While it can get a little hot and sticky, there’s a lot to see and do in Bangkok – great shopping, and plenty of culture. Although there are a few potential pitfalls for the unwary, avoid them and you’ll have a great time.
Bangkok is not a very old and historic city in Asia. North of Bangkok, the city of Ayuthaya, was once the capital of Siam. In the mid 1700’s the capital was moved to Thonburi (across the Chao Phraya river), from modern day Bangkok. In 1782, King Rama I moved the capital of Siam to Bangkok – the King felt this city would be easier to defend. Bangkok was known to foriegners or “farangs” as the Venice of the east due to many canals or “klongs” . Many of these klongs have been filled in, but you can still take a nice boat ride up the Chao Phraya and up the klongs, which are full of residential homes-some quite old.
Thailand and Bangkok flourished during the 1990s. The country was dubbed as one of the Asian tigers. In 1997, the Thai economy crumbled and their currency, the baht, lost a lot of its value. There are many abandoned buildings around the city that were dreamed of when the baht was strong. The building stopped when the money ran out. Nowadays, the Thai economy is growing and getting back to where it once was. Buildings are going up, new hotels and restaurants are joining Bangkok’s skyline.
Bangkok is a very interesting city and deserves atleast three days of your time. There is so much to see here.
Here are the best things to do in Bangkok:
1. Grand Palace
The Gold is just magnificent and it’s all over. The Temple is separated from the Grand Palace which is the King and Queen’s residence in Bangkok. The Grand Palace is well guarded and military men march along the premises. There are restricted areas so watch where you think you might want to go. There seems to be only one way in and one way out, so make sure to grab a map. This Wat houses the Emerald Buddha. The Buddha is not as big as I thought it would be. Expect lots of people to be visiting the temple.
The dress code restrictions are very, very strict. I didn’t have to wear a shirt over the shirt I was wearing but my crop pants (well below my knees) was not acceptable. I had to wear a sarong so my legs were completely covered. It doesn’t cost anything to use the sarong they will provide but you have to leave a deposit to ensure the return of the sarong.
It’s open daily from 8:30am to 3:30pm. Cost of tickets is 200 baht (about US$6.35)
2. Temple of the Dawn – Wat Arun
Due to its location on the West Bank of the Chao Phraya river, away from the tourist centre and in the real old Bangkok, Wat Arun has become an iconic temple. When standing on the West Bank with the Grand Palace, you can watch as the sun sets gloriously behind Wat Arun. It is a magnificent sight in the evenings too. Called the Temple of Dawn (rather than evening) it has suffered a sad and lonely past, away from the royal city and abandoned for many years, until King Rama II restored it back to its former glory.
3. Damnoen Saduak Floating Market -Daytrip
Take a Taxi to Southern Bus Terminal (about 25 km / 15 miles from Bangkok city center, cost 110-160 B). Take Bus #78, 64 B. The trip takes about 2 hours. Get off at Damnern Saduak. Do not get suck in by the boat tour operator at the bus station. They want “Standard” price of 1000 B for one hour long tail boat tour. Instead, walk outside the parking lot and turn left to town. A short 10 – 15 minutes walk and you will arrive at the bridge over looking the floating market. You can then hire a non-motor boat tour for 100 – 200 B at the floating market.
4. Wat Pho
Wat Pho is one of the most important temples in Bangkok. It’s official name is Wat Phra Chetuphon Vimolmangklararm Rajwaramahaviharn. The Wat Pho name comes from the temple’s previous name, Wat Photharam. Thankfully, someone decided to use Wat Pho instead of the official name. The Wat Pho complex covers an area of about 20 acres and is very close to the Grand Palace.
The main attraction at Wat Pho is the Reclining Buddha. Other things of note are that there are 99 Chedi throughout the complex. There are 4 large Phra Maha Stupas which are dedications to King Rama I through IV.
It cost 100 Baht to enter Wat Pho. This is not bad considering that after you enter, you are given a free bottle of water and a free access code for wifi. The complex is open daily from 8:30am to 6:30pm.
There are a few rules stressed when you arrive, most of all is to dress appropriately. There are signs posted for women not to wear shorts, short skirts nor shirts that expose the shoulders or back. It is hot in Bangkok and I observed many tourist not prepared for this. These rules are more towards anyone that wants to enter a temple, not just the grounds. Before entering the temple, all should remove shoes, hats and most temples will provide a robe for women to cover their legs and shoulders if they are exposed.
5. Chatuchak Weekend Market
Chatuchak Weekend Market is probably the world’s largest open-air, weekend flea market. A must for bargain-hunters looking for almost anything under the sun. That is if you don’t mind the heat & the discomfort expected from this type of place. For those looking for a more comfortable setting, it’s better to shop in MBK or Pratunam Fashion Mall for cheap quality goods & shop with comfort.
6. Ayuthaya – Daytrip
Only 70 kilometers (43 miles) north of Bangkok, Ayutthaya is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is well worth a day trip. King U-Thong founded the city in 1350 and, at that time, was the capital of the Ayutthaya Kingdom. A bustling heart of commerce in its heyday, Ayutthaya was destroyed by the Burmese in 1767 and now serves as a modern-day historical center. Magnificent ruins dot the landscape, open to the exploration of visitors from all over Thailand and the world. The city is easily accessible by train or bus from Bangkok and, once there, a bicycle tour is probably the best bet for getting between the most notable sites.
7. Baiyoke Tower
The Baiyoke Sky Hotel has an amazing, rotating viewing deck up on the 84th floor! There is also a regular viewing deck on the 77th floor which we did not go to. Opened Daily from 10:30am to 11pm on weekdays and from 9:30am to 11pm on weekends.
I’m not sure what the cost is if you just want to go up to the viewing decks. You would have to pay for it on the ground level as you cannot enter the elevators unless you show your receipt. We dined at Stella’s Palace for dinner which they allowed us up to the viewing decks at no extra cost.
The Views are just amazing and definitely worthwhile. Especially at night! Bangkok is all lit up!
8. Erawan Shrine
A place not to be missed if one wants to take pictures of classical dancers. This spirit house next to the Hyatt hotel is crowded all day round with worshippers. On the neighbouring sidewalk one can find the typical prayer kit for 100 bath. Candle, flower garland, incense stick and a small gold leaf. The rail surrounding the image of Brahma disapears under the flowers, the air is unbreathable because of the smoke. Those who’s wishes have been granted come back here to pay a dance for the statue. Members of a classical dance school are on the spot. Price depend of the number of dancers. Good opportunity to observe and take pictures at day light.
9. Chao Phraya River
The Chao Phraya river cuts right through Bangkok, and it is a central element of the transportation system. A fleet of swift taxis ply the river up and down all day long, cutting off around nightfall. But it is a terrific way to get close to the downtown area (and all the shopping and culture that it holds), as well as move up to the sights of the King’s Palace and Wats Pho and Arun.
The river taxi system is mostly used by Thai residents on their daily commutes. To accommodate as many people as possible, the ticket takers try to pack you in, and during the rush hours it can be overflowing with people. But, it is a slice of real life of Bangkok, away from taxis and air conditioned rides, you are traveling amongst kids going to school, business men on their way to the office, families to the market. With a few foreign backpackers tossed in for variety.
Beyond a means of transportation, a trip up or down the river is a travel experience of itself, a highlight reel of the sights from the banks of the Chao Phraya. If you can grab a seat, relax and let the smell of the river and the skyline of the city wash over you. And for about 7-20 bhat, you can’t find much better of a deal in the city.
10. Patpong Night Market
Patpong Night Market is a mix of street vendors and seedy bars/strip clubs selling more than just alcohol. Patpong 1 has the majority of street vendor stalls selling all types of goods. However there is nothing special here that could not be found from any other street vendor around Bangkok.
These vendors are location closer to the intersection with Surawong Rd. As you walk further in and past the vendors, the bars and strip clubs are plentiful. Patpong 1 ends at Silom Rd.
Patpong alley 2 runs parallel to Patpong Alley 1. There are no street vendors on this Alley. The majority of the businesses here are bars, strip clubs and prostitution. The only redeeming factor here is a very good Super Market half way between Surawong Rd and Silom Rd. If you need food supplies, it is a very good place, but maybe venture here during the day when the bars are closed. Either way it is a safe area.
11. Temple of the Golden Buddha – Wat Traimit
Standing at the crossroads that announces Chinatown is Wat Traimit, known more as the Golden Buddha temple. It houses a Golden Buddha on the top floor weighing in at some 5 tons and being roughly 4 metres (13 ft) high. The gold was only discovered some 40 years ago when the plaster covering the gold cracked upon being dropped during moving, but it has only been housed here since 2010. It costs 100 THB to enter, allowing a visit to the Chinatown Heritage Centre, and also an exhibition of the origins of the Golden Buddha. The iconic Buddha is a further floor up.
Everywhere you go in Bangkok, there are always massage parlors offering service.
Thai massage is very relaxing, as you are stretched by the therapist. You will be asked to change the clothes with loose outfit (yoga type of outfit). The problem with Thai massage (for me) is that you can’t fall asleep, as you need to stay awake during stretched.
13. Jim Thompson House
Tucked down a little side street no more than a five minute stroll from the sky train is the house of Jim Thompson.. An architect who had served with the US army in the Second World War, Thompson is widely credited with revitalising the Thai silk industry.
The gardens are a lush oasis and whilst waiting for your tour to begin you can wander around parts of them. You can only go through the museum with a tour guide but tours are regular and conducted in many languages. The house actually comprises of six separate teak houses that Thompson, a prolific art collector, acquired on his travels through Thailand. They were dismantled and brought back to Bangkok to be rebuilt on the present site on the canal opposite where his weavers were then located. Thompson adhered to the customs of the early builders elevating the buildings a full storey above ground and using roof tiles that were fired in Ayudhya. The traditional religious rituals were followed during construction even down to Thompson moving in on a day considered as a auspicious by astrologers.
The houses are filled with art works and items that Thompson collected on his travels through countries such as Burma, Cambodia as well as Thailand.
It is well worth taking a look inside the Jim Thompson Art Centre above the shop as they have some fantastic exhibitions there that are free of charge to enter.
The house is open daily from 09:00 – 17:00, the last tour is at 16:30. You must go on a tour with one of the guides and this costs 100 baht.
14. Temple of the Emerald Buddha – Wat Phra Kaew
The most important of them all. Here, sitting inside Wat Phra Kaew is the much revered Emerald Buddha. A symbol of the country and legends go that should the Emerald Buddha be destroyed, so will Thailand. So revered is the figurine that the Thai monarch comes every change of season to cloth the Buddha in elaborate and solemn ceremonies.
The Wat comes with 3 main pagodas. Thai, Khmer and Islamic architectural styles stood next to each other, each an indication of the identity of the people that made up Thailand.
Wander through the many galleries of paintings/murals storytelling the fables/myths/legends and history of Thailand. I would recommend that you take a guided tour (free) to learn more about the stories behind each painting/mural.
15. Safari World
Safari World in the outskirts of Bangkok has many shows to captivate the visitors, especially if they are young. The sea lion and the dolphin shows draw the most applause. I particularly liked the funny and enthusiastic commentary by the young presenter. A little bit of English would have come in handy, but I had no regrets as his vocal modulations and various pitches filled up the language barrier. The well trained sea animals deftly displayed their sense of humor.
The feeding of lions and Royal Bengal tigers was quite breathtaking. The spy show was a great hit, but the stunt show seemed like dragging a bit.
As a whole a very engrossing tour.
16. Siam Ocean World
At the basement of Siam Paragon is Siam Ocean World, an aquarium with a pretty impressive underwater tunnel housing lots of sharks, stingrays and big fish. Leave the husband and children there whilst ladies go shopping. Entrance fees are not cheap though.
Chinese immigrants — first under the benevolence of King Rama I and then after several other kings — settled in Bangkok in Sampheng near the Grand Palace. The community quickly became a thriving business center and in the next century moved to Yaowarat, the current location of Bangkok’s Chinatown. Rice trading brought great prosperity and by the 1950s Bangkok’s business and entertainment center was Chinatown. Today shops, stalls, and of course Chinese restaurants line the streets and alleys centered around Yaowarat Road which lights up with neon at night like a miniature version of Hong Kong. Some of the major sights to see include the Golden Buddha at Wat Traimit and the Yaowarat Chinatown Heritage Center. But the most popular reason to go there is the food. Many eateries stay open long into the night or even 24 hours.
18. Khao San Road
From Khao San Road, the tourist area for backpacker or budget conscious travellers have “spilled over” to neigbhoring streets until the riverside boat stop.
The atmosphere is uniquely western combined with Thai. It is worth to spend some time wandering here through the souvenir shops, restaurants or gawking at this “young” tribe of primarily Europeans hanging out in the Far East. On the street, you can get your hair braided. Or buy fake driving licenses and ids.
There are many Thai ethnic hill tribe minority dressed women selling their wares. You can find them all over Khao San area.
19. Muang Boran Ancient City – Daytrip
Ancient City is one of the ‘must-do’ side trips in Bangkok. It is the largest outdoor museum in world with 116 scaled-down replicas of Thailand’s most historically significant structures built on 320 acres of land.
Location: Samut Prakan province (around 1 hour from Bangkok)
Opening hours: 8am – 5pm
1. Take air-con bus no.511 or 11 from Banglamphu/Rama I Road/Sukhumvit Road to Samut Prakan, then change onto songthaew (pick-up) no.36 for Muang Boran.
2. A faster alternative is to take the BTS to Ekamai station and take bus no.511/11 from there.
1. Get there early. It’s best visited by car. Even by car, it took me 5 hours to cover the whole area. If you do not have a car, dont worry. You can always rent a bicycle (which will be extremely tiring) or take the tram (which may not cover the whole site).
2. Do not miss the ‘floating market’. It will give you a feel of the real thing. Food and drinks are pretty cheap (non-tourist price).
20. Lumphini Park
This park was named after Buddha’s birthplace in Nepal. It has two boating lakes and there is a statue of King Rama VI at the corner of the park.
Early in the morning Joggers and early risers go to the park to practice Tai Chi.
Sports such as Takraw, which is like volleyball but you cannot use your hands, and chess are regularly played in the park.
Bangkok has so many great spas but So Thai Spa is my favourite. It is right in the centre of the town but feels like it is on another planet. It is not a shop in a terrace house like many spas in Bangkok; it is a big detached house with beautiful gardens and water fountains. An indulging experience.
22. Golden Mount – Wat Saket
Wat Saket – The Golden Mount Temple is a royal temple located outside the city wall on Mahanak Canal and Rop Krung Canal, Ban Bat, Pom Prap Sattru Phai, Bangkok. It is an ancient temple called “Wat Sa Kae” dating back to Ayutthaya period. King Rama I renovated the temple and gave it its present name “Wat Saket”.
23. Wat Benchamabophit – Marble Temple
Wat Benchamabophit is also known as the marble temple or, if like me you cannot pronnounce it, Wat Ben.
This is a very charming marble temple that was built by King Rama V. The marble that was used to construct the temple was imported from Italy and the temple was designed by the King’s younger brother. All Buddha statues in the temple were carefully selected, some are copied from famous Buddha statues from all over the countries. The statue of Lord Buddha sitting in the main hall is a copy of the famous “Phra Buddha Chinarat” in Pitsanulok province, north of Thailand.
24. Samphran Elephant Ground
This was a lovely introduction into the world of elephants. The whole area is like a cool oasis as there are trees and gardens everywhere.
When you walk into the park there is an opportunity to have your photo taken with tigers and then there are the elephants. There are a lot of them that you can feed and touch and we were lucky to be able to interact with a mother and her baby. Elephant rides are offered as well. They have a small zoo and then you see the elephant show.
The seating area for the show has fans which help give a breeze. The 1st is a magic show which is really good and then the elephant show. They give you a history of elephants and they stage a mock battle. Later there is a soccer game.
The elephants are well cared for and it is a lovely place to spend a few hours.
25. Thai Boxing – Muay Thai
The sport of Muay Thai, or Thai Boxing, is immensely popular in the Kingdom. Fights are broadcast on TV almost nightly, every sizable city has a boxing ring, and the top fighters are all household names. Boys start training as young as 7 to become professional boxers. The biggest and most prestigeous stadiums in the country are Lumpini and Ratchadamnoen in Bangkok, which hold fights on alternating nights so that there is a program every night.
In Muay Thai, there are five three-minute rounds with two-minute breaks in between, and every fight is preceeded by a symbolic dance by both fighters to pay homage to their teachers. Fights are accompanied by live music played by a ringside band with traditional instruments.
I attended a program at Lumpini that included 8 fights. Ticket prices had just been raised (at least for tourists), so ringside seats were 1500 Baht and second level were 800 Baht. We opted for second level, which turned out to be right behind the ringside section, still very close to the action. The fights were fast and furious, with 3 ending in a knockout. Although it was quite expensive, it was definitely worth the experience.