Things to do in Bangkok, the grand and vibrant Thai capital
Chaotic like few, loud and mental, the Thai capital is a huge city that doesn’t fail anyone. Whether you like wandering about street markets or visiting royal palaces, museums or Buddhist temples, there are enough things to do in Bangkok to keep you busy for weeks.
Find out what is the best way to plan your Bangkok sightseeing, where to go, where to eat and where to stay in Bangkok for a great trip.
Top things to do in Bangkok
Even before landing, I knew Bangkok was street food haven and boasted great open markets, but delicious temptations notwithstanding, I managed to devote some quality time to explore the Thai past and colorful religion by visiting the Grand Palace (grand, to put it mildly) and Wat Arun, with “wat” being the Thai word for “Buddhist temple”, some of the first things to do in Bangkok.
With all this in mind, I armed myself with a Bangkok map and off I was to explore the city.
While Wat Arun is an overwhelming ensemble of Buddhist pagodas inlaid with the finest colorful decoration Thai-Asian style, Bangkok Grand Palace is a complex of royal palaces, temples, gardens, and pavilions magnificent beyond words.
Located on the west bank of the vital Chao Phraya River, Wat Arun Rajwararam is the royal temple of the 2nd reign of Chakkri Dynasty. Its entrance ticket offers a behavior guidance: “Please dress up politely, do not climb the rail, do not dangle any doll, do not drop cigarette and waste on the floor”, giving visitors a hint that despite it’s now a tourist attraction, it is also still a sacred place. Orange-clad monks, in fact, abound, and at the very entrance, I enjoyed watching a group of teenage local girls bringing a donation to a monk and praying for some words of wisdom and a blessing.
The pagodas of Wat Arun have stairs that can be climbed by its visitors, but somehow they are not crowded. Actually, if you want to enjoy the temple in a quiet and silent atmosphere start climbing and you’ll soon find yourself left alone with around only the nice views of the city. I panted up some of the stairs but didn’t venture up to the peak of the pagoda as my breath started to claim some air. Truth be told, Thai unforgiving heat didn’t help either. Not many people climbed higher, and some of the monks who visited at that time stopped right at my level, making me feel somehow less guilty.
Bangkok Grand Palace
Not far from Wat Arun stands the Grand Palace, former royal residence commissioned by King Rama I in 1782. The complex is all-encompassing, comprising of palaces, gardens, and temples. Eyesight is not enough to embrace it all, everywhere you look you’ll find shimmering and shining.
As if the palace was not grand enough, part of it is also the beautiful Royal Monastery of the Emerald Buddha, a magnificent building decorated in gold and stones where a tiny emerald Buddha lies right in the middle, and where thousands of people come every day to pay respect to Him and his teachings. The Buddha is enshrined in a golden traditional Thai-style throne made of carved wood. The Buddha’s costume is changed three times a year according to the season, winter, rainy season and summer.
This Emerald Buddha was carved out of a block of green jade and found in Chiang Rai in 1434. The monastery has all features of a Buddhist worship place except for the residential premises as no monks live there. Although it’s a big tourist draw, the Emerald Buddha Temple is still mainly a worship place, with its rules attached, such covering legs and shoulders, entering barefoot, sitting in a way not to point your feet towards the Buddha, no photos allowed and going past quickly unless you are there to pray.
Bangkok is literally studded with Buddhist temples, around every corner there is one, in shops, in restaurants, in private houses (all open and visible from the outside, for that matter) of all sizes and colors.
This gave me the impression that Thailand is a very spiritual country, as only in India I saw such a high number of temples.
Other than temples, Bangkok is also filled with shops, street food vendors, open markets, and shopping malls. There are also many restaurants, but after 7-8pm I struggled to find one open so I’ve almost always had street food-based dinner. Which wasn’t bad at all as the street food scene in Thailand is legendary, so probably my first choice would have been street food anyway.
Some of the best Bangkok markets you shouldn’t miss are the gorgeous Flower Market in Chak Phet Road, the famous floating markets such as Amphawa, Bang Nam Pheung, and Damnoen Saduak, Chatuchak Weekend Market, and night markets such as Rot Fai and Suan Lum Night Bazaar Ratchada.
One of the favorite Bangkok attractions is Lumpini Park. It’s a green oasis, a huge park, very relaxing and where you can walk, jog or meditate as you like. If you see some crocodile wandering around, don’t panic. They are actually not crocodiles but peaceful water monitors. At first, I was a bit unsure whether to run away or just freeze, but then I saw none of those crocodile-like creatures was minding me so I decided to do the same.
Named after Buddha’s birthplace in Nepal and home to a hugely diverse range of flora and fauna, Lumpini Park is exactly what you need to take a break from the crazy traffic and noise of Bangkok.
Address of Lumpini Park: Rama IV Road, Pathumwan
Opening hours of Lumpini Park: Daily 4.30 am-9 pm.
How to get to Lumpini Park: MRT Subway Silom or Lumphini Stations will drop you right opposite the park.
It seemed like in Bangkok everything turns around tourism and what’s the best way to make tourists spend. From taxi and tuk-tuk drivers who constantly try to rip you off by either refusing to switch the meter on and demanding ridiculously high prices, to ladies calling you for a Thai massage every two meters, it seems like the city doesn’t want you to forget you are a tourist and you are there to leave as much money as possible. Or at least such was the area where I was staying, near the famous, or infamous, Khaosan road, popular among backpackers, noisy, messy and, to me, not much enjoyable.
Although I’m not much a massage person, I have to say that one of the most pleasant experiences I’ve had in my very short stay in Bangkok has been a Thai massage, a mix of yoga, rubbing, pinching, stretching, beating that in an hour made feel as relaxed as if I had slept eight hours straight. Not happy enough, the day after I treated myself with a facial consisting of scrub, massage, cleaning using fresh fruits and refreshing using fresh cucumber. That was a real pleasure that left my skin regenerated and supple and my soul in peace with the world.
How to get to Bangkok
Many are the airlines that land in Bangkok from European and Asian countries. Check out 12GO Asia booking website for the airlines’ routes within Asia as well as bus domestic transport in Thailand.
Where to stay, best hotels in Bangkok
High-end. Among the best five-star hotels in Bangkok are Siam Kempinski Hotel Bangkok where guests can enjoy a state-of-the-art spa, fine dining options, pools, and rooms with tea-making facilities, flat-screen TV, and large bathrooms, the central Grand Hyatt Erawan Bangkok featuring luxurious rooms with working space and large bathrooms, and Shangri-La Hotel Bangkok that boasts some ten dining options, a fitness center, a swimming pool, silk and wood furniture, and elegant rooms complete with a minibar and flat-screen TV.
Mid-range. A great choice for a reasonable price are places of the likes of central K Home Asok for stylish rooms equipped with all the necessary facilities, or V20 Boutique Hotel featuring an outdoor swimming pool, an on-site restaurant, and air-conditioned rooms with flat-screen TV and spacious bathrooms.
Cheap options. Among the favorite cheap options are Once Again Hostel if you don’t mind sharing your room with fellow travelers, or a lovely apartment at The Niche ID RAMA II if you want to have the privacy and independence of a home for a really cheap price.