With fabulous food, amazing accommodation and stunning sights, Bangkok is one of the most vibrant cities in Asia. The Thai capital can appear overwhelming at first glance, especially for first-time visitors landing at Suvarnabhumi airport bleary-eyed after a long-haul flight. Bustling Bangkok can be an all-out assault on the senses, but if you take time to explore the city it tends to have a happy habit of growing on you. Even for regular visitors to Bangkok, the ‘City of Angels’ still retains the capacity to surprise with something new to do and discover on every visit. And you don’t have to travel too far out of Bangkok to discover the diversity that makes Thailand such a rewarding destination to visit. Take time out from the Thai capital to explore ancient Ayutthaya, enjoy the natural beauty of Khao Yai or pay your respects at the wartime locations in Kanchanaburi.
What to see and do in Bangkok
At some stage, most visitors to the Thai capital will want to tick-off their Bangkok ‘must-dos’. That list usually includes the most famous tourist attractions like the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, and Wat Arun. There are, though, so many more attractions and cultural experiences awaiting visitors to Bangkok. Take a look at our suggestions below for what to see and do during your stay in the Thai capital.
Golden Mount and Wat Saket
For some of the best views in Bangkok, head to the Golden Mount (Phu Khao Tong). There was a time when the Golden Mount was the highest point in Bangkok. Although that claim to fame has long since gone, the panoramic views from the top remain as impressive as ever and will cost you just 20 Baht plus a bit of legwork and sweat to walk up the 300-plus steps to the top.
Baan Bat Community
The bowls used by Thai monks on their daily alms round used to be hand-made in Thailand, but these days most are mass-produced at factories elsewhere in Asia. Fortunately, there is one local community in Bangkok that is keeping the old traditions alive. The Baan Bat monk’s bowl community is a fascinating place to visit and welcomes visitors. Buying a handmade bowl from one of the artisans is a beautiful souvenir and helps preserve the tradition. The Baan Bat community is a short walk away from the Golden Mount.
M R Kukrit’s Heritage Home
Many visitors to Bangkok may already be familiar with Jim Thompson’s House, but there is another architectural gem tucked away in a quiet lane in the Sathorn district. M.R. Kukrit’s Heritage Home, also known as Baan Suan Phlu, is a delightful collection of traditional Thai pavilions set amongst picturesque gardens. The house was the residence of a former prime minister, M.R. Kukrit Pramoj. Although the owner passed away in 1995 it retains its homely atmosphere and has been lovingly kept by the owner’s son.
Relax and unwind
After a hot and tiring day of sightseeing, treat yourself to a massage or spa treatment. And what better place to get a massage than at Wat Pho, the home of traditional Thai medicine and massage. For something slightly different, Perception Blind Massage is another good choice. Opened in 2014 in the Sathorn district of the capital, Perception provide employment for blind or visually impaired therapists. The set-up is excellent and it makes an ideal add-on to a visit to the nearby M.R. Kukrit’s Heritage Home. More options for treatments are available from the well-respected Health Land Spa which has a number of convenient locations across Bangkok. Also worth seeking out for some pampering is the Oasis Spa in the Sukhumvit area.
Bangkok Art and Culture Centre
Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) is a wonderful venue that never seems to get the attention it deserves. With free entry it’s an ideal way to escape the heat for a few hours. If art galleries and exhibitions aren’t usually your thing, don’t worry. BACC is a welcoming space and with some fabulous little boutiques, cafes and coffee shops, this is the perfect place to relax for a few hours or sit down and plan the rest of your day in Bangkok. BACC also happens to be handily placed for the central Siam shopping district which leads us neatly on to retail therapy.
Shopping in Bangkok
Bangkok is a haven for shopaholics. Ranging from super-chic malls to street stalls to floating markets, Bangkok is retail paradise. Head to Siam BTS Skytrain station where you’ll find a cluster of malls close at hand. Terminal 21 near Asoke Skytrain is cleverly designed and the roof gardens at EmQuartier (adjacent to Phrom Phong Skytrain) offer city views and a chilled atmosphere. Opened at the end of 2018, Iconsiam adds another dimension to shopping in the Thai capital with river views and an outstanding food court featuring regional dishes from around Thailand. At the other end of the scale there is the much-loved MBK Centre and the famous Chatuchak Weekend Market. For that quintessential Bangkok experience, take a trip out to one of the city’s floating markets. The most famous one is at Damnoen Saduak. Although the floating market here can be touristy it’s still sanuk. There are plenty of other floating markets to choose from in and around Bangkok, although many are only open at the weekend.
Enjoy Bangkok’s open air
Bangkok might not have glorious parks to rival those found in London or many other British and Irish cities, but there are some gems dotted around the Thai capital. Lumpini Park is the first and arguably still the best park in the Thai capital. Ever popular with locals, Lumpini is something of a Bangkok institution, but there are some quieter alternatives including the picturesque Saranrom Royal Garden opposite Wat Pho. To really make the most of Bangkok’s quieter areas consider taking a bicycle tour into the ‘Bangkok Jungle’ or ride around the quieter neighbourhoods of the city.
Where to stay in Bangkok
Take your time before deciding where to stay in Bangkok. First-time visitors may find it easier to stay near a Metro or Skytrain station. There are pros and cons to different areas, but wherever you choose it’s comforting to know that the Thai capital is home to some of the best value hotels in the region.
For a classic Bangkok experience, base yourself at any of the city’s excellent riverside hotels. Many have free shuttle boat services to get you to and from the central Sathorn Pier from where it’s easy to connect to the Chao Phraya River boats and also to the BTS Skytrain at Saphan Taksin.
Anantara Riverside Resort
Royal Orchid Sheraton
Known as Rattanakosin Island, the area that forms Old Bangkok was once surrounded by city walls and protected by the Chao Phraya River on one side and a network of canals on the other. If you enjoy walking, staying in this historic area of Bangkok puts you within range of some fascinating city walks taking in the most iconic sights of Bangkok. Pick up a free copy of the excellent Bangkok European Heritage Map or download their app (free for Android and Apple devices) for more ideas.
Aurum the River Place
With convenient access to Skytrain and Metro services and an excellent choice of accommodation in all price brackets, the Sukhumvit Road area is a popular choice with visitors.
Aloft Bangkok Sukhumvit 11
Westin Grande Sukhumvit
Silom and Sathorn
Food and drink in Bangkok
Bangkok isn’t just a shopper’s paradise, it’s also foodie heaven. Locals will have their own preferred go-to street vendors so follow your nose and look for where Thai people are eating. If you want to try street food but are slightly hesitant, pay a visit to any of the food courts found at many of the city’s shopping malls (usually on the basement level). These food courts offer a good introduction to many Thai favourites with dishes served in a clean and comfortable environment. If you love Thai food and are staying in Bangkok, then you have the chance to join a cooking class with a lady called Poo who has become something of a local celebrity. Bangkok is justifiably famous for its street food, but it also has some stand-out restaurants and bars. If you haven’t yet visited, do pay a visit to Cabbages and Condoms. Don’t be put off by the name because the food is tasty and the restaurant supports an important cause. For a special dining experience, the Manohra River Cruise is a great choice. Converted rice barges provide an elegant way to see the Chao Phraya River at night and the food is superb too as you might expect from the chefs at the Anantara Riverside. Staying with the riverside theme, pay a visit to either Eagle’s Nest at Sala Arun for sunset drinks with exquisite views of Wat Arun or next door at Sala Rattanakosin for dinner. It seems that hardly a month goes by without another rooftop bar or restaurant opening in Bangkok. Traditional favourites can be found at Banyan Tree (Vertigo and Moon Bar) and Lebua State Tower (Sirocco and The Dome) to name just a few. For delightful views over Lumpini Park, check out Park Society at Sofitel So. If you’ve over-indulged at the shopping malls in the Siam district, take time-out to recover at Red Sky Bar above the Centara Grand Hotel.
Bangkok travel tips
Bangkok’s BTS Skytrain and MRT Metro are modern, clean and comfortable and are an excellent way to get around Bangkok. At the moment their reach is limited and they can get crowded, so depending on where you are staying or what you want to see, you may need to use taxis too. For taxis that are flagged down in the street, they should all use their meters. Tell the driver where you want to go, they put on the meter and away you go. Fares are cheap compared to the UK and Ireland and they are an affordable way to get around the city although Bangkok traffic jams can be notorious. The taxis that tend to offer a higher fixed fare are the ones that are parked up outside hotels and tourist attractions. These can be convenient, but you will save money by flagging a taxi down in the street rather than use one that is parked up waiting for customers. Tuk-tuks can be fun, but generally will be more expensive than taxis. If you want to try a tuk-tuk, but are concerned about getting scammed, try the highly recommended Bangkok night-lights tuk-tuk tour with Expique.