The Sweet Spot: Bangkok

by  Christina Garofalo | Nov 17, 2017

Bringing you the world’s best travel destinations — and when you should visit them for the best value.

Just 200 years ago, Bangkok was a small trading village on the banks of the Chao Phraya River; in the next 15 years, it will be one of the largest cities in the world.

Home to nearly 10 million people, Thailand’s capital offers a diverse and vibrant cultural experience. Orchids and mangoes grow on the fringes of its concrete center; ancient temples rival raunchy ping-pong shows for the city’s most popular sights; and you can spend a week eating your way through the city without ever setting foot inside a restaurant, and you'd still proclaim it to be the best dining destination in the world.

Bangkok -- like all of Thailand -- is welcoming to tourists, easy to navigate, and wallet-friendly thanks to a favorable exchange rate and cheap lodging. However, peak season -- between November and February, when the weather is at its best -- drives up airfare and accommodation costs. While Bangkok’s tropical climate makes it a year-round destination, consider going at these times for the best deals:

The Sweet Spot

April to June, October and November
Those looking to avoid crowds and willing to put up with less favorable weather should visit from April to June or September to October. Crowds will be thinner and you’ll find deals on airfare and rooms. From April to June, the rainy season isn’t yet in full swing and visitors can still snag bargains; by fall, the rain is on its way out.

The Cheapest Option

March through June, September
Monsoon season sets in between May and July and lasts until November. The rainiest months are August and September when flooding is common. However, while rain can occasionally last all day, it’s usually over within an hour and you’ll enjoy decent prices in the meantime. March through May are the hottest months -- average daytime highs range from 90 degrees into the 100s. This can also be a good time to score deals.

The Smart Place to Stay

Luxury hotels are invading Bangkok: the Waldorf Astoria, Four Seasons, Rosewood, and Edition are all opening their first locations in 2018. However, Bangkok is still one of the best big cities for scoring luxe accommodations for a steal. Here’s where to look.

Hyatt Place Bangkok Sukhumvit
Opened recently (officially mid-October), the Hyatt Place Bangkok Sukhumvit offers American comforts at Thai prices. Each room has a flat-screen HDTV and high-speed WiFi; luxury beds, towels, and toiletries; and stays include free breakfast. The hotel has a rooftop cocktail bar with views over the city, and soon-to-open pool. Located in the Sukhumvit neighborhood, the hotel is a short walk from the Emporium shopping complex. It is also near major corporate offices and meeting venues, including the Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre. Room rates start at $72 per night year-round, though they're likely to increase as the hotel comes out of its opening phase.

Mercure Bangkok Makkasan
The 180-room Mercure Bangkok Makkasan opened earlier this year. A short walk from Makkasan Station, the city’s largest transit station (MRT), the hotel has easy access to Terminal 21, Platinum Mall, the Grand Palace, Wat Arun, Wat Pho, the Chatuchak weekend market, and the airport. The Mercure’s sleek, modern rooms are equipped with Smart TVs and free WiFi; all rooms have views of the city center. A main draw of the hotel is the rooftop pool, which affords an incredible view. The property also has a restaurant, a wine bar, a gym, meeting rooms, and free parking. We found rooms from as low as $42 per night from June through October, and from $54 per night from November through April (weekdays and weekends), when booking directly.

Baannai the Reminiscence
Those looking for a more personal experience, the family-run Baannai the Reminiscence is a charming Colonial-style home-turned-boutique hotel. The interiors are artfully furnished with family heirlooms, antiques, and modern touches. Each of the four guest rooms is individually designed and includes free WiFi, a flat-screen TV, and an iPod/Phone docking station. Superior rooms come with a spa bath, and the Botan Jacuzzi deluxe has an outdoor jacuzzi. The windowed terrace restaurant serves authentic Thai home cooking. The hotel is close to the hip Aree neighborhood, as well as the Jatujak Weekend Market, Dusit Palace and Zoo, Phayathai Palace, the Ratchawat market, and the Siam Discovery Shopping Center. The hotel is located across the street from the Samsen Railway Station, which links Bangkok to other major cities in Thailand, and offers shuttle service to the airport. We found rooms from $97 per night, including breakfast, November through March; and up slightly from $108 per night from July through October.

What to Do

Bangkok’s Grand Palace is one of the city’s most famous landmarks. Home to Thai royalty for 150 years, the palace is now part-museum, part-royal office building. Here, and at places of worship, cover your arms and legs before you go inside (we recommend bringing a wrap skirt and cardigan in your bag, so you’re not trekking around in long sleeves in the heat).

Within the Grand Palace complex, Wat Phra Kaew (the Temple of the Emerald Buddha) is the most important Buddhist temple in Thailand. Carved from a single block of emerald, the eponymous statue dates from the 15th century and may only be touched by the king.

Inspired by the Western castles he saw on his first European tour in 1897, Rama V (King Chulalongkorn) sought to reinterpret their aesthetic through a unique Thai point of view. The result: the ornate Dusit Palace.

If you haven’t heard of Wat Arun, you’ve likely seen the image of its golden spires glowing amid Bangkok’s modern skyscrapers. Get the best photo-opp from the east side of the Chao Phraya River at sunset.

At 150 feet long, Wat Pho’s golden Reclining Buddha is one of the largest buddhas in the world. Allot some extra time to relax in the landscaped gardens surrounding the temple, and get a Thai massage (the complex is home to the best massage school in the country).

Wake up early to attend one of Bangkok’s floating markets, where vendors in wooden boats float through canals selling fruit, vegetables, and flowers as well as hot bowls of noodles or satay upon request. Damnoen Saduak is both the largest and most vibrant, but it is also the most touristy -- expect inflated prices and potential scams. More than an hour's drive from downtown (you’ll want to leave by 5 a.m. to beat the crowds) Amphawa -- slightly closer than Damnoen -- is less touristy and doesn’t get crowded until midday.

Bangkok is a shopper’s paradise. The Chatuchak Weekend Market -- the city’s largest outdoor market -- comprises more than 8,000 stalls with everything from clothes to computers to pets. Siam night market, the 24-hour Flower Market (Pak Klong Talat), and Klongsan Plaza Market are also worth checking out.

Malls are a central part of the city’s social scene. MBK in Siam Square spans eight floors; Paragon and Emporium are best for upscale shopping; and Terminal 21 is the place for food.

Khao San Road -- along with its quieter neighbor Soi Rambuttri -- is a backpackers’ paradise. The street is populated with ska bars, vendors selling grilled scorpions and crickets to eat (priced for tourists), and buzzing activity all day and night.

Tour the former home of Jim Thompson -- an American-born intelligence officer who was based in Thailand during WWII and who settled in Bangkok, selling handmade Thai silk to fashion houses around the world. Thompson assembled the home from six once-derelict Thai teak houses in 1959. Eight years later, while out for an afternoon walk in Malaysia, he mysteriously disappeared -- captivating conspiracy theorists for decades.

Wat Traimit is home to a 10-foot-tall solid-gold Buddha that was discovered some 40 years ago beneath a plaster exterior -- an attempt to hide it from the Burmese who were raiding the city for treasures.

Wat Suthat holds the highest royal temple grade. Inside, you’ll find intricate murals telling the story of Buddha; and the 26-foot-tall bronze Phra Si Sakayamuni, cast in the 14th century. The ashes of King Rama VIII are contained in the base.

Named after the Buddha's place of birth in Nepal, Lumphini Park is the Bangkok’s Central Park -- a great place to relax for a few hours and escape the busy city streets.

Bangkok is known for its street food. Stalls on every corner serve some of the cheapest and most delicious food in the city. Try fresh spring rolls, Som Tam (green papaya salad), massaman curry, pat tai, satay (meat on skewers), and sticky rice served in banana leaves with fresh mango. Most items will run you 40 to 90 baht (about $1.20 to $3). Opt for vendors with a long line.

Splurge on a more elaborate meal at Bo.Lan, which serves an elaborate prixe fixe meal with generous portions; Nahm, where the recipes are based on those in ancient cookbooks; and Jay Fai, known for drunken noodles loaded with fresh seafood. Reservations recommended.

For nightlife, Parking Toys is one of Bangkok’s best venues for live music, and Tep Bar in Chinatown serves signature cocktails in a chic environment. Get tickets for a Muay Thai boxing match at Ratchadamnoen Stadium, Bangkok’s oldest and most venerable venue (be sure to buy them from the official ticket counter).

Eat your way through Bangkok’s Chinatown, where chaotic vendor-lined streets come alive at night with some of the city’s best (and cheapest) seafood.

If you’re an art-lover, Bangkok Art and Culture Center hosts art, music, theater, film, design, and cultural events.

Not for the faint of heart, the Bangkok Corrections Museum -- located inside a former maximum-security prison -- displays the cruel methods of punishment and torture devices of Thailand’s past.

Catch a cultural performance at Siam Niramit in Ratchadaphisek, where more than 150 performers depict the history of each region of Thailand.

If you’re in Thailand between April 13-15, grab a squirt gun and hit the streets for Songkran, the Thai New Year's festival. In Bangkok, major streets are closed to traffic and become battlegrounds for water fights (the water represents purification and washing away sins) among people of all ages.

Tips to Save Even More

Unwind with a Thai massage, which should cost from 250-400 baht (about $7 to $12) for two hours.

The International Buddhist Meditation Centre inside Wat Mahathat in Rattanakosin provides free meditation classes three times a day.

Skip the overpriced boat tours on the Chao Phraya river, and take the water taxi instead for around 20 baht (less than $1 USD).

For transportation, do take tuk-tuks, but avoid the ones waiting outside touristy spots; hail them off the street. If you’re taking a taxi, make sure they turn on the meter.

The cheapest and most efficient way to hit Bangkok’s many temples is to hire a tuk-tuk driver to take you around for the day. Just make sure he doesn’t take you shopping along the way.

From Suvarnabhumi Airport, the Airport Rail Link (located on the basement level of the terminal) is the fastest and cheapest way to get into downtown. Trains leave every 15 minutes and cost from 15 to 45 baht (less than $1.50 USD).

There are free shuttle buses from Suvarnabhumi Airport to Don Muang Airport every hour between 5 a.m. and 11 p.m. Show your plane ticket to board.

The BTS Skytrain gets to a number of important spots in the city and is especially great during one of Bangkok’s frequent traffic jams. Tickets range from 15 to 52 baht (less than $1.50) depending upon how far you’re going. An unlimited tourist pass (140 baht per day or about $4.25) is also available.

The ferries are cheap, refreshing way to see the city enroute to its major sights. Rides cost from 3 baht (10 cents) on the cross-river to 15 baht ( or 45 cents) on the orange line, which covers the major tourist areas and is fairly quick. Don’t bother with the more expensive tourist lines.

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