Bangkok – a swirling metropolis with a futuristic edge. It’s as close as you can get to “Gotham City”. A sophisticated urban sprawl where huge shiny mega malls sit alongside street food stalls and sky trains thunder overhead on elevated rail tracks.
This international hub has a positively playful energy with its vibrant street life, flair for fashion and well-known cultural landmarks. As with most other asian cities, its hot, steaming streets are full of people, bustling markets, traffic and chaos. But scratch the surface of this place, wander through hidden lanes and you’ll discover this place is home to thousands of expats who work, live and play in this colourful city. Expect to have a pint down the pub in Sukhumvit or Sathorn, watch a game of football and enjoy a plate of fish ‘n’ chips.
As night falls, Bangkok takes on a new personality. This is play-time! Street food stalls come alive, steam billowing, enticing, fragrant. Night markets bustle with shoppers. Swanky hotels lure the in-crowd into their dimly lit minimalism and impressive rooftop bars – their revolving doors revealing 360 degree glimpses of well-dressed women holding stem glasses. Meanwhile, dangerously young girls lure the grey nomads into the neon-lit bars around Soi Cowboy. Blatant flirtation, cheeky one liners, petite toned bodies – a sexy Thai smile. Look closely – she was a man! Food stalls by day, pop-up mini-bars by night.
Welcome to Bangkok!
1. The Grand Palace
No visit to Bangkok is complete without a trip to see The Grand Palace. The epitome of Thai architecture, the palace dazzles and glitters in all its ethereal splendour drawing crowds of tourists aswell as devout Buddhists from all over the world.
Built in 1782 on the order of King Buddha Lodfa Chulaloke (Rama I), the palace was the official residence of the monarchy until 1925. Today it is used for royal ceremonies and state functions. You need time to visit this temple. Explore the many courts and pavilions, leisurely stroll through the beautifully landscaped gardens and if the heat doesn’t get to you – be inspired by the murals of the ancient story of the Ramayana that span a whopping kilometre through the arcades.
Situated within the walls of the palace is the much revered Wat Phra Kaew or Temple of the Emerald Buddha – a gilded chapel that houses an image of a jade Buddha, 66cm tall. Sitting on top of a high golden alter, the Buddha is ceremoniously draped in robes three times a year. Only the King is allowed to perform this sacred duty.
2. Wat Pho – Home To The Reclining Buddha
Home to the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, the largest Buddha in Bangkok, Wat Pho is not only one of the oldest temples in Thailand but also the birthplace of traditional Thai massage. Considered the first public university of Thailand, Wat Pho was established by King Rama III as the centre for education, teaching students in the fields of science, religion and literature. Today it stands as an established school of massage where anyone can go to learn this well-respected and renowned aspect of Thai wisdom. Treat yourself to a massage or learn the art yourself!
Measuring in at 46m long and 15m high, the gold-plated image of Buddha dominates the length of the hall it lies in. Illustrating the passing of Buddha into Nirvana, the Buddha serenely reclines, his feet adorned with mother of pearl displaying 108 symbolic characteristics of Buddha.
Visit www.watpomassage.com for more information on massage courses and prices.
3. Wat Arun – Temple of Dawn
Sitting on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, the Khmer style tower of Wat Arun has every tourist frantically reaching for their camera as they speed past on the many cross – river ferries that herd them to this beautiful site.
Named after the Indian God of Dawn – Aruna, Wat Arun was built during the first half of the 19th century by Rama II and completed by Rama III. Decorated with intricate floral mosaics made of Chinese porcelain, Wat Arun is a colourful salute to the diversity of Thai architecture.
Pay a visit in the afternoon when you can enjoy the architecture by day and wait for a glorious sunset that really shows off this national treasure.
4. Chatuchak Weekend Market
This is one of the biggest markets in the world and should be at top of every serious shoppers list. Even if you don’t buy anything from here, which is a virtual impossibility, you just have to experience the sheer size of this place and the amazing diversity of goods on offer.
It’s certainly one of the most impressive I’ve ever seen and as it’s a weekend market it gives you plenty of opportunity to split your days and take it easy instead of running around like crazy.
With over 15,000 stalls you can buy anything from antiques and handicrafts, fashion and food to homeware, pets and plants. This market will have you begging for more! Read our survival guide on how to get through a whole weekend of shopping and beat the heat which can if you’re not careful, cut short every shoppers dream date with this iconic market!
5. Floating Markets
Get away from the urban sprawl and get an alternative shopping fix by visiting one of the many floating markets that Bangkok has to offer.
Damneon Saduak Floating Market in Ratchaburi is one of the most famous – and you can tell. Expect crowds, as this place is one of the most photographed markets around. You’ll see it on almost every postcard! It’s colourfully chaotic and if you arrive super early to avoid the package tourists spilling out of long-tailed boats, you’ll discover this market reveals a nostalgic taste of traditional Thai culture in days gone by.
Vendors paddle up and down narrow canals with boats laden with anything from fruit and vegetables to flowers, handbags and tasty snacks. Lining the waterways are endless rows of shops where you can get hold of handicrafts and souvenirs. Just make sure you bargain hard for that Buddha you’ve always wanted!
6. Khao San Road
Love it or hate, this hippie hang out is a 1km strip of backpacking budget heaven. Full of cheap guesthouses and hotels, restaurants, bars, massage parlours, market stalls and more, Khao San Road does little to apologise for its stereotypical image of truth – seeking inhabitants. But I guess, why should it? Enjoy the chilled out, carefree bohemian vibe. Hang out, or if you’ve drunk too much – just hang! Get a foot massage, buy cheap clothes, eat cheaper than cheap Pad Thai and lose in yourself in a book about self discovery. Why not?
This 1km strip of restaurants, market stalls and gold shops continues to pull in the tourists. At night the neon signs light up the colourful Chinese characters as the crowds come to dine and take in the energy of this very vibrant community. Come here during Chinese New year and see it at its best when the street comes alive with dragon dancers, exploding firecrackers and families enjoying decadent Chinese banquets.
8. Go Shopping
Bangkok is famous for it’s multi-storeyed, ultra modern and sleek shopping malls that offer a much-needed air-conditioned alternative to the street-side market stalls.
Here you can find fashion stores, global brands, accessory outlets, bookshops, high tech gadgets and luxury designer lifestyle goods.
One of our favourites was Terminal 21 on Sukhumvit Road – a relatively recent addition to the already impressive list of megamalls. With over 600 shops, Terminal 21 brings global fashion together under one roof. Stroll down London’s Carnaby St and by some edgy t-shirts, browse through Istanbul’s souk or walk through Tokyo and bag yourself some quirky dresses.
Terminal 21 is also great for food. Thai, Japanese, Chinese, Malaysian, Korean – the list is endless and there’s something to suit all tastes and pockets with the food court a good option if you’re really on a travellers budget. After you’ve indulged in some tasty treats, check out the latest film release at the cinema situated here.
9. Eat your way through Bangkok
Think of Bangkok, think of food heaven! Think of the streets and restaurants as a journey into all things delicious! There is so much choice here, I guarantee deciding what to eat will become a confusing challenge. Thai street food or dim sum? Malaysian Laksa or Japanese Curry? Add to that options for deciding where to eat are limitless; budget friendly food courts, riverside eateries, food markets, dinner cruises, teak houses – its mind-boggling. But whatever you decide, you can be sure that the journey will be both inspiring and utterly blissful!
10. Take a hike!
That’s right – you heard! Take a hike! Walk, stroll, saunter, meander – however you like to travel on foot, there’s nothing like discovering a city more intimately then walking through it.
Turn down an unfamiliar lane, stumble upon a hidden alleyway or take the wrong turn and experience new sights and sound. New neighbourhoods. Linger, slow down, look around you, let your senses heighten – there’s an excitement to everyday life!
The street is the heart of any city and it deserves to be experienced on foot. There’s no justice to it if you commute across and by-pass all the life taking place there. You’re missing out on so much. Be part of the action, part of the crowd that makes up the vibrant, multi-ethnic city of Bangkok.