Bangkok is a vibrant city with crazy traffic, tall skyscrapers, a mix of older and newer buildings, and a hub for business in Asia. There are really two parts to the city - there is the newer area where most tourists and expats usually stay with the shopping malls, nightlife, and where the financial district is located. Most of the city's key tourist attractions are located in the older, more authentic and cultural part of the city. We were able to check out both areas and stay at hotels in both areas. I have compiled some information on the accomodation, restaurants and things to do in Bangkok along with a very important scam that you NEED to take note of! Please know that there are many different scams that are used against tourists in Bangkok so do a 'google search' before you travel to familiarize yourself with them.
As this was the first time I was visiting Thailand and Bangkok, I thought it would be nice to stay near the temples and sights of Bangkok. Riva Arun is a clean, small but cute boutique hotel located by the Chao Phraya river opposite from Wat Arun. The staff were friendly and you have easy access to the Grand Palace, Wat Pho and with Khao San Road not being too far away. It is an older part of Bangkok and so it may look a little run down or “dirty” but it is a perfect location if you want more of the cultural experience. Breakfast was not provided here and the hotel doesn’t have a gym or pool. Their sister hotel down the street has a gym and pool that guests can use for free. The rooms were tiny but very modern and I would advise against more than two people sharing a room.
The area most tourists and business people stay is near Sukhomvit Road. This is where most of the American or global hotel chains are located and has a more modern feel along with many restaurants and nightlife. All the major malls and the famous Chatuchak market are in this area also. We spent a night/afternoon here before leaving Thailand and stayed at the Berkeley Hotel – tall, elegant, beautiful hotel connected to the Palladium Mall. Berkeley Hotel is within walking distance to the Central World Mall, Siam Discovery and MBK Centre (just need to figure out how to navigate through Bangkok traffic and roads).
Ethos vegetarian and vegan restaurant is located in a back alley near Khao San Road. The Tuk tuks will drop you on the main road and you have to walk inside but there are no street lights so it can be a little frightening if you were by yourself going for dinner. It has a ‘hippie’ vibe where you have to take your shoes off at the entrance and then on one side there are tables and chairs but on the other side are cushions and low tables to sit on the ground. There were many young expats in this restaurant. The food was good however the mango smoothie I chose was pretty delicious. We ordered pineapple fried rice which was served in a real pineapple – delicious! Their green curry and morning glory salad were also good. The green curry was a tad spicy. The restaurant features vegan Thai, Indian, and Eastern, and Western food and it is owned by South Asians.
Black Bear Bake Café is a trendy café located near the Riva Arun hotel we were staying at and serves breakfast. It was not busy when we went but service was still pretty slow. Their menu is not too elaborate but the prices are a little higher for the portion size. Their granola was the best and I enjoyed their caramel matcha latte but they have some pretty fancy lattes like a Red Velvet latte.
GoodJob Cafe was located opposite the Grand Palace (274 Maha Rat Rd) and a great place to grab lunch. They have a HUGE menu with western food and Thai food. We decided to order the pizza, chicken wings, and fries and the foods were actually good for not being Thai food. Their authentic thai food looked delicious too. While they had dessert here, we opted to stop at Molthip on the way back to the hotel. Molthip is a family run ice cream parlor with the most amazing coconut ice cream made with real coconut milk and real coconut meat pieces – totally dairy free ice-cream. Their mango sticky rice was SO good too.
A Pink Rabbit Cake Shop which is next to Molthip has an amazing coconut cake with cream and real coconut meat.
Elefin Coffee is a small restaurant with authentic thai food but it also serves western breakfast options and a really delicious hot Thai milk tea (I didn’t know you could get Thai milk tea hot until Elefin Café). From the reviews, it seems their authentic thai cuisine is a hit and something to try next time but their western breakfast was subpar. They also have a bed and breakfast upstairs as many come down stairs to grab a meal in pajamas or extremely casual clothes.
If you are looking for more breakfast places in the area near the Grand Palace or Riva Arun, Blue Whale Café has a good western breakfast. They have limited seating and it can be a bit of a wait to get in. Their food is good but if you are ordering eggs, mention ‘well-done’ because Thais seem to undercook eggs a little. There is a famous blue butterfly pea cold beverage that everyone orders – you can try it but I found it to be a bit too sweet.
If you are looking for some great authentic thai food and amazing cocktails, The Deck @ Arun residence hotel is where you should check out. Their pad thai was so good – better than the one I had in Ko Samui. The shrimp dish we ordered was also the best shrimp we have had in Asia so far. At night, you get a view of the Wat Arun across the river and the Bangkok skyline.
If you are staying along the Sukhomvit road area, Above 11 rooftop lounge is a nice for pre-dinner drinks with a great view of the Bangkok skyline. This lounge is in the same building as the Charcoal Tandoor Grill and Mixology. If you are in the mood for Indian food, check out this place but do know that the price point is a little on the higher side. It is an interesting concept – they give you aprons to wear while seated and their cocktails are pretty exquisite and have some unique flavor profiles. The garlic naan was huge – they bring it out just so you can see it and then take it back to cut it into pieces. The food quality was flavourful. I was disappointed with their desserts – they have a paan menu with such unique combinations but were sold out or didn’t have most of the offerings on their menu. Also, their jamun dessert comes with only 1 jamun and ice-cream. Usually places will serve a minimum of 2 gulab jamuns.
Khao San Road is a definite must-see. It was way more than I expected with tons of people everywhere and barely any room to walk around. There were musicians and people dancing on the street. Lots of massage parlors with people sitting outside getting foot massages and many bars/lounges. We tried to look for a nice coffee shop to sit and enjoy the vibes at but there really wasn’t any – everywhere was a club or lounge or an actual restaurant. There were street vendors and a night market. It was a great sight and would be amazing if you were with a group of friends and could venture into one of the nightclubs. Streats Bakery was one place that was open and serving drinks and wasn't a lounge or nightclub. They had a live singer and also were showing the football game (soccer) but it was not packed.
The Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha (located within the palace grounds) are key tourist attractions you must visit. It is near the Wat Pho (reclining Buddha) so both can be done in the same day. The palace is open throughout the year, every day from 8:30am-3:30pm, and tickets cost 500 Thai Bahts per person for foreigners but the ticket is good for 7 days. It is free for Thais. The only place to get tickets is inside the gates of the palace and there is only one entrance.
SCAM ALERT: There will be people along the walls of the palace telling you something like it is Buddha day and the palace is only open in the afternoon. They will then proceed to guide you to a tuk tuk driver who will charge you 100 Thai Bahts and take you around to a few different temples (the happy Buddha and laughing Buddha temples), a ruby and sapphire store, and a silk emporium. They will then drop you back to the palace. At one of the temples you may meet a guy who knows English and claims to have been to the city where you are from (we met a guy who knew the smallest details about Calgary). Sometimes on your return to the palace, another tuk tuk driver will be waiting to take you on a Khlong boat tour on the Chao Phraya river for 1 hour (and claim this is to buy time until the palace opens). The only great thing is that you can see the riverside and floating houses/markets. Please note that the palace is always open and never closes except after 3:30pm.
If you are into flowers, there is a flower market within walking distance of the Grand Palace and near the Riva Arun.
Chatuchak market is the famous weekend market that spans a huge area with almost everything you could possibly think of finding. There are indoor and outdoor portions to the market. It wasn’t too busy when we went but during peak tourist seasons, the market can get packed.
For other shopping needs, there is the MBK mall which is more for technology purchases; Siam mall and Central World which has the American and global chains.
Now that I have done some of the key tourist attractions, the next time I am in Bangkok I would most likely stay near Sukhomvit road to take advantage of the shopping, restaurants and nightlife and plan a half-day in the cultural area to look at the Wat Pho and Wat Arun which we missed due to our scam adventure taking up most of our temple day.