Bangkok What to Do
Ultimate Guide for Bangkok
Bangkok is the capital and economic centre of Thailand with a population of over 10 million. The formal Thai name is 168 letters long but is shortened to Krung Thep which translates to “City of Angels”. Rapid growth from the 1960s along with poor urban planning has led to a haphazard cityscape with chronic traffic jams. The city has built elevated skytrains to alleviate the traffic congestion. This along with river boats makes it easy to move quickly around Bangkok as it does not have a central area where everything is located but rather has a number of locations throughout the city. Located in the Chao Phraya delta, Bangkok has 580 highrises 30 floors or higher and sprawls over 450 sq. miles.
Drawn by the temples, museums, shopping and dynamic nightlife, Bangkok receives over 20 million visitors a year making it the most visited city in the world. It is frequently ranked as the top tourist destination in the world. Bangkok is a safe destination with very little violent crime but has a high rate of traffic accidents. The best months to visit are December to February with the least amount of rain and an average temperature of 80F (32C).
Top 4 Temples in Bangkok
Wat Phra Keo
1. Wat Phra Keo – the temple of the Emerald Buddha is located within the grounds of the Grand Palace. This is Thailand’s most treasured temple. The deity measures only 26 inches by 19 inches and is dark green carved from a single block of Jasper. The Emerald Buddha has three different gold costumes; summer, rainy season and winter.
2. Wat Pho – the temple of the Reclining Buddha. It is one of the most visited temples and is close to the Grand Palace. The Reclining Buddha is 150 feet long covered in gold leaf and is amazing to see. The temple is regarded as the first university in Thailand specializing in religion, science and literature. It is now know for traditional medicine and massage. After wandering around, have a Thai massage.
4. Wat Traimit – the temple of the Golden Buddha located in Chinatown. The deity is 15 feet high and made of solid gold. It weighs 11,000 pounds and would be valued at over $300 million for the gold alone. The Golden Buddha was covered in stucco for several centuries, probably to protect it from invaders and was deemed worthless. It was not until 1957 when it was to be moved that it was discovered to be solid gold.
Top 3 Museums in Bangkok
Bangkok National Museum
1. The Bangkok National Museum is close to the Grand Palace. It is opened from 9am – 4pm, Wednesday to Sunday. Admission is about $7. The museum has undergone a full renovation with modern and interactive displays. You can easily spend 3-4 hours here.
Museum of Siam
2. The Museum of Siam is a small museum with interactive displays located beside Wat Pho and close to the Grand Palace. It is not on the tour bus itinerary so it is very quiet. Unless there is a school group, the display rooms are empty. We spent 2 hours going through the 14 rooms with very interesting displays of the history and life of local people. I liked the room that showed the many varied things that were invented by Thai people that are particular to their own use. Closed on Mondays the entrance fee is about $7.
Bangkok Art & Cultural Centre
3. The Bangkok Art & Cultural Centre (BACC) hosts travelling exhibits, theatre and live music so there is always something going on. It has 2 indoor and 1 outdoor theatre where the Bangkok Symphony and Ballet perform. It is close to the National Stadium BTS Skytrain station. Admission is free except for special exhibits and concerts.
Top 3 Live Theatres in Bangkok
Thai National Theatre
1. Thai National Theatre is located right next to the National Museum and holdes performances of Thai interest including the Khon dances and musical events from a revolving list of performances.
Sala Chalermkrung Royal Theatre
2. Sala Chalermkrung Royal Theatre is behind the Royal Palace about a 20 minute walk. You can purchase a discount ticket at the Royal Palace for around $16. The performances are 25 minutes and are performed 5 times a day. The Khon dance is a Thai dancing genre that shows respect, mutual dependance of rulers and followers, honour of rulers, and the triumph of good over evil. The dances have been performed for hundreds of years in the Royal Courts.
Siam Niramit Theatre
3. The Siam Niramit Theatre performs the history of Thailand every night at 8 pm with over 100 actors and 500 costume changes. It is one of the largest stage shows in the world. Tickets cost around $50. Doors open at 5 pm and there are pre-show activities including seeing a traditional Thai village, dancing, buffet dinner, and photo ops with performers.
Top 3 Markets in Bangkok
Chatuchak Weekend Market
1. Chatuchak Weekend Market – the largest market weekend market in the world with 15,000 stalls and over 20,000 people a day. We took the Skytrain from Nana station on Sukhumvit. Plan on spending the whole day there. We spent several hours just looking at wood carvings and were lost most of the time. There are of course, lots of places to eat and drink. You can also go to the market on Friday nights just after the vendors set up for the weekend. There are a lot less people then.
Taling Chan Floating Market
2. Taling Chan Floating Market – a smaller weekend market that is easily reachable from central Bangkok by bus or taxi. We used Grab for our ride share app. The boats tie up to the dock and sell from there. There are less tourists here and the prices of seafood and produce is cheap compared to other markets. Prices are even cheaper further down in the Chinese section.
Sukhumvit Street Night Market
3. Sukhumvit Street Night Market – a convenient night market that lines both sides of Sukhumvit, a main road in the heart of Bangkok. It has all kinds of souvenirs and knock off watches. There are tailor shops to get clothes made, massage parlours for a relaxing massage, ethnic restaurants and pop-up bars that stay open until daylight. Located between Nana and Asok Skytrain stations it is open from 5 pm to 1 am.
Top 3 Shopping Malls in Bangkok
1. Siam Paragon| Siam Center and Discovery| Gayson| Chit Lom Shopping Malls – these malls are side by side. It literally will take a day or more to go the entire mall space. Each floor specializes in different goods. Siam Paragon has a whole floor of super cars dealers displaying Ferrari, McLaren, Aston Martin, and Rolls Royce cars among others. Chit Lom has 2 floors of food markets and restaurants.
2. Terminal 21 – a 9 floor mall designed to look like an airport terminal. Each floor is dedicated to a different place in the world. London, Paris, Rome, Istanbul are some of the floors. The sign displays are like airport arrival/departure displays and the staff at the information desk are dressed like flight attendants. Pier 21 on the 5th floor is the food court with many, many chain and independent restaurants.
River City Bangkok
3. River City Bangkok – has a waterfront promenade on the Chao Phraya River lined with restaurants. The mall is 4 floors of art galleries full of treasures from the all over Asia including Tibet. There are regular auctions with your purchases authenticated by experts. There are regular art exhibitions and in addition to art, the mall has a variety of regular free music performances.
Top 3 Neighbourhoods in Bangkok
1. Sukhumvit – or Hwy 3 is one of the main roads in Thailand. Stay on it and it will take you to Cambodia. It is the centre of business in Bangkok and a tourist haven with lots of things to see and do. There are many highrise chain and independent hotels, restaurants, bars, nightclubs and shopping. It is where we stayed when we spent a week in Bangkok.
2. Silom – is the financial district of Bangkok with glass skyscrapers. This is the place to be after the offices close down. There is a vibrant nightlife and great restaurants. The Banyan Tree Hotel has a rooftop bar on the 61st floor with unparalleled views of Bangkok.
3. Bangkok Riverside– this historic part of Bangkok is found on the Chao Phyara River. The riverside is constantly changing with water taxis and buses, freight barges, and garbage pickup boats moving up and down the river. I love riding the water buses and viewing the historic landmarks, sparkling temples and palaces and modern buildings then jumping off at a stop and exploring that area. This area of Bangkok has the most atmosphere and is where we spent much of our time in Bangkok.
Top 3 Restaurants in Bangkok
Food Courts in Malls
1. Food courts in malls – the food courts are unbelievable. There is so much selection and so many food booths that you could wander for hours. The food is all fresh with steamed fish, dumplings, and all kinds of mouth watering food.
Thai Boat Noodles
2. Thai Boat Noodles – a string of restaurants on a canal by the major Victory Monument roundabout. They are famous for their portions served in small bowls. The small bowls were less likely to spill when eating on small canal boats. As you finish your bowl, you pile it up and then take a picture of yourself with the 10 or 12 bowls you have eaten. It is an experience.
Sala Rim Naam
3. Sala Rim Naam – located in a traditional pavilion on the Chao Phyara river. It is a wonderful evening with astounding food and Thai cultural performers. Expensive at about $100 per person but a dinner that will live in your memory forever.
There are so many restaurants and so many neighbourhoods in Bangkok that it is best to concentrate on the area you are staying. We ate most of our evening meals in the boutique hotel we were staying because they had a first class French chef who was from Lyon. Each night he came out and chatted with us after we ordered the special he created that day. We were usually the only guests dining. We literally had our own private chef.
Top 3 Rooftop Bars in Bangkok
Octave Rooftop Bar - Marriot Hotel Sukhumvit
1. Octave Rooftop Bar is located on the top 3 floors of the luxury Bangkok Marriott Hotel Sukhumvit. The hotel is located next to the BTS Thong Lor station. The view is 360 degrees. The night we went it was warm with a light breeze. It has a food and beverage happy hour that was 50% off. After cocktails you can go down to the full restaurant for dinner.
Sky Bar Lebua
2. Sky Bar on the top of the State Tower in Silcom is world famous. The view from the 64th floor is over 800 feet up overlooking Bangkok. There is also a restaurant with a fantastic view on the 63rd floor that is less crowded and noisy. The Sky Bar should be on your list of places to go to in Bangkok.
Hi-So Rooftop Bar - Sofitel So
3. Hi-So Rooftop Bar occupies the 29th and 30th floor of the Sofitel Hotel overlooking Lumpini Park the main vast urban Bangkok park . An intimate place for drinkings and dinner with a expansive panoramic view of Bangkok.
Top 3 Entertainment Areas
These three entertainment areas are all located next to each other and they are easy to get to on the BTS Skytrain route. Soi is Thai for alley. The entertainment areas are located on alleys off of Sukhumvit a main road through Bangkok.
Nana Plaza - Sukhumvit Soi 4
Nana Plaza is a 3 level entertainment complex with over 30 go-go bars. The party goes from 7pm to 3am. There is one entrance and a bar on the main floor where a lot of tourists like us go for a drink to watch all the people coming and going from the go-go clubs. Outside of Nana Plaza, the street is full of vendors selling goods and food.
Soi Cowboy - Sukhumvit Soi 23
Soi Cowboy is a short street located in Sukhumvit and easy to get to by the BTS skytrain. It started with a bar opened by a retired American airman, T.G. “Cowboy” Edwards in 1977. There are about 30 go-go bars located here and the party is nonstop – until 2am.
Thonglor is one of the most sophisticated nightlife areas in Bangkok. Easily located just off the BTS Thong Lo Station at Sukhumvit Soi 55. Chic cocktail bars, expensive restaurants and high end nightclubs are all in this area. It is where the rich and famous Thai people go for a night of fun.
Top 3 Attractions Not To Miss
1. Grand Palace – the most visited place in Bangkok, this opulent complex of buildings on 54 acres was built in 1782 for the Kings of Siam. The complex also houses the Emerald Buddha the most important deity in Thailand. It is very busy so get there for opening at 8:30 am. Tour buses bringing thousands of tourists start arriving about 9:30 am. There is a very strict dress code that is enforced. If you do not conform, the guards will not let you on the palace grounds.
2. Thonburi Canals – this residential area of Bangkok has remained traditional with houses on stilts and criss crossed with canals or khlongs. Hire a long boat to drive you up and down the khlongs and see local people going about their daily lives. There are also guided tours available that will pick you up at your hotel.
3. Chinatown in Bangkok is a city onto its own. It is a vibrant and colourful spot with side streets full of vendors and street side restaurants. It has the most gold shops and market stalls in the city along with wooden shop houses full of goods.
Top 3 Hotel Stays in Bangkok
Capella Bangkok - Luxury 5 Star
The Capella Bangkok opened in 2020 bringing a new level of sophistication to luxury hotels in Bangkok. Private plunge pools, villas on the river, and a Michelin star chef. Each room has floor to ceiling views of the Chao Phraya River, luxury furnishings, Egyptian linens and towels. Included is 24-hour butler service, use of the hotel shuttle boat or chauffer driven Mercedez, and an in-house culturist for learning the language, stories and cultural activities of Thailand like meditation with temple monks or dance theatre. There is a full luxurious spa that is an oasis away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Rooms start at $500 for a spacious 625 sq. ft. room up to $8500 for the incredible 6000 sq. ft. Presidential Villa on the river.
Bangkok Marriott Hotel Sukhumvit - Luxury 5 Star
The Bangkok Marriott Hotel Sukhumvit is one of the best deals in Bangkok. A luxury 5 star hotel for $50 a night. This is a great hotel located close to the BTS skytrain making it easy to get around Bangkok. It has modern decor with a full spa, outdoor infinity pool with a view of Bangkok, and fitness centre. It has one of the top skybars and restaurants in Bangkok. Book here.
The Key Premier Sukhumvit Bangkok - Moderate 4 Star
The Key Premier is a newer boutique hotel located a 5 minute walk from the BTS Nana Station. We stayed in a large corner room on the top floor for $35 night. The room had expensive commercial quality furniture and a large glass walk-in shower and separate soaking tub. The price included a fantastic breakfast with onsite baked pastries, espresso and other coffee drinks, cooked to order eggs, a variety of meats, cheese, fruit and more.
Staying a week, we received free wifi, free mini bar, and free transportation to the airport. The hotel has a great rooftop pool, happy hour for drinks and 20% off all food and beverage purchased while staying at the hotel. We had our own private French chef with a table at the window as we were the only ones dining most evenings. Our stay for the week was very inexpensive. Book here.
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