Your guide to cool areas to explore in Bangkok, when it comes to eating, drinking and shopping in the Thai capital
Coup or no coup, we love Bangkok and its people (we’ve been there almost 10 times in the last five years!). So we’re bringing you our 10 favourite neighbourhoods when it comes to bars, restaurants and shopping – in no particular order – ripe for your exploring the next time you’re in the Thai capital.
#1 – Siam (nearest BTS: Siam)
Home to a motley of megamalls, Siam is one tourist hotspot that’s worth exploring, especially if you love your air-conditioned respites. For luxury brands, head to the big, bright, and shiny Siam Paragon. Consider yourself part of the fashion vanguard? Siam Centre is right up your alley with loads of Thai designers on the third floor, like Senada Theory, and Kloset, and Greyhound. Eat at the stylish Greyhound Café with Thai fusion food – remember to try their famous fried chicken wings.
If your weakness is department stores, Central World has two as anchor tenants. The sixth largest shopping mall in the world, this complex has everything you need. Check out Nara Thai and After You (try their famed Shibuya Honey toast) on the 7th floor for sustenance to keep your shopping spree going. Reminiscent of the Guggenheim in New York, the Bangkok Arts and Culture Centre is the place for culture vultures to go for their hit.
Siam Square, a dense warren of market stalls, boutiques, and restaurants haunted by Bangkok’s bright young things, is the place to go for everything ‘in’. Eat at Som Tam Nua (Siam Square Soi 5) – an Issan (north-eastern part of Thailand) restaurant that dishes out one of Bangkok’s best som tam (papaya salad). Order up a side of grilled pork neck and khao niau (sticky rice) to go with your salad. The pavement around the border of Siam Square turns into a little night market after dark so do hang around!
#2 – Pratunam (nearest BTS: Rachathewi)
If we had to pick a must-go for shopaholics, it’s definitely Platinum Mall. This wholesale mall is great for latest on-trend apparel and accessories at wallet-friendly prices. Stubborn price slashing isn’t welcome here, but you can expect discounts if you purchase multiple pieces. Tip: make friends with strangers (discreetly) and buy in bulk!
The best bargains don’t come easy; you’ll have to sacrifice sleep for it. Pratunam Morning Market (the area around Baiyoke Sky Hotel) is where you can find some of the cheapest clothes (starting from 100 baht) in the city, but your window of opportunity is limited, since the market’s there only from 5am to 9am.
Cheap massage parlours are aplenty around the Pratunam neighbourhood but Number One (Petchaburi Soi 15) still remains one of the most popular due to its sprawling space, air-conditioning, and good service.
#3 – Riverside (nearest BTS: Saphan Taksin)
For a traditional afternoon tea, head to Author’s Lounge at The Mandarin Oriental Hotel. At 1,350 baht per person, it might be a little pricey for Bangkok, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find this old colonial charm (think white-washed rattan furniture, Siamese umbrellas, and swaying palm trees) elsewhere.
We recommend Viva & Aviv for a leisurely tipple along the river. More casual and laid-back than sister bar Hyde & Seek, it’s evident Viva & Aviv is modeled after a sailor’s café with its strong nautical themed décor. You’ll also find guest DJs spinning rad house tunes, very cool!
Asiatique Riverfront Mall is one of the largest complexes along the riverside, with over 1500 stores. Zoom straight for warehouses 5 to 10 for the best fashion boutiques, bars, and restaurants. The one place we’re willing to spend all our dough? By Myself Handcrafted – a gorgeous little shop selling bags, accessories, and leather goods handmade by the young owner (who’s quite dapper too).
#4 – Silom/Sathorn (nearest BTS: Sala Daeng)
Looking to paint the town redder? Silom’s your answer. A cool bar with one hell of an atmosphere, Maggie Choo’s at Novotel Bangkok Fenix Silom invokes the decadence of opium dens and British colonial outposts of the early 1900s. For drinks with a view (the food there’s not awesome though), Cloud 47 provides stunning views of the central business district.
Need to indulge in a little posh nosh? Well, not only is Nahm at Metropolitan by COMO the best restaurant in Thailand, it’s also Asia’s best restaurant of 2014. A little way off from Sala Daeng BTS is Soi Thaniya, Bangkok’s Little Tokyo, which abounds with good and affordable Japanese.
#5 – Thonglor/Ekkamai (nearest BTS: Thonglor or Ekkamai)
Synonymous with all things young, hip, and indie in Bangkok, Thonglor is the place to see and be seen. Love café-hopping in Singapore? You’ll have a ball of a time in Thonglor – where every turn, corner, and alley might lead you to a quaint café or stylish bar.
If you only have time for one place, go to Seenspace (Thonglor Soi 13). Kick off your day with brunch and a cup of specialty brew (get their ice espresso latte to beat the Thai heat) at Roast Coffee & Eatery. Designed like a set of newspapers, their adorable menu ‘The Daily Roast’ offers western comfort grub like homemade pastas, gourmet burgers, and baked eggs.
Save space for dessert at Mr Jones Orphanage on the ground floor. Brainchild of famed restaurateur Ashley Sutton – who also opened Fat Gut’z Saloon and swanky semi-alfresco bar Clouds in the same compound – this whimsical wonderland is perfect for dessert junkies. You’ll be spoilt for choice with a slew of whole cakes, cookies, and other decadent pastries. Another name to note in your little black book of sweets is J Avenue. Surrounded by lush foliage, this little community mall has an outlet of After You, Greyhound Café and its sister café, Sweet Hound.
Hit up Brew Beers & Ciders for one of the largest selections of international craft beers in Bangkok. American, British, Japanese, Irish, Belgian – you name it, they’ve got it. They’re also in Asiatique and Sukhumvit Soi 11.
Caffeine addicts, if you prefer a more exquisite brew like French press or drip, check out Casa Lapin. We love the original hole-in-the-wall outlet at Thonglor Art Village for its charm. Another hidden gem is The Bookshop. Café by day and bar by night, stepping into The Bookshop is like entering a wizard’s library, with floating bookshelves, flying books, and stairways to nowhere artistically hanging from the ceiling.
The beauty of Bangkok is that amongst the cool cafes and bars, you’ll still find good ol’ street food. Sukhumvit Soi 38 (near Thonglor BTS Exit 4) transforms into a bustling street filled with food vendors. Some must-try dishes? Crab meat wanton mee and mango sticky rice, ‘nuff said.
Thanks to its close proximity to Thonglor, Ekkamai is another haven for café nomads. Arguably brewing the best coffee in Bangkok, Roots Coffee Roaster is a micro roastery and bakery that’s annoyingly open only on Saturdays and Sundays. The coolest part? There are no fixed prices – you pay whatever you wish into an honesty jar!
Want to shop stylish brands, get your portrait sketched, and grab a cuppa? Visit the minimalistic multi-label boutique and café, One Ounce for Onion. Oozing industrial chic (think bare brick walls, wooden furniture, and metal fittings), Ink & Lion Café is a new kid on the block that’s fast chalking points on the hip-o-meter.
Fresh off the boat and straight into the heart of Ekkamai is Danish microbrewery Mikkeller, which opened its flagship bar in Bangkok early this year. Drink to your heart’s content with over 30 Danish labels on tap and bottle.
#6 – Chinatown (nearest MRT: Hua Lamphong)
Known to the locals as Yaowarat, the easiest way to reach Chinatown is actually by the Chao Phraya River Express. Otherwise, either taxi from Hua Lamphong MRT or directly from your location. Good food is aplenty here – you just have to know where to find it.
On the corner of Yaowarat Soi 11, there are many stalls selling pad thai, curries, fruit, and desserts. But the most bustling stall is definitely Kuay Jub Nai Lek, which sells rice noodle in clear soup with crispy pork and pork innards – the strong peppery kick of the broth is da bomb.
In the mood for seafood? Soi Phadung in Yaowarat is host to two popular seafood joints – T&K (green team) and R&L (red). For excellent Chinese food, Tang Jai Yoo at Soi Yaowaphanit has great roast suckling pig, oyster omelette, and crab vermicelli. Wash everything down with sugar-coated yam for dessert.
#7 – Ari (nearest BTS: Ari)
Soi Ari, despite its lush, quiet residential area facade, is no dead town. In fact, we dare say that this might be Bangkok’s best kept secret. Casa Lapin has recently opened a new outlet along Ari, cementing the district’s status as an up-and-coming hipster enclave. Besides a full food menu, it even stocks a small selection of record players and vinyls – sweet! Right next-door is Panary Cafe, which dishes out an awesome selection of crisp Dutch baby pancakes.
And when the sun sets, this suburban hood is one buzzing nightspot with a host of chic restaurants and bars. A favourite amongst Bangkok’s young and affluent, Salt is a snazzy fine dining restaurant that specializes in Japanese sushi and sashimi, traditional wood-fire pizzas, and rich French fare. Their signature cocktails are also sure to hit the spot.
Cross the road and you’ll find Aree (Ari Soi 4), the mysterious, minimalistic no-signage bar that gained instant buzz, and our personal favourite – Fat Bird. Its humble homey vibe, vintage furniture, a simple menu of hearty grub, and classic cocktails make it perfect for chilling out with a bunch of close friends.
#8 – Khao San (just hop on a cab)
Popularised by ‘The Hangover II’ as the notorious district to get buzzed and wake up with a tattoo on your face, Khao San is undoubtedly the centre of Bangkok’s backpacker universe. But Khao San offers a lot more than scarily cheap bucket drinks (we dare you to try the ones with Thai whiskey), the plethora of tattoo and piercing shops, and numerous vendors hawking fried insects.
Magic Max (Rambuttri Road) has the usual spicy Thai fare, but the draw is definitely the owner Max. A mind-blowingly talented magician, you see him serving food and drinks at one moment, and entertaining tables with his jaw-dropping trick and hilarious antics the next.
Fans of blues and jazz, the cozy, rustic Adhere the 13th Blues Bar will be the highlight of your trip. With a talented mix of local Thai musicians performing live every night and wallet-friendly Sangsom (Thai rum) sold, there’s so much to love about this quaint shophouse bar.
Another bar we like is Tak Sura (Tanao Road). With indoor and alfresco seats using train benches and antique chairs, this two-story property is great for a drinking session with your pals.
#9 – Ladprao/Phaholyothin (nearest MRT: Ladprao or Phaholyothin)
Singapore has gone pet-café crazy, and so has Bangkok. And honestly, we think those in the City of Angels are better! Check out True Love Café, which is run by folks who are also Siberian Husky breeders. This is more like a petting zoo, where you get up close and personal with our furry friends at various times of the day.
For a truly local shopping experience, head to Union Mall – Bangkok’s near equivalent to our Far East Plaza in Singapore. While it may not look like much, we’ve satisfied our inner bargain hunter soul at this mall more than a few times.
Hop across the bridge to Central Ladprao to scope out a typical Bangkok suburban mall. Love teddy bears and sweet stuff? Hungry Bear is a themed café with a friendly brown bear stamped on every buttermilk pancake – cute! Also on the 4th floor is Kelly by Audrey, another gorgeous bistro with a fusion menu. If you’re a fan of chai yen (Thai iced tea), try their Thai Tea Crepe Cake. One of our fave rooftop hangouts in Bangkok is Blue Sky, on the 24th story of Centara Grand at Central Ladprao. Enjoy a view of Chatuchak Park with comforting Mediterranean-French cuisine.
#10 – Chatuchak (nearest MRT: Kamphaeng Phet)
The famous Chatuchak (known as Jatujak to the locals) weekend market needs no introduction. You can buy art, homewares, clothing, and loads more – just bring your own shipping container.
Check out the Siam Gypsy Night Market (5pm-12am) at JJ Green, where boho and antique lovers will fall in love with a range of handmade accessories, knick knacks, and even spare parts for Vespas. Occasionally, there are live gigs going on to jazz up the night.
Top Image: China Town