As rough and chaotic as it may be, Bangkok is a city that blends in many ways its ancient charms with modern buildings, a vibrant nightlife, and bustling markets.
Unfortunately, a lot of tourists do not enjoy or like Bangkok when compared to other cities in Thailand – myself included at one point. This capital city is a mess and there’s always traffic. A lot of hustling is present and scams happen here and there on a daily basis. We can’t deny that.
But, once I learned more about Thailand and gave Bangkok another opportunity by explored more of its unique sights, I warmed up to it and came to like it much more than I thought I ever would.
Of course, you shouldn’t have to go through the dislike phase if you’re on vacation and visiting the city for only a few days.
Instead, here I’ll show you some of the best sights and experiences that will show you the different aspects that I believe make Bangkok a vibrant and intriguing city that shouldn’t be missed.
1. Visit the Reclining Buddha
This is a must for every traveler coming to Bangkok. Wat Pho is home to the massive golden Reclining Buddha which measures almost 50 feet tall and 150 feet long. Its feet alone measure over 16 feet wide.
The statue is not solid gold, as many people think, but covered in gold leaves. As you walk around the statue you can give an offering by putting coins in any of the 108 offering bowls.
The grounds around the temple are also full of beautiful statues and secondary structures designed in the traditional Thai style.
2. Visit the Grand Palace
The Grand Palace is among the most popular sights in Bangkok. This palace, which has over two million square feet, once served as the king’s home as well as part of the government’s office.
You can visit for free its gardens and see the famous Jade Buddha – which is often dressed up to mark the seasons and special occasions. Should you want to visit the palace’s interiors, the entrance fee is 500 Bahts (approx. $15).
Be aware that this palace is popular among scammers. If you’re heading there and someone stops you along the way and says the palace is closed because it’s “lucky Friday,” “the king’s birthday,” or any other festive day, don’t believe them.
The palace is probably open and they just want to take you to lesser-known sights and stores to scam you. Always insist on going to the palace first and see it “closed” with your own eyes.
3. Eat street food
Thai food is delicious, especially its street food. After living in Thailand for about 9 months, I still say Thai street food is the best in the country. Meals are not only cheap and delicious but also cooked in front of you right at the moment.
I’m a Chicken Pad Thai with a Roti for dessert kind of guy, but there are so many options to choose that you can eat a different dish for every meal during your trip.
If you don’t feel comfortable exploring street food on your own at first, then I highly recommend doing a street food tasting tour with Withlocals where a local foodie will take you around the city tasting some of the best traditional Thai dishes.
If you’re feeling risky, try eating some of the insects, scorpions, and frogs often found on Khao San Road. These are not traditional dishes for Thai people, but this street cart is now a popular daring stop for many backpackers partying on this street.
4. Take a Taxi boat along the Chao Phraya River
Bangkok is often referred to as the “Venice of the East” thanks to the Chao Phraya River and all the smaller canals that feed off of it. Believe it or not, this river is one of the most important lifelines of the city, with a huge percentage of the population using its extensive ferry network to go to work or travel around the city.
While there are tourist-oriented boats that take you around the city, I still prefer taking the local ferries. At around 15 to 20 Bahts (roughly $0.50 to $0.75 a ride) they are much cheaper than tours, and they connect you to all the important places in the city while showing you a different perspective of the city’s skyline.
In fact, traveling on these taxi boats is a cheaper, often unknown, alternative to taxis and tuk-tuks.
5. Visit Wat Arun – the Temple of Dawn
Standing at almost 260 feet tall, Wat Arun –named after Aruna, the God of Dawn– is another temple you must not miss in Bangkok. This temple is easily accessible via the Chao Phraya River (by taking a 3 Bahts short ferry crossing).
Wat Arun is fully covered in ceramic tiles, creating a giant colorful mosaic made of floral patterns and mythical creatures watching over its grounds. Hike to the top terrace to get a beautiful view of the river and city.
6. Enjoy its different nightlife styles
Bangkok’s nightlife is among the biggest and most famous in Thailand and all of Southeast Asia. There are tons of nightclubs, rooftop bars, “underground” clubs, and much more.
For wild backpacker-friendly partying, head to Khao San Road and it’s many street bars. For adult-themed entertainment and go-go bars, head to Soi 4 Nana Plaza – often called the largest sex complex in the world.
For gay entertainment and ladyboy shows, head to Soi 4 in Silom (a different Soi). For rooftop bars and a chick night out, head to Siam. Famous and overpriced is The Roof Top Bar in Siam.
7. Stay up until the sunrise to see the monks collecting alms
If you’re having a long night out or are an early bird, make sure to be up by sunrise to see the monks collecting alms all over the city.
While this practice is not as big in Bangkok anymore, compared to other cities like Luang Prabang where you can see hundreds of them, it is still nice seeing locals give their offerings to the few monks that still walk around the city with their bowls in hand.
If you’re partying at Khao San Road, you’ll probably see them walking out of the temple by the end of the street.
8. Go to the Malls
Malls are rarely something I recommend, but these malls in Bangkok are a different experience. In the Siam area of the city, there are at least six shopping malls connected by a pedestrian path. These malls range from the high-end shopping extravaganza to the low-budget shopping paradise.
You can visit the iconic MBK mall, with its 8 stories full of typical mall shops – with some floors laid out like a street market (where even bartering is acceptable). There’s also Siam Discovery Mall, Paragon Mall, and the huge World Central Mall, among others.
Each mall has its own style, demographics, and unique attractions, including 4-D cinemas and Southeast Asia’s largest aquarium, among others. All these provide a different shopping (or window shopping) experience that should be part of anyone’s visit to Bangkok.
9. Get lost in the Chatuchak Weekend Market
Speaking of shopping, Chatuchak Weekend Market is an experience in itself. This square market is a maze of vendors selling everything from souvenirs, furniture, clothing, pottery, and of course, lots of delicious food!
10. See a free Muay Thai match
While you can watch Muay Thai fights all over Thailand, Bangkok is the place to see them – authentic fights and for free! Every Sunday at 2:00 pm (and every third Wednesday of the month at noon) there’s a televised match at Channel 7 Boxing Stadium. Locals form the majority of the audience, but tourists are welcomed too.
11. Stroll through Lumpini Park
At over 5,000,000 square feet, Lumpini Park is the Thai version of Central Park – a green and calm pocket in the middle of a chaotic city. Stroll through the park to enjoy its manicured lawns and gardens.
Do some people watching that might include older generations practicing Thai Chi, people picnicking, romantic dates, and much more. The park is busy on weekends due to the many activities that are often done there.
12. Take a tuk-tuk ride
Tuk Tuks are the traditional three-wheel carts that serve as a small taxi to take you anywhere within the city. These fit up to four people (cramped) and are typically open and door-less.
You must barter the rate before hopping in, as tuk-tuk drivers are well known to overprice and scam, but you should at least take one tuk-tuk ride to get that local experience.
Some drivers even decorate their tuk-tuk with neon lights and blast music to entertain their tourists.
13. Take a Moto-Taxi
Bangkok’s roads are always congested, so experiencing traffic when going from one place to the other is a common thing. But, motorcycle taxis are a thrilling solution to it. Like with any tuk-tuk, you can barter your fare before hopping on the bike (literally behind the driver), and in no time he’ll be rushing you to your destination in between cars.
Thai drivers are crazy, so this will definitely bring an adrenaline rush to your trip.
14. Take a ride on the metro and sky train
Another way to avoid Bangkok’s gridlock is by taking the metro and sky train – especially if you’re staying in the downtown area.
Bangkok’s Sky Train, also known as BTS, connects you to most of the important areas of the city (except for the old district). It also connects you to the Airport Link, which takes you to Suvarnabhumi International Airport.
On the other hand, the MRT is the underground line that stretches to the outer regions of the city. All these lines are both efficient and cheap and connect well with other modes of transportation like the water taxis, tuk-tuks, buses, and more. This page will help you get familiarized and plan your trip using Bangkok’s public transportation.
15. Celebrate Songkran or New Years Eve
Thailand has two new year celebrations: the Gregorian calendar new year (the one we all celebrate) and the traditional Thai New Year between April 13th and 15th – known as Songkran.
The “common” New Year is celebrated with a party, especially if you’re on Khao San Road where it’s a huge street party. People also release paper lanterns to the sky, which is a very traditional Thai custom.
On the other hand, Songkran is often called the world’s largest water fight, in which people throw water with buckets, super soaker guns, and hoses to anyone in their vicinity.
The tradition says that sprinkling water during these three days will wash away your sins and bad luck, but today, this sprinkling has turned into a fun water fight and party all over the city! Trust me, there is no way you’ll stay dry if you’re on the street. Here’s my experience celebrating Songkran in Chiang Mai.
16. Get a Thai Massage
Thai massages are famous all over the world, so coming to Thailand and not having a Thai massage is like not coming to Thailand at all. You’ll see hundreds of Thai massage places all over the city.
Some are great, some are ok, but they are all good enough at least. Try a few options like the full body Thai massage, the neck and back massage, foot massage, and more. They are cheap too, ranging around $3 for 30 minutes and $6 for one hour. Seriously, don’t miss getting a massage in Bangkok.
17. Go to a ladyboy show or a ping pong show
Ladyboy shows come in all shapes and forms, from the highly artistic and “family-friendly” Broadway-style shows, to the raunchy xxx versions. For the Cabaret style shows, here are a few recommendations. For the raunchy style, you’ll find some in Silom.
The ping pong shows, on the other hand, are not what the name suggests. These “shows” have women performing some special tricks with their hoo-haas, throwing ping pong balls, darts, blades (yes, blades), and drawing, among many others.
A word of caution is that while this is a controversial show, many tourists do want to at least take a peek at it. Be cautious as that peek might be quite expensive. The beers sold at the establishment are overpriced and there’s often a minimum you must buy before they let you out of there.
As with everything, ask for all the details on that “price of admission.” These establishments are well-known scammers too.
18. Visit a floating market
Unfortunately, floating markets these days are more focused on tourism than their local traditional roots, but they are still entertaining and quite enjoyable. Boats are still piled high with fresh fruits and vegetables, and some even cook your food right on the spot as you order it.
Depending on the floating market you visit, you might be able to take a relaxing tour to sightsee around, or you might be able to just go on your own and wander around.
Probably the most popular one among tourists is Damnoen Saduak market (which is roughly 60 miles outside the city), where tours are a common thing. This one is great for photo opportunities.
Amphawa Floating Market is the second most popular floating market near Bangkok. It’s smaller than Damnoen Saduak, but it is more authentic. Khlong Lat Mayom Floating Market is also among the most popular ones located close to Bangkok while still conserving some of its original charm and authenticity.
Other markets include Taling Chan Market, BangKu Wiang Market, and Tha Kha Market, among many others.
19. Take a look at the Flower Market
Believe it or not, Pak Khlong Talat, or the flower market, is the biggest wholesale and retail fresh flower market in Bangkok.
Curiously enough, it is more popular at night than during the day. This is a place of symbolic value among locals as it is the market from where most of them get their flower offerings for the Buddha.
Stroll around and see all the flower types, colors, and of course, the people interacting all around you. They also sell fruits and vegetables in many stalls.
20. Tour the Jim Thompson House
This is a house unlike any other in the city. Its owner was Jim Thompson, a famous American silk entrepreneur who is credited for rejuvenating the Thai silk industry. Unfortunately, he mysteriously vanished in the Malaysian jungle.
After his disappearance, his house became a living museum of the craft and other artifacts owned by Jim Thompson.
Curiously, he was a former architect, so he designed his own house in a traditional Thai style. The house also counts with tropical gardens and ponds with koi fish that contrast with Bangkok’s bustling environment.
21. Go to the Golden Mountain Temple
Also known as Wat Saket, the Golden Mountain Temple is one of those temples that are worth visiting, yet a lot of tourists don’t know about its existence. The temple dates back to the Ayutthaya era when it was known as Wat Sakae. When Bangkok became the capital, King Rama I renovated the temple and gave it its present name.
Hike up to the top of the “mountain,” which is actually a hill in the city, to reach the temple, but most importantly, take some time to admire the 360-degree panoramic view of the city from up there.
22. Bike the city at night
See Bangkok at a different speed, yet at your own pace. Bike all over the Khaosan area, which is the old town, and along the riverfront. Take the ferry to cross over to Wat Arun and bike on that side of the river too. Some temples are still open at night, so you are welcome to step in too.
Just be careful when crossing the street and avenues as Thai people have a reputation of being a bit “intense” when driving.
See, Bangkok has much more to offer than the chaos it is well known for! Below I’m including a Google Map with most of the sights mentioned above mapped for convenience. Not included are the floating markets, which are all outside the city.