Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, is a bustling place and foodie’s paradise complemented with the constant smell of durian fruit, which could be described as a mix of old sweat, onions, and a small hint of something sweet. No wonder that this fruit is prohibited to bring onto trains, hotels, and shopping malls. Travelers seem to either hate it or love it.
But one thing most travelers agree on: this city has one of the best food-and-drink scenes in the world. We’re about to go on a tantalizing tour not only of the hidden food gems in Bangkok but of great bars too. This guide will take you through some of the best “secret” places that most tourists do not know exist, so that you might fall in love with Bangkok too. But keep them to yourself so that they don’t get overcrowded.
Food Gems of Chinatown
Bangkok’s Chinatown has been known for decades as being one of the best places to eat in Bangkok. The famous street Yaowarat is full of restaurants and street kitchens. It is the perfect place to start your food adventure through Bangkok. Here you will be able to get fresh pomegranate juice, see locals cut through stinky durian fruit, see restaurants display shark fins (sadly), and find new species of mini pineapples and sweets from all over the world. Several of the small street food stalls are recommended by the Michelin guide, which is always a good sign in Bangkok.
You could try the Michelin recommended Chinese noodle pork soup at Nai Ek Roll Noodles, if you can get a table, that is. The dish is worth the wait. The broth is packed with flavor that will make your tongue tingle– the pepper makes it perfectly spicy and will probably make you break into a sweat. The pork is so tender it feels like it is melting in your mouth, while the crispy skin completes the dish. Or, perhaps you want to try a traditional dessert? Then I recommend trying Pa Tong Go Savoey food stall and their Patong, which are small, fried balls of dough served with a coconut sauce. They are chewy and sweet and could be described as small pieces of heaven worth wasting your waistline for! You could also go with a classic sticky rice and mango dessert, which is found all over different street stalls.
If you head off to one of the side streets, you will find the restaurant Krua Porn Lamai, which looks like a regular street food kitchen with wooden tables, plastic chairs, and dim lighting, but it is far from it. Krua Porn Lamai serves traditional Thai dishes with a twist. Every dish is served on a volcanic hot plate which makes the sauces bubble for a few minutes.
Surprisingly, when we visited, we were the only tourists at the stall. Perhaps the rest of the tourists were busy looking for the Michelin-recommended food on the main street. I don’t know, but we were happy to keep this small gem just for ourselves. I recommend trying rad na phu khao fai (gravy noodles) and pad see ew (wide noodles with chicken). The wide noodles in the pad see ew was slightly crispy on one side due to the hot plate, the chicken tender and the vegetables al dente. The smell of soya and the gravy was present throughout the kitchen, while sounds of sizzling food filled the air.
Nai Ek Roll Noodles: 442 Soi Yaowarat 9, Bangkok; 9 AM to midnight
Pa Tong Go Savoey: 489 Song Sawat Intersection, Yaowarat Road; 6 PM to midnight
Krua Porn Lamai: 62 Plaeng Nam Rd; Tuesday to Sunday 6 PM to 2 AM
Forget the Famous Weekend Market
Near the famous Chatuchak weekend market, you can find a much smaller market by the name Or Tor Kor Market (pronounced Aw Taw Kaw). While Chatuchak market has an estimated 15,000 stalls, which sell everything from pets, clothes, and food, the Or Tor Kor Market revolves around one thing: Food. But not just any kind of food. At this market, you will find the best quality food and groceries in Bangkok. The clients of the market include top chefs in Bangkok, the elite, and there are even rumors that the Queen of Thailand gets her supplies from here!
As we walked in, I quickly noticed the smell of curries and coconut. We walked by a small stand selling no fewer than 22 different kinds of curries! We then walked past purple, green, pink, and red Thai desserts shaped as balls, squares and doughnuts. When we reached the vegetable and fruit section, a Thai lady offered us lychee to sample. The lychee was so juicy that I ended up with sticky fingers and so sweet that my friend kept talking about it for days. We tried sweet lychee and durian, which surprisingly did not stink like gym socks, but instead, tasted like a bitter honey. We walked past a small stand where two ladies were constantly using their mortar to make crispy and spicy papaya salad.
Or Tor Kor Market is truly a pleasure for any food lover, and it’s no wonder CNN ranked it the fourth best market in the world. Yet that honor didn’t seem to influence the number of tourists. We didn’t see a single other tourist while spending hours at the market. The locals seemed surprised to glimpse us and were happy to share food samples with us.
Or Tor Kor Market, Kamphaengphet Road, Opposite Chatuchak Weekend Market; 6 AM to 8 PM every day; Metro/MRT: Kamphaeng Phet (take exit 3)
The New Kid in Town
Once a dark street closed at night, Soi Nana has quickly become the new hip street. Behind the closed doors of previous factories and houses, you will see that small bars, restaurants and shops are opening up. There are only a few signs indicating the different restaurants and bars, which makes the area very easy to miss.
We decided to head to a bar called Teens of Thailand. The bar specializes in gin drinks. The bar is small, dimly-lit with raw brick walls and a rustic New York-kind of look. I felt like I could have been at a hidden and hip New York bar, but its staff and fruity drinks reminded me that I was still in tropical Bangkok. They have more than 30 different brands of gin and every day, and they mix a special selection of gin cocktails to seduce the senses.
The bartenders use only local ingredients and have made drinks with everything from sun-dried banana to beef jerky. Personally, I tried the refreshing watermelon and cherry cocktail which hit all the right tones. It was like an upgrade of a watermelon juice with the sour cherry juice and a slightly bitter gin. They even have delicious mocktails for anyone who wants to experience the atmosphere without alcohol. No wonder that it has been named one of the 50 best bars in Asia. If all its 16 chairs are occupied, then you might head to Tep Bar just across the street.
Tep Bar is slightly different than Teens of Thailand. Where Teens of Thailand has the more rustic New York meets Thailand kind of theme, Tep Bar has gone all-in on a traditional Thai atmosphere. At Tep Bar, the music is played by a Thai band using xylophones, cymbals, flute, and barrel drums. The drinks are named with terms from ancient Thai literature and the place uses only local Thai liquors.
Teens of Thailand, 76 Soi Nana, Charoen Krung Road; nday – Thursday, 7 PM – midnight; Friday -Saturday 7 PM – 1 AM; MRT: Hua Lamphong
Tep Bar, 69 -71, Soi Yi Sip Song; Tep Bar: Tuesday – Thursday, 5 PM – midnight; Friday – Sunday, 5 PM – 1 AM
Casual to High-Class Bars for the Best Views in Bangkok
Rooftop bars in Bangkok have become immortalized because of movies like “Hangover in Thailand”. These bars have quickly become some of the most “must do” attractions in Bangkok and are mentioned in pretty much every article about Bangkok worldwide (and with good reason!).
There is simply something magical about watching the sunset over Bangkok while drinking a delicious cocktail. Most tourists tend to flock to Lebua Sky Bar, famous from the movie, but Bangkok has more than 30 sky bars to choose from.
Personally, I prefer the bar at River View Guest House. It is not a tall skyscraper, but a smaller house. Instead of the high class, sophisticated feeling many rooftop bars have, the River View Guest House has created a cozy lounge atmosphere where everyone is welcome. They don’t care if you show up in flip-flops or in stilettoes. It is the welcoming Thai atmosphere that I love. Enjoy your sunset cocktail with the view of the river and with some Thai spring rolls in hand. The experience is different from one of the high-class rooftop bars.
If you do want to visit a classy rooftop bar without all the tourists found at Lebua, then consider heading to Octave Rooftop Bar and Lounge at the Marriott Hotel. Here, you will also have the view over the city. Octave Rooftop Bar and Lounge seems to take the whole thing to the next level with no less than five floors dedicated to drinks consumed against the stunning view, enough to blow you away. The female guests are usually dressed in tight cocktail dresses and stilettos, while men are often wearing a suit or simply a white shirt. Every once in a while, you see a backpacker in a thin dress and a pair of sneakers, but one thing is sure, you wouldn’t find any sandals or flip flops up here.
Lebua Sky Bar, Lebua at State Tower, 1055 Si Lom, Khwaeng Silom, Khet Bang Rak, Lebua Sky Bar: 6 PM to 1 AM
River View Guest House, 768 Soi Phanurangsi, Songvard road, Talad Noi, Sampanthanwong, River View Guest House: All day
Octave Rooftop Bar and Lounge, 45-49th floor Bangkok Marriott Hotel Sukhumvit, 2 Sukhumvit Soi 57, Octave Rooftop Bar and Lounge: 5 PM to 2 AM
Practical Information about Bangkok
Bangkok can be visited all year long, though expect warm (+30°C) and humid weather with occasional rain from May to October. November to February are considered the cold months with temperatures between 20-30°C, while March to May are the warm months, with April being the warmest (40°C or more is not unusual).
Bangkok is easy to navigate. The skytrain (BTS) and the metro (MRT) cover an extensive area of Bangkok, which is enough for most tourists. Chinatown can only be reached by taxi or by taking a boat on the river. I do recommend taking the boat at least once in Bangkok as it is full of contrasts. You will be able to see the huge five-star hotels at the waterfront right next to small wooden shanties. Each boat ride costs 10-29 baht depending on your destination. The MRT and BTS work well and are a great way to avoid the heavy traffic of the city. A ride costs 15-52 baht per trip depending on your destination.
However, it is often cheaper to take a taxi if you are a group of two or more sharing the ride. The initial charge is 35-50 baht (including the first km), then 5-8.5 baht each subsequent kilometer. Waiting time in traffic is charged at 1.30 baht per minute.
No matter how many times you have been to Bangkok and how much food you have eaten in Bangkok, one thing is sure: There will always be new places to visit and new food to try. Whether you like traditional Thai, modern Thai or a fusion, Bangkok will deliver. Bangkok is truly a paradise for any foody!
With the SAS Travel Wallet, you can earn EuroBonus Extra points wherever you eat or drink on your trip, so long as they accept a prepaid Mastercard. Now that’s food for thought!