Many backpackers start their Southeast Asian adventures in Bangkok. With cheap flights from Europe and the States and easy access to Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, the capital of Thailand is a logical place to start your adventure. Most of these backpackers fly into the city and make a bee-line for one place: the infamous Khao San Road.
However, in our recent Readers Poll, the Khao San Road was voted the 9th worst place to visit in South East Asia.
Banging cheesy music, greasy low-quality street food, over-priced hotels, tuk-tuk drivers making a pursing ‘pop pop’ sound with their lips to invite travellers to ping pong shows, and hoards of drunken riotous backpackers on their first trip to the ‘East’… it’s easy to see why a night spent on this street could give you a bad impression of Bangkok, or even of Thailand as a whole!
So why do travellers still choose stay here?
The problem is, that many first-timers to the City of Angels just don’t know where else to stay! If you’re looking to discover a different side to Thailand than buckets of red bull and loud music, have a read about the following areas and be sure to schedule them into your Bangkok itinerary in place of Khao San. From hipster chic hoods to parts of the city that are more reminiscent of Thai village life than a cosmopolitan metropolis, here are a few of our favourite Bangkok neighbourhoods…
For a list of the best backpacker hostels in Bangkok, in each area, check out our Bangkok hostel guide!
The Best Bangkok Neighbourhoods to Stay…
Greater Banglamphu – A stone’s throw from Khao San
Want to be near the action of Khao San, but not so close so that you can smell backpacker sick? Although Khao San Road is Banglamphoo’s most famous strip, just a short walk away from this road and you’ll find a quieter and much more manageable scene. Turn right at the top of the Khao San Road near the police station, walk by Wat Chanasongkram on your left, turn left into Rambuttri Road… and breathe.
The roads here still house a good percentage of the farangs (foreigners) that pass through Bangkok, but you can walk around without being sold a bucket, henna tattoo or fish massage every 30 seconds! Don’t worry though, there are still plenty of bars and restaurants, cheap street food and massage places.
The road behind Rambuttri, is Phra Athit Road, which has become trendy with young Thais in recent years sharing beer towers with their pals. There are a few cheaper and quieter places to stay along this road too, far from the madding crowds of Khao San.
You’re also within walking distance of Phra Athit Pier, where you can catch a passenger ferry along the famous Chao Phraya River for 8 / 10 / 12 baht (depending on the distance) to many other areas of the city.
Where to stay in Banglamphu? Located in a small courtyard, I’ve stayed at the Rambuttri Village Inn a few times which offers decent rooms at a good price and has the added bonus rooftop pool.
Chinatown – Atmosphere & culture with great street food
Chinatown is a culturally interesting place to stay for backpackers to Bangkok. It’s also very close to Hua Lamphong Train Station, which is convenient for trains to Chiang Mai and other parts of the country. A stay in China Town will undoubtedly be blessed with an amazing selection of Thai and Chinese street food, which is very popular amongst tourists and Thai locals after sunset. Staying here, you’ll gain an insight into the culture of the Chinese-Thais whose ancestors (grandparents of today’s population) emigrated from Southern China during the 18oos and 1900s.
As well as Thai, you may here Cantonese, Hokkien, Teochew and Hakka languages spoken in this area, which is commonly known as Yaowarat. (The main road which runs through Chinatown is called Yaowarat Road, or ‘Road of the Dragons’ as it is nicknamed.) Temples, shopping and festivals, a stay here is never dull, be warned though, the area is very busy and traffic-clogged and pollution can be worse here than in other Bangkok neighbourhoods.
Where to stay in Chinatown? We love the quirky Bangkok Bed and Bike Hostel on Charoenkrung Road, which offers dorm beds, private rooms and excellent bike tours around the city.
Din Daeng / Huai Khwang – Authentic & bustling Thai neighbourhood
We recently stayed in the area of Din Daeng and loved every minute of it! Din Daeng is quite far out of the centre (which means that prices for hotels can be better value for money here), yet is served well by the MTR stops (metro), Sutthisan and Huai Khwang and it’s easy to get anywhere from here.
We enjoyed Huai Khwang Night Market which is great for late night street eats, with an amazing selection of seafood and exotic fruits. Apparently, there’s also a burgeoning nightlife scene with some of the city’s best DJs to be found in clubs along Royal City Avenue.
Where to stay? We stayed at the fabulous Siamaze Hostel, which offers dorms and huge private rooms, as well as free breakfasts and frequent free BBQs and cooking classes. (Now as if you’d get that on the Khao San Road!)
Siam – Things will be great when you’re downtown!
We’ve stayed in Siam a few times and enjoyed being in the heart of the action here. Despite what many people think, Khao San Road is not actually the centre of Bangkok (or the Universe) and Siam is the real downtown Bangkok. Here you’ll have access to tons of quirky shopping opportunities, huge malls like Siam Paragon and MBK, art galleries, cinemas, Thai and international restaurants and a bustling taste of life in the pulsing city.
Siam Square, in particular, is renowned for its independent Thai fashion labels with customized clothing, kitsch designs and cutesy accessories for sale to Thai fashionistas who browse the goods, pooch in handbag, whilst sipping a bubble tea. The area also has excellent transport access with the BTS (sky-train) to various parts of the city. (Unlike Khao San where you’ll have to get a tuk-tuk or taxi everywhere!).
Where to stay in Siam? Lub d Hostel is a popular social place, clean and modern with dorms and private rooms. We’ve stayed here a few times and always get a friendly welcome.[blockquote style=”3″]TIP: When getting in a taxi in Bangkok, always ask the taxi driver to use the meter. In Thai say: “Dit meter dai mai, ka / kaap? (for women / men).”[/blockquote]
Victory Monument – Buzzing city living.
I lived in Victory Monument for six months and so I’m a little biased about the area surrounding the eye-catching obelisk. (You may recognize this monument from images of the ‘Red Shirt Protests’ a few years ago – but the area is calm now, so don’t worry.)
Like everywhere else in the city, there are shopping malls galore, massage parlours, every kind of restaurant you could hope for, as well as cheap and tasty street food. There’s also a lovely park along Soi Rangnam with free exercise machines and a free and lively aerobics class at 6pm every evening! Victory Monument has excellent access to other parts of the city via the skytrain.
Where to stay in Victory Monument? As well as renting an apartment here, I stayed at HI Mid Bangkok Hostel, which offers good cheap rooms.
Thonglor – Wine bars and trendy co-working spaces
Welcome to Thonglor, east of Siam. You better grow that beard and don a pair of jeans that are too tight and too short for you – you’re now in the hipster part of town. Rooftop wine bars, art galleries, co-working spaces, chic coffee shops, expensive condos (some that are made to look like a street in England!), and seemingly hundreds of wedding shops line the streets around this wealthy area.
For a trendy drink, head to the wine and cocktail bar, The Iron Fairies on Soi Sukhumvit 55, or try the expat favourite Witch’s Tavern a bit further along for some comfort food and live music.
Where to stay in Thonglor? So where can a backpacker lay down his pack in this upper class part of town? Try [email protected], with prices starting from 500 THB. The area is served by Khlong Tan Metro stop.
Sukhumvit – The longest road in Bangkok
When people speak of Sukhumvit, they are referring to Sukhumvit Road, the longest and most famous road in Bangkok, lined with glitzy shopping malls (like Emporium), fancy high rise apartment buildings, posh hotels like the Sheraton and Hilton, office blocks, and every kind of restaurant and bar you can imagine, and some you can’t imagine!
The road attracts tourists, business people and expats alike, who can find all of their needs met on this traffic-clogged highway where the sky-train soars gracefully above. Along each of the soi’s (streets) that lead off Sukhumvit Road, you’ll find a different kind of atmosphere. Sukhumvit 10 is a good place for nightlife with the trendy clubs, BED and the rooftop bar, Nest.
Sukhumvit 4 is home to the infamous Nana Plaza, a three story building that’s believed to be the largest sex complex in the world! After Soi 4, head to Sukhumvit 12, where you’ll find Cabbages and Condoms, a restaurant dedicated to promoting a better understanding of family planning!
Where to stay? We haven’t personally stayed at the HI-Sukhumvit, but we’ve had friends stay there and have heard good reports.
Thonburi – Another world across the river…
On the western side of the Chao Phraya River, you’ll find Thailand’s former capital, Thonburi. Located at a slightly lower altitude than the eastern part of the city, it is believed that King Rama 5 moved the capital’s most important buildings to the eastern side to avoid constant flooding.
Today, on this side of the river, you’ll find a completely different atmosphere to the rest of Bangkok, a reminder of the times before high rise buildings and modernisation. Quiet khlongs (canals) wind their way to the Chao Phraya, children play in quiet tree-lined streets that lead to small twinkling temples.
On this side of the river, you’ll also find one of Bangkok’s most beautiful and iconic temples, Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn), best viewed at night time when it is lit up with an orange glow. Getting over to the other side of Bangkok is easy – it’s only 3.5 THB for a ferry journey across the river to the hustle and bustle of the modern city.
Where to stay? There are many places to stay on this quiet side, but one place which is unlike any other is Bangkok Tree House – a unique and eco-friendly riverside accommodation. (It’s not cheap though!) Amongst many other of its green policies, the hotel pledges to remove 1kg of trash from the Chao Phraya River for every booking made!
Ari – Welcome to Hipsterville
Located north of Victory Monument, Ari is a cool, upcoming hipster area of Bangkok with plenty of cool bars, trendy cafés, market stalls and boutique shops. Despite the upmarket feel to Ari, you can still find cheap street food stalls selling delicious Thai food for 30 baht.
All you have to do to find these treasures is get off the main road and get lost in the tree-lined back streets around Ari. Be sure to try the small (and super cheap) vegetarian stall located just off Soi Ari 1, as well as the Khao Soi place on Phahonyothin Road. Your BTS (sky train) stations here are Ari and Sanam Pao, which are just one and two stops away from Chatuchak, Bangkok’s biggest weekend market that’s well worth a visit!
Where to stay in Ari? We loved staying at The Yard Hostel on our last visit to Bangkok. A lovely hostel that’s made out of a recycled shipping container and an old Thai house with a pleasant garden to hang out in. Almost all of the travellers that we met at The Yard were return visitors to the hostel, coming back again and again whenever they passed through Bangkok. The reason for this, they told us, was the family-like atmosphere that’s been nurtured at The Yard!
With communal dinners, regular events and friendly staff on hand at all times to help you explore Bangkok, The Yard will be your home away from home while you’re in Thailand. Pop back whenever you’re in the city for a warm welcome and a nourishing experience!
Other Bangkok ‘hoods
There are other parts of the city that I have not mentioned in this guide, such as the upmarket business districts of Silom and Sathorn. There’s also Chatuchak, which you’ll have probably heard of because of the famous weekend market, and Lumphini, an area popular for its lovely park. Just because I haven’t mentioned a hood, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t stay there.
I have left such places out, simply because I am not as familiar with them as the Bangkok neighbourhoods above. I could have googled the information, but I wanted to keep this article authentic and more personal. If you’re a Bangkokian reading this, please don’t get offended that I haven’t mentioned your part of town. Instead, get active and tell us in the comments below which Bangkok neighbourhoods you think travellers should explore!
What’s your favourite Bangkok neighbourhood?
Header photo by Pamela MacNaughtan – Savoir Faire Abroad.