A few months ago I shocked friends and fans when this proud “perpetual nomad” decided to finally get a home in Thailand after more than seven years as a nomad. Needless to say, it has been a big switch, one I am still getting used to. Do you know how strange it is to find yourself suddenly taking pleasure in the mundane tasks such as grocery shopping or purchasing decorations for your house? (The old me would have slapped the current me.)
A Beautiful Home I’m Rarely At
My home is located on a quiet strip of deserted beach about 10km from the nearest town and I love it so much that I’m not publicly revealing exactly where it is. However just because I have a home does not mean that I have stopped traveling. In fact now I am traveling faster than ever and flying in and out where needed, as opposed to just wandering aimlessly as a perpetual nomad. Most recently I just finished a 4-project 5-country trip in only 6 weeks. It was brutal.
Because I’m always flying in and out of Thailand, Bangkok has become my second (third?) home. It is a vibrant metropolis full of delicious food, world class shopping, plenty of temples and tourist sights, plus an efficient and easy to navigate metro system to get around town that I prefer over sitting in traffic any day of the week. (Although still not quite as fun as motorcycling village to village, it is undeniably a much faster way to get my errands done.)
Repeat visitors to Bangkok all know that it is wise to avoid the touristy Khao San Road for a multitude of reasons, but mostly convenience and cost. Because the BTS and subway do not come close to KSR, tourists are at the mercy of unscrupulous tuk-tuk and taxi drivers, and they know this. A few days on KSR and you could unknowingly waste a couple hundred dollars on taxis as opposed to $10 on the metro. Districts such as Bang Rak and Sathorn in south central Bangkok are much more suitable areas to stay for experienced travelers. (And basically anyone else who didn’t come to Thailand just to get smashed every night for two weeks.)
Bang Rak (Bangrak) and Sathorn are two of my favorite districts in Bangkok. They are home to some of the most delicious food in the entire city and diverse enough that you can find somewhere to shop, indulge in both fancy restaurants and the finest street food, enjoy live music, explore local markets, go partying, relax with a massage or even just lounge around your luxurious hotel pool. Their central location also makes it easy to get anywhere else in town quickly via the BTS or metro, but most of the time I tend to stay within walking distance of my hotel. (Over the years I’ve already done all the obligatory touristy sights and activities.)
After many years of sleeping around Bangkok (not that way, c’mon now) I’ve finally found my backup home when in Thailand but not on the beach: Ascott Sathorn. Anyone who follows me on Instagram or Twitter has probably seen photos that I’ve posted from there during one trip or another.
The hotel is actually a serviced apartment which means most of the people you pass live there, so certain things that can occur in high turnover hotels like drunken guests, wild parties, property vandalism/malfunction or any sort of drama is nonexistent. Arriving at Ascott Sathorn I always know that I’ll be able to either relax peacefully or focus on work without any distractions or wifi issues.
Digital Nomad Financial Tip Many digital nomads like to stay in hostels to save money. That is totally understandable, I used to be the same way a decade ago. But hostels can be distracting. You find yourself chatting and/or drinking more than you should. I’ve found that if I spend the extra money on a comfortable hotel with fast wifi, I get a lot more work done. A LOT. Enough to justify spending the additional cost.
Given that I had just finished four projects in five countries during six weeks (and had been sleeping maybe four hours a night for that entire time) after checking in I spent my first couple of days back home in Bangkok ignoring my phone. I would get up around 8-9am and leisurely indulge in the Ascott’s phenomenal breakfast buffet. Afterward I would get a massage, followed by a snack and movie while laying in a bed that felt like clouds…which invariably would then lead to an impromptu afternoon nap. Eventually I would get up and eat another snack at the restaurant / bar in the hotel lobby you could call dinner, I guess.
As the day is winding down its time to hit the gym followed by a quick nightcap or three at The M Pub located downstairs in the hotel adjacent to the lobby. (The same place I got that delicious looking cheeseburger above.)
What can I say, there are many reasons why Ascott Sathorn is my home in Bangkok whenever I’m flying back into Thailand from a project. The next time you see me tweeting or posting a photo from here on Instagram or Facebook, c’mon by and join me for a coffee/tea or a beer (depending upon the time of day) my treat. Cheers!
Anyway, after those first few lazy days I got up and started exploring the surrounding districts of Sathorn and Bangrak.
What To Do In Bangrak And Sathorn
Most Bangkok first-timers have never heard of Bang Rak or Sathorn but they will know of the popular Silom, a road (and sub-district) within Bangrak that is known as the “Wall Street of Thailand.” As you would expect, Silom is filled with skyscrapers and corporate headquarters, countless upscale shopping and dining options, alleys known for wild nightlife, and of course plenty of delicious (and cheap) street food for all the Thai locals working at all these upscale businesses. This means whether you are a luxury traveler or budget traveler there is plenty in Bang Rak and Sathorn to keep you both fed and entertained.
Where To Eat
Food? I Like Food.
Prachak Sometimes called by its full name Prachak Roasted Duck (ร้านประจักษ์เป็ดย่าง Prachak Ped Yang in Thai) is the only 100+ year old duck restaurant in Bangkok (and probably all of Thailand) that is still family-run and wildly popular among both locals and informed tourists.
Now in its fourth generation, this restaurant is still a hole-in-the-wall but that just adds to its charm. It is certainly not off the beaten path anymore but it is still unique and damn delicious. Clearly they have been doing something right if this little establishment can have grown so popular over the last century. The interior walls of the small building are lined with newspaper and magazine articles on Prachak that go back decades.
Ever since first discovering this place in 2013, no trip of mine to Bangkok is complete without a meal at Prachak. 50-60 baht will get you a decent portion, or buy it in bulk take-away and spread the mouthwatering goodness among friends. Avoid peak lunchtime and dinner hours unless getting take-away, as the restaurant cannot support many people. Also keep in mind that Prachak pretty much closes at 8pm. The official closing time of 8:30pm is when they lock the doors and go home, not when the kitchen stops taking orders.
Another famous nearby restaurant is Blue Elephant. Founded by the award-winning Chef Nooror Somany-Steppe, Ambassador of Thai Cuisine since 1980, this is where you go for a special occasion or to taste a more extravagant yet still authentic version of Thai food. The menu changes daily and is subject to local market availability, however the food here is nothing short of heavenly.
A slightly more affordable alternative to a large group dinner is Blue Elephant’s cooking classes. They take place daily, one in the morning and another in the afternoon, however reservations are required. You can book online via email on Blue Elephant’s web site.
This building began life in 1903 as a department store, became the Thai Chamber of Commerce headquarters and was even used as the Japanese Command Center when the city was occupied during World War II. Purchased in 2000, it took two years of renovations before the Blue Elephant Cooking School and Restaurant first opened to the public in 2002. There are also other Blue Elephant restaurants in cities such as London, Paris and Brussels.
What To Do
Besides the food above and the shopping coming up next, there are plenty of other things to do in Sathorn and Bangrak. For starters, given the abundance of fancy skyscrapers there is no shortage of impressive architecture to admire as you wander around sampling street food and browsing the various shops and hawkers you pass.
Check out the tallest building in Thailand, the MahaNakhon Tower in Bang Rak. Above is the view from my suite at Ascott Sathorn — the MahaNakhon Tower is the blue cubic building towards the right. A pixelated portion of cubes wraps its way up and around the building, making it one of the most iconic buildings in the entire city. And one of the most expensive, with condos starting at $1.1 million and going for as much as $17,000,000 USD!
Sathorn is home to the iconic and controversial (the “is it cool or is it ugly?” debate has never been settled) Robot Building
When it comes to temples, there are no shortage of them in Bangkok. Sathorn’s best temple is definitely Wat Yannawa. Its unique shape is designed to resemble a Chinese junk. (That is a type of boat, for those who don’t know…like the one James Bond rides off on with the girl at the end of The Man With The Golden Gun. You know most of that movie was filmed here in Thailand? Shit, I’m off topic again.)
There is also Wat Yannawa
Bangrak’s biggest claim to fame is the Sky Bar, made famous by The Hangover Part II. A popular choice for first-time visitors to Bangkok who brought the clothes and the funds to enjoy a place like this, it is definitely one for the bucket list. If you cannot make it this trip, save it for the next one.
If the Sky Bar is a bit too pricey or you don’t have the right clothes on (“damn these sandals are so comfortable though!”) then head one block over to the Enjoy BKK Bistro. This place is the perfect fusion of Thai and Western culture in atmosphere, menu and drinks. That’s probably because the owners are an American husband and Thai wife you’ve been running the bistro for the last eight years.
In the last year Enjoy BKK has now become the proud home of the largest beer menu of any restaurant or bar in Thailand. With over 200 beers to choose from between draft and bottles, the diversity of this little bistro’s selection will astound you. Some of them are in limited supply and only have a few bottles available — but that does not matter because with this many choices, there is no excuse for drinking the same beer twice. This really is a small, family-owned place, perfect for a more subdued Bangkok evening when you actually want to be able to hear what the person next to you is saying without having to scream. Or when you want a place that has craft beer, top notch cocktails AND delicious yet affordable food.
The owners, Mac and Noi, are amazing people to speak with and will not hesitate to bend over backwards to make you happy. Tell them that Derek sent you for a little extra lovin’ 😉
Another nearby new experience for me was the Bangkok Seashell Museum. I’ve been passing by it for the last 6-7 months and even tweeted about how I wanted to visit it, but never made it until just the other week after returning from India. It is 3 stories packed full with over 3,000 specimens, tons of exhibits and information, even a video you can watch for further learning if you have the time.
Where To Shop In Bangrak
Silom Road is the primary shopping area in Bangrak, with lots of its alleys known for certain wares. Starting on the east, Silom Complex is your typical Thai mall, jam-packed full of a mix of a Western and Asia namebrand stores and complete with a Tops supermarket and food court in the basement. Across the street Thaniya Plaza, a massive four story complex that sells nothing but golf gear and accessories.
The dual alleys of Patpong are home to the well-known Patpong Night Market a daily event full of clothing, souvenirs, jewelry, electronics, assorted gadgets and other knickknacks which local vendors will try to convince you that you cannot live without. This place used to be infamous for vendors selling sex toys and drug paraphernalia, however since the King passed away back in October, most all of those vendors have been cleared out — save for one or two who no doubt pay a hefty “tax” to keep operating. However both alleys are still a popular red light neighborhood. Dual columns of vendors stretch down both Patpong’s main alley but both sides of the street are lined with bars and massage parlors full of naked and half-naked ladies and ladyboys — and yes, it is entirely possible to accidentally confuse the two initially if you are new to Thailand.
On the west end of Silom Road is Central Silom Tower, a gigantic collection of department stores covering all your needs from jewelry to outdoor to clothing and household products. The nearby 59-story Jewelry Trade Center is where both individuals and retailers can go for all their jewelry and gemstones needs. The headquarters of the Thai Gem and Jewelry Traders Association is here, as are several gem laboratories and the offices of various gemstone associations from around the world.
Make sure to ask an employee at the Jewelry Trade Center for your free gift 😉
Where To Stay
Well now that really depends on your budget. I personally prefer the Ascott Sathorn so much that it is now my Bangkok home. However if you need something more affordable, consider looking over around Phaya Thai or Nana. Places within a short walking distance of a BTS or subway station are ideal. Honestly, anywhere except Khao San Road is best. Tourists on KSR are like lambs to the slaughter in the eyes of street vendors, obnoxious touts, dishonest drivers, beggars and scammers. In order to experience the real Bangkok without getting upset or scammed (not to mention saving money) you need to stay somewhere locals live. Such as Sathorn or Bangrak.
Only in Bangkok for a layover? Here’s an awesome quick guide on how to make the most of a Bangkok layover.