A guide on what to see and do when in Bangkok, Thailand.
Bangkok holds its own special place in my heart. The first place I travelled to without my parents, was Bangkok. It was with my girlfriends, and I kid you not, we did nothing but shop, massage and eat. It was glorious. Since then, I’ve frequented Bangkok for several fun trips, and most recently I find myself there for business.
I’ve been to the city of Bangkok so many times that doing up a post such as this became, paradoxically enough, a monumental task. “Where do I start?” So I broke down this post to the absolute must-sees and must-Dos on a first trip to the city of Bangkok, Thailand.
1. The Grand Palace
The Grand Palace houses Wat Phra Kaew and is possibly the most famous temple in Bangkok. The place gets a lot of tourists and visitors, and security is strict. They are also strict on your attire so modest clothing that covers arms, shoulders, chest, knees are required. I’ve only visited once, and it was in the afternoon when tourist crowds were at its peak. I can’t say I enjoyed my visit just solely due to the crowds, so I would most certainly try to arrive earlier in the day.
I may name just a couple of Temples in this list, but there’s a lot situated in this predominantly Buddhist city.
2. Wat Arun
Compared to the Grand Palace, Wat Arun is much more diminutive. What it lacks in size, it makes up for it in beauty. Wat Arun, also known as the Temple of Dawn, is by far my favourite temple in Bangkok to visit.
3. Visit Wat Pho
Right across the river from Wat Arun is Wat Pho. This temple is famous for its giant sleeping Buddha. One of the largest temple complexes in Bangkok, you’ll definitely spend more time strolling about Wat Pho. Due to its size, I never felt it was crowded, and absolutely lovely to walk about. There are little islets dotted all over that are peaceful to rest at. The unique thing about Wat Pho is that it houses a massage school, and is reported the best place to get a massage in Bangkok. The prices are steeper than what you’d found out there, but you’re guaranteed a quality massage.
4. Chao Phraya boat ride
The best way to visit the Grand Palace, Wat Arun, and Wat Pho on a single trip is by a boat ride down the Chao Phraya river.
Read my guide here on how to navigate the ferry system.
5. Shop till you drop
There are so many malls in Bangkok, that even the most discerning shopper can find a home here. For me, that home is Platinum Mall and Siam Square. Platinum Mall is so-called the wholesale mall, though I find these days that’s not the case anymore. I remember when I first came to Platinum Mall with my girlfriends so many years back, we all had to buy from the same shop in order to get decent prices. Today you get a decent price for one purchase. You’d still get better prices if you buy two, or three, but it’s not that big of a difference.
6. Chatuchak Weekend Market
Did you even visit Bangkok if you didn’t spend an afternoon at the infamous Chatuchak Weekend Market? This place is chaotic, hot, touristy, but it is an experience unlike any other. As a shopping place, it’s hard to recommend since the clothing items are seasonal, but I’ve always been able to score something for a good deal. If you have more girlfriends with you, you might be able to scrounge enough items in the shop to get wholesale prices. The one-off prices are often affordable already though.
Unfortunately Chatuchak is only open on the, well, weekends. On Wednesdays and Thursdays, Chatuchak becomes a wholesale plant market. The plants and flowers were super cheap. While most of us will not be able to bring the plants on to the plane, there are lots of pots on sale too.
7. Night Markets
My favourite thing to do in Bangkok is to check out their night markets. I’m guilty of visiting the same ones over, but they’re just more accessible. My absolute favourite is the Ratchada Rot Fai Night Market, easily accessible and with a good mix of items on sale. I used to love JJ Green located at Chatuchak, but it has since closed down.
8. Café Hop
The café culture in Bangkok is fabulous. Not only are the themed cafes Instagram goals, the coffee served is fantastic. Coffee lovers will not be disappointed here.
9. Khao San Nightlife
Khao San may be well-known as a backpacker’s street, but to me it’s just another different sort of night market. You’ll find a lot of tourists here, obviously, but I have to admit it’s a nice place to have a meal and people-watch. The shopping here is the backpacker’s staples like elephant pants, sarong dresses and knockoff backpacks.
10. Rooftop Bars
Clubs may not be my thing, but rooftop bars most certainly are. Bangkok has a lot of very cool rooftop bars. It’s easy to gravitate to the famous Sky Bar, but honestly there are so many other rooftop bars. The view from up above is quite amazing. The drinks may be more expensive up here than on the streets of Bangkok, but let’s face it – you’re really there for the ambience and view. Some recommended places include Above Eleven and Octave Rooftop at the Marriott.
11. Get Thai Massages
Thai massages are world renowned. Unfortunately, not many places in Bangkok serves up a good massage anymore. Either that, or the places are inconsistent. Some of my recommended spots are Healthland Spas, Bai Po Massage at Soi 11, and of course, at Wat Pho’s massage school.
If you’re just after foot massages – which are heaven-sent after a long day exploring – then it’s hard to go wrong at any old massage place by the streets.
12. Indulge in Thai Food
I mean, obviously. Thai cuisine is one of my top favourites. If you’re up for it, you can queue up for legendary Michelin star restaurant, Jay Fai. Even I have not been there.
I’d always recommend Cabbages and Condoms for any first-time visitors to Bangkok. I know, the name. This restaurant was set up to support family-planning initiatives, so it’s really more wholesome than it sounds. There were always lot of families here when I dined in. Besides it’s… alternative, theme, the restaurant serves up some of the best introductions to Thai cuisine in a safe (haha) and hygienic environment too.
Other restaurants to try include Somtam Nua for Isaan food, and Pe Aor Tomyum for bowls of tomyums with giant prawns.
13. Try Street Food
Bangkok’s nook and crannies explode with street food. Pad Thai, skewers, fried chicken, even bugs – if that’s your thing, it’s always a fun experience getting food from little carts by the streets. In terms of hygiene… I’ve also gotten food poisoning with street food… so practice caution? I still eat street food in Bangkok though. The general rule of making sure the food is hot and freshly made applies.
14. Chinatown / Yaowarat
One of the best things to do at Yaowarat is to eat, of course. I also really enjoyed roaming Chinatown. If not for the Thai letterings emblazoned across shopfronts, as I felt immediately plucked out of Bangkok city and dropped in an entirely different country. I liked that there are the traditionally Chinese temples and shophouses here on one end, but when you turn a corner, you’d encounter a randomly cool, hipster cafe.
15. Flower Market
The Flower Market or Pak Klong Talad, is a wholesale fresh flower market in Bangkok. While you may not necessarily be here to buy flowers, it’s a different and more colourful way of exploring a local market. If you’re into dried flowers, you can find them easily here and at a much cheaper price than you would anywhere else in Bangkok probably.
16. Floating Market
This one bears some bitter taste for me, because I got scammed. We were having a nice chat with a cab driver and he asked if we’d like to go to a floating market that was about an hour away from Bangkok. He offered quite a good price for the trip, about 1000 THB for a return trip. Sounds like a good deal, so we went along. What we didn’t realize was that this damn floating market was NOT free. I can’t quite remember how much because I’ve erased the whole experience from my brain, but it was very expensive for a boat ride, and purely for tourists. Having driven all the way out, we bit the bullet and sprung for the tickets anyway. We were on a boat along this very fancy but touristy market, before arriving at a bigger floating market. If we had arrived at the main entrance with everyone else, our little boat ride would have costed us 150 THB. It’s such an open scam and it’s still going on now – my friend just got
There are lots of “free” floating markets about – do your due research and try not to fall for scams… especially those involving cabbies.
17. Lumpini Park
Lumpini Park is a little green oasis in the middle of Bangkok city. You’ll find lots of city folks exercising here. It’s a refreshing walk through, and you forget that there is a main road right along the park. There’s a beautiful lake as well, and there were vendors selling coconuts. This park is one of the more unique ones because there are monitor lizards roaming about.
Bangkok’s nightlife scene is… diverse. So my idea of a perfect “nightlife” is buying street food and cup noodles back to the hotel, and having all of those while watching epic movies… Or karaoke.
But I have gone on a night out with friends while in Bangkok and manage to have some semblance of fun. A club that I liked was Demo, at ThongLor. The crowd is younger and mostly local, and the music was bombdotcom. The club has two sections; an EDM one and a smaller, more intimate room playing RnB and Hip Hop classics.
Another good place to check out is Maggie Choo’s. It’s a more upscale, and on the night I visited, the music was the, uh, house, variety. I would recommend instead to visit on Sunday nights – it’s their drag queen night. These are your ultra talented queens, not… roadside variety.
Of course, there are the red light districts. I’ve walked through a couple, specifically Patpong and Soi Cowboy purely for the experience. I didn’t get harassed or felt unsafe at all, and I think it was obvious we weren’t there for the actual red light stuff. If you’re curious, do so… respectfully. I wouldn’t recommend taking any photos either without permission.