the big guide to Bangkok: where to stay, where to eat, and what to do in Thailand's capital

After years of bouncing around Bangkok on self-guided visits, long layovers, and group tours…I’ve finally put together a comprehensive guide I’m proud of. While it’s no secret every trip to Bangkok has been riddled with bad luck for me, looking back at these photos also made me realize…I’ve had so many fun memories in the capital city. It might have suffered the fate of the tourist boom {i.e. a Starbucks, H&M, and McDonald’s on every corner}, but it’s also got lots to see and do, great food, friendly locals, and alluring temples.


Ready to see what Bangkok has to offer? Keep reading!


This post mixes recent and ancient photos from all my trips to Thailand. Sorting through my hard-drive to re-vamp old posts gave me EMOTIONS! Enjoy the photos, old and not old {complete with captions you’ll want to peep}. And please never let get a hair wrap again, kthanks.


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A bit about thailand + its capital

Thailand is a country with nearly 70 million people, 8.5. of whom live in Bangkok, its capital city. The tropical Southeast Asian country is bordered by Cambodia {which I still haven’t written about years later…} and Malaysia to the South, Laos to the East, and Myanmar {formerly Burma} up North.

The currency in Thailand is the Thai Baht ฿, which {at time of publishing} is equivalent to USD $0.30. While most major credit cards work here, I always opt for cash when traveling in Asia. I just find it easier.

It’s also a major Asian flight hub, meaning it’s easy and affordable to get in and out of. Air Asia, Bangkok Airways, and Lao Airlines are just a few of the many airlines that can get you to Bangkok!

Bangkok can be split into two sections: old and new. Modern rooftop bars and ancient adorned temples— Bangkok really does have a new age, old world identity crisis of sorts on its hands.

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GETTING AROUND

I always find navigating a new city to be the hardest/most stressful/least fun part of arriving in a new destination. I’d like to teleport to the spots on my researched itinerary, or magically stumble upon them as I walk all over. Unfortunately, most of the time, it doesn’t work out like that. Planning is required alongside trains, buses, and the occasional Grab.

In Bangkok, like most everywhere else I’ve been in Asia, I’ve found the Grab app to be essential. It’s cuts transportation time and it’s straightforward layout makes using the app almost too easy. In places like Vietnam, Malaysia, and Thailand, Grab really is a simple choice if you have a working SIM card or are within WiFi connection.

The other option is local transport. The Thai capital has both buses and trains, making it fairly simply to get in the general area you want to be in. The train system in Bangkok is one of the more expensive public train systems in Asia, but it’s still highly affordable. You can purchase an unlimited day pass to ride the Bangkok Mass Transit System {BTS for short} for 140 baht (£3.26). Single trip tickets are also available for purchase.

HERE’S GREAT INFO ABOUT THE BANGKOK TRAIN SYSTEM BY CULTURE TRIP + LIVING NOMADS.

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WHERE TO STAY

I tend to stay in hostels in Bangkok. Usually, this is because the price point is unbeatable for what you get. There are so many beautiful hotels and resorts around the city. I stayed in quite a few 3-star hotels on my first trip to Thailand in 2013, but I’ve found with experience that there are hostels offering private rooms with en suite bathrooms in Bangkok that are almost exactly the same standard for fewer of my hard-earned dollars.

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FOR THOSE WHO WANT TO BE AMONGST IT: ONCE AGAIN HOSTEL

Once Again Hostel was located in the heart of everything most backpackers are looking for— affordable food, beautiful temples, and infamous Khao San Road {though I can’t, since I haven’t, and don’t endorse partying on the notorious street, since its reputation is horrific}.

Once Again Hostel has a stunning, modern design with clean facilities and the option for female-only dorms, which can be appealing to some solo travelers. The industrial light fixtures and friendly staff were the initial details that stuck out in my mind. You’ll need to pay a 100 deposit for your room key and will be escorted by a member of the staff to show you all the amenities and go briefly over the rules of the hostel.

NOTE: Once Again Hostel only accepts cash for room payment and deposit, so bring your baht {Thai currency}!


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FOR THOSE KEEN ON quiet, local vibes: YAKS HOSTEL

Yaks Hostel is brand new on the Bangkok scene, but they know exactly what they’re doing. When traveling to Laos with Luke in September, we spent two nights at Yaks and thoroughly enjoyed our stay. We were a very speedy ferry ride away from Wat Arun, which we could see the top of from the hostel. There is also a local fish and flower market nearby that is more off-the-beaten-path.

While Yaks is further out of the city center {read: across the river from the main temples and goings on}, I quite enjoyed having to grab a boat to get to my hostel and I appreciated the local feel of the neighborhood. As far as hostels go, Yaks seemed like a major upgrade. I’d almost dare to say it was on the same level as some hotels. Our private room was spotless, large, and air-conditioned— all winners in my book. There aren’t any en suite rooms, so all bathroom facilities are shared, but I found them to have everything I needed {outlets, hairdryer, hooks in the showers}. The staff at Yaks are eager for feedback and suggestions!

NOTE: Yaks Hostel requires a 300 baht {roughly USD $10} deposit in case of room damages in cash upon check-in.

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WHAT TO DO

Tour the temples of the city

Bangkok is home to some seriously dazzling temples! A visit of temples in Thailand offers visitors the chance for photo ops, cultural enrichment, and historical background. If you have only a limited amount of time in Bangkok, I’d put temple touring near-if-not-at the top of your list of things to do.

You do NOT need to pay for a tour of the temples of Bangkok, though there are options for you if you want a little more guidance. Should you brave it on your own, which I highly recommend, you can read my post outlining Bangkok’s best temples, what to expect at each one, where to find them {yes, Google Maps especially for you}, and you can watch the highlights from my most recent trip here.

You can find all the details on bangkok temples here.

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Hit up the giant swing {Wat Suthat}

Let’s just be real honest for a second, okay? If you’re looking to take a big old swing on the middle of a roundabout in busy Bangkok…then you’re probably like me and didn’t fully do your research. Truthfully, I didn’t do any research at all. Luke knew where I was staying {Once Again Hostel} and, in an attempt to do something new and different in the Thai capital, I moseyed around the corner to give it a go. To my surprise, I found out the giant swing no longer features a swing to swing on, nor can you witness the swing ceremony that once took place here…which is the perfect example of why you gotta do your research before you go places, aye? Even when they are suggested to you by others. Regardless, the Giant Swing is still pretty cool to see for yourself thanks to its overwhelming size.

FROM NOVEMBER 2018: LESS PHYSICAL WEIGHT, MORE TRAVEL KNOWLEDGE, AND A WHOLE LOTTA EXPERIENCE LATER…

FROM NOVEMBER 2018: LESS PHYSICAL WEIGHT, MORE TRAVEL KNOWLEDGE, AND A WHOLE LOTTA EXPERIENCE LATER…

SHOP ‘TIL YOU DROP

Okay, another note in the name of full-disclosure: I don’t tend to shop when I travel. It adds weight to my luggage, I already have plenty of clothes, and most of what Bangkok offers is fast-fashion garbage or high-end Furla bags I’ve never wanted to splurge on. However, if you have cash burning a hole in your pocket, Bangkok will happily take it off your hands. Night markets, souvenir shops, art and photo galleries, Forever21, and Gucci…you’ll find whatever you’re looking for in Bangkok.

FLOAT THROUGH THE Damnoen Saduak Floating Market

Okay, is it cheating if it’s technically not IN Bangkok? No. Cool. Then, we’re rolling. The Damneon Saduak Floating Market was one my first glances at Asia on my very first trip to the continent and it left an impression. That could possibly be because amongst the long wooden boats and flowers for sale I saw a dead boa constrictor longer than a dining room table floating in the water, but I digress. You can book tours of the market or simple grab transport to the boat docks and sort yourself out from there. Most hostels and hotels have day trip options available at the front desk. This is NOT your average market, so hit it up!

THAT SAMSUNG PHONE PIC THOUGH

THAT SAMSUNG PHONE PIC THOUGH

CATCH A BOXING MATCH

While some people question the ethics of boxing {i.e. is it ethical to pay to watch people “fight}, Thai boxing is an incredible athletic feat to witness. The speed, endurance, and stamina of each boxer leaves you feeling like an absolute sloth, no matter how fit you are. The first {and only} Thai boxing match I ever saw was so quick-paced and I think I let out an audible gasp with every kick the boxers took. Maybe not typically my kind of thing, but definitely an art form in its own right.

GRAB A TUK-TUK or water ferry

I always think that various modes of transportation around a destination provide entirely different views of the place. A tuk-tuk can be a bit pricey in Bangkok, but it’s a fun way to scoot around the place. The water taxis and ferries that exist along Bangkok’s waterways might leave you with an anecdote or two. Once, I boarded a ferry crossing from one bank to the other filled with kids on a school trip and was the guest star in quite a few selfies.

LOOK AT BABY TARA BACK IN 2013!!!! OHHHH HOW NAIVE!

LOOK AT BABY TARA BACK IN 2013!!!! OHHHH HOW NAIVE!

THIS QUEEN IN HER BIG EARRINGS FEEDING FISH CARELESSLY ON THE WATERWAYS OF BANGKOK IN 2013

THIS QUEEN IN HER BIG EARRINGS FEEDING FISH CARELESSLY ON THE WATERWAYS OF BANGKOK IN 2013

CATCH A CULTURAL SHOW

Traditional Thai Theatre is mesmerizing. Each flick of the wrist is purposeful and each step of the foot is mapped out in intricate detail to tell a story. The show I attended was a dinner theatre production, meaning we had a traditional Thai meal to go with the show. Dinner and a show?! Yes, please.

2013 TOUR OF THAILAND

2013 TOUR OF THAILAND

TAKE A DAY TRIP TO Ayutthaya

Out of all the places I’ve visited in and around Bangkok, Ayutthaya was tied for favourite with the floating flower market. Seeing ancient structures always blows my mind, but what really amazed me was how nature had grown around the sacred Buddha head without entrapping it.

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WORK IT HUNNY, SMILE AND SQUINT AND SMOLDER AT THAT CAMERA

WORK IT HUNNY, SMILE AND SQUINT AND SMOLDER AT THAT CAMERA

TRY FRIED INSECTS AT A NIGHT MARKET

My friend, Sam, is a tour guide in Bangkok and he says that fried crickets and grasshoppers were his treat of choice as a child. There are multiple markets around the city selling fried critter delicacies, the most popular among tourists is Khao San Road. I myself went to a market off a side road, which I can’t remember the name of. What I can remember is that I had grasshopper and the crunchy texture did my head in more than the actual taste. You can find more information on eating insects in Bangkok here.

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JUMP ON A TRAIN

If you’re truly sick of the city, jump on an overnight train and head somewhere else. Don’t confine yourself to the capital city— Thailand has so much going on!

BABY FACES ON THEIR FIRST OVERNIGHT TRAIN TO CHAING MAI. I HAVE A PLETHORA OF PICTURES WITH MYSELF SMILING LIKE THIS…

BABY FACES ON THEIR FIRST OVERNIGHT TRAIN TO CHAING MAI. I HAVE A PLETHORA OF PICTURES WITH MYSELF SMILING LIKE THIS…

 

WHERE TO EAT + WHAT TO TRY

Tasting the local cuisine is always among my favourite things to do. And “cafe finder and brunch connoisseur” is already on my official CV. So, you can bet when I make it to a city like Bangkok, I’m looking for fun, off-the-wall eateries with quirky themes, hidden cafes, and flavourful street food. Here are among my top recommendations for food in Bangkok!

Broccoli Revolution

Broccoli Revolution is a trendy, plant-based eatery with a diverse menu that grabs inspiration from cuisines around the world {which I found via Hong Kong to Hanoi}. It’s a bit on the pricey side, but portions are heaping and there is no place better in the city for a cold-pressed juice {with celery straw} and a quinoa bowl, if that’s what you’re after. BR’s soundtrack also get a big “thumbs up” from me, since I’m all about an atmosphere.

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Cabbages and Condoms

On my inaugural trip to Thailand, a group of girlfriends and I trekked down a back road to Cabbages and Condoms, a restaurant with a very quirky theme with a mission to bring sexual education to rural Thailand. It’s a concept restaurant working to promote healthy family planning. It might not be family friendly…but maybe it should be? Statues built of condoms, dental dams instead of after-dinner mints, and a wheel of sexual positions with the corresponding protection? I’m a fan of the cause. Not to be overshadowed, the food at C+ C holds its own. The vegetarian green curry with a side of rice will fill you up, I promise.

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Ethos Vegetarian and Vegan Restaurant

My stay at Once Again Hostel put me in close proximity to a vegan and vegetarian eatery that I wasted no time walking to. Ethos is located down a backroad near Khao San Road. Without Google Maps, I would have never found the place {see photo above}, but it was worth the many twists and turns to get there. Shoes off, candles lit, and falafel with tahini and hummus that will rock your world, what’s not to love?

Straws. That’s what.

Despite the plant-based menu and the philosophy that what we put into our body is important…my drink came to my table with an orange plastic straw sticking straight out of it. Admittedly, I didn’t ask for a drink sans straw, but I didn’t think it was necessary given the ethos of Ethos. Thumbs up for food, thumbs down for plastic usage.

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FILL IN THE BLANK CAFE

Into decadent dessert coffees? Look no further than Fill In The Blank. This place came to us in a quick Google search of nearby cafes post-Broccoli Revolution dinner, when your girl was in dire need of caffeine. Needing some espresso with a side of diabetes, I ordered the signature drink; a latte topped with vanilla whipped cream, brownie bits, caramel sauce, and served with water {I wonder why…}. Needless to say, I left with a sweet tooth fully satisfied and a mouthful of cavities {this is unconfirmed, but suspected}. The little cafe is hidden away but worth the treasure hunt for a sweet escape {get it?!} from the noisy city.

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BULLY’S PUb

This is gonna get a lot of flack from people, I can feel it now. Foodies are uniting against this paragraph of this post in an uproar. But I went to Bully’s Pub with my friend, Sam— Bangkok born and raised {with a brief stint in California for University, which is why his English is better than mine}. It is his favourite place in all of Bangkok for Pad Thai. Yeah…a British-style pub is where he goes for his fix of Pad Thai. My vegetarian meal was delicious and heavy on the chili flakes. We asked same where we could get the best Pad Thai in Bangkok and he immediately took us on the BTS to Bully’s. Always trust the locals— it was the best Pad Thai I’ve had anywhere in the world.

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APPS TO HAVE

  • GRAB: Grab is like the Uber of Asia. It will make your life easier if you want to catch a cheap ride somewhere and don’t feel like utilizing the {even more affordable} train system.

  • XE CONVERTER: I use my XE Converter app to make sure I’m getting the best exchange rates in any country I go to. It also helps when you get a bill and want to know how much you’re spending in your home currency.

  • GOOGLE MAPS: You can enter your destination while in WiFi connection and save your map so that the navigation still works once you exit the reach of the internet. This is a lifesaver if you decide not to buy a SIM card for your phone {which I almost never do despite it being so cheap…}.


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A BIG GUIDE TO BANGKOK, THAILAND: how to get around the city, where to eat, what to see + do