Bangkok is one of those cities where your senses are instantly overloaded upon arrival. The city is in non-stop motion, the heat at times is unforgiving, and the traffic looks so dangerously haphazard that it makes you hesitate to cross any road, let alone travel around. With a population of almost 10-million, where you’re almost always shoulder-to-shoulder at all times, it can make you want to grab a cold Thai-tea-in-a-bag and call it a day before 11am. However, if you take a moment to focus and make peace with the city’s intense and sprawling nature, you’ll find that Bangkok is a thriving, vibrant city with an incredible history and fast-growing modern culture. With hidden galleries, one-of-a-kind shops, and unforgettable food (like $1 pad thai!), you’ll quickly get over your initial sensory shock after realizing all that Bangkok has to offer. Here’s how I would take on Thailand’s capital.
WHERE TO STAY
I wasn’t kidding when I say that the temperatures in Bangkok can be intense. With high humidity levels and the heat from all the traffic, it can be stifling which is why I recommend splurging if you can on a great hotel if you’re traveling during high tourist seasons. The Okura Prestige is a sleek-looking property with a Japanese aesthetic that flows through every part of the hotel from interiors to food. Plus, that cantilevered pool is the perfect spot to escape the heat.
I also love The Siam Hotel for its Art Deco vibe and lush, green gardens. The onsite Chon Thai restaurant offers traditional Thai cuisine served instead teak wood houses for an authentic, cultural experience.
For budget travelers, the Bed One Block Hostel looks nothing like hostels you might be used to seeing. With its stark white facade, contemporary furnishings, cool lounge spaces and minimalist bunk beds, this property might convert you to preferring hostels over hotels.
WHERE TO PLAY
If you’re looking to check out the contemporary art scene in Bangkok, the 100 Tonson Gallery is one of the leading galleries in Thailand. It was the first Thai gallery to participate at Art Basel in Switzerland and gives Thai artists a highly visible platform for showcasing their art and installations.
I didn’t make it here last time but the Thailand Creative & Design Center (TCDC) is on the list for my next trip. It’s a government-backed learning and resource facility to inspire creativity and innovation. It’s the first of its kind in Asia and gives designers a platform to showcase their ideas.
WHERE TO SHOP
While you’re probably not looking to buy a table as a souvenir, p. tendercool’s handmade furniture is still worthy of a browse to check out custom Thai furniture. anyroom at the Jam Factory is also another furniture manufacturer made by a small group of designers who also design home accessories, stationery and design objects. Once you’re there, check out the rest of the Jam Factory which includes a restaurant, cafe, bookshop, office, gallery, and outdoor space near the river. For souvenirs, head to Another Story which offers everything from ceramics made in Thailand, clothes, soaps and oils, clocks, Design Letters objects, footwear and more.
Finally, I can’t end this travel guide without mentioning some of my favorite cultural spots and eats.
Don’t be hesitant to put Bangkok’s largest temple Wat Pho on your itinerary because of the crowds. I’m told getting there right when it opens at 8am makes a big difference but even if you get there mid-afternoon like I did, the crowd really isn’t all that bad and the 150-foot reclining Buddha is a treat to see (just don’t expect to get a tourist-free photo, if that’s what you’re looking for). While you’re there, get in line to add a gold leaf to a stone Buddha statue and sprinkle yourself with holy water using a lotus flower, both done for good luck. For all of the temples in Thailand though, make sure your shoulders are covered or else you won’t be able to get in.
I also really enjoyed the Museum of Siam to learn more about Thailand’s history, identity, and cultural influences throughout the years.
Lastly, you won’t leave Thailand without having your life changed by the food. Instead of a regular Pad Thai, ask for a Pad Thai omelet instead, where all the makings of the traditional noodle dish you’re probably used to is encased inside a thin crepe-like egg shell. For dessert, the popular mango sticky rice is popular for a reason and once you’ve had it in Thailand, your taste buds will be forever ruined because no where else in the world compares. I also had a fresh coconut every day and papaya salad every other day as refreshing eats to beat the heat. For those seeking a good cup of ‘jo, I can definitively pinpoint the pour over at Proud’s Cup Coffee as the defining moment that turned me into a third wave coffee convert.
If you’ve traveled to Thailand’s capital and have any travel recommendations, let us know below so we can check it out for the next trip!