From temples to sky-high bars there are plenty of things to do in Bangkok. It’s vibrant, busy, cultural and historic. Not sure where to start? Read on.
Jim Thompsons House © David McKelvey
Jim Thompson’s House is somewhat of a haven in the chaos that is Bangkok. Step through the gates and you are transported back in time to the mid 1900s. A peaceful enclosure hosts six traditional teak houses where were once home to the silk entrepreneur. Jim Thompson almost single handedly brought Thai silk to the western world. He is as well known for his silk endeavours as he is for his mysterious disappearance in the Cameron Highlands. His body was never found. His earlier employment with the Office of Strategic Services which is the forerunner today’s CIA have fuelled the mystery. Today his house is one of Bangkok’s premier attractions and features many interesting historical and artistic tapestries, sculptures and paintings.
Vertigo Bar © John_DL
If you want rise above it all, 61 floors to be precise, then head to the Vertigo Restaurant and Moon Bar, Asia Pacific’s highest open air restaurant and bar. Watch the sun set and the lights come on as the city comes alive and sip fabulous cocktails. Sunset is around 6.30om so get there early to get the best seats. Vertigo is housed in the plush Banyan Tree Hotel so prices are what you would expect but you do indeed get what you pay for and you pay for the view so enjoy! The dress code for men is closed toe shoes and trousers, ladies – dress to impress!
Thonburi Khlong © Alcuin Lai
Once upon a time Bangkok was referred to as the Venice of the East as it was criss-crossed with many canals leading away from the Chao Praya River. With the race to modernise many were filled in to make way for the now often gridlocked roads. The west bank however has remained largely untouched and you can hop on a long-tail and view life how it used to be. Grand houses sit side by side with abodes that look like they might topple into the river as you pass. You’ll find floating shops and riverside schools, temples, kids splashing around, laundry being scrubbed and much more. Expect to pay around 1500-1800B for an hour and a half in a long-tail for up to six people.
Thai Food © Flightspeed
Part of the attraction of Asia has to be the food and Thai food has to be the pinnacle of taste and experience. Knowing where to start, what’s the tastiest and what each strange looking dish is can be a bit overwhelming never mind choosing exactly where to eat! In Bangkok life has been made a little easier. Chilli Paste Food Tours offer daily food tours which can nicely balance off days of temple touring. Not only have the kind folks there offered this great culinary experience they combine your trip with off the beaten track culture. Experience Thai food how the locals do with your own guide to taste and choice.
Grand Palace © Andrea Schaffer
The Grand Palace is really not to be missed,crowds flock here daily and it’s easy to see why. Everywhere you look you will be dazzled by colourful mosaics, glared at by intimidating guardian sculptures and dwarfed by gold spires. Within the complex is Temple of the Emerald Buddha home of the highly revered tiny jade figure known to every Thai person. Dating from 1782 when the Thai capital moved from Ayuttaya to Bangkok it’s very much a historical site too. Wat Po is within walking distance too, so make sure you allow enough time to explore both sites. Please remember to dress respectfully; long trousers or skirts, covered shoulders and closed toe shoes.
Reclining Budda Wat Pho © Paul Sullivan
Wat Po itself dates back to the 17th century but the chapel housing the impressive Buddha statue dates back to 1832. The famous Reclining Buddha lounges to a length of 46m and rests 15m high. The sheer scale is quite difficult to put into words and even harder to put into one picture. While it’s size is truly awe inspiring but features like the mother of pearl insignia on its feet make it truly special. The grounds are rarely visited by tourists so do take a moment to wander around as they too are stunning. Wat Po is also home to Thailand’s oldest and most prestigious massage school where you can either enjoy a massage or train in the arts.
National Museum © Blue Li
Established in 1874 within the Wang Na Palace The National Museum in Bangkok is the largest in South East Asia. Exhibits cover Thai history back to the Neolithic Period as well as Buddhist Art and even ceremonial carriages. Chinese weapons, precious gems and treasures, masks, puppets and much more are displayed. It’s so large that taking one or more of the free tours on Wednesday and Thursday mornings is highly recommended.
Buy a Buddha? © Heidi De Vries
Bangkok is stuffed with shopping malls but non are quite like River City. Founded in 1984 it served a niche market of antiques dealers and collectors. These forerunners forged Thailand’s first legal auction house holding monthly auctions which created a place to meet. Today it’s like a modern Aladdin cave, the auctions still run monthly and now on-line too. Visitors can expect to find carvings, sculptures, ornaments, pottery as well as modern day crafts and art. Shoppers will also find fashion and jewellery shops as well as a range of eating options too. As a somewhat strange combination river and dinner cruises and even cycling and joint cycling and klong explorations also leave from here.
Art Galleries on Charoen Krung Road
This area is home to a plethora of galleries and art spaces and is one of the hippest locales in the city. For your more traditional arts, antiques and sculptures head along to OP Palace which houses probably the largest collection overs its three floors or restored colonial magnificence. Less grand but in the same genre take a peep into Fifty Years Gallery and Lek Gallery. For the more contemporary exhibitions check out Speedy Grandma, Soy Sauce, Cho Why and Bridge Art Spaces.
Sky Bar © chee.hong
Just slightly lower that Vertigo, Lebua State Towers Sky Bar still offers some pretty spectacular views. Avid movie goers will most likely recognise this spot and its gold domed restaurant from The Hangover II. The subtly changing neon bar is intriguing but do note that there are no seats in this bar. Again drinks are more elevated than prices at street level but it’s the view you come to enjoy. A similar dress code is enforced.
Figureheads of Royal Barges © shankar s
If you are in Bangkok in November you might be lucky enough to catch the festival on the Chao Praya River featuring over 100 barges. Otherwise head the the museum where you can view these intricately crafted exquisite examples of Thai artisan-ship up close. Each king has commission his own barge so there are many examples and some great history to boot.
Amulet Market © Chris Brown
As the name might suggest, amulets are a-plenty here. Visitors will find a great range of Buddhas, charms and talisman said to bring good luck, ward of evil, be lucky in love and many more wishes besides. Locals crouch with magnifying glasses to examine each piece, bargain for the rent of the Buddha as none are supposed to be sold. It’s a great place to have a wander and people watch and some tasty and cheap treats can be found on the river too.
Monks Bowl Being Made © Mark Fischer
Ban Baat Alms Bowl Community
There was a time when all monks alms bowls were hand made but most often now they are mass produced. In Bangkok the tradition is still alive, just. This small community are keeping this art alive. Production begins with the rim to which two steel strips are welded to this cross ways. These represent the cardinal directions. The gaps are filled with steel pieces welded with copper. To finish the bowl is hammered, polished and lacquered. All of these takes place in somewhat of an open air museum spilling onto the pavement. Work is usually done between 8am and 5pm and you can purchase bowls from around 500B directly from their maker.
Riverside Ayuttaya © dom brassey draws comics
River Cruise to Ayutthaya
Ayutthaya was once Thailands capital and as such is a World Heritage City. Visitors can explore the residential palace of yesteryear as well as Wat Phrasrisanphet. Scattered ruins litter the area tell a tale of times passed. Ayutthaya can be reached by road but also by boat and what better way that to relax on the river. Most companies offer one way by water and one by coach, take you to the sights and include food. On the river banks you will pass Bangkoks key historic sites as well as seeing a more simply way of life outside of the city. The most popular tours are conducted by River Sun Cruise and Grand Pearl Cruise. If you are looking for something a little different and more intimate though, Thanatharee Cruise offer their cruise on a uniquely and beautifully refurbished teak rice barge.
Asiatique © chee.hong
Asiatique is more that just a shopping mall and could be described as an upscale night market, but that wouldn’t seem to quite do it justice. It’s chock full of boutiques selling a dazzling array of treasures including home wares, souvenirs, handicrafts and of course fashion. Over 1500 boutiques vie for your attention. Not only that there is a host of eating options from every corner of the world plus the highest ferris wheel in Thailand, an innovative Muay Thai show, puppet theatre and cabaret too.
Khao San Road © Ken Marshall
Made famous by the novel and movie The Beach, this area has long been the hub for budget backpackers in South East Asia. Cheap guest houses, cheap booze, laundry, internet and travel services along with a bustling night market have made this the stop off, refuelling and departure point for many shoestring journeys. Fast forward to today and although the area still boasts all of this, it’s significantly more polished that 20 years ago with more upscale hotels encroaching into flashpacker territory. It’s a sight to behold and worth a meander along the road and alleys, stalls, Pad Thai trucks and fried insect stalls and incessant touting. Your senses will be assaulted by the gaudy neon and frenetic activity, I’d hazard a guess that there’s nowhere else quite like it.
Jazz Happens Bar © Andrij Bulba
Phra Athit Road
Phra Athit Road is close to the Khao San Road geographically but worlds apart in experience. Life is less hectic and far less taxing on the senses, interesting cafes, great restaurants and a classier range of bars that don’t sell drinks in buckets await you. Bangkok locals, expats and a hipper style of patrons visit the eateries and watering holes here. Expect live music and jazz, modern and international flavours and styles.
China Town © Pedro Alonso
China Town Tour
Chinese Traders made Bangkok their home long before the Thai capital was officially moved there. Today’s China town lies in a different location to where those original traders resided but its vibrancy welcomes locals and visitors alike. Many guide books and on-line resource’s offer walking tour routes which will show you Bangkok’s largest flower market and a labyrinth of alleys with all manner of goods available to buy. Little India combines with this areas and a vast array of fabric and Indian snacks can be purchased. Organised tours will take you on a food exploration of the Yaowarat Night Food Market so that you can experience the different Thai and Chinese tastes available.
Yes This is Bangkok! © Paul_the_Seeker
Cycling Tours in Bangkok
Cycling Tours have become super popular in Bangkok in recent years with many companies and tours to choose from. My advice, choose a tour that takes you across the Chao Praya River by boat and heads out into the jungle. You wont believe that in under an hour you are cycling along narrow alleys and path ways between fields growing fruit and vegetables and lush greenery. You wont hear a car, horn or whistle, just jungle noises and a calmness you wouldn’t thought possible. Most tours couple this with the obvious river crossing but further canal exploration by boat too. Your cycles simply get loaded on the boat while you relax and watch tradition Thai canal side life slip by.