Deciding where to stay on a first time visit to Bangkok can be somewhat overwhelming. It’s a vast city of almost 10 million people occupying almost 1,600 square kilometers. Its neighbourhoods are spread far an wide although an excellent public transport network ensures that visitors can easily get around. Accommodation ranges from 5-star luxury hotels overlooking the Chao Phraya River to basic backpacker hostels along the Khao San Road. With so many places to choose from it’s fair to say that there is something to suit every pocket in Bangkok, it’s just a question of researching the city’s main neighbourhoods and deciding which is most appropriate for you.
Bangkok Travel Basics
Bangkok Airports: Most international travellers will arrive at Suvarnabhumi International Airport which lies 30km east of the city centre. Some regional and domestic arrivals will land at Don Mueang Airport which lies 25km north-east of the city. Bangkok Airport Transfers: From Suvarnabhumi the Airport Rail Link runs to Phayathai Station in the city centre where passengers can connect to the Skytrain (BTS). Alternatively, there’s a public taxi service from the airport or passengers can pre-book airport transfers from Bangkok Airport with Shuttledirect.
Bangkok Transport: The best way to get around is by means of the excellent Skytrain (BTS) and Metro (MRT) networks. Metered taxis are also widely available but traffic jams can make for very slow journeys. There are many river taxis and ferries serving the waterways whilst tuk-tuks are an option for short trips.
Choosing the Right Neighbourhood
Riverside – 5-Star Luxury on the Chao Phraya River
Families with a sizeable budget visiting Bangkok needn’t look further than the Riverside area which is home to some of the city’s finest hotels. The area was originally settled by Chinese immigrants who established Bangkok’s first Chinatown on the banks of the Chao Phraya River. The community moved to the site of today’s Chinatown some 200 years ago to allow for the building of the Grand Palace. Some of the premier properties located in the Riverside area include the Mandarin Oriental, the Peninsula Bangkok and the Shangri-La Hotel. There are also some attractive guest houses and boutique hotels on the river but there’s nothing in the way of budget accommodation.
Riverside is well located for proximity to the Grand Palace, Wat Pho and Wat Arun but isn’t ideal for getting around on the Skytrain (BTS) or Metro (MRT). Having said that, most upmarket hotels provide free river transport to the Sathorn (Taksin) Pier which stands next to the Saphan Taksin Skytrain station. Otherwise there are plenty taxis and tuk-tuks around the major hotels.
Siam – A Shopaholic’s Heaven
Visitors who are looking to stay in downtown Bangkok with ready access to some of the city’s major shopping malls should consider the glamorous Siam neighbourhood. This family-friendly district is home to the Siam Paragon, Siam Discovery, MBK and Central World shopping malls as well as cinemas, bars and restaurants. Well-known luxury hotels in Siam include the Siam Kempinski, the Pathumwan Princess and the Centara Grand which is home to the city’s best-known sky bar on the 55th floor. Plenty mid-range and a few budget accommodation options can also be found in the neighbourhood. Siam is very well connected to the rest of the city thanks to the Siam BTS station which is one of the busiest on the Skytrain network.
Silom – The Business Traveller’s Choice
The skyscrapers of Silom denote its role as Bangkok’s Central Business District (CBD). It is the city’s commercial centre where the headquarters of many of the country’s richest companies are based. The area is also known for its top-notch accommodation, excellent Thai restaurants and as the location of Lumphini Park, a green oasis in the heart of the city. This is a relatively quiet part of town which will appeal to families and business travellers alike. Those looking for some nightlife can easily walk to the nearby red-light district of Patpong which is also famous for its popular night market. Stand-out properties include Le Meridien, So Sofitel and the Banyan Tree which is another property with a popular rooftop bar. A number of mid-range hotels and apartments can also be found in Silom. The area is well connected to the rest of the city by means of both the Skytrain (BTS) and Metro (MRT) services.
Sukhumvit – Something for Everyone
Sukhumvit Road is the longest road in Bangkok which runs for almost 500km from the city centre to the border with Cambodia. It is packed day and night with traffic but fortunately the BTS Skytrain runs along enough of its length to ensure that visitors can easily get around from accommodation located on or near this cosmopolitan thoroughfare.
As well as hotels and apartments there are also many office blocks, shopping malls, restaurants and nightlife venues along Sukhumvit including the infamous red-lights districts of Nana Plaza at Soi 4 and Soi Cowboy at Soi 23. It’s also a great place to enjoy typical street food in the evening when vendors set up their stalls along the side of the main road and its sidestreets.
A “Soi” refers to the sidestreets which come off the main Sukhumvit Road. Soi 11 is well known for its nightlife whilst the area around Soi 21 is a good choice for hotels.
There is a great selection of accommodation along Sukhumvit to suit every budget which makes it a popular choice for both business and leisure travellers. Prestigious hotels such as the Athenee and the Okura Prestige Bangkok stand alongside upmarket properties owned by famous chains including Sofitel, Sheraton, Radisson, Hilton and JW Marriot. Mid-range hotels are widely available together with a good range of budget accommodation including backpacker hostels with dorm rooms.
Pratunam – Authentic Thai Vibe
Anyone wanting to experience the authenticity of downtown Bangkok should take a look at staying in this lively and sometimes chaotic neighbourhood. Located next to Siam and surrounding the enormous Pratunam wholesale market it offers a greater selection of mid-range and budget accommodation than its glitzy neighbour. Whilst upmarket options such as the 5-star Amari Watergate are available, this is much more the chosen area of the experienced traveller with plenty mid-range and budget hotels to choose from. There’s a good selection of affordable places to stay in the streets around the Victory Monument transport hub. This is also a great place to experience the craziness of Bangkok street life and sample some of its finest street food.
Khao San Road – Backpacker Central
More than 20 years ago on my first visit to Bangkok all I head about regarding accommodation was Khao San Road. This infamous backpacker neighbourhood is a loud party-town packed with drunken foreigners enjoying all the worst of what Thailand has got to offer. It is filled with cheap hostels, ‘happy hour’ bars and dubious street food. Personally I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who has an interest in enjoying an authentic experience of Thailand. Whilst the area is located within walking distance of the Grand Palace and Wat Pho it isn’t particularly well connected to the rest of the city. There isn’t a BTS or MRT station nearby so travellers are forced to rely on taxis and tuk-tuks for getting around.
Chinatown – For Something Completely Different
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