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 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.
Ratanakosin is an area on the left bank of the Chao Phraya. Here 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. You can jump on a river bus to explore the rest of the city in a novel way, too. 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 for cash-strapped visitors:Sala Arun
At this riverside inn, the nine teak-floored rooms feature objects d'art from the owners' worldwide travels.
Best for deep pockets:Chakrabongse Villas
Upmarket riverside accommodation with a difference: seven tranquil suites, villas and compact rooms beautifully furnished in a choice of Thai, Chinese and Moroccan styles. It's set in the luxuriant gardens of hundred-year-old Chakrabongse House overlooking Wat Arun.
The former backpackers-only ghetto of Banglamphu 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. The big-ticket sights of Ratanakosin are within walking distance, too.
Best for understated charm: New Siam II
New Siam II is a very pleasant and well-run small hotel. The rooms stand out for thoughtfully designed extras such as in-room safes, cable TV and drying rails on the balconies. It occupies a quiet but convenient location and has a small pool.
Best for the planet: Phranakorn-Nornlen
A leafy bohemian haven with genuine eco-conscious and socially engaged sensibilities. Each room has been cheerily hand painted to a different retro Thai design.
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. 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.
Best for dazzling views:Grand China Hotel
The only spot in Bangkok to feature a revolving restaurant.
Best for sumptuous design: Shanghai Mansion
The most design-conscious accommodation in Chinatown has embraced the modern Chinoiserie look with gusto. Rooms are prettily done out in silks, lacquer-look furniture and lanterns.
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. Here, 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. 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 location:Lub d
Branch of the popular, well-run Silom hostel. It's right on Thanon Rama I, under BTS National Stadium, so handy for just about everything but rather noisy. Women-only dorms are available.
Best for old-world feel:Anantara Siam
The stately home of Bangkok's top hotels. Afternoon tea is still served in the monumental lobby, which is adorned with magnificent eighteenth-century murals. Rooms are large and luxurious.
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 both 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. A boat trip 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.
Best for mingling:New Road Guest House
This hostel has a helpful service centre and travel agent promoting interesting Thailand tours. Guests can hang out in the restaurant, the sociable bar or the rooftop hammocks.
Best for eye-watering luxury:The Peninsula Bangkok
The decor blends traditional Western and Asian design, and every room has a panoramic view of the Chao Phraya. The lovely riverside gardens shelter a three-tired pool, beautiful spa, fitness centre and tennis court.
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. There's also an impressive array of specialist restaurants, from Catalan to Keralan and from Lebanese to Lao.
Best for low-key relaxation:LA49 Hotel
The small pool and sauna are tempting extras. Rooms and communal areas are simply decorated, but stylish.
Best for apartment living:Adelphi Forty-Nine
High-spec suites and apartments with fully equipped kitchens but all the services and amenities of a hotel.
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