In Part 2 of my Ultimate Bangkok Travel Guide, I will focus on great places to eat and drink in the city, where to indulge in a bit of shopping and how to have a great night out in the Thai capital.
Bangkok Food and Drink
Cafes and Restaurants
As with any major city, there is no shortage of cafes and restaurants to check out. I try and eat relatively healthy even when I am abroad so my favourites might not be to everyone’s taste!
Cat Up Café – The popular cat café trend hasn’t bypassed Bangkok. Cuddle cute kitties while enjoying coffees and cakes in Silom.
Jim Thompson Restaurant – a nice mix of Thai and Western favourites in an elegant setting without being expensive.
For healthy fare in Sathorn, head to Kumi Restaurant and Healthy Corner – they have great (and huge!) breakfasts, sandwiches and delicious smoothies!
Just a few doors down Sathorn Soi 10 is (Not Just) Another Cup – great for brunch and relaxing with a coffee
Feel So Good Café – few more doors away is this tiny but excellent coffee shop and bakery – their cakes are delicious and the coffee isn’t bad too!
Experiencing real Bangkok street food is one of the best experiences you can have in the Thai capital. You can find carts selling everything from fresh fruit to delicious soups and pad thai all over the city and my advice is to just dive in! Contrary to popular belief, eating street food is just as safe as in a café or a restaurant. Look out for places with loads of locals as that’s a sure sign that the food is good!
Chinatown Street Food
Experiencing the vibrant and colourful Chinatown in Bangkok is a great experience, especially for foodies. At night, the busy Yaowarat Road gets filled with street food traders and market stalls and wandering along its length is a great way to taste some amazing food, people watch and get caught up in the area’s incredible atmosphere. I was lucky enough to visit the area during Chinese New Year celebrations and ate my weight in delicious fare from spring rolls to satay sticks to fluffy bao dumplings.
Getting There: The China Gate at the start of Yaowarat Road is about a 10 minute walk from Hua Lamphong station.
Shopping mall food courts are quite a common sight in Asia and Thailand is no exception. Shopping is hungry work so every mall has a vast range of cafes, restaurants and food courts to suit any taste and budget. There is usually a wide variety of food on offer from local favourites to international dishes. Part of the fun is walking around and trying different things – there is a LOT to choose from. In many malls, you get a reloadable plastic card from the cashier and top it up with cash – allowing you simply swipe your card at a stall of your choice instead of fishing for change.
MBK food court – Not one but two food courts! Fifth Food Avenue (5th floor) and MBK Food Island (6th floor) have a great range of cuisines and are a great place to take a break from the shopping. The card system is in use in the latter. Hours: Fifth Food Avenue – 10:00-22:00, MBK Food Island – 08:00-21:00
Siam Paragon Gourmet Paradise – A sprawling food offering on the Ground Floor of the mall. Loads of choice, with cafes, restaurants, a food court and mouth-watering supermarket. It’s more expensive than MBK but still offers good value and some of the places are great for special occasions too! The card system is in use here. Hours: 10:00-22:00
Food Republic – Siam Center’s food offering is relatively new and has a stylish interior to match its great selection of food. I found that it tends to be a bit quieter than some of others too. The card system is in use here. Hours: 10:00-21:00
CentralWorld – There are so many restaurants and cafes here, that it’s easy to overlook the Flavour Foodcourt on the 7th floor. It’s kind of hidden behind Central Food Hall too but is well worth a visit. Hours: 10:00-22:00
Getting There: Getting to these food halls couldn’t be easier. Get off at Siam BTS station and you will be right next to Siam Paragon and Siam Center. It’s about an 8 minute walk over to CentralWorld via a raised walkway. MBK is closer to National Stadium BTS but is still easily reachable on foot from Siam.
How could I forget the incredible 7-Eleven!? If you have spent any time in Asia, being back home can be difficult as the lack of 24 hour convenience stores selling anything from chewing gum to whisky is pretty upsetting. 7-Eleven stores all over Thailand are a very viable way of eating on a budget – there is usually a pretty good variety of hot and cold food available and it’s super cheap. If you tried the signature ham and cheese toastie and didn’t like it, you’re probably lying! I probably love 7-Eleven too much but it really is a great place to grab snacks, everyday toiletries and cheap beer!
Where: EVERYWHERE. Seriously.
Siam Shopping Malls
You could easily come to Bangkok for a week and spend the entire time in Siam. The strip of glitzy shopping malls lining Rama I Rd house some of the biggest international brands alongside local retailers. My favourite of them is Siam Paragon which redefines what a mall is – it has a Madam Tussaud’s museum, an aquarium, a 16 screen multiplex cinema, a bowling alley, car dealerships and of course, plenty of shops. If you are on a budget, head to MBK – Bangkok’s most famous mall has around 2000 stores and most of them are open to haggling!
Siam Paragon – over 250 shops. Higher-end international brands, lifestyle products a cinema and loads of food options.
Siam Discovery – chic boutiques and concept stores
Siam Center – Thai and International fashion
CentralWorld – Largest mall in Thailand – 500 stores, 100 restaurants and cafes as well as a cinema. This one has everything!
MBK – Around 2000 stores. Great place to find bargains
Chinatown – Talat Mai and Sampeng Lane
Ducking in and out of the alleyways in Chinatown is a great way of finding interesting items, quirky souvenirs and local food. Talat Mai is a very Chinese market selling herbs, roots, incense and many things that I couldn’t even try and categorise. Exploring the narrow side streets with low-hanging shop awnings is a unique experience with exotic items and smells a particular highlight. Only a few streets away is the Sampeng Lane market – where buying in bulk is encouraged and can net you bargains. You can find pretty much everything here – from beads and shoes to dustbins and electronics.
Getting There: Nearest ferry stop is N5 Rachawong. Alternatively, walk to Chinatown from Hua Lamphong station.
I mentioned Chatuchak Market in Part 1 as one of the top things to do in Bangkok. The weekend market is HUGE and if you are in Bangkok to shop, then this is really the place to be! Foodies won’t be disappointed either with plenty of stalls and cafes.
Getting There: Take the BTS train to Mo Chit and follow the signs (and crowds) to the entrance – it’s on the same side as the park.
Khao San Road
It’s unlikely that many visitors to Thailand haven’t heard of Khao San Road. It’s the iconic tourist hub of Bangkok and attracts a huge number of visitors every year. Its popularity and versatility means that I literally could easily put it in any section of my Bangkok guide – eating, drinking, entertainment, sightseeing… Grabbing a “Same Same” t-shirt or one of those annoying croaking frogs is almost a rite of passage for many. You could buy pretty much anything here – from souvenirs to tailor-made suits and forged driving licenses (yep). It can be a bit overwhelming and crowded so heading to the nearby Soi Rambuttri is a good alternative.
Getting There: A taxi from Phaya Thai station is a good way of reaching the area. Or you can get the river ferry to stop N13 (Phra Arthit) and walk to Khao San via Soi Rambuttri – which is lined with food stalls, bars and guesthouses but a lot leafier and more chilled than the main attraction.
For something a bit different, head to Th Maha Rat. Just off the main road is a network of lanes forming the Amulet Market. This is the place to pick up charms, amulets and talismans as well as Buddha statues and many other religious artefacts. It’s fascinating to wander around the lanes and watch prospective buyers inspecting the items to establish its value and protective properties. Imagine a coin collectors’ market and you will be along the right lines. Some of the items are eye-wateringly expensive!
Getting There: The Amulet Market is within walking distance of Khao San Road. If you are coming from the river, get off at Maharaj Pier and walk along Th Maha Rat – you will spot traders on the footpaths before the entrance to the main market
Khao San Road
See, it’s even made it into the post twice! I am actually not the biggest fan of the area but I do realise that it’s going to be where a lot of travellers will end up one way or another. If you are after entertainment, Khao San will provide it in buckets (most likely filled with alcohol). The main strip has bars, clubs and restaurants – a Khao San bar crawl is obligatory for many.
Soi Rambuttri/Rambuttri Alley
Head to Soi Rambuttri just a couple of minutes’ walk away from Khao San for a less hectic vibe and some great restaurants and shops during the day and pop-up street bars at night. The street is lined with massage beds, coconut water sellers and souvenir stalls – so far so Khao San – but somehow feels a lot more relaxed. It helps that it’s greener too and infinitely more pleasant to walk down. Rambuttri Alley which continues across the busy Chakrabongse Road, is busier but will appeal to those that have had enough of the craziness a block away. Many people choose to stay in hostels and guesthouses along these two streets.
Patpong is a popular part of Silom, famous for its Night Market as well as many bars and restaurants. Don’t expect anything too refined – the side streets that run between Silom Rd and Thanon Surawong are full of go-go bars and strip joints, forming one of Bangkok’s many red-light districts. If ping-pong shows are your thing, you’re in the right place! The Night Market is squarely aimed at tourists with all the fake goods and souvenirs you will ever need. The stalls along Silom Rd actually prove more interesting and there are plenty of street food vendors around. The massage places along here are also very good and affordable, starting at 250 baht for an hour. There are plenty of good restaurants, Western chains and more traditional bars in the area too. Patpong is not somewhere where you’ll get easily bored!
Getting There: Sala Daeng BTS station is located above Silom Road and has exits right into the heart of Patpong. If coming by MRT, get off at Si Lom and head down Silom Road – you will see the stalls pretty quickly.
One of South East Asia’s most famous bars is located on the 63rd floor of the Lebua State Tower. It’s one of the world’s highest rooftop bars and has gorgeous views of the capital. It serves some top-notch cocktails and has won multiple awards over the years. It’s also got some Hollywood swagger about it, having featured in the Hangover 2 movie. If you are feeling really flash, there is also a classy open-air restaurant where you can enjoy more of those stunning views with your dinner.
Getting there: Saphan Taksin and Surasak BTS stations are both within a 5 minute walk from the tower. Look out for the golden dome at the top of the building – you can’t miss it!
Dress code: While not exactly exclusive, you do need to dress smarter to get in – smart casual is fine but you MUST wear shoes – girls, if going for open toe shoes, make sure these look smart as you might not be allowed in for something that looks too much like a sandal. Prices are expensive by Thailand standards but it’s definitely worth grabbing a drink to enjoy the open terrace.
Sukhumvit is one of the best places to experience Bangkok nightlife at its most varied. It will cater to all, whether you are after go-go bars or trendy, upmarket clubs. Levels definitely falls in the latter category. The stylish club has two distinct dance rooms, multiple bars, plush booths and even an open-air terrace area with views of the city. This isn’t your average backpacker bar and dressing to impress is more common here than in many other Bangkok venues. The place has a great vibe and attracts an eclectic crowd.
Getting There: Nana is the nearest MRT station. Levels is located on the 6th floor of the Aloft Hotel building on Sukhumvit Soi 11.
Look out for Part 3 of my Bangkok Guide where I will provide some essential information about Bangkok transport systems and handy tips and tricks!