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

    Bangkok Riverside
  • Favourhood N° 2 Silom

    Convenient and compact

    Silom
  • Favourhood N° 3 Sukhumvit

    A cross-section of Bangkok

    Sukhumvit
  • OH NO! Maybe not

    Life's too short to stay here

    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 whenever "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 – Convenient and compact


Imagine being in a south-east-asian megacity only for a couple of days. The first time. 10 million people around you. Everything is new, fascinating and confusing. You have no clue where to go, how not to get lost, how to make the best out of your not-enough-time. 

Welcome to Silom, you will like it here. This area north and south of Silom Road is where you should stay if you plan on not getting away from your hotel or apartment further than a mile and still seeing a great deal of Bangkok. If there is a neighborhood in the city for the lazy tourist, for the impatient traveler, it's this one. 

First, there is a Skytrain/BTS line going right through the district. That makes life a whole lot easier in Bangkok, believe me. Second, Silom is bordered by Lumpini Park, Chao Phraya River and Chinatown so a great deal of interesting places to visit are really close, at least in megacity terms. And third: even if you don't leave Silom at all you might have some stories to tell back home.

You will get:

  • central location (if such a thing exists in BKK)
  • best infrastructure
  • skyscrapers and rooftop bars
  • big city buzz
  • shocked in Patpong

Some of those stories might take place at night time. This is when Silom changes from a place of business to ... well, a place of differnt kinds of businesses, actually. While during the day men and women in suits and costumes grab a quick lunch at the food stand around the corner, at night madness takes over. At least in the Patpong area of Silom, where the huge night market offers everything fake imaginable and the red light district might leave you wondering about the reality of what you see even more.

But it only takes an elevator ride to the rooftop bar of one of the many skyscrapers in the area (eg. Sky Bar, Cloud47) to get a completely different picture of the city again: an infinite sea of lights, 360 degrees, as far as you can see. Let it sink in and let it change your perspective. It's one of the great things to do in Bangkok.

One long elevator ride will change your perspective forever.

Silom has some of the most incredible rooftops worldwide.

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 correct 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!
  • If you are in Bangkok for the first time and you are not into the typical touristic mess of a party vacation avoid Khao San Road. It is filled with all the backpacking tourists rage drinking and locals trying to rip them off and the nights are the opposite of quiet.

  • As long as you are not in town for the nightlife only also stay away from the red light areas like Patpong, Sukhumvit Soi 1 to 18, Nana Plaza, Soi Cowboy. These are neigbourhoods quite near to each other, so it's not hard to spot actually. Living there would mean to be harassed for sex in exchange for money every time you go grocery shopping.

  • Where you simply don’t want to stay are all the outskirts of Bangkok given that public transportation is extremely limited and you won’t find a lot of interesting sites there. The city is enormous and living in the outer districts means commuting for hours.

Bangkok in under a minute

How Bangkok is structured:

  • Bangkok has 50 districts and even more sub-districts but most importantly there is the rather wide and S-shaped "Chao Phraya" river flowing through the city. Most sights an interesting spots for visitors are east of the river.

  • Bangkok often doesn't name side streets crossing majors roads; 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 side street off Sukhumvit Road.

  • Most neighbourhoods are actually named after main streets. For example: "Sukhumvit" around Sukhumvit Road, "Silom" around Silom Road, etc.

  • 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.

How Bangkok is structured

  • Bangkok has 50 districts and even more sub-districts but most importantly there is the rather wide and S-shaped "Chao Phraya" river flowing through the city. Most sights an interesting spots for visitors are east of the river.

  • Bangkok often doesn't name side streets crossing majors roads; 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 side street off Sukhumvit Road.

  • Most neighbourhoods are actually named after main streets. For example: "Sukhumvit" around Sukhumvit Road, "Silom" around Silom Road, etc.

  • 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.

Fast Facts

Airport to city

Bangkok hosts two airports although only one is being used for international flights: Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) which is located 30 kilometres away from the city centre. 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 with a highway fee included. Important: Don’t agree on fixed fees given upfront. Insist on using the "meter".
  • Buses go to the city all day long for just 35 Baht (~1 $) but be aware that you have to know where you need to go to find the right one. I would not recommend busses if you are not a Bangkok pro!
  • Airport Express Bus Service is a premium alternative to public buses; they work from 5 a.m. till midnight and cost 150 Baht (~4 $).
  • Airport Rail Link City Line operates from 6 a.m till midnight and leaves every 10-15 minutes; costs are fairly low: 45 Baht (~1,15 $).
  • Uber is available (at the moment) but consider potential roaming costs!

Safety

Bangkok is considered to be very safe but take the usual precautions. The city experienced bombings in 2016 hence the tighter security lately, let's see how long it lasts. Some tips:

  • If you are in trouble call the “Tourist Police” (telephone 1155) since local police often have little English skills.
  • Traffic here is insane. Be extremely careful.
  • Tuk-Tuk drivers sometimes are the entry point for getting visitors of Bangkok into scams.  Since Tuk-Tuks don't have a meter you have to agree on the fee upfront - avoid very cheap offers (50 Baht and less) because you might end up infront of a scammy shop (drivers getting commisions for delivering tourists).
  • The pen scam is a 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 many more scams, get informed here: https://wikitravel.org/en/Bangkok#Scams

Getting around

You will get around fairly easy in Bangkok given the many options there. Just know what to use where and when!

  • Taxis are extremely common, cheap and air conditioned, so often it might be the best choice. Always make sure that the driver uses the meter and do not agree on fixed fees. There is always another taxi using the meter around the corner! During rush hours a taxi ride can take some time though, get used to it.
  • Tuk-Tuks are fun but I wouldn’t recommend using them to get from A to B. They get stuck in traffic like a taxi but without the aircondition. This can turn into quite an ordeal in hot Bangkok. Taking a Tuk-Tuk in the evening or at night can be one of the funniest things you experience on your trip to Thailand!
  • Skytrain (BTS) is an elevated, modern and airconditioned train running through the city. It doesn’t reach every corner but where ever you can go via BTS it is probably the fastest option. Get your coins ready as the ticket machines won’t take bills!
  • Chao Phrya River Express Boat targets many interesting sites. The boats travel in both directions and leave every 20 minutes except for rush hours in which the interval is 5 minutes. They cost only 20 Baht (~0.50 $). There are 5 “lines” which are distinct 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.
  • And just like in most cities Uber is an available option (for the moment), but consider possible romaing fees!
  • Another very handy option are the moped taxis since you can go between cars if you hit a jam. It's the option for the brave traveler though.
  • Talking of brave: If you feel adventurous the public buses could be worth a try given the huge network and very low costs. But there will be little to no support of English.

Opening hours

  • Shopping malls are open from 10 a.m. till 9:30 p.m. and 7 days a week, even on holdidays. Supermarkets around 9 a.m. till around 9:30 p.m. but some are open 24/7.
  • With street food stalls it's hard to say because opening hours are so different. Some open up shop at 6 in the morning, some only serve food for lunch, some stay in business until 10 p.m. But be aware that most of them stay closed on Mondays since it's a city wide cleaning day.

  • Restaurants usually don’t serve breakfast but are open from 10 a.m. till 10 p.m.

The best time to travel

Honestly there is no bad time to visit Bangkok if you like it hot. The average degree throughout the whole year is 26°C to 31°C, but that is true during day as well as at night! Over all, Bangkok is one of the hottest cities in the world, not because of crazy heat peaks but of the consistenly high temperatures all year. Humidity is key regarding on deciding when to visit.

  • December through February is considered the "cold" season which still means it can reach up 32°C during day but it cools off a bit during nights and humidity is not as crazy. In my opinion it's the best time to visit Bangkok.
  • From March to May - You will find yourself sweating in daytime temperatures around 34°C with higher humidity. 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 which is quite interesting!
  • Completing the year is from May till November - It is the rainy season, even with occasional floodings. It will start cooling off a bit in November but until then you will find yourself hiding from the heat. If you don’t mind rain it can be an okay time to go to Bangkok.

Typical faux pas in Bangkok

People in Thailand and especially Bangkok are extremely welcoming but try to understand their culture and act accordingly since it is so different than most other places on earth:

  • 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. Thai people are extremly helpful and friendly, just don't get impatient with them or scream "I want to speak to the manager!" everytime something does not work out as you imagined.
  • 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 at people with your feet and do not put them on things they don’t belong on.

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