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.
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?