Escape the sex-tourist sleaze and discover South-East Asia’s most vibrant hipster hang-out.
Unless you’re into ping-pong shows and ‘girlfriends’ for hire, Bangkok may not be top of your list of must-visit places. Often travellers use it as little more as a jumping-off point to the hippy enclaves in the north, or the party beaches to the south. But that’s a damn shame. Because once you venture outside of the backpacker ghettos, you’ll find a lively city with a style all of its own.
Start in leafy Thong Lo, where rather than sleazy cabarets and pricey rooftop bars you’ll find the sort of cool scruffy dive bars that wouldn’t look out of place in Brooklyn. Shades of Retro, which sells vintage clothes as well as cocktails, attracts an arty crowd, while Soul Food Mahanakorn is delicious proof that there’s more to the local cuisine than Pad Thai and Green Curry.
There’s more good food and even better shopping to be had in Yaowara (Chinatown) and Phahurat (Little India), but for a unique Bangkok experience head to Talad Rot Fai after the sun goes down. The ‘Old Train Market’ is a vibrant mix of street food, live music and young, independent vendors, where locals drink and shop until the small hours. For even more visceral thrills, score a ringside seat for a Muay Thai match at the Lumphini Stadium and you can stand shoulder to shoulder with the fighters’ families, screaming them on.
After all that excitement, you can do worse than wind down in the über-modern Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre. The on-site ice-cream parlour is one of the coolest - in every sense - in this hot, bustling city.
Finally, don’t leave Bangkok without joining the backpackers on the Khao San Road. In recent years locals have been returning to the main drag, with their camper-van pop-up bars and their craft stalls - but your best bet is to seek out the vinyl-loving cafes on the nearby Phra Athit Road. Here a mixed crowd meet and mingle – with not a ping-pong ball in sight.