Undoubtedly the travelling hub of Southeast Asia, if not the entirety of Asia, Bangkok is an enticing fusion of culture and chaos. As soon as you step onto the central streets of Thailand’s capital, all of your senses become simultaneously barraged by the manic whirr of the city’s streets. The delicious odours from countless street food vendors, constant buzz of busy traffic and colourful oriental decorations let travellers know that they have arrived in a region of the planet that is totally different from the western world. Bangkok is dotted with splendorous sites like the Grand Palace and the reclining Buddha of Wat Pho that act as a striking reminder of this great nation’s colourful history and the tranquility of the Buddhist culture adhered to by most of its citizens. The perfect place to start an adventure of a lifetime.
Bangkok’s Best Spots
A renowned focal point of any trip to Asia, Bangkok is potentially the continent’s most tourist friendly location. It is a wide spanning metropolis bursting with character that effortlessly blends a wonderful concoction of historical and modern cultural influences. The city’s energetic hum of activity is apparent in each and every one of its streets, swiftly making it apparent to visitors why Bangkok has been such a popular traveller hotspot for decades. Here are some of the best neighbourhoods to lose yourself in.
Khao San Road and the surrounding area
If Bangkok is the travellers’ hub of Asia then Khao San Road is undoubtedly the travellers’ hub of Bangkok. This notorious street is a place that massively splits opinion amongst those who stroll through it during its most hectic peak times. During the day, Khao San Road and its surrounding side streets are alive with people sampling street food delights and browsing through souvenir-filled markets. At night time, the buzz surrounding the area intensifies as it becomes illuminated by fluorescent shop fronts and revellers start to sample the local beers that Thailand has to offer.
Some of the capital’s best affordable accommodation options are found in the Khao San Road area and it is all within walking distance of some of the city’s greatest sights. Whilst we by no means recommend spending too much of your time in Bangkok in this area, it is good fun to sit back with an ice cold beer and let yourself be absorbed by the jubilant rush that seems to ooze from the characters that converge on its busy streets.
For those searching for a more laid back equivalent to Khao San Road, simply head to neighbouring Soi Rambuttri. This tree-lined alley focuses more on streetside spas and friendly restaurants than it does garish bars and western chains, but retains much of the character of its noisy neighbour.
It is probably justified to label the areas bordering the banks of the Chao Phraya River as Bangkok’s most culturally significant, given that it is home to a number of vibrant historical sites, including:
The Grand Palace
This opulent complex of temples and shrines was once the home of Thailand’s royal family. Boasting intricate architectural designs laden in vibrant colours, the complex includes an incredibly detailed wall mural depicting the Ramakien (Thailand’s epic story of the victory of good over evil) and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha – arguably Thailand’s most significant artefact.
A Buddhist temple lying directly south of the Grand Palace, Wat Pho is a peaceful temple complex containing numerous impressive stupas and statues but is most notable for the 46 metre long reclining golden Buddha. The statue is regarded as one of Thailand’s most revered sites – an accolade which can truly be appreciated when first gazing upon the statue’s immensity. Perhaps the most spectacular feature are the soles of the Buddha’s feet, which are inlaid with mother of pearl depicting a number of Buddhist images.
Considered amongst the most notable of Bangkok’s countless temples, Wat Arun’s towering stupas lie on the river’s western bank. The first light of day reflects off the temple’s pearl-white exterior in a brilliant blaze, ensuring the structure’s worthiness to carry its title, which translates as the “Temple of Dawn”.
As evening draws in over the banks of the Chao Phraya River and the warm glow of the setting sun reflects off the golden rooftops and stupas, the capital’s temples are perhaps at their most beautiful. The river’s banks also contain some of Bangkok’s more deluxe accommodation options, many with panoramic rooftops or luxury balconies overlooking the water with its sprawling cityscape backdrop.
Travel from stop to stop by riverboat, soaking up the Bangkok scenery from a different angle whilst moving at an easy pace. Getting out onto the river during sunset or sunrise also offers a special moment of tranquility in an otherwise hectic city.
Formerly the focus area of trade between Thailand and China, mass immigration has lead to Bangkok’s Chinatown becoming the largest in the world. Centred around the weaving Yaowarat Road, which is said to have been designed to resemble the luck-bringing figure of a dragon, the area is a system of narrow side streets brimming with energetic and eclectic market stalls selling obscure trinkets, Chinese medicine and delectable dishes of all description. The markets are at their most manic on Sampeng Lane, where shoppers can literally touch stalls on both sides of the lane at once, such is its narrowness. Travellers seeking a genuine taste of Chinese cuisine should aim to arrive in the evening and prepare to be utterly spoiled for choice.
Other than the markets, Chinatown is home to Wat Traimit – or Temple of the Golden Buddha – inside which can be found what is believed to be the world’s largest solid gold statue. Measuring an impressive three metres tall, the statue is quite a sight to behold.
Chinatown is considered the place to go for seafood lovers visiting Thailand’s capital. Always fresh thanks to Bangkok’s close proximity to the coastline, street food fanatics won’t know where to start, with the countless stalls and restaurants that burst into life every evening serving everything from crabmeat soup to shellfish omelettes.
Sukhumvit & Thonglor
Sukhumvit is one of Bangkok’s more cosmopolitan areas, rife with upmarket bars and restaurants nestled amongst the gargantuan array of shopping options offered by its glamorous malls. Granted, the shopping options still harness the eccentric character associated with more traditional Thai stores, despite their modern facades. One of the more notable examples being Terminal 21 – a mall complex that keeps shoppers entertained through its globetrotting theme. Visitors can buy clothes in London and Paris themed sections before heading to the San Franciscan food hall, complete with a giant overarching model of the Golden Gate Bridge. A very surreal experience.
Those seeking something less glitzy and more artsy should shift towards the streets of neighbouring Thonglor. Distinctly more bohemian than Sukhumvit, Thonglor is the place to go if you’re looking to sample Bangkok’s edgier cafes, alternative bar scene or trendy yoga studios.
Whilst these two neighbourhoods are slightly outside the city centre, Sukhumvit and Thonglor are very close to each other, so if you aren’t staying in the area but wish to visit both it is easy to do so in a single day trip.
Unlike the districts mentioned above, Ari is a relatively tourist-free zone. Popular amongst Bangkok’s more affluent citizens, Ari fits the mould of any typical up-and-coming neighbourhood but manages to retain the authenticity that travellers crave when visiting a city like Bangkok.
Located north of the bustling city centre, Ari offers a quiet escape for travellers seeking refuge from the chaos of tourist-saturated streets like Khao San Road. The area has both local and international food options in abundance as well as a number of quirky cafes, contemporary galleries and boutique shops that are sure to keep even the most avant-garde travellers busy.
If you’re looking for the antithesis to Bangkok’s manic malls, look no further than Aree Garden. Consisting of a small scale collection of local shops and eateries, this miniature inner-city oasis is centred around a peaceful green garden that inspires the much needed tranquility after time spent in Bangkok’s hectic city centre.
A nod to the recent developments of Bangkok, Siam is the place to go if you are seeking a shopping experience or perhaps a taste of the familiar when homesick. The area is centred around a number of large shopping malls ‐ including Siam Square and Siam Paragon ‐ that buzzes with the same infectiously garish energy that one may find in a Vegas casino. The 10 floors of the shopping centre cater for all needs, from an international food court to a children’s play area to upmarket shopping options.
Situated conveniently close to a BTS stop, the area is very easily accessed and offers something different from the rest of Bangkok. Small roadside stalls are replaced with international store fronts and dusty roads with squeaky-clean lanes but the charismatic spirit of the city remains resolute. Whilst the Siam area may not possess a wealth of cultural history, it does provide an interesting insight into what the future holds for Bangkok.
If you are looking to escape the travelling vibes for a few hours where better to do it than the Paragon Cineplex ‐ a gigantic cinema complex on the top floor of Siam’s shopping centre. The over the top theatre even provides the opportunity to watch films in 4D, complete with headrest speakers, moving seats and atmospheric sprays of water.
Food & Drink in Bangkok
Undoubtedly amongst the most popular cuisines on the planet, Thai food doesn’t come tastier or more varied than that found in the country’s capital city. Bangkok is home to a melting pot of food and drink from all over Thailand as well as the rest of the world, from humble street vendors to gourmet restaurants. For the most authentic taste of this Southeast Asian culinary powerhouse, head to those sizzling up their specialities on the sides of the road, filling alleyways and backstreets with the alluring scents of the spicy, fragrant, wholesome favourites that have made Thailand’s food scene world famous.
Here are some of the local dishes that you must try when in Bangkok:
The staple traveller diet in Thailand. Anywhere that sells food in Bangkok is sure to serve some form of this noodle dish mixed with egg, beansprouts, peanuts, lime and chili. Pad thai can be served with anything from chicken to prawns to tofu or any combo of the three.
Papaya salad (Som Tum)
Fast becoming widely available in the western world, this salad is never quite the same when it hasn’t been made in Thailand. Fresh, crunchy and usually packing one hell of a kick, papaya salad provides a healthier option to the inevitable daily rice and noodle dishes.
Green curry (Gaeng Keow Wan Kai)
A Thai classic that can be easily found across most of the globe (and rightly so), green curry is more fragrant than it is spicy. Scents of creamy coconut milk, zesty lemongrass and sweet Thai basil permeate from any stall that sells this delicate yet hearty meal.
Fried Basil and Pork (Pad Krapow Moo)
Another traditional dish that typically has quite a kick to it, fried basil and pork consists of minced pork stir fried with basil and a selection of other Thai herbs and spices. Typically served with rice and a fried egg, one mouthful is all it takes to realise how this dish has gained its popularity amongst locals.
Morning Glory (Pak Boong)
Popular amongst veggies and widely available at most Bangkok street food vendors, morning glory – also known as water spinach – is typically stir fried with garlic and chilli to create a scrumptious vegetarian dish with a satisfying crunch. Perfect for those desiring a meat-free alternative to the classics.
Thai sausage (Sai oua)
Originating in northern Thailand but widely available from grilled meat carts throughout Bangkok, Thai sausage manages to combine aromatic Thai spicing with the homely taste of a sausage. Ideal as an on-the-go snack, it offers an interesting alternative to typical Thai food.
Mango with sticky rice
A combination that on the face of it may seem strange, mango with sticky rice fuses these two tropical flavours perfectly. Typically served with a sweet coconut sauce drizzled over the top, it is the perfect dessert with which to treat yourself after a plate of one of the classics above.
Anyone wandering through central Bangkok’s busy streets is sure to cross paths with carts packed full of all manner of tropical fruits, from mango to dragonfruit to pineapple. Simply say which fruit (or combination of fruits) you’d like to have juiced and the vendor will make the drink right in front of your eyes. The ideal remedy for countering the midday Thai heat.
Given the sweltering conditions when wandering about the urban sprawl of Bangkok, it is no surprise that most travellers partake in drinking a few ice cold beers as the evening draws in. Chang, Singha and Leo are the three favourites and both are available at just about any and every bar across Bangkok.
Getting around Bangkok
Public transport in Bangkok can be broken down into three groups: the BTS (or Skytrain), the MRT and the local bus system. Essentially the only real difference between the BTS and the MRT is that the former is entirely above ground whilst the latter primarily operates underground. It is relatively self explanatory if you have a map and a general knowledge of where you’re headed, as the rail systems aren’t exactly extensive. The bus system is more difficult to navigate, unless you are fortunate enough to speak Thai. We advise that if you are set on using the local bus system that you plan your route out effectively beforehand.
Alternatively, taxis are typically readily available throughout Bangkok (although your journey may take a while depending on traffic). Be sure to use licensed taxis in the interest of personal safety. A fun alternative to taxis comes in the form of tuk tuks – motorised rickshaws that whizz in and out of traffic in manic maneuvers that can prove equally thrilling and terrifying.
Alternative things to do in and around Bangkok
Given the traveller-catered atmosphere and crazy spirit of Bangkok, it is not difficult for visitors to find wacky alternative adventures to get stuck into. Cultural treasures and modern madness lie in wait around every corner in Thailand’s capital, so you are sure to find an activity to float your boat regardless of the mood that you’re in.
Visiting the floating markets
Located just outside of Bangkok are a variety of floating markets, the closest being Taling Chan to the west of Bangkok’s city centre. Thailand’s floating markets are a fascinating way to experience local’s charmingly peculiar way of life. A tradition that is drenched in cultural significance, the floating markets still possess the endearing carnage associated with all other Thai markets, but conversely there is also something soothing about the gracefully slow pace with which the shifting vendors glide through the market’s gently rippling waters. The markets vary from ultra-traditional to heavily tourist-oriented, so make sure to research before you pick which one you would like to visit based on your own personal tastes. If you are willing to travel a little further afield, Damnoen Saduak is the most popular floating market in the area and can be reached via a half day trip from Bangkok.
Those that would rather visit a market with their feet firmly on solid ground should visit the weekend Chatuchak Market. Whereas most Thai markets are a buzzing nest of life and activity, none can truly hold a candle to this colossal thoroughfare that holds the title of the world’s largest weekend market. With everything from food to plants and furniture to pets are sold from the 8,000 stalls that make up this enormous shopping extravaganza.
Having a traditional Thai massage
As one would expect from the capital of a nation renowned for its massage treatments, there is no shortage of places in Bangkok where you can receive a little massage therapy. It is worth noting that a Thai massage is more vigorous than many expect, as your body is contorted into positions you probably considered impossible. Despite the somewhat painful procedure, a Thai massage is the perfect remedy for healing your aching muscles after weeks on the road (or simply a busy day in Bangkok), with the physical and mental benefits becoming evident fairly soon after the session has finished. Note that parlours vary from upmarket to traditional to downright dubious, so be sure to choose wisely.
For an authentic massage option head to the temple complex at Wat Pho, where Thailand’s first university of Thai medicine is located, meaning you’ll receive a massage from someone who really knows the ins and outs of what they’re doing. Those who are truly interested in the art of Thai massage and wish to head home with a new skill set can even enrol in massage courses at the university.
Watching a muay thai fight
Thailand’s traditional combat sport became increasingly well renowned in the western world during the late 20th century with the rise in popularity of kickboxing; however nothing matches the spectacle of a traditional Muay Thai fight in the capital of the nation where the sport was born. Donning traditional headbands, fighters brutally beat their opponents with fists, elbows, knees and shins in an effort to be named champion by the conclusion of the 5th three minute round.
There are many fight locations throughout Bangkok, with Rajadamnern Stadium and Lumpinee Stadium arguably the two most significant. Fight nights tend to include multiple bouts, so make sure that you arrive early in order to get your money’s worth.
Relaxing in Lumpini Park or Bang Krachao
Sometimes after spending time in a city that is constantly on the go, you crave a little downtime to escape the mayhem and recharge the batteries – luckily Bangkok has two pockets of lush greenery that provide just such a sanctuary. Found to the east of the historic centre, Lumpini Park is a peaceful haven of cooling tree cover and calming bodies of water that provide the perfect respite from Bangkok’s maddening traffic. Fitness fanatics can use the park’s outdoor gym or join a public tai chi session. Be wary that you don’t anger the parks reptilian residents – hundreds of monitor lizards roam free within the park’s grounds!
A lesser known nature escape within Bangkok’s sprawling cityscape is the island of Bang Krachao – a mini jungle oasis located within the city limits. The thick canopy of trees here would have anyone believe that they had been transported to the wilderness of one of Thailand’s national parks, rather than mere kilometres from the centre of the capital. A system of jungle paths and walkways make Bang Krachao a very popular site to visit via bicycle and it is an excellent way to spend the day, whether you’re looking to escape the city or not.
Tasting weird and wacky nibbles
Like a lot of Asian countries, Thailand’s less renowned dishes include some interesting ingredients – whether it’s snacking on fried insects or cooking with mysterious animal appendages. Any night time wander down Khao San Road is sure to attract the attention of traders selling fried scorpions or tarantulas on a skewer – and these can be amongst the more mundane snacks on offer!
More experimental eaters could opt to search the city for baak bpet (fried duck beak), kai mot daeng (red ant eggs) or goong ten (live shrimp). One obscure food that travellers are sure to encounter is durian, which gains its obscure status from the pungent scent that it emits. The smell is so strong that the fruit is often banned in public spaces (keep your eyes peeled for the “no durian” signs).
We believe that food is one of the best ways to experience a country, so why not explore the weirder side of Thailand by sampling some of its stranger dishes?
Drenching strangers during Songkran
Come to Bangkok between 13th and 15th April to experience one of the greatest festivals on the planet – Songkran. A celebration of the Thai new year, Songkran sees the streets of Thailand become filled with hoards of water gun wielding festival goers looking to soak each and every passerby that they can.
Whilst it may seem a strange way to celebrate the new year, the water dousing element of the festival is a metaphorical representation of one being cleansed of the bad luck from the year that has just passed. The festival is a marvellous event that seems to draw pure jubilance from anyone who gets involved, regardless of age, nationality or social standing.