Despite the city’s indelible image, nights out in Bangkok don’t have to look like an endless replay of “Hangover 2.” Drunk bachelor-partying bros do roam the streets here in search of an impossibly wild night, and most of them are (sadly) way less hot than Bradley Cooper. But Bangkok can offer you so much more than a belly full of cheap beer and a head full of morning-after regrets, if you know where to look. Skip the seedy strip bars (and the uptight, uninspired hotel cocktail lounges, too) with our guide to 48 drink-focused hours in Bangkok.
Metered taxis are cheap in Bangkok, so a ride from Suvarnabhumi International (BKK) or Don Mueang (DMK) to most any part of the city should only run you about 360 THB ($10 USD). At both airports, ignore the guys touting a ride into town and head to the official airport taxi stand, where staff speak some English and lines move reasonably quickly. If you’re arriving at Suvarnabhumi, treat yourself to extra comfort by booking a car at the AOT counter. (You’ll find them inside the baggage claim area and just outside the customs exits). The cost will be higher (more like 900 THB, or $25 USD, depending on your destination), but the cars are generally larger and you can pay AOT with a credit card. Metered taxis only take cash.
WHERE TO STAY
In Silom: The Crowne Plaza is luxurious but not budget-busting, and has a great location, just a half-block from the overhead BTS Skytrain stop at Sala Daeng and underground MRT station at Silom. Using the train systems is a must to keep you from wasting hours in epic traffic (especially important if your time here is short!). Lumpini Park is just outside your door at this hotel, and the Chao Phraya river is just three stops away on the BTS. The Crowne Plaza also has a secluded rooftop pool and a particularly good breakfast buffet.
In Sukhumvit: The Emporium Suites by Chatrium also offers luxury at surprisingly good prices. The pool area is filled with palm trees and shady spots that make you forget you’re on the seventh floor of a building in a crowded city. The hotel is actually attached to the dining-shopping-social space known as the “Em District,” which includes the elaborate Emquartier and Emporium complexes. And it’s literally attached to the BTS station at Phrom Pong.
WHAT TO DO
Once you’ve arrived and gotten checked in, grab a snack on the street. You’ll find vendors with carts selling everything from pork skewers to noodle soup outside both hotels, though their hours and exact locations are hit or miss. If you’re staying at Emporium Suites, cross Sukhumvit Road at the BTS level and go down to the street, then walk just a few steps to the corner of Sukhumvit and 37 Alley. You’ll find the open-air Im Chan restaurant serving up simple Thai home cooking (about $2 USD for a small, wickedly good plate of basil chicken with rice) in the ultimate people-watching location. Their food is solidly spicy, but you can ask for less heat (“pet nitnoy” is Thai for “just a little spicy”) or request practically none (“mai pet” means “not spicy at all”).
If you’ve got time before your night out gets rolling, get a foot massage. This is Bangkok, so maybe you’re worried you’ll walk into a place that offers services you’re not bargaining for. Here’s how it works: If there are a half-dozen pretty girls with lots of lipstick waiting outside and the interior of the place isn’t visible, they may be offering more than a massage. But if the staff seems to be dressed more or less like nurses and a big glass window reveals a row of reclining chairs in full view of the street, it’s a legit reflexology place.
When it’s time to go out and play, start your night with a sunset drink at Cloud 47 on Silom Road. It’s in the United Center building, accessed by elevators set back from the street. Look for signs or ask a doorman. There are many rooftop bars in town, including the pricey Sky Bar at the Lebua Hotel, which offers a “Hangover”-themed cocktail, because marketing. But most of these have strict dress codes to go with the steep drink prices. Cloud 47 loves you even in casual clothes and offers tons of open-air seating with sweeping views of the city, and it puts you within walking distance of your next two stops. So have one drink, snap some Insta-worthy photos, and then move on.
Head back out onto Silom Road and walk just five minutes up the street, then turn left onto the little alley that is Silom Soi 7 for dinner. A few steps down the nondescript alley, you’ll wonder if you’re in the right place. Then a large colonial-era house painted bright fuschia appears on your left. You’ve arrived at Namsaah Bottling Trust. Inside, the decor is sexy and the drinks are on point. Among the best is their Salted Caramel Whiskey Sour, full of flavor without cloying sweetness. The menu is equally solid (thanks to celebrity chef Ian Kittichai), with luscious, elevated takes on basics like red curry beef.
After dinner, work off the filling meal by walking back out to Silom Road and turning right. A 10-minute walk lets you soak in some of the city’s party energy and catch a glimpse of Patpong without wading in. When you reach Soi Convent, turn right and walk just a block to Vesper for some of the best crafted cocktails you’ll find anywhere. Their featured drink menu changes every few months and is definitely worth exploring, but permanent offerings like Secret Earl Grey are always spectacular (and served with a theatrical flourish you’ll want to catch on video).
Indulge in a hearty hotel breakfast, then head out for a day of sightseeing. Take the BTS to the Saphin Taksin station and follow the crowds down toward the pier. You won’t have to hunt for someone offering a long-tail boat ride along the river — they’ll approach you. Consider choosing one that takes you down the tiny canals rather than just plying the main river and passing by tourist attractions like the Royal Barge Museum.
Then get dropped back at Sathorn Pier and pick up the Express Boat to Tha Tien pier (stop N8) to see the Grand Palace and Wat Pho, home of the reclining Buddha. Wat Pho is also famous for its massage school, so book a traditional one-hour Thai massage. They’ll give you cotton pajamas to change into, then use hands but also elbows, shoulders and even their feet to work the kinks out of your body. (No oil or lotion used in traditional Thai massage, so you won’t emerge sticky in the Bangkok heat.) Bonus: If you visited more than a decade ago, you’ll find things have gotten even more comfortable. Back then, the massage school had only fans swirling the hot air around. These days, the windows are closed and it’s air-conditioned.
For dinner, head to Sukhumvit and enter Iron Fairies, Ashley Sutton’s magical little masterpiece of dreamy design. The food and drinks are actually as good as the atmosphere. Indulge in complex, potent cocktails (Smoke in a Bottle is worth trying) and juicy burgers as good as any you’ll find in America.
Then walk up Thonglor toward Petchaburi Road, stopping at either Mellow (the Earl Grey Martini is delicious, though not quite a Martini) or HOBS, short for House of Beers, if you’re craving cold craft brew. And don’t miss stylish, sexy Bad Motel directly across the street, where good drinks come in unexpected containers, served inside or in the laid-back outdoor garden. 72 Courtyard is also right there and filled with great drinking options, including the Evil Man Blues.
End the night inside the exquisite space that is Track 17. The drinks are as good as the interior design, and you’ll find it nestled on the second floor at The Commons amid tons of late-night food options and quirky dessert places.
One strange Bangkok-centric drinking detail to keep in mind: Given the year-round hot weather here, many bars serve red wine chilled just like white wine.
After a morning swim at your hotel, head to Toby’s for brunch (the smashed avocado hits all the right notes) and good coffee. The soothing space is all pale wood and smooth concrete, with gently glowing Edison bulbs and soft sunshine filtering in the windows through leafy trees.
Then, recharge your mental and physical batteries by booking an hour of sensory deprivation at the Theta State Float Center. You can float in a “room” — basically a large bathtub with walls — or a “pod.” Remember that egg Lady Gaga stepped out of at the 2011 Grammys? It’s kinds of like a bigger version of that, full of perfectly warm salted water that you can float on like magic.
Then venture on to your next destination, whether that’s the amazing southern beaches (consider Krabi, the chill alternative to party zones like Phuket) or nearby destinations like Chiang Mai, Vientiane, Angkor Wat, or Ho Chi Minh City.