Bangkok is like Nickleback. You either love it or you hate it with every morsel of your being. I love Bangkok; lets not talk about Nickelback.
Landing at Suvarnabhumi Airport and heading downstairs to the taxi-line, always awakens this immediate rush of excitement. The knowledge that whether i’m spending a week or 6 months there, I will be fed like a God and imbibe like a Viking. The streets are heaving with life, the roads clogged haplessly with far too much traffic, the sky-trains groaning under the burden of lightening the load, and the subway snaking around beneath the surface offering frosty AC and relative peace. Despite all these handicaps, there are precious few places on earth that fill me with as much optimism, hope and excitement as Bangkok. Once they expand the MTR and Skytrain, then the city will be slightly more inhabitable, from a transport perspective.
Anyway, onto whats important. Food, drinks and accommodation. Ramen restaurants have already been written about here, so this is mostly other cuisine. And since almost all of my Thai friends eat at streetfood places with no name, then I will just focus on brick and mortar places, not only Thai mind you.
Sightseeing you can read about on another blog.
Where to eat
Baan Ice ($$)
This restaurant has a couple of locations, i’ve only been to the one in Thong Lor, but it was a mind-blowing experience. Moderately priced, packed to the brim with Thai families, I found a table outside by the road and ordered a few dishes with some friends. Everything was top notch, perfectly authentic Southern Thai food. Great service, good prices, amazing food. Not to be missed. (Their Beef Green Curry was sublime, as was their house special plump prawns with al dente beans and curry paste, the fish cakes are spectacular also)
Warning: This is real authentic local southern food. They don't mess around for tourists here, this is punchy, pungeant, spicy and flavourful. Only go here if you know what you're getting yourself in for, but if you like authentic food you cannot beat it.
Ramen Wakyu ($$)
The holy grail for Shoyu Ramen in Bangkok has surely been found?
The spot is a small, cosy ramen shop with counter space up front and seating in the back for families and bigger groups. I hid on the corner part and ordered their speciality Shoyu with extra pork. The menu described it as the stock being a mix of vegetables, chicken and pork bones, and bonito (which can polarise some people due to its "fishy taste") so I already had in mind what it would taste like. However, this was flavour +
Dark, umami-packed broth, absolutely sensational pork (some of the best I've ever eaten), and a well cooked egg along with the slight difference of Soba Noodles instead of "regular" ramen noodles. The soba were cooked to perfection, the chew was excellent and the overall texture was spot on.
Hom Duan ($)
If like me you can’t go a week without obsessing about Khao Soi, then this is your spot in Bangkok. Having been numerous times to Chiang Mai and tried every tiny stall or stately restaurant pouring out the rich coconut broth into big steaming bowls, I was starting to get serious withdrawals being stuck in Bangkok for 4 months. I read about this spot in Ekkamai on BK magazines food section and headed up there for lunch with expectant doubt.
Old mama was presiding over events, ordering everyone around tho i’m sure they had done the same thing a million times already, however its nice to see someone with a grip on quality control. Everything in the bowl was supposed to be there, this wasn’t a frivolous place trying to re-interpret the basics of a Khao Soi. The broth was almost spot on but lacked a bit of depth and had a touch too much cumin for me, but i’m really being pedantic here. This was a great bowl of Khao Soi, and the price is hardly to scoff at.
Soul Food Mahanakorn ($$$)
Introduced to me many years ago by an Australian friend living in Oslo, we all popped over there together for the first time since Mark had been reading up about it before he arrived. Since then I must have been over 50 times and recommended it to over 100+ people.
This place does sublime Thai food for a quasi-Thai/Western palate, but nonetheless it delivers on all fronts. The cocktails are also pretty stiff to help if you are eating with people you don’t know too well, or on a first date. There are so many things to recommend on the menu but if we go as a group we usually always order the following: Banana Blossom Fritters, Isaan Chicken Wings, Lamb Samosas, Tamarind Pork Ribs, Pork Cheek Peppercorn Curry, Massaman Curry, Burmese Pork Belly Curry, Larb Moo… the list goes on.
Their specials are hit and miss, but generally a safe bet. Reserve a table, especially on weekends, and when you sit down just order a Bangkok Bastard before you read the menu to just arrive and settle and prepare yourself for an onslaught of flavours.
Polo Chicken ($$)
A veritable institution in Bangkok feathery delight folklore, this place has been churning out crispy, moist chicken for over 50 years. Sure, you might be surrounded by abrasively loud Americans chomping on wings, but it's worth the headache for some comfort food that sure to cure the ills of last night. In my honest opinion the dark meat was phenomenal, the white meat had some dry-parts to it, but take nothing away: This is seriously good fried chicken, the colonel better watch his back.
Huapla Morfai Pinklao
On the opposite side of the spectrum, if you want to check out an obscenely local spot that has been churning out "Chinese-Thai" for decades, then head to Pinklao and go up to the 3rd floor. The crab fried rice at this spot is worth the journey alone. The fish head soup is famous and is tasty, but you have to allow it to boil for a while so the soup intensifies. Go with a group and order a spread and be prepared to be the only tourists there.
Somtum Der ($$)
Speaking of Som Tum, one of the quintessential dishes in the Thai arsenal, if you're not prone to ordering off the street (which is the tastiest option) then head over to this spot. Their Isaan fare is legit, especially their Larb Moo and spicy beef salad, all washed down with a couple ice cold beers and a nice refreshing Som Tam Thai for kicks.
Pizza Masillia ($$$)
If there’s one food that gets opinions raging, its pizza. Probably because everyone has had so many of them in their lifetime that they have honed in on what it is they personally love about this epic comfort food. Mine is all about the base. If the base is done well, and the toppings and tomato sauce are on point then we have a winner.
I am not the hugest fan of the ultra thin crispy biscuit pizzas, neither do I like the Neopolitan style ones where the base is too fluffy/soft and has no resistance. I prefer my crust to have some chew to it, be almost burnt, and be thin in the middle so you have to do the “napoli flip” and tuck it into the thicker end. Masillia does all of these things right. The only pizza i’ve tried here which wasn’t amazing was the ham & mushroom, it was too sweet. However, everything else was spot on and the location is beautiful in a backyard with the pizza oven on the back of a truck.
Saravana Bhavan ($$)
Having grown up in Tamil Nadu, I get intense Dosa-cravings, something which is difficult to quell in most parts of the world. However, of course Bangkok has 2 branches of the world-wide chain Saravana Bhavan. I lived close to the Silom Road one so I honestly used to go about 3 times a week. By the end of my 4 month stint I knew all the waiters and chefs. The dosa’s here, especially the Masala Dosa, is sublime. I’ve visited quite a few Saravana Bhavan around the world and they vary wildly, this being the supreme leader outside of India. Absolutely perfect sambar, gorgeous chutneys and a thin amazing dosa just waiting to be devoured.
Din Tai Fung ($$)
Quintessential MUST-DO if you are anywhere they have a branch. Dim Sum of the highest order, just go there, order 100000 pork soup dumplings, some beers, some spinach with garlic, pot stickers, shrimp shu mei, shrimp fried rice, and sit for as long as you can eating as much as you can. You will not regret it.
Tip: Don't forget to put the fresh ginger on top of the dumpling before you shove it in your gob.
Bankara Ramen ($$)
Having travelled multiple times in Japan, as an admitted Ramen-Junkie, it came as a surprise to me to discover Bankara a few years ago. I headed out there without too much hope of securing an authentic bowl of Tonkotsu Ramen, but I was absolutely wrong. Sensational ramen, perfectly executed, literally close your eyes and you are in Japan. It’s really THAT good. Their house-special was far too fatty/oily for me, but the regular Tonkotsu with Chashu and marinated egg is to die for. Great Gyoza too!
Honorable mentions and places I didn't take photos:
Supanniga Eating Room - A slightly hip spot to eat, but they really do some great Thai dishes and do not really pander to the western clientele. The food is pungent and original and the way it should be, so only come here if you are prepared for some pretty strong flavours. PRICE: $$$
Nahm - If you are on a short holiday and have no fears about splashing out a bit, get reservations at Nahm. Started by the illustrious Australian chef Dave Thompson who has dedicated his life to understanding and perfecting Thai cuisine, this spot really hits the nail on the head. I opted for the tasting menu, which was exceptional and came in under 3000 Bhat with drinks. The only negative I could give was the over-abundance of desserts which I was not a fan of. Everything else was faultless. PRICE: $$$$$
Issaya Siamese Club - Another one to test if you want to burn the Mastercard. Situated in a beautiful old Thai house near Sathorn, this place serves up “Fine Dining Thai”, and does it well. The Lamb Curry here is potentially one of the best I have ever eaten. PRICE: $$$$
Kabana - A tiny strangely shaped restaurant clinging onto life in the hard fought jewellery shop area of Charoenkrung, the owner sits philosophically and smiles at every customer. The food is top notch, the Lamb Curry especially delicious and the pricing is great. A strange, small place in the middle of the bustling city. Time stands still inside. PRICE: $$
Tuang by Chef Yip - The story of a chef working in a top class hotel in Bangkok who got tired of the rat race and opened up a tiny shack on the street serving 20 customers at a time, with a perpetual line. Not the greatest dim sum i’ve had but very tasty and insanely affordable. The experience is worth it alone, taking a number from the plastic board and waiting your turn while waiters rush past with steaming baskets of dim sum whetting your appetite in the stifling heat. PRICE: $$
The Smoking Pug - Another place where reservations are a must, we decided to try our luck after an almighty bender in Bangkok the night before and ended up being lucky to sit at the bar and eat (prefer that anyway). The American owner was lovely and saw the terror and pain in my face so she poured me a couple Makers Mark on the house just to settle the nerves. The food is straight out of the South in the States. They have a proper smoker outside, none of this liquid smoke, proper meat, amazing wings, great service, great bar options and a comfortable environment. PRICE: $$$$
Sri Ganesha - Competing with Sarawana Bhavan for the best dosa in town is the small, quite hidden restaurant quite far down Soi 13 in Sukhumvit. It took some time to find it since it’s inside a small “mall”, but the food here is phenomenal. Gaggan himself recommended it so I had to try it out, and it was 100% legit. Either Sarawana or Sri Ganesha will definitely soothe your cravings. PRICE: $$
Taksura - This enormous local place at the RCA is famous for its live music, beer and food. 2 old ladies govern the kitchen barking out orders and shouting for staff to collect the steaming plates. I’ve been here numerous times and only had one disappointing experience, but to be fair we did turn up with 8 foreigners so they made the food entirely bland so that we wouldn’t send it back. On the many times i’ve been here alone, or with a friend, the food has been EXCEPTIONAL. Special mention goes to their squid salad and Green Curry. Ask for it spicy and trust me you’ll need to have a cold Leo on hand to quench the flames. PRICE: $$
Himali Cha-Cha - One of those bastardly frustrating places where you go one night and have the most awesome Authentic Indian meal, then go back 3 days later, order the same thing and it tastes completely different. I did eventually pluck up the courage to ask on the second night if the same chef was in the kitchen “No, different chef today”. So that explains it. When its good its REALLY good, when its bad well….. its the other chefs fault. PRICE: $$$
Jua - If you’re jonesing for a bit of Japanese Izakaya-style Yakitori spot then head over to Jua. A beautiful small restaurant hidden in a back-alley off Charoenkrung. The prices are a little high, but the ambience and quality of the food makes it worth it. PRICE: $$$
Where to drink
23 Bar & Gallery
Our resident bar in Bangkok. Been coming here for almost 12 years, from when they used to be on Soi 16. The current location in Chinatown is a 3 story old house with galleries on the first 2 floors, along with the raucous bar where you can hear all your favourite 90s and 2000s brit-pop songs while the crowd do shots and sing at the top of their lungs. It’s calmer on weekdays which is normally when you’ll find me propped up at the bar or playing some songs from behind it.
Definitely “home” in Bangkok. If you happen to drop by, buy a shot for GO or OAD and say hi from Ben.
Tip: Speaking of street food earlier if you exit bar 23 and walk left to the end of the road on the other side of the junction are 2 street food places. Both very good. We eat there often! Also a couple stores down from Bar23 is a Pad See Ew place with super cheap and delicious noodles for 40 bhat. Ask the bartenders.
The Old Other Office
I hesitate to put this in here, due to the fact that I love this bar so much and don’t want it to get ruined. Then I realised that probably 4 people a year would read this and maybe 1 would actually go, so its worth it to share that experience.
Hidden down one of the most perverted alleyways in Bangkok where you will be grabbed and accosted by a host of ladyboys, suddenly an oasis opens up down a short hallway and opens into the bar that is THE OLD OTHER OFFICE. Tum sits behind the bar smoking endless cigarettes watching her Thai soap operas on her laptop whilst the men play pool and listen to JJ CALE in the back.
This is not a bar for partying or picking up chicks or being a dickhead. This is the regulars living room and you should treat it like that. Sit back, sip a beer, enjoy the music and the insane decorations on the wall, play a game of pool and suddenly realise its 5am and you need to go home and sleep.
A treasure… I hope it stays around forever.
This charming, small bar on Samsen is one for quiet meditation and drinking. The clientele here seem to have weathered a few storms, and prefer to sit wrapped in their own thoughts which is perfect if you just want a quiet beer to clear your head before moving onwards.
Need some AC/DC in your life? Missing watching local live bands destroy great rock songs with out of tune singing and sloppy drummers? This is your spot.
Owned by someone who could have been a roadie on the "Ride The Lightning" Tour, this small rock bar is home to local metal bands playing every night. If you get there early tho, you can sit and sip your drinks listening to old skool metal on the stereo. We prefer leaving before the live bands start, but to each their own.
12 x 12
Slightly different vibe here. Our friend Hiroshi created this bar in the front of his house, which he has remodelled a few times since we’ve been going there. Fresh from a trip from Lebanon we initiated him into the ways of the Dou Dou shot which has now become a best seller on the menu. He brews his own insanely good Umeshu, and has some Japanese whiskies for those who know how good they are. The music profile is more electronic/clubby here and sometimes they have entrance on weekends. If it’s not your vibe then just down the same road is Shades of Retro which is a more mellow affair.
A Bangkok institution for hipsters and crate diggers alike. Next door is a record store, owned by the same people, and Studio Lam has a wide array of old and new Thai and Foreign bands and Djs playing in the beautiful space. The bar is crammed with bottles of bizarre concoctions and infusions leading to a rather original cocktail list. If like me you are a simpleton, they have Beer Laos and when the musics too loud you can sit outside on the wooden patio and watch life pass by. If Pen-Ek Ratanaruang had a bar, it would look like this.
The much loved and revered old location in a small alley off Soi 11 was a spot you could always go alone and end up meeting people. The soundtrack was the same, the toy sky-train made its rounds endlessly and the angry woman kept walking around telling you to stay within the rope boundary. However, the drinks were cheap and the place was amazing. Its moved now closer to On Nut, near the Tesco Lotus, and to be honest has lost a lot of its previous charm. However, if you are out that way, pop by for a drink and support them because their old location was taken away from them to build apartments.
Near Nam Du Phlis, this place is open late and is a decent option even tho its a bit on the swank side for me. Pricey, but a mellow place to wile away the weekends. Definitely an option if you are a foodie/chef because all the head chefs and crew from the best places in town hang out here to compare menu sizes :-)
On the "other side" of the river, i'm putting this in based solely on the views. It's a bit tricky to find, having to go into a hotel lobby after weaving through a market, then up to the top floor and up further steps to the rooftop, but the views of Bangkok are unbeatable.
Speaking of views: If you are in Bangkok for the first time, then its worth a trip up to the top of Lebua State Towers to Sky Bar. The drinks are horrendously expensive, men have to wear trousers and shoes, and you will be forced to buy a drink by the millions of waiters. However, the views are unbeatable and everyone succumbs to their selfie addiction when up there.
Tip: If you arrive there and don't have trousers you can rent them, yes, rent them from a lady outside the entrance.
Bars without photographs
Shades of Retro - Not the cheapest bar in Bangkok, but definitely one of the nicest looking. A crazy LSD collection of thrift store stuff mixed in with 60s and old Thai random objects strewn around. The bar does good drinks and they have Fernet Branca!!!!!! There is a tiny outside seating area for those nicotine inclined and a kitchen out front. I haven’t tried the food since I usually pop in here right after Soul Food Mahanakorn, but it looks delicious.
F Orange - Not a lot of budget has gone into the decor of this place, a sorta shabby cavern in the middle of a strange shopping complex, but they have some small touches that make you stop and appreciate that imagination goes a long way. However, the bar tenders are great here and it make a change from all the other spots when you live in Bangkok for a while. Worth checking out on the weekends because during the week you will be the only punter. They sometimes have live music where bands just set up directly on the floor by the entrance. The quality is hit and miss.
Skytrain Jazz Bar - Near Victory Monument this quirky jazz bar is a definite must-do on your bar hopping list. Mostly Thai clientele but no bad looks if you walk in, it’s a great bar with odd furniture and a balcony space to sit if the weathers not too hot.
Asia Today - Slightly more bearable than the ultra-hipster hell of Teens of Thailand, yet owned by the same people, this place is known for its cocktails too. It’s only a 2 minute walk over to Bar23 so this is a nice spot to start with a cocktail to get your courage up to walk into a crowded place with singing patrons.
Tep Bar - Head here if you want to see some traditional Thai music in a very small-intimate setting. It’s a stones throw away from 10 other bars so there’s no problem turning up here, not liking it, and struggling to find something else.
FooJohn - The downstairs level looks like a still from a Wong-Kar Wai movie, upstairs is a rather fancy cocktail bar and on the roof they serve drinks and their famous ribs. It’s become quite a popular place on Charoenkrung and used to be the perfect place to start up and then head to Soul Bar, but soul bar is no more.
Jam Bar - Unfortunately located after the worst intersection in Bangkok where you can literally stand for 10+ minutes trying to cross the road, the bar itself is worth the hassle. Small, slightly “Who-The-Fuck-Are-You”, but in a bearable way, place that oozes trying to be Brooklyn, but whatever. It’s a nice alternative if you’ve done the others to death, and you usually meet at least someone interesting there. Music profile can literally be anything.
The Glory Unspeakable
I rarely recommend hotels, but in the case of The Atlanta Hotel in Bangkok you'll understand the exception. Tho its location is not perfect, the locale is. An oasis of peace and purity in a city of sin and cacophony. Enter the most beautiful lobby you have ever seen in your life, greet Anung in the dining room, head out to the huge pool and take a dip, the rooms themselves are modest and clean but priced accordingly. You stay in this place because of the beauty, peace and serenity. The staff take no nonsense, this is not the kind of place you crawl in drunk with a ladyboy riding bull on your back. They don’t even approve of kids unless they are “well behaved”. Honestly, its a hotel like no other. It’s a hotel for people who hate people, or at least like to be left alone. It is the last bastion of glory left on earth. Long may it reign.
All these recommendations are just personal opinions based on my palate, things change, chefs get fired or replaced, places open-close, relocate, so take it all with a pinch of MSG and discover your own gems too. But please do try a few of these, they have been researched exhaustively.