DIFFERENT PLACES TO STAY IN BANGKOK
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 a 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.
BEST FOR ROMANCE: RATANAKOSIN
Here on the left side of the Chao Phraya bank, a string of unique hotels enjoy dreamy views across the bustling and colorful to the Temple of Dawn on the opposite shore, whose corncob towers are beautifully floodlit at night. There are three major sights of the capital – the Grand Palace, Wat Pho and the National Museum – are just a step away, and you can jump on a river bus to explore the rest of the city. It’s a quiet, traditional area where the shutters come down after dark – to sell something to eat and drink, you’re apparently going to want to nip up to Banglamphu or down to Chinatown.
BEST ALL-ROUNDER: BANGLAMPHU
This former backpackers-only ghetto has raise up a lot in recent years. There are no longer the crash-pads made of paper-thin walls and shared bathrooms, but nowadays you can also choose stylish hotels with rooftop pools, gracefully converted traditional houses and smart, modern hostels. And the buzz on the streets is still there: trendy bars, fashion stalls, and clubs bring out young Thais from all over the city, as well as world visitors. On top of all that, there’s a great district of old-fashioned shops and restaurants to the south of Democracy Monument, and the big-ticket sights of Ratanakosin are within walking distance.
BEST FOR TRUE URBANITES: CHINATOWN
It’s chaotic, riotous and dirty, but for some people, Chinatown fulfils their every dream of a Bladerunneresque Asian city. Endless gloomy passageways unfurl like serpentine department stores, hawking everything from fabrics to flowers, from pots and pans to the roots of ginseng. The range of hotels is limited, but restaurant tables onto the pavements sprawl 24/7, and there’s even an place of authentic Indian eateries in Pahurat. Long-distance trains and the urban subway line stop at the station in Hualamphong for ease of access – or a hasty departure.
BEST FOR SHOP-TILL-YOU-DROPPERS: SIAM SQUARE
In the shops and stalls of Siam Square, young designers hope to make it big selling street gear to the students and teenagers of the capital. If they get their brake, they’ll rent a space at one of the huge malls that march eastwards on the adjacent Rama I Rd, where they’ll have to compete with the best of local labels and popular brands like Gucci and Chanel. The malls also harbor branches of some of the best restaurants in the city, while accommodation in the surrounding area runs the gamut from designer hostels and luxury guesthouses (in the mini-ghetto of Soi Kasem San I) to upscale hotels. In a city that’s notorious for its traffic jams, where cars crawl along at an average of 4km per hour, this region has the best transport links: the Skytrain’s only two lines both pass through Siam Square, ready to take you to the bars and clubs of Sukhumvit, the river or the Weekend Market, Bangkok’s primary shopping experience with 8000 stalls.
BEST FOR FIVE-STAR PAMPERING: BANGRAK
This area south of Rama IV Road shelters some of the best hotels not only in Bangkok, but also on the planet: the Mandarin Oriental and the Peninsula are consistently voted in the top ten of the world. These and a clutch of other high-end places on the banks of the Chao Phraya offer excellent standards of service and superb spas, restaurants and swimming pools in their riverside gardens. They also have their own shuttle boats to transport guests up and down the river, which is a lovely way to start the exploration of a day or return to your bed at night, gliding through the stunning city lights. Public Express Boats will help you to get more out of the Chao Phraya, while the Skytrain arrows north from the river to the city centre.
BEST FOR NIGHT OWLS: SUKHUMVIT
High-rise buildings and the overhead Skytrain line trap the traffic gases and noise on Sukhumvit Road, which runs from the city centre all the way eastwards to the Cambodian border. Fortunately, many of numbered side-roads of Sukhumvit are refreshingly quiet, even leafy, and it’s here that you’ll now find the cream of pubs and clubs in Bangkok. Soi 11, “hi-so” Soi 55 and Soi 63 (a bit more studenty) are the main center; look out especially for the eccentric and high-concept bars of Ashley Sutton, design guru of the moment (Iron Fairies, Clouds etc). At the same time, the girlie bars on Soi Nana and Soi Cowboy are looking almost retro these days, not to mention of date. Sukhumvit also offer a very good list of accommodation – though hardly anything ultra-cheap or ultra-luxe – and an impressive array ofprofessional restaurants, from Catalan to Keralan and from Lebanese to