Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, is such a huge city that it can be hard to work out where to stay in Bangkok on your first visit. A friend who was looking at his first trip to Bangkok asked me about this the other day, knowing I’ve been to Thailand so many times, and it made me take a step back and think about the different parts of Bangkok and what they mean to me.

Nathan B., who’s planning his first visit to Bangkok in December, asked “Where should I stay in Bangkok? What’s the best part of Bangkok for a first-time visitor?”

Phra Arthit Road is close to Khao San Road, but a world apart!

I started out by telling Nathan that we usually stay in Phra Arthit, not far from the Khao San Road backpacker district. We choose to stay in Phra Arthit because it’s close to the Chao Phraya River and we like to use the Chao Phraya River Express boats and the Bangkok Skytrain (which connects to the river at Phra Pinklao Bridge) to easily get around this congested city. But we also like the buzz of Khao San Road with its nightclubs, bars, restaurants, flea markets and street cafes. And we like that it’s easy to walk or catch a ferry from Phra Arthit to some of the best Bangkok attractions like The Grand Palace, Wat Pho and Wat Arun. Check out hotels in Phra Arthit district.

Sukhumvit is downtown Bangkok, much more central and up-market and close to the infamous Patpong Road red light district

My brother, on the other hand, will only stay in Sukhumvit. He’s visited Thailand probably as many times as we have but he has very different tastes. Where we’re usually happy with a comfortable guesthouse or a small boutique hotel, he likes to stay in comfort and style at the Sofitel or the Marriot. There are certainly advantages in staying in Sukhumvit – it has fabulous street markets in the evenings, especially along Patpong Road, and there’s the infamous red light district to explore with its myriad entertainment options. But not for me.  Check out hotels in Sukhumvit district.

Pathum Wan is home to some of Bangkok’s very best and most glamorous shopping centres like Siam Paragon

Another popular option, although we’ve never stayed there ourselves, is Pathum Wan district near Siam Square and the Siam Paragon shopping centre. Pathum Wan would be a great place to stay if your focus is mainly shopping and bargain hunting. It’s very close to the best shopping spots along the BTS Skytrain route and there’s lots of really nice places to eat and while away the evening around Pathum Wan. If you get bored, you can always stand up on the air bridge over the top of Pathum Wan intersection and watch the mad crazy traffic congestion! Check out hotels in Pathum Wan district.

Although I’ve explored a lot of Bangkok, I don’t think there are any other districts I’d recommend for first-time visitors. The most important things are being close to the river and the BTS Skytrain because you’re not going to want to be stuck in Bangkok heat and traffic in tuk-tuks or taxis. Where ever you stay, you’ll almost certainly be amazed by this vibrant and exciting Asian capital.

What do you think? Are there other parts of Bangkok that are as good as (or even better than) those we’ve mentioned above? What have your experiences been staying in Bangkok? What would you tell a first-time visitor that you wish someone had told you?