Known for its vibrant city life and golden shrines, Bangkok is a must on anybody’s first trip to Thailand – or twentieth!
It’s a city of contrasts. You can sample delicious cheap street food next to Michelin starred restaurants. Shop in the local market or one of the mega malls, but at the heart of it all is a city full of deeply rooted culture and tradition.
Why visit Bangkok? From glittering golden temples to relaxing with a Thai massage, there is so much see and do. It’s the most fast paced city in Thailand and the perfect spot to start a trip before heading off for some rest and relaxation beachside in cities like Hua Hin, Phuket or Khao Lak, or even heading into the mountains of Changi Mai and Chang Rai! I’ve put together a list of what I would recommend my friends do on their first trip to this incredible city.
I’ve put together a list of what I would recommend my friends do on their first trip to this incredible city to get the low down on Thai culture and see some of the cities most fabulous sites!
First time in Bangkok? Here’s 20 must see sites!
Discover Opulence at the Grand Palace
Bangkok’s Grand Palace is one of the countries most significant historical sites having been built in 1782 and was home to Thai’s Royal family. While the royal family may prefer to live in the more modern Dusit Palace today, the palace is still where the government of Thailand carry out their work each day.
Within the grounds, you’ll find the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (known locally as Wat Phra Kaew), considered one of the most sacred sites in the country. According to legend, the Emerald Buddha brings prosperity and pre-eminence to each country in which it resides.
Spot the Buddha at Wat Po
Located directly behind the Grand Palace, Wat Po is one of Bangkok’s oldest temples and home to the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand. The most famed is a 46 metre long reclining Buddha. The whole statue is covered in gold leaf and the Buddha’s feet have a beautiful mother of pearl inlaid design.
Within the temple complex is a school that teaches Thai medicine, and the birthplace of traditional Thai massage which is still taught and practised on site. If you are looking for a great massage, spend some extra time here!
Boat Bangkok’s Canals
Bangkok has been referred to as the ‘Venice of the East’ due to the flowing Chai Phraya River and all the little canals that feed off of it. Even today, it’s estimated that 50,000 people still use one of the ferries to go to work.
Take a boat trip down the river you’ll see wooden shacks and modern hotels, rising skyscrapers, the glimmering stupas of Wat Arun and Asiatique the Riverfront, an open-air mall and entertainment precinct.
Catch Wat Arun in the right light
There are thousands of Buddhist temples across the country but Wat Arun is one of the best!
Named after Aruna, the God of Dawn, the towers ceramic tiles and coloured porcelain make for an incredible sight when you catch it during the right light (dawn is best but sunset is still beautiful).
If you are looking for a great place to dine or have a cheeky cocktail overlooking the riverfront and Wat Arun I highly recommend sala rattankosin. Fresh Thai dishes bursting with flavour, a great wine list mixing local and international flavours and the view… a perfect way to end a day in Bangkok!
Eat real coconut ice cream
Made from coconut milk, not cows milk, Thai i-dtim (ice cream) is sweet and refreshing. Best of all it’s served in the hollowed out coconut you get some of the fresh flesh in each mouthful. Topped with roasted nuts, or corn, it’s a delicious and refreshing treat to enjoy at any time of the day.
To find the high-quality i-dtim the street cart or stall vendors will make the i-dtim in tall, round stainless steel canisters. This i-dtim mat phrao (coconut ice cream) stall was spotted on the outskirts the Royal Palace!
Haggle for a bargain at Chatuchak Weekend Market
With over 8000 stalls across 27 acres, the Chatuchak Market is one of the largest markets in the world!
Open only on Saturday and Sunday, you will find anything you could ever image here and mostly at local prices. A great place to pick up an unforgettable momento from your trip to Thailand.
Rot Fai Night Market (Train Market)
With a bazaar-like feel Rot Fai Night Market is a place to pick up modern fashions, antiques and enjoy a good night out. Dozens of stalls open Thursday to Sunday (6 pm – midnight) to sell wares from stores, stalls and out the back of vintage vehicles.
After you’ve done your shopping, sit down and design your own pancakes with coloured pancake batter, enjoy a beer and Mexican food or some more traditional hawker-style fair.
The original Rot Fai Market is larger but harder to get to, and I really enjoyed spending a few hours wandering Rot Fair Market Ratchada in the balmy evening air.
Visit a Floating Market
There’s something dreamy about images of floating markets, and quite a few are located not far from Bangkok! I recommend joining a tour for safety, but some can be accessed by bus or train.
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is the most popular but also most touristy. It’s also quite far (An hours drive from Bangkok) and it’s catered almost exclusively to tourists. You’ll need to wake up early for this one to get there but there are plenty of great tours to Damnoen Saduak Floating Market so you can nap on the tour bus!
Amphawa Floating Market is quite popular but it’s just under an hour to get to the market. It’s quite a cute market with wooden houses lining the canal and you can arrive around 9 am and still find the marketing bustling. There’s also a really beautiful temple swallowed by a tree nearby. To make the most of the market and surrounds be sure to make it a half day trip.
The Klong Lat Mayom Market is much smaller than these other markets but is mostly locals with a few small groups of tourists. There’s plenty of sweet and savoury treats to try, boat rides to enjoy and canals to tour. I coupled a trip to this market with a cooking class nearby and it was the perfect half day excursion… plus, I learned to make a Thai favourite!
Get out and enjoy Bangkok’s nightlife scene
Bangkok has the reputation as Asia’s party city! While there are plenty fo sources to find where to go for a while night out I thought I’d share my favourite places for a laid back night out, preferably with good company, great drinks and a good atmosphere. Here are my top three picks:
Vertigo and Moon Bar is on the 61st floor of the Banyan Tree Hotel. Vertigo is the al fresco dining area that specialises in tender grilled meats while Moon Bar has a mix of classic cocktails and premium drinks (I recommend their signature Vertigo Sunset!) Both have the same incredible 360-degree views with no obstructions!
U.N.C.L.E. in Sathorn is a moody lounge bar with cosy leather seating and a brilliant cocktail list. Artisanal rum and tequila are the drinks to order, and if you are hungry there are some delicious steaks on the menu.
Havana Social is a hidden bar near Sukhumvit Soi 11. The interior gives nod to the high life in 1940-50s Havana and the menu is full of – yes, you guessed it – rum-based cocktails There’s live Afro-Cuban music, plenty of sweet drinks, plus the chance to say you’ve found your way to one of Bangkok’s best-hidden nightlife spots!
(To get there you need to go down the small soi opposite the Fraser Suites Hotel on Sukhumvit Soi 11. Walk past the massage parlours and you’ll find a phone booth with a sign reading ‘Telephono’. Use this to call the bar and they’ll tell you the night’s unique entry code.)
Ride a tuk-tuk
Sure, tuk tuk’s are a little touristy but they are also so much fun and something of a symbol of Thailand! On my last night in Bangkok, I took a tuk tuk by night city tour which took me past some of the cities most famous sights, including Klong San Market and the Flower Market.
Don’t want to join a tour? Haggle your price and hop on board for a fun way to see Bangkok.
For those wanting to get around the city fast, take a motorcycle taxi (my tips for a safe motorcycle taxi experience are listed below in the details area).
Watch a Muay Thai Fight Ring Side
Muay Thai is the national sport of Thailand and its big businesses! It’s broadcast on TV attract some of the biggest ratings in the country and there are stadiums around the country hosting matches 3 times a week, but the biggest stadiums are in Bangkok.
An evening spent at one of Bangkok’s Muay Thai stadiums is sure to be action packed! Stay for one – or a few – of the fights, place a bet (if that’s your thing), and cheer on the contenders. The biggest stadiums in Bangkok are Lumpini or with tickets available at the gate. You can also pre-purchase tickets or go as part of a tour with a guide explaining more about this prestigious sport.
Visit Vimanmek Mansion
Formally a royal residence, Vimanmek Mansion is the world’s largest teakwood building.
Built in 1900, the mansion is now a museum to commemorate King Rama V with photos, personal art and handicrafts. It also showcases Thai national heritage, including gifts and items of significance that King Chulalongkorn collected on his European travels.
Discover the beauty of Thai silk at the Jim Thompson House
Thai silk is famous around the world, and Jim Thompson was responsible for revitalising – some say save – Thai’s silk industry from extinction.
While at his house, set in a traditional Thai home, now a museum, you can learn about the history of Thai silk, the processes, and see an impressive collection of south-east Asian art that Thompson amassed over his years travelling in the region.
The Jim Thompson House is a great place to spend some time as the museum is open daily; and who doesn’t love a good (true) story of how a former American spy became a Thai silk industry hero!
Relax with a Thai Massage
What better way to unwind and relax than with an authentic Thai massage!
For a unique massage experience, sign up at Wat Po’s massage school. Wat Po is credited as the home of traditional Thai Massage and has an on-site school. You can be massaged by students or pros, and the price is incredibly reasonable with profits going back to improving the school and temple.
Eat Thai Street Food
Bangkok is considered among the world’s best cities to enjoy cheap eats street side. From delicious dishes of Pad Thai to a takeaway curry, fermented rice noodles with a fish or chicken curry sauce, or even the famous mango sticky rice, there’s sure to be something to please everyone!
Learn the importance of elephants at The Royal Elephant Museum
Elephants are a symbol of Thailand and hold a very important place within the Buddhist Kingdom’s heart.
Located within two former stables for royal elephants, the museum houses an exhibition about elephants within Thai culture, ancient and religious beliefs involving elephants and rituals about how elephants were classified.
Wander the 24/7 Flower Market
One of the most fascinating places I visited in Bangkok was Pak Klong Talad, the biggest wholesale and retail fresh flower market in Bangkok. Working around the clock to prepare flowers for sale, events, businesses and offerings, the market is full of interesting sights and people.
Be mindful that this is a place of business and not to get in the way of the bustling people, especially from midnight to dawn when it’s at its busiest!
Explore Lumpini Park
Need to escape from the hustle and bustle of the city? Visit the tranquil Lumpini Park. It’s 500,000 square feet of lush green paradise within the city centre, and it’s not uncommon to see people practising Tai Chi or see people enjoying a picnic under the shade of the tree.
Shop til you drop!
Thailand is a shopping paradise no matter what your budget is! I’ve mentioned some of the more popular markets earlier in this post but here are two of my favourite shopping centres:
For high-end shoppers, Siam Paragon is a hugely popular mall with over 250 shops, Southeast Asia’s largest aquarium, cinema and so many restaurants! There are even Ferrari and Lamborghini showrooms within the mall!
For gadget lovers, MBK Shopping Centre is the place to go! There are dozens of stalls offering every sort of gadget you could want, including a few you didn’t know you wanted! If you want to escape the heat for a few hours, there’s a cinema on the top floor showing English-language movies!
Take a day trip to Ayutthaya
Once the largest city in the world, now little remains of Ayutthaya. The city was attacked by the Burmese army in 1767 and burned to the ground, forcing inhabitants to leave. Today, ruins of monasteries, temples, and prangs give glimpses of what was an impressive city.
Being just 85 km from Bangkok, Ayutthaya is an easily accessible and popular day trip from Bangkok whether you join a tour or go by train!
Let me know in the comments below
What would you do first in Bangkok?
Do you have anything to add to the list?
How to get around Bangkok:
If you are arriving from the airport, take a taxi. While it’s a few more dollars than taking the Skytrain, airport taxis have set rates so you will be charged a meter rate. Some drivers will offer to take you via highway, which will cost you extra toll fees that you will need to pay when you go through the toll booth.
Traffic is awful in Bangkok. By far the easiest way to get around Bangkok is using the BTS Skytrain and MRT Subway. Fares are based on zones, with an all-day unlimited pass costing 120 baht.
Personally, I love zipping around on motorbike taxis. It’s a little nerve-wracking the first few times, especially at the breakneck paces and narrow spaces the drivers manage to weave between, but it’s a cheap and fast way to get around the city.
If you do choose to take a motorbike taxi there are three important things to know:
- Make sure you go with a licensed driver. Only agree to go with drivers who are wearing vests from one of the taxi companies.
- Agree on a price before you hop onboard. Motorbike taxis aren’t metered.
- If you are travelling with a bag or camera be careful. Make sure it’s put between you and the driver or secure. It has been known that thieves will cut the straps of bags or simply grab them while the vehicle is in motion. I recommend finding a bag, like this Pacsafe backpack, that is slash-proof.
If you do decide to use a taxi in Bangkok, always use a meter.
Where to stay in Bangkok, Thailand:
Accommodation rates in Thailand are on the more reasonable side whichever city you travel to, even in Bangkok!
While in Bangkok, I chose to stay at Well Hotel Bangkok. Opened in 2016, Well Hotel is a boutique property centrally located in Sukhumvit at a price you are sure to love! The rooms are a little on the smaller size, but they are comfortable; offering plush furnishings which left me feeling like I could be in a stylish New York City apartment.
The hotel’s focus is wellness. The on-site restaurant offers delicious and healthy takes on classic Thai dishes. When I stayed, they were trialling new fitness programs in the gym, including Muay Thai classes! Whether you enjoy working up a sweat or not, the rooftop pool is a must try for every guest.
Best of all, the cost of staying at Well Hotel is very reasonable for the location. Check the best rates here.
On my return trip to the city, I chose to stay at the Hilton Sukhumvit Bangkok. Large, modern and spacious: you know what you’re going to get at a Hilton property and this one is no different. The property is in a great location in downtown Bangkok. I was able to easily get to the BTS station (Phrom Pong) to get around the city or pop down the road for a Thai massage and something to eat. If you are a party person, the Hilton Sukhumvit Bangkok isn’t far from some of great bars!
You can find the best rates here for the Hilton Sukhumvit here.
Still not sure if this is the perfect hotel for you? Click here to find a list of my favourite boutique hotels in Bangkok.