See also: Where to Stay in Bangkok
Bangkok is color; it is street life and spaces of worship. It is an intense platter of street noodles and mango sticky rice, playful conversation and haggling of transport prices. Duality is a common theme where gleaming malls are neighbors with traditional homes and golden temples a beacon amid dense, slow-moving traffic. To help you navigate this magnetic city, we’ve narrowed down top attractions and experiences that best capture Bangkok’s versatility.
Touring the Grand Palace
The crowning jewel of Bangkok’s stunning cultural sites, the Grand Palace complex encompasses revered temples such as Wat Phra Kaew and other ceremonial buildings. While the royal family no longer resides here, it remains a significant venue where auspicious events and ceremonies take place. While not all building and rooms are accessible, visitors are can explore the grounds and admire the vivid architecture and sculptures. Drop by the Royal Reception Halls, a fusion of western and traditional Thai design, and observe its reception hall. To learn more about the Grand Palace and its numerous Buddhist detailing, visit the stunning Dusit Hall.
Wander around the stunning Wat Pho
Just ten minutes from the Grand Palace is one of the largest temple complexes in Bangkok – the colorful Wat Pho. Its fame lies in the 46-meter long reclining Buddha layered in gold leaf, auspicious laksanas illustrated on its feet. Other highlights include the intricately designed chapels containing hundreds of gilded Buddha images, and exquisite murals along Wat Pho’s walkways. Colorful stupas patterned with flowers and ceramic tiles also contribute to the aesthetic estate. Remember to take your shoes off upon entry and make a wish – purchase a bowl of coins and drop them into the 108 bronze bowls lining the hall entrance.
Floating Market 1: Khlong Lat Mayom
Cheap, fun and casual, Khlong Lat Mayom is a traditional floating market that emphasizes street food culture. Even as you stroll past the colorful souvenirs and miscellaneous goods spilling out of their tiny shopfronts, you’ll be drawn to the waterfront meals. Anticipate low tables, wooden stools and a wooden boat anchored beside you as the food is being prepared; from noodles to fresh fruits to snacks and grilled oysters, Khlong Lat Mayom serves them all. If you have the time, visit nearby Thaling Chan Floating Market as well.
Watch a Muay Thai fight
Muy Thai is street fighting brought to the ring, sharp jabs and clinching mastered to the T. In Thailand, Muy Thai has evolved from instinctive scrapping to seemingly choreographed fights; fighters train seriously and it is treated as a combat sport that require not just technique but also strategy. To catch an authentic match, drop by Bangkok’s Rajadamnern Stadium. It is guaranteed to keep you on your feet, maybe even inspiring you to take up your choice of martial arts. The fights run every Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday.
Discover Khao San Road
Hanging signs jutting out from yellow-hued buildings and a rainbow of outdoor umbrellas make Khao San Road a noisy space, both visually and in the traditional sense. Endless activity surrounds the bars, shops, restaurants, vendors and street food stalls of this road, with locals and tourists milling about from day to night. This is where Bangkok culture aggregates, a cacophony of local treats and products sold by eager owners. Drop by to catch a glimpse of the Bangkok bustle or to pick up some souvenirs; it is also a great opportunity to chat with the community or meet other travelers. For a quieter alternative, visit Soi Rambuttri Road.
Swing by Wat Arun during sunset
Rising on the bank of Chao Phraya River is the stunning spires and intricate layered tiers of Wat Arun. This landmark is known to be spectacular at sunset, although its finer details are best admired under the sun. Proffering some of Thailand’s best craftsmanship, the 70-meter high spires are built out of colored glass and scattered porcelain, arranged in exquisite patterns. Climb up the central prang for panoramic views of the river and the Grand Palace; at its base are sculptures of Chinese animals and soldiers. Enter the main hall for detailed murals and a golden Buddha representation.
Spend some time at the National Museum
If you’re in the area around Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace, complete the trio of attractions with a browse through the National Museum. Nestled within 18th century Wang Na Palace, this historical collection grew since its founding by King Rama V. Within the 12 galleries are multimedia displays that date back to Thailand’s pre-historical times; take in the weaponry, glimmering stones, ceramics and textiles, handicrafts and musical instruments. The grounds host various examples of Thai architecture, featuring a stunning gold and red gilded chariot hall, wooden carvings and more.
Ride a water taxi up Chao Phraya river
Thatched roof, banana-shaped body and red accents of wood, Thailand’s water taxis make you feel like you’re taking a ride back in time. To see the city from an unusual perspective, hop on a water taxi for a tour of the Chao Phraya River. Ferrying between Central Pier to the end and back, the ride only costs 20 bhat – you are paying close to nothing for a relaxing and scenic experience. You can also sign up for an official tourist boat for guided descriptions of sites you will pass by, and for more background information regarding the river itself.
Take an Aspara River Cruise
To elevate your Chao Praya River cruise experience, sign up for a romantic feast aboard Aspara River Cruise. The modified rice-barge departs from River City Pier for almost two hours of night viewing, gliding past Wat Arun and the Grand Palace to Rama VIII Bridge. Not only will you be spoilt with traditional Thai appetizers and filling main courses, your meal is backed by the lit-up temples that gleam bright against the dark sky. Round off the night with delicious desserts such as the customary mango stick rice and panna cotta.
Explore the vendor-lined Chinatown
Near Sampeng Lane and Yaowarat Road is Chinatown, characterized by strings of lanterns and traditional arches. Shop around for the usual souvenirs, kitschy t-shirts, magnets and figurines alongside Chinese-themed items like jade pendants, copper goods and paper crafts. Cheap retail fun aside, Chinatown is well loved for its plethora of food – think restaurants and countless vendors lining the streets. From grilled sticks to Chinese desserts and quick bites, you will never go hungry. It is also home to delicious seafood restaurants. Even those not looking to buy or eat anything will be amazed by the chaotic and lively atmosphere; there is no resisting the vitality coursing through this neighborhood.
Admire Wat Benchamabophit
If Wat Benchamabophit looks familiar to you, that’s because it is pictured on the back of the 5-bhat coin. One of Bangkok’s most recognizable temples, it was crafted out of Italy-imported white marble. Take note of its ornate design, featuring high gables and stepped-out roofs that are characteristic of traditional Thai architectures. This first class temple is best observed for the 53 Buddha images in the courtyard, a complete imaging of their every gesture. The lion statue guardians will also catch your attention due to its striking marble composition.
Relax at Lumpini Park
Bangkok’s crazy traffic and noisy vendor-lined streets can exhaust even the most energetic of people. Escape into the sprawling Lumpini Park and immerse yourself in wildlife for a while. As it is the city’s central park, you will find various groups practicing tai-chi, jogging, cycling or playing sports. The tree-shaded lawns welcome people to picnic or lounge about doing nothing; a much needed change in pace. Take the chance to people watch as you take a break, or ask to join in a sports game and make some new friends with friendly locals.
Get a Thai massage
Exhaustion and stiff muscles accumulate over travels, so treat yourself to a very necessary Thai massage. Hand your tired self over to the professional masseuses and health therapists for a back-cracking session, often complemented with heated stone treatments and aromatherapy to ensure the best results. Whether you’ve signed up for solely a shoulders massage, leg session or full-body package, you will emerge feeling renewed and limber.
Modern shopping at Terminal 21, CentralWorld, MBK Center and more
Created to be more than just shopping malls, these air-conditioned spaces gather all forms of entertainment under one roof. Airport-themed Terminal 21 features goodies from every region, local specialties cumulating in one of the best food courts in town and is located in Sukhumvit. Whilst there check other best things to do in Sukhumvit. MBK Center on the other hand ensures all our retails needs are covered; thrifty clothing is sold alongside electronics, movies and other bargain items. One of the largest shopping complexes in the world, CentralWorld is teeming with international brands, restaurants and houses a hotel. Luxurious Siam Paragon boasts a top-tier movie theatre and Ocean World aquarium – the largest in Southeast Asia.
Pick up stuff at Chatuchuk Weekend Market
Plastic baskets overflowing with all manners of fruits and vegetables, shallow glass containers with still-alive fish, heated embers grilling juicy skewers and the mixed scents of cheap street food – Chatuchuk Weekend Market is where it is at. Buy chilled drinks poured into plastic bags to carry around as you explore this marketplace that is larger than football fields combined together. Vendors squeeze in beside each other to cater to the crowds, some touting food and others designer clothes. You can bargain for phone parts and pirated movies and kitchenware. Chatuchuk Weekend Market is a one-stop-shop that spoils you with choice.
Hit up the hipster area of Soi Nana
Be careful not to go to the wrong Soi Nana – the neighborhood you’re aiming for is right by the train station of Chinatown. Emerging as the hip space for youth and nightlife, Soi Nana serves up atmospheric bars and laid-back galleries. Peruse art exhibits in their traditional architecture setting before splitting off for tapas and Chinese-inspired cocktail lounges. You can also combine art and chilled beverage in the shared space of 23 Bar & Gallery. If you’re not the type stay out late, swing by for a short stint at a café.
Explore the beautiful Wat Phra Kaew
Some refer to Wat Phra Kaew as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, revered for its Buddha image carved in jade. The sharp pointed structures and flare-out roofs are painted gold, glowing bright in the day and evoking muted elegance at night. Beauty is in the details at Wat Phra Kaew; visit the Balcony and look closely at the murals of the temple walls and the inscriptions on the columns. You can also find a model of Angkor Wat and other elaborate statues and pagodas. Remember to respect that temples are sacred spaces; dress appropriately in closed-toe shoes or rent cover ups if needed.
Swim in the tanks of Siam Ocean World Aquarium
How about visiting the largest aquarium in South East Asia? Located in Siam Paragon shopping complex is Ocean World Aquarium, totaling 10,000 square meters and massive exhibition tanks. Giving new meaning to the phrase “up close and personal”, the aquarium offers a 270-degree glass tunnel and a glass-bottomed boat ride. You can also dive with the fishes and marvel at the sight of a great white next to a sunken Buddha head. With thousands of exuberant marine life, you could spend a good half day here.
Tour the Jim Thompson House
Learn about a time-established craft and mysterious character simultaneously through a tour of the Jim Thompson House. Once the residence of Jim Thompson who was both an American spy and silk merchant in mid-1900’s, the house was crafted in traditional Thai style. Richly maroon and crafted out of teak wood, the elevated body and surrounding gardens is a stunning estate. Your guide will enlighten you to Jim’s backstory as well the silk industry, and you will learn some things about Thailand’s house designs as well.
Visit Bangkok Art and Culture Center
To get to the heart of Bangkok’s performing arts and trending culture, make your way to the Bangkok Art and Culture Center. Featuring film screenings, design events, art and music shows, theatre work and more contemporary entertainments, this complex emphasizes creativity and innovation in the city. With every exhibit and gallery you learn more about what makes Thailand Thailand – it is a cultural introduction.
Marvel at Wat Saket
Wat Saket, also known as The Temple of the Golden Mount, dates back to the Ayutthaya era. As its name suggest, the shrine features a magnetic gold chedi, occupying an 80-meter high hill. Visitors swarm to this temple during the annual temple fair of Loy Krathong as it is a pilgrimage site; its relatively minimalistic setting gets draped in lanterns and decorative flags. Spiritual foundations aside, Wat Saket is also a historical monument, the crematorium to tens of thousands of plague victims in late 18th century. Challenge its 300-step path for some stunning views over the Bangkok Old Town.
Smell the roses at Pak Klong Flower Market
Have you heard of a 24/7 flower market? Well, Bangkok’s Pak Klong runs from day to night to keep the air scented with fresh flowery aplomb. Hunt down your favourite flower for they sell almost all you can think of, from the prickly cacti to traditional roses and specially grown lotus flowers. Even if you don’t have a place to keep them (since you’d hardly bring flowers onto a flight), it is interesting to peruse these family-run stores.
Dig into the street food
No country does street food as cheaply and deliciously as Thailand does so take advantage of your Bangkok stay and dig in! If you’re not sure where to start, join a street food tour. Not only will you be brought to local favorites around Chinatown, you’ll gain a lot of insights on Thai culture (such as the sharing of dishes and bonding experience). Dishes range from heavier staples like noodles and dumplings or seafood, to smaller bites that are either sweet, sour and spicy, or refreshing. Instead of sitting down for a full meal, try hopping between vendors for a varied platter.
Try all the transport: sky train, tuktuk, mototaxi
To travel in relative comfort, ride the air-conditioned sky train; it is also much faster than the average street transport and an easy way to sight see. Tuktuks are of course a must-experience! Thailand’s unique transport system, they’re cheap and reliable but get ready to haggle as they have no meter. As a tourist, you are liable to get ripped off. Mototaxis are a good alternative too; they are the motorbikers loitering on the side of the street with an extra helmet. Since mototaxis don’t run by meter either, agree on a fee before jumping on.
Catch a Calypso Ladyboy Show
Thailand is known for beautiful men and women of indiscriminate gender – Bangkok celebrates it. Catch a show at the Calypso Cabarat, Bangkok’s equivalent of the Moulin Rouge. The Broadway-style entertainment will dazzle with energetic performances ranging from burlesque to Korean pop and traditional tunes put on by ladyboys. Dinner is provided too so all you have to do is book tickets ahead of time and settle in at the Asiatique Riverfront Market venue.
Go wakeboarding at Lake Taco
To combat the hustle and heat-swamped city, go wakeboarding in Lake Taco. Unlike the usual motorboat towing, Lake Taco has built facilities where motor-run cables pull you around the circuit instead. There are also ramps for tricks, although most find it fun to just circle the space. Equipment is provided (including safety gear) and beginners have the choice to use kneeling boards instead. You’ll also notice plenty of families around the water; it is perfectly safe for kids to challenge as well. To avoid crowds, try visiting on a weekday instead.
Night shopping at Asiatique The Riverfront
Get in line for the 5PM opening of the converted warehouse complex; what was once a bustling trade port is now the night bazaar of Asiatique The Riverfront. Browse over 1,500 boutiques arranged in neat categories; you can track down a choice of handicrafts, clothing, souvenir and jewelry stores via its map. Upscale dining is available in the Waterfront District, combining river views with scrumptious Thai and international cuisine. It is also home to the Calypso Cabaret, an unusual and scintillating performance show that every tourist must watch.
Applaud the Sala Chalermkrung Khon Theatre performance
Experience a jaw-dropping night with Sala Chalermkrung Khon Theatre in Bangkok’s Chinatown, where an elaborate performance of Thailand’s traditional masked dance will have you calling for encore. Established in 1933, it is one of the oldest theatres in the country. Marvel at the lavish costumes and century-old tales that reveal much of Thailand’s ancient culture. Don’t worry about the language barrier either; there are English subtitles.
Visit Erawan Museum
We bet you’ve never been to a museum inside a gigantic 3-headed elephant statue. Unearth the mysteries of the three spiritual planes: the underground, earth and heaven. Scale elaborately carved banisters and stairs to see rare antiques and religious iconography, which is overlooked by a ceiling display of stained glass. The details will have you hooked, from the beaded figureheads to copperwork, ornate Benjarong inlays and more stunning craftsmanship.
Floating Market 2: Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
Located about an hour’s journey out of Bangkok, the best way to access Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is to join a tour. After a detour to an Orchid Farm and coconut production workshop, you’ll reach the tiny pier where long-tail boats are waiting to take you around this unusual marketplace. Large canals are hemmed by stilted houses and a series of in-river structures; you’ll pull up beside fruit sellers on their own boats before reaching the main floating mass. Taste local produce and boat-served meals as you shop for fun souvenirs. It is also your chance to take dynamic pictures so bring your camera!
Explore the ancient city of Samut Prakan
Closing off our list is the 320-acre wide Samut Prakan Ancient City on the outskirts of Bangkok. What makes it so special is its scaled-down replica of Thailand, divided into its natural regions with individual attractions. You’ll find miniaturized models of significant structures, over 115 temples, palaces, chedis, pavilions, floating markets and more. This mimic city is perfect for those who’d love to see Thailand in its entirety, a sample of what this exuberant country has to offer.