Do the Big Mango differently with Bangkok travel tips the guide books don’t mention. Get more out of Bangkok with these under the radar experiences.
When temple fatigue starts to kick in and the craziness of Khao San Road is starting to wear a little thin, get to know another side of The Big Mango. Every travel to Bangkok blog is choc-full of the usual haunts – a river cruise, temple hopping, mall shopping and more – but there is a teeming metropolis filled with quirky, lesser known experiences.
Take note of these under the radar Bangkok travel tips and see the city in a whole new light. These 10 tried-and-tested recommendations will give you a new vigour for city life, guaranteed to spice up even a short travel to Bangkok package. From oddball museum visits to cool cuisine and eclectic nights out, get the lowdown from your very own Bangkok insider.
Cocktails in Chinatown
One of the important things to know about Bangkok is that Chinatown is not just for daytime sights and bargain shopping. It’s garnered a well-deserved rep for late nigh schmoozing and socialising with a collection of happening, eclectic bars. Live a little at TEP or the funky Teens of Thailand. TEP has live Thai music (surprisingly good) on most nights and concocts very cool cocktails using traditional Thai ingredients (with a base of homemade Thai moonshine, Yadong.)
Just across the street from TEP, Teens of Thailand serves up the very best G&T in town and is a very cool hangout to mingle. The period shophouse interior features vintage Thai furniture and artsy prints adorning the walls by local photographer Kachain Wonglamthong. Bangkok’s first self-styled gin palace serves up more than 80 gin-based potions and the drinks list changes daily.
Boating and Beer on the River
Avoid the tourist rammed dinner cruise circuit and instead enjoy a laid back booze filled sunset river cruise. There’s a boat that leaves from Asiatique at 6:30 pm and cruises up to the Grand Palace and back. It’s a full hour of lovely breezes, beer and tasty snacks, and of course you get to see all the temples, hotels and restaurants lighting up on the ‘River of Kings’ as the sun slips away into the darkness. Tickets are only 300 baht. Look for the Yod Siam boat stall at the waterfront. No one’s ever disembarked disappointed!
Board Games and Burgers
There is much more to nights out in the Big Mango than bar girls and overpriced beer. Grab a bunch of friends and hang out at Game Over Lounge in Thonglor. It is a very upscale internet café cum gamers’ haven with top notch craft beers and famed Daniel Thaiger burgers. A self-styled ‘electronic playground,’ you’ll be able to embrace your inner geek on the video game shoot ‘em ups or simply shoot some pool. It’s great fun in a gang with retro board games (which inevitably lead to more serious drinking games) beer pong, and a huge 4-foot tall Jenga game setup.
When the joystick fatigue sets in there are super comfy sofas to crash on and sample the impressive line-up of craft beers and coffee. It’s open to 2:00 am nightly and attracts an eclectic crowd – it’s generally a nerd-free clientele which generates a buzzy atmosphere on busy weekends.
Chilled Out Pizza Party
If you’re looking for a good Mediterranean-Italian restaurant that is super affordable, you should really try Mama Dolores. This semi-outdoor homey restaurant is located in the big front yard of a house at 20 Yen Akat Road, Tungmahamek, Sathorn area. It is something of a hidden gem, patronised mostly by locals in the know and expats, and you most definitely need to take taxi or motorbike taxi to find it, but it’s totally worth the ride. It has a friendly and casual vibe with a personalised pizza package, and ample space for larger groups to get convivial in the garden terrace.
The hive of activity is the open kitchen area complete with huge wood-fired oven, and you’ll even get the chance to interact with the restaurant owner’s tiny cute dog!
Biking in the Botanical Gardens
If you feel like a complete change of scenery away from the hazy, crazy streets of Sukhumvit, you’re in luck. Simply head to the river, and hop across on a boat to Bangkok’s ‘Green Lung’ at Bang Krachao. This is likely to be the first evidence you get that Bangkok can indeed be clean, green and peaceful. Rent a bike by the boat pier and cycle around the narrow paths winding through the lush greenery and lakes of the Sri Nakhon Khuean Khan Park and Botanical Garden.
It’s all very well laid out with wooden boardwalks over the water and meandering bike paths. Pedal your way past papaya groves and creaking huts on stilts over the water. You can still glimpse the skyscrapers in the distance but the only sounds here are of birdsong and crickets chirping in the undergrowth. You can visit a local floating market (you’re likely to be the only ‘farang’ around), browse for organic cosmetics and toiletries, or kick back with a refreshing drink at The Bangkok Tree House.
Museums of the Macabre
This is hardly a mainstream place, but if you’re into creepy, bizarre stuff then the Forensic Museum is sure to appeal to your morbid sense of humour. The Forensic Museum is just one of several weird and wonderful museums at the Siriraj Medical Museum, in the Siriraj Hospital area (2 Prannok Road, Bangkok Noi.) You can gawp at the mummified body of the first known serial killer in modern Thai history, preserved organs, creepy skeletons, and a room dedicated to deadly parasites. The Anatomical Museum is home to yet more skeletons and a host of genetic deformities preserved in jars of formaldehyde.
Believe it or not, the skeleton of the museum’s founder is also on show. It’s a treasure trove of bizarre curiosities of the human body that is darkly entertaining in its own way for those with a strong stomach. Once you have had time to gaze in disbelief at all the offbeat exhibits, it will come as no surprise to learn that the museum building is rumoured to be haunted.
Faking it at the Counterfeit Goods Museum
Head to this rather offbeat but very enlightening museum before letting loose in Bangkok’s teeming street markets. It may just save you a few Baht and a little embarrassment. Spend any time in the city, and you’ll notice knock-off watches and fake designer gear for sale everywhere. The Counterfeit Goods Museum has amassed about 4,000 items of bogus booty. The museum is in fact a working law office of firm Tilleke & Gibbins and all the shoddy merchandise on show has been garnered from police raids trying to close down counterfeiting gangs.
There are authentic consumer goods too, such as expensive Gucci bags and Rayban sunglasses, allowing you to compare and contrast the ever so subtle differences between the real and replica. Each side-by-side item has a ‘F’ and ‘G’ tag separating the fake from the genuine item, so no major sleuthing needed.
It’s an interesting concept and rather good fun seeing how counterfeiters go to such lengths to clone seemingly banal products like scotch tape or pencils, but it all comes with a serious message. The museum guides (who are legal experts with the firm) are not slow to point out the obvious dangers of using the many bogus foodstuffs, cosmetics and fake Viagra. As it is a working legal office, tours of the museum are by prior reservation bookable at least a day in advance. It is located at Supalai Grand Tower, 26th Floor, 1011 Rama 3 Road, Yannawa.
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Bangkok’s rooftop bar scene has really hit the heights in recent years. Vertigo-inducing sundowner spots are everywhere, perched atop of every soaring skyscraper and swanky hotel. But you’ll shell out a hefty price for those million dollar views, and likely be crammed in cheek-by-jowl with all the other sunset chasers.
You don’t need deep pockets to enjoy the vibe at fun-loving Wanderlust Rooftop Bar in Sukhumvit 55. Cheap ice cold beer, tasty burgers and live music sets the scene for a backyard block party in the sky. It’s full of Instagrammable whimsical murals, quirky mismatched furnishings and is strewn with fairy lights. It’s like a Munich beer garden on steroids.
Another cool, and even more secret rooftop hangout is Sky Moon Bar & Bistro perched atop the Vanilla Moon community mall at Rama 3. This is a big draw with Thais so expect a farang-free night here. Beer and cocktails are very affordable, although expect a more raucous ambience than the usual cultured skybar experience. Live bands belt out indie covers and the garishly decorated interior has a dynamic clubby vibe.
Eat your way through the Hermit Kingdom
Let’s face it – you are probably not going to be able to visit North Korea anytime soon but if it happens to be on your alt bucket list, Bangkok has the next best thing. Head over to sample Bangkok’s only North Korean restaurant, Pyongyang Okryu. The dark tinted windows and signs imploring ‘no photos’ attest to its authenticity – it is actually owned and operated by the secretive North Korean government.
The bright, gaudy interior consists of faux plastic trees and kitschy golden lame curtains, which indeed does seem to hark back to the original ‘cold war.’ The party members (AKA waitresses) all hail from the North and are a versatile, multi-talented bunch. In between serving excellent Bibimbap, dumplings, BBQ pork and duck, or pouring a welcome glass of Soju, they are up on stage belting out cheesy western tunes and traditional North Korean patriotic songs.
It is a very different experience to your average Bangkok night out but the food is surprisingly good with a menu as varied as any South Korean joint in town. It is a curious mix of kimchi and kitsch and the very limited interaction between wait staff and diners and that no photos policy only adds to the air of mystery and the myths surrounding the notorious Hermit Kingdom itself.
Strike a pose in the park
Struggle through a hangover and rise early to start the day the Thai (chi) way at Lumpini Park. Bangkok’s green and leafy sanctuary is buzzing early morning with groups of supple grannies going through fluid, meditative Tai Chi moves in relative silence far from the manic rush hour gridlock. Join in or simply gaze at the intoxicating sight. As the morning draws on, the park picks up the pace with groups of men with chiselled six-packs pumping iron a la Venice Beach, SoCal, and elderly gentlemen practising their own Tai chi moves with fearsome looking swords.
Lumpini Park is a fine place to get horizontal under a shady tree and simply gaze at the huge monitor lizards rummaging around in the undergrowth for food. If travelling to Bangkok alone, it’s a fine spot to soak up a rare moment of quietude in this manic metropolis. As the sun begins to set, the park once again buzzes with energy as the groups of aerobic dancers descend en masse and strut their stuff to deafening dance music.
In Conclusion – Do Bangkok like an insider
As you can see this is not your everyday Bangkok travel tips blog, yet there is something for everyone, from curious kids to bar hopping buddies. Both fascinating and infuriating, there is no disputing Bangkok is one of the planet’s most dynamic urban centres and even an extended stay will still only just scratch the surface of this complex, confounding urban sprawl. Part of the joy is being confronted with its quirky contrasts in every shape and form, such as hopping seamlessly from super cheap street food culture to high-end dining in the sky. With your travel to Bangkok visa sorted, search and book the city’s top hotels at great discounted rates with the HotelQuickly app.
Alexander Grootmeester is an copywriter/online media expert living in South-east Asia for the better part of a decade. Asked what he likes best about living there, he usually answers that it’s “the tightly organized anarchy”.
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