In a city as large as Bangkok, there is so much to see (and eat)! It can be a very daunting task trying to determine which area is right for you and your travel goals. Not only that, but it can take a long time to get around town if you don't plan it out properly. It's important to stay both central to your desired destinations and within walking distance of a BTS or MRT station.
I'd suggest saving your must-see locations as favourites in Google Maps. This will lay them all out for you and give you an idea about which areas you should consider setting up camp.
Fortunately, many of Bangkok's bustling neighbourhoods fit the bill as central, transit-friendly places to stay. All you need to do is determine which one suits your needs.
Which one is right for you?
If you want to live the tourist life or stay somewhere that feels a little closer to “home,” this is likely the place you’re looking for. This is otherwise known as the Old City, so you’ll find all the famous temples and statues, as well as the infamous Khao San Road. Things in this area have developed to favour tourists so don’t expect to find a lot of authentic experiences or meals. But if you want to meet fellow travellers over a beer and Pad Thai, you’re in luck.
If you're headed that way, I suggest going by river boat.
For those of you that want a blast from the past, this area (also known as Chinatown) has remained relatively untouched by modern developments and provides a beautiful view into the old days of modern Thailand. Old fashioned marquee signs and aged foundations line the streets of Yaowarat Rd and the surrounding area. During the day, you can wander the alleys and small shops but it’s the evening on Yaowarat that you don’t want to miss! The streets come alive after 6pm between Mangkon Rd and Song Sawat Rd, when the restaurants take over the sidewalks with their makeshift tables and chairs.
Tuk tuks and taxis fill the streets, and people of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds come to take their photos and dine on delectable seafood and desserts. But make sure you arrive hungry because there isn’t much else to do but eat and observe.
If you’re the type to seek out up and coming bar scenes and dress a little nicer, Thonglor is your place. The area is under huge development with high end condos, shopping centres, and restaurants popping up frequently so there is an ever-growing sense of upscale life in the area. There is also a large Japanese ex-pat community here so you’ve got a good chance of finding superb Japanese cuisine out this way.
Additionally, there are a handful of places for the kids: Dinosaur Planet, Planetarium, Funarium, and most intriguing in my opinion: Snow Town (a snow-themed indoor park)… and many more.
When you walk along Sukhumvit Road, it kind of feels like you’re in a movie on loop. It runs directly below the BTS Skytrain so every few blocks you’ll pass a sprawling transit stop overhead. And so with each stop, you begin another set of uneven sidewalks, restaurants, and shops. I honestly love it, but perhaps just due to nostalgia. This was the first neighbourhood that I ever dipped my feet into, on my first trip to Thailand so everything feels just a little bit more comfortable and familiar to me. It’s incredibly easy to find your way around here.
You’ve got pretty much anything you need along this road and the adjacent alleys and streets. Seriously anything — from seedy red light district kind of stuff to uber-high-end shopping centres, and everything in between — it just depends which station you stop at.
Hint: Chit Lom Station for never-ending shopping opportunities, Nana Station for seedy stuff, Thong Lo for condos and bars, Asok for smaller scale shopping but also access to the MRT links.
This isn’t much of a sight-seeing destination but it does hold some value. As the main business district, Si Lom (often auto-corrected to “Hi Mom”) has produced some great quick-eat options for the lunchtime crowd. At night, it does expand into more of a market so if your needs are less food and more trinkets and clothes, I’d suggest a night time visit.
Alternatively, Si Lom offers some specific destinations. Southwest of the main area you’ll find Asiatique and some high-end rooftop bars, as well as charming river ferry rides to the west.
Victory Monument and Chatuchak (local transit hub, street food, markets)
Here we’ve got a giant transit hub for local commuters. But if you’ve caught a theme here, wherever the people are, food and other vendors will follow. Aside from the vast variety of shops, malls, and restaurants, there’s a distinctly Thai experience in this area: Boat Noodle Alley.
This experience, hidden humbly beneath the sky train tracks, is not for everyone. Nestled tightly along a murky river, you’ll have access to, as you could imagine, all the boat noodles you could ever desire. It’s no high end dining but it’s one you can’t miss.
In addition, if you head north of Victory Monument, you’ve got the world famous Chatuchak Market, the Or Tor Kor fresh market, a jump off point for Don Muang Airport, a bit of a gentrified hipster-bar area, and a glorious smorgasbord of street food all over the place.
Hotel or Airbnb?
In almost every country I've traveled to, I have been a strong advocate for Airbnb. I find that the dollar-for-dollar value you get combined with the money saving opportunities (like cooking and storing your own food) make Airbnb the obvious choice.
But not in Thailand; at least from a budget-minded perspective.
Now, obviously there will be the odd exception to this, but I've found that not only are the budget positive aspects of Airbnb essentially negated by the naturally-frugal way of life in Thailand, but the benefits and quality of hotel living are far superior.
For example, in countries like Iceland, being able to purchase and cook your own food is essential for staying under budget. You can't get that with a hotel. But in Thailand, it's often cheaper and easier to simply pay for a delicious street-side meal than it is to purchase and cook your own food. The monetary cost and time spent on preparing a meal just doesn't make sense unless you're staying for an extended amount of time.
Additionally, I find you can live larger on a smaller budget when you book with a hotel. And the key factor in this is the ability to haggle with the concierge. There are so many hotels clustered together that in many cases, if the hotel is having a slow night, you can walk in and ask for a lower price within your budget. Sometimes you can get breakfast or other upgrades thrown in if they really want your business. Use this to your advantage to get the most bang for your buck!
Further, you can cross-reference their best offer with websites like Agoda.com or Hotels.com to see if you're really getting a good deal and if not, use that listing to counter (or just purchase from the website if they don't budge). It's truly a buyer's market when it comes to hotels.
Alternatively, with Airbnb you're stuck paying the listed price and all the additional fees that come with it. In the case of Thailand, I haven't found Airbnb to be worth the cost.
While the prices have increased over the last year or two, this new hotel is stylish, funky, friendly, and located right next to the Airport Rail Link. We fell in love with this place, despite the pool being a little cold. I would opt for the regular room over the executive suite -- you get more space with most of the luxury. But if you want something elegant and unusual, give the executive a shot because it's kinda fun, albeit small.
This one has the usual Best Western standard hotel qualities, but the rooms are updated, spacious, and clean. Where this hotel really impresses, though, is with it's rooftop bar and pool. The water is always a perfect temperature because it's directly under the sun (many hotel pools get covered in shade by noon and the pools end up cold). Accompanied by a bar, you can easily spend the day up here tanning and relaxing.
Sadly, this one is starting to show it's age but when we first stayed here in their executive suite (which we were upgraded to at no additional cost), we were floored! The room had a full kitchen, washing machine, netflix, a king bed and a desk overlooking the pool area. The pool area is a luxurious lounge area with bar access, fountains and loungers. Plenty of space to cool down and relax. Their breakfast buffet is phenomenal, by the way.
Definitely still worth the stay!