A Local’s Guide to Bangkok

Bangkok Grand PalaceThis article was last updated in December 2011.

It seems that everyone is going to Thailand right now. I have friends thinking about going, friends going, and friends here already. I figured now would be a good time to post about its capital, Bangkok, which is one of my favorite cities in the world. Bangkok, one of Asia’s largest cities, usually leaves travelers unimpressed. The pollution, the traffic, the lack of tourist attractions. I recently played tour guide to a few friends and while they enjoyed the food and nightlife, they didn’t think there was much to do. And they’re right—there isn’t much to do here in the traditional tourist sense, and most people can’t wait to get out.

I used to feel that way until I lived here and saw that Bangkok has a lot to offer. It just reveals its secrets slowly to those with the time to explore the hidden gems of this mega city. It requires you to leave the tourist ghettos of Khao San and Silom to find a city full of things to do, places to eat, bars, clubs, and sites to visit.

What to do in Bangkok
Bangkok has a million malls, but if shopping isn’t your thing, don’t worry, malls in Bangkok are more than malls—they’re entertainment complexes. You can see a movie, go bowling, ice skate, dance, and eat at great restaurants. Malls often have shows and concerts on the weekend where you can watch live bands, beauty shows, and even dog shows. Guidebooks will say that for high fashion you should head to Emporium and Siam Paragon, and for cheap electronics head to MBK or Pantip Plaza. But what they won’t tell you is that the top of Central World has a great bar, you can ice skate at the Esplanade Mall, go bowling in Paragon, and watch royalty shop in Emporium. Moreover, the third floor in Pantip is best for bootleg games, MBK will give you great clothes, and all malls offer 30–60% off at the end and beginning of each month in hopes that people will spend their monthly paychecks.

Bed supper club in bangkokIf you’re looking to escape the nightlife of Patpong and Khao San Rd, head down to Sukhimvit Soi 11 for the world’s best expat bar, Cheap Charlie’s, and the best clubs in Bangkok, Bed and Q Bar. Cheap Charlie’s is an expat institution, and you’ll find people there every night of the week. Visit Thong Lor or RCA to hang out with the local Thais and get down to Thai bands and Thai whiskey. For after-hours fun, you can visit Khao San Road, Spicy, or Climax, where the clubs stay open until dawn. While Khao San Rd mostly caters to tourists, you’ll find a great Thai punk, rock, and ska club at the end near the Burger King. It’s called Brick Bar and if you go, you’ll be one of a handful of tourists there. It’s a great hidden gem in a sea of backpackers.

Let’s not forget the food. Thai food is famous around the world, and there’s no better place to eat it than in the country itself. Bangkok has a market or stall on every corner and in every alley of the city. As long as you have ten baht, you can never go hungry in the city. But more than great local food, Bangkok has great international food. With so many foreigners passing through each day, it was bound to happen. Check out Limoncello or Bella Napoli for Italian, Isao and Maru for sushi, Senor Pico’s for Mexican, and Coyote’s for great nachos. (Coyote’s also has free margaritas for ladies on Wednesday nights).

If you’re looking for good Thai food, be sure to eat on the corner of Sukhimvit Soi 33. Outside the 7-11 is a great soup place, Pad Thai stall, and noodle shop. I eat there frequently, and even my Thai friends are impressed with the Pad Thai. You’ll also find amazing food on Thong Lor Soi 38, the end of Soi Rambuttri near Khao San Road, and at night in Chinatown.

A guide book will list a ton of things for you to see and do while you’re in Bangkok. In fact, my guide gives you the basics for just that. But Bangkok isn’t a good sightseeing place. It’s not beautiful, charming, and filled with sights like London, Paris, New York, or Tokyo. It’s a city you need to experience to love. The daily life is what Bangkok is about.

Once you peel away the layers, you find a vibrant city that is more than just temples, tourists, and touts. You find great international cuisines, world-class bars and clubs, an assortment of activities, great places to shop, interesting neighborhoods, and much more. If you get off the Lonely Planet trail and out of the main areas, you’ll find a city where no one calls you over for a taxi or gives you a special “foreigner” price. You might even find a new home.

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Looking for more in-depth coverage on Bangkok? I used to live in this city and know it like the back of my hand. My detailed guide to enjoying one of the most fun, chaotic, lively, and interesting cities in the world will help you plan the perfect trip. This guide cuts out the fluff and gives you the practical information you need to have the most fun on the least amount of money. You’ll get suggested itineraries, budgets, ways to save money, ideas on what to see and do, off-the-beaten path activities, and authentic, non-touristy restaurants and bars. This guide contains the essentials you need.

  1. Matt,

    Just to add to your suggestions, good mexican is incredibly hard to find in BKK, but Bourbon St. (Sukhumvit Soi 22) is my favorite.. run by a native Texan, they serve a mexican buffett every Tuesday night. Can’t be beat!

  2. @seth: i used to live right near there! good food!

    @greg: i was at CC about 3-4 times a week!

    @quick: you should

    @wonderwilm: I don’t believe in that. If you want something else, should you not eat it? To say you have to do something because you are traveling to one place is silly. Yes, eat the thai food but if you desire something else go for it. Bangkok has great food all around- why limit yourself to one thing? The Thais dont…

  3. Alice

    Great news that lots of people are thinking about coming to Thailand! I would also encourage them to visit Chiang Mai for the culture, the loveliest people, the food, and to escape Bangkok! : )

  4. I wish I had read this post before I went to Bangkok! Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately) I only spent 4 days there so I will definitely be going back at some point. I’ll be sure to keep your advice in mind when I do.

  5. So true. Thailand really has become an “it” destination. I even know photographers that are going all the way over there to do a photography workshop. I wish I could go, but don’t have the money yet…

  6. Neat you just posted this the other day. I arrived in Bangkok last night at 1AM on Khaosan road and wow, that was an eye-opener. I wont begin to describe because I’m sure you all know the ghetto tourist spots. My spirits were high today though, able to move around and see what the city has to offer. Kind of a sad place but i love it. Great food cheap. Thanks for the tips y’all.

  7. It would be nice to move to Thailand again for a couple of months, but the current Visa rules are hassles without end. They only seem to want retirees or package tourists. Wishing that will change soon again due to the economic downturn, but don’t have much hope. :-(

  8. There are so many cities I’m longing to travel to, Bangkok is definitely one of them.

    @nomad4ever Too bad the Visa rules are a hassle, but hopefully they’ll improve them in the near future!

  9. Is Thailand so appropriate now with all the protests going on? I’m a bit put off by it all so looking at alternatives such as Indonesia now. I’ve always fancied Thailand though.

  10. Hm. Am I the only one who doesn’t find this tip very ‘local’? No offence here but that’s not an ‘insider’ tip in my opinion. It was actually one of the first places I headed after having enough of the tourist stuff.

    However I totally agree with you on your last paragraphs. You have to get to know Bangkok to love it. Right now I don’t live in BKK (will move there in the New Year though) and I HATED it the first times I went there. It was simply to much! Overkill! Right now I love it though. I know where and HOW to go somewhere without being offered ‘ping pong shows’ and ‘special price my friend’ all along. I even happened to find some great quiet spots (which I first thought to be impossible in BKK).

    After all, Bangkok is amazing if you give it enough time to prove it to you.

  11. I think that Bangkok is a metropolis in the full sense of the word. In this city, mixed Asian “savagery” and Western “civilization.” In all of this, to live in the city is very cheap when compared with other capitals of the world. Of course in Bangkok, there are five-star hotels and luxury restaurants, but life “on the street” is just “boiling”.

    Bangkok, in my view, is really worthy of the title “City of Contrasts”, because only in Bangkok, you can see how to fry fish in front of a luxury hotel)))

  12. Toni

    My boyfriend and I are leaving in a couple days for Bangkok. We are taking our packs and staying at hostels. I’m dreading carrying our packs around daily. Do you have any suggestions on what we should bring for this 2 week trip? I want to pack as light as possible. Do I need to worry about what I wear? Are tank tops, short or sundresses ok in the city? We are also going to visit some temples so I read to take off my shoes and socks before entering the temples and wear clothes covering my legs and no cleavage. Any suggestions would be appreciated. Thanks…maybe we’ll unknowing see you there!! lol

  13. hussein

    i going to bangkok in two months. does anyboody know about which hotel is better to stay inn?
    eastin grand hotel sathorn or majestic grand on 12 sukhumvit soi 1 or novotel siam square .

    thanks you

  14. Hey there, great article about bangkok.
    I have been there in december and i absolutely loved it, it is definitly one of the best spots to see in thailand.

  15. Hey Matt,
    I read your review of the Suk 11 guesthouse. I’m going to Thailand next month and quite nervous and security, I.e. Leaving my bag behind at the hostel. Any suggestions or am I worrying too much? I’m just used to being spoiled with lockers in Europe. Thanks!


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