I have a penchant for experiencing countries via the ‘quick and dirty’ approach: do as much as you can, as cheaply and as quickly as you can. As my two-month stay in Thailand is coming to a close, I want to recap the trip by highlighting the cities that represent the three major regions of the country: the South (Phuket), Central Thailand (Bangkok), and the North (Chiang Mai).
Now what to do in Bangkok? Most people find Thailand’s capital daunting with a population of over 8 million people and 14 million more in the surrounding metropolitan area. However, the breadth of the city, along with the high population density, doesn’t stop the tourists from coming. This year, Thailand was the first Asian city ever to topple London from its number 1 spot as the world’s most visited city. There are a number of things to do and see: just be warned — the oppressive heat combined with heavy traffic tends to overturn the most ambitious of itineraries. Per day, it was hard to commit to no more than 3 activities and that was if we had the energy to even do so. Remember to stay hydrated and try to plan activities within the same neighborhood to lessen a need to travel. Also, avoid wasting time in taxis by figuring out how to use the public transportation system. Now, for the best of the best!
1. Be blinded by the glittering walls of Wat Phra Kaew (The Grand Palace)
The Grand Palace, the home of kings and queens in years past, now acts as the residency for the sacred Emerald Buddha, a Budhha figurine carved from a single block of emerald. It costs 500 THB to enter and one must be properly dressed (ie. covering both shoulders and knees), or you will be forced to rent more respectable clothing. The palace closes at 4 pm so come early to avoid the crowds and to have ample time to take in all the intricate details of the complex.
2. Sipping drinks while perched 50-stories high
Its really hard to fathom the size of Bangkok until you view its entirety from the skies. Rooftop bars provide an escape from the bustling streets while still being able to appreciate the city from a new perspective. Fun fact: The Skybar (also called ‘The Dome’ at Lebua Hotel) was a filming location for the Hangover II and serve ‘Hangovertinis’ inspired by the movie. It’s one of the tallest rooftop bars in the world and the view is breathtaking so don’t skip out if you have the time.
Wat Pho, located right behind the Grand Palace, is one of my favorite temples in Thailand. Predominantly known for its massive Reclining Buddha, measuring 46 meters long and 15 meters tall, it is also the birthplace of traditional Thai massage where the practice is still taught to the generations of today. Only 100 THB to enter and open from 8 until 5 pm, relax as you explore every nook and cranny of this temple.
4. Be a spectator at a Muay Thai fight
When in a new country, one must do as the locals do. For the average working-class Thai man, that means heading to a Thai boxing stadium (the sport itself known as ‘Muay Thai’) and placing their bets on who will win the 5-round match. We were led by a friend living in Bangkok to the Channel 7 Studio near Chaduchak Market for a free, televised match held only on Sundays. It was nitty and gritty with lots of shoving and wooping as we made our way to the coveted ‘farang’ (aka foreigner) seats.
5. Dance the night away at Khao San Road
What’s a trip to Bangkok without finding your way to the infamous Khao San Road? The gateway for every foreigner into Thailand, it’s for those who need a bit of a bumper before sinking their teeth into all that is Thai. Those who end up here are on a quest for cheap digs, loud pop music, backpacking trinkets, and a first bite of pad thai from one of the mobile food stalls. It truly becomes itself at night, with an energy surging down the street from every as every restaurant-turned-bar tempts you with cheap buckets of mixed liquor. Beware of wandering hands on this street. Something as simple as being stopped by a local asking a question could result in the disappearing act of your wallet.
- Window shopping at one of the mega malls: Siam Paragon (in 2013, was listed as the most instagrammed venue in the world) and Terminal 21, where every floor was designed to emulate a famous global destination such as Istanbul and San Francisco
- Check out some weekend markets — either Chaduchak Outdoor Market, the world’s largest weekend bazaar, or a floating market like Damoen or Amphawa (but they are located far outside the city so plan transportation in advance)
- Ride the giant ferris wheel at Asiatique, a favorite hangout spot among locals with beautiful restaurants on a boardwalk that runs along the Chao Praya River
- Check out the Jim Thompson House not only for the beautiful Thai silk textiles, but also for its marvelous architecture
- Take a food tour of Chinatown, where street food is king
On the accommodation front – Bangkok, like all major cities, will be on the pricier end of the spectrum but that’s not to say there aren’t some deals around town. My favorite place to stay is Old Town Hostel in the area of Bang Rak.
It’s a luxury hostel that starts at 250 THB per night and is located very near to the Chao Phraya River which gives you access to travel up the river to all the tourist locations via the Chao Phraya Express and is only a ten-minute walk from the Hua Lamphong MRT station. Other places include: Suk 11, Lub’D Silom, Mile Map, NapPark Hostel, and HQ Hostel.
For those who’ve experienced Bangkok, anything to add to the list? Comment below!