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Paradise Expert City Guide to Bangkok 

Welcome to Bangkok, too often a brief stop on the way to one of Thailand’s beautiful island resorts, or a swift layover on a long-haul itinerary. Thailand’s energetic fascinating capital deserves proper time to discover its many treasures. It’s a big place, with ten million inhabitants, and this evolving Asian city is one of the most exciting in the region. Towering modern architecture forms a gleaming glass-and-steel contrast to historic golden temples, traditional stone shophouses, and bustling street markets. A network of waterways crisscrosses the city, itself bisected by the broad and busy Chao Praya River. In recent years Bangkok has become a gastronomic destination—with superb offerings from humble street food to haute cuisine tasting menus. We scoured the city to find the unmissable, the unusual, and the best places to eat, drink, shop, and visit. 

Craft Bar and rooms at the Kimpton Maa Lai, Bangkok

Where to Stay in Bangkok

Urban, Chic, and Pet-friendly: Kimpton Maa-Lai

With a downtown location close to both the peaceful greenery of Lumphini Park and the high-end shopping malls of Lang Suan district, Kimpton Maa-Laai lies within its own oasis of stunning landscaped gardens. The hotel interior offers striking design and luxurious comfort—modern Bangkok at its best. With a rooftop bar, state-of-the-art gym, spa, pool, and free bikes to borrow, the property caters to fitness fans and sybarites alike.

Don’t be surprised if you see some very pampered pooches parading through the hotel lobby—this property welcomes furry family members, too.

One of the two infinity pools at the Eastin Grand Hotel Phayathai. Photo by Lucy Morgan.

Birds-eye View with Practicality: Eastin Grand Hotel Phayathai

This imposing building rises far above the glossy malls and offices that surround it. Guests at Eastin Grand Hotel Phayathai benefit from its soaring heights at two infinity pools—one on the 22nd floor and one practically among the clouds, on floor 37. 

With stylish well-appointed rooms, all-day dining in a gorgeous market-style restaurant, and proximity to both Sky Train and airport rail, this hotel is the practical choice for travelers keen to waste no time exploring the city. 

The Siam

Waterfront Glamour and Artistry: The Siam

The glorious Siam is set in quiet verdant gardens next to the Chao Praya River, with its own dedicated boat service that shuttles guests between the hotel and the centrally located Taksin Pier. Choose from spacious rooms around a huge courtyard filled with tropical plants or private villas with plunge pools and terraces. Filled with important antiques, this elegant yet quirky property also has a cinema, a Muay Thai boxing ring, and a room filled with vinyl records that guests can play on a traditional record player. It also boasts an onsite antique store and gallery, so that once you have fallen in love with The Siam’s unique and wonderful style, you can bring some of it home. 

Amenities at the Atlanta Hotel. Photos by Lucy Morgan.

Pocket-friendly and Part of Hotel History—The Atlanta 

“No Sex Tourists” reads the large vintage sign outside The Atlanta Hotel, one of Bangkok’s legendary institutions of hospitality. This is not a hipster design piece—it’s a genuine order—and the hotel prides itself on running a safe and respectable operation.

Very much under the radar, occupants tend to be returning guests, or come to the property via a personal recommendation. This extraordinary icon of Bangkok hotel history has interior décor full of twentieth-century charm, with a lobby and restaurant that are delightfully old-school in appearance. There is even a “scriptorium,” a special room set aside for writers. Outside, lush gardens surround Thailand’s first-ever hotel pool. It’s a piece of history, a little eccentric, but extremely reasonably priced.

D&D Inn, located on the famous Khao San Road. Photo by Lucy Morgan. 

Budget and Rooted in Movie History—D&D Inn

Right in the middle of popular Khao San Road, made famous by Alex Garland’s dystopian novel and subsequent movie, “The Beach,” D&D Inn offers budget rooms for singles, couples, and families in Bangkok’s fun and lively backpacker area. With cheap bars, cafes, beauty salons, and travel agencies the length of this popular road, each morning sidewalks fill with stalls selling “Same same but different” tees, and “Beer Chang” tanks—this area is a proper slice of life. The Inn has a 24-hour reception and a swimming pool on the roof; most importantly, it’s a clean and safe hotel that comes in on budget.

Le Du restaurant signature dish. Photo by Lucy Morgan.

Where to Eat in Bangkok, From Street Food to High-End

Award-winning Thai Fine Dining in Three Different Locations

There is so much more to Thai cuisine than green curry and noodles—in recent years, the Bangkok fine dining scene has blossomed, much due to the excellent work of patriotic local Chef “Ton” Thitid Tassanakajohn, who helms a selection of award-winning top-tier restaurants in the city. Voted “Best Restaurant in Asia” by World’s 50 Best in 2023 and holding one Michelin star, Le Du is named after the Thai word for season. This stylish modern restaurant offers tasting menus that change with the seasons and bring the very best Thai produce into the spotlight. Coming in at number three on the same list, the gorgeous Nusara is set over four floors in a vintage building located in the charming Old Town, with breathtaking views over Wat Pho and the Grand Palace. The final jewel in Chef Ton’s culinary crown is Lahnyai, a beautiful bijou space with a focus on Royal Thai cuisine reinterpreted into an exquisite tasting menu. Not just delicious, but an opportunity for diners to learn about the complex recipes and high-end ingredients used in the royal palace kitchens.

Omelet Cooked by a Netflix Star in a Michelin-starred Street Food Restaurant

You’d better be patient if you want to taste Thailand’s most queued-for street food dish, a large crab stuffed omelet cooked to perfection with a crispy exterior and silky inside. Diners put their names down on a list for a table but can wait up to seven hours for a taste of famous Thai chef Jay Fei’s cooking. 

The talented chef featured on Netflix show “Chef’s Table,” standing behind her wok, cooking over charcoal in her trademark flying goggles. In 2018, her restaurant became the first streetside stall to be awarded a Michelin star. Order the omelet, but don’t miss the drunken seafood noodles, or the stir-fried prawns in yellow curry. Worth waiting for.

Fish Feast at an Out-of-town Seafood Bar 

A little out of town, but with accordingly lower prices than its city center competitors, Daeng Seafood is the destination for seafood lovers to enjoy lunch. This spacious restaurant has an inner air-conditioned sanctum to feast on fish in comfortable and cool surroundings. The signature dish is mackerel in dark soy sauce and palm sugar, a sticky delicacy that takes two days to cook. There’s freshwater crab from a mangrove swamp, razor clams with holy basil, and a sea crab served with yellow chili—unmissable.

Jeh O Chula Tom Yam Instant Noodle. Photo by Lucy Morgan.

Late Night Munchies in the Student Quarter

Open from 4 p.m. until midnight, streetside venue Jeh O Chula in the university district commands a crowd keen to try the unusual-sounding signature dish of “Tom Yam instant noodles.” A spicy, creamy tom yam soup base is served with packets of instant noodles along with generous servings of crab, pork, squid, pork belly shrimp, and eggs. It’s a proper guilty pleasure, and extremely filling—but if you do have a corner left to fill, then the must-order is a crispy pork belly, with splintering crisp skin.

Kyo Bar. Photo by Lucy Morgan.

Sweet Spot—Kyo Bar

Prepare to be dazzled at this extraordinary pop-up dessert bar run by Thai-born chef-owner and pâtissier Dej Kewkacha. Kyo Bar is a café with a difference—serving an omakase-style menu of sweet treats inspired by the chef’s travels cooking in prestigious kitchens across the globe. Using a combination of Japanese and Thai ingredients, sweet-toothed guests are presented with six to eight imaginative courses. The cooking style is “no boundaries” and changes with the seasons—but whatever time of year you visit, you’ll be in for a surprise. Think meringues with white asparagus, or torch flower granita—all innovative and delicious.

Where to Drink in Bangkok

For Film Buffs

You might just recognize this fabulous rooftop bar, Sky, from Hollywood blockbuster “The Hangover Part II.” At a vertiginous 820 feet, this stunning outdoor space offers wonderful panoramic views day and night. It has an impressive drinks list too—why not indulge in a “Hangovertini” a drink created for the cast and crew of the film? Above all, this bar is fancy. Dress up smart, prepare to be seen, and take some selfies—it’s a very photogenic spot.

For Culture Vultures

Fancy drinking local brews from metal goblets while talented musicians play traditional Thai instruments? Then head to Tep, in the fashionable Chinatown district. Billing itself as a “cultural bar,” Tep specializes in local liquor. Choose from black sticky rice wine, Thai white spirit, or a selection of shots of ya dong—a Thai moonshine reputed to have aphrodisiac qualities.

4th Wall Bar. Photos by Lucy Morgan.

For Design Lovers

Low lighting and teal tones give this striking secretive bar the air of a slightly futuristic club. A new addition to the Bangkok cocktail scene, 4th Wall offers classic strong pours like Godfather and Tuxedo, alongside fun reinterpretations of crowd pleasers. Frozen watermelon margarita from the bar’s retro slushy machine, anyone? This bar draws a fashionable crowd, so dress to impress

Mayrai Bar. Photos by Lucy Morgan.

For Natural Wine Fans

Fans of natural wine should head to Mayrai, a discreet bar in a traditional shophouse, down a side street in the middle of the old town. The focus is on natural, organic, and biodynamic wines from around the world. Pair these gorgeous low-intervention wines with a selection of delicious Pad Thai noodle dishes, featuring river prawns, pork, or veg. Alternatively,  dial up the heat with a bowl of Khao Soi, spicy curry noodle soup—another perfect pairing.

For Party People

Lively Mahaniyom, with its moody lighting and eclectic fun décor, regularly hosts internationally acclaimed mixologists as guest bartenders. This vibey bar attracts a gregarious crowd that appreciates the DJ’s beats as much as the outstanding drinks menu. Mahaniyom’s list features a superb selection of cocktails with some built around a single ingredient. The “cow” features milk, brown butter, beef fat, and blue cheese. Imaginative, edgy, and fun.

Shop and Sightsee at One of Bangkok’s Amazing Markets

The Huge One

Chatuchak Weekend Market. Photo by Pikacent.

Chatouchak Weekend Market is an unmissable stop on any tourist itinerary—vast, sprawling, and easily accessible by sky train, it’s worth bringing an empty suitcase with you to fill with keepsakes, souvenirs, clothing, and textiles. Open on Saturdays and Sundays from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m., there are over 15,000 stalls to browse. Arrive early to avoid the heat and crowds.

Maeklong Railway Market. Photo by Norbert Braun.

The Surreal One

Known as the “Umbrella Railway market” and located around 50 miles southwest of Bangkok, Mae Klong Railway Market may be one of the most eccentric marketplaces around. Flanking a set of rails are two lines of stalls selling everything from clothing, food, and jewelry, to artworks. But this is no abandoned railway—it’s in use. As a train approaches and rumbles through the market, stallholders swiftly pull back their awnings and remove their wares as shoppers clear the line, flattening themselves against stalls to let the train chug (mercifully slowly) past. Around eight trains pass through the market each day, so check the timetable first to make sure you get to see this extraordinary sight.

The Fragrant One

Spanning a vast acreage of Bangkok’s old town is Pak Khlong Market, the largest retail flower market in the capital. Walk past fragrant piles of lilies, orchids, and jasmine, along with bunches upon bunches of roses, their scents mingling in the warm humid air. Strings of yellow-ochre marigolds hang from stalls as groups of workers sew phuang malai (flower garlands). This central market is a true joy for the senses. Open 24 hours, it is quietest in the afternoon, but consider visiting late at night to see the floral deliveries arrive and the sales in full flow.

Or Tor Kor Market Food Court. Photo by Lucy Morgan.

The Food One

Relatively undiscovered by tourists and an excellent place to get a sense of the rich produce Thailand produces, Or Tor Kor is a huge, spotlessly clean, aircraft-hangar-sized food market. Regimented lines of orderly stalls sell jewel-colored spices, enormous fruits,  shiny vegetables, vats of cooked food, live seafood, herbs, oils, and pastes. Come hungry—there’s a food court with seating that is absolutely superb and an extremely good value. Quiet during the week, its proximity to the weekend market makes it busier on Saturdays and Sundays, but you could combine a visit to both.

Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. Photos (clockwise from top left) by David Chen, Suhyeon Choi, Ron Iligan.

The Floating One

Glide along canals fringed with coconut palms in a longtail boat as waterside sellers try to tempt you with their arts, crafts, and textiles. Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is one of the most famous and beautiful of Bangkok’s waterway markets—but if you visit towards the end of the working day, the crowds disperse making it a calmer and more pleasant visit. Hungry? Then try a bowl of “boat noodles”, a delicious must-try meal, cooked and served on a boat. Located around 60 miles from downtown Bangkok, consider fitting in a trip to the umbrella railway market first.

Things To Do in Bangkok

Nourish Your Spirit at Two of Bangkok’s Mesmerizing Temple Complexes

Wat Pho. Photos by Jacob Guse (left), and Johnny Africa (right).

Bangkok gleams with gilded temples —and it is worth visiting as many as possible. But if short on time, then prioritize Wat Pho. The temple’s many halls and buildings are architectural masterpieces in themselves, but it is the extraordinary, daunting, and magnificent statue of the reclining Buddha—46 meters in length and gold-plated—that is the must-visit. Another unmissable holy site is Wat Phra Kaew, also known as the “Emerald Buddha Temple.” It has a dazzling statue of the meditating Buddha, made from a single block of green jade and decorated with gold and precious stones.

Healthyland Spa. Photo by Lucy Morgan.

Enjoy a Relaxing Massage in a Building with an Interesting Backstory

What better way to unwind from a day of sightseeing than in the hands of a highly trained massage therapist? Head to Health Land Spa & Massage for the traditional Thai or a nourishing oil massage and prepare to emerge refreshed, relaxed, and having learned a little more about Bangkok’s history.

Housed within a grand-looking stone building, this was the first overseas diplomatic office of Vietnam. Once a center of geopolitical importance, now this historic house has another noble purpose—physical well-being.

National Museum. Photos by Lucy Morgan.

Learn about Thai History and Culture at Two Very Different Museums

Bangkok’s National Museum charts the nation’s fascinating history. Well-curated, formal, and spread across traditional halls and more modern galleries, it is spacious and well-kept with some important historical artworks. This is a large museum, so allow plenty of time to explore the many exhibits.

Siam Museum. Photo by Lucy Morgan.

The smaller Siam Museum focuses on the people of Thailand and their national identity. Located in an imposing neoclassical building that once served as the Ministry of Commerce, this museum takes an innovative and interactive approach to the curation of its exhibits. Visitors can explore rooms dedicated to history, fashion, food culture, and entertainment, with video, audio, and hands-on elements.

Lumphini Park. Photo by Lucy Morgan.

Take a Walk or Run Around Bangkok’s “Central Park”

Popular with runners, walkers, and families, Lumphini Park is a generously sized green space in the heart of the city. In the morning, its entrance gates are lined with food stalls, as locals breakfast al fresco, while fitness enthusiasts take advantage of the cooler hours to run circuits around this beautifully landscaped park. Visitors can also hire paddle boats to explore the large artificial lake. Look out for the huge monitor lizards that like to sunbathe near the water.

Jim Thompson House. Photos by Lucy Morgan.

Visit a Peaceful Oasis With a Mysterious History in the Middle of the City

Spy, artist, collector, traveler, and “Thai Silk King,” American Jim Thompson disappeared in the Cameroon Highlands of Malaysia in 1967 and his body was never found. Thompson’s love affair with Thailand began when he was posted to the country with the OSS  (forerunner to the CIA) in 1945. He started the “Thai Silk Company” in 1948 and single-handedly revived and built up the industry, before his sudden and mysterious disappearance. His beautiful house—a collection of traditional Thai wooden buildings, filled with gorgeous antiques and artworks has become a museum and cultural center—take a guided tour to learn more about this mysterious talented man. There’s a large store on site selling a range of printed silk items. Jim Thompson Silk has earned the nickname “Hermes of the East.”

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