Bangkok is known around the world for its chaotic, crowded streets, cheap prices, wild nightlife, and never ending traffic. Most travelers either love or hate it. I used to hate it because of its pollution, noise, and crowds, but when I got to know it more, I changed my mind. The city is like an onion. It slowly reveals its secrets to those who spend a little extra time here. You’ll find that this seemingly ugly city has a lot of beauty. There’s not a lot for travelers “to do” here, but when you stay a little while, you see this isn’t a city of activities – it’s one of friends, food, drinks, and life. There’s a flow to it. I lived here in 2006, fell madly in love, and I’ve visited every year since! Let this travel guide show you there’s more to Thailand’s “City of Angels” than you think!
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Bangkok
1. Visit the Grand Palace and Wat Po
2. Visit the Chatuchak Weekend Market
3. Explore Lumpini Park
4. See Jim Thompson’s House
5. Take in the view from Wat Arun
Other Things to See and Do
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1. The Royal Elephant Museum
Elephants have long played a significant role in the lives of the Thai people. The museum is located within the parliament compound and is a visual testament to the value of the largest land animal and to the beliefs surrounding its participation in religious ceremonies. The museum is open to the public every day from 9:30am to 4pm and is free with a ticket to the Grand Palace (or 100 THB when purchased separately).
2. Visit the Floating Market
The floating market is just outside of Bangkok, and while mostly for tourists, I like visiting. The tours that come here are about half a day and leave early in the morning. It’s not a great place to shop but the area is good for photography and eating, two things I love a lot.
3. Temple hop
Bangkok is full of history, temples, and Thai ruins. There are about 10 main temples in the city, and you can easily just hire a guy to take you to all of them in one day. They all have different architectural structures and layouts. It will take about five hours to see them all. If you don’t have that much time, aside from the Grand Palace and Wat Po, make sure you check out Wat Arun, The Temple of the Dawn.
4. Shop ’til you drop
Bangkok has so many malls that in the center alone, I can count 12 in a four-block radius. Bangkok has everything you could ever need and at great prices. Make sure you check out Siam Paragon (for designer clothes), Terminal 21 (to see the stunning internationally-themed decor), Platinum (for cheap, trendy clothes), Pantip (for cheap electronics), and MBK (for cheap knockoffs).
5. Hang out on Khao San Road
Khao San Road is the infamous backpacker/tourist street in Bangkok. All travel roads lead in and out of here. However, it is more than just a transit hub for travelers. Here, you can find nightlife, great food, great shopping stalls, tons of people watching, and activity all day and all night. Here’s a video.
6. Visit the Temple of the Golden Mount
Only about 1km away from Khao San Road, The Temple of the Golden Mount features an enormous chedi (a mound-like structure containing Buddhist relics). This is one of my favorite temples in the city because of its exquisite golden temple, stunning setting, and wonderful views of the city from the top. Entry is free.
7. Take a day trip to Ayutthaya
Close to Bangkok, you’ll find the old capital, which is home to the summer palace, tons of breathtakingly unique temples. In 1991, it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Since it is so close to Bangkok, it’s a very popular day trip destination for tours. Lots of companies offer trips but it’s so easy to get to, I would simply go on your own by train.
8. Catch a performance at Patravadi
This theater which lies on the river was founded by a Thai actress. It is a trendy place that offers a variety of performances: acrobatics, drumming shows, theater, and dance.
9. Enjoy Bangkok’s famous nightlife scene
There are lots of drinking areas with countless street bars (Khao San Road and Silom are the most popular nightlife spots in the city). You’ll never have a problem finding good bars and clubs to go to. Some of my favorite bars are Brick Bar, Smalls, and Whisgars.
10. Eat in Chinatown
First, wander among the lilies, birds of paradise, and orchids at Pak Klong Talad, the flower market at the north end of Chinatown. From there, grab a bite to eat at one of the main enticing food stalls.
11. Watch a Puppet Show
A huge aspect of Thai drama revolves around puppetry. Two types are common – Nang (shadow puppets) and Hun (marionettes). If you’re lucky, you can see a show at an outdoor festival; otherwise, head to the Thai Puppet Theatre.
12. Spend a hip night out in Thong Lo
In this trend-conscious neighborhood, you’ll find the city’s top-end dining and nightlife, including many Western jazz bars and beer gardens. It’s very popular with Bangkok’s young middle and upper classes (the see-and-be-seen crowd).end a trendy night out.
13. Boat down the Bangkok canals
Known as the “Venice of the East”, Bangkok used to be full of waterways and canals. While not as many of those exist as there used to, you can still see many of the old bridges and stilt houses crowding the waterways. You can still cruise along the Chao Phraya River to see some of what remains, usually for only about 100 THB. The Klhongs of Thonburi offers picturesque views of the old wooden houses and colorful pots of flowers.
14. Vimanmek Mansion
Built in the year 1900 by HM King Rama V, this royal palace is also the largest teakwood mansion in the world. It now houses the Thai National Heritage museum, and also boasts beautiful gardens and canals to explore on the estate. It is now full of collections of antiques, old photographs, porcelain, and memorabilia from the King’s reign. Admission is 100 THB.
15. Rot Fai Night Market
Rot Fai Market (or Train Market) is an authentic open-air bazaar selling an array of vintage collectibles and memorabilia, from antique furniture to hippy fashion and Mao kitsch. The Train Night Market is absolutely one of the coolest markets in Bangkok. Open at night on Thursday through Sunday.
16. Head to the Dusit Zoo
Thailand’s first zoo, built over 60 years ago, sits in the middle of Bangkok’s administrative center and is surrounded by important buildings like the Throne Hall, Parliament, and the Chitralada Palace. It is a fully functional park, with an animal hospital, education center, and museum. There is also a sightseeing train that takes you around the zoo to see the more than 1,600 animals there. Keep an eye out for the albino barking deer and the white Bengal tigers. Admission is 100 THB.