Bangkok is vast. There’s a population of 11 million people within its 1500 square kilometres and towering high-rise buildings of up to 304m-high. It’s a modern metropolis with frenetic markets, traditional temples and a brilliant nightlife. But where should you base yourself? Whatever kind of trip you’re planning, here’s the lowdown on where to stay in Bangkok.
Best for Romance: Ratanakosin
Here on the left bank of the Chao Phraya, a string of boutique hotels enjoy dreamy views across the river’s bustle and colour to the Temple of Dawn on the opposite shore, whose corncob towers are prettily floodlit at night. The capital’s three major sights – the Grand Palace, Wat Pho and the National Museum – are just a stroll away, and you can jump on a river bus to explore the rest of the city. It’s a quiet, traditional neighbourhood where the shutters come down after dark – for something to eat and drink, you’re probably going to want to nip up to Banglamphu or down to Chinatown.
Best All-rounder: Banglamphu
This former backpackers-only ghetto has grown up a lot in recent years. The crash-pads with paper-thin walls and shared bathrooms haven’t disappeared, but nowadays you can also choose stylish hotels with rooftop pools, elegantly converted traditional houses and smart, modern hostels. And the buzz on the streets is still there: fashion stalls, trendy bars and clubs bring out young Thais from all over the city, as well as world travellers. On top of all that, there’s a great neighbourhood of old-fashioned shophouse restaurants to the south of Democracy Monument, and the big-ticket sights of Ratanakosin are within walking distance.
Cash-strapped: Tavee Guest House
Feeling flush: The Bhuthorn
Best for True Urbanites: Chinatown
It’s chaotic, noisy and dirty, but for some people, Chinatown fulfils their every dream of a Bladerunneresque Asian city. Endless gloomy alleyways unfurl like serpentine department stores, hawking everything from fabrics to flowers, from pots and pans to ginseng roots. The range of hotels is limited, but restaurant tables sprawl onto the pavements 24/7, and there’s even an enclave of authentic Indian eateries in Pahurat. Long-distance trains and the urban subway line stop at Hualamphong station for ease of access – or a hasty departure.
Cash-strapped: Baan Hualamphong
Feeling flush: Shanghai Mansion
Best for Shop-till-you-droppers: Siam Square
In the boutiques and booths of Siam Square, young designers hope to make it big selling street gear to the capital’s students and teenagers. If they get their break, they’ll rent a space in one of the huge malls that march eastwards along the adjacent Rama I Rd, where they’ll have to compete with the best of local labels and international brands like Gucci and Chanel. The malls also harbour branches of some of the city’s best restaurants, while accommodation in the surrounding area runs the gamut from designer hostels and upscale guesthouses (in the mini-ghetto of Soi Kasem San I) to luxury hotels. In a city that’s notorious for its traffic jams, where cars crawl along at an average of 4km per hour, this area has the best transport connections: the Skytrain’s only two lines both pass through Siam Square, ready to whisk you to the bars and clubs of Sukhumvit, the river or the Weekend Market, Bangkok’s ultimate shopping experience with 8000 stalls.
Best for Five-star pampering: Bangrak
This area south of Rama IV Road shelters some of the best hotels not just in Bangkok, but on the planet: the Mandarin Oriental and the Peninsula are consistently voted among the world’s top ten. These and a clutch of other high-end places on the banks of the Chao Phraya offer superb standards of service and excellent spas, restaurants and swimming pools in their riverside gardens. They also have their own shuttle boats to ferry guests up and down the river, which is a lovely way to start a day’s exploration or return to your bed at night, gliding through the bright city lights. Public Express Boats will help you to get more out of the Chao Phraya, while the Skytrain arrows north from the river through the city centre. Cash-strapped: New Road Guest House Feeling flush: The Peninsula Bangkok More than just a Pool by Mark McElroy on Flickr (license)
Best for Night owls: Sukhumvit
High-rise buildings and the overhead Skytrain line trap the traffic fumes and noise on Sukhumvit Road, which runs eastwards from the city centre all the way to the Cambodian border. Fortunately, many of Sukhumvit’s numbered side-roads are refreshingly quiet, even leafy, and it’s here that you’ll now find the cream of Bangkok’s pubs and clubs. Soi 11, “hi-so” Soi 55 and Soi 63 (a bit more studenty) are the main hubs; look out especially for the wacky, high-concept bars of Ashley Sutton, design guru of the moment (Iron Fairies, Clouds etc). Meanwhile the girlie bars on Soi Nana and Soi Cowboy are looking almost retro these days, not to mention out of date. Sukhumvit also provides a very good roster of accommodation – though hardly anything ultra-cheap or ultra-luxe – and an impressive array of specialist restaurants, from Catalan to Keralan and from Lebanese to Lao. Cash-strapped: Imm Fusion Feeling flush: Seven
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