No trip to Thailand is complete without visiting Bangkok. While some people tend to give Bangkok the short shrift and head straight to the islands or Chiang Mai, for those who know us well, you know we think extremely highly of Bangkok and therefore recommend spending anywhere from 3-5 days in this great capital. Bangkok, like Thailand, generally is a city of contradictions. You can stay at a 5 star resort and dine at Michelin starred restaurants, or you can stay at cheap hostels or guesthouses and pig out on the vast array of street food for a fraction of the cost. Either choice should leave you satisfied (though the former with a lighter wallet and likely less authentic experience). The more difficult question, however, is which part of the city to stay in.
Bangkok is a sprawling city, much like Chicago or Los Angeles. While public transportation is generally pretty good, some areas are more accessible than others, and Bangkok’s traffic is notorious, so choosing the right area to stay in is paramount to maximizing your Bangkok experience. Below is a list of some of the most popular areas to stay in, along with a brief description of each area and also some suggested hotels/hostels.
If Bangkok is the gateway to SE Asia (which it is), then Khaosan Rd. is the gateway to Bangkok. If you’re a budget traveler, this is hands down the best place to stay, mainly because you can book all your onward travel from here (e.g., to Chiang Mai, the islands, Cambodia, Laos, etc.) and also book numerous day trips to surrounding places (e.g., Khao Yai National Park, Kanchanaburi, Ayuttaya, Pattaya, etc.). Khao San Rd. also has a very lively night life, heaps of accommodation choices, and great souvenir shopping. It also probably has more nationalities present on it than any street in the world. The one downside to Khaosan Rd. is that other than the Chao Praya River boat which stops running at 7pm, it’s not close to any public transportation, but it is close to all the major temples (the Grand Palace, Wat Pho and Wat Arun) and Chinatown and it’s not too far from Siam (the city center). As for specific places to stay, if you’re looking to be right in the heart of the action, check out Khaosan Holiday. If you’re looking for something a little more low-key or a little cheaper, check out Khaosan Lover’s Hostel or Oasis Hostel. And if you’re looking to splurge a little bit (approx. $100/night), check out the Chillax Resort.
Siam is both the geographical center of the city, and the commercial center. As to the former, Siam is where the two main BTS (the above ground train system in Bangkok) lines come together which means it’s easy to get everywhere. As to the latter, it’s also where the main shopping malls (e.g., Central World, Siam Paragon, MBK) are located and so if fancy shopping malls (with expensive designer brands) are your thing, Siam is a good place to stay. However, there are few (if any) budget choices available in Siam, and also little local flavor. In fact, if you never left Siam, you’d never really know you were in Thailand, or even Asia for that matter. On the other hand, if you’ve never been to Asia and are looking for an easy (albeit somewhat artificial) introduction, Siam would be a good spot for you. As for specific recommendations, if looking to splurge, Siam Kempinski Hotel, the Centara Grand, or the the Pathumwan Princess are right in the thick of the action. For budget travelers, check out Inn 33, one of the only real budget options we could find in the area.
If Siam is the commercial center of the city, Silom is the financial center (where most of the financial companies are located). It has little in terms of shopping but it does have one very famous night market (the Patpong Night Market) which offers a variety of souvenirs and also ladyboy/ping pong (aka strip club, with potential for more) shows. It also has some great Western restaurant choices and most of the city’s best rooftop bars (e.g., Sorroco from the Hangover 2) are located here. Unlike Siam, Silom also has a decent amount of local street food. Perhaps the best advantage of staying in Silom, however, is it’s proximity to Lumpini Park, the Central Park of Bangkok. If you’re an avid runner or just looking for green space, Lumpini Park is a must visit. However, be careful of the monitor lizards (huge lizards which are similar to Komodo dragons) which traverse the park, particularly near the lakes/water. In terms of specific recommendations, if looking to splurge, most of the bars with the killer rooftop views also have hotels below them. Check out Lebua at State Tower (the rooftop at this hotel is where The Hangover 2 was filmed!), or the Crowne Plaza Lumpini Park for a spot right near the park. For budget travelers, check out Salathai Daily Mansion.
Just east of Siam is Sukhumvit, an upscale residential neighborhood where many expats and well-off Thais reside. Sukhumvit is sprawling, beginning around Nana (about a kilometer east of Siam) and extending all the way to Phra Kanong, passing through Asoke, Phrom Phong, Ital Thai, Thonglor and Ekamai, among others. The BTS is directly above Sukhumvit Road, going from Siam all the way to Phra Kanong (and beyond), so if you stay anywhere in Sukhumvit near Sukhumvit Road, you’ll have easy access to the BTS. Choosing where to stay can be difficult, however, as each main street running perpendicular to Sukhumvit Road has its own unique neighborhood. For example, going away from Siam, you hit Nana (famous for Soi 11 which is very popular among young backpackers and budget expats and also Soi Arab which is known for its delicious Middle Eastern restaurants), Asoke (popular for its quirky mall in Terminal 21 and also Soi Cowboy, another infamous strip club area), Phrom Phong (home to several more upscale shopping malls, arguably more upscale than those in Siam), Ital Thai (needless to say known for its abundance of Italian restaurants), Thonglor (home to the biggest selection of upscale/trendy bars/restaurants and very popular among the 20/30 something Thais and corporate expats), and Ekamai/Phra Kanong (still trendy but a little more local given its further location from the city center).
As for specific recommendations, if looking to splurge, check out the Pullman Bangkok Grande Sukhumvit on Asoke. For budget travelers, check out Suk 11 Hostel. Soi 11 has a lively bar/restaurant scene and Suk 11 is located right next to a bar called Cheap Charlie’s, famous for its cheap drinks and also the fact that it doesn’t have any walls (i.e., it’s outside).
Chao Phraya Riverfront:
Finally, the last place you might want to consider staying is on the Chao Phraya riverfront. This is where many of the city’s finest hotels are located and also where many honeymooners stay. However, places here don’t come cheap and unless you’re staying on the southern part of the river in Silom, there’s no public transport other than the Chao Phraya boat which stops running around 7pm. Some people even choose to stay in Thonburi which is located on the “other” side of the river where Wat Arun resides. We don’t recommend staying here however as getting around will be very difficult. For specific recommendations on the Chao Phraya River, check out your typical 5 star hotels (e.g., the Mandarin Oriental, The Peninsula, the Millennium Hilton, etc.).
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