I love Bangkok! I love it even more after our recent visit! Thailand was never on the plan but I have been planting the idea of Bangkok. My plan worked perfectly after Daz, having done his usual due diligence, agreed that it would make sense for us to cross from Laos to Thailand and fly to Tokyo (our next destination) from Bangkok. I was pretty happy with the idea of spending a few days in Bangkok, I was super excited to spend a whole week here – we extended our time thanks to Kim and Brendan who decided to come see us on their way to New Zealand and Oz.
We have been to Bangkok a few times over the past ten years but these have always been short visits, usually for family celebrations. I’ve always had a great time in Bangkok but never really got to know the city. So on this visit I was determined to do more exploring and tick off a tourist attraction or two, something which we have not done previously.
Bangkok can be quite an intense city with its crazy traffic, constant stream of people, and very hot temperatures. Whilst I love the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, we wanted to see a different side. After some research we chose Ari (also spelt Aree) in the north of the city and a couple of BTS Skytrain stops away from the famous Chatuchak Weekend Market (our actual accommodation was closer to Sanam Pao station which is just before Ari but Ari itself was only five to ten minutes walk). Ari is a lovely neighbourhood, with green leafy streets and few high rise buildings. It has cute coffeeshops, little boutiques, and great food options. It was perfect for us! We stayed in a serviced apartment, Bangkok Patio, which for $45 a night was great value. We were lucky to be upgraded and had a spacious two bedroom/two bathroom apartment with a basic kitchen. The apartment complex also had a small gym, a pool, and laundry facilities – a flashpacker’s dream!
Arriving in Bangkok very early on Sunday morning (on an overnight train from Ubon Ratchathani), we took the opportunity to visit the Chatuchak Market whilst waiting for our room to be ready. Being Asia’s largest market, it was huge! We only spent a couple of hours there but serious shoppers can spend a whole weekend. There was the usual market merchandise (we did see the elephant print trousers popular with backpackers) but amongst these were cool vintage shops and little boutiques. There was also plenty of yummy looking food to keep the serious shoppers going. Not surprisingly, the market gets very busy and also very hot so getting there for the 9am opening time is a good idea.
As much as we love Thai food, after a few months in South East Asia we were craving some Western food. I have been dreaming of salmon fillets (one of our staples back in London) for quite some time. So one of the first stops on our Bangkok itinerary had to be a supermarket. We chose the holy grail of supermarkets, Gourmet Market, in Siam. It was amazing (and resembled a big Wholefood store in the US) but quite overwhelming after not stepping foot in a proper supermarket for so long. It was also pretty expensive but we needed that salmon!
We spent most of our time in Ari just hanging out in Ari…eating, drinking and having dips in the pool. Ari has a lot of great food options, local eateries and streetfood with wonderful smells wafting by as you walk past. Sadly, it was impossible to try everything we wanted in four days. I have listed the places that we did try and liked at the bottom of this post.
On my mission to tick-off a couple of tourists attractions, we ventured out to the Grand Palace. Being on the other side of town it took us over an hour to get there (involving a BTS change and then a ferry from Taksin Station) and with a bit of a sleep-in we didn’t arrive at the Palace until after 10am. By that time it was already quite hot especially as we were in Palace/temples appropriate attire. The Palace was heaving with people (both tourists as well as locals who had come to pay their respects to the late King). However, the temples within the Palace complex were the grandest and the most beautiful we have seen during our time in South East Asia (although with an entry fee of 500 baht, around $15, also the most expensive). From the Palace we walked to the nearby Wat Pho which houses the giant reclining Buddha. Both Wat Pho and the Palace were definitely worth a visit but by about 1pm we were ready for some air-con and lunch! In hindsight, we really should have got to the Palace earlier.
Across the river from the Palace is Wat Arun to which you have to catch a short ferry in order to get the return ferry back to the Taksin BTS. Wat Arun is beautiful and on any other day I may have been tempted to go in but during our visit the temple was mostly covered in scaffolding (and we needed air-con and food!). Our bellies couldn’t wait until Ari and as we had to change BTS lines at Siam we decided to hop off and have lunch at one of the shopping mall food courts. We chose the Siam Central Food Court (also called Food Republic). Don’t let the term food court put you off, these shopping mall food courts are amazing! They are clean, air-conditioned and have many choices of local and international food (local food being the cheaper option). A good option for lunch when you are on the go!
Ari felt like home away from home and we were a little sad to leave but very excited for the arrival of Kim and Brendan. For the four us we rented an Airbnb in Asoke which is a more central area but also a lot busier (with Asoke being one of the the busiest BTS stations in Bangkok). However, turn off the main roads and you find yourself on lovely residential streets. For us it was great to be able to stay in two different areas and when in Asoke we took the opportunity to check out the nearby Thonglor and Ekkamai. Both hip areas with bars, restaurants and cafes.
Our days in Bangkok usually started with a swim and with Kim and Brendan it was no different. After a healthy breakfast of muesli with mango (the mangoes were AMAZING!) we would head up to our small but refreshing pool on the 29th floor. Post swim, it was coffee time. It is not hard to find great coffee in Bangkok, just head to Ekkamai or Thonglor.
You can’t come to Bangkok without having a massage. Mark has long ago introduced us to the Health Land Spa & Massage and I have been there a few times over the years. There are a few branches including one in Asoke and I booked massages for Kim, Brendan and me (Dale as always chose to sit it out – his loss!). Health Land is very popular so booking in advance is a good idea. The price for a two hour Thai massage was 550 baht (approximately $15-16). I love Thai massages, yes they can be a bit painful and the masseuse may enjoy inflicting pain on you (which mine did) but your body feels so great afterwards!
For our Friday night in Bangkok we headed to the Rot Fai Market on Ratchada Road (the closest MRT station is the Cultural Centre). The market, also referred to as the Train Market, is found in two locations in Bangkok and is only open in the evenings Thursday to Sunday (6pm to midnight). We went to the second branch which is more centrally located than the original and apparently smaller but still felt huge to us. When we arrived around 9pm the market was buzzing with locals in their 20s and 30s eating at one of the many food stalls or drinking beers or whiskey at one of the many bars. There was also music blaring all around us, with a few live bands playing at the bars. We chose some streetfood to takeaway and sat at one of the many open air bars, washing our food down with a bottle of local whiskey and soda. When in Thailand do as the Thais do! A fun place to spend a Friday/Saturday night with friends! The market also had clothes stalls (and even barbers) but we were too busy eating and drinking to check these out.
Our couple of days with Kim and Brendan came to an end very quickly. We spent our last evening sitting under the stars (and some pretty lights), eating delicious Thai food and drinking icy cold Singhas. Cheers to you Bangkok – until we meet again!
- Laliart Coffee – good coffee in a hipster style coffee shop (adjoins Tokyo Bikes).
- Paper Butter & the Burger – very tasty burgers and a small selection of craft beers. We tried the Chalawan Pale Ale by Full Moon Brew Works (a Phuket microbrewery). Lovely outdoor setting and a relaxed atmosphere .
- ‘Bar Aree’ – technically this bar has no name but has been nicknamed Bar Aree. Located across the road from Salt, it is a great place for a few drinks. We went on Monday night and the place was buzzy with the after work crowd. There was also live music.
- Summer Street – a seafood food truck serving fresh grilled seafood. Sitting at the bar we had our seafood cooked for us but most tables were grilling their own. They also have a small selection of craft beer. There was a great buzzy vibe with most customers being young locals.
- Shambala – tasty Thai food and a cool modern interior. We went there for lunch and the place was popular with the lunchtime work crowd.
- Vick‘s and Costume – cute boutiques.
- The Skytrain Jazz Bar – not actually in Ari but near Victory Monument, this is a cool little bar with indoor and outdoor seating and views of the BTS Skytrain. Daz wasn’t a huge fan and kept complaining that they didn’t play any jazz but I thought the place was cool. Good for a small group and if you can get a table outside.
- Ten Ten Hair & Nails Spa (near Phrom Phong BTS) – I randomly discovered this salon on a previous visit to Bangkok when we were staying nearby on Sukhumvit Road. The place was clean with friendly service and a peaceful atmosphere. I went back for a pedicure this time and it was great!
- Ceresia Coffee Roasters (on Soi Sukhumvit 33/1 around the corner from Ten Ten Hair & Nails Spa) – a perfect spot to wait for your partner whilst they are getting a treatment at Ten Ten. Good cofffee and yummy carrot cake.
- Terminal 21 (Asoke BTS) – a mall with some cute shops and local boutiques.
- Ink & Lion Cafe and Phil Coffee Company (Ekkamai) – when I started researching good coffee in Bangkok cafes in Ekkamai kept coming up. Unfortunately, the Ink & Lion Cafe was closed on the Friday (but looked cool from the outside) so we tried the nearby Phil Coffee Company instead and it was good. Thumbs up from the Aussie and Kiwi coffee snobs.
- The Commons (Thonglor) – cool space with artisanal cafes and restaurants. We loved the coffee at Roots, it was the best that we had in Bangkok.
- Kram Cafe & Thai Kitchen – lovely casual cafe/restaurant in a residential area not far from Phrom Phong BTS. Delicious Thai food, icy cold beer and outside sitting is a winning combination.
Of course, there are many more places to visit, eat at and drink at in Bangkok. We barely scratched the surface in a week!
Note: we got around everywhere by using the BTS Skytrain, MRT or walking. Public transport is very convenient in Bangkok, clean, air-conditioned and reasonably priced. Taxis are cheap also but with Bangkok traffic it can take ages.
NEXT: bring on Japan!