Bangkok is a whirlwind of color, sound, and smells. The capital of Thailand can be overwhelming at times, especially when negotiating its chaotic traffic and crowded footpaths, but it is an exhilarating city that needs to be experienced to be believed.
The clash of ultra-modern and ancient are very apparent here. Luxury cars and high-end shopping centers exist side-by-side with centuries-old temples, street markets, and run-down canals. Amidst it all, the shouts of commerce and smiles abound. Bangkok is a big, bustling city, with a mighty river running through it – dive in and absorb the frantic energy radiating from every surface. Here are the Top 10!
10. Jim Thompson House
Jim Thompson House © Twang_Dunga / flickr.com
A remnant from another time, Jim Thompson House is the leftover residence of the titular businessman who revitalized the Thai silk industry in the 1960s. The WWII serviceman-turned-businessman put his residence together using pieces from six different traditional Thai houses. During the 1950s and 60s, he assembled the houses and filled them with artifacts from around Southeast Asia. Jim Thompson disappeared mysteriously in 1967 while hiking in the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia, but what he left behind is an incredibly well-preserved slice of Southeast Asian history.
The houses have been transformed into a museum with mandatory guided tours offered in several different languages. Sadly, as most traditional Thai architecture has been swept away in favor of concrete constructions, the Jim Thompson House provides one of the finest insights into Thai life of the past. There is also a silk shop on the grounds for people to peruse while waiting for their tour to begin, as well as an excellent restaurant and frequent demonstrations of the silk production process.
9. Lumphini Park
Lumphini Park By Terence Ong, via Wikimedia Commons
Lumphini Park provides a welcome relief from Bangkok’s crush of traffic and noise. It’s the largest green space in the city, with numerous paths, cycling lanes, lakes and workout spaces. The park comes alive in the evening when runners flood the large roadways and aerobics groups pop up in different location. If you’re an early-bird, it’s worth strolling through in the morning to see the Tai-Chi groups practicing their routines.
One of the largest draws for tourists are the wild monitor lizards that freely roam the park. It’s fascinating to see these large creatures swim through the lakes and sun themselves on the banks.
One of the many monitor lizards wandering through the park.
There are pagodas to relax under, and boats or swans for rent that can be paddled around the lakes. Various events like the Loy Krathong festival or yearly orchestral concerts are held in the park, and are well worth catching if you’re in Bangkok at those times.
8. Night Markets
New Rot Fai Ratchada Market © aotaro / flickr.com
One of the best things about Bangkok are its numerous markets spread out across the city, and the night markets in particular are awesome! There are many night markets, ranging in quality and quantity from a dozen people with their wares laid out on the ground on blankets, to vast affairs with hundreds of stalls and live bands with outdoor eateries.
Two exceptional markets to check out when the sun goes down is the New Rot Fai Market Ratchada, located near the Thailand Cultural Center MRT station, and the recently opened Neon Market located near the Platinum Shopping Mall. Unique and artistic wares can be found at both markets, and good eats and drinks can be had as well. Neon Market has a particular emphasis on seafood and Rot Fai Ratchada has all the local Thai dishes as well as seafood skewers, crepes, and more.
7. Siam Paragon
Siam Paragon © Mark Fischer / flickr.com
Bangkok’s shopping malls are a sight to behold – they are among the largest and most modern in the world, and there are so very many. Almost all of them offer the latest in designer brands, electronics, fashion, and everything else you’d expect to find in malls around the world.
There is one standout location, though, among the many available in Bangkok – Siam Paragon. It’s arguably the most popular mall in the city, and for good reason. There are hundreds of shops, excellent movie theaters, a gourmet market with top quality food options, numerous restaurants, and one of the largest aquariums in Southeast Asia in the basement level!
The aquarium itself is excellent and worth a visit if you have an interest in aquatic life – there’s even a transparent shark tunnel to walk through, as well as glass-bottomed boat rides.
Asiatique © newroadboy / flickr.com
Located in converted East Asiatic Company warehouses, Asiatique is one of Bangkok’s finest riverfront shopping / dining experiences available. There are numerous restaurants to be found throughout the area, with some great seafood places located along the riverside walkway. Once you’ve finished dinner, there are rows upon rows of shops with varied goods to peruse. If you’re in the mood for more active entertainment you could take in a Muay Thai theatrical show, a Calypso dancing show, or ride the huge ferris wheel.
You can get to Asiatique by taxi or by free shuttle boat from Sathorn Pier near the Saphan Taksin BTS station.
Bangkok’s Chinatown is chaotic, noisy, and utterly fascinating. A trip here is like stepping into a world within a world as Chinese markets, temples, restaurants, gold shops, dried goods vendors, and much more open up to visitors in a flurry of color and sound.
Highlights of this area include Yaowarat Road itself, which looks like something out of Hong Kong with its clutter of street signs, Mai Market and Kao Market, both situated in tight, crowded lanes, and Wat Mangkon Kamalawat, an open-air temple devoted to Buddha and other Chinese deities.
Chinatown transforms as the sun goes down, and street restaurants and stalls pop up all over the place. No trip to Chinatown would be complete without experiencing the evening confusion. It’s gritty, disorganized, and so much fun!
4. Chatuchak Market
Chatuchak Market © Mark Fischer / flickr.com
Out of all the markets Bangkok, and even Thailand, has to offer, there is one head-and-shoulders above all others. Chatuchak Market, which is only open on the weekends, is among the largest in the world. With over 15,000 stalls divided into 27 sections, Chatuchak seems to have almost anything and everything for sale. There’s clothing, jewelry, food, plants, pets, souvenirs, housewares, antiques, handicrafts, and more.
Getting to the market early is probably the best, in order to avoid the crowds, though much of it is covered so if the heat is getting to you just duck into the maze of stalls. There are signs with section numbers, though they don’t make it much easier to navigate the huge area. If you ever get lost, there’s a large clock tower at the center you can use for reference.
3. Wat Arun
Wat Arun By Preecha.MJ / Wikimedia Commons
Known as the “Temple of the Dawn”, Wat Arun is one of the oldest and most iconic in Bangkok. It was built by King Thaksin the Great in the late 18th century after Ayutthaya fell to the Burmese army. Legend has it that the king vowed to restore the temple after he marched past it at dawn, hence the name.
Wat Arun is an outstanding temple, with Chinese / Thai influence apparent throughout the riverside grounds. Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of the temple is the exterior, which is made up of thousands upon thousands of porcelain shards. The entire central structure and its four spires are ornately decorated with immaculate detail, and it’s definitely worth a visit to see this architectural triumph up close.
2. Wat Pho
Wat Pho is among the oldest in Bangkok and certainly one of its most impressive. The complex itself takes up a large area south of the Grand Palace, and is full of chedis and structures covered with porcelain shards just like Wat Arun. Its main claim to fame is the 46-meter-long reclining Buddha image housed in the main wihan. It’s an impressive sight, and well worth a visit just to see this massive statue.
Aside from its impressive architecture, Wat Pho houses 1,431 inscribed stone tablets relating to health, religion and history which are registered as a UNESCO Memory of the World. The temple is also known as the birthplace of traditional Thai massage, and it’s possible to get massages on the temple grounds. Great for relaxing from a busy day sightseeing!
1. Grand Palace
If there is only one place you could visit in Bangkok, it would have to be the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew. The temple complex and palace are both located within a large wall closely guarded by soldiers and police officers. This is the official residence of Thailand’s monarchy, and the symbolic heart of the nation.
Wat Phra Kaew is stunning in its complexity, with ornate spires and beautiful murals depicting the story of the Ramakien, the Thai version of the Indian Ramayana. Located in the central structure is the most revered image in Thailand – the emerald Buddha. After you pass through the temple grounds, you’re shepherded past the Grand Palace itself, which exudes a unique Thai / European style, complete with 19th century style guardsmen.
Since this is an active temple and monarchy residence, dressing conservatively is mandatory. No shorts are allowed, for men or women, and no bare shoulders or low-cut necks either. Pants can be rented from the entrance building if you forget to bring some, but it’s far less hassle if you come prepared.