Bangkok is where (like so many) I started backpacking for the first time, and now I’m back in the Thai capital at the start of a brand new Southeast Asia trip.

This being my fifth time passing through Bangkok, I wanted to venture beyond the obvious places and go somewhere new.

Tourists tend to stay in one of two areas in Bangkok: many backpackers end up, almost inevitably, on or near Khaosan road – an unapologetic party hub drawing first-time travellers like moths to a flame. Others might stay in Sukhumvit, a built-up area with lots of big hotels. With all their souvenirs shops and travel agencies, no one will mistake these areas for the ‘real Bangkok’, but they can be fun places to spend some time. (Well, Khaosan anyway. Not so sure about Sukhumvit.)

But is there more to Bangkok? I wanted to find out.

This time I chose to stay in Ari, a trendy neighbourhood that’s not so much on the tourist map yet – and that’s exactly what I loved about it. Ari has all the liveliness that makes Bangkok so interesting, but it can also be surprisingly relaxing and pleasant.

It’s been known amongst expats as a great area to live, and it’s only just being discovered by visitors.

Ari has the best of both worlds: it is home to some quirky cafes and restaurants, though you can also stroll the local market streets where you can grab some authentic street food (and the markets here are blissfully free of any tourist t-shirt vendors). In Ari’s trendy bars you can brush shoulders with the local Thai people as well as some fellow farang.

The main place to stay in Ari is the Yard Hostel. As the name suggests it is built around a garden courtyard, a rare feature for a Bangkok hostel. If you want to avoid getting overwhelmed by the city, I wholeheartedly recommend staying in this little oasis. I loved that I could wade into the swirling miasma that is Bangkok until reaching full sensory overload, then return for a quiet beer in the Yard Hostel where the sound of honking cars is replaced with the chirping of crickets and the chatter of guests.

The lovely people who run the hostel showed me around Ari, passing by various cafes, bars and restaurants, and finally stopping at Summer Street, a cool food truck-like Korean BBQ place where we had some beers and grilled squid. We then stopped by the local market to pick up some street food to eat picnic-style back at the hostel.

It’s no secret that Thai street food is amazing, though it’s clearly even better when ordered by someone local who knows what’s good. I was happy to feast on a variety of Thai dishes and rediscovered my favourite Nam Tok, a delicious meat salad with chillies, shallots, mint leaves and lime juice (it’s a little similar to the Laotian dish of laap). This stuff is ridiculously good, so I made sure to write down the name so I can find it again.

The next day I explored Bangkok’s Chinatown, easily reached from the SkyTrain station near the hostel, and went to the popular MBK shopping mall to pick up a few things for my trip. In the evening I went out with a friend who I last met in Mexico but now lives in Ari, working in Bangkok as an English teacher. We grabbed some drinks at a hip bar called Salt, then checked out some live music at Aree bar across the street. Finally, we took a short taxi ride to the nearby Victory Monument where we had drinks at the Sky Train Jazz Bar, a funky rooftop bar overlooking the elevated SkyTrain rail. If you can find the stairs up to the 6th floor, be sure to check it out. (There’s a fun little write-up on this place here.)

Victory Monument, two stops from BTS Ari, is also a great area to have some so-called “boat noodles”. These boat noodle places work vaguely like Sushi restaurants, in that you can get little bowls of noodle dishes for around 10 Baht – you can eat through a little stack of bowls and so sample lots of different things. It’s a really fun and authentic food experience.

The first time I came to Bangkok, it wasn’t love at first sight… the traffic and chaos were a bit overwhelming. I since learned that Bangkok gets way more awesome when you dig a little deeper, and Ari is one of those places that lets you do that more easily.

If you’re in Ari, be sure to stay at the Yard Hostel. It gives you convenient access to all the Bangkok sights, but also lets you retreat to a more laidback area when you want to. Not only does it have an amazing yard, but the whole hostel is built using recycled shipping containers and decorated in funky and creative ways. Highly recommended.

For more info on Thailand, check out my Thailand budget travel guide.

Thanks Som and Som for being such excellent hosts!

P.S. A complimentary stay at Yard Hostel was provided.

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