In our Go Local Guides, we’ve teamed up with local insiders from popular travel destinations; giving you their money-saving tips on how to get a taste of the places they call home, without breaking the bank.
Travel writer and Bangkok resident Chris Schalkx shows you where to find the most bang for your baht.
With the baht at an all-time high and affordable street food joints making way for glitzy malls and upscale restaurants, Bangkok is no longer the cheap-as-chips destination it once was. But with the right insider intel, you don’t have to live off a street food diet.
Bangkok’s Chinatown is an assault on the senses – in the best way possible. Simply dip into one of the many alleys branching off its main thoroughfare and zigzag your way past mom-and-pop shops and shrines shrouded in incense smoke. The tiny snaking alley named Soi Phat Sai is a good starting point, but don’t set off before you've downed a strong Hokkien-style coffee (฿25/74p) at the legendary Eiah Sae, which has been in business since 1927. Come nightfall, head to Yaowarat for a neon-lit curbside feast. My personal favourites are the peppery roll noodles at Nai Ek (a big bowl of soup with all the porcine trimmings costs ฿100/£2.96) and the buns slathered with pandan coconut custard at the immensely popular Khanom Pang Jao Gao (฿20/59p per bun).
Savvy creatives have transformed the warehouses lining the Chao Phraya river into hubs for contemporary art and design. Spaces like ATT19, Warehouse 30 and 1Projects gauge the zeitgeist. Catch one of the bi-monthly Gallery Hopping nights, with free walking routes guiding you past the latest art events until way past sunset. Have lunch at Someday Everyday, a humble curry counter set up by Michelin-starred chef David Thompson where a set meal sets you back just ฿120/£3.56 (the green curry with beef is divine). From here, a ฿5 (15p) ferry-hop across the river brings you to the leafy grounds of The Jam Factory, a great place for coffee (from ฿80/£2.37). End the day at River Vibe, a low-key rooftop bar hidden deep inside the warren of streets that make up Talad Noi. Its river views are on par with the posh rooftop bars you’ll find downstream, but snacks and cocktails start from just ฿150 (£4.44) – a fraction of what you’d pay elsewhere.
The alleyways branching off Thonglor’s main road are peppered with wine bars, fine dining restaurants, and posh boutiques. This is the turf of the city's well-heeled and glamour set. State-of-the-art cocktails can easily run up to ฿500 (£14.82) a pop, but bargains can be had if you time your visit right. Keep an eye out for happy hours, like the 2-for-1 craft beers at Beer Belly (from ฿180/£5.33 a pint). You can also save a great deal on food if you don’t mind dining at off-peak hours. By booking your table with the Eatigo app, you can save up to 50% at some of the district's top tables.
The stretch between the Chidlom and Siam Bangkok Skytrain (BTS) stations is a shopper’s Shangri-La. It’s big brand names galore at Siam Paragon and Central World. Prices of luxury goods aren’t necessarily lower than back home, so cross the road to Siam Square for deals you won’t find elsewhere. In its shoebox-sized boutiques, you’ll find work from young Thai designers, many who are fresh out of fashion school. Seek out Mustard for Thai-made canvas sneakers starting from ฿1500 (£44.45), and Frank Garcon for streetwear and accessories by homegrown indie brands. The row of shopping malls is bookended by BACC (short for Bangkok Arts and Cultural Centre), Bangkok's answer to the Guggenheim where ever-changing exhibitions showcase contemporary art from Thailand and abroad. You’ll also find a collection of smart concept stores and art book shops on its lower floors, and best of all entry is free.
Where downtown Bangkok is often hurried and hectic, things slow down in Ari, a low-rise residential enclave north of the city centre. Its tree-lined alleys are peppered with mid-century modern homes, quaint cafes and an ever-changing roster of restaurants. Just a skip from the BTS station, Tokyo Bike rents out fixed-gear bicycles for ฿300 (£8.89) a day, allowing you to discover the district in style. Pedal down to Ong Tong Khao Soi for a taste of Northern Thailand (a bowl of coconut curry soup for ฿70/£2.07), then fuel up with a quality brew at the minimalist cabin that houses Common Room x Ari. Or the rustic Laliart Coffee, which sources its beans exclusively from coffee plantations up North. Ari’s streets are quiet and free from heavy traffic – aimlessly roving around its alleys is a pleasant (and low-cost) way to spend a balmy afternoon in a South East Asian capital that’s impossible to forget.
The Grand Palace complex is touristy for a reason – it’s absolutely stunning. Get through the gate right when it opens at 8:30am to dodge the crowds
Na Phra Lan Rd, Khwaeng Phra Borom Maha Ratchawang
Thai moonshine is having a moment, TEP Bar’s ya dong shots offer a great insight into the complexities of this local rice wine
69-71 Soi Nana, Charoen Krung Road
฿350 (£10.37) for a flight of 3 different shots
Try LonLon Local Diner, a hip Thai restaurant hidden in the thick of Silom. The menu consists of Thai classics that don’t compromise on spiciness
150 Naratiwat Soi 3
Dinner at about ฿400 (£11.85) per person
The BTS and MRT metro system stretch far and wide. Avoid tuk-tuks, which often charge triple the going rate
Day passes from ฿140 (£4.15)
A service charge of 10% is often added to bills in restaurants - if not, leaving a tip is appreciated
Our insider city guides - packed with tips from locals in the know.