Ten Things To Do In Bangkok
I approached Bangkok with no real expectations. In truth, it's not a destination I ever intended on visiting - I'm more interested in Thailand's natural landscapes. But when David learned that his work would be sending him to the capital city for three days, I jumped at the opportunity to tag along. I was delighted to discover a captivating contrast of old and new within Bangkok's walls: ancient temples bordered by steel skyscrapers, street food vendors hustling outside world-renowned restaurants, and supersize flea markets rivaling shiny luxury malls. Bangkok is a city that has something for everyone.
Most visitors to Thailand find themselves in Bangkok while en route to one of the country's dizzying number of postcard-perfect beaches, but there are plenty of reasons that warrant an extended stopover. Whether you have one day or three, make the most of your time with these 10 Bangkok musts.
Note: This travel guide is available as a GPS-enabled map with offline navigation. Click here to download the guide and receive turn-by-turn walking directions between sights - no data plan or WIFI required!
1. Tour Wat Phra Kaew & The Grand Palace
Temples in Thailand are next level, and the granddaddy of them all is the glittering, fairytale-like Wat Phra Kaew.
Known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Wat Phra Kaew is home to the most revered religious object in Thailand: a 26-inch Buddha statue carved from a single piece of jade. Visitors to the temple are invited to pay their respects to the holy statue, which dates back to the 14th century.
Wat Phra Kaew sits within the larger Grand Palace complex, formerly the residence of Thailand's monarch. Together, the temple and palace make up a sprawling compound of more than 100 awe-inspiringly ornate buildings.
Visits to the temple and palace are best done first thing in the morning, when the intensely beating sun is most forgiving (but still, expect it to be hot). Proper temple-going attire is required - that means long shorts that cover the knees, close-toed shoes and no tight pants or bare shoulders. For an exhaustive list of what not to wear, consult Thailand's tourism site here.
If you'll be out for a long day of sightseeing and can't bear the thought of sweating all day in pants or long sleeves, rest assured that you can borrow dress code appropriate garments at the temple. Button-up shirts, pants and sarongs are available at the entrance to the complex for a deposit of 200 baht - just don't expect to look fabulous for your meeting with Buddha.
Although you can't enter many of the buildings on the compound, one can easily spend hours here marveling at the magnificent architecture. Be sure to pick up an audio guide at ticketing (200 THB for two hours), as there is very little printed information available.
Wat Phra Kaew & The Grand Palace
Located at: Na Phra Lan Road
Getting there: Taxi (not accessible by skytrain or subway)
Hours: 8:30AM to 3:30PM daily
Cost: 500 THB (14 USD)
2. Take a long-tail boat to the floating markets
Just a stone's throw from the Grand Palace is Tha Chang Pier, where you can hitch a ride on one of Bangkok's ubiquitous long-tail boats. These colorful vessels are available for hire to cruise the Chao Phraya River and tour the city's extensive canal system, which earned it the moniker "Venice of the East."
When selecting a tour, be sure that it includes a stop at one of the floating markets! Our driver dropped us off at Talingchan Pier, where we disembarked for a tasty lunch from one of the many floating food vendors. These aquatic kitchens whip up mouthwatering local dishes - like charcoal-grilled salted whole fish - right there in front of you.
After lunch, our tour continued through a surrounding maze of residential waterways. This is a great glimpse into the daily life of the many Bangkok denizens who call the city's stilted waterfront dwellings their home.
Long-tail boat tour prices vary depending on the length of time and whether you prefer a private or group experience. We shelled out a little extra to have a boat to ourselves, which cost us somewhere around 1,400 THB (40 USD) per person for a 1.5-hour-long tour (after some price haggling on our part). If you have time, I'd advise shopping around on the pier for the best bargain.
To reach Tha Chang Pier, head west down Na Phra Lan Road from the palace until you intersect with the Chao Phraya River.
3. Stretch your legs in Lumpini Park
When the hustle of the city has exhausted you, head to Lumpini Park for a quiet stroll or jog amongst lush greenery and picturesque ponds.
The park is home to all sorts of interesting local wildlife, like the monitor lizard. I'm telling you this so you don't freak out like I did and assume you've crossed paths with a baby alligator.
Looking to burn off all that Thai food you've been housing? Lumpini Park has paddle boats available for rent, and a number of outdoor gyms are open for public use (foreigners must fork over 50 THB or 1.50 USD to use the facilities).
Located at: Rama IV Road, between Ratchadamri Road and Witthayu Road
Getting there: BTS (skytrain): Sala Daeng Station; MRT (subway): Si Lom Station
Hours: 4:30AM to 9:00PM daily
4. Dine at a world-renowned restaurant
(Not to worry, I'll get to the street food!)
Thailand's capital city is a modern metropolis with an innovative culinary scene. Don't miss an opportunity to dip your spoon (no chopsticks here) into an authentic Thai dish prepared by a world-renowned chef.
First up is Nahm, which holds a coveted spot on The World's 50 Best Restaurants. The dimly lit interior of this restaurant is best suited for dinner, but I was unable to score a nighttime reservation (tip: book well in advance). I popped into the restaurant for lunch instead, where I lingered over the most gorgeous bowl of wagyu beef panang curry with peanuts, shallots and Thai basil (720 THB/20 USD).
Located at: Metropolitan Hotel Bangkok, 27 South Sathorn Road
Getting there: MRT (subway): Lumphini Station
Hours: Lunch 12:00PM – 2:00PM (Mon – Fri); Dinner 7:00PM – 10:30PM (daily)
Reservations available online here.
For dinner, David and and one of his colleagues joined me at Bo.lan, a fine dining restaurant set in a rustic Thai house, where the menu offering changes seasonally. We indulged in the degustation "Bo.lan Balance" menu (2,680+ THB/76+ USD), which celebrates local food resources and century-long Thai cooking traditions. The meal kicked off with a visit to the restaurant's kitchen, where we were personally greeted by Australian chef Dylan Jones, who presented our amuse bouche. This was followed by a parade of artfully presented Thai dishes back at our table, all served family-style.
Located at: 24 Sukhumvit 53 Alley
Getting there: BTS (skytrain): Thong Lor Station
Hours: Lunch 12:00PM – 2:30PM (Thurs – Sun); Dinner 6:00PM – 1:00AM (Tues – Sun); closed Mon
Reservations available online here.
Our favorite Thai meal of the trip was at Issaya Siamese Club, which sits at #19 on Asia's 50 Best Restaurants. Helmed by celebrity Chef Ian Kittichai, a pioneer of farm-to-table dining in Thailand, Issaya Siamese Club is a charming restaurant whose setting pays homage to the country's natural elements. Issaya is an old Thai word for rainy season, the annual summer event which helps the restaurant's surrounding gardens to flourish. David and I were very lucky to visit Issaya during rainy season and experience the setting as it was meant to be appreciated. We were seated on the restaurant's large front porch just as the sky opened up to release an epic downpour. The lush, glistening vegetation that bordered the porch reminded me of past dining experiences in Hawaii - a far cry from congested Bangkok!
Then there was the food. I didn't snap any photos during our dinner, as I was too busy housing the lamb shank mussuman curry (mussuman gae). Rich, savory and melt-in-your-mouth delicious. If you only have time for one award-winning restaurant on this list, head to Issaya Siamese Club for a memorable meal in a gorgeous setting.
Issaya Siamese Club
Located at: 4 Soi Sri Aksorn, Chuaphloeng Road
Getting there: MRT (subway): Khlong Toei Station
Hours: Lunch 11:30AM – 3:00PM; Dinner 6:00PM – 12:00AM (daily)
Reservations: +66 2-672-9040
5. Watch the sunset from atop a towering skyscraper
I'm a sucker for a swanky rooftop bar, and Bangkok has no shortage of them.
The timing of our visit during rainy season meant our sunset viewing was replaced with storm cloud watching, but the latter was equally impressive - just as it was to observe the bar staff remove tables and chairs in a matter of minutes when it became apparent that a downpour was imminent.
Check out Red Sky Bar in the Siam area, a rooftop wine bar and martini lounge on the 55th floor of the Centara Grand Hotel, and Above Eleven in the hip Sukhumvit Rd. Soi 11 neighborhood, a multi-level rooftop bar and restaurant on the 33rd floor offering up Peruvian-Japanese fusion fare.
We didn't have time to visit, but the 61st floor open-air Vertigo and Moon Bar - conveniently located next door to the aforementioned Nahm - was also on my list. All bars are open daily (weather permitting) beginning at 6PM.
6. Go on a walking food tour of Chinatown
Bangkok's vibrant Chinatown, Yaowarat, might be intimidating to the uninitiated. The streets are busy, the food can be indecipherable and the language barrier is a hurdle. To get the full experience here, enlist the expertise of a local.
Bangkok Food Tours offers a nighttime tour of Yaowarat, a 3-hour culinary exploration of the unique Thai-Chinese neighborhood led by a knowledgeable, bilingual guide. During our tour, we sampled the local cuisine at seven different eateries - some street food vendors, some sit-down restaurants - and got the lowdown on area landmarks. From the expected (mango sticky rice) to the unexpected (pandan-dyed green dim sum), the dishes we tasted were unlike anything we'd ever had before.
Desserts were by far the stand-out menu items of the night: warm Chinese donuts served with a generous drizzling of pandan custard, banana crepes doused in chocolate sauce and condensed milk, and sweet Thai pancakes stuffed with a mixture of meringue and foi thong (golden egg yolk threads).
If Thai-Chinese fusion doesn't excite you, Bangkok Food Tours has a bevy of tour options to choose from covering the entire city - including an opportunity to eat with a local at their home.
Yaowarat Street Food Tour (Chinatown)
Meeting place: Hua Lamphong MRT Station
Time: 6:00PM - 9:00PM (Tue – Sun); Tour takes place rain or shine
Cost: 1,350 THB (39 USD) for adults; 1,050 THB (30 USD) for children
Reservations are available online here.
7. Tour the traditional thai home of a silk entrepreneur
If there's one thing I seek out everywhere I travel (besides food tours, obviously), it's the opportunity to visit a historic home. Traditional homes provide a deeper understanding of the root of a culture that isn't easy to find elsewhere. In Bangkok, you can visit the former home of American silk entrepreneur Jim Thompson (stay with me here), who purchased six traditional Thai-style teak houses from various parts of the country and had them reassembled into a compound.
Thompson, who mysteriously disappeared in the Malaysian jungle in 1967, is credited with reviving the silk hand weaving craft in Thailand and bringing worldwide recognition to Thai silk. His home is now a museum, where you can tour the centuries-old wood buildings and marvel at his splendid collection of Asian art and antiques.
Tours of the compound are mandatory for all visitors, during which photos are prohibited. An English-speaking guide will walk you through each room of the house, providing an explanation of its use and interesting stories about the art and antiques housed there. Afterward, you are free to roam the property - or grab a bite at the onsite cafe.
The Jim Thompson House & Museum
Located at: 6 Soi Kasemsan 2
Getting there: BTS (skytrain): National Stadium Station
Hours: 9:00AM to 6:00PM, daily (compulsory tours every 20 min)
Cost: 150 THB (4 USD)
8. Hone your homemade curry skills in a Thai cooking class
As you have probably inferred by now, I love curry. To learn how to make a mean bowl of Thai curry at home, I headed to the Blue Elephant Cooking School.
This restaurant-turned-cooking school - set in a century-old colonial mansion - offers a half-day course which includes a visit to a local market to learn about ingredients, a demonstration class, a hands-on cooking session and, last but not least, lunch.
Our class kicked off with a field trip to the Bang Rak Market, where we popped into a curry factory for the 411 on all things curry (spoiler alert: all curry has the same base ingredients). Afterward, we perused the market's lovely produce, from adorable pea eggplants to endless variations of fragrant basil. Our visit was capped with Thai iced coffees from a market vendor, who, much to our delight, served up the refreshing beverages in clear plastic bags affixed with straws.
Back at the school, we took notes as our teacher demonstrated the day's menu: thoong thong kiew wan (green curry golden bag), tom yam koong (hot & sour soup with prawns), pla tub tim phad man makham (stir-fried red tilapia with tamarind sauce) and kaeng kiew waan kai (green curry with chicken). Before I knew it, I was making my very own bowl of curry! My classmates and I feasted on our creations in the restaurant's main dining room, where our dishes were carefully presented in a succession of courses by the wait staff.
Cooking courses at Blue Elephant include a folder of recipe notes (featuring a nifty reference sheet on basic Thai ingredients), an apron and a ready-to-cook souvenir.
Blue Elephant Cooking School
Located at: 233 South Sathorn Road
Getting there: BTS (skytrain): Surasak Station
Hours: Morning session (includes market tour) from 8:45AM - 1:00PM, daily; Afternoon session (does not include market tour) from 1:30PM - 4:30PM, Mon - Sat
Cost: 3,296 THB (95 USD) for morning class; 2,943 THB (85 USD) for afternoon class
E-mail for reservations here.
9. Spend all your baht in a shopper's paradise
I only had one weekend day in Bangkok, which was also David's sole free day for sightseeing. In a moment of selflessness I gave him free reign of our Sunday itinerary, thereby forfeiting my chance to scour the 8000+ stall Chatuchak Weekend Market. So, I can't provide any advice when it comes to treasure hunting at the world's largest outdoor market, other than: go.
If you'd rather shop in blissful, arctic air-conditioning, don't miss Bangkok's collection of enormous luxury shopping centers. Clustered in the Siam area, you'll find Siam Discovery, Siam Center, Siam Paragon, Gaysorn Shopping Center and Central World (the 7th largest shopping center in the world). Coming from Japan, I was intrigued to see a heavy Japanese influence in the retail stores here - from stacks of renowned Nippon-made denim to luxury designers like Issey Miyake to the Japanese household and lifestyle superstore Loft. And the food courts here are littered with Japanese fare, from ramen to sushi to yakitori.
In addition to shopping and dining, Siam's luxury shopping centers have several upscale movie theaters. Pop in for a film during your visit and watch as the crowd stands for the king's anthem after the movie trailers.
10. Eat all the Indian food
I have a confession to make that is likely to upset some of you. The best meal we ate in Bangkok was in fact not Thai food.
It was Indian.
Before you roll your eyes here, I'd like to point out that Bangkok has a sizable Indian population - and longstanding ties to India. From the origin of Thailand's language to the infusion of Hindu rituals in Thai cultural ceremonies, India's influence here is widespread. The best way to appreciate this is, of course, food.
Don't miss Charcoal Tandoor Grill & Mixology, a northwest-style Indian restaurant that serves up mouth-watering, flavorful kebabs and inventive cocktails in a sleek, modern setting. This is not your regular Indian restaurant, which was apparent the moment I walked through the doors of Charcoal's rustic, wood-clad industrial loft space. We were seated next to floor-to-ceiling metal-paned windows overlooking a pool with leafy foliage; behind us, an illuminated spice library lined an entire wall. I ordered the sweet but refreshing mint chutney mojito (served in a vintage Delhi copper cup) while we scanned the food menu for our selections.
Feeling overwhelmed by the options, we enlisted the help of our knowledgeable waiter, who offered some suggestions: kastoori kabab (succulent pieces of boneless chicken marinated in ginger, garlic and black pepper, grilled in a coat of gram flour and egg), dudiya varki naan (a layered, white flour naan - their speciality) to dip in dal charcoal (whole urad lentils, tomatoes, ginger and garlic, slow cooked overnight on the tandoor), and tandoori malai broccoli (fresh broccoli marinated in yogurt, cream cheese, malt vinegar & green chillies). I could wax poetic about everything we ate here (naan bread that peels away like puff pastry?!), but I'll suffice it to say: that shit was delicious.
Charcoal Tandoor Grill & Mixology
Located at: Fraser Suites Sukhumvit, 5th Floor, Sukhumvit Road Soi 11
Getting there: BTS (skytrain): Nana Station
Hours: Dinner from 6:00PM - 12:00AM, Daily
Cost: Expect to pay around 2,130 THB (60 USD) for dinner for two, drinks included
Reservations available online here.