From trying street food to discovering the most sacred or trendiest places, the City of Angels will have something for you
For a city with so much to offer, how can you pick just seven things to do during a visit to Bangkok? Indeed, there are 101 things a visitor can do in the city, but here are our recommendations, based on a brainstorming by a team consisting of both old hands and newcomers, of veteran travelers and enthusiastic greenhorns.
Street Food at Yaowaraj
Yaowaraj is the main artery of Bangkok’s Chinatown. While this area is hardly on top of the foreign visitor’s Bangkok to-do lists, locals love this area of their city, especially in the evening when the gigantic neon signs are truly alluring, and the streets are filled with food stalls, carts, and makeshift restaurants offering various goods and delicacies.
If you like Chinese food, try to find Soi Phadung Dao (Soi Texas) for the city’s best selection of Chinese restaurants. If you’re not that squeamish, just on a tight budget, or simply willing to try what the locals do, take a seat in one of the numerous street restaurants and enjoy a meal for no more than THB 50.
To get there take a boat from Saphan Taksin and get off at the Talingchan Pier.
Haggling at Chatuchak
A must on the mainstream Bangkok itinerary, Chatuchak is a weekend market where you can buy just about anything. Said to be one of the world’s largest weekend markets, it covers an area of 27 acres and is divided into 27 sections. It contains more than 15,000 booths selling goods from all over Thailand.
The market is popular among both locals and foreign visitors, and an estimated 200,000 visitors go to Chatuchak on weekends. Many say goods there are sold at a bargain local prices (not tourist prices), but in fact there may be other places where prices are cheaper. Still, for a tourist who does not know Bangkok much, nothing compares to Chatuchak shopping. It’s the mother of all weekend markets in Thailand. Many vendors actually come from local factories, and you can buy antique wood carvings, clay handicrafts, local souvenirs from every parts of Thailand, Buddhist amulets, wooden furniture, hand made decorated flowers, plant, ceramics, Thai Benjarong, Chinese wares, garden plants, trendy fashions, silk, hilltribe outfits, and much, much more. There are also restaurants and eateries for those who want to take a break from shopping.
To get there take the BTS skytrain to Mo Chit station.
Malling for Arts and Shopping
Bangkok’s fame as a shopping haven is quite justified. With the proliferation of new trendy, plush mega malls within easy to reach of tourist areas, shopping in Bangkok has become an all the more appealing proposition. Two of the major shopping venues that rank high as tourist favorites are CentralWorld, on Ratchaprasong District, and Mah Boon Kong (MBK), on Phaya Thai Road.
CentralWorld is on the heart of the city’s major tourist hub, where other glitzy shopping malls and five-star hotels are also located, and it has a direct access to the skytrain via a connecting sky bridge. Dubbed a lifestyle-shopping destination of Bangkok, it is great even for just taking a break from the Bangkok heat. Both chic international brands and top-flight Thai brands are represented here, along with many other kinds of shops and stores. The mall also boasts a wide range of eateries, and there’s a cinema complex on the seventh floor. CentralWorld regularly holds events and exhibits that add to the pleasure of a day out there.
Also, don’t forget to check out Gaysorn Plaza, Erawan Shopping Mall, Amarin Plaza, Central Chidlom, Siam Center, and Siam Paragon—all along the skytrain route.
MBK is very tourist-oriented and, indeed, it can be crowded day in and day out, especially during the peak season of tourists. There’s a dedicated Thai arts and crafts section, aside from the department store, as well as sections devoted to computers, cell phones, and other electronic gadgets. There’s a cinema complex as well and a number of restaurants to complete the “malling” experience. Some say the prices of goods here are more inexpensive compared to other major malls on the route, but it really depends on what you are buying.
These shopping centers can be reached via the BTS skytrain, for example, CentralWorld via Chidlom station; Siam Paragon via Siam Square station; and MBK via the National Stadium station.
Get Trendy in Thonglor
The saying goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Well, when in Bangkok, go where the Bangkokians go for dining, drinking, shopping, and sheer fun. And where is it today, but in Thonglor?
Thonglor, more officially Sukhumvit Soi 55, is the new hip street for entertainment that young Thai professionals and the city’s chic crowd, including discerning expats and tourists, are increasingly being attracted to. Once simply known as Bangkok’s “Beverly Hills” of sorts—meaning the place where a great many well-placed, high-heeled people live—Thonglor today (and, by extension, Ekkamai) has become a veritable true-blue entertainment hub with restaurants, stores, bar, and clubs. Often described as hip, trendy, or chic, Thonglor has been proliferating since the 1990s.
The main access to Thonglor, if you’re a visitor, is by the BTS skytrain (Thonglor station), but many streets from main Sukhumvit Road actually cut through it.
Chill Out in Fabled Khao Sarn
Who hasn’t heard of Khao San Road? This famous destination for travelers and budget tourists is like an icon in the world’s backpacker culture, that it is even said that missing Khao Sarn on a trip to Bangkok is akin to missing the Eiffel Tower on a trip to Paris.
This short street in Bangkok’s Banglamphu area, dubbed “The Place to Disappear” by American journalist Susan Orlean, offers relatively cheap accommodation (hotels and guesthouses), restaurants, pubs, clubs, shops selling all kinds of night bazaar items, travel agents, and so on. It’s quite near the city’s major tourist landmarks (the Grand Palace is just one kilometer away), and it is said that you can arrange your entire Asian trip from here.
“Khaosan” translates as “milled rice” and, indeed, the street was a former major rice market. It has become a popular chillout place among local residents in recent years, and especially among young Thais, probably because it is close to Silpakorn and Thammasat universities. One Thai writer has described Khaosan as “a short road that has the longest dream in the world.”
Imagine watching those shimmering temples, glistening skyscrapers, not to mention a rich stream of nocturnal traffic that greets the eye from all corners, while you wine and dine in luxurious surroundings.
Rivers and canals have always been vital forms of communication for Thais, and the Chao Phraya is especially central to the kingdom’s history. It was on this river that Bangkokians first settled before gradually spreading into the core of the country. Traces of this past history can be seen in the varying architectural landmarks along the river. Also, visitors can still get a glimpse of the Thais’ traditional riverine lifestyle, even though Bangkok has become an ultra modern city. The river pulses with many river cruises that offer not only magnificent views but also delectable Thai food, topnotch service, and sometimes even great live music. Whether you book the Grand Pearl Cruise, the Ayutthaya Rice Barge Dinner Cruise, Chao Phraya Dinner Cruise, Bangkok Marriott’s Manohra Dinner Cruise, Shangri-La’s Horizon Cruise, or any other cruise for that matter, you are sure to enjoy the trip.
Tourists can book such a river cruise through travel agents or rent a boat at Tha Chang (02 225 6179, 02 623 6169), a pier near the Grand Palace, or Tha Si Phraya (●02 235 3108) near River City Shopping Complex.
Simple Temple Trek: Wat Suthat
One of Thailand’s six most important temples, Wat Suthat is at the center of Rattanakosin Island. If you plan to visit only one Thai temple during your visit, and you have seen the Grand Palace already, this is a great alternative.
This temple has the longest ubosot in Thailand (72 meters), and boasts temple murals painted by artisans in the reign of King Rama III. The principal Buddha image is named Phra Puttatri Lokachet and is cast in alloy in the Subduing Mara position. The murals at the Phra Viharn Luang, copied from the Wat Mongkolpobhit in Ayutthaya, are considered by many to be the most beautiful artwork of the Rattanakosin period. The temple is also adjacent to what is called the “Giant Swing,” a relic of the kingdom’s early Brahmin beliefs. It’s located on Bamrung Muang Road.