The capital of Thailand is often dubbed the capital of Southeast Asia, because, due to its international airport, it’s where many travellers begin or end their travels in the region. Most people only end up staying for a few days, but it’s well-worth hanging around a little longer as there is simply so much to see and do.Warning: This post is going to include a LOT of photos because Bangkok is an absolute paradise to anyone who owns a camera! It’s a real buzz on your senses; there’s just so much going on and so much to photograph!
1) Check out Khao San Road
After arriving at our hostel, James and I went out for some food before walking along Thanon Khao San. Although it is possibly the most hyped part of Bangkok for backpackers, my first impression of Khao San was not a good one. Hot, overwhelming, and flooded with half-naked pissed-out-of-their-brains Brits abroad. I felt like I was back in Kavos. This wasn’t Thailand!
Though, I kind of knew to expect this of Khao San Road from what I’d read in guide books and heard from other travellers before we arrived. Clubbing isn’t really mine and James’ thing anymore, but we enjoyed strolling through the crowds of food vendors and tourists during the day, lingering at stalls selling everything from of bracelets and gifts to counterfeit CDs and elephant-printed trousers.
In the evenings, we preferred Soi Rambuttri, the road parallel to Thanon Khao San, which is slightly quieter but still has plenty of restaurants and boutiques. The pavements are framed by leafy banyan trees and the vibe feels more relaxed and local than on Khao San Road. There is an excellent pancake maker on the west side of Soi Rambuttri, as well as plenty of cheap pop-up restaurants where you can get some really good pad Thai for as little as 30 THB (around £0.60 GBP / $1 USD).
However, on our penultimate night in Bangkok, we succumbed to the allure of cheap Chang and house music, and got very drunk. Crowds of dancing travellers spilled out of the bars onto the streets, where local upcoming DJs had set up makeshift decks on the side of the road. Vendors were selling fried scorpions, snakes and spiders, and 2 small Changs cost just 100 THB from street sellers.
2. Visit the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew (The Temple of the Emerald Buddha)
The official residence of the Thai Royal Family since 1782, the Grand Palace is a site any first-time traveller in Bangkok must visit. it’s called the Grand Palace, but I don’t think the name quite portrays just how stunning the complex is.
The architecture of the temples and surrounding pagodas is simply remarkable and leaves you marvelling in awe. We had never seen anywhere like it!
Top Tips for visiting the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew:
- Arrive before 8:30am. The complex gets incredibly hot and very, very busy, so you can avoid some of the crowds and heat by getting there early. Tour groups don’t usually start arriving until 9am so you’ll get a bit of time to take tourist-free photos! James and I arrived at 11am… Big mistake!
- Cover up. The palace has a strict dress code: your shoulders, legs and midriff must be covered – for men and women! When we visited in March 2015 it was fine to wear flip flops (apparently socks used to be mandatory!) Ladies, you cannot get away with a scarf over your shoulders. You can to borrow clothes, leaving a refundable deposit of 200 THB per item and a form of ID. The queue for the dressing room was longer than we had anticipated.
- Beware of the scams: Touts outside the palace will tell you that the palace is closed for lunch or a meeting, and their friend can take you shopping until it reopens. They also told us that clothes were not available to rent inside, so we would have to buy their trousers and t-shirts before entering. Both of these statements are untrue.
- Bring a BIG bottle of water. We went though our 2l bottle in about 20 minutes. You’ll need it, trust me! There are refreshments towards the end of the tour of the complex.
- Bring lots of cash. There are no ATMs inside the complex and the ticket booth only accepts cash.
How to get there:
- By tuktuk: The best way to get around Bangkok, but be sure to agree on a price before you get in!
- By taxi: Always use the meter – it’s illegal not to in Thailand.
- By boat: Take the Chao Phraya express boat and get off at Tha Tien pier (south end of the complex) or Tha Chang (north end)
- Walk: we walked from our hostel near Khao San Road and it took us about half an hour.
Address: Na Phra Lan Road, Phra Naklon, Bangkok, 10200
Admission Fee: 500 THB per person. You’ll be given a map at the ticket booth.
Opening hours: 8:30 to 15:30
3) Eat amazing Thai food
Part of the reason I love to travel is because there are so many authentic dishes to be tasted!
Bangkok has so much good food (loads of dishes for vegetarians!) and the best part – the food is so cheap! You can get a Pad Thai from a street seller for as little as 30THB, and even in restaurants a main meal cost us around 80-120THB each.
4) Wat Pho and the Temple of the Reclining Buddha
This was one of the highlights of our time in Bangkok. The complex was far less crowded than any other site we visited and the ambience was much more relaxed and serene. Visitors were a mix of tourists and locals.
We were blown away by the sheer size of the Reclining Buddha – at 46m long it is the largest reclining Buddha statue in Thailand!
I found the feet to be particularly impressive, adorned with beautiful mother-of-pearl illustrations.
Around the outside of the statue there are 108 bowls – you can buy a small container of coins and add these to the bowls for good fortune.
After seeing the Reclining Buddha, we enjoyed strolling around the grounds and were in awe of the beautiful buildings. We were lucky enough to see the monks’ daily chanting in one of the smaller temples too.
Dress code: Similarly to the Grand Palace, you should dress conservatively, however you can borrow necessary garments to cover up with free of charge.
Address: 2 Sanamchai Road, Grand Palace Subdistrict, Pranakorn District, Bangkok 10200
How to get there: Walk from the Grand Palace (5-10 minutes, you won’t need a tuktuk or taxi)
Admission fee: 200THB (includes a 250ml bottle of water)
Opening hours: 08:00 to 17:00
5) Take the boat to Wat Arun
Just across the Chao Phraya river is Wat Arun, also known as the Temple of Dawn. The distint shape of its central 70 metre tall prang (spire) is probably what makes it so unique from other temples in Bangkok.
What we loved most was the intricate detail of the decoration; each prang is encrusted with colourful fragments of porcelain and seashells – beautiful!
Unfortunately Wat Arun was having quite a bit of work done while we were in Bangkok so we were unable to climb higher than what can be seen here, though from what I know, you can climb up the central prang and see views of the river, Grand Palace and Wat Pho.
You can also see the Buddha image in the orientation hall, which is a place of worship for Buddhists. In the surrounding area of the temple, there is a small market selling clothes, refreshments and gifts. As you get off the boat in Central Bangkok after visiting Wat Arun, you’ll walk through a local market selling produce and gifts.
Admission fee: 100 THB
How to get there: Take the river boat from Pier 8 of Sapphan Taksin boat pier.
Boat price: 3 THB per person each way
Dress code: Modest, with shoulders and legs covered (I wore a scarf over my shoulders here).
Opening times: 08:30 to 17:30
Address: Bangkok Yai, Bangkok 10600
6) Take a stroll through Chinatown
With a population that first settled in Bangkok in the 1780s, the vibrant district of Chinatown is not to be missed and the best way to see it is on foot.
We really enjoyed walking through the market stalls and picked up a few souvenirs – we found the prices to be cheaper than in busier districts like around Khao San road.
How to get there: The main district runs along Yaowarat Road, so you could walk or take a taxi or Tuktuk here.
7) Wat Traimit: The Temple of the Golden Buddha
Located close to Chinatown is Wat Traimit, home to the world’s largest solid gold Buddha image. Whilst the temple itself was not overly impressive, the 15-foot-tall image of Buddha is quite something and is worth millions in gold prices! For hundreds of years, the statue had been covered in plaster to cover its value from thieves. It was only in 1955, when the statue was being transported and was accidentally damaged, that the gold underneath was rediscovered. Crazy!
How to get there:
- Catch the Chaophraya River Express Boat to Ratchawong Pier
- By metro to Hualamphong exit 1
Admission fee: 40 THB for just the Golden Buddha, an additional 100 THB to visit the museum.
Address: Thanon Mittaphap Thai-China, Talat Noi, Samphanthawong, Bangkok 10100
8) Pick up some souvenirs at Chatuchak weekend market
Visiting Chatuchak market is an great way to spend half a day if you’re in Bangkok over the weekend. With over 8000 stalls, you can buy just about anything: from antiques, furniture and gifts to clothes, plants and books – and is a great place to try out your haggling skills. It’s absolutely massive and therefore very easy to get lost – be sure to get a free map from one of the information stands.
- Arrive early to avoid the crowds and the heat. We were told that Sundays are less busy than Saturdays, but it was still very busy when went on a Sunday!
- Beware of the sun. Although most of the market is covered, a lot of the food stands are outdoors in the sun, so wear sunscreen and bring something to cover your shoulders.
- Don’t think “I’ll come back later”. You probably won’t be able to find the same stall later, even if you mark it on your map. If you find something you like, buy it there and then !
- Beware of pickpockets. Keep your handbag and backpack in front of you and keep an eye on your pockets.
How to get there:
- Skytrain to Mo Chit station (exit 1)
- Subway to Chatuchak Park (exit 1)
- Bus number 524 or 3 – fare is usually 13 THB but sometimes the joinery is free!
Address: Kamphaeng Phet 2 Road, Chatuchak, Bangkok
Opening times: 09:00 to 18:00 on Saturdays and Sundays; 18:00 to midnight on Friday evenings; plant sections open 07:00 to 18:00 on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
9) See panoramic views of Bangkok at The Golden Mount (Wat Saket)
This temple is built on an artificial hill, where you can see beautiful views of the city. There are over 300 steps to reach the summit, but the climb is not too difficult as the path is well-paved and there are water sprays to cool you down (and water the plants!) There are many statues along the path and a patio where you can ring the bells.
Opening times: 09:00 to 17:00
How to get there: Wat Saket isn’t very close to any major transport connections so the best way to get there is by taxi (on the meter!) or by tuktuk (haggle!) We walked there easily with a map.
Admission Fee: 10 THB
Address: 1344 Ban Bat, Pom Prap Sattru Phai, Bangkok 10100
10) Visit a Floating Market
This is something we unfortunately didn’t get the chance to do while we were in Bangkok, but it’s our list for the next time we visit!
Whilst they can be seen as a tourist trap, floating markets often have lots of fresh produce and are popular with locals, if you go to the right one!
Have you visited a floating market in Bangkok? Let me know what you thought of it in the comments below!
*** More useful information ***
Where we stayed:
- Feel at Home Backpackers, 218 Charkrapong Road, Taladyod Phranakorn, Bangkok
Safe, cheap and a five minute walk from Khao San Road. It was basic but clean, and has a common area where it’s easy to meet other travellers.
- Bangkok has two major airports: Suvarnabhumi and Don Mueang. Most international flights land at Suvarnabhumi Airport.
- From Suvarnabhumi, the Airport Rail Link takes you to Phaya Thai terminal in the city. The Express line runs every half an hour, takes 17 minutes and costs 90 THB one way or 150 THB return. The City line runs every 15 minutes, takes 25 minutes and costs 45 THB one way. You can then take a (METERED!) taxi to your accommodation.
- When taking tuktuks, always haggle and always agree on a price before you get in.
- It’s illegal for taxis to carry passengers without using the meter in Thailand, though it’s surprising how many drivers say the meter is broken or they can offer a cheaper price without it (by the meter is ALWAYS cheaper).
- Avoid travelling with bus companies leaving from around the Khao San area, most of these tend to be overpriced, and there have been reports of them leaving travellers at border crossings and having to find additional onward travel. Instead, go to Mo Chit bus station to buy legitimate travel tickets.
Where to next?
Bangkok is the central hub for many travellers arriving, leaving and travelling through Southeast Asia and has fantastic flight, train and bus links for onward travel across the region.
- If you’re heading to Cambodia, be sure to check out this post for information on crossing the border at Poipet.
Have you been to Bangkok? What was the highlight or your trip?
Thanks for reading and happy travels!