People either seem to love or hate Bangkok. I think I’m part of the haters, although I must admit that it’s growing on me. It’s mostly the people that have spent a few weeks or months in Bangkok that seem to rave about it, so there might still be hope for me and this city after all. I think it doesn’t help that for many people Bangkok is the first place they see. You come off a long, uncomfortable flight and the first thing you have to do is deal with all the taxi drivers that are charging ridiculous prices to take you into the city. After this, your first impression is the crazy traffic. Not a good way to start.
Bangkok is busy. With over 8 million inhabitants and many tourists it is not a great place to get over a long distance flight and a jetlag. So take some downtime on one of the islands or in Chiang Mai and save Bangkok for later. On my travels I came through Bangkok three times, choosing three different neighbourhoods to stay in, and every time I had a different experience. So this is my experience with Bangkok and some of the things I liked or disliked about it.
Khao San road (Born free hostel)
I wasn’t staying right on Khao San road, but chose the quieter Samsen road. Although my hostel was very nice, at that time everybody had their own thing going on and I didn’t meet any travellers to go explore or party with. And this makes all the difference. Khao San road is great at night, not just for the bars, but also for souvenir or clothes shopping and a good, cheap meal. It would be better to have some friends around.
The area around Khao San road is your old school Bangkok. There is no connections to the MRT or BTS, so you are dependent on boats, buses and perhaps taxis and tuktuks. To me this was only annoying coming in. Once you get a feeling for the area on the first day, it turns out it’s a pretty good location for some of the main attractions.
Wat Saket or the golden mount is a nice walk from Khao San road. You can walk along the river and see some interesting Bangkok life. The temple is especially nice around sunset. From the top of the hill you have incredible views over the city with the skyscrapers in the background.
The grand palace is easily reached by boat from Khao san road. You can combine visiting the palace with Wat Arun. Just like the grand palace, Chinatown can be reached by ferry. You could make a day of it and do them all.
Siam square area (Bed station hostel)
In about ten minutes you can walk from Bed station to the MBK shopping mall. And that is exactly what this area is known for. There seems to be a shopping mall every 50 meters. This is a great place because you are within walking distance of the Phaya Thai station, which connects to the main airport. The Bed station hostel is a one minute walk to the BTS and about 5 minutes from a boat stop, making travelling within Bangkok easy. There are also some basic restaurants and western restaurants. Street food can be found around Phetchaburi soi 10 and Phetchaburi soi 5. Don’t expect English signs though.
Shopping: MBK, Siam square one, Siam Paragon, Siam center, Siam discovery. All of these are clustered together and connected by skywalks. Walk into a different direction for about 20 minutes and you get to the Platinum fashion mall and the Pratunam market. During the day you’ll find clothes for wholesale prices around Pratunam and at night there is a market that stretches to the Baiyoke sky hotel. For an international shopping experience you can take the skytrain to Terminal 21. This mall has the look and feel of a different city on every floor.
See a movie at the Scala. Who knew there was still a movie theater from the 60s in the middle of all this skyscraper madness?! The scala survived and even though it now shows modern movies, the theater brings you back in time. Sold tickets are marked on a big seating map at the ticket office and when you enter the gigantic theater, there is music from the 60s and 70s playing. And it’s cheap too!
The Bangkok art and culture center is a big building with some small shops and lots of art and photography. The exhibitions are free, so it’s a nice thing to check out when you get tired of all the shopping.
The weekend market near Chatuchak park isn’t exactly in the area, but I think out of the three areas this one is the easiest to reach it from. If you are in Bangkok in the weekend, the market is a must. It is especially good if you want to do some last minute shopping before you go home.
I haven’t done the Baiyoke sky viewing platform, but if you want a birds eye view of the city without going to a sky bar, this is an option at walking distance from the hostel.
Silom area (iSanook hostel)
What I liked most about iSanook was the cleanliness and the café across the street in iSanook residence. Besides this I thought the hostel was pretty anonymous and the neighbourhood wasn’t too exciting. It is very close to the metro though, so you can get around easily.
Lumphini park seems to be sports central. You can go for a stroll, but there is also a paid outdoor gym. It is good for people watching or a relaxed afternoon in the park.
Chinatown is not too far from Silom. It’s a great place to explore at night or during the day. Go for some street food and shop in the wholesale stores.
Patpong night market is a famous market where you can find many souvenirs. It is right in the middle of the red light district, so besides shopping you’ll also see many girls and ladyboys asking for attention.
Wat Hua Lam Phong is a beautiful temple that can get pretty busy at night. It is right next to the Sam Yan metro station, so easy to check out some time on your way.