Looking for things to do in Bangkok? The glittering capital of Thailand is full of sacred wonder and scrumptious street food.
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 a in Bangkok, but 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, like the BTS and Skytrain; and while tuk-tuks are a novelty, they are also three times the price of a taxi traveling the same distance! If Bangkok is too fastpaced for you, visit Chiang Mai to the north.
1. Be blinded by the glittering walls of Wat Phra Kaew (The Grand Palace) and Wat Arun (The Temple of the Dawn)
My favorite location in all of Bangkok is Wat Arun, the magnificent Temple of the Dawn. Situated on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, the ornate structure cannot be missed. I first visited it in 2008 with my exchange host family but wasn’t able to see it in 2015 due to construction. Up close, you’ll realize the structure is covered in mosaic designs made from porcelain, seashells, and colored glass. It’s one of the few temples in Bangkok where you are allowed to climb the temple towers although warning: the steps are quite high.
Where? 158 Thanon Wang Doem, Wat Arun, Bangkok Yai,
Hours of Operation: 8:30 AM – 5:30 PM
Cost: 100 THB (~$3)
The Grand Palace, the home of kings and queens in years past, now acts as the residency for the sacred Emerald Buddha, a figurine carved from a single block of emerald. They have a very strict dress code and you must be properly dressed (ie. covering both shoulders and knees), or you will be forced to rent more respectable clothing. One option is to bring a light sweater. The palace closes at 3:30 PM so come early to avoid the crowds, especially during the heat of the day, and to have ample time to take in all the intricate details of the complex.
Where? Na Phra Lan Rd, Phra Borom Maha Ratchawang
Hours of operation: 8:30 AM – 3:30 PM
Cost: 500 THB (~$10)
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. The most popular rooftop bar is undoubtedly The Skybar (also called The Dome at Lebua Hotel). It 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. The clientele is posh so come dressed to impress and expect the location be packed, as it falls on the tourist circuit.
Where? Skybar Lebua is located at 1055 Si Lom in Bang Rak
Wat Pho, located right behind the Grand Palace, is the oldest and largest temple complex, complete with a larger-than-life Reclining Buddha statue, a school of medicine, and is also heralded as the birthplace of traditional Thai massage where the practice is still taught to the generations of today. It also is home to the most Buddha images in one temple in all of Thailand. The massive Reclining Buddha, measuring 46 meters long and 15 meters tall, is the expression of Buddha achieving Nirvana and the end of all reincarnations. But take a closer look at Buddha’s feet, and you’ll see mother-of-pearl depictions of the 108 lakshanas, or Buddha’s most auspicious traits. And around the statue, against the wall, are 108 bronze bowls, where templegoers deposit coins in each bowl to acquire good luck. You can purchase a bag of coins right inf front of the temple hall.
Where? 2 Sanam Chai Rd, Phra Borom Maha Ratchawan
Cost: 200 THB(~$6.60 USD) to enter the complex, and 500 THB (~$16.50 USD) for a one hour massage.
Fun fact: In the courtyard, there is a Bodhi tree believed to have stemmed from the original Bodhi tree from Bodhgaya where Buddha reached enlightenment.
4. Be a spectator at a free Muay Thai fight
When in a new country, one must do as the locals do. For the average working-class Thai male, 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-gritty, with lots of shoving and whooping as we made our way to the coveted ‘farang’ (aka foreigner) seats. Each match lasts about 30 minutes, and while the matches begin at 2 PM, it is crucial you get there as early as possible to get a seat. Also, food and drinks (including water) are not allowed.
Where? 998/1 Phahon Yothin road, Soi 18/, Jomphol Jaktujak (take the BTS to Mo Chit – Once you arrive walk straight past the massive parking lot to your right until you get to a huge building with the an illuminated BTS sign. The studios are behind this main office so go right down an alleyway, which takes yout the white Channel 7 Studios building marked as “BB TV.” You can’t miss the lines of people and security guards.)
Update: As of July 2019, the studio has enforced a very strict dress code. NO slippers, shorts, sandals/flip-flops, t-shirts, or Henleys. This is mostly for males, who will need to wear a collared t-shirt and closed-toed shoes. They will kick you out.
Cost: Free for standing room or foreigner seats; 300 THB (~$10 USD) for VIP seats near the ring
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.
Update: In 2017, the Thai government began enforcing a strict curfew of midnight on establishments on Khao San Road in an order to curb public disorder. It was recently announced that from October 2019 to February 2020, a major facelift on the road will commence, so expect closures.
Tips: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.
- Since the launch of Netflix’s food docuseries, Street Food Asia, Jay Fai’s celebrity status is on a whole other level. Donning oversized ski goggles, the Michelin rated has been firing up the wok and creating her signature Thai crab omelette (800 THB) for over 30 years. Find her at 327 Mahachai Road (at intersection with Samranrat Road) and begin queining an hour early before it opens at 3 PM. It is closed on Sundays.
- Window shop at one of the city’s incredibly megamalls: the newly opened Icon Siam (299 Charoen Nakhon Rd, Khlong Ton Sai, Khlong San,) with its own indoor floating market and heritage museum; 2013’s most instagrammed location in the world, Siam Paragon (991 1 Rama I Rd, Pathum Wan); and Terminal 21(88 Soi Sukhumvit 19, Khlong Toei Nuea), where you can travel to a a famous global destination,such as Istanbul and San Francisco, on every floor.
- From tie-dye French macarons to rainbow layered crepe cakes, the Unicorn Cafe at Soi Sathorn 8 (a 5-minute walk from the Chong Nonsi BTS stop) is a fantasyland come to life! You can even rent unicorn onesies to ensure your snaps are picture perfect.
- 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 and happen on certain days 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 (6 Rama I Road, Wang Mai), not only for the beautiful Thai silk textiles, but also for its marvelous architecture and fascinating story of an American architect enamored with Thailand who mysteriously disappeared on a trip to Malaysia.
- I discovered Chrissy Teigan and I have a shared love of boat noodles, known as kuay teow reua (ก๋วยเตี๋ยวเรือ) and in Bangkok, there’s a dedicated boat noodle alley near Victory Monument selling bowls of these luscious, silky noodles. For the most generous serving at 15 THB per bowl, visit Toy Kuay Teow Reu at 15 Ratchawithi Rd, and order the sliced beef.
- Don’t just take any cooking class in Bangkok; The Market Experience is a cooking class located inside of the Pah Klong Flower Market. These class teaches you how to make the local fare with a floral flair—all of the dishes are topped with edible flowers sourced straight from the flower market. For more information on the experience, click here.
- Chinatown, known as Yaowarat to the locals, is the most beloved destination to sample Bangkok’s globally recognized streetfood. Establishments you shouldn’t miss include Jek Pui Curry (for the curry), Odean (for their crab noodle soup), and Krua Porn Lamai (for their mussel omelette).
- As the Satorn Unique Tower’s ruination deepens, its popularity has increased, thanks to the ability to climb up all the way to the unfinished floors of this abandoned high-rise building. Not quite technically “legal,” you have to find a security guard and bribe them 500 THB to be given a key to access the rooftop and bartering is not allowed. And not only is it a gamble to find the security guard, the door does not always unlock. Best time to come is late afternoon Find the condominium at 51 Soi Charoen Krung Road.
- Neon meets tropical at KuKKuuK Yakiniku Café, a shabu (Japanese hotpot) restaurant situated above the trendy Do Not Disturb nightclub on Ekkamai Soi 5. You’ll see tributes to anime scattered all over the premises.
Where To Stay
Old Town Hostel (1048 1054 Charoen Krung Road, Bangkok, Thailand) checks all the boxes for budget travelers looking for a clean digs and friendly guests. I loved this luxury hostel so much, I stayed there on two separate occasions. The vibrant property has a ton of common area, a fair amount of public computers, spacious private rooms, a happening lounge, and shared washers. Located in the neighborhood of Bang Rak, just a short walk form Chinatown, the Hua Lumphong Train Station, and a Chao Praya Express Boat pier, you can see a lot more of the real Bangkok than by staying on the more raucous Khao San Road. They even offer up to one month of free luggage storage, which is great for long term backpackers looking to travel light. Dorm beds start at $16 a night/private rooms at $21 per night.
How To Get Around
While the tuk tuk is undoubtedly Thailand’s most iconic mode of transportation, the open-air motorized rickshaw is also very touristy and touts inflated prices because it’s a novelty.
To experience Bangkok like a real local, hop aboard the reliable Chao Phraya Express Boat. This water taxi is marked by different colored flags, taking travelers down the waterway and providing a short commentary. The cost for the ride ranges from 9 to 32 THB (less than ~$1 USD one-way) depending on distance traveled. The services begin near the Mandarin Oriental hotel, which is also walking distance from the Sathorn BTS station and go as far up river as Pak Kret, which is 30 stops total. You can catch the water taxi at any of the 30 stops clearly marked on this map. There is a set schedule for the boats but once you arrive at the docks, you’ll find easy-to-read timetables, with information in English. This is the most convenient way to beat Bangkok traffic, while see a side of Bangkok most tourists miss.