Bangkok City Guide
For many visitors, arriving in Bangkok is their first introduction to South-East Asia – and what an introduction it is. This is a place where tradition and modernity meet and collide in a frenzy of sounds, smells, tastes and sights. Most will find it mesmerising, some will find it too much but all will find their trip to the Thai capital utterly unforgettable.
Things to see and do in Bangkok
Bangkok is positively overflowing with traditional temples, palaces and museums, all of which are balanced to perfection with gleaming skyscrapers, well-stocked shopping malls and billboards advertising the latest luxury goods.
Take a ride on the Sky Train to get your bearings and discover the city from above. Combined with the fast, modern metro system, this makes getting around the city both quick and easy, enabling visitors to experience the many facets of this colourful capital no matter how short their stay. Don’t miss the Wat Pra Kaew and Grand Palace Complex, perched on the Ko Ratanakosin island by the Chao Praya River. You will need to cover up to enter the Temple of the Emerald Buddha but it is well worth the entry to admire the sacred statue within and the delicate murals that set off the temple walls. There are temples seemingly at every turn in Bangkok, and simply wandering through the winding streets of this cosmopolitan capital and admiring these important traditional monuments is a delight.
Take a trip through Chinatown, which was founded more than two hundred years ago, with its criss-cross collection of narrow pathways flanked by market stalls and street food vendors selling all manner of exotic treats. Don’t miss the 10-ft high Buddha made of solid gold which presides over the area.
To delve into Thailand’s rich history, head to the Bangkok National Museum. Housing the largest collection of art and artefacts in the country, here you will take a walk through Thailand’s exotic past, via textiles, ceramics, Buddha images, weapons and even traditional musical instruments. Check in advance for up-to-date timings of English-language guided tours to get the best out of your trip.
To avoid the crowds, why not discover Bangkok by night when the streets are emptier? Sign up for a bike tour and enjoy the benefits of a personal guide, bike hire and having some of the city’s major highlights to yourself. Booking is essential so do your research and sign up early.
Parks and leisure spaces in Bangkok
Dusit Palace Park is one of the most popular cultural and leisure destinations in Bangkok. This expansive area is home to the Vimanmek Teak Mansion, the world’s largest teak building, as well as a whole series of other palaces and museums providing a window into the Thailand of the past.
To escape the hustle and bustle, why not take a trip out of the city and enjoy the delights of the Chao Praya River. This is a great way to admire the sights and sounds of the city from the vantage point of the water, as well as providing the perfect vehicle in which to relax and unwind.
Head to Ko Kret, the manmade ‘island in the sun’ for an alternative escape from the city. This is the home of the famous Mon potters, the specialist pottery masters whose many workshops are dotted around the pedestrianised strip of greenery, making for a fascinating afternoon of exploration and relaxation.
Shopping in Bangkok
Bangkok has numerous shopping districts, all of which deserve some exploration depending on how long you are in the city. For high-tech gadgets, designer accessories and low-cost branded clothing, start in the downtown area around Chitlom, Siam Square and Pratunam.
The night market at Patpong is great if you’re after ‘designer’ names without the ‘real’ designer price tag and makes for a fun way to while away an evening, while the backpacker quarter around Banglamphoo is great for contemporary clothing and accessories. For a sun-lit market experience, head to the Chatuchak weekend market, one of the largest outdoor markets in the world – so large that its 15,000 stalls are served by their very own electric train. For the most authentic experience, head to the Wang Lang market, where the lack of tourists mean that prices remain strictly local.
For IT equipment, try Panthip Plaza, the country’s largest high-tech shopping mall, with its motley mix of up-to-the-minute gadgetry and rather-long-past-their-sell-by-date devices.
Eating and drinking in Bangkok
With Thai food amongst the most popular cuisine in the world, you certainly won’t go hungry in Bangkok. The city offers a jaw-dropping 50,000 eateries, with many offering tasty local food while others serve up award-winning international delicacies.
For top-end treats, head to the Sukhumvit area where you will find restaurants from the medium-to-high price range rivalling some of the best in the world. One of the most exciting ways to eat in Bangkok, however, is by sampling the delicious street food. Try an authentic pad thai or khao pad dish at a fraction of the price of your local Thai restaurant – and no doubt ten times tastier too.
As you would expect of a bustling capital city, Bangkok nightlife offers something for everyone, from cosy wine bars to cosmopolitan cocktail bars, from intimate jazz clubs to pumping rave clubs and a fair few go-go clubs scattered in between. Remember though that the city offers a relatively strict curfew, with most of its nightlife venues required to close at or before 1am – so unlike many European destinations where you can plan on partying through the night, expect to head out early and be back in your bed long before dawn unless you are attending a private gathering.
When to visit Bangkok
The monsoon season is ushered in during late June and tends to last until early November. While one should be prepared for rain, the lower temperatures can be pleasant for those who are not fans of the searing heat and of course, crowds at this time of year are smaller. As the rains abate, the cooler weather continues until February before the temperatures rise and high season is in full swing. This time of year may be too hot for some, but it does offer the added benefit of being able to head out of the capital and on to one of the famous islands for rest and relaxation on the beach. Bangkok plays host to a number of festivals including the Songkran Festival, or Thai New Year, in April, when locals and visitors take to the streets to soak each other in water. Chinese New Year, in January or February, is another popular time to visit, as is the Festival of Lights, or Loi Krathong, in November.
There is a huge range of accommodation available in Bangkok, from world-class names offering five-star luxury to the hostels of the backpacker district on the Khao San Road. For a good selection of three, four and five-star establishments, Siam Square, Silom and Sukhumvit are all popular options.