Updated March, 2023
Love it or loathe it, Bangkok is a huge, crowded, polluted city with some rather terrible traffic congestion problems. But on the positive side it’s exciting, edgy and cosmopolitan, with wonderful tourist attractions, spectacular shopping plazas, a great gay scene and fabulous food.
Getting to the city
If arriving at Suvarnabhumi airport (Bangkok International), the cheapest and easiest way to make your way to a city hotel is by train. Costing less than $2 for a one way journey, the train leaves every fifteen minutes, starting at 6:00am until midnight. Most people travel to the last station Phaya Thai, then either take a taxi from street level or ride the Skytrain to get to their final destination.
Where you stay in Bangkok is very important. Go five stars and you’ll love Bangkok. We mostly stay at the Royal Orchid Sheraton and the rates are excellent for this five star hotel. Located right on the Chao Phraya River, the Sheraton offers a world class standard with stunning views of the river and city from every room. The hotel has two pools, one set in the gardens of the former Portuguese Embassy and the other is located near the gym and sauna and is great for lap swimming, if that’s your thing.
Cocktails by the river in the evening with the twinkling lights of the boats plying their way up and down is magical and mesmerising. The hotel has several good restaurants and we would especially recommend Thara Thong, serving some of the best Royal Thai cuisine in Bangkok. Giorgio’s is also considered one of the best Italian restaurants in the city.
Next door is River City, great for antique and souvenir purchases and we always visit one of the tailors for our fitted suits and jackets. Check out the latest art exhibitions while you’re in the centre.
If staying at the Sheraton don’t forget to use their shuttle boat to Sathorn Pier down town and it’s free! This pier is also a good place to catch commuter ferries to the major tourist attractions such as the Grand Palace and the Temple of Dawn.
Our other favourite hotel in Bangkok is Lebua in the State Tower. This hotel is considered one of the finest in town. With its luxurious suites, breathtaking views, fine dining and iconic rooftop bars, the hotel was voted number one in Thailand by guests in the Condé Nast Travel Reader’s Choice Awards. The hotel’s pool and gym are also outstanding. Lebua is famous around the world for its Asian restaurant Breeze on the 52nd floor and fabulously trendy Skybar on the 61st floor.
If you are a virgin traveller to Bangkok you need to take ‘a deep dive’ into your wallet and treat yourself at least to a drink at Skybar around sunset. Dinner at Breeze is pricey but, if it is a special celebration, it’s worth it. Expect to pay around $200 pp with wine for a three course meal you will never forget, and bookings are essential.
The Centre Point Silom Hotel is not only well located right on the Chayo Praya River but also has convenient cooking facilities and a huge pool and well equipped gym so you can keep yourself in shape for those evening visits to Silom Soi 4, which is only a short taxi ride away. The hotel is above an eating market, a Robinson department store and a Tops grocery store. It is ideal if you decide to stay for a longer period of time in the capital.
We recently returned to Bangkok (March 2023) and chose an apartment through Air BnB which was in the heart of what the locals in Bangkok consider the best district in the city, Saladaeng. See our story about this very upmarket part of the city.
The Grand Palace, Reclining Buddha (Wat Po), The Royal Barges and Temple of Dawn (Wat Arun) are cultural icons of the city. All of these attractions are magnificent and if you do them all you will definitely need a full day. Try to use the river to access them, it is cheap and a pleasant way to travel. If you arrive by taxi it is more than likely you will be told the Palace is closed. Take no notice as the Palace is open all year round. An insider’s tip is to wear long trousers to the palace otherwise you will have to join the long line to borrow clothes provided by the entrance police.
The Chao Praya River is the jewel of Bangkok and we suggest you take either a long tail boat ride or a commuter ferry. The river is always special and at times like New Year, Loi Kratong (November), and Song Kran (the April water festival), it really comes alive with highly decorated boats, thousands of lanterns and spectacular fireworks.
Another fascinating place to visit in Bangkok is Lumpini Park, especially on Sunday mornings when the markets are open. Chinatown is fantastic with many street-vendor style eating stalls. We suggest a night visit so you can experience the locals flooding in to enjoy dining together in the open air and the wide variety of exotic foods available at very reasonable prices.
A must do is a visit to Jim Thompson’s House . Now a museum in Bangkok, it is a complex of three traditional Thai teak houses that the American businessman Jim Thompson turned into one stately mansion. His notoriety came from introducing Thai silk to the world and shops bearing his famous name are scattered all over Thailand. His sudden disappearance on 26th March, 1967 is one of the great unsolved mysteries of the world and his stunning former home, set up the way he left it on his final day, is filled with priceless antiques collected from all parts of Asia and attracts thousands of visitors year round.
Shopping in Bangkok is outstanding. Of course there are night markets and street stalls everywhere and Pat Pong, off Silom Road, is world famous. For serious shopping you should head straight to MBK to grab some bargains, Central World to find Zen for casual menswear and Gaysorn for latest fashion and, for top shelf purchases, you can’t beat Siam Paragon.
The latest addition to the list of shopping precincts in Bangkok is Iconsiam which is located right beside the Milenniam Hilton and has a free ferry shuttle from Sathorn Pier. Expect high end brand names on the upper floors and a stylish Thai food and variety market on the lower (entry) level. For a fabulous view of the river, walk through the enormous Apple store to the observation deck and park on the riverside. Spectacular!
In Bangkok you will find beautiful shopping, although the crowds in the malls and night markets can be challenging. Don’t forget towards the top of most of the shopping malls there are hawker food markets where you can have excellent, cheap, clean food.
In Silom Soi 4 (gay street) we love to eat at Circus Bar. After dinner take your place on the front deck for an evening of people watching and socialising. The friendly and attentive staff will make sure you are well looked after.
G’s Restaurant, near the top of the Soi, serves authentic German style food and an extensive range of craft beers. Our friend Guido will make sure you have a fantastic time at his fun eating place. Let him know GayMenOnHoliday sent you.
Something a bit more ‘high end’ is Eat Me off Convent Road (opposite Silom Soi 4) which has outstanding food and excellent service. It has become synonymous with chic in Bangkok and a place to be seen. Let Polo the manager know you heard about the restaurant from us.
We sometimes opt for traditional French in a beautiful old Thai colonial style house at restaurant Indigo tucked away just off Convent Road. Serving superb, classic French cuisine, the service is excellent and, on a balmy night, sitting in the restaurant’s beautiful garden, sipping French wine, nothing could be better.
For a very special occasion Breeze in Lebua State Tower, as previously mentioned, is a world class dining experience.
Another hot favourite of ours is the Mango Tree serving wonderful Thai dishes for over twenty years at 37 Soi Tantawan, Surawongse Road. While in that area treat yourself to a fabulous massage at Paradise Male Spa or take in the erotic ‘sexy’ male show at the Tawan Club which starts at around 10.45pm each night (see details below).
Soi Twlight, just off Surawong Road, was an alternative gay street but sadly the whole precinct was closed down in April 2019. Some of the bars and massage houses have relocated to the Surawong side of Patpong 2. Worth a visit to see another version of gay Bangkok.
While checking out this part of the scene on our recent visit (March 2020), we discovered the most fabulous restaurant called Le Bouchon run by Serge who is a native of Lyon. The French cuisine and cosy, dimly lit interior transported us immediately back to our adventure in Lyon. Don’t miss this hidden gem. (Returned in March 2023 to discover the restaurant has relocated to Sathorn Soi 1)
The Gay Street of Bangkok, Silom Soi 4, is party central every night of the year. Although there have been some changes since the COVID shutdowns, the energy is back and there are some new players in the game.
This small and infamous Bangkok lane has developed greatly over the years, from one or two gay bars to one of the best gay night spots in Bangkok. It is filled with locals, tourists and expats. The evolution of Silom Soi 4 now includes a host of friendly bars and a wide variety of places to eat, karaoke bars and even a Bear’s Bar.
Most of the drinking and eating action is done at tables outside each of the small bars where the steamy Asian heat, loud music, gaudy lighting, chatter of international voices, odd spontaneous drag shows and smiling, cheeky Thai waiters ensure you will have a fabulous time. Don’t worry about being alone, you won’t be for long. This is not a place to come looking for peace and quiet or solitude. The boys outside the bars will become your long lost friends (‘Love you longtime’) in a matter of minutes and will perform a type of ritual mock-battle to get you to choose their bar and not the one next door or opposite.
Unfortunately, our favourite Telephone Pub, with its long history of entertainment and hospitality in Soi 4, was a victim of the pandemic. It has been replaced by Circus and, having undergone a venue facelift, the party is back on at this buzzy new bar.
The Balcony Bar is almost a mirror image of the Circus with a slightly younger clientele and is always just as busy. The bar boys are keen to make you very welcome. Both bars have a happy hour and encourage flirtations across the lane.
After dinner there are always plenty of people staying around for a few drinks and indulging in the favourite pastime, people watching. There are so many bars to try and when you are ready to move on from Soi 4 you might want to make your way out of the lane, turn left, walk past all the street stalls until you get to Silom Soi 2. Here you will find the famous dance club DJ Station and a number of other gay venues. If you’re still looking for some dance and man action at about 2am then the place to go is GOD (Guys On Display), just one lane back (Soi 2/1).
Be prepared to get hot and sweaty here as the bars are usually very crowded, especially at the weekend and on Thai holidays like Songkran (Thai New Year). Don’t worry about taking your shirt off, most guys do and you can dance to some of the best music in Bangkok. Most clubs close around three in the morning and it is always good to have a card from your hotel to show the taxi or tuk tuk driver when trying to get home after having a bit too much fun. Good luck!
Another club we visit at least once when in Bangkok is the Tawan Muscle Club. This is where the big boys perform and the club purports to be the world’s premiere man-to-man muscle sex show bar with Asia’s largest selection of musclemen and bodybuilders available for muscle worship and muscle sex.
Tawan Club opens at 8pm and closes at 1am with shows around 10.45pm every night and extra shows after midnight sometimes on Fridays and Saturdays. There is no entry fee but the drinks are expensive (expect to pay about 400 baht per drink). Tawan Club is a safe venue, hassle free and the staff are very friendly.
Obviously in a metropolis like Bangkok there are loads more places to try and we have only skimmed the surface here. New places are opening all the time and you’re never far from great food, a relaxing massage and every style of shopping. One thing remains a constant, the wonderful welcome and superb hospitality you will experience in this sometimes frantic but always friendly city of smiles.