Don’t get scared away when arriving to Bangkok for the first time. Yes, this city can be a bit overwhelming at the beginning. It’s full of people and even fuller of vehicles of all sorts. There are lots of new smells and flavours, not appealing to everyone at the commencement of the holidays. But if you give it more time, before quickly “escaping” to the islands, you will find yourself in a place that offers so much more than that. And it doesn’t have to be necessarily all about temples either.
So What To Do In Bangkok? Here is a list of my favourite things to do and spots to visit.
Stroll around Lumphini Park
Central Bangkok’s biggest park is a perfect place to cure the jet lag. Whether you like to relax in the shade of the tropical plants or better beat it with a good workout, there is plenty for everyone. For those who prefer the peace and quiet, there are many benches and picnic areas, chess tables and Tai Chi classes or funny swan shaped paddle boats on the lake. For the action seekers, there are lots of trails for jogging or biking and also a few big street workout spaces. Which are very well equipped and most importantly for free. So if you don’t like to skip your workout routine even on a holiday, Lumphini park is a great place.
Visit Jim Thompson’s House
The Thai home of an American silk merchant born in 1906 is definitely one of my favourite places in Bangkok. And I think it should be on a top list of every Bangkok visitor. While in the service, this former military officer fell in love with Thailand and decided to move here permanently after. Recognising the high quality of Thai silk he quickly contributed to the industry’s worldwide growth. But what made him really famous was his house in the middle of Bangkok. Tastefully assembled from 6 different teak buildings, some of them at least two centuries old. He decorated his home with same care as he put in the building process. Embellishing every free space with astonishing antique furniture and artworks. His house became so admired that he decided to open in to public, donating the proceeds to charity and preservation of Thailand’s cultural heritage. Jim Thompson mysteriously disappeared in 1967 while on visit in Malaysia.
Admission: 150 BHT (adults), proceeds going to the James H.W. Thompson Foundation supporting Thailand’s artistic and cultural heritage
Admire the Wat Pho and Reclining Buddha
Of course I had to sneak at least one temple to this list. Because skipping Wat Pho on your visit to Bangkok could be almost considered as a sin. This place is beyond beautiful. Once you’ll pass the outward semi-interesting walls you’ll find yourself in a totally new world. Unlike the Grand Palace, this place is surprisingly not so overcrowded with tourists, nor expensive. Which is rather unbelievable if you consider that it’s the location of the famous 46 m long Reclining Buddha. But Wat Pho has much more to offer on top of this indelible gem of Thai culture. From the astonishing collection of the four royal chedi, the largest array of Buddha images in Thailand, through Chinese characters and Chinese-style rock gardens to a massage pavilion. Make sure you save enough time for this place as there certainly is a lot to explore.
Admission: 100 BHT (adults), including a free bottle of cold water
Awaken your senses at the Flower Market
If you are at least a little bit curious about where all the beautiful flowers laid down in the temples come from, you should pay a visit to the Pak Klong Talad. Bangkok Flower Market provides the possibility of flower related shopping for 24 hours a day. Offering all the different kinds of flowers you can imagine for incredibly low prices. Situated near the Wat Pho it’s also a great spot to hide from the blazing sun for a moment and cool down in the appealing temperature of the covered market space. Pump a new energy to the body and activate the benumbed senses while watching the Thai men and women skilfully making some beautiful flower arrangements.
Get lost in Chinatown
Of course metaphorically speaking. Well, maybe. Because it can be quite easy to be carried away by all the different produce displayed in the markets and take a wrong turn. Or more likely be absorbed by the flowing crowd and directed away from the planned path. But don’t get discouraged by these things too quickly and try to get with the flow. Otherwise you could pass the opportunity of developing some new amazing flavours and smells on this trip. And miss the experience of watching the Chinese-Thai men ably eating their chicken feet soup while reading the paper, not wasting single bit of meat and tendon. However, if you are more interested in the shopping part, there are plenty of gold, clothes, herbal and cosmetics shops in this area.
After visiting the China town, don’t forget to also stop in little India, to pleasure your taste buds even more or shop for some amazing fabrics (or wedding dresses ladies).
Discover the city from above
There are few possibilities how to enjoy the views of Bangkok from the bird’s view. If you feel like pairing the lookout with a bit of culture and even light exercise, you should definitely check the Golden Mount. Only 1 km from the famous Khao San Road and old town the ground rises in front of your eyes, forming a man-made mount with a big shining chedi at the top. The access to the 360 degree view on the top is through the stairs on the side of the mount. It might seem bit overwhelming at the beginning, but the stairs are actually really mild with plenty of options to stop and relax.
Another option how to enjoy a view of Bangkok from above is to pay a visit to one of the skyscraper in the city. There are many possibilities, mostly including rooftop bars or restaurants. However, I would recommend a visit to one of the tallest buildings in Bangkok, Baiyoke Tower II. The entrance is definitely not that expensive as the drinks in some places. And it’s probably the only spot where you can experience the view from a 360 degree open-air revolving platform. And my favourite part? The entrance fee is not only for the view from 84th floor but covers all-you-can eat fruit buffet as well (including ice-cream and desserts). How good is this deal?
Admission: Golden Mount 20 BHT (adults), Baiyoke Tower II. 350 BHT (adults), including fruit buffet
Shop on the Chatuchak Weekend Market
Would you like to buy some gifts and souvenirs for your family? Or maybe you are in a need of new leather shoes? Tailor-made suit? Are you an art collector? I could probably keep going for a long time with these questions. Because it seems like the football stadium size Chatuchak weekend market has it all. Everything you can imagine. But this place is worth a visit even if you are not in a mood for shopping. Because it’s just amazing to see how the locals do it. How the people of Bangkok spend their weekend, what are they actually buying, how they bargain… You can learn a lot here. And maybe spend some money after all, because it’s hard to ignore all the delicious food around.
Take a day trip and explore the surroundings
Even though I said that Bangkok has lots to offer and I’m standing firmly behind that statement, of course there are other spectacular spots in the country which are worth the visit. And some of them within a reach of the main city, easy to do in a one day trip.
Ayutthaya, the former Siamese capital, should definitely make it to the top of the list. Because this UNESCO World Heritage Site and it’s temples and ruins is so astounding that it takes your breath away even from those who are feeling completely “templed out”. Although many companies offer a day trip to this ancient city, I recommend taking the ordinary train by your own. Because it’s very easy, dirt cheap and way more fun.
And if you spend a night in Ayuthaya or you are travelling further to north, don’t forget make a short stop in near Lopburi as well. Although this little city is one of the oldest in Thailand, it’s a popular for a totally different reason. What makes it special to the visitors as well as locals are the cheeky monkeys which hogged one of the temples and took it as their home.
Not many people want to visit sad places during their holidays, but we should never forget about the past. That’s why I listed Kanchanaburi as one of the top day trips from Bangkok. The cemetery, memorials and museums in the town remind us the horrifying fate of the war prisoners who were used to build the Death Railway, including the bridge over river Kwai (correctly Kwae). But not to be just gloomy, there is also a stunning nature around, which can be enjoyed from the train, boat or simply while hiking.
Looking for even more travel tips? I personally found this Pocket Bangkok travel guide from Lonely Planet very handy. It has a pull-out map and it’s only small (maybe not a pocket exactly size, but definitely fits in a little handbag).