The capital of the land of smiles, Bangkok is often seen as the gateway to Southeast Asia. Any extended journey around the region will inevitably see you pass through at some point. Thailand’s capital is its largest city by far, with over 14.5 million inhabitants in the Bangkok Metropolitan Region. It’s also one of Southeast Asia‘s biggest cities.
There are plenty of things to do in Bangkok and 3 to 4 days here should serve you well. It’s an excellent transport hub to get around Thailand and with two international airports its easy to fly elsewhere. It’s a good place to pick up supplies, with all kinds of shops and markets to cover your needs. Generally seen as a traffic choked urban sprawl, there are some surprisingly peaceful parts, as we see below.
10 Things to do in Bangkok
1. Bangkok Grand Palace
Wat Phra Kaew (also known as the Temple Of the Emerald Buddha) and the Grand Palace is Bangkok’s number 1 tourist attraction. And to be honest, deservedly so. It’s also Thailand’s most important Buddhist site and a major pilgrimage destination. It was originally built in 1782 and has been the official residence the Thai King since. Its also home to the Emerald Buddha (Phra Kaew Morakot), which is the most sacred Buddha image in Thailand. It’s not actually emerald, that refers to the colour instead likely being carved from jade. Asides from this, its full of fantastic Buddhist imagery and is a great introduction to the religion.
The palace can be busy no matter what time you visit, so allow some time for queuing. 2 to 3 hours is the recommended time to spend here. Admission fee is 500 Baht last time I checked.
2. Wat Pho
The 46 meter long and 15 meter high Reclining Buddha is the standout feature here, which is why it’s chosen as the above image. The temple grounds are very pleasant and contain the largest collection of Buddhist images in Thailand. They make for a very nice walk around. It is also home to a That traditional medicine school which has a focus of traditional Thai massage. Look out for all the Chedi’s (Buddhist stupa’s featuring religious relics), I think they are really worth admiring. I’ve actually used as image of some of them as the featured image for this post.
It’s across the road from the Grand Palace so I’d recommend you do them in the same day, stopping for lunch in between. I’d also recommend 2 to 3 hours here.
3. Khao San Road
The source of many hangovers for any traveller to Southeast Asia, Khao San Road is the infamous backpacker street that acts as a hub with many shops, restaurants, massage stops and bars. Love it or hate it, you will inevitability find yourself here if you spend any time in Bangkok. And lets face it if you are travelling in Southeast Asia you are going to spend some time in Bangkok. So go prepared to bat off ping-pong show sellers, drink far too much Chang Beer and wonder who an earth would eat the Scorpion sticks being offered and finding out seconds later.
There’s a big difference between the day and night here, the former being focused on shops and stalls, the latter on drinking and live bands. It’s always packed with people though. Generally when people refer to Khao San Road they now mean the surrounding area too. Soi Rambuttri runs parallel and is also full of bars, shops and backpackers.
4. Golden Buddha
This 3 meter tall, solid gold Buddha image is found at Wat Traimit. It’s in is in Bangkok’s China Town, which is the next on this list. It’s unknown when it was constructed, the theory is around the Sukhothai period (1238-1438). The image was moved to Bangkok when the city became the nation’s capital though the gold was actually hidden by a stucco until it’s true nature was discovered in 1955. It is presumed this was done to hide it’s value, though the reasons remain unknown.
5. China Town
A blend of Chinese and Thai culture, Bangkok’s China Town is full of streets stalls, market places, restaurants and temples. Bangkok itself has been greatly shaped by Chinese immigrants over the years, and many people in Thailand have some Chinese ancestry, so the Chinese community as been really important to the country for quite some time. Therefore it’s worth a visit here, to help understand how important they have been in Thai history.
Sampeng Lane in particular is a packed with colourful shops and has that bustling ‘in your face’ market feel. The street snacks are a good try and its cool to see all the Chinese imagery around. Pak Khlong Flower Market is nearby and is the largest flower market in the city, should that interest you.
Phahurat Market (Little India) is in the area too and has a large amount of street stalls selling fabric and clothing.
One downside though is that many of the restaurants here do shark fin. This is a nasty industry that does great damage to ecosystems so I’d urge you not to eat in any of those restaurants.
6. Lumphini Park
This park is a haven of peace right at the heart of Bangkok. A good place to relax for a while, stop by here in the afternoon after some sightseeing or shopping. It’s also home to giant monitor lizards, who roam the park particularly around the water. Look out for locals playing games such as chess to.
7. Chatuchak weekend market
As the name suggests, open only at weekends this place is packed both with tourists and locals alike, hosting a whole wealth of shops! Over 8000 in fact. Reportedly over 200,000 visitors pass through on any given weekend. So whether your after souvenirs or new clothes this is the place to come, especially if you’re looking for t-shirts or bags! There are snacks available and some drinking spots so you can take a break from shopping or engage in some people watching.
8. MBK Centre and Siam Paragon
At the heart of Bangkok in the Siam Square area are these very modern shopping centres with a vast amount of stores. MBK is more focused on a market type theme whilst Siam Paragon the type of store layouts you’d find in any Western shopping mall (and some of the same shops too!). They both have a food court and a variety of restaurants and coffee places. They also have some state of the art cinemas so if you fancy a break from sightseeing or shopping then this is a great option! I have seen many people list going to the cinema as one of their favourite things to do in Bangkok. Just remember, you need to stand for the national anthem before the movie is played!
9. Rot Fai park
This large park is is the north of Bangkok and it’s a good place to chill out after a trip to the frantic Chatuchak weekend market. Its popular with Thais as somewhere to excise, look out for joggers, people playing basketball, cyclists and those enjoying other sports! You can find Monitor Lizards here too. It’s also known as Wachirabenchathat Park or Railway Park, for clarity. Its a nice place to stroll around and observe local life.
10. Patpong Night Market
I asked a Thai friend who lives in Bangkok for a 10th recommendation of things to do in Bangkok and she named this place! It’s popular as a shopping spot and also for its bars and clubs. Hence her choosing it, she’s seen many tourists here! Be warned, it’s also in Bangkok’s ‘tourist red light district’ so there is a lot of that kind of thing going on.
Other things to do in Bangkok….
Soi Cowboy which conjures nightmare visions of sex mad tourism and seedy bars is not somewhere I’ve chosen to visit but it does feature on many people’s to see list, usually for having featured in the movie Hangover.
River Cruises are available if you fancy seeing the city that way.
Floating Markets are always down as a Bangkok must see but if you are travelling independently the logistics seem difficult to navigate your way to one…distance, price and required early wake ups all a factor. Whilst the rest of things I’ve listed can more or less be done on a whim I’d recommend this as something you’d need to plan ahead.
Terminal 21 is a large shopping mall, with its floors based on themes such as London or Paris.
Wat Arun (temple of the dawn) is known for its beauty whilst lit up at night. It’s across the river from Wat Pho.
When taking a taxi in Bangkok always insist that they use the meter. If they won’t, take a different cab instead. You’ll pay double or triple without use of the meter. This only goes for car taxis, if you take a motorbike taxi you’ll need to agree a price with them before the journey.
There are 3 major bus stations in Bangkok. Ekkamai Bus Terminal serves buses to the east. Southern Bus Terminal does the South and West. And the Northern Bus Terminal the North.
In terms of accommodation there are so many options in Bangkok it can be a bit overwhelming. Khao San Immjai Hostel is about 10 minutes walk from Khao San Road. Its a good option should you want to be nearby to there. To be near the train station I’d recommend Cozy Bangkok Place, a nice quite hostel in a residential area.