A local's guide to Bangkok, Thailand

Local expert and Insight Guides trip planner for Thailand Rattanaporn shares her local knowledge to help you take a Bangkok tour you'll never forget...
The outdoor terrace of Sirocco Restaurant, Bangkok. Photo: Peter Stuckings/APA
The outdoor terrace of Sirocco Restaurant, Bangkok. Photo: Peter Stuckings/APA

When should we plan our holiday to Bangkok and why?

One of the most vibrant capitals in Southeast Asia, Bangkok is an absolute must-see stop on your trip to Thailand. More than anywhere else in the country, Bangkok expresses Thailand's uncanny ability to blend the old with the new. This lends a thrilling sense of discovery to one's sightseeing and adds an element of surprise when exploring what is the Orient's most fabled city. 

For us, Bangkok is a year-round destination where sights and sounds change from season to season but one will never get bored. Browse suggested holidays online now and we'll tailor your adventure to the best regions and terrains to suit. 

Where would you recommend we stay?

The choice of places to stay in Bangkok is massive and your options heavily depend on the budget and style of hotel you're after. Hotels along the Chao Phraya River are preferred choices; here you'll find one of the best hotels in the world, the award-winning Mandarin Oriental Bangkok. There is a growing demand for smaller, more personalised boutique-style accommodation too. For the shopaholic among us, we recommend choosing your hotel along Sukhumvit Road, Silom Road or near the Central World Plaza.

Where is a great place for dinner?

Research has shown that it will take decades to eat at every single restaurant in the Thai capital. Outside the variety of safe (and cheap!) street-side options, there are various recommendations. Larger hotels tend to offer almost every single cuisine around in the world and it is not uncommon to find such places packed over the weekend.

For great Thai, Baan Kanitha has various branches in downtown Bangkok; those along Sukhumvit and Sathorn Road stand out from the crowd. Blue Elephant is an upmarket place to eat where you'll find delicious, fragrant flavours; the attached cooking school is also among the best in the country.

If you're looking for more western-style cuisine, Italian, Indian, Japanese and Chinese restaurants are found along almost every single main street. Opt for one of the Middle-eastern restaurants along Sukhumvit Soi 3 (Soi Nana), Korean (at Korea Town next to Sukhumvit Soi 14) or try out one of the city's steak restaurants such as El Gaucho and New York Steak House at the JW Marriott Hotel.

Rattanaporn, our local expert for Thailand, designs enlightening and exciting trips: browse her suggested itineraries online now

Gai Pad Med Mamuang. Photo: ShutterstockGai Pad Med Mamuang. Photo: Shutterstock

Is there a ‘must-try’ dish while we’re in Bangkok?

Phad Thai (Thai-style fried noodles), Thom Yum Kung (spicy shrimp soup) and Som Tham (spicy papaya salad) remain Thai favourites for almost every single visitor. You shouldn't miss dishes such as Gai Pad Med Mamuang (chicken with cashew nuts) too or one of the many variations of noodle soup.

When in season, one dessert you simply cannot decline is Khaoniao Mamuang (mango with sticky rice and coconut milk). We guarantee you'll want a second helping.

Is there an ‘unmissable’ experience while we’re in Bangkok too?

Outside the famous temples, the Grand Palace and cruising over the waterways, Bangkok is a melting pot of sights and experiences that will define an unforgettable trip for you. To get away from the crowds, hop on a bicycle and venture deep into Bangkok's backstreets, where traffic is almost non-existent. Or try out your haggling skills at the world’s largest open-air market (weekends only) where so much is going on that you will forget time and the way back out... We can include this and more on your adventure to Thailand. Browse all suggested trips for Thailand online now.

Where is Bangkok's most romantic spot?

The banks along the Chao Phraya River remains on many visitors’ bucketlist for seeking a moment of romance. Various hotels have extensive, beautifully-lit and decorated terraces to see life passing by. Dinner cruises offer another great option, as you gently sail over the river and admire the beauty of Bangkok from the water.

A growing demand for new and exquisite venues has led to a number of impressive roof-top restaurants and bars to have opened over the past few years. Often managed by luxury hotel chains, these places like Vertigo and Moon Bar, Sirocco, Octave and Red Sky offer unparalleled 360-degree views over the capital and complement a perfect day with a perfect end.

Khao San Road market. Photo: Peter Stuckings/APA

Khao San Road market. Photo: Peter Stuckings/APA

Where can we hang out with locals?

Bangkok is such a blend of authenticity versus its drive to become a modern city that one may find local communities right next to brand-new skyscrapers and offices buildings.  For a true feeling of local life in Bangkok, head to the old part of Rattanakosin and nearby Chinatown where you can mingle. Also, Thonburi, on the other side of the Chao Phraya River still resembles Bangkok from decades ago.

For a night out with the local community, downtown Siam Square is a more atmospheric place. You'll also find locals partying around main Sukhumvit side streets such as Thong Lor and Ekkamaim and the up-and-coming region of Ari (just south of Chatuchak Park).

Do you have any additional ‘insider’ tips?

Don’t rely too much on taxis (even though they are cheap and can be found everywhere); instead, plan your travels through the capital by public transportation. It will save you time and effort. 

Be patient! Thais are very willing to help but not always be able to communicate quickly in English. Getting upset is for Thai nationals a sign of ‘losing face’ and one should avoid getting into such situations. A smile and a ‘wai’ (holding your hands together and in front of your chest) can make your experience a very enjoyable one.

Always dress respectfully when entering temples: your guide can explain exactly what one needs to wear before entering Royal and Buddhist sights.

Whatever you do, show the greatest respect to the Thai Royal Family, no matter what.

What souvenir should we bring home from our trip?

Good souvenirs include Thai silk, pottery with celandine green glaze, painted umbrellas, lacquer ware, pewter ware, bamboo and wood artifacts and bronzeware. Tailor-made clothes are also good value and can be made in a matter of days.

We strongly recommend not buying anything made from animals or ocean-based or souvenirs that you may have to hand over upon your return in your home country.  Also, items that represent the Lord Buddha are often forbidden because of the religious importance this has for the country.

This blog was originally published on September 5, 2016

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