Bangkok. It’s like Marmite. Some love it, some hate it. Personally, I love it!
An exhilarating, fast-paced Asian city with enough buzz to knock your flip-flops off! Glamorous shopping malls, bustling markets, great restaurants, awesome bars and some fantastic street food… Bangkok is the perfect introduction to Thailand and a great starting point for your backpacking adventure in Southeast Asia!
After living in the city for 6 months, I got to know how the city works, I found some amazing tranquil areas where you wouldn’t even believe you were in Bangkok, and, I met some fantastic local people! There are so many different sides to this city, I discover something new every time I travel there.
Yes, Bangkok is noisy, crowded, and, I’ll admit it, a wee bit smelly… but it’s got bags of personality (plastic ones tied with elastic bands), a great sky train system, amazing street food, bustling markets, trendy bars, riverboat rides, ancient temples, wicked nightlife, oh… and an aeroplane graveyard!
So, instead of spending all of your time hanging out at the notorious backpacker ghetto, The Khao San Road, this insider’s guide will help you get out there and explore the city like a local! Like many travellers, Bangkok could become a hub that you pass through many times during your adventures in Southeast Asia -you may as well make the most of your time here!
Where to Stay in Bangkok?
The Khao San Road:
Where East Meets West, it’s the travel hub of South East Asia, if not the world. Love it or hate it, there’s no denying there’s a certain air of excitement on any given night in the Khao San Road. Once described by a Thai poet as the ‘shortest street with the longest dream in the world,’ it’s a place you’ll find many a backpacker about to set forth on or leave behind an exciting adventure.
Here you can drink vodka buckets, get a fake driving license, buy copy CDs, DVDs, get dreadlocks, have a fish massage, eat bugs, get a cheap pad thai and fulfil any other backpacker desire you may have! There’s a variety of accommodation from flea-pit ‘The Beach’ type digs to swanky hostels with swimming pools. Check out some of the best Khao San Road Hostels here.
Did you know? In our recent Readers Poll, the Khao San Road was voted the 9th worst place to visit in South East Asia!
The Greater Banglamphu Area:
Within walking distance of Khao San Road, there are lots of interesting side streets if you don’t fancy staying on the main drag. In these streets you’ll find much better value for money backpacker hostels, great street food, bars, restaurants and a much more local feel to the Khao San Road itself.
Rambuttri Road is a lively strip, with cafes, bars and chilled out restaurants and nearby Phra Atit Road is a trendy street popular with a Hipster Thai crowd. Walk straight out of your hotel, turn left and get a foot massage for 100 baht!
The Rest of the City!
Although many rookie backpackers think the Khao San Road is the centre of Bangkok, (some – even Thailand!) the city centre is actually located about a half hour taxi ride away. Downtown Silom, Sathorn, Victory Monument and Din Daeng are great areas to base yourself if you fancy exploring a more authentic side to the city.
There are some amazing hostels, which cater for a more mature crowd than your ‘Khao San Roaders’ and from here you are within walking distance of fancy shopping malls, great restaurants, bars and some wicked nightlife. You can find out more about the city’s different areas in our guide to Best Bangkok Neighbourhoods.
As one traveller told us… “My biggest mistake on my first trip to Bangkok was spending too much time in Khao San – a typical backpacker error! Although everyone should enjoy Khao San shenanigans for a night or two (I was there for New Year and had a blast), I’d recommend basing yourself in a different area of Bangkok. Although Khao San is within walking distance of the Grand Palace and a few other attractions, it’s very limited in terms of public transport, forcing you to get a taxi to explore other parts of the city – that means traffic jams! I stayed a hostel on Sukhumvit during my second visit and felt like I had a much more authentic Bangkok experience!” – Hope Warren.
7 Fabulous Hostels in Bangkok
If you’re looking for somewhere to stay in Bangkok, you need to read our phenomenal guide to the Best Hostels in Bangkok! If you’re short on time, here are a few of the top picks from the list…
1. Nap Park Hostel – Near Khao San Road
Award-winning hostel, beautifully designed and a wonderful place to stay for budget-minded travellers who prefer a little bit of luxury! Near Khao San Road, you’re also close to the Grand Palace, Wat Arun and Wat Po. A retro-style Thai house, charming and cosy stay.
2. Mad Monkey Hostel – Near Khao San Road
The ever-popular chain of party hostels recently opened a branch in Bangkok just a ten minute walk from Khao San Road. Expect fun, frolics and hangovers! This hostel has a swimming pool and a hostel bar.
3. Rambuttri Village Plaza – Near Khao San Road
Two minutes from the famous, backpacker hub, the Khao San Road, located on the (slightly) quieter Soi Rambuttri, this hotel offers a really good deal for backpackers or flashpackers! Very decent rooms starting at 600 baht (for two people) and the bonus of this place is the rooftop pool where you can relax away from the bustle of the streets below.
4. HI Sukhumvit Hostel – Sukhumvit Road
A popular choice, YHA affiliated, is located on Sukhumvit Soi 38, walking distance to Bangkok’s trendy area Thonglor, famous for its street food, quirky bars and nightclubs, just 2 minutes from the BTS stop. Dorm rooms start at 350 baht, with single rooms too.
5. Bed Station Hostel – Phaya Thai
Bed Station is a quirky, arty and friendly hostel located in the heart of Bangkok. It’s a chic, boutique and arty place with huge bathrooms, comfortable dorm rooms and free tea and coffee! Read our review.
6. Siamaze Hostel – Din Daeng
Clean, spacious and well-designed hostel located in the authentic Thai neighbourhood of Din Daeng, with delicious street food and a buzzing night-scene around Huai Khwang Night Market. The fun and free social events and fantastic facilities will leave you wanting for nothing at this hostel that clearly understands the needs of travellers. We loved this place! Read the full review here.
7. Lub d Hostel (Siam Square and Silom)
One of our favourites! (Read our review here.) You can’t go wrong with a night (or seven) in this Bangkok hostel, voted recently the cleanest hostel by Hostel Bookers! Social activities every night, great common area, comfy beds and power showers. Highly recommended. Lub d Hostel has two branches in Bangkok, one in Siam Square and Silom.
- Silom: Located on a quiet side street of Silom in an unassuming building containing bright colours and industrial design, housing 98 beds in over 36 rooms! There’s also a fantastic little restaurant opposite the front door.
- Siam Square: Located on the doorstep of shopper’s heaven, with MBK, Central World and Siam Centre within walking distance.
24 Things To Do in Bangkok!
1. Visit the Grand Palace:
The sparkling palace should be included on any good Bangkok itinerary and the dazzling Wat Phra Kaew houses the precious 14th Century Emerald Buddha. At 250 baht for entry, it’s quite steep but worth it. Make sure you cover up when you visit or you might not be allowed in.
2. Wander the back streets of Chinatown:
Wander down the little back streets, browse the Chinese medicines and herbs, sample some unusual street food and visit an incense-filled Temple to get your fortune read! Read more about Chinatown here.
3. Join A Bar Crawl
Bangkok’s nightlife is absolutely legendary! It would be wrong to visit the city and not take part in any of the antics! A Bangkok Bar Crawl is a great way to make friends and make sure you’re not alone in your first few days in the city. Particularly recommended for solo travellers.
4. See the Reclining Buddha:
46 metres long and 15 metres high, the enormous Buddha lies in the oldest and largest Wat in Bangkok, Wat Pho, in the same grounds as the Palace. The Buddha was designed to illustrate the passing of Buddha into Nirvana. 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).
5. See a Muay Thai Boxing Fight
A visit to the famous Rachadamnern Stadium to watch a Muay Thai Boxing Match is a must-do Bangkok experience. Even if you’re not into boxing it’s a great atmosphere and can get a little heated if you’re sat with the locals who are placing bets on fighters! Tickets set you back 1,000 baht and you’ll see about 10 fights. If you fancy getting a bit (a lot) closer to the action, why not try…
6. Receive Training From A Muay Thai World Champion
We’re very proud to have teamed up with three-time Muay Thai World Champion, Attachai Fairtex to offer our readers the chance to train with him at his gym in Bangkok.
The gym itself seems like a slice of countryside in the city, complete with a sizeable fishing pond. The training is first-rate, who would expect less from “the left hand of God”? Check out this video of a girl (not part of our team) training with him!
7. Visit Bangkok’s 24-hour Flower Market:
Rush hour at this unique Bangkok market is midnight! A delight for the nostrils, Bangkok Flower Market is a cultural phenomenon as you observe florists making garlands for temples, weddings and other religious events throughout the night!
8. Take a boat trip on the Chao Phraya River:
Taking a boat trip is a great way to get around and try to catch a bit of a breeze in this sweltering capital. From twinkly temples to scruffy shacks to river-side markets you’ll get to see the diversity of Bangkok without the footwork. It costs less than $3 US for an open ticket and you can hop on and off as many times as you like. You’re also given a free pamphlet explaining each stop and the landmarks.
9. Outdoor Aerobics in the Park
A great work out free! Blend in with the fitness fanatic locals around sunset (6pm-7pm) as many local parks pumps with dance music and bouncing bodies. If you’re looking for a big
10. Take a Meditation Course:
Get some spiritual enlightenment in the city with a one-day Buddhist meditation course. Visit Wat Mahathat for information.
11. Take a Thai Massage Course:
Wat Pho is home to the most famous massage school in Thailand, where you can take a short Thai massage course to learn this ancient art of healing. Wat Pho is also a beautiful temple to visit after dark when crowds are less and the temple is lit up in the night sky!
12. Visit Wat Arun:
Located in Thonburi, on the quieter side of the Chao Phraya River, the beautiful Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn) is an iconic landmark of Bangkok and is a must-visit!
13. Take a Bicycle Tour:
14. Cycle along the canals:
Despite the traffic of Bangkok, cycling is a great way to get around the city. You can hire a bicycle for around 100 baht/day and discover a quieter side to the city, sticking to the awesome canal network that once gave the city the name ‘Venice of the East’.
15. Shop at Chatuchak Market:
With over 15,000 stalls selling everything from retro cowboy boots to puppies, you’ll spend hours wandering around one of the world’s biggest markets!
16. Visit the Aeroplane Graveyard:
Are you interested in Urban Exploration? Did you know that there’s a graveyard for abandoned aeroplanes near Ramkamhaeng Station in Bangkok? It’ll cost you a few hundred baht to bribe the kid who lives there in order to get in, but it’s worth it for some surreal photos!
17. Or… The Train Graveyard
This one gets you more quirky points than the aeroplane graveyard. A little-known treasure, hidden in the middle of a building site. Read our article about our adventurous day at Bangkok’s Train Graveyard here.
18. Go to Ping Pong Show:
As you walk down the Khao San Road, several tuk tuk drivers will make a popping sound with their mouths. They are trying to tempt you to visit the Ping Pong shows of the notorious nightlife district, Pat Pong. We don’t recommend it!
19. The Sky Bar (Vertigo):
Dig out your least creased clothes and mix with international business folk at this awesome bar. Rock up in your flips and they’ll give you a fetching pair of men’s loafers to wear and a pair of slacks or skirt for ladies. No matter how silly you look, it’s worth it for incredible views of the city, even if at 240 Baht you can only afford 1 beer! (Banyan Tree Hotel, 21/100 Th Sathon Thai).
20. Pamper Yourself
Have a foot massage, full body oil massage and get a manicure and pedicure while you’re at it. You won’t find many cities in the world that offer beauty and spa treatments at such amazing prices!
21. Take a Food Tour
Bangkok is renowned all over the world for its amazing street food. Tuck in on every street corner or take a street food tour to introduce you to the best of this unique cuisine! We recommend this Bangkok street food tour by A Chef’s Tour.
22. Cycle Bangkok’s “Green Lung”
Why not take a trip out to explore the “Green Lung” of Bangkok, known as ‘Prapadaeng’ in Thai. You need to get over to the pier at Wat Klong Toey and there you can hire a bicycle and go cycling along the tiny pathways and canals. It’s a great way to escape the traffic of the city and see some green, and it’s not far at all – you can get there by MRT and ferry from anywhere in the city.
23. Visit Bangkok Forensic Museum
One of the most bizarre places in Bangkok; you’ll see the remains of a Chinese cannibal, Siamese twins in a glass jar and other horrors. Not for the faint-hearted amongst you!
24. Visit a Floating Market
The floating markets in Thailand provoke a wide range of opinions from travellers. Some of them immediately scream tourist trap, whereas for others, the draw of buying their lunch from a lady on a boat is too hard to resist. For a more authentic experience, avoid Damnoen Saduak and instead head to Taling Chan floating market. It’s rated more highly by travellers and is also frequented by locals.
Getting to Bangkok
For many travellers, Bangkok is the starting point for their backpacking adventure in Southeast Asia! International flights land at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport and from here it’s around a 30-minute taxi drive to the city centre, costing approximately 400 baht.
Airport buses also depart every hour from taking you into the city centre, where you can catch the wonderful Bangkok ‘Sky Train,’ (The BTS) the Underground (MRT) or take a ride with one of the millions of tuk-tuks, taxi’s or motorbike taxi’s straight to your hotel.
The Airport link is now open in Bangkok, which takes you directly from Suvarnabhumi Airport to the centre of Bangkok in 15 minutes.
Where to go next
Ayutthaya: (An hour and a half bus journey from Bangkok) – Explore old Buddhist temples in this ancient city which became the second capital of Thailand after Sukhothai, founded in 1350. Ride a bicycle around the ruins and see the famous Buddha head submerged between the roots of a tree.
Koh Chang: (A five hour trip from Bangkok, including bus and ferry) – This beautiful natural island is the perfect beach getaway and it’s only 5 hours from Bangkok. Beaches, national parks, waterfalls, diving and a great ‘backpacker vibe’ this is the place to relax after a few hectic days and hardcore nights in the city.
Koh Samet: (A two-hour journey from Bangkok including bus and ferry) – More of a ‘flashpacker’ getaway, this tiny island is a favourite amongst ‘weekenders’ from Bangkok, meaning prices can be higher than other islands and hard to find a room Friday and Saturday. With white sands, turquoise waters and some amazing seafood restaurants it’s Bangkok’s tropical island paradise just two hours away!
Kanchanaburi: (A two-hour bus ride from Bangkok. Minibuses depart daily from the Khao San Road, Victory Monument.) The town that is famous for the River Kwai Bridge is just a two-hour bus ride from Bangkok. With lovely mountainous countryside all around, there’s biking, trekking, visits to waterfalls and rafting adventures to be had.