Bangkok is a giant juxtaposition of first-world glitz and glamour versus third-world poverty and corruption. A city where you’ll find sprawling luxury shopping centres backdropped with heavy smog; the kind of place where lowly street stalls can become Michelin-rated restaurants.
It’s difficult enough to capture this dynamic in words or in a photograph, let alone in a purpose-built tourist destination, but that is exactly what they have done with Asiatique, the 28 acre open air food and shopping mall/night market.
By combining the charm of Bangkok’s low-scale alleyway markets with the bold and powerful pretentiousness of the high-brow neighbourhoods, they’ve created a light-hearted yet awe-inspiring environment for all ages.
As you approach this beautiful attraction by boat, you’re greeted by the warm, radiant lights glimmering off the water, illuminating the entire area. As your fellow passengers ignite with excitement, cameras drawn; remnants of Asiatique’s glowing pink marquee reflect in their eyes.
It certainly has that “wow” factor; and you should make a point to stop by, whether it be to eat endless amounts of food, or simply enjoy the sights and sounds.
How to get to Asiatique
This is one of the few attractions in which the commute is almost as fun as the destination. Asiatique is nestled conveniently along the shoreline of the beautiful Chao Phraya, a long and wide river that complements and facilitates much of Bangkok’s transit and freight systems.
What does this mean for you? Well, you get to ride a boat for free!
Hop on a BTS train and head over to Saphan Taksin station. You’ll know it by the small water icon next to it’s name on the map. Depending on your starting point, you may need to transfer trains at Siam station (but there's no additional cost). Upon arrival, take exit 4 and make your way to Sathorn Pier.
This part is important. Once inside the fenced pier area, take a sharp left and head to the southern most part of the pier (in other words, go to the very end once you’ve turn left). The boat you seek is specifically for Asiatique and this one is 100% free!
But beware! You’re going to see other people who run their own boats off this pier and they’ll be trying to get you to pay them to take you to the same place. Ignore these guys and look for the red signs that say “Asiatique”. You’ll eventually make it to the end of the pier where you’ll just line up and hang out until the official boat shuttle shows up, all the while leaving your wallet in your pocket. The boat runs in 15 minute intervals.
Along this route, you’ll see a beautiful light show of passing cruise boats and hotel bars as you motor your way down the river. Within about ten minutes or so, you’ll see those magical Asiatique lights shining your way.
The boat will dock and let you out right into the action on Asiatique’s lovely pier. From here, you’ll find two signs: one will dictate the boat shuttles departure times and the other an overview of the venue’s layout. Make note of any information you need and head to the area that suits your needs the best.
Alternatively, you can take a taxi from the same BTS station but it’s not nearly as fun and costs more.
What to Eat
Those fancy lights from the pier carry on through to the inner districts where you’ll find plenty of dine-in restaurants ranging from super-chic steak houses to clustered Thai street-style diners. If you’re looking for a romantic night out, this place has got you more than covered. Some restaurants showcase musical acts on large open patios, while others rely on kitschy decor or funky lighting to entice their diners in. Whatever vibe you’re looking for, chances are it’s here.
However, as with most touristy places, much of the food leans heavily on the safe side. There are a lot of American food options like steaks, pastas, and burgers, and many of the Thai restaurants shout “pad Thai!” to lure in the foreigners (the tell-tale sign that their food is likely bland and uninspired).
But that just means if you want something spicy or traditionally Thai, you’ll have to shop around a bit more. There is a decent sized “street market” food area where you can sample small snacky foods to your heart’s content. You’ll find plenty of the usual Thai street food items here, along with some questionably Thai but still insta-worthy options like fried bugs.
There is definitely something to suit all tastes and budgets here. And no shortage of seafood!
Notable places to grab a bite
- On the north side beside District 7, near the ferris wheel, you’ll find an old VW van serving milk toast. It’s called Love Milk and they’ve got the best dessert in the whole place. Lightly toasted thick-cut bread, drizzled with condensed milk. You can get other versions too, but you can’t beat the original.
- Just next door to Love Milk, you can grab a beer and a slice of pizza with a view. This tiny glass building has three tiny levels but gets high enough for a nice view of the surroundings (pictured above).
- On the other end near the town square, there’s a traditional Thai dessert that involves ice cream, coconut shavings, and other interesting toppings… all placed in a hot dog bun. It’s unusual. It feels wrong. But it’s an experience you should try once and never again.
- Much like the fried bugs in the market area. You can get them cheaper at the train markets in the city but if this is your only opportunity, it’s great for a laugh. They honestly aren’t that bad but more of a mind over matter kind of thing!
What to do at Asiatique
There’s plenty here to keep you and the kids entertained for the evening. They’ve got everything here! Live shows, live music, muay thai fights, carnival style rides, buskers, tourist traps, shopping, and more!
- Ride the trolley.
Between Districts 1 and 2 there is a cute little trolley modelled around old Thai street trolleys that will take you directly back to the boat shuttle. It’s free and a nice little rest for your feet.
- Bangkok’s tallest ferris wheel.
It’s easy to miss, I know, but if you want a great view of the area, this will do the trick. The pods are fully covered so it’s a little easier to enjoy when you’re sitting 200ft in the air.
- Set the kids free on the carnival-style rides and games
There's a carousel, go karts, robot cars, and more.
- Walk the pier and observe the history behind the area.
Undoubtedly the best part of Asiatique is it’s pier, built on a historical site. As you walk the pier you’ll find little statues and plaques telling the story of Asiatique and the history of the grounds it sits on.
- Stroll the markets.
If you’ve got the patience and the leg strength for it, weave in and out of the gigantic market area. There’s 1500 stalls selling everything from clothing to handmade artifacts. There’s a reason the trolley starts in this area — you’ll need it when you’re done here.
- Lock in your love.
Just inside the town square is a pretty garden statue with a fence around it. Much like the famous bridge in Paris, you can purchase and decorate a “love lock” and lock it to the fence, forever proclaiming your love to the world. Equally cheesy and adorable.
- Experience a live performance.
Two large performance venues house nightly shows. Calypso the cabaret style show, a traditional Thai puppet show, as well as live Muay Thai fights.
- Get a picture with a life-sized Pikachu.
Or other large, interesting statues like Mr. Mango Tango.
- Just take a walk.
It’s a huge space with a magnificent attention to detail. Walk too quickly and you’ll miss some of the best parts. The lights, the gardens, the water, the decor! There are photo opportunities at every corner.
What You Should Know Before You Go
- Hours of operation are from 5pm until Midnight every day of the week. The last boat leaves the pier at 11:30pm but if you’re wise, you’ll catch an earlier one or you may not get on board. If not, you can also access the grounds by taxi.
- This place was clearly built with tourists in mind, not necessarily as a local hangout, so the prices are going to be reflective of this. Expect to pay about 20-30% more than you would at a local market (although there are some very reasonable prices to be found if you shop around).
- The bathrooms are clean but you’ll need to either pay for toilet paper (5 baht for a tissue pack) or bring your own.
- It gets pretty hot in some areas due to the amount of warm bodies in tight corridors, mixed with all the restaurants and that Thailand heat. So be prepared to sweat! I’d recommend bringing a towel with you just in case. That said, there are many open spaces and fans around to cool down with, so don’t let that be the reason you avoid it. It’s breezy and wonderful by the pier but the deeper you go into the markets, the hotter it seems to get.
While Asiatique may not be everyone’s cup of tea, you definitely can’t deny it’s appeal. but Whether you’re a foodie, a history buff, or an avid shopper — this place will find a way to keep you busy for a few hours.
Have you been to Asiatique? Share your experience below!