Vi Club (formerly Ku De Ta), Bed Supperclub and Do Not Disturb.
  • Hidden gems: Tep Bar, opened in 2015 on the fringes of Chinatown, is on a mission to champion “Thainess” in an environment where everything Western is considered fabulous. Thai national Kong Kangwarnklai spent time in Melbourne and Singapore before returning home to open his dream bar.
  • Wine culture: Vino is generally very expensive in Thailand, with most drinkers opting for beer or cocktails instead. If you’re craving a good Merlot or refreshing Sauvignon Blanc, seek out one of the Italian wine bars in Sukhumvit: both Enoteca Italiana and L’Opera offer well-chosen labels.

 

SHOP

Shopping is one of the great pleasures and pastimes of Bangkok’s residents and tourists. From the mega-malls, pulsing with a million volts of neon energy, to the hawker street stalls and cool boutiques, the Land of Smiles is also the Land of Sales. Pack light. Wear comfortable shoes.

* Shopping areas: Bangkok’s busiest shopping districts tend to cluster around the mega-malls. Ask any taxi driver to drop you off at the shops in Silom, Siam or Sukhumvit and you’ll be in retail heaven. Avoid the intense heat of the day and instead venture out at night when street stalls open up and provide an interesting contrast to the international brand-name stores.

* “Malling”, as in spending hours at an air-conditioned mall, is practically a national sport in Thailand. At malls such as Siam Paragon, MBK and Terminal 21, hundreds of brand-name stores sit side by side unique boutiques and shops selling local wares. Expect to find great food, hair salons, cinemas – and even an ice-skating rink – in the city’s malls.  

  • Health and beauty: Thailand’s spa culture has encouraged the launch of companies making gorgeous bath and body products, many made from organic, locally sourced products. Seek out a HARNN store (there’s one at Central World) for some of the best natural skincare products in the world.
  • Chatuchak Weekend Market: Open on Friday nights and all day Saturday and Sunday, this mega-market has more than 8000 stalls and a dizzying area of goods for sale. Pace yourself and take plenty of rest stops as you browse the antiques, furniture, homewares, clothes, souvenirs and collectibles on offer. One visit is never enough.
  • Night markets: When the sun goes down, Bangkok’s night markets open up. Join the hustle – and meet the locals – as you shop for souvenirs, clothes, toys, homewares and more at Patpong Night Market, Asiatique and Chinatown. Some of the best street food can be enjoyed here for less than a hundred baht.
  • Retro and vintage: Ever since retro memorabilia and vintage fashion became popular with Bangkok’s cool kids, the Rot Fai Market in Srinakarin has grown at a rapid pace. Fossick for rare collectibles, including vintage photographs and Vespa merchandise, as well as hard-to-find fashion and accessories.
  • Art: There’s a rich tradition of art-making in Thailand, from hand-crafted pottery to finely detailed paintings and woodwork. For contemporary artworks, browse the exhibitions at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, opposite MBK shopping centre. Also worth a look: Number 1 Gallery, Tang Contemporary Art and H Gallery.
  • Books and magazines: Thanks to the large ex-pat community in Bangkok, you’ll have no trouble finding English-language guidebooks, novels and magazines. Dasa Book Cafe on Sukhumvit Road is a quality secondhand book shop, while Kinokuniya (multiple locations) offers thousands of new titles and international magazines.
  • Tech time: Mobile phones, laptops, tablets, camera gear and other tech gadgets are widely available in Bangkok at competitive prices. First stop should be Pantip Plaza, a mall specialising in all things electronic. Centrally located on Petchaburi Road, the Plaza is home to dozens of IT stores and repair shops.
  • Antiques: Paul’s Antiques on Sukhumvit Soi 13 should be on the radar of all lovers of period furniture pieces. Specialising in authentic antique furniture from Myanmar – with most pieces dating back to the British colonial period -, Paul’s team lovingly restore them back to their original beauty. Shipping can be arranged.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login