Bangkok Visa Run Shopping Trip: Five Days in Silom Bang Rak

surakak station bts bangkok

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Should you visit Bangkok in December? Absolutely! You’ll enjoy some of the best weather, street fairs, and festive Christmas shopping.

Jump ahead: Where to Eat, Things to Do, Things to Buy, Safety, Getting Around, Travel Advice

Where To Stay

I chose the Silom district of Bangkok as my home base for this trip. It’s a lively area with plenty of cafes, restaurants and street markets. It’s convenient to BTS — and if you’ve never experienced Bangkok’s skytrain, you’re in for a real treat. More on that further down. It’s also a very safe area, which is important for everyone, but especially for women traveling alone. 

Airbnb

To rent an apartment for short stays, Airbnb is my go to

I rented a 2nd floor studio apartment in the Bangrak area of Silom for $30.65 per night. This figure includes all the extra fees associated with booking Airbnb accommodation.

When you’re looking for an apartment in Bangkok, you’ll be shown the per night rate, but once you book, Airbnb will add a service fee and the host may also add additional fees, such as a cleaning fee. In the end, your per night rate will be higher than the one you see at the start, so make sure you factor in any fees before making a final choice.

Many hosts offer a significant discount for weekly or monthly rentals. Some hosts also make you pay for your electric usage if you book a month or longer. Make sure you are clear about all the charges and conditions before finalizing your booking. Once you know what your final charge will be, divide that by the number of nights you are staying and you’ll get your actual per night rate. If you’re doing visa runs and you have a budget, this will really help you get a clear idea of how much visa runs really cost. 

My apartment came with a kitchen, aircon and secure entry. It was on a lovely, quiet side street with no traffic noise and less than a ten minute walk to the Surasak BTS station. 

Where to Eat

Here are some of my favorite eats on this Bangkok visa run

The Coffee Club

Silom Watkeak – go here for coffee and breakfast

where to eat silom bangkok

My days started here, just a block from my apartment. On the pricey side, but great coffee, gracious service, aircon, nice bathroom and fast wifi. I cycled through a variety of breakfast items such as congee, salmon benedict, their take on a full English and of course, a smoothie bowl.

Ring Cafe by Lumière

Serene cafe for drinks and light breakfast

ring cafe by lumiere bangkok rose milk tea

My go-to afternoon pick me up: rose milk tea at Ring. They have breakfast items, a creative coffee menu and some interesting desserts including some “black” options. Black bread was all the rage in Bangkok: black croissants, black toast. I’m not really sure what it was all about, but I suspect Oreos were involved somehow. Not intriguing to me personally, so I just stuck with sipping cold rose milk tea in their very chill temperature controlled cafe. Rose milk tea 85฿ or $2.80

Neighborhood Street Food Markets

In Bangkok, food happens in the street

street food vendors bangkok

There are a couple of alleys that turn into extensive food markets at different times of day. These are alleys off of Silom Rd between Pramot Alley and Soi Pradit. You can buy fruits and vegetables, but also there are numerous food stalls selling everything from soup to curry to whole grilled fish. There are tables where you can eat, or you can get takeaway.

Bang Rak Market & Bazaar

Local wet market and bazaar

bangrak bazaar bangkok

There is an extensive warren of vendors found along Silom Rd. Bang Rak Bazaar is very near Saphan Taksin BTS station on the Silom Line. It’s called a “night market”, but it’s open from around 7am-10pm. You can buy clothes, backpacks, watches…you know, stuff. And also food, so much food! There are lots of food vendors of every variety with tables to eat at or takeaway. Or you can enter further up on Silom Rd through an unassuming entrance that isn’t marked (in English, anyway).  This entrance is directly across the street from Prachak and is listed on Google maps as Bang Rak Market.

Prachak

Go here for roast duck or roast pork noodles

prachak roast duck bangkok

Dive bars. Hole in the wall food joints. Prachak is definitely in this category: low on ambiance, no frills, but excellent food. It’s easy to miss because Silom Rd is packed and chaotic as it gets closer to the river. It’s just across the street from the also-easy-to-miss entrance to Bang Rak Market (not the bazaar). You’ll see someone just outside, manning a giant pot of broth. In the window, someone will be expertly turning whole roast ducks and crispy slabs of roast pork into bite size slices for the constant stream of orders from diners in the restaurant as well as takeout orders.

Pick your meat, and have it with fresh, thin egg noodles, wilted greens, shrimp wontons — and they will ask you if you want it as is or with soup. Um…with soup! Of course. 80฿ or $2.65

Mohsen

Go here for Persian food

Love Mohsen for juicy, tender kebabs, perfect aromatic rice and grilled vegetables. If you already love Persian food, you’ll enjoy this place. If you’ve never had it, but imagine it’s the same as Turkish food (kebabs, rice, flatbread), you’re in for a discovery! I first tried Persian cuisine growing up in Los Angeles and have loved it ever since. The flavors are delicate and fresh.  

Pad Thai Maethongbai

The star of the show here is the pad thai

With crispy pork belly or giant, tender prawns. Both are great choices, I had the giant prawns the first time and had to squeeze in a return visit to try the crispy pork…I was not disappointed!

The menu is limited, especially at lunchtime. There are a few more items on the menu at dinner. But pad thai is the focus here, so go with that, any time of day.

As with many Thai drinks, the fruit drinks here are horrifically sweet. Unless you are into that kind of thing, stick with water or beer. I ordered a loganberry drink out of curiosity, took one sip of it and it was like drinking fruit flavored corn syrup. Just…don’t.  Pad thai is 280฿ or $9.30

Food Courts

Eat at the mall?

siam paragon food court bangkok

Crazy as it may seem, food courts in some of the major shopping centers are astonishingly diverse and delicious. My first choice is Siam Paragon. You could get lost in the food court (bottom floor). It has a food stall section with cafeteria seating, a mid-size restaurant section, and then the shmancy posh restaurants that are individually enclosed. You’ll find everything from fajitas to paella de mariscos to roast duck to a proper sit down for tea and macarons. They also have a massive gourmet grocery store

You can eat here at a whole range of prices. For one meal I had Indian butter chicken, mutter paneer, rice and naan — a real feast for 200฿ or $6.60.

 Chao Praya River

The river is one of the most pleasant ways to get around Bangkok

I can’t resist the river whenever I’m in Bangkok. Whether it’s riding the free shuttles, taking water taxis or the hop on hop off tourist boat, I’m on the water every chance I can get, especially at sunset or in the evening. 

Locals use the river for transport, it’s not just something for tourists. This is a very convenient, stress free way to get around and often it’s free. There are paid water taxis, but many of the hotels and shopping destinations, such as Icon Siam and Asiatique, have free shuttle boats from major piers directly to their locations. 

It can get a little confusing once you are at the pier if you’ve never used the river for transport. There will be a different queuing area for different boats. Often there is someone there in a uniform who works at the pier who can help you. If you are getting on the free boat, it’s often called the public boat vs tourist boat. Sometimes the agent will ask you if you want the public or tourist boat, and then they’ll direct you to the right waiting area.

Public boats are free, so you won’t need a ticket. The hop on hop off tourist boat requires a ticket, which you can purchase from the counter. Or at Asiatique, you buy it just before you get in line at the dock to board the boat — there is usually a uniformed agent standing near the line and you can buy a ticket directly from them. 

The tourist boat is 60฿ or $2 one way. It runs from Asiatique to Phra Arthit, or the reverse direction if you are starting at Phra Arthit. I love taking the tourist boat in the evening, and pretty much any evening I’m not otherwise engaged, I will make my way to the river and hop on the boat. 

Shuttle boats are very fast and just get you directly to your destination. But the tourist boat takes its time, going slowly past the major piers, which are also often connected to riverside monuments and glittering temples. It’s cool and refreshing on the river in the evening, and this is my favorite way to relax at the end of the day. 

As the name implies, you can get off on any of the piers along the route and then get on again, so long as it’s the same day and the same direction. With 9 pier stops, it’s an excellent way to explore Bangkok, as the piers include the Grand Palace, Chinatown, Flower Market, Wat Pho and Wat Arun, Icon Siam, Asiatique and Khao San Rd.

Unless it’s raining, definitely go to the top deck of the tourist boat for the best views and breezes. Here’s the website for the tourist boat. It runs around every 30 minutes. 

You can often get deals if you buy special day long passes, or packs of passes online.

Safety

Staying Safe and Healthy in Bangkok

Silom Neighborhood

I never felt unsafe walking around the Silom neighborhood, including at night. And it helped that my walk home from the Surasak BTS station went past a church, a Christian college and some nice hotels. But really, the area felt very safe, even walking around Saphan Taksin station at night, or along the narrower, crowded pavements near Bangrak Bazaar at night were fine.

As always, you need to keep an eye on your valuables and your situational awareness high — that goes for anywhere.

If you’re looking for night markets in the vicinity, you might be tempted by the Patpong night market. I would stay away from that area because it has some very rowdy night life and is notorious for being a locus for the highly exploitative sex trade in Bangkok. Not Fabulous.

GRAB Motorbikes

I love using GRAB motorbikes around Bangkok if my destination is too far to walk, it’s too hot to walk or a BTS station isn’t nearby. But rides weaving through traffic can feel harrowing if you are not used to it (and sometimes, even if you are).

I wouldn’t recommend it if you’ve never ridden a motorbike or are not used to being a passenger. I wouldn’t recommend it if you tend to be nervous or anxious. Sometimes taking a GRAB involves no drama, but many times it will. Driving in heavy traffic is the worst, for many reasons, and I would avoid being on the road during heavy traffic hours.

If the idea of weaving through traffic, sometimes with just inches between you and the vehicles around you bothers you, don’t do it. If weaving in and out of cars, including weaving into the oncoming traffic lane bothers you, perhaps this is not for you.

Sometimes taking a GRAB motorbike is a breeze, if there is light traffic, and other times it really does require steady nerves.

Read my guide to using GRAB motorbike taxis safely in Bangkok here.

Political

Keep an eye on the political climate, especially just before you arrive in Bangkok and while you are there. It’s a good idea to breeze through the English language local news headlines for Bangkok in the morning with your coffee. It might really save you some headaches.

During my trip to Bangkok the leader of the opposition party staged a huge protest that closed down a large part of the city center. He warned that this was just the beginning and that there was more to come, and that change would happen by will or by blood. Can you see that as a Game Of Thrones house motto?

Safety is a real issue when there are mass protests against a military led government. You don’t want to be caught up in something like that. And on a less serious note, it’s a real schedule killer. I was sat at an intersection on a GRAB motorbike for 30 excruciating minutes because traffic was stopped to let an official motorcade through. If I wasn’t properly geared up with a particulate filtering mask, I would have been ill from the fumes. 

Mosquitoes

Rates of dengue infection in Bangkok are soaring, as they are all over SE Asia. There is no cure or even treatment for this excrutiating, debilitating and sometimes fatal disease. Mosquitoes that carry dengue are not the same ones that carry malaria. Dengue carrying mosquitoes are active during the daytime, particularly in the hours just after sunrise and before sunset, though the danger is not limited to these times. They can hide out in any shaded areas during the day, including indoors.

Read my full article on staying safe from mosquito related illness here.

Securing Your Private Data

Wifi is readily available at most cafes and you’ll also be able to connect at your hotel or apartment. But, is it safe?

No, it’s not. Unless you’re the kind of person who only uses the internet to check the weather, definitely not. Always use a VPN when using a wifi connection.

Another reason to use a VPN is because many online services will limit or even deny you access if they see you are logging in from another country. You’ll find yourself locked out of streaming services like Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, HBO.

If you’re not just travelling, but also managing a business while travelling, you have additional concerns. For instance, financial services you use, like Paypal, can suddenly flag you and lock down your account.

Not all VPN services are the same. If you’re just travelling around your own home country, that’s one thing, but the minute you go overseas you’ll really notice the difference. When I left California for my nomad adventure in Asia, I was still on a subscription to Private Internet Access (PIA). I had used them for years and was happy with their service.

The minute I went overseas, I experienced the limitations of PIA. I could no longer access my streaming services, and was constantly flagged by my many financial and productivity services that required a login. It was a real hassle, and in the case of one of my Paypal accounts getting locked, it was a real problem.

Even though I still had ten months left on my subscription to PIA, I signed up for Nord VPN. If you’re travelling and not having to manage a lot of business and financial online activities, just their normal subscription will be enough to both protect you from getting hacked and unlock your video streaming services.

But if you do a lot of client work that requires logins or need to login in to financial accounts, consider getting an extra layer of protection: a dedicated IP address. I got one through Nord and it’s a game changer. No one else is using my dedicated IP, so I don’t have to worry about getting blacklisted. The IP is the same all the time, and it’s a California server, so when I log in to sensitive accounts, I don’t get flagged and I don’t have to constantly verify my identity.

Check out their annual plans here.

Protecting Your Property

I felt very safe during my stay in Bangkok, but I’m also a veteran traveler and a cautious person. I have good safety habits and some anti-theft gear that make it less likely that I will have my things stolen by thieves or pickpockets.

In your hotel or apartment: put your valuables and important documents in your luggage and lock it when you leave for the day. It’s not fool proof, but better than leaving things laying about. If you have access to a safe, put your money and passport in it (carry a photocopy of your passport). 

Use an anti theft daypack: make sure you’re carrying the right kind of backpack. Do not use a pack or a purse that has outside pockets that are easily accessed, or at least don’t carry anything important in them. Don’t carry a purse that is easy to snatch off you. Thieves are looking for the easiest target and they are pretty good at assessing risk vs reward. Make yourself a bad target and you’ll greatly lessen your chances of having your things stolen.

You can browse different styles of anti theft backpacks here. I don’t carry anything in my pants pockets, other than lip balm. Carrying important things in your pockets is a very bad idea. Some people like money belts — personally I don’t use them. I also don’t carry a lot around with me on a typical day out, so I use a fairly small anti theft daypack that has no easy to access outer pockets and two padded zippered pockets that sit right against my back — I use these for my phone and other small items I need easy access to. My wallet is always secured (clipped) to the inside of my bag.

Another thing to consider is water resistance. Some are resistant and some (especially ones created for camera gear) will have a rain cover built in. I always make sure my pack is at least water resistant, as I often have my camera in there.

Anti theft day packs come in styles for men and women, and different sizes. I carry as little as possible with me, just what I really need during the day, but if you want a larger pack, they have those too. And RFID blocking packs as well. You can check them out here.

Getting Around

Skytrain, GRAB, walking, river boats

Skytrain BTS

One of the many things I love about Bangkok is the skytrain public transport system. It’s on time, clean, easy to navigate, affordable and safe. Everyone queues up, people are quiet and respectful, the cars are well air conditioned and eating and drinking are not allowed in the cars.

Buying a ticket is easy. Just look for the ticket machines in any station. You can select English and then a map will appear on the screen. Tap the area you want to go to and it will zoom in so you can select your station by touching it on the screen. The fare will appear on the screen, just put the money in and the machine will dispense your ticket, plus any change owed you.

One thing to note is that not all stations take bills, some only take coins (a good reason to retain coins). The larger stations, like Siam, will accept bills as well. There is always an agent available in a booth, if you find you don’t have coins — you can purchase your ticket from them. Just tell them the station you want to go to.

To give you an idea of fares, going one way from Surasak to Siam was 33฿ or $1.10.

Once you have your ticket, go to one of the entry styles and tap your ticket on the round ticket reader. It reads it and then opens the gate. Hold onto your ticket, as you will need it to exit your destination station.

Once you are in, look for your platform. Like most public transportation, the direction is named by the final destination. So just look at the end point of the direction you want to go in and find that platform. There are route maps all over the station and platforms, you should be able to easily find a reference.

The train comes to a full stop and you wait to the side of the doors, where the arrows slant sideways, and wait until the passengers have disembarked before getting on. There is no eating or drinking allowed, and in general Thais are reserved and try not to impose themselves on others. They expect you to follow these guidelines too, so don’t talk loudly to each other or on the phone, and in general just try to be quiet and courteous while you’re in the car.

Once you arrive at your station, get off the train and find your exit. Some large stations have a lot of different exits and they will let you out at very different locations. This is especially true for stations like Siam. Make sure you are getting out at the correct exit (they are pretty well marked) and this time you’ll insert your ticket into the exit style. Once you insert it, the gate will open and you can leave, but your ticket is not returned to you (assuming you’ve purchased a single use ticket from the vending machine).

GRAB

I’ve talked about using GRAB bikes earlier and in this post. If you are going to use GRAB bikes, definitely click through that link to find out how to do it safely. But GRAB also has car taxis and these are my preferred way to get to and from the airport. I love that the fare is set before I book the car, that they know exactly where I’m going and that I don’t need to carry local currency to pay and tip them. Also, if this is a business expense, you get an online receipt, a huge bonus!

In the rainy season, if you have no other choice, then using a GRAB car to get around town during non peak hours (and these days windows of light traffic are pretty few) is okay. During heavy traffic, it will take you forever to get anywhere by car. That’s why choosing accommodation close to public transportation is so important if the places you plan to go require anything more than foot or boat travel.

Walking

Usually walking is a very healthy thing to do, but in Bangkok, timing is everything. Just as I wouldn’t take a motorbike during high traffic times, I also wouldn’t walk more than 15 minutes in heavy traffic, and only if I had to — and I would always wear a good particulate filtering mask. The fumes are thick and noxious and have both immediate and long term affects on health. Don’t be cavalier about this. The danger is real.

With that said, I love walking the streets of Bangkok. Try an early morning stroll, before the heat really sets in. Especially anywhere along the river or the many canals that run through the city.

I walked a lot in Bangkok. Just getting to and from the BTS station, walking around the massive shopping malls, walking around Siam Square, walking along the river promenade. A lot of walking. You’ll likely do a lot of walking too, so make sure you’ve got some decent walking shoes and ideally two so you can switch shoes every other day. I get way more exercise in Bangkok than I do living in Da Nang just blocks from the beach.

Of course, time of year is everything for walking. In the rainy season, well…it’s raining. And in the hot season, you will probably not want to walk two blocks if you can help it, unless it’s very early or after sunset. In December it’s cooler and less humid, so walking around pretty much all day was fine for me. Another thing to keep in mind is that I am living in SE Asia, and am somewhat acclimated. If you are coming directly from somewhere outside the tropics, you will feel the heat and humidity more keenly.

I carry a small umbrella with me, and not for the rain (no rain in December). If I’m walking mid day, I use the umbrella as a parasol to keep the heat and UV off. This is common in Asia, so no one is going to look at you twice for doing this. You do not want to subject yourself to the tropical sun, which is very strong, during the mid day hours. A hat is better than nothing, but really doesn’t cut it.

And of course, sunblock. A must, every day, before walking out the door, and likely reapplied at some point in the day. UV is really intense in this part of the world.

River Boats

As I said, these are not just for tourists. Thais use the river as a major transport route, so you’ll find plenty of taxis, free shuttles and tourist boats, as well as numerous well positioned piers to get on and off. It’s really convenient, free or inexpensive and the nicest way to get around.

Being on the river is one of the few opportunities in Bangkok to feel a sense of space around you. If you hire a private water taxi, just as with all taxis, make sure to negotiate a firm price and destination first.

Make sure you’ve got good sunglasses (I prefer polarized), a hat and sunblock if you are going to be on the river during daylight. The glare off the water intensifies the UV a lot.

You can find really good mineral sunscreens here. And here are some specifically for your face. Finding the right sunscreen for your face is important because if it’s thick and greasy and goupy, or dry and powdery — basically, if you hate the way it feels — you won’t use it every day like you should.

I bought some at Kiehl’s when I was in Bangkok. They have mineral and chemical versions. Normally I only wear mineral sunblock, but with all the pollution I’m subject to, I decided to go with the anti pollution sunscreen and I’ve really liked it. It’s a bit pricey, but if you’re going to be in a seriously polluted place for a while, it might be worth it.

Travel Advice

Some final practical travel tips for Bangkok

SIM card

Since I come to Bangkok regularly, I reuse my Thai SIM card and just top it up at the airport when I arrive. The easiest way to get a local SIM for your trip is to buy one on your way out of the airport. You’ll find several SIM providers after you get your luggage and just before you exit the terminal. I use AIS. Not because it’s better than any other, but that’s the one I started with and I’ve just continued with them. For this five day trip I paid ฿150 or $5.

You can’t use the same local number forever without properly registering it, so eventually you’ll try to top up and they’ll tell you it’s expired and you’ll need to buy a new one.

For me it’s important to have a local SIM before I leave the airport. That way I can use it immediately to get a GRAB taxi and I can communicate with the hotel or Airbnb host if necessary.

To use a foreign SIM, your phone needs to be unlocked. I bought an inexpensive phone from Amazon that came unlocked and has two SIM slots. This is fantastic, as it allows me to have two SIM cards in my phone and switch between them with a few taps. Check out unlocked dual SIM phones here.

Google Map Errors

I’m extremely thankful that we have Google Maps, though I travelled for decades without it just fine. But now I’m spoiled, and you are, too. This is not a complaint, but rather a heads up…Google maps are not always correct.

Sometimes you’ll follow the directions and it will tell you you’re standing right in front of your destination…when it’s nowhere to be seen. Especially with small businesses, but I’ve had this happen with big ones, too. Often the business is nearby. For starters, look across the street. It’s usually on the block somewhere. Also, the opening hours may be incorrect.

Free Days on BTS

There are numerous tourist scams in play in Bangkok, from dodgy taxi drivers to touts…and worse. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Except when it’s not. I don’t know why, but there are sometimes free days on the Skytrain. Free all day! I was there on one such day, and when the BTS agent walked up to me and gave me a free ticket and told me it was free to ride all day, I thanked her, took the free ticket and rejoiced at my good fortune.

She walked over to the tourist couple nearby and handed them a ticket, letting them know it was a free day, and they waved her off with a no thanks. I totally understand why they did it. It definitely fell under the too good to be true category. But it was true. It was free all day.

Luckily they got a free ticket too, because the slots where you insert coins in the ticket vending machines were all covered over that day, ensuring anyone who wanted to ride the train must get a free ticket from an agent. They finally realized they couldn’t buy a ticket.

So, if you happen to be in town on a free fare day, good for you! And always stay sharp for scams, but don’t just shoot everything down reflexively.

Visit Bangkok

where to store your luggage in bangkok
Bangkok Luggage Storage: Where to Store Your Luggage After Checking Out of Your Hotel or Airbnb

Need to safely stash your luggage between checkout and your flight? In Bangkok there are a couple easy, affordable and secure places to store your luggage after checkout if you have a lot of time between when you have to leave your room and your flight. Both of these services offer luggage storage as well as airport delivery. More