Tourist Attractions in Bangkok, Thailand
Just under 14 degrees North of the Equator, Bangkok is a tropical metropolis that is also one of the most traveller-friendly cities in Asia. It is the capital of Thailand and by far its largest city with an estimated population of over 10 million. A furious assault on the senses, the first things that impress many visitors are the heat, the congestion both on streets and sidewalks, the pollution inherent to rapid development, the squalor that accompanies a gaping chasm between rich and poor, and the irrepressible smiles of the Thais. Despite the sensationalized international news reports and first impressions, the city is surprisingly safe, more organized than it initially appears, and full of hidden gems waiting to be discovered. The high relative humidity and warm temperature favor the growth of tropical plants – you’ll find exotic orchids and delicious fruit everywhere. Thai cuisine is singular, justifiably famous, varied, and affordable. Bangkok, for many, represents the quintessential Asian capital. Saffron-robed monks, garish neon signs, graceful Thai architecture, spicy dishes, colourful markets, traffic jams, and the tropical climate come together in a happy coincidence. It is difficult to leave with lukewarm impressions of the city.
As one of the premier tourist destinations in Thailand, Bangkok has innumerable attractions, including temples, markets, palaces, and museums, ensuring that visitors with any interest will find something to keep them entertained. Most of Bangkok’s sights are concentrated in the “Old City” on Rattanakosin Island, the core of historical Bangkok.
Rattanakosin Island is where King Rama I built his new capital in 1782. The seat of power to this day, this is where most of Bangkok’s “must see” sights can be found. The district borders the Chao Phraya River on the west, but land reclamation has long since joined the eastern bank to the mainland. The focal point of the area is the wide open field of the Royal Ground (Sanam Luang), the site of many ceremonies and festivals associated with the royalty.
There is an excellent Government tourist information office near the river under Pinklao Bridge.
Rattanakosin has a lot to see and the top three attractions are conveniently clustered right next to each other. For all temples, bear in mind that you must be dressed appropriately (no shorts, no flipflops, no sleeveless shirts) or risk being denied entry. If you decide to take a tuk-tuk, don’t listen to anyone telling you the temples are closed for ‘Buddhist holiday’ or only in the afternoon. Both sights are open everyday, pretty much all day (dawn till dusk). It’s worth giving both the Grand Palace and Wat Pho each a full day since the heat and glare are very wearing and there is a lot to take in.
– Grand Palace. The former residence of the King is built adjacent to and more or less integrated with the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew). Combined entry is a steep 250 baht; Thais get in for free. This also includes entry into the Vimanmek Mansion and Abhisek Dusit Throne Hall (outside the compound), the Coin Museum, and a ‘free’ guidebook of limited use. The palace is open daily from 8:00am to 3:30pm.
– Wat Pho. One (long) block to the south of the Grand Palace, the largest reclining Buddha in Asia is a mind blowing sight. There’s plenty of other stuff to see inside the large temple complex; above all, try a massage or sign up for a course in the massage school at the back. Entry is only 20 baht and it is open from 8:00am to 5:00pm.
– Temple of Dawn (Wat Arun). Across the river from Wat Po on the Thonburi side, this is a distinctive single spike of white intricately inlaid with broken porcelain. At 88 meters it was also the tallest structure in Bangkok until the advent of the modern skyscraper. Take the 2-baht ferry from Tha Tien, right next to the River Express dock.
– Wat Rajanadda. Somewhat off the beaten track but well worth a visit, very close to the Saen Saep canal boat terminus and the Golden Mount, and easily spotted since its spires are of black iron, not the usual glittery gold. The wat itself is a 5-storied gleaming white structure with rows of Buddhas and nice views from up top, very elegant, calm and relaxing after the crowds at the big temples. Entrance is free; also check out the Buddhist amulet market nearby.
– The Golden Mount is a distinctive and prominent feature on the Rattanakosin landscape located in the compound of Wat Srakes. The original structure was built in the reign of King Rama III during the early 19th century, but was enhanced at the end of that century in order to accommodate relics of the Buddha presented to the King of Thailand by the British Viceroy in India. A spiral staircase of 318 steps leads from the ground to a terrace and shrine-room – the Buddha’s relics are housed in a gold-leaf covered shrine at the center of this area. There is a 10 baht admission fee.
Bangkok’s many markets are an experience in themselves. Bangkok is full of shopping malls and street markets of all types, especially in the Sukhumvit area; see the section for details. Prices can be cheap by Western standards, especially for locally produced items such as clothes, although bargaining is expected and required. Dump a teenager in MBK or Emporium with a few thousand baht and they’ll stay occupied for the rest of the week! Most malls tend to have excellent food courts.
– Weekend Market: A major attraction on weekends is the gigantic Chatuchak Weekend Market, in northern Bangkok but easily accessible by Skytrain and Metro.
– Night Market: Hugely popular with tourists & locals alike is the open air Suan Lum Night Bazaar. This is a large and colourful market offering bargains on everything from clothes, bags, crockery to organic foods. There is a large food court with a live band every night. Covered in more detail in the Silom section.
Bangkok is an extremely popular place for all sorts of pampering. The options available range from massages and spa treatments to haircuts and manicures and even cosmetic surgery, all at prices far lower than in the West.
– All self-respecting hotels in Bangkok will have a spa operating on premises offering at least traditional massage services. These tend to charge a premium but also offer some the best treatments in town. Particularly well-regarded spas include Deverana at the Dusit Thani and the eponymous operations at Banyan Tree and the legendary Oriental – the last of these being probably the most expensive in town, offering (among other things) a 6-hour Oriental Romance package for two costing a whopping US$535.
– Independent spas offer much the same experience but are a little more competitive due to the lack of a captive customer base. Figure on 1000B and up per hour for most treatments.
– The ubiquitous little massage shops found on every street corner in town offer the best value for money but the smallest range of services, with offerings usually limited to massage only. It is fairly easy to distinguish legitimate massage shops from more dubious places: the real deal will charge 250-400 baht for a typical two-hour massage and will often have a row of beefy farmers’ daughters in white coats working on customers’ feet in public view, while the other kind has wispy things in evening dresses and too much makeup yelling “hello handsome” at every passing male.
– Bangkok’s hospitals offer generally high quality services at a fraction of the cost of a Western hospital. Probably the best-regarded (and most expensive) is Bumrungrad, which (for example) charges 60,000B for an all-inclusive breast implant package. Bangkok is also well known as a center for sexual reassignment surgery for people wishing to change their physical gender, although this falls out of the scope of a casual vacation
– A cruise down the Chao Praya River is a nice way to spend a day here in Bangkok. A tour called Five Temples, Five Era Chao Praya River Cruise offer by Truly Yours Tour will take you to explore the history of Thai temples around the river each last Sunday of the Month. The tour mainly visite 5 temples and explain the historical significant by a lecturer.
Bangkok not only has plenty of Thai restaurants, but a wide-selection of world-class international cuisine too. Prices are generally high by Thai standards, but cheap by international standards; a good meal is unlikely to cost more than 300 baht ($7.50), although there are a few restaurants — primarily in hotels — where you can easily spend 10 times this.
– Phad Thai and curry shops everywhere
– Tom Yum Goong, don’t miss to try one of the most famous soup.
– Street vendors selling satay with hot sauce (for 5-10 baht a piece)
– Chinatown has a range of street stalls and cheap restaurants selling food (try 1kg of huge barbequed prawns or tom yam with prawns for 300 baht) to the discerning local population.
– All the Thai restaurant chains covered in the main Thailand article
– Restaurants featuring cuisine from all over the world on Sukhumvit Road and Khao San Road.
Bangkok’s nightlife is notorious, although recent social order campaigns have put a bit of a clamp on things: in particularly, nearly all restaurants, bars and clubs are now forced to close before 1 AM, a few are allowed to stay open till 2 AM. (Informal sidewalk bars do stay open all night, particularly in lower Sukhumvit.) You must carry your passport for ID checks and police occasionally raid bars, subjecting all customers to drug tests.
One of Bangkok’s main party districts is Silom, home not only to perhaps the world’s most famous go-go bar strip Patpong, but plenty of more legitimate establishments catering to all tastes. For a drink with a view, the open-air rooftop bar/restaurants of Vertigo and Sirocco are particularly impressive. Similar bars to the ones at Patpong can be found in the lower Sukhumvit area, at Nana Entertainment Plaza (soi 4) and Soi Cowboy (soi 23), while a large number of more trendy and more expensive bars and nightclubs can be found in the higher sois as well, eg. Thong Lor (soi 55). Hippie hangout Khao San Road is also slowly gentrifying and there are even some Thais venturing into what were once mere backpacker bars, but most Thais still prefer to congregate around Ratchadaphisek.
The go-go bar is an institution of Bangkok’s “naughty nightlife”. In a typical go-go, several dozen dancers in bikinis (or less) crowd the stage, shuffling back and forth to loud music and trying to catch the eye of punters in the audience. Some (but not all) also put on shows where girls perform on stage, but these are generally tamer than you’d expect – nudity, for example, is technically forbidden. In a beer bar, there are no stages and the girls are wearing street clothes.
If you want to get out of the city for a while, there are plenty of day trip options from Bangkok.
– The ancient capital of Ayutthaya and its many ruins are just 1.5 hours away by bus or train.
– The magnificent royal palace at Bang Pa-In makes for a pleasant day trip.
– The Burma Death Railway and some good national parks can be found in Kanchanaburi Province to the west.
– The island of Ko Kret, upriver from Bangkok in Nonthaburi Province, makes a pleasant day trip out of the concrete jungle.
– The island of Ko Samet is one of the closer Thai beach islands; direct bus (from Ekamai) + ferry (from Ban Phe) takes about 4 hours.
– Well off the tourist trail, the surreal UFO-shaped temple of Wat Phra Dhammakaya is in Rangsit, an hour north of Bangkok.
– The naughty nightlife of Pattaya is 2 to 2.5 hours away by bus, an hour or so more by train.