Time was up. My visa was running out and my departure from Thailand was fast approaching. As usual, there was only one way to say goodbye — a blowout weekend in Bangkok. As are all great trips to the Big Mango, the weekend was a blend of favorite old haunts, and exciting new discoveries. And I had two perfect co-pilots, Heather and Ian, to join me.
I love playing tour guide, and so when I realized Ian had never spent time in Bangkok (he’d been entering and exiting the country through Phuket), I was over the moon about showing off one of my favorite cities. Because the overnight ferry and bus combo from Koh Tao drops you off at Khao San Road in Bangkok, we decided to spend our first night there for convenience. And, you know, shopping and street food and weirdo watching and all the other great things about Khao San.
Unfortunately my usual go-to Rikka Inn had no vacancy, so I booked us in at Khao San classic D&D Inn, intrigued to give it a try.
While the rooms were tasteful and the pool was lively, I still prefer laid back little Rikka. It probably didn’t help that D&D was under renovation at the time and the hallway was literally a construction site. At least now I can say I’ve seen it!
Plus, we didn’t spend too much time in the room anyway. We were too busy buying really amazing t-shirts and gorging on the aforementioned street snacks.
And of course, sampling the bizzarity that is Khao San Road nightlife. But as tempting as the pop-music pulsing bucket bars lining the street are, we were about to discover an absolute hidden gem of the area on a tip from a friend back on Koh Tao. Following his vague directions, we cheered when we found Adhere the 13th Blues Bar, just a short stroll from Khao San.
Oh, and did I mention Heather and I were twinning? She had arrived earlier by plane in order to squeeze in some doctor’s appointments and was staying at a different hotel, so we squealed when we reunited and realized we were both wearing the matching shirts we’d bought weeks earlier.
But back to Blues Bar. This place was everything you’d want out of a tiny live music hotspot tucked around the corner from a street you’ve spent cumulative weeks of your life on. The crowd was impressively diverse — Thais, tourists, and expats of all ages were packed in shoulder to shoulder, you had to scoot around the drum set to get a drink, and the bar was covered in drawings and love letters from regulars.
We (and by we I obviously mean Ian) may have even added a contribution of our own.
We were so bummed when just around midnight, the bar was closed down by the military police currently running the city — Thailand is indeed still under martial law. It did lead to one of the biggest laughs of the night, though, when the guitarist glanced outside and saw them approaching, and deadpan thanked us for “not buying enough drinks for us to afford any bribes.” Well, we’ll just stroll back to Rambuttri and Khao San, we decided, two unfailing all-night party streets.
Not so much. My jaw hit the floor when we arrived back to Soi Rambuttri and found it a ghost town. In my six years of traveling Thailand I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve arrived to this typically-pulsing area fresh off flights at every wild hour in the day and night and never have I seen it so quiet as this Friday evening in November at midnight. Prepping for a zombie apocalypse at any moment, we cautiously made our way over to Khao San, where the scene was similarly out-of-character. Two of the big bars remained open as usual — the ones that were indeed able to afford those bribes, I presume, while all others remained shuttered and military police lurked in the intersections. We did laugh when further down the street we encountered an impromptu street party — enterprising Thais with coolers and boom boxes had started renegade bars right in the middle of the road, complete with enthusiastic dancing from grateful tourists. Whenever an official walked by, the coolers would shut and the vendors would scatter. I guess you can take Khao San Road off the party circuit, but you can’t take the party circuit out of Khao San Road.
My mind drifted to my last trip to Bangkok, where we were shocked to be turned away from Sukhumvit nightclubs without our IDs, and devastated to find the combi van street bars vanished from Soi 11. Was my beloved Bangkok changing in a way that it wouldn’t be able to recover from? Would we look back someday and reminisce about the “good old days” in the wild west capital of Thailand, days that were long over after a thorough sanitation?
Overwhelmed by this series of events, we processed them the only way we knew how — a foot massage and a contraband bucket.
As fun as Khao San can be for a night or two, I would never base an entire Bangkok trip there. So the next morning, we were off to Sukhumvit. As I’ve confessed, I’m a shameless Bangkok hotel hopper, and this round, I was extremely excited to try something really different from my usual pool-topped high rise — the small boutique property Luxx XL.
At first glance, we were in love. At $100 a night, this was a huge splurge for me, but for my last two nights in Thailand I was ready to splash out. The hotel is gorgeous, and our suite was spacious and beautifully designed. We loved the indoor/outdoor bathroom, the wood floors and the full kitchen. Other nice touches were guest bikes and a DVD and magazine library in the lobby.
It was a lovely little hideaway in the midst of the skyscrapers.
That said, despite all these beautiful photos, I can’t really recommend Luxx XL. First, the wifi was poor in the room and completely non-functional by the pool. I had been looking forward to working by the water and was frustrated I couldn’t get a signal on any of my devices. Second, the breakfast situation was bizarre — a completely empty dining room with just fruit, juice, and bread set out, and a sign indicating omelettes and coffee cost 250 baht extra. Not exactly the lavish spread that normally comes in this price range in Bangkok.
And finally, — and I realize this sounds like a ridiculously petty complaint — this weird room next to the pool. I believe it was perhaps originally intended as a cafe or poolside bar, but it is currently being used as some sort of open food prep area and storage space. Picky, yes, but when I’m paying that much to stay at a supposed design hotel, I don’t want to sit at the pool and be looking out at piles of wood, stacked cases of water bottles and plastic bags full of spare plumbing parts. That space should be better utilized or it should be hidden from the view of guests. I felt like I was at a construction site, not a design hotel.
So while we had an absolutely amazing time and I don’t regret giving Luxx XL a go, until they address those three issues I would not return — there are too many other fantastic options in the area.
But onto more gushing Sukhumvit area discoveries — namely, Charley Brown’s Mexican Cantina, where the three muskateers reunited for Heather’s final night. As a guacamole aficionado and a Soi 11 regular, I don’t know how I’d never stumbled upon this place before. With a perfect location, trendy interiors, a fabulous menu and sombreros available for photo ops, I will absolutely be back to this joint.
Post-dinner, we hopped on the skytrain to check out two bars that had long been on my Bangkok bucket list: WTF Bar and Iron Fairies. We arrived to find WTF tragically closed for the night, and hoped we’d have better luck at Iron Fairies. Did we ever. Walking through the doors we felt that we’d stumbled upon a fairy-dusted magical wonderland, an intricately designed set from a Harry Potter movie, 0r the coolest bar in Bangkok — or all three.
While pricey by Bangkok standards, our cocktails came in smoking potion bottles and adorned with crystal-covered handmade marshmallows — so I’d say overall worth the extra baht. It was open mic night and I even earned a free one by getting up onstage. Singing Amy Winehouse’s Valerie while accompanied by the beyond-fabulous live jazz band was a highlight of the trip.
Ian and I’s final night in Bangkok was spent doing something really special and original and totally unique to Thailand — watching a movie. Actually I’m only half kidding — catching a flick at the luxury theaters at Siam Paragon Cineplex is one of my favorite things to do in Bangkok, and by this point my excitement levels over seeing Gone Girl had officially reached a fever pitch (I’d forced half of Koh Tao to read the book after seeing a trailer online). I love everything about the Bangkok movie experience — from the high-tech system of choosing your seat on an iPad to the very Thai tradition of starting every movie by standing hand over heart for the national anthem played over a montage of video clips of the King. (PS: Feel free to discuss your opinions on Gone Girl freely in the comments because I HAVE A LOT OF EMOTIONS.)
Walking back in the sticky night air, we decided to end the evening with one last nightcap — a drink at The Speakeasy Rooftop Bar of Hotel Muse, just around the corner from our own hotel. Wow! While again, the prices we steep for Thailand, they were worth every baht for the skyline views, the uber-cool atmosphere and the undeniable sense that were in a very special place for a very special moment in time. It was a fitting goodbye.
The Speakeasy, along with Blues Bar, Charley Brown’s Cantina, and Iron Fairies, have all been enthusiastically added to my roster of favorite Bangkok bistros and bars and I can’t wait to revisit them on future trips. I’ve also definitely added Muse to my list of fantasy hotels.
But we didn’t linger too long at The Speakeasy, this time — we had one last adventure early in the morning, the last one I’d wake up to in Thailand for quite some time.
What are your favorite Bangkok restaurants and bars? Which of these would you head to?
Great post, making me want to go back. I miss Bangkok! My last time was back in January and I took a visit to the new Iron Fairies location trying to show the other half some of the cooler BKK bars.
Got there early to get a table and were loving it until we saw something shuffling on top of the table next to us in the candle light! I thought is was a small cat at first but once I focused a rat sniffing around the monkey nuts came into clear view.
Still think the bar is great and well worth a visit though! Just make sure to go when it’s a little busier, will likely put the cheeky buggers off!
Can recommend Octave bar on top of the new Marriot for amazing views, just be sure to go all the way to the top!
Haha, yeah, that would definitely be a turn off — though I’m not surprised considering it is Bangkok! So when you say new location — are there two Iron Fairies? I could only find info on one.
I love the look of the blues bar. I really like Cabbages & Condoms, not necessarily because of its atmosphere, but because of the fun décor (think lots of condoms) and because it is a social enterprise and so the proceeds go into HIV prevention and treatment projects.
I’ve been to Cabbages and Condoms twice and love it for the same reasons! Definitely a fun stop with lots of photo ops 🙂
I remember that rooftop bar from your photos of the week and I’m loving it all over again! Adding it to my list for Bangkok for sure!
My favorite of the rooftop bars I’ve tried so far for sure!
I love Adhere the 13th! Discovered it on my second trip to Thailand in 2006 (think it was actually in my Lonely Planet guidebook) and went back there again in 2011 to find that it hadn’t changed one bit and was just as awesome 🙂
Nice! I wonder if it is still in Lonely Planet — I feel like I read mine cover to cover back in the day and am surprised it didn’t catch my eye. It will definitely be a new must-do for me with each trip to Bangkok.
I LOVED Gone Girl! It was one of the few book to movie adaptations that I feel actually did a really great job sticking to the original storyline with only a few theatrical changes added in. Reading the book first definitely made for good ground work though and I’m glad I read it before seeing the movie!!
Ok rant over. Thanks for your honest reviews about the new places you tried out in Bangkok! We’ll be heading there within the next year and are definitely adding these cool hangouts to our list!
Always happy to share my favorite finds! I really enjoyed the movie as well though I don’t think anything could compare to my love for the book. I so enjoyed getting my friends to read it too and getting to discuss it with them. Made me want to join a book club!
This makes me want to go back to BKK so badly. I am not a huge fan of Khao San, but I do love Brick Bar there, it’s almost all Thais and they have some amazing Thai concerts there – so much fun! Adding that Blues Bar to my list though!
Also, seeing a movie in BKK was a fave activity when I lived in Thailand – that theatre is so nice and I love the King’s song (it’s not actually the Thai national anthem, it’s the King’s Anthem or Royal Anthem).
Ah, thank you for the correction — good to know! And I will have to finally check out Brick Bar one of these days. I’ve heard so many good things about it.
This post makes me want to book a flight to Bangkok now. I love the sound of that impromptu street party on Khao San, and that rooftop bar looks spectacular.
I loved Gone Girl, but hated the ending! I was hoping they would change it in the movie.
I guess I didn’t love the ending, but it didn’t take away from my love for the book as a whole. I thought it played out better on screen, actually. My mom was on your side though — she couldn’t get over how much she hated that conclusion!
Sooo, I might be the only person ever, but I hated Gone Girl (I only read the book). I get why it’s good – completely suspenseful, no idea what was coming – but I hated both of the main characters. They were jerks. And I really struggle to read books where I can’t find even a tiny scrap of relatability or at least sympathy. So I stopped reading once I realized that they were BOTH awful, and I do not regret it one bit!
See, I REALLY identified with Amy in Part I. Like, crazy so. I loved her character and felt I could have written so many passages myself. Which is why Part II felt like such a betrayal — I had to put the book down for a few days! I had friends who said the same. I know for some people that could turn them off entirely but for me, I don’t know, I loved that it could make me feel something so strongly.
It definitely felt like a betrayal! I’d been feeling sympathetic at various times for both of them – and then all of a sudden I felt no sympathy for either one and I just couldn’t do it anymore (I did skip ahead and read the ending). I just prefer happy endings and less emotional trauma in my entertainment (life can be traumatic enough!). 🙂
I didn’t like the book either! I felt like it was completely drawn out and could have used a few edits. I actually thought the betrayal was the only real interesting thing to happen…until the end. But at that point I was just glad it was over.
I LOVED Sukhumvit area, and particularly the Iron Fairies bar. I remember the first time I saw it across the street, it was like a magnetic pull, that said “you must come over, it’s going to be so good.” and it was! Love Bangkok so much. Did you ever try Daniel Thaiger burger food truck (I am sure you did…) when we discovered that, our life was complete.
Actually, I never have! Sounds familiar though. Definitely adding it to the list for next time!
Your Bangkok posts always bring me back to when I stayed off Sukhumvit myself, and enjoyed similar style rooftop views and expensive drinks at one of those sky bars. Oh, Thailand, I can’t wait to return to you this year!
That martial law SUCKS something serious yo. I hope they get it together soon. I’m glad to see that living it up is still possible, though. I need those smoking cocktails in my life… as well as some Amy Winehouse now! *cues up Spotify*
Gone Girl was insane. I couldn’t put the book down last year, and the movie stayed pretty true in my opinion. My one thought: That b*tch is crazy!
Those rock n’ roller portraits from the blues bar are pretty awesome. Almost as awesome as Ian’s cat.
Curious about your Gone Girl feelings! I loved it & as in most great suspense movies, was kept at the edge of my seat until Act 3. Then a bit disappointed by the ending but not enough to negate the journey. Rosamund Pike was insane. Neil Patrick was hilarious.
I think I was so deliriously obsessed with the book that there is no way the movie could have lived up to the hype — especially because in our case the hype meant watching the trailer for weeks and literally traveling twelve hours to see it, ha ha. I found that in reading the book, the “betrayal” of part two is so deep because at that point you’ve spent days and days reading and getting to know these characters — the comparatively short time you spend with them in a movie theater before the twist is revealed just can’t compete. I did think they cast it absolutely perfectly, though.
So unfortunate about Luxx XL. But you are too right, Bangkok is overflowing with amazing hotels in that price range so they really do need to pull their belts up!
I too have many many feelings about Gone Girl. I watched the movie, then read the book. I LOVED IT. You know what I loved about it? They are both such flawed human beings. I felt like I could relate to Amy in so many parts… to the point where I thought – that’s insane, surely nothing could ever push me to the breaking point to do what she did? No of course not. Could I? No. She’s crazy. But she justified herself so well. WHAT SHE DID IS INEXCUSABLE. But Nick was a tool. Still… NO! What are you thinking?!
She’s such a complicated and intricate character that I think many people can relate to. You can’t just write her off as crazy – there’s a little crazy in all of us (though hopefully not to her certifiably psychotic level!)
Haha, I literally laughed out loud reading your comment — I FEEL YOU GIRL. I think that’s what’s so scary about it… she’s insane, but her actions come from a very relatable pool of rage.
Gone Girl was crazy. I hadn’t read the book so, not knowing what I was in for, I was on the edge of my seat for the whole movie. Creepy, crazy Amy. I can’t wait to read the book now.
Ah, the book is so amazing. I was totally lost in it.
Iron Fairies sounds awesome – I’ll definitely have to bookmark that one for next time I’m in Bangkok! I was in Bangkok over Christmas and went to Charley Brown’s on Christmas Day – such a great little spot and sooo delish! Haven’t seen OR read Gone Girl…but after reading all these comments am definitely thinking I should!!
I’ve tried to be careful not to give away spoilers! But YES! Get thee to a library straight away 🙂
I love reading things about Bangkok considering I am currently living here – although I will also be departing in a couple short weeks.
First of all, GUACAMOLE! I miss is something fierce. I recently asked some of my Thai students about it and they had never tried it. TRAGIC!
Secondly, I think I really need to check out Iron Fairies before I leave. I have heard about it a couple times and you’ve convinced I shouldn’t miss it!
Definitely go… and check out WTF Bar too, for both of us 🙂
That’s such a trip to hear that Bangkok’s infamous party streets are ghost towns at night. I was in Bangkok when everything first started going down. It was pretty crazy there at the time and there were police in riot gear all around the Khao San area. They were literally blocking the entire area and would let anyone in. But I haven’t been back to Bangkok since then. I feel like I’ve been really out of the loop about what’s going on there!
I’ve been really shocked to see how affected Bangkok still is, and disheartened to think that the effects are reaching irreversible levels. Nothing made me sadder than walking down Soi 11 and seeing all the combi van bars had been cleared out. They were such a special, unique part fo the fabric of Bangkok nightlife! And who knows if they will ever come back now. Major sad face.
The view from The Speakeasy is phenomenal!! That truly is a great way to end the night. Plus, you got to put sombreros on for photos in this trip, so I count it a success regardless of the hotel issues.
Haha, another laugh out loud comment on this post. You guys are the best! And yeah, nothing tragic with the hotels! Still had a great time, just wouldn’t go back.
Blues Bar seems to have the right type of ambiance that I love. It’s so appealing to me. I hope you’ve enjoyed as much as I imagine it must be so.
Maybe someday you can check it out for yourself! 🙂
I think I need to see Gone Girl again before I can make my final verdict. I went with three people who hadn’t read the book so I couldn’t exchange comments with them during the movie and I was about to burst so many times! I have to say, I was surprised by how much I liked it, and I never like movies based on books I’ve read.
Sounds like you really made the most of your last few days in Thailand. So weird about the bars closing like that, but I’m glad it didn’t get you down. The blues bar sounds truly amazing!
It definitely bums me out, not so much because I want to rage on the streets or anything but because it makes me sad to think of a city I love changing and losing some of its character. But yeah, we had a pretty great time regardless 🙂
Is WIFI/internet connectivity really that bad in Thailand? I’d have thought it’d be fine. That Vans shirt looks cool. Did Ian buy it? 🙂 It would look fitting to go along with your flamingo dress.
Ha, I tried to encourage it but no, the flamingo t-shirt was not purchased 🙂 The wifi is usually great in Bangkok — that’s why I was so annoyed it didn’t work well at an expensive hotel.
I am currently spending a month in Bangkok and was dreading more than a night on Khao San. I have now discovered Soi 11 and some cool roof top bars but will definitely be trying the others mentioned above. Thank you for the tips!
You’re so welcome Sally! I’m always on the prowl for great new spots in Bangkok 🙂
Ok, I’m dying to know what you thought of Gone Girl! I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I read the book over the summer. And I didn’t love it. Something about it was lacking for me. Maybe the movie is better?
I LOVED the book. Like I’ve said elsewhere in the comments, I deeply identified with Amy in Part I, and I felt so betrayed by Part II that I had to put the book down for a while. But I loved that it could make me feel so strongly! I felt kind of “meh” about the ending, but I’m not sure if there’s one I would have felt more passionately about.
That pool shot is somethin’! Look at the arms of your bearded bartender. They are solid. Bet you love ’em 🙂
Not complaining! 🙂
Glad to hear your enjoying your self in our city 🙂 Even us locals find it hard to keep up sometimes because there’s always so much going on and so many options when it comes to eating out, partying or just chilling, if your ever back in Bangkok hit me up, could show you some new local spots you might find interesting 🙂
Thanks for the offer, Ozz! I can imagine Bangkok would be an overwhelming city to live in — I hope to get the chance to try it out someday!
Going to Bangkok in a few months. Intrigued by your review of U Sukhumvit. Narrowed between that and the Millennium Bangkok Hotel. Thoughts?
Hey Matt! I’ve never been to the Millennium so unfortunately can’t offer a comparison. Love love love U Sukhumvit though!
Hi, this is posted in 2015, which means Thai martial law is still in place? Is that why Siam area was so deserted at 11 pm when i was in Bangkok last November? Holy, i didnt know that! I was still wandering in the lonely streets at 1 am looking for some midnight snacks.
Yup… that would be the case! It’s weird to see such a vibrant twenty four hour city so deserted, right?!