Thailand’s capital, Bangkok, is consistently at or near the top of Mastercard’s Global Destinations list. It’s a must-see global city for all travelers.
Bangkok can certainly seem intimidating, with its chaotic streets and crazy nightlife. The city is a blend of old meets new. The traditional meets modern theme can be seen all around the city, with hundreds-of-year-old markets on the same street as a Starbucks and Mega malls with Buddhist shrines set up on the corner outside.
If you’re a Bangkok first-timer, let me spotlight some of the must-sees you don’t want to miss, with a sprinkle of my own basic travel tips to help make your time in Bangkok a success!
What to See and Do in Bangkok
The Grand Palace is a must-see in Bangkok. It’s a complex of Temples and other buildings that used to house the King, his court, and the royal government. Wat Phra Kaew and the Emerald Buddha displayed inside are highlights while visiting. Each building’s architecture is beautifully detailed and lavish.
It’s accessible by water taxi or the Chao Praya River Boat Express by getting off at Pier number 9, Maharaj Pier. Walk through Phra Chan Alley and turn right onto Na Phra That Road, walking to the end where to palace is located.
The Grand Palace is open daily from 8:30-3:30. Admission is 500 Baht. Plan to arrive early to avoid the crowds and the heat.
Dress appropriately. No sleeveless shirts, shorts, miniskirts, or flip flops. Clothing can be rented or purchase what you need from street vendors before heading in. (If I were you, I’d buy instead of renting. When have those sweaty rented clothes last been washed!?)
Wat Pho, also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, is a must-see while in Bangkok. The grounds have stunningly ornate flower stupas and the 150 foot long Reclining Buddha is a fantastic sight!
Located near the Grand Palace, access Wat Pho from Pier Number 8, Tha Tien. Tickets are 100 Baht and exact change is needed. Wat Pho is open daily from 8:00-6:30. Polite dress is expected. No shorts.
Tip: Did you know that you can visit the grounds of Wat Pho at night for free? Ok, so you can’t see the reclining Buddha, but the grounds are quiet. There are no crowds and the stupas are lit up and shimmering in the night sky. You won’t regret a night visit!
Wat Arun, or Temple of Dawn, is located across the river from Wat Pho. It’s an iconic landmark in the Bangkok skyline, best visited at sunrise or sunset because you can climb to the top for an excellent vantage point of the city. It’s a must-see while in Bangkok.
After visiting Wat Pho, take a boat from Tha Tien Pier for 3 Baht to cross over to Wat Arun. Ferries run from 6:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Unfortunately, at the time of writing this (July 2015), Wat Arun was still undergoing restorations. While you can enter the grounds for a reduced price of 50 Baht, it’s wrapped in scaffolding and the climb is closed.
TIP: To see the sunset over Bangkok instead, take the water taxi to the end or as close as possible and back to the Central Pier. It doesn’t give you the same view over the city as Wat Arun, but if you time it right, the sun will be setting as you make your way back to the Central Pier over the city skyline. The water taxi fare is just 15 Baht each way!
Bangkok doesn’t have a CityPass like Paris or New York. Entry to sights like the Grand Palace and Wat Pho have to be purchased individually. Be aware of scams, like a friendly, English-speaking man saying the Grand Palace is closed in an effort to get you to go someplace else, mainly a shop where he gets kickbacks.
Bangkok’s Flower Market is open 24 hours a day with the best times to visit being late at night or just before dawn. The market is visually stunning and a walk through is a must. You can also find fruits and vegetables for sale.
You can take the Chao Praya River Boat Express to Pier number 6, Pak Klong Talat. The flower market is on Chak Phet Road, close to Memorial Bridge.
Tip: Don’t be fooled by a greenish archway titled “Flower Market.” This is not the flower market, but rather an interesting vegetable market to walk through. It’s very local, though, and bustling with daily activities.
Bangkok is famous for its mega malls. The main 3 are Siam Paragon, Central World, and MBK. All 3 malls scale upwards and cover vast square footage. The food courts, restaurants, and markets located within in them tend to be just as big a draw as the shopping itself!
Siam Paragon and MBK can be reached from the Siam Station on the BTS Skytrain. Central World can be reached from the Chit Lom Station, just one stop away from Siam.
Siam Paragon is known for luxury brands like Cartier and Louis Vitton. There’s also a multiplex movie theater, an aquarium, a bowling alley, a karaoke center, an art exhibition hall, and an opera concert hall!
Central World is more the “middle-class” mall with more affordable brands like Gap, Zara, and H&M.
MBK Center is attached to Siam Paragon via a skywalk. Although selling items from clothes to furniture to electronics, MBK is known for its bargains on electronic items.
Tip: These malls make for excellent breaks from the sun and the heat. They are centrally located and have air conditioning and restrooms.
Chatuchak Market is a weekend market open from 6am-6pm Saturday and Sunday. If you are in Bangkok on the weekend, you must go. It’s 27 acres with a swirling labyrinth of streets and aisles selling everything you could ever want to buy. If it exists on the planet, one of the 15,000 booths is selling it here. If you see something you like, don’t wait because you most likely won’t find your way back to that same spot again. Be prepared to haggle for what you want. In some cases, you might pay 50% less than the first price you were told.
Take the Underground Train from the Sukhumvit Station (connection with Asoke) or the Silom Station (connection with Sala Daeng). For easier access, get off at Kamphaeng Phet Station, NOT the Chatuchak Park Station.
Tip: Make note of where you enter the market. Find any landmarks, exit number, shops, etc. to be able to use the market map and get back to where you need to be. The market is that big!
Tip: If you’re ready for some serious shopping, bring or buy a suitcase to load up all your goodies. For larger items, like housewares, UPS and DHL have shipping booths along the main street within the market.
Getting Around Bangkok
Bangkok isn’t the most pedestrian-friendly city. The air is stifling. The combination of the heat, the pollution, and the horrendously foul odor wafting up from below the streets can take your breath away. Bangkok’s chaotic traffic is relentless, with red brake lights illuminating even the dark streets of night. In most cases, there are no rules for crossing the streets and, on a smaller “soi” (side street), there are usually no sidewalks.
Use the local water taxi (15 Baht) or buy an all-day Tourist Pass (150 Baht) for the Chao Praya River Boat Express to navigate to popular spots like The Grand Palace, Wat Pho, and the flower market. The BTS Skytrain Silom line connects with the Central Pier at Saphan Thaksin.
Hail a taxi with its light illuminated but make sure the driver turns on the meter. If he refuses, say thanks and get the next available taxi. Rides begin at 35 Baht.
Get a ride on a motorbike if you need to get down a long side street or want to weave through traffic (and sometimes pedestrians on sidewalks!). Motorbike Taxi drivers, wearing orange vests, are on many corners waiting for riders. Wear a safety helmet and negotiate the price before riding.
Tuk-Tuks are available around many of the tourist destinations. Agree on a price before getting in and tell the driver exactly where you want to go and “no stops.” Stops usually involve bringing you to shops where they get kickbacks or petrol coupons, or worse, various types of scams. Tuk-Tuks also leave you exposed to the heat and pollution in the city.
Where to Stay in Bangkok
Bangkok has plenty of hotels in a range of budgets and loyalty programs for everyone. Check Hotel Hustle or AwardMapper to see the numerous hotels you can earn or pay for with points. Hotel prices are much lower in Bangkok compared to North American or European prices. For this reason, I decided it made more sense to pay for a hotel and save my points for pricier destinations.
I had an excellent stay at Legacy Suites Sukhumvit on Soi 29 between the Asoke and Phrom Phong BTS Skytrain stops. You can also search for and book more fantastic Bangkok hotels using the search box below.
Look for hotels near Sukhumvit Road or in the Silom District because of the convenient access to the Skytrain and water taxis. The few extra dollars a night is worth it to stay within walking distance to public transportation options.
So, have you been to Bangkok? What do you suggest for Bangkok First-Timers?
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