In total, I went to Bangkok five times on my travels, although 3 of those times I was really only in the airport, and 2 out of 3 times I was having a little sleepover at BKK. For me, this enormous city was a bunch of extremes all mixed together. There was the most intense heat, but even-more-intense air conditioning. There were so many people, but so many chances to be almost completely alone. You could go from eating lunch on a tiny plastic stool at a street stall to having drinks on the top of the world in the evening. You could walk down the most obnoxious tourist street in the world and then go home to a hostel in residential Bangkok the same night. There are some of the most spectacular temples in the world, and some of the most amazing skyscrapers. Everything is all mashed up together, making Bangkok an incredibly fascinating city.
The two times I spent time in Bangkok were very different. The first time, with my sister, we tried to see as many of the main attractions as we could manage in only a few short days: the gorgeous temples, views from boats going down the river, the overwhelming and beautiful markets. The second time, I tried to go as slowly as possible, spending an entire day in Lumphini Park listening to podcasts, reading my book, and watching komodo dragons, another day riding a bike around Bangkok’s “green lung”, and my evenings having drinks as high up in the sky as I could manage. On both my visits, I really felt like I got to experience so many sides to the city, even though there’s still so much more I would love to explore.
Vertigo Bar at the Banyan Tree: Without a doubt, this is the best rooftop bar in Bangkok. There are 360 degree views of the city, delicious (though expensive) drinks, and a lovely atmosphere. Just remember that there is a dress code, so no flip-flops.
Cloud 47 Rooftop Bar: This bar is also really nice, but a little less fancy – but there’s still a dress code. We went to this one before Vertigo, which I would recommend lest you be disappointed, but the views here are lovely too.
Baan Nampetch Hostel: I stayed here with my sister, and it was clean, had blissful air-conditioning, two twin beds and was only a 15 minute walk to one of the piers to take the boat to all the tourist sites, 10 minutes to the Golden Mount, and 10 minutes to Khao San road (which we did not really frequent).
U-Baan Guesthouse: Be aware that this hostel is a bit of a hike from the more touristy parts of the city, but the woman who runs this place is kind, funny, and hangs out and drinks beer with her guests. I would recommend renting a room with a friend or two if possible, because the dorms are….cozy to say the least. It’s very close to the SkyTrain, so it’s not far to get to places like Lumphini Park, Silom, and the enormous malls.
Bang Krachao: The green lung of Bangkok! It’s so peaceful and calm here that you feel like you’ve magically been transported to a jungle hours from the big city. You can easily rent bikes in the parking lot of the Talad Nam Peung floating market and then just get lost on the little concrete paths that spiderweb throughout the jungle. It’s not an island (we took a taxi there and back), but it feels like one and is absolutely beautiful. The market has a lot of yummy local treats too!
Jim Thompson House: Yes, it’s worth it to go and look at someone’s house, mostly because it’s a gorgeous house with so much character and history. You have to sign up to go on a guided tour of the house which is a little shorter than I would have liked, an there are no photos are permitted, but it’s still worth it. I wished that we could have had more time to explore the house itself (you can only explore a limited section of the grounds after the tour) but the whole complex is beautiful and for me, very inspiring. Jim Thompson created a lovely, traditional-meets-modern Thai house in the middle of the city and it still feels like an oasis. Ps. there’s a youth discount so don’t forget your ID!
Café Bangrak: This restaurant is near Vertigo, so if you don’t feel like paying their terrifying prices for dinner, just walk over to this tiny adorable place. Most of the time I was in Bangkok, I ate at street stalls, and this is the only restaurant I loved enough to recommend/could even give you directions to. I had the red curry fried rice and it was delicious. I got the recommendation from this great blog post, which suggests some other Thai places that look great too.
Note: I was in Bangkok in late April (the hottest time of year), and then late May (not quite so bad) of this year.