The Thai capital of Bangkok is one of the world’s most visited cities, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s a huge, sprawling city, constantly bustling, chaotic and exciting, serving up a frenetic assault on the senses from the moment you arrive. Towering modern skyscrapers can be found just a stone’s throw from ancient Chinese style shop houses, as well as enormous, modern mega-malls, delicious street food and the world’s largest open-air market. Factor in great nightlife, friendly locals and low prices, and you have got a city which many visitors keep coming back to. Here is a list of the absolute must-see attractions and activities for anyone planning a visit to this amazing city.
The Grand Palace
If you haven’t been to the Grand Palace, then you haven’t really been to Bangkok. Bangkok’s most famous attraction is a sprawling compound of exquisitely ornate, gilded temple buildings surrounded by stunningly beautiful manicured gardens, lawns and courtyards. Located right in the heart of Bangkok, the compound is also home to the Temple of The Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew), which is regarded as the most sacred Buddhist temple in all of Thailand, and a must-see during your visit to the city. Centuries-old, the complex is still used by the Thai royal family for various ceremonies and state functions on occasion. Be warned that during the day it can get very busy with tourists so try to arrive early, and ignore anyone who tries to tell you the palace is closed – it won’t be, it’s one of the oldest scams going. Also, be sure to dress modestly, which means knees and shoulders to be covered for ladies, and no tank tops for men, and you must remove your shoes before entering any of the buildings. If you leave itching for more, Wat Pho is only a few minutes walk away and is home to the world’s largest reclining Buddha.
No visit to Bangkok would be complete without a day or two spend traipsing around the various malls and markets, whether you’re looking for souvenirs, clothes or electronics, you can find it here. For rock bottom prices on clothing (think $2 t-shirts and $3 shorts), head to the Platinum mall and Pratunam market which is directly behind it, and don’t be afraid to haggle; the vendors expect it. For a bit of everything, try the famous MBK mall which has clothes, shoes, electronics, computers, plus a huge food court, and an entertainment complex on the top floor including a modern, hi-tech cinema and bowling alley. Siam Paragon is a cut above (with prices to match) but is an amazing experience, and Terminal 21 on Sukhumvit road has themed floors and a fabulous food court (which gets packed with locals daily). If you have time, take a day to visit Chatuchak Market which is mind-bogglingly huge (think 15,000 stalls over 35 acres) and sells almost anything you could possibly imagine. For computer nerds, Fortune Town is a vast, modern mall in the centre of the city exclusively selling computers, computer parts and accessories, and other electronics all at very good prices. So, make sure you leave some space in your suitcase when packing!
Try the Local Street Food
Bangkok is home to more than 11000 restaurants with almost every type of cuisine you could imagine, including the ubiquitous international chains. However, the best and most authentic Thai foods are to be found from the local street vendors, who usually serve food from a mobile cart and have a handful of small plastic chairs around them where customers can sit and eat. Expect to pay around 40-50 baht ($1.32-$1.65) for a bowl of noodle soup, or a dish with rice, or spring rolls, dumplings, the list is endless. You might be put off by the appearance of these places, or by the vendor not being able to speak English, but they thrive on their reputation and many have been there for years, if not decades, so the food is very safe and quite delicious. Dishes that you can’t miss are fried pork with basil and chilli over rice (pad grapao moo), Thai style fried noodles (pad Thai), Thai style noodle soup (guai teow), northeastern style sausage (saigrok Isaan) and spicy papaya salad (som tam). These vendors are all over the city, look for one that’s busy with the locals and you can’t go wrong.
Get a Thai Massage
Thais love a good massage, indeed there are hundreds of places across the city offering a range of different services. For the average massage studio, which you’ll see on almost every street in some areas, a one-hour Thai massage will set you back around 300 baht ($10) which is a bargain. Thai massage is more medicinal than relaxing, with the masseuse pushing and pulling you and sometimes even standing on you! But the experience is amazing and will leave you feeling like a million dollars (despite having only spent ten). There are also more expensive, luxurious spas and studios, often located inside upmarket hotels and high-end malls, which will have prices more like what you are used to back home. Even the cheaper studios will offer a huge range of options including Swedish massage, various oil massages, hot rock therapy, foot massages etc. so don’t be afraid to ask if you want something specific. Beware of any massage studios with girls in bikinis standing outside, this will be a different type of massage entirely.
Experience the Bangkok Nightlife
Bangkok’s nightlife is legendary. For backpackers and people on a budget, Khao San Road is infamous for its laid back vibe, abundance of budget guesthouses, cheap booze, street food and shopping. There is a huge range of places to chill out there with a few drinks and people watch, with places to play pool, lounge around and watch movies, several hotels with swimming pools and plenty of restaurants serving more familiar western food including two Burger Kings and a McDonalds. For a more grown-up night out, head over to Sukhumvit road which has a seemingly endless variety of sports bars, nightclubs and cocktail joints as well as numerous restaurants to help you soak up a bit of the alcohol. There are also some night markets where you can also grab a beer and a bite to eat whilst doing some late-night shopping. If you fancy something a bit more upmarket, head over to RCA plaza to watch the well-to-do young Thais splashing out on a swanky night-out, but make sure you’re dressed for the occasion.