The 3 best areas to stay
in Bangkok

The 3 best areas to stay
in Bangkok

I have not met one person yet that did not know how to feel about Bangkok. You either hate this giant Thai city for all its flaws and vices, or you fall in love with it. Probably for all its flaws and vices. Luckily, the latter happened to me. To increase your chances, here are the 3 best areas for you to stay in Bangkok, Thailand:

  • Favourhood N° 1 Bangkok Riverside

    Calm(er), with a breeze
    and a view

    Bangkok Riverside
  • Favourhood N° 2 Silom

    Der großbürgerliche,
    noble Bezirk

    Silom
  • Favourhood N° 3 Sukhumvit

    A cross-section
    of Bangkok

    Sukhumvit
  • Maybe not

    The not so good,
    the bad and the ugly.

    Maybe not

The 3 best areas in Bangkok.

  • 1 Bangkok Riverside
  • 2 Silom
  • 3 Sukhumvit
  • Maybe not

Staying Riverside – Calm(er), with a breeze & a view


Every time I touch down at Bangkok Airport, every time I set foot on Thai ground, my mind goes through the same three stages:

Being irritated first by the friendliness and quiet softness of people, even at the airport. I felt it the first time I got here and it changed into pure joy and thankfulness to be back again the second time I visited Bangkok.

Being overwhelmed is the second stage by all the noises, the smells and the sheer volume of moving parts in this city. It happens the moment I hit traffic, right after leaving the airport. This feeling never goes away, not for me at least.

I sure hope the third stage is there to last as well: Calming down to a point where I start questioning the pace and directions I take in my normal life, while staring at the ballet of boats on the river. The River of Kings this shiny, sometimes smelly path, connecting north to south and you to your soul, if you are open to it.

You will get:

  • amazing sunsets
  • a timeout from traffic and noise (if you find the right spots)
  • surprised by how effective & amazing boatrides are
  • enough of visiting temples (by boat)

It's a weird thing when you think about it: What makes being „riverside“ special is not the river per se. Standing right next to it is not that amazing actually. But getting over it, looking across it, at the other side of whatever part of Bangkok you are is one of the truly mesmerizing things you can do in that overwhelming city.

So follow me. Release a fish or two into freedom for good karma, if you think you need some. Slow down, use one of the old-timey shuttle boats to cross the water instead of freezing in the A/C of the Sky Train. Relax and be cool sweating.

Get a daily pass for the ferry boats that will take you from one temple to the other & back to your riverside highrise apartment or luxury hotel quicker than anything else.

Use the time saved to find the Tuk-Tuk driver that looks least likely to get you killed in traffic. Be okay with yourself and the fact that you will pay too much for the ride. Cross a bridge at night. Enjoy the magic of a multicolored, flickering kaleidoscope of break lights, placed right in front of your face. Be a happy person for once.

Slow down & use one of the old-timey shuttle boats.

Crossing the River of Kings is one of the truly mesmerizing things you can do in Bangkok

Practical tip for staying Riverside

Do not underestimate the distances "I'll just walk over this bridge here!" pops up in your head, especially when it's steaming hot outside! To actually get from one side of the river to the other by foot takes way longer than you might think. I'm not saying you shouldn't do it at least once, but be aware: It's neither a relaxed shuttle boat crossing nor a 30 seconds Skytrain ride!

Silom – XXX


XXX The first time I came to the Marais, I was stunned by how quiet it was.

"It's a jewish neighbourhood, you know?" The receptionist at my hotel was surprised I didn't know it was Shabbat. "Jews and models. The girls love it here because there's a hairdresser at every corner. And they don't get harrassed in the evening. You know ... everybody is gay here as well!"

Everybody is a bit different in the Marais. What was once a swamp that the temple knights turned into liveable space, is a fascinating piece of Paris today. A neighbourhood of different microcosms, overlaying each other. Nobody hides here. Nobody denies who they are. In the Marais, it's the people that define the atmosphere, instead of the architecture being the dominant factor.

You will get:

  • a vibrant neighbourhood
  • central location
  • great falafel
  • less tourists
  • a fancy haircut

XXX Situated north of the Seine, the Marais is the big exception. The Right Bank is dominated by glorious palaces and the amazing megalomaniac works of Haussmann, the city planner that shaped Paris: Six-lane-streets, mile-long alleys and breathtaking views everywhere. Not in the Marais though. Narrow streets, small squares and colourful graffiti on the wall; that's more like it.

Apart from it's unique, friendly but not always polished atmosphere, there is one factor that makes the Marais so attractive: It's very central.

Things that are very near: the Seine Islands, Notre-Dame, Centre Pompidou and the Louvre. Things that are literally in the neighbourhood: City Hall, Picasso Museum and probably the most beautiful square of Paris: Place des Vosges.

Everybody is a bit different. Nobody hides in the Marais.

It's the people that define the atmosphere here.

Practical tip for Silom

Actually crossing Silom Road can be hard at times not only because auf the usual Bangkok traffic madness, but also because barricades and metal constructions for plants to climb on make it literally impossible for substential stretches of the road. Better look out for designated crossing sections or use the overpasses of the Skytrain stations instead!

Sukhumvit – A cross-section of Bangkok


You need to get your numbers right around Sukhumvit Road. Remembering the right side street ("Soi") might make the difference between ending up in a quiet, green and residential area or in a red light district that is too much to handle for most of us. It's that wide of a spectrum and sometimes those contrasting streets are right next to each other. Since Sois are just numbered starting somewhere north of Lumphini Park and ending probably somewhere near the Cambodian border there is some room for misunderstandings and missteps. 

I am not joking about the Cambodian border by the way. Sukhumvit Road is about 400 kilometers long but it starts with a big bang in the city of Bangkok: Everything between side street 1 and 18 is a universe of its own, a magnitude of nightlife, red light and entertainment you better be prepared for. It's not for everybody and certainly not for every day. Go there once, experience it, test your level of coolness or insecurity, soak it in, get out and live somewhere between Soi 18 and 63!

 

You will get:

  • a different world in every side street
  • nightlife
  • shopping
  • redlight
  • quiet residential dead end streets
  • lost

Actually, I would even advise you to specifically avoid "Lower Sukhumvit" (everything between Soi 1 and the BTS station "Asok") as your place to stay. But that changes radically as soon you enter "Upper Sukhumvit": It starts as a buzzing urban stretch of land, changes into a shopping and upscale food paradise and ends as a calm & quiet residential area you might not think was possible to exist right along to the behemoth that is Sukhumvit Road. 

Of course, and that is true for the whole area, you have to check out the side streets to see what I am talking about. The main road will always be loud and crowded, sometimes even dark due to the Skytrain structures getting between you and daylight. But walk around one corner into one of the Lower Sukhumvit Sois and you will be shocked about how peaceful they are. Kids playing soccer in the streets, single foodstands selling lunch to locals and boats slowly driving by on Khlong Saen Saep, the canal that makes many Sois quiet dead-end-streets.

Sukhumvit Road over all is fascinating in that it basically is a cross-section of Bangkok alongside one giant street. Sometimes chaotic, sometimes posh, mostly overwhelming and surprisingly relaxing in the upper regions. Just as the city itself it never gets old.

A cross-section of Bangkok alongside one giant street.

Just as the city itself
Sukhumvit never gets old.

Practical tip for Sukhumvit

Two things will make or break your experience around Sukhumvit Road:

  1. Use the Skytrain. This road literally ends outside of Bangkok so don't try to be brave and walk from Soi 1 to Soi 63 in the tropical heat.
  2. Get the Soi right you are heading to. The side streets are so different, you might think you are in the completely wrong area just because you mistook you Soi for the one next to it. Also make sure your taxi driver gehts the numbers right: I once wanted to go to Sukhumvit Soi 18 and ended up in a 1.5 hours ride towards Soi 81!

Paris is one of those cities where you should really pay attention to the area you are staying in. The spectrum ranges from stunningly beautiful to plain scary:


  • Not as interesting: Districts with two-digit numbers. With the exception of the 16th and parts of the 17th, that are decent residential areas. Especially the outher districts in the north and east are not for visitors and considered a bit unsafe.

  • Avoid everything outside of the 20 Arrondissements. Especially the Banlieues in the north-east are not only far out but also unsafe.

  • Avoid areas around railway stations (Gare du Nord, Gare de l’Est) and big metro stations such as "Châtelet – Les Halles". Extremely hectic and attracting small crime.

  • Don't stay directly next to big sights. Montmartre: although some areas are pretty and romantic, the neighbourhood as a whole is unpleasently touristy and partly dominated by sex shops. Directly at Champs-Élysées: stressful during the day and dodgy at night.

Bangkok in under a minute

How Bangkok is structured:

  • Bangkok has 50 districts and even more sub-districts but most importantly there is a rather wide river flowing through the city. Chao Phraya is the name of the river in the shape of the letter “S”; stay on the east side as most sights are concentrated on the island of Rattanakosin.

  • Bangkok doesn't name the roads crossing majors ones; they just call them "Soi XY" - the number indicating which lane is going off a major street. Major streets are called "thanon" and short alleys "trok". For example: "Sukhumvit Soi 11" is the eleventh road off Sukhumvit Road.

  • Most neighbourhoods are actually named after their bigger, or main streets. For example: Sukhumvit Road, Silom Road, Khao San Road.

  • Like in most European cities Bangkok has its even-numbered doors on one side, the uneven ones on the other side. But very often you can’t just cross the road in-between due to its massive size, amount of traffic and impassable objects. Make sure you get the correct side of the road when you are going somewhere.

  • Traced by BTS which is supported by massive pillars which completely shelter out all the lights from above. The BTS covers all the main areas, the MRT, the Airport rail link and the Chao Phraya Express boat. The way the BTS is constructed covers 39 stations with just 2 lines, and every place connected has somewhat more value than other.

How Bangkok is structured

  • Bangkok has 50 districts and even more sub-districts but most importantly there is a rather wide river flowing through the city. Chao Phraya is the name of the river in the shape of the letter “S”; stay on the east side as most sights are concentrated on the island of Rattanakosin.

  • Bangkok doesn't name the roads crossing majors ones; they just call them "Soi XY" - the number indicating which lane is going off a major street. Major streets are called "thanon" and short alleys "trok". For example: "Sukhumvit Soi 11" is the eleventh road off Sukhumvit Road.

  • Most neighbourhoods are actually named after their bigger, or main streets. For example: Sukhumvit Road, Silom Road, Khao San Road.

  • Like in most European cities Bangkok has its even-numbered doors on one side, the uneven ones on the other side. But very often you can’t just cross the road in-between due to its massive size, amount of traffic and impassable objects. Make sure you get the correct side of the road right when you are going somewhere.

  • Traced by BTS which is supported by massive pillars which completely shelter out all the lights from above. The BTS covers all the main areas, the MRT, the Airport rail link and the Chao Phraya Express boat. The way the BTS is constructed covers 39 stations with just 2 lines, and every place connected has somewhat more value than other.

Fast Facts

Airport to city

Bangkok hosts two airports although only one is being used for international flights: Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) which is located around 30 kilometres away from the city centre. And you have multiple options to reach the city from there.

  • Taxis are the most common and easiest option; the trip costs around 120 Baht (~3€) in total but the highway fee is included. You can also just split costs with other travelers. Important for the taxi trips is that you don’t agree on the fee upfront given that airport drivers often target new visitors to get a little bit more.
  • Buses operate 24hours long for just 35 Baht (~1€) and have 11 routes to choose from.
  • Airport Express Bus Service is a premium option to the public buses; they work from 5 a.m. till midnight and cost 150 Baht (~3,80€) they also drive on 4 routes.
  • Airport Rail Link City Line operates from 6 a.m till midnight and leaves every 10-15 minutes; connects 8 stops for 45 Baht (~1,15€).
  • Uber is available. But plan ahead considering potential roaming costs.

Safety

Bangkok is considered to be very safe but taking the usual precautions will keep you on the safe side. They did experience bombings in 2016 hence the tighter security. If you are in trouble call the “Tourist Police” (telephone 1155) since the local police have little English skills.

  • Traffic here is insane. Be extremely careful.
  • Taxi drivers sometimes try to avoid metering so they can argue about the price; to prevent this just insist on the meter and if they won't budge just refuse to take their ride. Similar are the Tuk-Tuks; they don’t have a meter, so agree on the fee upfront - avoid the 50 Baht ones because they will drive you to scammy shops because those are paying commision to some drivers.
  • In high traffic areas pickpockets hide in the shadows. Make sure not to carry too much money and leave valuables at the hotel.
  • The pen scam is the most known trick where one person asks for a pen and when you reach for it in your purse or bag somebody else will try to swoop in and snatch your bag. There are a bit more, you can get informed here: https://wikitravel.org/en/Bangkok#Scams

Getting around

You will get around fairly easy in Bangkok given the many options there.

  • Taxis and Tuk-Tuks are extremely common but please make sure you have read the safety tips just to avoid high prices. I wouldn’t recommend using Tuk-Tuks as frequent as taxis since they are almost as handy as cars but without air conditioning and just as slow. See them as one of the many fun activities.
  • Skytrain (BTS) is an elevated train and cheap train running through the inner city. It doesn’t reach every corner so Tuk-Tuks and taxis are still needed. Get your coins ready as the machines won’t take bills.
  • Chao Phrya River Express Boat targets many interesting sites for you to explore. The boats travel in both directions and leave every 20 minutes except for the rush hours in which the interval is only 5 minutes. They cost only 20 Baht (~0.50€). There are 5 “lines” available which are sorted by colour. More information here: http://www.chaophrayaexpressboat.com/en/home/
  • The Metro (MRT) has interchangeable stops with the BTS and reaches further. They use cards and magnetic chips which are sold and recharged at machines and over the counter.
  • For those feeling adventurous the public buses will be interesting given the huge network but little to no support of English.
  • And just like in most cities Uber is an available option.
  • Another very handy option are the moped taxis since you can go between cars if you hit a jam.

Opening hours

  • Shopping malls are open from 10 a.m. till 9:30 p.m. and 7 days a week
  • Supermarkets around 9 a.m. till around 9:30 p.m. but some for example Foodland are open 24/7.
  • Street food often closed on Monday and usually open from 6 a.m. till 10 p.m. or even later) some areas have 1-3 a.m. food stalls.
  • Restaurants usually don’t serve breakfast but are open from 10 a.m. till 10 p.m.
  • Large stores and shopping malls are open on holidays (including Christmas and New Year’s).

The best time to travel

Honestly there is no bad time to visit Bangkok because it is lovely throughout the whole year and the perfect time depends on what kind of weather you enjoy most. The average degree throughout the whole year is 26°C  to 31°C. Humidity is key regarding on deciding when to visit.

  • Starting with December through February -  It can reach up 32°C and is the time that is considered “cold”. But it is also the best time to explore the city on foot.
  • From March to May - You will find yourself sweating due to the average 30°C (at night!). These are the hottest months and rain is seriously welcomed. But it is also Songkran (Thai New Year’s) from the 13th till the 15th April.
  • Completing the year is from May till November - It is official the rainy season, even occasional floodings. It will cool off in November but until then you will find yourself hiding from 30°C. Again great time to visit Bangkok, but only if you don’t mind rain.

Typical faux pas in Bangkok

  • People in Thailand and especially Bangkok are extremely welcoming but try to understand their culture and act accordingly, you are a guest at last. Do NOT criticise the monarchy, it can be incriminating - once a man insulted the royal family on Facebook, the outcome? 35 years in jail.
  • Don’t raise your voice, this is considered very rude especially in public.
  • People’s and heads of statues are the most important part of the body and touching them is very rude in Thai culture.
  • Another troubled part of the body are the feet. Don’t point with your feet and do not put them on things they don’t belong on.

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