Experience charming Bangkok
As the chaos of the Khao San Road, a longtime favorite of backpackers, spills over into a growing number of neighboring streets every year, there are still places nearby with completely separate identities that offer a refreshing contrast. For the initiated, the Samsen district, just a stone’s throw from the carnival atmosphere, seems almost like a secret treasure. Along the small leafy streets, everyday life rolls by in one of Bangkok’s oldest neighborhoods. Those tourists who have found their way here can enjoy the tranquil atmosphere, complete with crowing roosters and housewives hanging out their laundry, while the Thai whiskey flows and the chart hits belt out just a few streets away.
Also a stone’s throw from the party district, but towards the river, is the hammering and sawing of Phra Athit Road, where the renovation of a row of old shops is in full swing. As new bars, cafés, stores, and restaurants move in, the area has begun to establish a reputation as a trendier and more tasteful retreat from the hedonism of its nearby big brother.
There is always a vibrancy in the city center that attracts a growing ecosystem of local entrepreneurs and ensures constant renewal. While Bangkok’s longest street, Sukhumvit Road, is still lined with shopping, nightlife, and some slightly shadier establishments, its small side streets offer more and more small atmospheric oases.
Here’s our guide to stylish and charming Bangkok: High and low, new and old.
Few Bangkok cafés enjoy such a loyal group of customers as On Lok Yun, which, with a menu as simple as its décor, has been bringing locals in through the door for breakfast for nearly 80 years. Order a traditional kaya with fluffy pieces of bread that you dip into custard and condensed milk as you watch the mix of hipsters, schoolgirls, and old Chinese guys do exactly the same thing.
72 Charoen Krung Road
A new start in old Bangkok
Phra Athit, the street that runs along the Chao Phraya River in the oldest part of Bangkok, is well known for its little hole-in-the-wall restaurants, hip cafés, and bars with an artistic touch. You don’t have to be vegetarian to appreciate the Instagram-friendly Bean & Us; every family recipe for soy milk has been refined over the course of 30 years. As well as soy ice cream and soy latte, they also serve lunch and breakfast – try their charcoal waffle sticks with strawberries.
76 Thanon Phra Athit
One trend that doesn’t seem to want to dry up is the Japanese onsen bath. The latest addition is the waterless spa experience at The One Residence. In a heated bath of sand, a wealth of vitamins and minerals are said to lie in wait, ready to attack the toxins in the body and boost the circulation as you sink down into the extra-large grains of sand taken from Japanese volcanoes.
319 Srinakarin Road
The daily grind in Samsen
“This is the real Bangkok.” The French woman at the next table leans forward with a conspiratorial whisper and we certainly can’t disagree. Nestling among Samsen’s traditional houses and small simple establishments, is Slow, a charming corner café and wine bar that comes highly recommended, beautifully decorated with antiques and offering a menu that includes dishes from northern Thailand’s Lanna cuisine.
Samsen Soi 2
If you want to visit Rome, Tokyo, or Paris without leaving Bangkok, swing by Terminal 21. This relative newcomer among Bangkok’s upmarket shopping malls beats most of its rivals hands down, thanks to its idea of making each floor a different world destination, which you enter through an airport gate. Grab a flight attendant, who will gladly show you the way to the Caribbean, for example, where you can munch on one of the best burgers in Bangkok at Japanese chain MOS Burger.
88 Sukhumvit Soi 19
Oasis in the sky
When the bustling traffic and shopping frenzy around the Sukhumvit district threatens to sap your last energy reserves, take the elevator up to the EmQuartier shopping mall. In this playful 3,000m2 roof garden, complete with tropical orchids, gurgling fountains, and colorful human-size meerkats, you can recharge your batteries for a while, high above the madness of Bangkok below.
12 Sukhumvit Rd, just by the BTS-station Phrom Phrong
Quirky by the waterfront
Next to a huge pile of scrap metal lies a narrow alleyway lined with tinkling wind chimes and traditional wooden houses. In here hides the entrance to Samsara, by far Bangkok’s coziest waterfront restaurant. If charmingly playful décor, Japanese-influenced Thai cuisine, and vintage furniture are your cup of tea, then this is where you should book your table, ideally on the terrace overlooking the swirling Chao Phraya River.
612 Songwat Road
Thailand is no exception to the Scandi wave that is sweeping the world. The well-hyped and stylish Rocket café chain of Swedish mixologists the Sorum brothers has managed to charm Bangkok’s locals with its cold-pressed coffee, poached eggs, and Scandinavian design. Unsurprisingly, there’s also a collection of carefully composed cocktails on the menu, although the brothers themselves recommend the house Bloody Mary with your weekend brunch.
147 Soi Sathon 12 or 46 Soi Sukhumvit 49/12
Somewhat of an unsung hero on the Bangkok art scene is the Ratchadamnoen Contemporary Art Center, which was established in honor of the art-loving King Bhumibol on the occasion of his 84th birthday. The center’s four floors display both historical works and works by contemporary Thai artists. Even the building itself, a gluttony of raw concrete, glass, steel, wood, and bare brick walls, is worth a visit.
Where the cool cats hang out
Those in the know head up the steps to Adhere 13th. This legendary jazz and blues club is where Bangkok’s coolest cats come to jam, guaranteeing that this small, atmospheric bar is always packed to the rafters.
Samsen Road, directly opposite the entrance to the alleyway Samsen Soi 2
Dye it yourself
Charm-Learn Studio is a peculiar mix of boutique, training center, and weekend café in a neighborhood in Bangkok’s Old Town where few foreigners set foot. Here you can take a workshop in batik dyeing, photography, or pottery, or go on a cycling tour of Bangkok. Don’t miss the opportunity to buy one of the studio’s ceramics, which are as unique as they are charming.
95 Prang Sappasat Road
Text: Eva Paulsen
Experience charming Bangkok with this interactive map
Published: February 10, 2016
Last edited: April 7, 2016