Bangkok is many things. It’s dense, noisy, polluted, chaotic and beautiful. It’s ancient and modern at the same time. The culmination of generations of rice farmers and traders colliding with the modern age. Walk just 1 block in Bangkok and you will experience 15 different smells, each more pungently offensive or curiously amazing than the next. You’ll walk past skyscrapers going up faster than they ever should, towering over tin metal-roofed markets that have been there for decades, and see people from every country on the earth living, working and experiencing what I consider the most interesting city on the planet.
Any trip to Thailand will usually start with at least a day or two stay in Bangkok. I think that, as a minimum, if you squeeze in these 5 Bangkok Activities, you can rest easy that you’ve gotten a good sense of the Asian City of Angels:
#1 Sunset Cocktails at a Rooftop Bar
The Bangkok rooftop bar scene has become quite the attraction in and of itself in the past few years, and for good reason. Bangkok in the sky is a much different place than at street level. Due to the unique (read: non-existent) zoning laws, the skyline stretches out almost as far as you can see. Combine this with the smog and generally clear weather, and this is a recipe for some truly epic sunsets.
Most of the rooftop bars have a classy vibe, play low house music and serve some amazing (and pricey) drinks. Best enjoyed by making a reservation for a good table prior to showing up slightly well dressed (Dress codes usually apply, typically no sandals, athletic gear, sleeveless shirts. Sorry beach bums.) Watch the “City of Angels” transform into the nocturnal animal that it is, as the city turns its lights on as the sun sets while sipping a drink from well above all the chaos.
- Skybar at Lebua at State Tower Hotel
- Above Eleven on Sukhumvit Soi 11
- Octave at Marriot
- Moon Bar/ Vertigo at Banyan Tree Hotel
#2 Eat Street Food in Chinatown
One of the things many think of when they think of Thailand is the street food: Chicken on a stick or Pad Thai, perhaps. There is so much more than that. While you can find street food all across Bangkok (it’s how Thais eat many of their meals, not just for tourists) the best and widest variety is found in Chinatown. Bangkok has the largest Chinatown in the world, and you can sample hundreds of types of street food here. A walk along Yaowarat Road will open up opportunities to satisfy all of your street food desires. For those that aren’t so big into street food, go anyway, and don’t judge Thai street food until you’ve done so.
#3 See the Temples
Bangkok is full of temples. All kinds of temples. Big temples, small temples, old temples, new temples. Some are less known, some are famous and will be congested with tourists from all over the world. But you should certainly make a point to see these temples or you’ll have really missed out. Don’t worry, they can all be done in 1 day. Make sure to read another article Here to aid you in this highly congested tourist zone.
Besides being the official residence of the King, it’s also home to Wat Phra Kaew, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, a 600-year old Buddha said to have come from India and a revered relic in Theravada Buddhism. The Architecture within these grounds is in and of itself a good enough reason to visit, even if you’re not into the history. Be advised that there is a strict dress code in effect at the Grand Palace. In essence, wear long pants, no athletic gear (to include sleeveless shirts) and no sandals.
Temple of the Reclining Buddha
Wat Pho is most famous for containing the Temple of the Reclining Buddha (the giant reclining, gold Buddha above). Located a few blocks from the Grand Palace, the grounds also house the most Buddha statues and images in all of Thailand. Additionally, Wat Pho is the home of Thai massage, where it is still taught and provided to tourists (at an obviously premium price).
Temple of the Dawn
The Temple of the Dawn, located on the West Bank of the river and easily reached via boat from the East bank (boats run regularly) has been standing, in some way shape or form, since Bangkok’s founding. Ironically, though this is the Temple of the Dawn, what is magnificent to see is the sunset behind it. Recommend doing this from one of the hotel bars in the Riverside/ Thonburi area.
Temple of the Golden Buddha
The Temple of the Golden Buddha, located on Yaowarat Road in Chinatown. Yes, Bangkok has plenty of Buddhas, and many of them are Gold.
Temple of the Golden Mountain
Wat Saket sits at the top of a small mountain (it’s a little bit of a hike). Most famous by the large Golden spire at the top. The views of Bangkok are great.
#4 Watch a Muay Thai Match
At Rajadamnern or Lumphini Stadiums. Muay Thai is the national sport of Thailand. “Thai Boxing” as it’s known to Thais, is the sport of 5 limbs: Fists, Elbows, Knees, Legs, and Head. It can be a very brutal martial art and is surprisingly practiced by most Thais at some point in their lives, many learning similarly to kids in other countries playing baseball or football. No trip to Bangkok is complete without seeing a real match.
Catch the evening schedules Here, and buy the 2nd class ticket. Any VIP or other deal is a waste of money, as you actually get a better view at ring level with the 2nd class ticket.
#5 Go Bangkok Market Hopping
Bangkok is full of markets (Shocker!) Food markets, clothing markets, cheap fake goods markets, everything can be found at a market. Though against the rules I laid out in my article on Tuk Tuks Here, it may make sense to work a deal with a Tuk Tuk driver for an entire day of market hopping. Just be sure to read 9 Golden Rules for Negotiating in Thailand before you go.
The largest of Bangkoks’ markets are outlined below:
Ratchada Rot Fai Train Market: The Train Market is open in the evenings and best to visit in good weather on the weekends for a plethora of food and drink options.
Chatuchak Weekend Market: Chatuchak Market is the largest in Bangkok. Anything can be found here, but only on the weekends.
Patpong Night Market: Mostly cheap tourist souvenirs, best to go here if you’re planning to knock out some nightlife at the same time as shopping for gifts.
Pratunam Market: Market full of clothes and other random goods. Also, nearby Pantip Plaza to make a well-rounded shopping experience.
Klong Toey Fresh Market: Where the freshest food comes in for sale around the city each day. Go early and check out the chaos.