Bangkok Travel Guide
Krung Thep, as Bangkok is known in Thai, is giant. About 8-10 million people live there. As the only truly large city in Thailand, it attracts people from all corners of the country. It is a city that does not leave you indifferent. For better or for worse.
As I said in the article about Khao San Road, the first impression I had of Bangkok was of that street and at night. When you get to know it, you will see that it is not a very good first impression. The city seemed crazy to me. Fortunately I soon discovered that Bangkok is much more than that backpacker ghetto and much more than any label you can put on it. And that’s what makes Bangkok so special. There are many Bangkoks.
For those of you who only have a few days, in this article I give you some ideas of things to do in the capital of Thailand.
- Top Ten things to see and do in Bangkok
- Extra) Massages
- Getting Around Bangkok
- Weather in Bangkok
- How to get to Bangkok
- Hotels in Bangkok
Top Ten things to see and do in Bangkok
1) Touring the temples
Built in 1782, the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew Temple (THB 500 entrance) was the king’s home for 150 years. The architecture, colors and sculptures of the palace and temple are incredible. The temple houses the most important image of Buddha in the country: The Emerald Buddha. A figure made of a single piece of jade that was discovered in the 15th century.
After seeing the palace I suggest you continue with two temples nearby: The Wat Pho (100 THB the entrance), next to the Grand Palace, contains the famous 46 meter reclining Buddha that you will surely have seen in several pictures. And finally, the Wat Arun (50 THB), located on the other side of the river, with its original stupa covered with Chinese porcelain. It can be seen without crossing the river.
It used to be worth visiting because you could go upstairs and enjoy a beautiful view of Bangkok, but since its renovation it is no longer allowed.
2) Getting lost in the markets
Bangkok is markets. There are plenty of them. One of the most famous and largest in the world is the one held every weekend: the Chatuchak Market. You can reach it by Skytrain (MO CHIT stop) or by subway (CHATUCHAK stop). The market is right there, next to the station, they open early (8h) and close in the afternoon (18h). It is a huge market with countless stops selling everything from clothes to animals. Bargaining is advisable. When this market closes, right next door they open another night market: the Chatuchak Green Market (JJ Green).
During the week you can visit the night market of The New Rot Fai Market Ratchada. It opens at 5 pm.
3) Walking in a park
The biggest park in Bangkok is Lumphini Park. Its name comes from the Nepalese village of Lumpini, where Siddhartha Gautama, the Hindu prince who achieved spiritual enlightenment and became a Buddha, is believed to have been born.
You can reach the park by Skytrain (SALA DENG stop) or by Metro (SILOM stop). It is good to disconnect from the chaos of the city. I recommend to go a little before 6 pm and you will be able to live the experience of listening to the hymn of the country while everybody stops as a sign of respect – the hymn sounds every morning at 8 am and every evening at 6 pm in all the parks, radios and televisions. Also from this time on, large groups of people gather to dance, do fitness, run (it seems like there is a marathon!), practice yoga and tai chi, make machines in the outdoor gyms of the park, etc. In short, it’s a long time coming.
Other interesting parks are Benchasiri Park and Benjakitti Park. The latter is linked to Lumphini Park by a half abandoned skywalk creating one of the best running routes in Bangkok. More info here.
By the way, I took the picture of the park from the Rooftop Bar of SO Sofitel hotel.
4) Dinner in Chinatown
Chinatown is a neighborhood that changes a lot day and night. By day they open the huge Sampeng market, where they sell everything in bulk. At night – except on Mondays – its streets are taken over by street restaurants that prepare some of the city’s best dishes. The stops and restaurants are interspersed with a wide range of Thai and Chinese food, as well as fruit and, curiously enough, chestnuts.
The main street in Chinatown is Yaowarad Road. If you go during the day, don’t forget to visit the famous Wat Traimit (Golden Buddha). If you go by public transport, you will get off at the metro stop HUA LAMPHONG (not Skytrain). I dedicated a whole article to Chinatown.
5) Hallucinating with the Malls
Thai people love shopping malls. When they have free time they go for a walk in them. They are giant and have air conditioning. The most famous ones are: The Central World, the MBK and the Siam Paragon. All of them are in the Siam area. In that area there are 6 or 7 connected by the skywalk, an elevated platform above the street but below the skytrain, which allows you to walk for hours from one to another without stepping on the street.
The Siam Paragon is the most luxurious. The MBK is the favorite among tourists because it sells souvenirs. While the Central World is the largest.
To go there you simply have to take the Skytrain and get off at National Stadium (MBK), Siam (Siam Paragon) or Chitlom (Central World). They are worth seeing. Alfinal is where you will see more middle class Thais in their daily life and not in the temples.
If you have time and you speak English, I recommend you to go to the movies, either in a shopping mall or in the great Scala, a cinema from the 50’s in the Siam area. The films are in original version and subtitled in Thai if they are foreign films and in English if they are Thai films. It is cheap, modern and you will see the King’s announcement before the movie, during which everyone must get up.
6) Relaxing on a river walk
At the different stops on the river you can take one of the boat taxis (20 Bats or less) and go to some other part of the city. For example, it can be useful to go or leave the temple area or Khao San Road. The boat links the old part of the city, where the temples are, with Chinatown, Sathorn and Saphan Taksin Bridge where you can take the Skytrain BTS. With the train you can tour the modern part of the city. Besides being a useful and cheap transport, the boat ride is an experience in itself. I suggest you to take it early in the morning or during the sunset, otherwise it is very hot. If your budget is high, you can always book one of the cruises that offer romantic dinners in the evening while cruising the river. More info here.
7) Have a drink at Khao San Road
Khao San Road and its surroundings (Rambuttri Road and Pra Athit Road) are the tourist ghetto of Bangkok. It is a couple of streets full of hostels (generally cheap), bars, restaurants, massage stands, tattoo shops, clothing shops, book shops… Anything! Even insects. Probably the biggest backpacker’s neighbourhood in Asia, or at least the most trite one.
Despite the great disadvantage of the place being virtually without decent public transport, almost all backpackers end up here as it’s where most of the cheap accommodation is and from where many backpacker buses leave for the destinations they frequent most: Koh Tao, Chiang Mai, Kanchanaburi, etc. Even if you don’t stay here, it’s worth coming here for a night in a taxi to take a look and have a beer in the bars. If you want to eat, better not be in Khao San Road.
How many Thai people have you seen eating here? Well, that’s…
8) Watch a Muay Thai match
Muay Thai is Thailand’s national sport, although it is not the most popular. As in much of the world, football is the king of sports. Muay Thai is a martial art, a contact sport, like boxing or karate. That’s it. Those who practice it professionally in Thailand are often young people from poor areas who see it as a possible way to make a good living.
In Bangkok there are two stadiums where you can see the best Muay Thai. One is at Lumphini Stadium, which is on the outskirts of Bangkok, and the other is Ratchadamnoen Stadium, near Kkao San Road. Tickets for tourists usually cost THB 2000 (on the ring side). As I explained some time ago, on Sundays you have the opportunity to see Muay Thai for free.
9) Partying in Bangkok
There’s a lot of partying going on in the city. Any day of the week you can find places with atmosphere to have a few drinks. There are bars, pubs and clubs or discos. From places full of foreigners, to others with hardly any. In Khao San Road you will find many places to go out like: The Club, Lava Club or, the most Thai, Brick Bar.
If you want a less touristy atmosphere, then you can go to the Thong Lor area. This is where the children of the middle and upper class Thai people go out. Many of them park their dad’s luxury car in front of the disco.
One place where foreigners who live in Bangkok usually go is RCA. There are several clubs where both Thais and foreigners, mostly residents, meet. The most popular is Route 66.
In Sukhumvit Soi Street 11 you will also find places for expats, like the famous Levels. Finally, in the area of Sathorn you have the Cé La vi or the original Maggie Choo’s, where expats and Thais of 30-40 years old usually go up.
10) Prying in the red areas
In Thailand there is sex tourism. I would say that it is a minority of the huge amount of tourists that come, but, still, there are many. Just like in Amsterdam, some tourists go snooping around in the red light district. The Soi Cowboy is a small street full of locals with gogos – girls who smoke – and lots of brightly coloured signs. Some girls are outside the premises trying to convince those passers-by who do not dare to enter.
Inside, the girls or transsexuals, depending on where you go, dance with less desire than those who try to convince people to enter. This street is exclusively for foreign tourists, Thai people don’t go there. Thai people who are fond of this kind of place prefer them to be more discreet. You can get off at the Skytrain stop (ASOK) and the metro stop (SUKHUMVIT).
The Patpong Night Market is above all a counterfeit market. It is open every night from 18-19h and until late and sells all kinds of imitations such as Rolex, football shirts, Louis Vuitton bags, etc. Bargaining is essential. For example, football shirts are sold for about THB 300. On both sides of the street there are bars like the Soi Cowboy. In some of them they offer ping pong show among other pitiful shows. Street hustlers can be very annoying to insist that you go to one of these shows but if you just ignore them, they won’t insist. It is a place, in general, safe and for tourists; although at first glance it may not seem so.
The girls who work in these bars are not obliged. They check in when they enter, although it’s a delicate subject and not simple at all. If you want an informed opinion, read this article by Luis Garrido.
Getting a massage is almost a must in Thailand. Thai massages are famous around the world. In Bangkok I recommend any Health Land franchise. There are several types of massage. The most typical is the Thai Massage, in which you are massaged all over your body, from head to toe and with strength.
Then there is the Foot Massage, only for feet and ideal after a day of sightseeing. Finally, the Oil Massage, is softer although depending on where you go -especially if it is full of girls at the entrance who call you every time you pass by-, you may want to end up massaging something else. You know what I mean…
Getting Around Bangkok
Moving around Bangkok is an experience in itself. Traffic makes the city super chaotic. Early in the morning (from 7am to 9am) and in the evening (from 5pm to 7pm), take the taxis well in advance and be very patient if you want to get to your destination. The traffic is incredible. Therefore, if you can, it is better to take the Skytrain or Metro and, consequently, we recommend you to stay close to them.
The Skytrain is like an elevated subway. There are three lines (although one is almost meant to go to the airport) and it is the best transport system in the city. It’s like a subway but with the advantage that you have good views all the time. The only subway line in the city is not usually so used by travelers that it passes by few sights.
The Tuk tuk is a kind of three-wheeled motorcar, which can carry up to 5 or more people in a very tight space. Like the Rickshaws in India but big. They are fun. Although expensive. They are used to scamming abroad and many take them to travel agencies or shops. Taxis, with a meter, will be much better for you (they start at 35 THB and rarely go over 120 THB on a local trip).
Whatever you take, you will need one thing: Patience.
IMPORTANT: Pay no attention to those who stop you in the street and, carrying their map or using yours, try to help you. They will tell you that the Grand Palace – or wherever you are going – is closed for a Buddhist holiday and that you better go somewhere else. You will end up riding in a tuk tuk of a colleague of his and visiting shops and travel agencies. They are experts and they seem to be very good people, watch out with them, they just want to rip you off.
In order of importance, I describe the transports from Bangkok:
► The Skytrain (or BTS): The Bangkok elevated train. The best way to move around the city, especially in the morning and afternoon, during rush hour. It is very useful to explore the most modern, commercial and residential areas of the city such as Sathorn/Sala Daeng and Siam/Sukhumvit. The drawback is that it does not reach the Palace and temple area at the moment.
► The Metro (or MRT): It links the entrance of Chinatown (Hua Lamphong train station) with the Sathorn/Saladeng and Asok/Sukhumvit area as well as the Jatujak weekend market. Like the BTS, it does not reach the temples.
► The River Bus Boat: A boat that from early morning until about 19h, runs along the Chaophraya River in Bangkok linking the Saphan Thaksin Skytrain station with the temple and backpacker area. It is very cheap and an experience in itself.
► Taxis: Increasingly problematic for refusing passengers if they don’t like the destination or refuse to set the meter. If you can get a metered ride, you will pay very little as they start at 35 THB and rarely go over 100 THB. They are safe, but you should usually ask two or three before you decide to take them. The Grab Taxi application is recommended.
► Tuk Tuks: The quintessential Bangkok motorized tricycle. A waste of time if you are a tourist. You’ll get ripped off for sure. They don’t have a meter so they put in the price they want. Besides, they always manage to take you to suit shops, ‘travel agencies’ (basically agencies set up to swindle you and not to offer a service as they should) and other businesses with which they are in league to cheat you. It’s okay to take one for a short trip and to have your picture taken, but not much else. Don’t pay more than 100 THB, you’ll already be paying too much.
► Moto Taxis: The fastest way to get around town. They are bikers with orange vests who act as taxis. You will see them at the Skytrain and MRT stations and almost at every corner of the city. The price is negotiable. Don’t ride if you don’t have a good travel insurance, they’ll be out of pocket.
Weather in Bangkok
The climate in Bangkok can be summarized in two seasons: hot and very hot. In late December and early January, the heat usually subsides for a couple of weeks. It also coincides with the highest tourist season. From May to October is the rainy season, but it is not the end of the world either. It usually rains 3 or 4 days a week and in the evening night. It rarely rains in the morning so you can continue visiting and enjoying the city.
How to get to Bangkok
Everyone knows how to get to Bangkok! Bangkok has 2 airports: Suvarnabhumi International Airport (BKK) where 55 million people arrived in 2017 (many in transit) and where you are likely to arrive if you are flying from Europe or Latin America. Then there is the Don Mueang Airport (DMK), which also has international flights, but basically in Asia.
Hotels in Bangkok
Bangkok has hundreds of hotels and hostels. I recommend to stay in the Silom/Sathorn area because it is close to the Skytrain and it is a neighborhood with good sidewalks where it is comfortable to walk. There are many restaurants, markets and the Lumphini Park. In this neighborhood you have many hotels, like:
Hostels: Lub D Silom and Plubpla Hostel
3* hotels: Red Planet and I Residence Silom
Hotels 3-4: Tawana Hotel and Narai 4 Hotels: Mode Sathorn and Pull Man G
5* hotels: Eastin Grand Sathorn, Dusit Thani and Le Meridien
Read more about Bangkok:
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Chiang Mai Travel Guide
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Krabi Travel Guide
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