Most visitors to Bangkok choose to stay in one of three neighbourhoods.
There’s the area Banglamphu around Khao San Road for the backpackers, Sukhumvit for the upmarket clubs and bars, and Silom for the business travellers.
One place that’s not found on the typical traveller’s itinerary is the neighbourhood of Ari. Located in north-central Bangkok, it’s away from the major tourist attractions and therefore the tourists. It’s a neighbourhood that’s popular with middle-class Thais and expats, and is known for its relaxed vibes and hipster cafe scene. It’s one of Bangkok’s hottest neighbourhoods, but still relatively undiscovered by visitors.
If you’re currently rolling your eyes and thinking to yourself, Oh look, Lauren’s found a hipster neighbourhood she likes, then believe me — I’m rolling my eyes right alongside you.
Back in 2015, my friend Jodi invited me and Dave to eat with her in Bangkok. Now, if you’ve read Jodi’s site, you’ll know that she knows her street food, and so when she offers to introduce you to a neighbourhood’s food scene, you book your ticket.
That’s exactly what we did. And for the next seven days, we dutifully followed her to tiny restaurants that often served only a couple of dishes, with us having no idea what they even were. Jodi introduced me to pad pongali gai, a dry yellow curry containing egg, celery leaves, onions, mushrooms, chillies, and chicken, and I immediately declared it my favourite Thai dish of all time.
At that point, Ari was still fairly under-the-radar, but just at the point of developing into somewhere more hipster. There were cafes and dessert spots, and plenty of cool bars serving craft beer. There were a handful of tourists and expats wandering the streets but the vast majority of the local restaurants were void of foreigners.
There was so much to love about this neighbourhood.
The neighbourhood was filled with gorgeous cafes, from Fab Cafe to Laliart Cafe to Porcupine Cafe to Aran Bicicletta, which had bicycles all over the wall.
Its location, away from the main tourist activities, meant that it was more calm than chaotic, and the eateries were filled with locals. The restaurant and bar scene was great, with cheap street food available at all times of the day, a fun night market to wander around, plenty of local options where you’d pay $1-$2 for dinner each night, and some great international options for whenever you have a craving for some tacos.
Despite not attracting many tourists, the main attractions in Bangkok were still somewhat accessible, as Ari is on the BTS Skytrain. Chatuchak Weekend Market is just a couple of minutes away from Ari, and Dave and I walked into Siam one evening to check out the over-the-top luxurious Enigma experience at Paragon Cineplex. Was it worth spending $120 on two tickets to see Black Panther? It almost was when you take into account that our seats were actually a comfortable double bed and our tickets included a meal, soft drink, a cocktail, popcorn, a massage, and a butler.
But, as you may have gathered from my already frequent mentions of the food, the restaurant scene is exactly why Ari is my favourite neighbourhood in Bangkok.
Something I’ve been wanting to add to my site is a more detailed look at the foods I eat when I travel. Sampling local food is the principle driving force behind my trips these days, and I know that I rarely write about it, aside from mentioning a meal that was truly life-changing. I hope that by sharing little round-up posts of my favourite meals in the cities I visit, you’ll be able to gain a greater insight into what it’s like to travel to a particular place.
I started doing this for Japan and I have a round-up from Borneo in the works, but for now, I’m focusing on Bangkok and sharing everything I ate while I was exploring the Ari neighbourhood. Enjoy!
Thani Khao Mudaeng Knows Their Pork
If you want excellent pork, look no further than Thanee Khao Mudaeng — an iconic restaurant in Ari.
This small restaurant is absolutely jammed from breakfast until lunch, and their exceptional roast pork is the reason why. At just 50 THB ($1.50) for a plate of rice, pork belly, and a boiled egg, it offers exceptional value for money while also having some of the best pork I’ve eaten. I preferred the dish without the red sauce, as it was a little too sweet and rich for me, but either way — it’s totally worth visiting this place. The pork was so juicy, tender, and crispy!
There isn’t any English signage outside of the restaurant, so you’ll want to look out for the giant slabs of pork crackling dangling outside. If the tables are packed, you know you’re in the right place.
There’s a Night Market for Street Food Eats
You can’t come to Bangkok and not delve into its famous street food scene, and you especially can’t ignore the night markets.
I was thrilled to discover that not only was the main road in Ari lined with street food all day every day, but that there was a bustling night market to wander around in the evenings. With an enormous array of options for around 40 THB ($1.20), this is a place to get the most out of those inexpensive prices and sample as many dishes as possible. It’s the exact opposite experience to pad thai-filled Khao San Road.
Phan Zen Noodles: I Loved This Inventive Soup Place
Phan Zen may not have the most incredible soups I’ve ever tasted, but they were good and they offer a fun spin on their dishes. You get to build your own soup!
When you arrive, you’re handed a piece of paper that’s covered in checkboxes, and you work your way down, putting together your dream soup experience. You could choose your type of noodle, whether that’s a wide rice noodle, a flat egg noodle, or even a mung bean noodle.
Then it’s time to go for your three toppings, choosing between options like crispy pork belly, a soft boiled egg, steamed shredded chicken, fried wontons, and a seaweed-infused pork ball.
Next up: your broth! You can choose between stewed pork soup, tom yum with chilli paste, and a spicy sour soup.
As you can see from the photos above, Dave and I went for complete opposite options and ended up with two very different soups. Both of them were delicious, and the fun experience had us returning several times to see what other concoctions we could create!
Go to รสเด็ด for the Best Stewed Beef Noodle Soup
รสเด็ด means delicious in Thai, and this tiny restaurant only offers beef noodle soup for hungry customers.
Ordering here was one of those restaurant experiences in Thailand that I live for. Dave and wandered inside and, with no English menus, simply held up two fingers to ask for two of whatever it was they were serving — the only clue we had as to what it could be was a sign pinned to the wall that simply said “Beef”. Still, when restaurants only focus on one dish, that’s an excellent sign that the food is going to have been perfected.
It was delicious, and one of my favourite soups to have for lunch. The beef was tender, the meatballs were rich and full of flavour, and the broth was just the right amount of spicy. This place has a reputation for offering some of the best beef noodle soup in the city, and though I have nowhere else to compare it to, I can’t imagine anyone being disappointed by what’s on offer.
The portion size was a little small, but at 50 THB ($1.50) for a portion, you could easily order two bowls for yourself!
Ong Tong Khao Soi
If you love your spicy food and have spent any amount of time in northern Thailand, you’ve likely developed an obsession with khao soi — I know I did. It’s probably my favourite thing to eat in Thailand at the moment!
Khao soi is a Thai soup made with a mix of boiled egg noodles in the broth and crispy deep-fried egg noodles on top. The soup itself contains pickled mustard greens, shallots, lime, chillies, and coconut milk, and then you add in the meat or vegetable of your choice. I usually go for chicken, but the the mushroom and Northern Thai sausage options are excellent, too.
Ong Tong Khao Soi, in Ari, is a restaurant that’s dedicated to all things khao soi. And while I wouldn’t say it was quite as good as Khao Soi Nimman in Chiang Mai — my favourite khao soi restaurant — it was very close. The soup was creamy yet spicy, the fried noodles were perfectly crispy, and the chicken was so tender it fell off the bone.
I ate here several times while we were in Ari.
Sao-Wari Society was just a couple of doors away from where we were staying, and we quickly became aware of it, as it was always packed during the lunchtime rush.
It wasn’t until our final morning in town that we managed to find a space, and then we discovered why it was always so popular with the locals.
Sao-Wari Society has a fairly standard menu, offering all of the Thai classics for between 70-100 THB ($2-3). I opted for the chicken cashew curry and it was pretty damn delicious. The sauce was tangy and spicy, the chicken tender, and the peppers and cashews added a crunchy texture to the meal. For such a low price — although you may have noticed that all of the prices are low in this post — I was seriously impressed with the quality of the food here.
I Even Snacked on Cricket Tacos
If you’ve read Never Ending Footsteps over the past couple years, you’ll know I live for trying unusual foods. Take me to a restaurant with a menu filled with grasshoppers, brains, and chicken anus, and you’ll undoubtedly make my night.
When Valentine’s Day happened to roll around while we were in Bangkok, we decided to take a break from the local eats and treat ourselves to a meal at Mexican restaurant Tacochela. When we walked through the door and the staff told us there giving away free tacos for couples we were excited. When we discovered they were filled with fried crickets, we were overjoyed. So romantic! But seriously — for us, this was totally an added bonus.
I’d eaten crickets before — way back when I first started travelling — but at that time, I hadn’t been able to work past my mental barriers to fully chew and swallow them. Seven years later, I was barely giving them so much as a second glimpse.
Crickets are delicious! I had no idea. They added such a crunchy texture to the tacos, and made our night. Not only are crickets a great protein source, but they reduce inflammation and improve your gut bacteria, making them an excellent option if ever you see them on a menu. I know this is a tough sell!
Overall, though, Tacochela was expensive for Bangkok but excellent for tacos, and we appreciated their guacamole, fun taco flavours, and tasty margaritas. I would definitely recommend heading there if you’re craving Mexican food in Bangkok. Update: unfortunately, Tacochela has closed down!
The first time I visited Bangkok, I was underwhelmed.
It came across as a crowded, chaotic capital city with little to offer but hassle. This uninformed opinion, of course, entirely my fault, as I rarely ventured away from the backpacker haunts of Khao San Road.
I knew there was more to Bangkok, and I suspected that if I just delved a little deeper, I’d fall in love with a city that has so much to offer. For a long time, though, I didn’t want to put in the effort. Bangkok was fine. I didn’t hate it; I didn’t love it; and I had little reason to spend more than a couple of days there during a layover. There were so many other cities — Saigon and Taipei to name just two — I’d rather visit over Bangkok.
It turned out that spending time in Ari was just what I needed to finally click with Bangkok and discover areas of it I loved. I enjoyed Ari’s laidback vibe, had so much fun cafe-hopping across the neighbourhood, and, as evidenced by this post, couldn’t get enough of the delicious cheap eats.
After spending a week in Ari earlier this year, I can see myself returning for sporadic week-long stints in the future, spending my days checking out new restaurants, relaxing in coffee shops, and sampling inventive cocktails at the hottest bar of the moment.
If you’ve been to Bangkok before but never really warmed to it, I’d recommend giving chilled-out Ari a chance when you next return.
My Tips for Visiting Ari
How to get there: Fortunately, Ari is on the Skytrain, so getting there is easy. If you’re arriving at Suvarnabhumi Airport, jump on the rail link to Praya Thai station — it leaves every 10 minutes, takes 25 minutes to get there, and costs 45 THB ($1.30). From Phaya Thai, take the BTS Skytrain to Ari. This leg of the route takes 10 minutes costs 26 THB ($0.80). Easy!
Where to stay: We stayed in a condo in Siamese Ratchakru, which we booked through Airbnb and paid $40 a night for it. Despite having a fairly odd room set-up, where the bed was inside a glass box, making it seem as though we were sleeping in a museum, I’d recommend staying there. We had a sofa and TV, powerful A/C, and a balcony with a decent view over the Bangkok Skyline. It was on the main road in Ari, but the sound-proofing was excellent, so the street noise didn’t bother us, and was within walking distance of all of the great restaurants.
If you’re on a budget, the Yard Hostel receives consistently amazing reviews and if I hadn’t been travelling with Dave, I would have 100% stayed there. It looks so cool!