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Bangkok, or as the locals call it ‘Krung Thep,’ has established its own urbanized identity that distinguishes itself from the rest of Thailand. Any first-time visitors to Bangkok will be surprised with the expansive high-rise buildings, noisy streets, traffic jams, and all the jazz a big developed city succumbs to. True, there are many red light districts, yes, you can find plenty of Pad Thai or Tom Yum Gung, and the movie ‘Hang Over 2’ was really filmed in Bangkok, but the city is far from what the Hollywood movies portray it to be.
Bangkok has a unique, harmonious blend of old-style Thai temples and residential houses right next to modern skyscrapers that makes this ‘City of Angles’ so interesting and memorable. Another charming characteristic of Bangkok is the magnitude of what the city offers. The capital is bustling with culture, flavors, latest trends, and a booming urban lifestyle. From a dollar meal to a 5-star royal treatment, people from all walks of life can feel at ease and not be confined by the ‘affordability factor’ like most other cosmopolitan cities.
There are always plenty of attractions to see and activities to enjoy. Public transportation is convenient, the cultural elements are intact, the culinary experience is incredible, the shopping is a dream come true, the spas and massages are divine, and all the Bangkok clichés are available to those who relish it. Combine all of these alluring factors, and it may not come as a big surprise that Bangkok was ranked by "Travel and Leisure" as the best city in the world for 4 years, the latest being in 2013.
Bangkok has 2 major airports, the newer and much bigger one is ‘Suvarnabhumi’ International Airport, where most of the international and some domestic flights (operated by Thai Airways or Bangkok Airways) take place. The other airport is ‘Donmeung’ International Airport, where low-cost, chartered and non-connecting flights operate.
Suvarnabhumi Airport offers an airport rail link that conveniently connects you to Bangkok’s downtown area. A transfer service and public taxi services from the airport are also available. As for Donmeung Airport, the most convenient way to get there is by taxi. To travel between the 2 airports there is a free shuttle bus that runs daily from 5am till Midnight.
There are several ways to get around Bangkok by public transportation. The best methods are by the sky train (BTS) and subway (MRT) where the routes connect all the major shopping and business centers downtown. Metered taxis are also another breezy way to get you from point A to point B. Bangkok’s taxis’ fees are very affordable but also keep in mind for extra time needed sitting in traffic. Other public transportation options available are buses, motorcycle taxis, Tuk Tuks (motorized rickshaws,) and the river boats.
Chaophraya is the original heart and soul of Bangkok. The livelihood of people back in the days relied heavily on the river; that’s why the ‘Old City’ of ‘Krung Thep’ is situated alongside the river. Today, on the riverfront you will find many significant longstanding temples, several luxurious hotels, including a 5-star Mandarin Oriental Hotel – the oldest hotel in Bangkok, along with many delightful restaurants, which is a must-do dining experience for the spectacular panoramic river view that illuminates both the old and new Bangkok. A dinner river cruise is also a truly wonderful experience.
There are numerous river & canal tours for every taste and budget.
Visitors have the choice between public ferry boats and private tours. Via the ferry boats, travelers can easily visit the old city, famous for its magnificent temples and Khaosan Road. When visiting temples and official state attractions, a polite attire is compulsory.
Wat Phra Kaew, or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, is a must-see for foreigners and Thais visiting Bangkok for the first time - until you’ve been here, you have not arrived Bangkok. Wat Phra Kaew is Thailand’s biggest and most elaborate temple complex and is located within the grounds of the Grand Palace
The main attraction is of course the main ordination hall or the central 'ubosot' which houses the Emerald Buddha. The Emerald Buddha was meticulously carved from a single block of jade, and though small in size, it is the most significant Buddha icon in Thailand. Other notable attractions in Wat Phra Kaew include the temple wall with painted murals portraying the Ramayana epic in its entirety, and the five-metre tall Gate-keeping Giants, which guard each gate of the temple’s balcony.
Wat Pho is one of the oldest and largest temples in Bangkok featuring the famous Reclining Buddha. Besides the image’s breathtaking scale, measuring more than 150 feet in length, the mother-of-pearl illustrations on the Buddha feet, indicating 108 auspicious symbols of Buddha, are magnificent. The other significance of the temple is that within the temple compound was Thailand’s oldest form of university. The temple also houses the famous Wat Pho School of traditional medicine and massage.
After visiting the grounds of the Grand Palace and temples, what’s better than getting a massage from the birthplace of Thai Massage?
Wat Arun is the most photographed temple in Bangkok, standing majestically on the opposite side of the river in Thonburi. During the day it may look like an old pagoda that shows its weariness with time, but after sunset, despite its name, the temple glistens and transforms from an ‘ugly duckling’ to a swan. It is one spectacular sight that will amaze anyone.
What’s cool about the temple is that you can climb about 70 meters up the structure to get a great view of Bangkok across the river. The climb is quite an adventure though, since the stairs up the pagoda are very steep and the way down is even more cumbersome. If you’re visiting the Grand Palace (or of course Wat Phra Keaw) you can easily take the river taxi to Wat Arun for only 3 baht.
The Bangkok National Museum features exhibits of Thai art and history back to Neolithic times, for anyone who’s interested in learning about Thailand’s history and culture, this museum is one not to be missed. One of the most significant collections is the King Ram Khamhaeng inscription, which was inscribed on UNESCO's Memory of the World Programme. Other than Thai artifacts, the museum also houses extensive collections of regional Asian Buddhist artwork from India, China, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Cambodia.
The Bangkok National Museum was formerly the Front Palace, so just the exterior architecture alone is quite an impressive sight to see. The museum is located on the northwest corner of Sanam Luang, near the Grand Palace and Khao Sarn Road.
This museum was at one point the personal residence of Jim Thompson, the founder of the long-standing, quality brand of silk products that also bears his name. His contributions had a profound impact on the development of the Thai silk industry. The museum is composed of 6 traditional Thai style houses, now showcases of Mr. Thompson's extensive art and antique collection from Thailand and neighboring countries. Going there to appreciate the architecture of the museum and the surrounding garden alone is worth a visit. A nice bonus is to see how silk is made in an elaborate old-fashioned manner, a rare opportunity in Bangkok, and there’s nowhere better to shop for Jim Thompson items than right from the legend’s home.
The museum has become one of the most visited tourist attractions in Bangkok.
Thailand is notorious for counterfeit goods, and if you have some time to spare, a visit to a museum with over 4,000 bootleg products will certainly be a comical highlight on your trip to Bangkok. Here you will find the seized counterfeit goods display alongside their originals.
The operating hours are quite limited.
Bangkok is one of the best places in the world for shopping, and visitors will be spoiled from all the choices, with countless numbers of glitzy shopping malls, small shops and bustling day and night markets. From high-end brand names to street-side bargains, Bangkok has everything for everyone’s taste and budget. Just hop on a sky train, and all along the rail line are numerous stops full of shopping destinations. The top 5 department stores are Siam Paragon, Central World, MBK, Terminal 21, and Central Embassy.
Popular buys include Thai silks and cottons, wood artifacts, batiks, silver and gold, pottery, spa products, precious and semiprecious stones, particularly rubies and sapphires, which are indigenous to Thailand (when buying precious stones, though, make sure to look for reliable sources). Tailor-made clothes are also of good value and can be made in a matter of one day, yet the standard is very high. Other note-worthy items to buy are Thai spices and pastes - just stop by a grocery near you and pick up Thai souvenirs that are both travel and pocket-friendly.
When you shop at places with no defined price (outside of an established mall) be sure to exercise your negotiation skills to get an even better deal.
Chatuchak Weekend Market is the most popular outdoor market, and definitely worth your while if you can shrug off the two-in-one shopping-and-“sauna” experience. You will be fascinated by thousands of stalls stocking items including clothing and accessories, handmade merchandise, genuine antiques, orchid plants, artworks to fighting fish, and of course lots of food. If you want a unique souvenir for yourself or loved one, this is the place. Despite the size of this humongous market, the shopping pathways are tiny, so be prepared to brush up against the occasional sweaty shoulder.
Chatuchak Weekend Market conveniently can be reached by both the BTS sky train and the subway system.
A budget shopper’s paradise - you can buy all fashion items imaginable in bulk for cheaper than the already very pocket-friendly retail price. The clothing, shoes, bags, and accessories in Pratunam area are mostly made in China, but you can also find well-designed higher quality items with a higher price tag that are still of excellent value at Platinum Shopping Mall. Shop around a bit - you will find yourself with a handful of shopping bags and thinking you got everything you want and more for just how much?
If you’re a guy and cannot stand shopping, there is a tech mall nearby called Pantip that sells laptops, cameras, IT gadgets and all kinds of music, movies, and computer programs.
Khaosan Road is a truly unique attraction. To foreigners it is known as the backpackers’ utopia, but to the locals it has become an alternative, indie hang-out place. Along Khaosan Road you will stroll pass street food stalls, cheap guesthouses, a mix of foreign and Thai style bars and restaurants, second hand book stores and plenty of shops offering Thai souvenirs, including the cliché “I’m-on-a-tropical-holiday” keepsake. Picture cornrows, dreadlocks, fisherman pants, and if you’re lucky, tribal ladies in their indigenous outfits selling small jewelry pieces and knick-knacks.
Khao San also has many travel agencies and is a popular gateway to major beach destinations around the country, like the islands of Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao.
A visit to Chinatown and Sumpeng should not be missed for cultural exposure and, of course, the food. Here you can watch the hustle and bustle of the Thai-Chinese living community.
During the day, from early morning until about 3 pm, visit Sumpeng where you can find amazing bargains and witness everyday locals going about their business. The shopping environment here is more business-to-business and far from what you would call a ‘shopping therapy’. When you see motorcycles or moving vendors approaching through the narrow alleys, you just simply get out of their way.
By dusk, a bordering sleepier China town becomes alive and turns into an exciting culinary experience. The prices are generally higher, but most of the restaurants and eateries there take pride in the taste and quality of their ingredients. People usually go with an empty stomach in preparation to eat from at least 3-4 establishments.
The hippest shopping and eating area to catch all the latest trends, an all-time popular place for hanging out and catching up. Siam is comprised of 3 big areas: Siam Square, Siam Department Stores, and MBK.
Siam Square is made up of a mix of small shops and smaller lifestyle malls, where you can shop for both bargains and local designer items that come with higher price tags. Siam Square is comparable to Harajuku of Tokyo, a popular to-be-seen hangout for teens.
Siam Department Stores are made up of 3 connecting malls which are Siam Discovery, Siam Center, and the biggest and most popular being Siam Paragon. All the three malls carry fashion brand names, from luxury to mainstream, and a large number of eateries from food courts to fancy restaurants.
MBK is a huge low-key department store. Imagine a street market inside of a mall, with most shops carrying no-brand bargain items. Looking for cheap eats and cheap buys in an air-conditioned place? Come to MBK. The food court on the 6th floor is famous for carrying the best food from around Bangkok.
Bangkok has a few tranquilizing parks where residents, as well as tourists, can do simple exercises like jogging, biking, aerobics, boating, or just simply relax on a bench in the rare green space amid a sea of concrete. The biggest and most popular one is Lumpini Park, accessible by the subway. Another great alternative is Benjakitti Park, which provides a great view of the neighboring high-rises. The park offers an exercise path surrounding a massive lake, and its reflective view of the downtown skyline is what makes a visit here a pleasurable one. Benjakitti Park is within a walking distance from both the skytrain and subway.
Asiatique is a late afternoon / night market; if you’ve ever heard of Lumpini Night Market, this is its reincarnation. Asiatique is nicely situated on the riverfront and the overall ambience is certainly worth a night of visit for an enjoyable dining, shopping, and entertaining experience. The development is a cross-breed between an outdoor lifestyle mall and an open-air market, so the feel and prices are generally more polished than the rugged traditional outdoor markets, albeit still affordable. The main attraction is a ferris wheel, and if you take delight in a dinner and a show, you can find different shows like Cabaret or Thai Boxing here all year round.
The Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall is a former reception hall within Dusit Palace in Bangkok. It now serves as a museum and once in a while hosts certain state occasions. The Throne Hall’s design is very different from the local Thai architecture with its purely Western Italian Renaissance and Neo Classic style; in a glimpse you would think you were all of the sudden transported to Rome or Florence.
The exterior of the Throne Hall is a truly exquisite two story marble structure with a large dome in the center surrounded by six smaller domes. Inside, the museum showcases superb Thai craftsmanship, including wonderful pieces of intricate gold adornments, immaculate embroidered wall hangings, and impressive intricate woodcarvings. There is a self-guided audio so you can explore and learn about the collections at your own pace.
Vimanmek Mansion is the largest golden teakwood structure in the world, featuring a beautiful blend of colonial and Thai architecture. The mansion is a former palace turned museum and displays photographs, personal art and treasures including silverware, ceramics, crystal ware and ivory that belonged to the late King Chulalongkorn. The museum also features several exhibition rooms which showcases the glorious days of the mansion during its royals-occupied period.
If you visit the Grand Palace, which you likely will, you will receive a free entrance to Vimanmek Mansion.
The Mansion is central to the main tourist area and is within reasonable walking distance to Khao San Road.
Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) is ‘the’ place to see Thai contemporary arts as 99% of the exhibition belong to local artists. MOCA is a stand-alone building that is quite out of the way and not easily accessible by either skytrain or subway. For any art aficionado, however, a visit to MOCA is highly recommended as it was ranked No. 7 out of 272 attractions in Bangkok by the traveler’s community on tripadvisor. The museum is newly opened in 2012 and it is still a hidden gem to most, so go enjoy a peaceful outing and nurture your artistic spirit. Check out MOCA website for more information.
The Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) is a new modern facility to join Bangkok’s museum scene, offering contemporary arts and cultural/educational events. The venue is smack right downtown, and easily accessible from the sky train’s National Stadium Station. If ‘Siam’ is on your to-go list, and you have even a tiny bit of an art appreciation, a visit to BACC is free and worthy of a space on your itinerary.
Thonglor and Ekamai are the most cosmopolitan chic streets for culinary and nightlife experience; it’s where you go to be seen and hit that up-and-coming bar or restaurant. These streets are filled with trendy cafes and eateries, and a few hours into the night, glitzy bars and nightclubs start to welcome the privileged locals and sophisticated expats. The area is not that much pricier than other areas, but you will want to attempt to dress up if you want to fit in with the stylish crowd. If you are not into the noisy bar scenes, just go there to enjoy a nice leisurely dinner and call it a night.
Sukhumvit 11 caters to locals and tourists alike. Soi Sukhumvit 11 is worth mentioning because it is home to many long-term established restaurants, bars, and nightclubs. Select a dining experience of your choice, whether it be traditional Thai, Spanish Tapas, Italian, French, or Indian, then have a bar crawl down the street and you have one good night spent in Bangkok. The venues that have become a staple to Bangkok’s nightlife are Q Bar, Cheap Charlie’s, Levels, Oskar Bar, Above Eleven and the Nest Rooftop Bar.
The buzzing Silom neighborhood - an area that is all business during the day, but transforms into a festive party atmosphere by night. During the day on weekdays, there are lots of renowned street food stalls and restaurants which serve the many offices in the area. By night fall, Silom turns into a shopping street selling an eclectic mix of knick-knacks and bootleg DVDs, and the sleepy surrounding bars start to become more energized. Silom nightlife is known for Silom Soi 2 and 4 which largely caters to the gay community, pubs popular with the expat clientele, and the notorious rowdy Patpong redlight district.
Bangkok has tropical climate all year round. Temperatures can reach up to 42º C during the summer season which is mid-February to April. Following the summer is the rainy season, which lasts from May to October. During the rainy season the heat is milder but temperatures can still reach to the late 30sºC. The best time to visit Bangkok is during the dry season from October – April, however you will enjoy reduced hotel rates during the rainy (low) season. Be ready for the heat and humidity, you will learn how much you can sweat with absolutely no exercise.