With a population of over 10 million, Bangkok is Thailand’s political capital, largest city, and center for commerce, design and banking. With a name that translates as the City of Angels and an urban sprawl that has no intention of ever slowing down, its no wonder Bangkok is called the Los Angeles of Southeast Asia.
This steamy, polluted city is sliced in two by the coffee colored Chao Phraya River, and first time visitors may be dizzied by Bangkok’s lack of a true center, epic traffic jams, sweltering heat and frantic pace. Once crisscrossed by narrow canals, most waterways in Bangkok have been filled in as the city was transformed by rapid urban development in the 1970’s.
What would eventually become one of the world’s great cities began as a small trading outpost whose fate was forever changed when King Taksin declared the city as the capital of Siam in 1768.
Bangkok is a quirky city of glittering Buddhist Wats standing next to the world’s most decadent hotels and though Bangkok these days is taking on more and more of an appearance of a bog standard metropolis, its unique Thai-ness is always in evidence, particularly in the early mornings when solemn monks walk silently through the deserted streets begging for alms.
By breaking the city down into manageable bites, Bangkok reveals itself to be a huge village with peaceful neighborhoods side by side with office towers that would not be out of place in Tokyo or New York.
Bangkok is best explored using a mixture of river and street transport, snacking along the way from the street stalls and vendors that can be found around every corner. It is at one a serious and fun city, with business suited bankers rushing off to important meetings mere feet away from teenyboppers snapping up the latest Japanese fashions in outdoor malls.
Bankokians are a mix of Thais from across their kingdom and are always eager to give directions to a local’s only restaurant, a hidden market or shop that reflects the quirky nature of Southeast Asia’s most fascinating cities.
Bangkok is known as the gateway to Asia and has a massive transportation hub. The Bangkok airport serves cheap flights throughout Asia and domestically. Be sure to compare prices for train, bus, boat and airplane when traveling to destinations such as Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Ayutthaya, Koh Phangan, Koh Samui, Koh Tao, Phuket, Aranyaprathet, Buriram, Chiang Khong, and Koh Lanta.
Getting Around Bangkok
Bangkok is not known as an easy place to walk around - luckily there are plenty of cabs and Tuk Tuk’s available day and night. The city’s convenient and air conditioned subway and elevated Skytrain system connect the central districts of Siam Square and Silom road with the rest of the city. The Chao Phraya River Express plies the Chao Phraya river 24 hours a day and connects the southern districts with the Grand Palace (see below).
Wat Arun, Wat Pho, Wat Phra Kaew
Hundreds of Buddhist temples (known as Wats) dot Bangkok and offer a quiet refuge from the city’s intense heat and street noise. Three of the most impressive include Wat Arun, which sits riverside on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, the Wat Pho, otherwise known as the Marble Temple, and the Wat Phra Kaew, or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, located within the sprawling Grand Palace complex. All are open to the public daily though usually close at sunset.
The Grand Palace Bangkok
Bangkok is home to Thailand’s royal family, and a visit to their former home, the Grand Palace, is high atop most visitors’ lists. Be warned of the Grand Palace’s strict dress code: just like Italian churches, wearing shorts, low cut blouses and flip flops will result in denied access, though baggy clothes can be rented at the entrance to obey the rules.
Bangkok Art & Culture Centre (BACC)
The Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) is a new mid-town facility for the contemporary arts. Programmes for art, music, theatre, film, design, and cultural/educational events take place in a friendly and recreational atmosphere - with cafe, restaurants, bookshops, and an art library being part of the facility. The BACC aims to create a meeting place for artists, to provide cultural programmes for the community giving importance to cultural continuity from past to contemporary. It aims to open new grounds for cultural dialogue, networking, and create new cultural resources from both the public and the private sectors.
The building is located at the heart of Bangkok at the intersection of MBK, Siam Discovery, Siam Square, and Siam Paragon. It's convenient accessible by BTS Skytrain at the National Stadium Station, or MBK. Free admission, 10am - 9pm, close on Monday.
Chatujak Weekend Market
Markets are a big draw for visitors, and the Chatujak Weekend market (served by the Skytrain) is a must for serious shoppers seeking bargains on clothing, shoes, handicrafts and antiques. The market is crowded with food vendors who sell chilled fruit juice, deep fried snacks served on sticks along with spicy soup and noodle dishes from all over the country. The adventurous can try the fried insects served to customers native to Thailand’s northeast.
There is virtually every kind of nightlife available in Bangkok, from corner bars to clubs drawing international DJ’s. City authorities enforce strict closing times for most venues, and don’t be surprised id the last call is give shortly after
Vertigo, an open air bar set on the 66th floor of the Banyan Tree building has sweeping views of Bangkok and the Chao Phraya River.
Bed Supper Club – Small, trendy, loud. Drawing DJ’s from around the world. Located at 26 Soi Sukhumvit 11. Tel (02) 651-3537
Muse – Hip, upscale nightclub with tight door policy. Located at 159/8 Soi Thong Lor 10, Tel: +66 (0) 2-715-0998
Q Bar – Cool bar/club in Sukhumvit. Located at 34 Sukhumvit Soi 11. Tel (2)252-3274.
The Bamboo Bar in the Oriental Hotel - is at the other end of the spectrum with a quiet throw back to the colonial days of old Siam.
Sukhumvit Road and Silom Boulevard - are good places for a pub crawl as many expat watering holes are located here.
Khao San Road - the backpacker center of Bangkok, has numerous bars open along the five-block stretch of hotels.
Bangkok is known for its seedy nightlife and prostitution. Bangkok’s red light districts are located in Patpong, Nana Plaza and Soi Coyboy
There is no shortage of restaurant and places to eat in Bangkok, but to point you in the right direction here are some of Bangkok top restaurants. The Price Meal in Bangkok ranges anywhere from $1 to several hundred dollars, it just depends on where and what you want to eat. Bangkok food is generally exceptionally spicy, but often the restaurants will tone it down when they see you are a foreigner. So if you like it hot, be sure to let the waiter know.
Lemongrass Restaurant Bangkok – Excellent traditional Thai food. Located in Sukhumvit Soi 24. tel: 02 258-8637
Sirocco Bangkok – Located on the 63rd floor of the Dome at lebua, 1055 Silom Road, this is a hot table with hot views of the city. Tel. (+66) 2624-9555
Bouchon Bangkok – Upscale French dining in Bangkok. Thanon Phat Pong 2. tel 02-2349109
Panorama – located on the 23rd floor of the Crown Plaza, offering up some of the best views of the city. 952 Rama IV. Tel: +66 2632 9000. web: http://www.panoramabangkok.com/
Honmono Grand Japanese Restaurant – Excellent Japanese restaurant. 66 Soi Pipat, Sathorn Nua Road, Silom, Bangrak, Bangkok tel. 02 632 1777
Frienz Japanese Restaurant - Located on busy Asoke Road at street level in Serm-Mit Tower, Unit SG8-10151/5 Sukhumvit 21, Sukhumvit Road, Klongtoey Nua, Wattana, Bangkok. Tel. 02 260 9965
Spanish on 4 – Tapas bar on 1/25 Sukhumvit Soi 11. Festive atmosphere (think Spanish holiday). Tel 02 651 2947. web: http://www.tapasiarestaurants.com/
Rossini's Restaurant – Upscale dining worth the hight price tag. Located in Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit, 250 Sukhumvit Road. Tel 02 649 8888. Web: http://www.sheratongrandesukhumvit.com/
Aldo's Mediterranean Restaurant – Fun enviornemnet and good food. Located on Sathorn Road at the Ascott building. Tel (02) 676-6982. web: http://www.aldosbistro.com/
Zeist Restaurant – Beautiful restaurant with outside and inside seating. Located on Pridi Banomyong 31. Tel 02-2399946
Bourbon St. Restaurant & Oyster Bar – Large restaurant serving up Cajun Creole Cuisine29/4-6 Sukhumvit Soi 22. Tel: +66-2 259-0328/9. web: http://www.bourbonstbkk.com/
Los Cabos Mexican Grill – Playful atmosphere serving up Mexican and Californian cuisine. Don’t forget to have one of their famous Margaritas. Located at 1 Sukhumvit Soi 14 (BTS Asok). Tel: 02 653 3900. web: http://www.loscabosbangkok.com/
Giusto Italian Restaurant – Fine Italian dining in Sukhumvit. Located on 16 Soi Sukhumvit 23. Tel. +66 (0) 2258 4321. web. http://www.giustobangkok.com/
Gianni Italian Restaurant – One of the first Italian restaurants in Bangkok. 34/1 Soi Tonson, Ploenchit Road, Lumpin. Tel 02-252 1619. web: http://giannibkk.com/
Artur restaurant – Premium steakhouse and martini bar. Located at 9 Soi Tonson, Ploenchit Road, Lumpini, Bangkok. Tel: 02-658-6288
Le Cafe Siam – French cuisine located on Rama IV. 4 Soi Sri Aksorn, Chua Ploeng Road Sathorn, Bangkok. Tel: 02 671 0030. email: email@example.com Web: http://lecafesiam.com/
Duilio's Italian Restaurant – Italian dining in Sukhmvit. 17 Sukhumvit 49. Tel: 02-2587930
The Orient – Thai and Oriental cuisine. 27 Sukhumvit 49. Tel: 02-2587908
Zaab – fun atmosphere, spicy Thai food and affordable. Located at 2/F at Arena 10 in Thong Lor 10, Sukhumvit 55. tel: 02-3922317
http://www.thai-faq.com/ - great site for quickly learning the basics of Bangkok as well as some of the finer details.