At any given moment on any given day, if you’re hungry in Bangkok, you’re in the right city. A mind-numbing variety of street food, night foodie markets, morning foodie markets, restaurants of every cuisine, rooftop bars, family owned food huts…. They all exist for your foodie pleasure. A foodie’s dream is only hampered by one problem: HOW DO YOU CHOOSE THE BEST THAI FOOD in Bangkok?! Especially when there’s no YELP in Bangkok!? (The usual way I find my food destinations when traveling).
Solution: Join Bangkok Food Tours. Which tour? The answer is any and possibly all of them. I booked two tours through Bangkok Food Tours, and at the time I thought it was kind of excessive- shouldn’t I check out other companies? But they were well reviewed on Trip Advisor and I didn’t want to leave much to chance… so I chose to go on the Historical Bangrak food tasting and cultural tour, and also the Yaowarat Night Foodie Walk (Chinatown). The only criticism is directed at myself- I wish I booked their Floating market tour (and maybe midnight tuk tuk tour too!) But really: As a first timer in Bangkok, it was a perfect way to see the city. If we stayed longer, I would choose to return to many of the places we hit. As explained by our Chinatown guide, Kai, Bangkok Food Tours has chosen these places carefully- they want food that’s a little adventurous, that would be unique enough for most foodies, but would appeal to a wide variety of palettes. My friend and I are very adventurous and had our fair share of great Thai food before going on these tours, so we worried that the dishes would be repeat dishes for us, designed for generic tourists. Nope. Both tours did an amazing job of choosing foods that are uniquely Thai, enjoyed by locals and included food spots I wouldn’t have chosen or noticed on my own.
Yaowarat Night Foodie Walk (Chinatown): We were told by many Thai people that Chinatown is where it’s at when it comes to the best street food in Bangkok. I’ll be honest- the only reason I booked a tour is because of the whole “Thailand Coup” business. I was hesitant coming from overseas, not knowing the safety level in Bangkok. Well it turns out that fear was unfounded, but I’m still glad we booked the tour. Our guide, Kai, is clearly a foodie who celebrates the Thai cuisine in his personal life as well as on the tour. The fun part is that my friend and I were the only two people who booked for that evening, so it was just the three of us. Which was convenient considering Chinatown, and each stop we chose was packed full of locals. A few favorites: Dim Sum (Thai and Chinese style), Grilled prawns, and the most amazing, crispy pork and noodles soup. Kai said that there’s a saying: “If you haven’t had this soup, you haven’t been to Bangkok.” It’s famous for a reason. You can go safe, or you can step out of your comfort zone and have them add pig stomach, tongue and liver. I surprised myself by trying all three, and when I got over the mental “ew” it was delicious. There were many other delicacies including duck cheek and Thai desserts- and we were happily stuffed at the end of the evening. Each location gets very busy and is popular with the locals so you know they’re good Kai was very knowledgeable about Thai cuisine, spices and history. Even though rain came down pretty much all evening our foodie souls were satisfied. Just a suggestion... you do not need to eat before you go on this tour. You will be pleasantly satisfied. I ate before I went and was so full by the end.
Historical Bangrak Food Tasting/ Cultural Tour:
I booked this tour along with Follow Me Bike Tour’s afternoon ride. The two companies hooked up to design a full day experience called “Bites and Bikes.” It was a long day, but the morning definitely fueled me for the afternoon’s intense bike riding. The whole morning was delicious, and our guide Nushi was fun, giving lots of information about the variety of regional cuisines, spices and local history. Once again I was completely stuffed- but there were a few standouts. In a small, hole-in-the-wall restaurant across the river from the Oriental pier was a spot frequented by locals. They’re known for their salted fish and delicious Isan dishes (A spicy regional cuisine from the north of Thailand). The most popular Isan dish is probably the papaya salad, which I had several times in Thailand. However, the spicy pork dish at this restaurant was the winner. If you like it spicy, these flavors are complex, completely addictive and perfect with the sticky rice to neutralize the bold flavors. The other dish, fried chicken with fried lemongrass, was unlike anything I’ve ever eaten. Mmmmm…. If only I could transport myself there, I’d eat there weekly. We enjoyed Muslim-Indian food (yellow curry and Murtabak, yum! Eat it with the cucumber salad in the same bite!), Thai-muslim food, Thai Chinese food (duck over rice) and another favorite, the best green curry I’ve ever tasted at a restaurant called Kalpapruek (we went back to that restaurant a few days later and had several amazing dishes).
The sad end of my trip was spent on a floating market tour, NOT booked through Bangkok food tours. It was sorely disappointing, only visiting the most touristy market with almost no local flavor, food or otherwise. All I could think about was how much better the experience would be if I booked BFT’s floating market tour, visiting floating markets loved by Thai locals with delicious food sold from boats. This tour is only on weekends, and I wish I booked it as well. The Damnoen Saduak floating market is very touristy with the boats taking you up to each vender trying to sell you the same imported souvenirs. The 'guides' (if you would even call them that) gave no direction except a drop off and a sign when to be back. There was no explanation or elaboration on anything that we were doing. You didn't know if you should go to the bathroom because the next part was going to be a long excursion or where bathrooms even were. There was no direction on food or what was upcoming on the itinerary. It was definitely the least liked tour of the bunch. My friend almost got hit by the train during the Maeklong train market. The local venders have their produce/products on the tracks and then when train comes they quickly move them and everyone has to stand back. No one told us just how CLOSE the train comes to hitting you. If it wasn't for a guide on a DIFFERENT tour grabbing her shirt and pulling her back even farther she may have been hit by the train. Smh ...We lost money on this deal and almost a life. : / Again, this was NOT Bangkok food tours, but everyone should know maybe to make sure if they do go to the Damnoen Saduak floating market and Maeklong market they should pair it with other excursions and make sure they know the exact itinerary.
Bangkok food tours was such a great introduction to navigating the cuisine in a city designed around food. Thank you Bangkok food tours!
Ahhh Bangkok… the city I grew to love, though it took me a while. Good thing I loved Lullaby Inn immediately. They were a big part of what made my stay in Bangkok so amazing and memorable! After 36 hours of very little sleep, a 24 hour plane ride and a good dose of culture shock thrown in the mix, all I needed was a quiet place with friendly people who were there to lend an ear and debrief me about the best way to tackle a busy, overwhelming city. And I found it- for about $45 USD per night.
Lullaby Inn felt like a happy little Oasis in the midst of chaos… because it filled all of those needs and more. When I arrived, I was greeted with COLD air conditioning, clean reception area with a bar, and a smiling team of people who were always ready to answer any question (and I had a LOT). From cultural advice such as when to bow and how to pronounce important phrases, to best directions and routes, and even help scheduling massages the way we wanted them- Lullaby Inn was there to serve and they genuinely love their jobs. Two employees, Piche and Nin, are very proficient in English and make it their priority to help guests round the clock. Piche always seemed to be around, whether it be 6:30am or 11:00pm. I don’t know about you, but this level of service and travel advice rarely comes “standard” in any hotel, let alone a budget hotel.
Let’s look a few key areas:
The Rooms: CLEAN!! Basic, but a comfy enough bed and hot shower. The television has a couple of English speaking channels (along with a few other languages) and wifi access. Here’s some advice: Book an inner room! Here’s the thing- though reviews show that some people preferred the balcony rooms, I stayed in both and was MUCH happier in an inner room with no windows. Even if you have a balcony room, there’s really no view except a busy street with bars, and therein lies the problem- the bar on the corner was L O U D until 5:00am. Usually ear plugs suffice, but not in this case. It could have been the world cup, but drunk partiers ruined my first two nights. However, I heard almost nothing in the inner rooms. True, there’s no window, but I didn’t miss it for one minute- quiet, serene and just what I needed at the end of our busy days. One more tip- wifi worked better on floor 4 than on floor 5. I think their internet is set up on even numbered floors so the signal is stronger, but kind of sketchy on the other floors.
The amenities: This is a budget hotel, so there’s not a whole lot of extras- but you get free bottled water daily, free coffee in the room (those Nescafe instant packets were surprisingly delicious!), clean towels and washcloths, cable TV and wifi. There is a bar if you want an evening drink or a mid-day cup of coffee, and the 2nd floor has a breakfast area.
The Location: Perfect! No, the Silom area doesn’t seem exciting right away. But a five-minute walk to the BTS, fifteen-minute walk to MRT and fifteen-minute walk to the ferry were incredibly convenient. Not to mention, we found out that this hotel is actually right by one of the known “foodie” areas of Bangkok, called Bangrak. There’s a night market right down the street and you can easily navigate to the airport using public transport. Couldn’t ask for better for this price! If you take the Airport Rail the the Phaya Thai BTS station, you then transfer the the Chong Nonsi BTS station and leave through exit 3. From there Lullaby Inn is a quick walk- you walk straight until you hit the next big road, Silom, cross the street and turn left on Silom, and then turn right after a few minutes on Decho road. Lullaby Inn is immediately on your left.
The “eats:” If you book the room “including breakfast,” you’ll pay 200 Baht more per night for everyone in the room (that’s roughly $6 USD). If you don’t, then you pay 200 Baht per person for breakfast, so it’s a bit more expensive to pay on your own. However, it works just fine on the one morning you need a solid start. You get some delicious fruit (of course! It’s Thailand!) and can get scrambled eggs, sausage, and bacon, yogurt, and assorted breads. You know what? It hit the spot! And it’s not ridiculous to pay extra when the room is so cheap and they have a full breakfast. On our last morning, Nin allowed us to take fruit and yogurt to the room for free so that we had a bit to eat before heading to the airport. Oh, I MUST mention- when you are hungry for dinner but want amazing Thai food in a sit down restaurant, DEFINITELY go to Kalpapruek, reviews from Trip Advisor here: http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g293916-d3162313-Reviews-Kalpapruek_Soi_Pramuan-Bangkok.html
To eat there, you cross Silom and turn right on Silom, walk about 7 minutes and turn left on Pranuam road. It will be on your left in about three minutes. If we had found this restaurant earlier we’d have visited several more times. But I digress….
The excursions: The only downside… I wouldn’t book a floating market tour through Lullaby. They don’t run the tour themselves, but book with an outside company which was very budget (the tour was cheap, and it felt like it). It was very disorganized, confusing and ultimately our least favorite tour. But that’s easy to solve, just book your tours through Bangkok Food Tours instead! We did two tours with them and the extra money gets you a phenomenal experience. Link to website http://bangkokfoodtours.com/
The service: perfect. I could list all of the ways they helped me, but it would take too long- I’ll just end by saying that they helped me navigate through and enjoy a chaotic but wonderful city, and I’m supremely grateful that they helped me discover beauty within the chaos. At the end, I tried to give Piche a tip for giving such consistent personal service, but he asked me to put it in the shared tip jar instead because “helping people is enough, it’s not for the money.” Staying here, you truly believe this. It shows in every action they take and the genuine joy they get from talking to their customers. Win!
Vanilla Place... I miss you already. I'm oddly homesick for a place that isn't even my home.
Every review written by a traveler to a new place differs in perspective. Depending on the type of person you are will depend on what type of experience you have. So, before I begin my review of the Vanilla Place I'd like to describe what kind of traveler I am. It won't be long I promise! :) Normally, when booking hotels overseas I look for three main things; location, cleanliness, and price. A bonus is if the owner(s) are helpful and friendly.
Oftentimes you will find that there isn't a lot of genuine 'help'. By that I mean, if you ask for a good restaurant sometimes you'll get a small discount card with a friendly smile and a "this is the BEST in [insert place]". Most of the time the hotel has an agreement with the restaurant, tour, so on and so forth and make profit off of tourists. Understandable, but if you are a foodie, you don't want to go to the inauthentic tourist restaurant or their cousins, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters shoppe/restaurant.
With that said one would think Vanilla Place is trying to sell you on tours, restaurants, transportation, etc, but that isn't the case. Mr. Kem speaks very good english (which can be hard to come by) and is genuinely happy to help make your stay as enjoyable as possible. If you ask for a good restaurant he will ask you what kind of food you are looking for and will give you a plethora of options that are not near his guesthouse (so it's not advice based on proximity). If you ask for a tour he will set it up for you and discount it for you (which would be his commission, but he doesn't take it. This is so you can have a lower price). That seems a bit unreal, but the prices online and in the tour pamphlets you see will have much higher prices. He will give you recommendations for how much tuk tuks, song thaew (red trucks), and taxies will be because they always overcharge. He sets these up for you too! Any questions we had, he answered with a smile. Btw, he's a suuuuuuper cute old man.
Vanilla Place is also nicely located right by the night baazar where you can find goods and services. Think of one huge flea market of Thai products. It happens every night and you can get street food and walk through it at your leisure. So, if you're looking to save money on food, you can eat in the night baazar for cheap! Old town is a little bit farther away, but it's still in walking distance. I know a lot of people like to stay in or directly around Old Town, but it's really noisy and touristy. If you like that then cool. You'll also have to like the inflated prices for your room that you won't really even be in because you'll be out and about. Vanilla Place is nicely setup on the outskirts and it's very walkable.
When I booked it was 35 USD a night for a clean, small room with AC and wifi. Disclaimer: wifi works much better on the second floor and in the lobby.
Mr. Kem runs the Vanilla Place Guesthouse with Mrs. Kat his wife. She is also suuuuuper cute. Every time we came back to the hotel you felt like you were coming back home. They are very nice and genuine people who are trying make an honest living. They live on the lower level office floor so they are available 24/7. They really dedicate their lives to their guesthouse and it shows. Mrs. Kat even made us mango sticky rice for breakfast after she heard that we really enjoyed it. She made small individual mango sticky rice cups for us to eat the last two mornings before we left. You won't get this kind of sincere treatment in a commercial hotel. You normally get a sterile environment that lacks that warm feeling and sometimes being away from home you crave that comfort.
I was skeptical when I arrived. The lobby area looks like my grandmother and grandfather's house filled with trinkets and random items sprawled everywhere. However, again if you are looking for a budget hotel that is clean, where the people treat you well then you came to the right place. The interesting array of random wall art and trinkets add to this place's charm. You will not find a better budget hotel in the area where the owners are as helpful as Mr. Kem and Mrs. Kat. From the coke in the lobby, which was not sold for an inflated price like everywhere else (also sold to you on the honor system. You take one and leave money in the jar. How cool is that?) to the tours where Mr. Kem gave a discount (on the already discounted tours) so his guests could have a good price and a fantastic stay/experience.
The rooms were cleaned everyday and restocked with necessities (fresh towels, toilet paper, water, etc.) Two ladies who they contract out through a business take care of certain job responsibilities such as breakfast, clean up, and room cleaning. They are not the most updated rooms, but they are CLEAN. In my opinion, I don't see why you would pay hundreds of dollars for a room when you are hardly in it. I slept and showered in the room and left. It's all about traveling on a budget. I like to spend money on experiences rather than unnecessary luxuries.
I know it sounds silly, but leaving Vanilla Place I felt a little teary. True, a part of our adventure was coming to a close, but it was more than that. Here we were thousands of miles away from home and we happened to have been fortunate enough to have found another place that felt like home to us. You can't fake warm smiles and true genuine traits.
Mr. Kem waved us down a red truck to take us to the airport and negotiated a fair price for the distance so we didn't spend extra money. Mrs. Kat walked us out and helped with our luggage. I wanted to give her a big hug, but I wasn't sure if that was something that Thai people customarily did so I put my hands together and bowed and said goodbye in Thai. Thanking both of them for the conversation, service, and overall genuine niceness that they gave us for the week we stayed. They both saw us off and waved goodbye until we could only see a faint blur of them in the distance. We sure will miss them and Vanilla Place. :)
Feel free to email me with questions! I'd be happy to boast about the incredible service I received here for ONLY 35 bucks a night! You won't find quality accommodations like this in the States for this kind of money. Book soon! Rooms go fast during high tourist season and festival/holiday times.
See Compass Restaurant and Bakery review (located super close to Vanilla Place)
Vanilla Place's Website
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When you have the travel bug you look for new cultural experiences. You want to try all of the native food and Thailand has no shortage of delicious fresh local food. However, sometimes you just want a place that feels a little bit like home. I was lucky enough to stumble across Compass Restaurant Bar and Bakery. It helps that it was directly across the street from the guesthouse budget hotel Vanilla Place (see Vanilla Place) where I was staying. When you walk in Compass already has a Western-feel. It looks like your favorite diner cafe back home. Nothing special about the decor jumps out at you right away. The specials are on the wall in the back and when you sit down you get two menus. The first is the specials menu that has a 2 course deal (250 baht) or a 3 course deal (300 baht). To put this into perspective, that's 2-3 extremely large portions of delicious food for 8-10 dollars USD. The second is a fixed menu that is filled with local and western favorites.
You'll notice right away that the theme is comfort food. The first night I ordered the 'safe choice' a bacon cheeseburger that they claimed was the "best". I'm kind of a burger snob and I came off of another disappointment that was The Shack of Koh Samui so I was cautiously optimistic. To my surprise the burger was quite good! Not the best, but certainly better than many of the others I have tried. The bonus is they didn't use Kraft American cheese. Despite what Thai people think, not all Americans like American cheese on their burgers. :) My friend was more bold and got the fall off the bone pork rib with compass sauce, mashed potatoes, and spinach. This came with a huuuuuuuge mixed salad of FRESH vegetables for 8 bucks! Folks, it was divine. The same meal in the states would be 25-30 bucks. The crown on her happiness was the 3 dollar wine. Even better since wine in Thailand is 20 dollars a cheap bottle and 10 dollars a glass. I repeat. They serve cheap good wine. Good luck finding cheap good wine in Thailand anywhere near that price. If you do find some leave a comment below and let everyone know where!
We liked this place so much that we came back a second time, which quite possibly beat the first experience. This time we shared a 2 course special getting another huuuuuge mixed salad, a passion fruit - mango smoothie, a coke, tomato soup, a southern fried chicken for the entree. Here in the states we call it chicken fried chicken. If the menu would have said 'chicken fried chicken' I would have passed on it as I'm not a fan. However, I'm so glad that I got it! Compass puts a twist on their "southern fried chicken" with fresh chicken (seems like it may be straight from their backyard) and a Thai-American fusion gravy that is very good. The whole bill came to 14 bucks. Yes. 14 whole dollars. Crazy and delicious!
We chatted with the waiter/owner Kon who recommended their Salmon with apricot or herb sauce and the pork ribs (which we already ate and loved). Ong is another person you'll see who waits tables and helps manage the restaurant at night. She is very attentive and very sweet. The last night we were there she helped us pick out some bakery gifts for the owners of Vanilla Place (our way of saying thank you for an awesome stay). Not only was the food terrific but the people were really lovely. This was the theme for Chiang Mai - really nice people. This was our take on Chiang Mai, but you know how the old saying goes, 'be nice to people and they'll be nice to you.'
Compass Restaurant Bar and Bakery I think I love you. Don't let the descriptions fool you travelers, this place is anything but ordinary. They may be Western descriptions but they put their own twist on their American New - Thai dishes. You won't taste these exact flavors in the states. You'll leave dreaming about the tastes, missing the prices, and not forgetting the warm smiles and great service. We will miss them... Let's not lie here... we are going back for another round before we leave! :)
Edited: third round - bruschetta and chili glazed chicken tenders (excellent!) and fries. Fourth round - half roasted chicken and fries and mixed pizza with added onions.
Make sure to tip these two. They work really really hard. This place is their lives.
Compass Bar and Bakery Website