Oh Bangkok… I’m not going to lie, I’m not a big fan. I don’t like big crowded cities, traffic gives me anxiety, and the scams, hustle, and energy just did not vibe with me. I’m glad I went, and I likely will not return unless I absolutely have to.
But this is a great time to remind you: be careful who you take travel (and really any) advice from. Make sure they have similar travel goals, styles, and lifestyle alignments with you. I like a slower pace, small to medium towns with a chill atmosphere, and places where I can ride a scooter to get around. I prefer beaches and mountains over big cities, quiet dive bars over high-energy loud clubs, and unique restaurants that are vegetarian friendly over more commercial spots that lean heavily on meat. I love feeling slightly uncomfortable and lost in a new culture and language, while still having enough English and creature comforts to turn to instead of going to familiar English-speaking countries or spots that feel invaded with tourists and remind me of home. I love to have a little grit and messiness and art and culture in a location and mix of high and low, hipster and local – instead of clean, high-end spots and all inclusive resorts. Back in LA, I lived In Venice Beach because I loved the edge and vibrancy it had that the gorgeously clean and higher end vibe Santa Monica did not. I prefer staying at Airbnbs over hotels or hostels. I like eating at local restaurants and not worrying so much if I’m going to get Salmonella (ok, maybe that’s not the smartest of moves since I DID get Salmonella).
So if you LOVE cities the dynamic energy that comes along with them and are into all-inclusive and high end hotels with expensive steakhouses and Vegas-style clubs – my travel style and recommendations may not be a good fit to you. But don’t be offended by my dislike of these places, or be mad when I tell you to go to a dive bar and you do but you don’t even like dive bars, just try to pick and choose which spots vibe with you, or find trusted sites that vibe with your style, just as I do when I read other bloggers’ tips and reviews. While I know that pretty much every spot that’s listed and high reviewed on Trip Advisor is not going to be a good fit for my style, I do know which blogs and Instagram accounts I trust and have a similar point of view and travel goal/style/vibe alignment with – so I never read Trip Advisor and always pop on Instagram or Culture Trip to start my research on a city. Everyone has different styles and every travel style is valid and right for the traveler who is experiencing it. And hey, my style may change when I’m not so poor or as my life evolves. I know for a fact I would not turn down, and really fucking enjoy, a private jet ride, a suite at the Four Seasons, a really fancy brunch at a boutique beach resort, or a private island tour with Tom Hardy by my side.
My dislike of Bangkok as a whole aside, there were pockets of awesomeness inside the city like in any. I experienced some really beautiful and cool moments, frequented some Venice Beach style neighborhoods, ate and drank at some delicious and hip spots, and got a taste of the high life that has never been within reach. Check them out to make the best of your time there!
Note: Every day of my 6 days in Bangkok was scheduled from early morning to night, and at the end of the day I just dropped exhausted on my bed and didn’t move again until morning – so these recommendations are limited and the best from our shot list – with a few I found in my small amount of downtime sprinkled in. I’ll give you mostly Facebook links because a lot of them don’t have websites and you know how I feel about Trip Advisor, and it’s easier to find location and hours on Facebook over Instagram. Also, if you need a guide when you head there, my shoot handler Furn was AMAZING. Hit me up for her contact info if you want to hire someone really cool to show you the ropes on your first day there, totally worth it.
And, in case you missed it, check out my story all about the path that led me to Bangkok, and what I was doing there, in my post: Reclaiming My Childhood Dreams: A Path to Thailand
Bangkok traffic is a NIGHTMARE, and this is coming from someone who lived in LA for 15 years. Take a GRAB to and from the airport for about 400 Baht. When you take GRABS, just note you will have to pay cash extra to the driver any time you take a tollway at the time you enter the toll. In the city, walk, take the skytrain, and use GRAB only when necessary. The taxis are a disaster, and never know where they’re going, don’t speak English, and often won’t run the meter. I suggest you stay in the hood you want to play in, and make sure you are within .5k to a skytrain.
Where to stay
I highly recommend the Ari (or Aree) Neighborhood. It reminds me a bit of home back in Venice Beach or Canggu with modern hipster cafes, bars, and restaurants. It’s REALLY cool and makes you feel a bit removed from the insanity of Bangkok while still being in the center of it all. And there’s a skytrain station super close by.
I loved this spot. A serviced apartment home in a great location, brand new, bright and airy, gorgeous design, and super affordable. The hosts were SO sweet and helpful, and the modern amenities were a welcome touch after living in Bali. It’s really walkable to the sky train and a bunch of restaurants and cafes.
Must eat and drink
We were running around so much there was barely any downtime to sit down and eat or drink a coffee not in a car, but here are some of the spots we hit on my first trip, then on my second trip for work and in our few moments of downtime.
Pink Bar at La Bua
This place was just the prettiest place ever. If you have the budget, put it at the top of your list and then head to Lebua No. 3 for an epic bridge shot and dine at one of the Michelin star restaurants downstairs (we popped into the kitchen of the latest, Chef’s Table, and I almost cried it was so stunning. Go.)
Vegetarian Club Bangkok Branch
A totally local whole in the wall with a grocery attached, this Vegetarian Club is hard to find but worth the effort and close to the Chatuchak Weekend Market. You buy tickets at the front, and then head into the food stalls and redeem. The vegan Kao Soi was the BEST I had in Thailand (even better than in Chiang Mai where it was created) and they have this marinated and mysteriously-cooked and then served room temp mushroom dish called Kha hed him prung rod that I could have sworn was meat – I couldn’t figure out how they did it, it was insane. Excuse my blurry photo, I was shaky in all my excitement!
Thong Yoy Cafe
Traditional Thai desserts turned modern and BEAUTIFUL (get the full tea service and thank me later!!!)
One of my favorite breweries out of Denmark has a taproom and Thai Food spot in Ari and it’s a DREAM. The special ode toThai beers they have created are amazing.
Banyan Tree Rooftop Bars
We were supposed to shoot the epic rooftop bars at Banyan Tree but it was raining HARD. While it’s not a spot I would normally visit, they were SO incredibly kind to us, and really cared about sustainability in all their food, drinks, and products, their cocktails were delicious, AND they had the coolest paper thin curled pineapple garnish I’ve ever seen on a drink (they got it so thin on a meat slicer) – so I’m giving them a nod!
Killer Mexican food (seriously, some of the other highly recommended places we tried were NOT good). They also had an open mic night when we were there that was seriously entertaining. Great place for food and drink with neighborhood vibes.
In the fancy hip neighborhood Thong Lo, this upscale market/food hall (my FAVORITE kind of place to visit in any city) has amazing food from Nashville Hot Chicken to Thai pies to poke to gourmet markets and shopping (there’s the cutest plant and gift store in a little yellow greenhouse!).
Let the Boy Die
Thai craft beer brewed by the boys, and it’s AMAZING. The space is goegeous, the vibes are super moody and hip, and the playlist and guest band is all about heartbreak and getting over a love that has gotten over you. Let the boy die. It was perfect for my mood haha.
Poet House Cafe
This spot was right across from my first Airbnb and I’m so happy about it. Really cute decor with BIG cups of great coffee, a killer croissant, and peaceful uncrowded vibes and good wifi for getting some work done.
Common Room x Ari Coffee
Close to the BTS station, great coffee and smoothie bowls for a healthy start to your day!
Sala Rattanakosin Rooftop Bar
Great craft beer, cocktails and bar food overlooking Wat Arun temple across the river. A great place to watch the sunset after a day of temple hopping!
The truffle ravioli – OMG. Stunning decor and vibes. Cacti. That’s all, you must go!
Super small vintage flea market with the coolest coffee shop and restaurants. It was by far the coolest spot we hit in Bangkok. Opens at 5pm. While you’re there, grab a bite at Ik-Ki Izakaya – incredible Asian food and the chef is a vegetarian so they’ll do the rice bowl without meat. It was BOMB.
Chatuchak Weekend Market
Only open on the weekends and it is MASSIVE so it is nuts – GO EARLY, stay hydrated and cool. It’s so so crowded and it gave me crazy anxiety. But I got some great sunglasses at Monkey Eyewear, some cool tank tops at HAY, and my DREAM pair of vintage Wrangler cutoffs.
I didn’t know about this iconic Bangkok view until the manager brought us to check it out, and it’s where I captured my favorite shot of Bangkok. You can grab drinks there, or just pop in to take a photo like this one!
Khao Yai National Park
About a 3 hour drive from Bangkok, and 400 Baht for foreigners for entry. I would recommend getting a car or a driver to take you through, and thinking about staying overnight so you don’t drive 6 hours in one day. You can do some longer hikes in several spots, or just drive through and stop at all the views and take some short hikes down to the waterfalls like we did. There’s a cute very local restaurant and coffee shop inside at the visitor center, but bring snacks! If you’re lucky (or unlucky according to the reports of trampling cars) you may see wild elephants (we only caught glimpses of some really big monkeys.)
Night Markets, Massage, Orchid Farms, Lotus Pond, and Klong Lad Ma Yom Floating Market
I went here during my first Bangkok trip on an Airbnb experience that I HIGHLY recommend. The host, Vicki took us to this local floating market about 45 minutes from the city center as well as a boat ride to an orchid farm and lotus garden. We tried some amazing food made on boats, explored the market stalls inside and tried ALL the Thai food, and bought some really high quality clothing. We also got massages at her favorite local spot AND visited a night market. It was worth every penny to get a locals perspective (she’s SO cool) and get out of the city a bit to see the real Bangkok.
Amphawa Floating Market
A much further hike (2+ hours from Bangkok – not quite sure because we got in a car accident on the way that gave us a 4 hour delay while dealing with Thai police and Insurance agents) but it’s the OG floater, larger than Klong Lad Ma Yom. It was pouring when we were there so there were only two people out in boats, but I got an amazing vegan “mild” Papaya salad that almost burned my tongue off.
Red Light District and Ping Pong Shows
Please, for the love of all things good and right in the world, don’t go to a ping pong show. We went shopping at a market on the street and walked by some of the clubs, and the broken, dead, look in the women’s eyes broke our hearts into a million pieces. By spending your money there, you’ll potentially supporting child prostitution, the human and sex trafficking industry. Read more about the facts here: http://un-act.org/thailand/ and one bloggers mind change here: https://hippie-inheels.com/ping-pong-show-in-bangkok/
WOW. This place was the most stunning we saw. The palace has been the official residence of the Kings of Siam (and later Thailand) since 1782 and its purely dazzling architecture and details at every turn were out of this world.
Make sure you cover your shoulders and legs to be respectful of customs here and at all Thailand temples. If you forget, you can buy some cute sarongs or tops BEFORE you get in from the local vendors – inside it’s really expensive for some ugly ass clothing.
We didn’t have time to go, but I’ve been told the view is just as beautiful from afar than taking the ferry over to see it up close. We sipped a cocktail from Sala Rattanakosin Rooftop Bar and watched it fade into the glittering glow of sunset and then light up in all its glory at dusk. Do NOT fall for the Tuk Tuk scam we did leaving the grand palace where the driver pretends you need to take an expensive boat tour to get there – you only need a super cheap ferry to get across the river.
Inside you’ll find a GIANT gold reclining Buddha that will leave you speechless. You can snag a bowl of offering coins with a donation of 20 baht and walk down the procession behind the Buddha to offer gratitude, pray to whatever you pray to, and ask for blessings. It’s incredibly powerful.
*A quick warning on Bangkok SCAMS!
After visiting the Grand Palace, we inquired with a super friendly Tuk Tuk driver about a ride to Wat Pho, the home of this giant reclining golden Buddha- one of the destinations top on our list for our Bangkok trip. He proceeded to tell us due to a Buddhist holiday the previous day, the temple was closed until the afternoon. He pulled out his phone and showed us the holiday translation on google and said he was so sorry we would miss it. But suggested that we could take a boat across the river to Wat Arun and photograph the outside of the temple from across the river. We agreed to this next best alternative since we had to leave for the airport in just a couple hours and would miss the opening time, and proceeded to take a ride. Along the way we chatted about Bangkok and he was so charming and helpful with insider Bangkok facts. Then he told us that once we got to the boat to buy the Thai ticket not the tourist ticket to save money, and that the price would be the equivalent of about $50 and the boat tour would be 1 hour. We immediately told him we didn’t want a tour nor did we have time for one, and that we knew there was a $1 ferry to get across the river in just a few minutes. He immediately got furious and started calling us names, screaming that we looked down on Tuk Tuk drivers and that we thought he was a liar and he could prove he wasn’t. When we quickly realized he was trying to get his commission on the boat tour and pissed he wouldn’t get it, we refused to engage with his anger and said no to the tour several times, he threw us out of the Tuk Tuk speeding off cursing. We got out, went to a coffee shop nearby, only to find that there was no holiday and Wat Pho was definitely open. Lesson learned and a reminder that excessive charm is sometimes the con’s greatest skill, that Google fact checking is your greatest friend, and that letting go and course correcting is far better than holding onto frustration when things go awry – because we moved on from the situation so quickly and without resentment we were able to see this truly magical temple before we left.
I highly advise you google “Bangkok Scams” before you go to Thailand. Be more aware than we were so you can recognize when you’re being played and adjust accordingly.