“Same, same but different” This catchphrase from Thailand really sums up what the country is, a perfect collision between the familiar and the exotic. Bangkok is a city of skyscrapers and surprises, tradition and trade. It’s the contradictions that provide the City of Angels with its rich, multifaceted personality. Here, climate-controlled megamalls sit side by side with 200-year-old village homes; gold-spired temples share space with neon-lit strips of sleaze. Bangkok is as rich and colourful as the flavours of pad thai.
The number of attractions the city is home to is almost as extensive as its full name, leaving many visitors overwhelmed when trying to decide which ones they should head for. This first timer’s guide features some of the must-do and some unique things to do in Bangkok. You can tailor make your itineraries for 1, 2 or 3 days in Bangkok according to your interests.
GETTING AROUND BANGKOK
The BTS is Bangkok’s Skytrain system which will take you to the shopping areas, parks and markets. The MRT is the underground with just 18 stations. Tickets can be purchased from the vending machines at each station.
While you’ll often see tourists in tuk tuks in Bangkok, it’s not common to see Thais in them. Unlike some other Asian cities, tuk tuks in Bangkok can be a bit dangerous and very hot to ride in through the heavy Bangkok traffic. If you want to experience a tuk tuk ride while visiting, negotiate on a price before jumping in. There are a lot of scams on the price that they quote for the ride.
I generally take taxis or boats around Bangkok if I’m not on a budget trip. It is the most comfortable way to travel and reasonably priced. Ensure they switch on the metre once you onboard the taxi so there’s no debate over the fare later.
UBER | GRAB TAXI
As you would expect Uber and Grab taxi both operate in Bangkok too.
EXPRESS BOATS AND LONG TAIL BOATS
Express boats are a really lovely way to travel up and down the famous Chao Phraya River. This is something I would highly recommend to take atleast once. The Express Boats are colour-coded (Blue flag (tourist boat), Orange, yellow and green). The local boats are unmarked and stop at every stop. The blue boat is likely the boat you will take and costs 40 Baht per trip or 100 baht for unlimited rides in a day.
TOP THINGS TO SEE AND DO IN BANGKOK
THE GRAND PALACE
No attraction is more likely to take visitors’ breathe away than the Grand Palace. Travellers kill two birds with one stone by visiting these historical grounds, as this is where the shimmering Wat Phra Kaew is also found. The complex itself is huge at 281,000 square metres and includes a number of historic buildings from the royal residence to the throne halls and the incredible Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The palace was built in 1782 when King Rama ascended to the throne.
Catch the express boat to Chang Pier and walk up to The Grand Palace. Let’s not sugar coat it; a visit to The Grand Palace can be chaotic. It becomes very busy, particularly in peak season and you’ll find yourself using your elbows and dodging rogue umbrellas around every bend. It is still a must-visit site while in Bangkok though. The palace opens at 8.30am. Arriving first thing in the morning or at dusk will help manage the crows slightly but you should prepare yourself. Ensure you are dressed respectfully or you won’t be able to enter the temples and make sure you wear sunscreen and you are well hydrated, the heat can become overwhelming, particularly when coupled with the crowds.
While Wat Pho is just next door to The Grand Palace, it is better to divide your visits into two mornings (depending on the time you have) so you can arrive at both places at the start of the day. Wandering around The Grand Palace among the crowds in the heat can be taxing and you may want a break. Wat Pho (or Temple of the Reclining Buddha) should definitely be on your list for your first time in Bangkok. The huge reclining buddha is breathtaking and the grounds are beautifully maintained.
As the centre for Thai medicine, particularly Thai Massage, it is also interesting to read the history of the teachings on the walls and if you are in need of a massage, the Wat Po Thai Traditional Medical School is just next door.
This is my personal favourite of the lot. The Temple of Dawn or Wat Arun is located in the more low-key, traditional neighbourhood of Thonburi on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River. Take a ferry from Tien Pier to see the intricately decorated prangs up close; covered in coloured glass and crushed Chinese porcelain pieces or simply admire the iconic temple’s central 82m-high prang tower lit up at dusk from across the water or passing by on a long-tail boat.
CHATUCHAK WEEKEND MARKET
Overwhelming, loud, crowded: these are just a few words that could be used to describe the massive Chatuchak Weekend Market. That said, this is one activity to do in Bangkok on the weekends to get a hang of local life. It is one of the largest markets in Asia, and hosts thousands of vendors and stalls to prove it. Rare art pieces, northern handicrafts, genitalia-shaped soap: you name the souvenir, Chatuchak is bound to have it. The best time to visit is in the morning. It is not as hot and vendors are more likely to give shoppers a deal, as the first sale of the day is meant to bring good luck. Bring your bargain game and play well.
AMPHAWA FLOATING MARKET
About 2 hours drive from Bangkok, Amphawa is one of the busiest floating markets near Bangkok and you may find slightly less tourists here than the famous Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. Take a taxi or simply book a tour or guide through your hotel to take you there but make sure you lock in all prices before you go and confirm they will take you door to door to the market as there are plenty of taxi scams around. You’ll find everything from clothing to souvenirs and plenty of fresh seafood to snack on. Amphawa operates from Friday to Sunday.
DRINKS AT A ROOFTOP BAR
Top off your Bangkok trip with some fancy drinks at a rooftop bar. There are several rooftop bars in Bangkok. You should in particular check the rooftop bar at the Muse Hotel, Skybar at Sirocco on the 63rd floor of the Dome at State Tower made famous by the movie Hangover 2, and the Marriott Hotel Sukhumvit. I’ll also recommend Moon Bar on the 61st floor at Banyantree Hotel.
Let the wind blow through your hair while you admire the magnificent view of Bangkok`s skyline! Nothing beats this ending, and it will for sure make you fall for this magnificent city and will long to return.
Dust off those credit cards and shine your baht as we head to the next top attraction in Bangkok: Siam Paragon. There are a handful of malls that make up the majority of this area, but certainly the most well-known is Siam Paragon. The mall is chock full of high-end and designer items, with unique finds like an aquarium and a luxurious movie theater also calling this mall home. Siam Paragon hosts new expositions almost every week, so visitors never know what they are going to find at this deluxe, shopping arena.
KHAO SAN ROAD
Khao San Road is every backpacker’s haven. I stayed here during my time in Thailand and loved the experience. Endless bars, street food vendors galore, and some of the cheapest booze in town can be found along this stretch of road. Many budget-friendly accommodation and food options are found here, which is why backpackers tend to flock to this one kilometer stretch. The best time to visit is at night when you can grab a vibrant bucket filled with one too many shots of your favorite liquor and watch as the craziness unfolds.
THE FAMOUS BANGKOK STREET FOOD
The street food in Bangkok is a huge part of the culture. Any true foodie will fall in love Bangkok just for its food choices. Like many southeast Asian countries eating street food is a fun, if not slightly chaotic experience. Yaowarat Road in Chinatown and the infamous Khao San Road in central Bangkok are both popular street food strips.
RIDE ON CHAO PHRAYA RIVER
Riding the Chao Phraya River is such a special and unique way of seeing Bangkok. A long-tail boat tour is a fun way of covering all important sights in a day. Book a boat through your hotel (expect to pay a little more) or simply negotiate at your nearest pier. Make sure to negotiate before you head off with your driver to your destination.
Bangkok is an amalgamation of past and the future; Heavy traffic is bypassed by long-tail boats plying the royal river; Buddhist monks dressed in robes shop for the latest smartphones; and streets lined with food carts are overlooked by restaurants perched on top of skyscrapers. As Bangkok races towards the future, these contrasts will never stop supplying the city with its unique and ever-changing experience of Thai-ness.