Legal weed cafes and tattoos: How to sightsee in Bangkok off the tourist trail

Regularly topping the polls of our most favourite cities in Asia, bustling Bangkok is a heady combination of delicious food and glistening temples.

But even if you’re a seasoned visitor to the City of Angels, chances are, you’ve only just scratched the surface.

From magical tattoos and exotic street eats, to swoon-worthy museum-like hotels and secret speakeasies – ditch your guidebook, sidestep the Kho San Road, and read on for attractions in the Thai capital that go way beyond the pale.

Forget one night in Bangkok, you’ll need a few weeks to take it all in…

Sample street food eats

From exotic, spice-infused street food, to high-end silver service, Bangkok can provide intrepid diners – of all tastes and budgets – with a seriously lip-smacking meal, provided they know where to go. Veer away from the tourist traps and get your culinary fix on the streets.

Considered the birthplace of street food in the country, Chinatown remains the beating heart of the city’s obsession with all things culinary. And the best way to learn some of the area’s best-kept foodie secrets is by joining Chef’s Tour’s Bangkok Food Tour.

Ranked as the best food and drink experience in the city on TripAdvisor, over four hours and 15-plus tastings, visitors will be led by an enthusiastic local chef guide through the area’s maze of alleys in the evening cool, feasting on street eats you’d probably never find alone, including Michelin-rated dishes.

Check into a hipster hub

When it comes to hotels that marry hip and haute, the Rosewood Bangkok comes out on top.

After opening just three years ago, the stunning 30-storey property offers both an enviable location (right in the heart of the city within a stone’s throw of Bangkok’s largest green space, Lumpini Park) and a stunning interior. The hotel’s fitness studio facilities are second-to-none, and its in-house plush spa draws upon Thailand’s heritage of healing, while the sky-high indoor-outdoor saltwater pool and jacuzzi offers soaring views of the surrounding cityscape.

Visiting hipsters will fall in love with the 6,000-plus vinyl collection at speakeasy-style bar, Lennon’s, which serves signature cocktails inspired by your favourite tunes.

Shop for good luck amulets

From exorcism ceremonies and spirit houses, to charms claiming to make wearers bullet-proof, Thailand is a culture soaked in superstition. As a result, there’s a huge market for protective amulets. Whether hanging in taxis or worn around the neck – often many at the same time – these talismans are used for everything from good luck and protection, to fertility and wealth.

You can immerse yourself in this strange supernatural world at the city’s off-the-beaten-path amulet market near the Phra Chan Pier.

Need to perk up your sex life? Improve your health? Or perhaps you’re after protection from evil spirits? Whatever the issue, there’s an amulet here for you.

Splash out on a Michelin meal

For a meal that pairs a classic European fine dining experience with a showcase of the best produce and flavours in the region, book a table at Mia.

Inspired by the founding chefs’ formal training in Michelin-starred restaurants across Europe (including London’s Sketch) and Asia, Mia offers a seasonal tasting menu with both vegan and vegetarian options, alongside wondrous wine pairing.

Available in both five and seven courses, diners can expect fun, fresh and complex Asian-influences dishes in a contemporary casual setting paired with super slick service. Top tip: swing by the in-house bar, Behind the Curtain, for a pre-dinner aperitif.

Explore bustling Bang Rak

In areas across the capital, young gun artists, restauranteurs, chefs and nightlife pioneers, are all out to prove that there’s more to Bangkok than street food and temples. And there’s nowhere better to see this in action than in Bang Rak.

Roughly translated as the ‘village of love’, the district is the most popular place to register marriage and this love-in extends to the easygoing nature of rest of the area’s inhabitants too. Gay bars join onto artisan cocktail joints, bargainous street food vendors happily share space with pricey, hip restaurants. It’s a neighbourhood with real, well, bang.

Visit a speakeasy

It’s a similar story in Chinatown’s Soi Nana, where inner-city urbanites and trendsetters have turned shabby shophouses into chic galleries and cool small bars.

Spearheading this new wave of bars that are making traditional Thai cool is Teens of Thailand, the first Bangkok bar to specialise in gin.

Hidden behind an imposing Indian-style door the bar serves serious gin-based cocktails that go well beyond a G&T.

Wonder at the weed takeover

Just as the bar scene in Bangkok has been revolutionised so has the capital’s approach to drugs, specifically weed. In June 2022, Thailand became the first Asian country to decriminalise cannabis nationwide, and since then its capital city has become a Mecca for Cannabis connoisseurs.

Rules are still hazy (pun intended) so newbies should get a grounding on the new Chef’s Tour weed and food guided experience, which takes visitors on an evening jaunt via tuk tuk to several of Bangkok’s finest weed dispensaries. Learn about how it’s grown and the different varieties, interspersed with street eats tastings ending on a suitably sugary high.

Cruise the Khlongs

There are few experiences in Bangkok better than drifting along its old khlongs (canals).

Lazily venturing into the network of waterways you’ll escape the hordes of tourists and see giant monitor lizards lazing in the sun, old wooden houses on stilts, floating markets, umpteen temples (be wary of temple fatigue – they can all become a bit same-y after you’ve seen a few) and shrines. You can refuel with chilled beers and coconuts sold from entrepreneurial locals in canoes that will paddle out to you.

Check into a living museum

Design digs meet museum at what is described as Bangkok’s most beautiful luxury hotel, The Siam.

The passion project of a local celebrity, actor and former indie rocker, this one-of-a-kind luxury property can easily lay claim to being the most unique accommodation in town thanks to the owner’s epic collection of quirky antiques and collectables.

Chinese pottery from sunken shipwrecks; taxidermy crocodiles, peacocks and tigers; Neolithic bronze bracelets; old typewriters; 16th century wooden statues of Buddha; and a collection of 30s and 40s vinyl so large that it requires its very own room – this place is packed to the rafters with curios meaning that there’s something remarkable around every corner.

Designed by celebrated hotel guru Bill Bensley (one of Architectural Digest’s top 100 designers) the pimped out pad fuses Art Deco, traditional Thai, and classic colonial-style aesthetics. The trove of curiosities is also applied to the interiors of the 39 suites and villas, which all feature massive beds and bathtubs made for two, or private pools.

Set within some of the best real estate in Bangkok right beside the Chao Phraya River, guests can hop to some of the main sights on the hotel’s free river boat, or cool off in the 23 metre-long riverside infinity pool.

But wait, there’s more. Other wow-worthy amenities include a small cinema (complete with antique cinema chairs, projectors, cameras and a life-size statue of E.T.) alongside a swanky gym with an actual full-size Muay Thai boxing ring and resident Olympic Muay Thai trainer.

Supper like a celeb

The former judge of Top Chef Thailand, Chef Pam, has made a splash in Bangkok’s foodie scene with the opening of her Thai-Chinese restaurant, Potong.

Set in a historical Sino-Portuguese building (one that actually used to be chef Pam’s family’s Chinese pharmacy) the eatery has already received a coveted mention in the Michelin Guide Thailand.

Named after her Hokkien great-great-grandfather, who founded the drugstore 130 years ago, the signature 20-course menu shows off the celebrity chef’s progressive cooking and comes infused with stories from her childhood. Plus, almost all ingredients are made in-house, including soy sauce, miso, and the fermented tea. Pre or post-meal make sure to visit the adjacent Opium Bar for a cocktail or two.

Get a massage

Massage and Thailand go hand-in-hand. An ancient practice used to relieve the stress in the body’s muscles, it’s something that every traveller needs to experience on a visit to the country. Thankfully, Bangkok gives great massage. To experience it firsthand, check into the SO/ Bangkok hotel.

Boasting 237 urban-designed rooms and suites and a gorgeous infinity pool, the downtown designer hotel also has one of the best spas in the city. For premium pampering, try the signature Serenity of Five Elements treatment – a relaxing exclusive to SO/ Bangkok, the 90-minute experience combines herbal compresses and oil massage for an all-over muscle makeover.

Get a magical tattoo

Though Thailand’s population is 95 per cent Buddhist, there’s still a very strong belief in the supernatural, ghosts, demons and magic spells. Enter the Sak Yant tattoo.

Influenced by a mix of spiritual traditions, including Hinduism, Buddhism and animism, Sak Yant has been used for centuries to offer protection and to bestow good fortune, health and prosperity to the wearer. Believed to confer magical and mystical powers, these intricate inks are done with a traditional metal tattoo rod and have found A-list fans int he likes of Angelina Jolie and Cara Delevingne. And for travellers who want to get their own souvenir to remember, A Chef’s Tour offer fully guided Sak Yant experiences with traditional masters known as ‘Ajarn’ – private experiences that include the full tattoo ceremony and blessing afterwards.

Bag a bargain

A city of shoppers, retail-hungry Bangkokians love nothing more than spending their weekends getting their fix in one of the city’s many super-malls. But for serious bang for your Bangkok baht time your visit for the weekend Chatuchak market. The largest in the country (and one of the largest in Asia) you can spend days exploring the labyrinthine network of stalls. Come prepared to haggle!

Sink a sundowner

Sinking a sundowner in the open air all the while getting a bird’s eye view of the glistening cityscape before you — who doesn’t love a rooftop bar? Thankfully, Bangkok does rooftop bars very well and one of the best is set 29 floors up at the top of SO/ Bangkok.

Bangkok sky bars are all the rage in Bangkok’s pulsating party scene, and HI-SO leads the way with its enviable views over Lumpini Park and beyond, alongside serious fashionista credentials thanks to the hotel’s design affiliation with Christian Lacroix.

Pre for post drinks, head to the hotel’s newly opened robatayaki (a Japanese cooking method where ingredients are grilled in front of restaurant guests) and sushi bar, SOSHI, where you can feast on freshly sliced raw fish sushi and sashimi and premium grilled meats.

Getting there:

Bamboo Airways offer daily direct flights to Bangkok from its Ho Chi Minh hub. See

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