This is Bangkok
The sun rises over Khao San Road.
Inebriated Brits lay comatose in massage chairs while Thai women rub them.
One awakens from his slumber and offers me the key to his hotel room.
A robed monk walks quietly down the littered street.
A smoothie vendor exits from behind her stall and bows to receive his holy blessing.
I step over empty Styrofoam containers formerly housing mango sticky rice and pad thai.
Seedy bars still open
serve porridge and English breakfast
to coke addicts, Thai ladyboys, and me.
Morning markets bustle with bouquets of flowers and marigold garlands
vintage tweed blazers, Dior sunglasses, antique furnishings
pyramids of dragonfruit and mangosteen.
Fish gasp their final breaths, flopping inside bamboo baskets or tied up in plastic bags.
Woks sizzle, blenders gyrate, cauldrons steam spicy broth.
Traffic commences and tuk tuks lure disoriented tourists with their elaborate scams.
Sky trains zoom.
Long boats transport patrons along muddy rivers
feeding through tiny alleys
in the Venice of the East.
Temples glitter in the sunlight with intricate carvings and gilded Buddhas.
A monk flicks holy water onto my head and recites the words “good luck, good luck, good luck.”
Crowds form around the Democracy monument.
Speakers fervently protest new policies in Thai I’m unable to discern.
Rambuttri Road awakens with endless stalls of curry, fried noodles, and counterfeit sandals.
For me, it’s the meeting point with friends.
Locals pile into small, familiar haunts.
I point at unrecognizable ingredients
and hope for the best.
The smartly dressed sip
in swank sky bars with sweeping city views
backpackers flock to Khao San
daring one another to crunch on a fried grasshopper or larvae.
At the Patong Night Market bars advertise ping pong shows.
I laugh and shake my head at their disturbing claims.
This is Bangkok
pristine and gilded
or covered in grime and grit
filled with scams
and the authenticity
of beautiful people and tradition.
where most travels begin and end
we all find who and what we are after
we all find the experience we seek.
Where I’ve Slept in Bangkok
400 baht ($13) for a 6 bed dorm
For me the location of this hostel could not have been more ideal. Even in big cities I tend to prefer walking to public transportation and staying here I was able to walk to most sites including the Grand Palace in less than half an hour. I was a short walk to Khao San and Rambuttri for cheap street food but was in a local neighborhood where I could experience real Thai life. The staff were friendly and accommodating, the facilities were clean and beautiful, and I met tons of cool travelers here.
500 baht ($17) for a 10 bed dorm
It’s a bit pricey, but Lub’d in Silom is one of the coolest hostels I’ve ever stayed in. The style is super modern and clean and you are sure to meet lots of other young travelers here. For those who like being in a transportation hub, Silom is a great location as it’s an efficient sky train from anywhere in the city. The hostel is also a short walk from the Patong Night Market and debaucherous activities that go with it.
330 baht ($10) for a 6 bed dorm, 700 baht ($23) for a private
HI Sukhumvit is perfect for anyone who wants to be in the chic Thonglo/Sukhumvit area on a flashpacker budget. The hostel is immaculately clean, has great common areas, and even has a beautiful rooftop terrace. The location is ideal on Sukhumvit Soi 38 with lots of great street food and just one block from the BTS station.
Silom next to the MRT
Superior rooms starting at $130
I typically spend my nights sleeping in beach huts, hammocks, dorm beds, and on sofas, so it was an amazing treat to stay at the Dusit Thani for a few days before flying out of Bangkok. I felt apprehensive checking in after sweating from the weekend market with my big backpack in tow, but the staff immediately made me feel at home. I hardly looked like I belonged but they never once made me feel out of place. I stayed in the executive suite which was bigger than studio apartments I lived in back in the states. The shower had luxuriously strong water pressure and the lemongrass bath products smelled amazing. The bed was comfortable with about a million pillows and I had views of the sunrise over Lumpini park. Every day they replenished me with fresh tropical fruit, bottles of water, and a tea assortment. My room rate included the most incredible buffet breakfast I’ve ever seen (omelet bar, waffle tree, Vietnamese noodle soup, congee, dozens of homemade pastries and breads, tropical fruit, salad bar, imported cheeses, the best quiche I’ve ever had, and tons of hot dishes like dahl and eggs benedict) and happy hour with complementary cocktails and lovely canapes like watermelon gazpacho and sea bass ceviche. Above all else I never encountered an ounce of pretentiousness and despite the size of the hotel was treated personally and warmly. I highly recommend staying here to anyone seeking affordable luxury.
Where I’ve Eaten in Bangkok
On the Street
Duh. The best food in Thailand is always on the street and in Bangkok it’s impossible to turn a corner without finding something to eat. In the morning you can find fresh fruit smoothies, cut up guava, omelets, even phad thai in certain areas. Throughout the day it’s a smorgasbord of delicacies on display and made to order dishes like green papaya salad, phad thai, curries, and stir fries. My favorite place for street food is Soi 38 on Sukhumvit and if you head over there be sure to get the light as air coconut ice cream, the “famous” phad thai inside of the little cul de sack, and a plate of mango sticky rice. Rambuttri Road has a huge selection of street vendors with little stalls lining the walking street with a wide variety of dishes more suited to Western tastes (translation: less adventurous and more vegetarian friendly).
Outside of the heavily touristed areas you’ll find locals eating in Mom and Pop style establishments. Most likely no one will speak English, so take a look at what they’re cooking, be adventurous, and just point to something.
Khao San Area
When I wanted a break from all of the fried noodles I went to Ethos. They have truly healthy, delicious, vegetarian food just a block off Khao San Road. I loved the freshly pressed green juice, kombucha, big fresh salads, and porridge made from coconut milk. It’s a little haven and the perfect place to hide out and blog for a day with comfy floor cushions and good wifi.
Khao San Area
Just a few doors down from Ethos is a locally owned vegetarian restaurant with nice salads, curries, and other Thai specialties.
Near the Democracy Monument
I had the spiciest green papaya salad of my life here, so heat lovers take note, and I have heard from multiple sources that the yellow curry crab is the most delicious meal on the entire planet.
Near the Democracy Monument
$2 for a plate of phad thai
Ok, so I may be a bit controversial here, but I really hated this phad thai. This place has the reputation of having the best phad thai in the world, so of course I had to check it out. Well… I actually thought it was the worst phad thai I ever tasted. I found it oily and lacking in flavor. By contrast I’ve met plenty of people who loved it, and some who thought it was so-so. A trip here is essential to find out for yourself.
$3-6 for fresh juice, smoothies, salads, desserts
Finding legitimately healthy food in Southeast Asia can be a difficult feat, and this place has a 100% raw menu. Everything I tasted here from the kale slaw to the green juice to the raw vegan chocolate cake was incredibly flavorful and delicious. They also have a full cleansing center and sell raw oils, bentonite clay, and other health supplements.
$5-10 for dinner
Some Thai friends of mine who live in Bangkok brought me to this darling restaurant on touristy Rambuttri road. The menu had an impressive selection of beautiful Northern Thai specialties with tons of fresh raw vegetables and herbs. The best thing I tasted here was the banana flower salad.
For more tips on where to eat, consult the food blogging expert Mark Wiens who lives and eats in Bangkok. Check out his guide to the best food in Bangkok from street carts to fancy restaurants. For street food lovers he also has a comprehensive guide to the best street food areas in Bangkok.
What I’ve Done in Bangkok
Do not, do not, do not, miss the Grand Palace. It is easily one of the most amazing attractions of anywhere I’ve ever been. Folks, let’s put it up against the Colosseum. You can spend hours marveling at the gorgeous architecture, taking millions of photos, or simply sitting in silence in the temples. Remember this is a temple, so covering your arms and legs is required, however if you show up impromptu they do lend clothing.
The largest reclining Buddha lives here and is as spectacular as you’d imagine. Start your tour here before you get burned out on the rest of the site. Expects tons of crowds. The surrounding temples get pretty repetitive. Again, it’s a temple so dress appropriately.
You can combine a trip to Wat Pho and Wat Arun as they are very near to one another and neither needs more than an hour or two to tour. The architecture here is much older than many of the other temples in Bangkok and it is just stunning. A major highlight of a trip to Wat Arun is climbing to the top for amazing views. I also walked around the temples next door, which is where I was blessed, impromptu, with a few others by a monk.
Patong Night Market
It sure is seedy, but hey that’s one of the faces of Bangkok! Aside from the ping pong shows you can find a decent variety of bags and other goods here too. Don’t expect much in the way of street food, it’s more upscale restaurants in these parts. Though across the street from the market we did find some excellent phad thai. Expect to be harassed by Ping Pong Show touts, I do not support these establishments and suggest you don’t either, but sometimes it’s fun to embarrass the touts by asking detailed questions about what exactly goes on in the shows.
Chatuchak Weekend Market
$2-$20 for clothes, shoes, souvenirs
This market is the place where shopping dreams come true. Seriously. It sells everything you could possibly imagine with literally thousands of stalls from vintage stilettos to puppies to essential oils to paella. Anything you can dream you can find. I ate some delicious food from street stalls including a veggie stir fry and a frozen banana dipped in chocolate and bought adorable cotton jumpsuits for only $10. Next time I fly to Bangkok I plan to pack no clothes at all and buy anything I need for my trip here.
$7-10 for craft cocktails
Am I in Bangkok or Brooklyn? When you step into Shades of Retro you may wonder. This hip, speakeasy style bar has a large selection of artfully crafted signature cocktails. The music is excellent and the vibe is oh so good.
$100 for 1.5 Signature Massage
So, you may be wondering why anyone would pay first world prices for a massage in a country where every block offers them for less than $10. While I’ve had some excellent massages for pennies in Thailand, this massage was the best massage I’ve ever had in my entire life. A massage of this quality in the USA would easily be double the price and unlikely as good. I had the signature massage here which integrates Shiatsu, Swedish massage, Thai massage, and Ayurveda along with aromatherapy. The service was phenomenal, beginning with roselle tea and hot towels on my feet. My face steamed above a bowl of water with orange and kaffir lime leaves while I was massaged. I had similar experiences in this massage to times when I’ve received Reiki or Shiatsu, feeling like I was emotionally processing and releasing as much as I was physically. I have a shoulder prone to tension and knots from a past surgery and weeks after this massage I’ve had complete relief. Yes, it’s a splurge, but if you want the best all around massage of your entire life, you must must must go here.
I fell in love with the park the moment I entered its gates. To me it felt like the Central Park of Thailand. In a bustling city like Thailand you need oases to escape the traffic and sounds. Locals, tourists, and expats ran and biked laps as I sat along the lake. Locals sat around tables playing card games and old women took Tai Chi classes. It was a peaceful view of this crazy city and my favorite way to spend my morning while I stayed at the Dusit Thani directly across the street.
One of the best things to do in Bangkok, and really in any city in my opinion, is to just allow yourself to get lost. Explore small temples free from tourists and wander neighborhood streets. Discover markets in Chinatown and on hidden back alleys. Getting lost is the way to get off the tourist trail and witness an authentic way of life.