The One Thing You Can't Miss: Bangkok, Thailand
Bangkok gets a warped rap. Everyone who visits comes back with stories of debauchery and partying — both of which are readily available and encouraged Thailand's capitol city — but when you look past the smoke and mirrors of Bangkok’s tourist haunts, you’re exposed to a vibrant, humming metropolis that's constantly at the forefront of development and culture in Southeast Asia.
For hundreds of years, visitors have been flooding Bangkok’s streets, bringing with them their own cultures, traditions, and ideas, all of which has led to Bangkok being the epicenter and major jumping off point for tourists and backpackers alike as they begin their journeys through this region of the world. Filled to the brim with delicious food, art galleries, night markets, and endless options to satisfy both the purest and darkest of desires, Bangkok has recently become the single most visited city on earth. Take that, Paris!
Constantly changing and welcoming in new communities of expats from around the globe, let’s have a look at our top choices (and some best practices) for taking in Bangkok’s kaleidoscope of activity if and when you happen to find yourself in this city of sin and tranquility.
Start your morning at Casa Lapin X49 in the Thonglor neighborhood (accessible via the Thong Lo BTS stop). One of the hippest neighborhoods in town, Thonglor plays home to expats from every corner of the globe, including an ever-growing Japanese community, which can be seen in the number of craft coffee shops and izakayas that line the streets. Round the corner from Casa Lapin and head down Akkhara Phat Alley towards Misoya Ramen. With locations in Tokyo and New York (just to name a few) Misoya’s mini-empire has expanded to Bangkok to satisfy Japanese expats longing for a taste of home.
After wandering the streets of Thonglor, hop on the BTS and head toward Chinatown by way of Hualamphong Station. Walk north on Maitri Chit and you’ll arrive at one of Chinatown’s newest art-space-meets-bar-meets-restaurant, Tep Bar. Enjoy a Black Lion or any number of other house cocktails, along with a fantastic assortment of classic Thai appetizers, made with the house’s own unique twists. Wave goodbye to your new favorite bar staff and walk down Na Ma Alley to a bar so hidden and underground that it doesn’t even have a name. Let’s call it Go’s, named after the enthusiastic owner, bartender, and house DJ who will be happy to play any of your favorites — as long as they land in the realm of David Bowie, Weezer, and Jimi Hendrix. Go will serve you 100 baht ($2.85 american) Singhas until you raise the white flag and hail a taxi or tuk-tuk back to wherever you’re laying your head for the night.
Bangkok is incredibly hot and, during the rainy season (July through October) it’s more humid than you can ever prepare for. Stay hydrated by grabbing a Thai iced tea along Silom Road as you head to Sri MahaMari Anman Temple. Before entering the largest Hindu temple in the city, stop by the alley next door to buy a few wreaths of flowers to present as an offering to Ganesha inside the temple. Next, grab a bike and head towards Wat Pho, the largest and most well-known Buddhist temple complex in all of Bangkok. Famous for its 151 foot long reclining Buddha, Wat Pho also serves as a monastery and school for local kids.
There’s a good chance you’re already staying here, but if not, head to Khao San Road to check out the famous night market that pops up daily in the infamous backpacker district. After procuring your own pair of pants that bear a striking resemblance to that elephant tapestry you had in your college dorm room, head eastward on Sukhumvit Road to Broccoli Revolution, one of Bangkok’s best options for vegetarians and fans of delicious organic food.
Bangkok locals are sports enthusiasts, to say the least. When it comes to the national craze, nothing compares to Muay Thai, Thailand’s hybridized take on boxing with an MMA twist. Start your day with a class at Master Toddy’s, well known for training everyone from beginners to Muay Thai masters. Grab a fresh juice or bag of fruit on your way across the river to Thonburi, Bangkok’s other half and the second biggest city in Thailand. There you’ll find a number of parks, each equipped with a court for sepak takraw, or kick volleyball. The Thai people, being the friendly bunch they are, will be happy to let you try your hand, or foot, at this incredibly challenging sport.
Next, head back across the river to Likit Gai Yang for Thai grilled chicken, a popular pre-match spot for Muay Thai fighters, before venturing to Rajadamnern Stadium to take in some professional Muay Thai bouts and enjoy a few Chang or Leo beers.
Bangkok might be more urban than jungle, but that doesn’t mean that the self-proclaimed “City of Angels” lacks activities for the outdoor set. Start your day by wandering through Bangkok’s Lumphini Park, the largest in the city and known as the “green lung” of Bangkok. Next, hop on a bike tour to see incredibly flat Bangkok as it should be seen — on two wheels. After touring through the city, pay a visit to Thonburi’s Wat Anongkharam and Princess Mother Memorial Park, both located on the much quieter and tranquil side of the Chao Phraya River. After seeing the sites and seeking out some enlightenment, head to Wanderlust Rooftop Bar in Thonglor, known for its turf flooring and spectacular views of Bangkok’s skyline lit up at night.
If you’re traveling to Bangkok with your buddies, you’re bound to get into some trouble whether you plan to or not. Do your best to see some of the city before heading out for the night, but once you’re ready to explore Bangkok’s night scene, start at Tawandang Brew House off Rama 3 Road in the southern section of the city. After enjoying a few pints of their multiple German beers, all brewed in house, head north on Naradhiwas Rajanagarinda Road toward Silom Road and the famous Patpong night market. Grab a bowl of noodles and some grilled meats along the way — there are an endless number lined up on Silom Road at almost any hour — and take in the wide variety of stalls selling everything under the sun, from knockoff Nikes to sunglasses to Buddha statues.
Round up your troops, as some of them might have escaped into one of Patpong’s more erotic clubs that neighbor the market, and head to Roof 409 Bar in the always bustling Chit Lom neighborhood. Have a few drinks as you take in the view of Bangkok, then head east on Sukhumvit Road to the infamous Soi Cowboy, Bangkok’s top spot for gogo bars, strip clubs, and whatever else you could possibly want. Don’t take any photos and try to keep out of trouble — this, after all, is the Bangkok made famous by Phil, Stu, and Alan in The Hangover Part II. May Buddha be with you.
Beneath the hustle, bustle, and onslaught of stimulation found throughout Bangkok lies a more romantic side that's rooted in legend and history. Grab your travel companion and head to Spa Ten on Phloen Chit for an incredible massage and a bit of R and R before embarking on a day of exploration through the city. Post massage-induced bliss, venture southwest toward Chinatown and let yourself get lost among the restaurants, bars, and temples — including the famed golden Buddha of Wat Trimitr — that fill one of the largest Chinatowns in the world.
Feeling tired? Indulge in a nap and then hop in a tuk-tuk to head to Maggie Choo’s on Silom Road, recently voted the best bar in town by Bangkok Magazine. Built in a former bank vault, grab cocktails and take a look around at one of the top places to see and be seen for expats and locals alike. Finally, head east on Silom Road to Cloud 47 Rooftop for an incredibly scenic dinner and photo op that takes in all of Bangkok’s lit-up nighttime skyline. [H]
Images courtesy of Max Bonem