Always invigorating, endlessly frenetic, and ever-surprising, Bangkok is an absolute treat.

With a population north of 11 million, to the untrained eye the sprawling Thai capital is an indistinct urban mass. Look a little closer however, and you’ll find the ‘Big Mango’ is in fact a city of neighborhoods.

The city’s best hotels are concentrated in a handful of urban districts, each with their own character and appeal. The shopping and dining picture can change dramatically from street to street. Key sightseeing spots and attractions are found all over. As it would be when visiting any of the world’s great cities, where to stay and where to dedicate your time in Bangkok is a matter of great discussion.

In anticipation of your trip to Bangkok, our resident Asia expert Luke has put together a guide to its key districts, and how each might be the right one for you.

Worker with lunch outside Grand Palace, Bangko

Rattanakosin

Otherwise known as ‘Old Town’, Rattanakosin wraps around the eastern bank of the Chaophraya and is Bangkok’s historic center. It’s home to key sightseeing spots such as the glittering Grand Palace and City Pillar Shrine. The majestic reclining Buddha of Wat Arun, aglow in the evening, is overlooked by several excellent rooftop bars and restaurants – one of the best nights out in the city. 

Amongst its tight alleyways and leafy boulevards you’ll find the teeming backpacker ghetto Khao San Road. Most budget travelers will make a beeline straight here, but if you’re looking for something more upmarket you can still take in Khao San of an evening, partaking in its rowdy bars, live music, and budget eats. 

As a historic district, development in Rattanakosin is tightly controlled. You won’t find sprawling luxury resorts here, instead, look to atmospheric boutique treasures such Chakrabongse Villas or Villa de Pranakorn.

Read our guide to the best food to try in Thailand

Chinatown

Just around a bend in the Chao Phraya from Rattanakosin is Bangkok’s buzzing Chinatown district. The action is concentrated along Yaowarat Road, which of an evening you’ll find draped in neon and swarming with foodies traveling from near and far to sample the area’s incredible street food scene. 

As with Rattanakosin, it’s mostly budget and lower-end accommodation here, but we do have a soft spot for boutique hotel Shanghai Mansion, which sits in a prime spot on Yaowarat Road and combines modern amenities with old-world Asian charm.

Hotels are not the main feature of Yaowarat Road however. No visit to Bangkok is complete without indulging in an expert-led street food tour of Chinatown – we guarantee you’ll never eat better!

What to do in Thailand
Busy night scene in Sukhumvit, Bangkok

Downtown & Financial District

Moving away from the river you’ll find the architecture becomes noticeably more 21st century as we move into the modern ‘downtown’ Bangkok. 

Roughly taking in the stretches from Siam Square all the way down Sathorn and Sukhumvit roads, this is thriving, pulsating Bangkok at its best. You’ll find shopping centers, coffee shops, street food spots, high-end dining destinations, with Skytrain lines buzzing overhead and the MRT whizzing underneath to help you get around. 

There’s something for everyone here. Seedy Patpong is the Bangkok you’ve probably heard about in stories; Thong Lor has youthful trendiness in spades; Silom and its soaring skyscrapers is Southeast Asia’s financial center; while the backstreets around Victory Monument are becoming the city’s next big street food must-visit. 

Our favorites luxury hotels in this district are the Banyan Tree, primarily for its legendary Vertigo sky bar; heritage classic the Sukhothai; and funky, Alice-in-Wonderland-esque Sofitel So overlooking Lumphini Park.

Where to stay in Thailand
Chao Phraya riverside, Bangkok

Riverside

Further south of Yaowarat, the Bang Rak district sits in the shadow of Taksin Bridge and holds Bangkok’s most famous five-star hotels. 

The iconic Mandarin Oriental has recently undergone a total refurbishment and is back to its legendary best. Just next door is perennial family-friendly favorite the Shangri-La, and immediately across the river is luxury classic the Peninsula. 

Epic service and alluring Chao Phraya river views are the order of the day here. Although away from the busier districts of the city, hotel and public riverboats move you quickly upriver to Rattanakosin and Chinatown, and a new MRT extension can whisk you into downtown in minutes. 

Not technically in the area but crowbarred in for its riverside location, luxury boutique bolthole The Siam is a Bill Bensley-inspired masterpiece and another of our favorites, located up in wealthy Dusit district north of the city center. 

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