If you’re going to spend “one night in Bangkok,” it might as well be Thursday. (Photo: 97/E+/Getty Images)
For the uninitiated — or those whose only experience with Bangkok is through the song “One Night in Bangkok” — a night out in Thailand’s capital city could seem overwhelming. The city really does cram street food next to temples next to massage parlors, and they all beckon you to enter. Motorcycle taxis, bicycles, and tuk-tuks collide in traffic, and that’s just on the sidewalks. Golden Buddhas and the beloved king stare serenely over the exhilarating chaos.
While you can still find backpacker havens, Bangkok has transformed itself during the 21st century. Sleek Skytrains zoom you along efficiently, making state-of-the-art movie palaces, Michelin-starred chefs, and trendy mixology bars readily available. Bangkok tempts with its old-meets-new atmosphere. Although anything goes, “We get our kicks above the waistline, sunshine.”
The Temple of the Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho (Photo: Max Stahl/Flickr)
Start at Wat Pho, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, just off the river. Allow yourself a cultural moment of meditation. No visit to Bangkok is complete without a Buddhist moment.
After Wat Pho head back to the Chao Praya River and take an elegant longboat to speed you over the water to the Saphan Taksin station. The gorgeous river view is part of the experience.
The View from Sky Bar (Photo: Lebua Hotels and Resorts/Facebook)
From here it’s a short walk to happy hour. Sky Bar, high atop the Lebua at State Tower, is one of the most spectacular rooftop bars in the world. Made (in)famous by the movie “Hangover 2,” it features four distinct bars where you can take in the dizzying sights. Order a delicious Hangovertini and get there in time to watch the sunset over the skyscrapers.
For those who require relaxation or stimulation before cocktails, try the aptly named WatPo Thai Traditional Massage School and the nearby Dasa Book Cafe. Thai massage will refresh, and Dasa has a fantastic selection of English-language used books you can peruse while sipping your latte.
Night is when Khao San Road really gets hopping. (Photo: Shankar S./Flickr)
It’s time to eat. Thais eat constantly and socially, small amounts throughout the day and night. Malls in Bangkok are ideal for sampling every conceivable Asian cuisine. Siam Square has the hot new hang, Food Republic, along with a “shop till you drop” vibe and a fascinating peek at Thai youth culture.
The Khao San Road night market opens at this hour and features a decidedly more urban version of a food court. The smell of coconut curry and the brightly colored fashion calls to one and all.
One of the best in Thai cuisine: David Thompson’s Nahm (Photo: drburtoni/Flickr)
For those craving a luxe restaurant, chef David Thompson’s Nahm was the first to achieve a Michelin star for Thai cuisine. For a beautiful garden setting, relax at Issaya Siamese Club with its colonial style.
Maggie Choo’s (Photo: Matt Greenfield/Flickr)
The surreal nightclubs by designer Ashley Sutton must be seen to be believed. Maggie Choo’s is set in a bank vault converted into a Prohibition-era Shanghai speakeasy. Girls swing on swings, live iguanas lurk. Go with it. Iron Fairies is a reimagined iron workshop inside a fairy’s lair, which also has the best burgers in town. The psychedelic mixed with the absurd — such is the allure of Bangkok.
Now THIS is how you do a movie theater: The Paragon Cineplex (Photo: Paragon Cineplex/Facebook)
If reliving past eras isn’t your fancy, go to the movies. Bangkok has elevated the cinema to new heights. The Paragon Cineplex features 4D cinema replete with moving seats, fog, strobe, leg ticklers, and even scents. Every screening in Thailand opens with a two-minute tribute to King Bhumibol, the world’s longest-reigning monarch. To hear a raucous crowd mute their voices in respect is a touching cultural experience.
“WTF” is the question and the answer (Photo: WTF Bar & Gallery/Facebook)
Head to Thong Lor, the only neighborhood in Bangkok universally described as hip. WTF — which means, as my bartender friend informed me, “exactly what you think it does” — is a combo bar/restaurant/art space with a great menu and quiet charm. The crowd is mixed: local, expat, gay, artist, college student. The drinks menu is witty and cutting-edge. It’s the perfect place to compare stories about your night.
Soi 38 (Photo: Onny Carr/Flickr)
Fend off the impending hangover with the abundant street food at Soi 38 night market. The action doesn’t get hopping until around midnight. The stalls to the right when you enter are generally more established, the carts to the left more exciting. Street food is the Bangkok culinary experience, and after the night you’ve had, you deserve it.