1 Eat: Food, glorious food
Cuisine drives this city, and as the sun bakes furiously, locals toil over woks and grills from morning until night, creating the most heavenly street food on earth. You won’t find it exclusively on the streets – it’s everywhere, from airports to malls to bus and train stations – ensuring you’ll never go hungry.
2. Stay: 137 Pillars Suites & Residences
Forget the big-name behemoths and enjoy a sky-high stay in sophisticated suites with rooftop views off cool Sukhumvit. Aimed at the business traveller, a small number of amply-spaced suites are staffed by butlers armed with old school Thai charm and hospitality that make you feel like you’re the only guest that matters. Enjoy uninterrupted 360-degree views from its rooftop pool and bar with only a handful of other guests. 137pillarshotels.com
3. Shop: Chatuchak Weekend Market
Chatuchak weekend market. Photo: Alamy
Western-style malls offer welcome respite from the heat, but your dollar is better spent on Thai produce at this colossal market, where you can find anything from young independent fashion designers to items furnishing an entire house, pets included (although not recommended). See chatuchak.org.
4. Eat: At cheap Michelin Starred restaurants
Everyone has heard of Nahm and Gaggan, but Michelin’s guide to Bangkok puts the spotlight on its other great restaurants. Seventeen establishments were awarded 20 stars, including Jay Fai, a long-standing shophouse restaurant. The latest Red Guide has been also hailed as the world’s most affordable, with two-star Michelin restaurants within reach of most traveller’s budgets.
5. Eat: “Michelin Plate” street food
So if the starred restaurants are still out of your budget, Michelin has created a new category to acknowledge the excellent value and high quality of many street food vendors. The “Michelin Plate” was awarded to 76 restaurants in Bangkok and 35 were awarded Bib Gourmands. This is the first time a single Michelin destination has offered so many choices for those on a budget. Two mid-priced Bib Gourmands worth seeking out are Issaya Siamese Club or Soul Food Manakorn.
6. Shop: Night markets
Talat Rot Fai night market Photo: Alamy
A number of markets suited to Thailand’s younger generations have blossomed in recent years, offering everything from tasty street food to vintage gear as well as cocktails, coffee shops and live music. At night, JJ Green takes off at 5pm where Chatuchak leaves off – if your legs can take another six hours of shopping. If not, take a seat at one of its many bars, cafes and food stalls. Rot Fai Market is another popular spot. See bangkoknightmarket.com; jjgreen.org
7. See: Chao Praya River
Mega-malls, hotels, markets and temples sprawl from the city’s lifeline, the Chao Praya river, a spectacle within itself. For a front row seat, hop on a ferry to Banglamphu to watch the show, then take a boat tour along the canals that spring from the main artery like veins and watch Bangkok life unfold.
8. Ride: Bangkok Sky Train
Bangkok’s Skytrain is one of the easiest ways of getting around the city, carrying you from Sukhumvit to Siam to Chatuchak in the blink of an eye. Water taxis, Uber, Grab and taxis fill the void, and Australia could learn a lot from the Airport Rail Link that zips from Suvarnabhumi to downtown in 30 minutes. It’s also as cheap as chips – bangkok.com/bts
9. Explore: Ko Kret
Not your regular island retreat, this tiny island is a 45-minute trip up the Chao Praya River and another taste of old Bangkok. Inhabited by the Mon tribe since the 18th century, the rickety old wooden houses and lush greenery are a welcome respite from Bangkok’s relentless pace. Cycle the island loop before stopping to take in the scenery at one of its many riverside eateries. See Bangkok’s best-kept secret
10. Eat: Mae Varee mango and sticky rice
You can buy this popular Thai dessert practically anywhere – restaurants, train stations, airports – but here at Mae Varee, it’s worth overlooking the gruff service for the best mango and sticky rice in Bangkok. For 20 odd years Mae has plucked the best ingredients from all over Thailand to bring customers the perfect combination of fresh mango and salty-sweet coconut cream on a bed of tri-coloured sticky rice with toasted yellow mung beans. Bliss. Thong Lo 55
11. Shop: Siam Square
There’s little doubt locals like to shop, and the best place to do it is Siam Square, where four massive shopping centres converge. Here, you’ll find everything from big-name fashion brands to cheap knock-offs and Thai crafts at the legendary MBK centre. There are also some of Bangkok’s top hotels, restaurants and spas, street food and dentists. To escape the rabble, head to the green refuge of Jim Thompson’s house, one BTS stop away at National Stadium.
12. Explore: Banglamphu
Beyond the backpacker circus of Khao San Road is a rapidly shrinking treasure trove of old Bangkok. To get a glimpse, get lost in its curvy alleyways or take a stroll along a leafy khlong. Antique shopfronts house some of Bangkok’s best cheap eats, such as Thip Samai (for pad thai) and Krua Apsorn (for Royal Thai cuisine) – not to mention Michelin star winner Jay Fai. Then walk it all off with a climb up Golden Mount’s 300 steps for stellar views over its treetops.
13. Experience: Bangkok nightlife
Bangkok’s lust for nightlife is insatiable. There are sky-high rooftop bars, hipster speakeasies, and even rooftop speakeasies (such as at Hotel Muse). On the streets, tiny vans pour spirits alongside pad thai vendors. In trendy Thong Lor, there are cool local bars such as WFT and Iron Fairies, and if you’re still awake, the now legendary last-resort dive bar Wong’s Place kicks on until dawn. wtfbangkok.com
14. Stay: Sukhumvit
The huge arterial is not only a more convenient spot to get to and from the airport, it’s serviced by the BTS and it’s also the most fashionable place to stay in Bangkok, with numerous boutique hotels (137 Pillars), Michelin-approved restaurants (Supanniga Eating Room) and some of the hottest bars in town (see above). Observe the high number of younger expats and well-spoken Thais who’ve made areas like Ekkamai and Thonglor their home. supannigaeatingroom.com
15. Experience: Thai massage
Thai massage, which is an ancient healing system combining acupressure and Indian Ayurvedic principles, can be found all over Bangkok, at various prices. Most hotels have an on-site spa offering a high-end, high-price experience employing various techniques from around the world, but with spas on every corner in Bangkok, offering foot massages to full body massages for around $10, you must find an hour to take advantage of such simple pleasures every single day.
16. See: Wat Arun
Built sometime in the 16th century, Thailand’s most beautiful temple is also the least ostentatious. Set on the banks of the Chao Praya, one imposing spire is surrounded in four smaller ones, each intricately decorated with small colourful pieces of glass and Chinese porcelain. Climbing is a challenge for the vertiginous – it’s much steeper than it looks. Gazing at the “Temple of the Dawn” during sunset, preferably from a rooftop bar, is one of the most perfect ways to end the day in Bangkok.
17. Explore: Yaowarat Road
When the thrills of 20 baht pad thai and giant reclining buddhas have long gone, gather your wits and energy and head to Chinatown to experience Bangkok’s vibrant Chinatown. Housing some of the city’s most photogenic shopfronts, you’ll also find top-notch street food restaurants within its chaotic alleyways, most of which stay open all night long.
18. Visit: Amphawa floating markets
Photo: Kylie McLaughlin
Head on an adventure to the Amphawa floating markets, which has a strong local contingent and more authentic Thai seafood than some that are set up for tourism in Bangkok. It’s also a bustling eye-opener, so bring your camera and be prepared for heat and crowds. On your way stop at the Maeklong Railway Market in Samut Songkhram, where a train drives straight through a market, forcing its sellers to remove all their produce as it passes. tourismthailand.org/Attraction/Amphawa-Floating-Market–1045
19. Explore: Island hopping from Bangkok
Koh Samet Photo: Alamy
Bangkok has five islands within easy reach: take a few days to relax at Koh Talu, an exclusive but beautiful private island, or explore Koh Samet, which has decent resorts, restaurants and beaches. Quiet Koh Si Chang, a tiny island with a quaint village, can be reached in two hours from Bangkok and is worthy of a day trip.
20. See: Bizarre Bangkok
The city has its fair share of the bizarre – such as the “Sathorn Unique” ghost skyscraper, a tall building that bears an uncanny resemblance to the Lebua State Tower, except for the fact that it was abandoned in the 1997 economic crisis and stands incomplete. The macabre is also well represented at the Forensic Museum, which displays such treats as incredibly long tapeworms and the mummified body of a serial killer. Sirirajmuseum.com; 2 Wanglung Road Khwaeng Siriraj, Khet Bangkok Noi.