Nine fabulous things to do in Bangkok
Who knew that there are so many things to do in Bangkok? I stopped there for a few days during my second trip to South East Asia, on my way to Vietnam. After having visited Indonesia in October on what was an enlightening experience as well as a complete cultural shock, I wasn’t expecting much from the Thai capital or from Asia, to be honest. But I must admit it positively surprised me. I had planned to stop there for just enough time to rest after my long flight from Italy and to adjust to the time difference before heading to Hanoi. And by the time I had to leave, I could not help wishing I could stay a little longer.
Read about my experience in Indonesia on my post “Fantastic things to do in Indonesia.”
Truth be told, I didn’t know much about Bangkok; I had never bothered researching about Bangkok attractions. I just thought of it as yet another huge city. The thing is, I don’t really enjoy big cities and, for as interesting as they might be, after spending a mere two days exploring the must sees and browsing the museums, I start feeling suffocated by the concrete and the crowds and I feel the urge to leave and immerse myself in nature. That’s what happened when I visited Buenos Aires, in Argentina. That’s how I felt when I went to Panama City, in Panama.
Read more about Argentina on my post “Great Things to do in Argentina.”
Find out more about Panama City on my post “Just a few things to do in Panama.”
However, none of this happened to me in Bangkok. I had no idea that there are a million things to do in Bangkok, and so many places to visit in Bangkok that would keep me entertained for days on end.
Bangkok proved to be a fantastic introduction to the region and a great starting point to further explore Thailand – it is fairly easy to reach the famous Thai islands such as Koh Chang from Bangkok. It is busy and full of life, with a very Asian soul, yet international and open minded. It helped me ease down the inevitable cultural shock of jumping from the Western world to the completely different South East Asia.
To read more about Koh Chang, check my post “Why Koh Chang is one of the best islands in Thailand.”
Sure enough I had not predicted, when I booked my flight, that I would fall in love with Bangkok the minute I’d set foot there. As soon as I got on the train that took me from the international airport to my hotel, in Lumpini Park, I started appreciating the buzz of the city and began searching for things to do in Bangkok. And my interest in this city grew by the minute, to the point that despite being exhausted after the long journey, I didn’t waste any time to rest and went out moments after checking into my hotel.
As I dove head first into Bangkok nightlife, I finally understood why so many travelers rave about it. Although I only had a few days to explore Bangkok, I managed to make the most of it and to get a good feel for the city. I have thus decided to put together my personal selection of the things to do in Bangkok in just a few days, with a few recommendations to save time (and money) here and there.
Things to do in Bangkok in just a few days
Enjoy Bangkok funky architecture and multiple layers
Among the millions of things to do in Bangkok, I particularly enjoyed admiring its funky architecture. I was immediately captured by how modern skyscrapers stand right next to historical buildings, traditional homes and temples. Modern highways cut across the city, whereas tiny alleys develop a web that connects its most remote corners.
To me, one of the most interesting Bangkok attractions is its layers. I have yet to think of another city that I can compare to Bangkok in this sense. I think it is simply incredible how a huge part of the city has developed on three different levels. Cars, buses, tuk tuks and scooters dodge the traffic of the ground level. The state of the art sky train and the metro dominate the first level, with huge led screens placed around town to entertain the passengers that stand in orderly lines waiting for their train and to advertise the latest mobile technology. Finally, on the top level there’s the sky walk, that allows pedestrians to walk across the city without having to bother with the traffic of the ground level.
I really enjoyed walking around Bangkok, following the sky walk and looking at the buzzing life below and I recommend it as one of the things to do in Bangkok.
Visit the stunning temples
I simply couldn’t go to Bangkok and skip the incredible temples of Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Pho and Wat Arun. Among the many places to visit in Bangkok, these are literally a must.
What makes these Bangkok attractions outstanding is their sheer beauty; their historical, cultural and religious value and the fact that they are perfectly kept. Watching the tall white buildings, with their golden roofs and colorful green and blue mosaic walls against the clear sky is simply fascinating.
One of the things to do in Bangkok is pay homage to the enormous statue of the reclining Buddha in Wat Pho temple. Wat Phra Kaew temple is even larger and more elaborate, if only a bit harder to explore due to the crowds and the vastity of the place. Another of the places to visit in Bangkok is Wat Arun, also known as the temple of dawn (it takes its name after the Indian god of dawn). However, its main feature, which is an 82 meters Khmer style tower, is currently under restoration and can’t be climbed.
Practical information and advice:
These Bangkok attractions are right next to each other and can be easily visited in half a day. Admission to Wat Pho is 100 Baht; whereas Wat Phra Kaew costs 500 Baht.
If planning a visit to the temples, make sure to be properly dressed. As most of the temples of Bangkok, these are sacred places and it is required to wear long pants, skirts below the knee and long sleeves shirts in order to visit. In a way, wearing such clothes works well as a protection against the blistering sun of Thailand and if the fabric is light and perspirant such as cotton, one doesn’t suffer the heat too much. Furthermore, visitors are required to take off their shoes before entering the sacred buildings and to observe silence wherever people are praying.
My recommendation is, if possible at all, to avoid visiting during the weekend and plan a visit during the week. Indeed, these Bangkok attractions attract large numbers of Chinese tourists who are increasingly getting a bad reputation as rude tourists for speaking loudly (or, better, screaming) despite the fact that they are visiting a sacred place, pushing around and elbowing and going right to the front of the line to get in before anybody else (I kept wandering what their rush was!) and taking the ultimate selfie.
Explore Bangkok’s Canals (and avoid a scam or two!)
Not far from the area where the temples are located, among of the most interesting things to do in Bangkok is boarding a long tail boat to explore one of Bangkok attractions: its canals. The boat tour goes by Wat Arun temple and then enters a narrow canal; it moves on to another temple and various areas where people stop to feed the fish. There even are some ladies on boats that sell all sorts of items, in the fashion of the floating market. This is a nice way to get away from the chaos and noise of the city, but it is not possible to disembark the boats unfortunately. The views are gorgeous nevertheless.
Practical information and advice:
A boat tour of the Bangkok Canals lasts about one hour and should cost no more than 100 Baht per person and depart from one of the official docks around town – it is better to check in advance for the departure points.
Bangkok is packed with “friendly locals” who are keen to help tourists find their way around town and who suggest activities and things to do in Bangkok. I only know too well (or else, I would not be an unsuccessful backpacker): I soon learned that the very friendly guy who offered his help to find a boat tour across one of Bangkok attractions was only a scammer, as I ended up paying 10 times more (yes, I paid 1000 Baht for that boat tour!).
Find out why I think I am an unsuccessful backpacker on my post “How to be an unsuccessful backpacker.”
Pay a visit to Jim Thompson House
Among the places to visit in Bangkok, Jim Thompson deserves a special mention. He was an American architect turned silk entrepreneur who fell in love with Thailand and did everything he could to bring back to splendor the art of silk production in the country. So much he loved Thailand that he established his residence there, in a house that was fully built according to Thai traditions. He disappeared mysteriously during a visit to Malaysia in 1967.
Visiting Jim Thompson House is one of the best things to do in Bangkok, but it can’t be done independently. It is necessary to arrive a bit in advance and sign up for a guided tour, which costs around 120 Baht including the entrance fee. The tour is available in English and French. The guides take visitors around the house, giving a good explanation of the architectural style of the house and of the various artifacts to be found there. Photos are not allowed inside the buildings but just in the gardens.
Visit the flower market
Included in the things to do in Bangkok that I enjoyed the most is visiting the wholesale flowers market, Pak Klong. What is interesting about Pak Klong is that it is open 24/7 – in fact I visited when it was already dark. Pretty much any kind of flower is sold here, from the traditional roses to the lotus flowers which are worked to various shapes. Shop keepers use ice to keep the flowers fresh against the heat of the city, and most businesses are family run.
Gorge on Bangkok delicious street food and learn about SE Asia food culture
If I had to pick just one reason to go back to Bangkok, it would be its incredible food scene. One of the most fun things to do in Bangkok for me was indeed gorging on its delicious street food. Coming from me, not exactly a foodie (rather, a terribly picky eater), such a statement is worth a million times more. Unsure where to start from, and hardly adventurous with food, I decided to go on a street food tour so that I would have some guidance on what to eat and on which places to pick. It was the best decision I took in a long time!
Doing a street food tour is one of the things to do in Bangkok not only for the short term gain of eating delicious food, but also because it teaches a lot about the culture of the country (the importance of eating together, of sharing the dishes, and the overall food culture of South East Asia), and it gives some good insights on how to pick the best places for street food. I quickly understood that the best places are those that have a line (that has to mean something, when people line up to eat!), where the food is cooked to order and where food is constantly being cooked.
The tour took me around Chinatown – one of the places to visit in Bangkok – and stopped at some of the most popular food stalls. The first dish I ate was a vermicelli stir fry which consisted of glass noodles, shrimps, chicken and eggs as well as cabbage, celery and spring onions. It was deliciously spicy and thus made my beer all the more welcome and refreshing.
The second place where the tour stopped was so popular that we actually had to wait for a while before being seated – and yes, it was really worth it! This was a seafood place, where my guide ordered some grilled squid and some scallops. I must say, I have never really liked scallops before – I find them too chewy. But these were mouthwatering and just delicious. And after all, having good seafood is one of the top things to do in Bangkok!
Our final stop was at a homemade noodles place – the kind of place where, once the noodles are sold out, has to close for the day. We ordered two noodles dishes – a soup one and a dry one. Both came with a dumpling and both were absolutely mouthwatering. So much I enjoyed it that I think this place should be officially included in the list of Bangkok attractions.
Stuffed as I was, I still managed to eat some fruit on the go. I tried a pineapple – I must have been the first sale of the evening as the lady who sold that pineapple said some sort of prayer after my guide paid her, for good business. She then cleaned the small pineapple and put it on a stick, much as a lollypop. So I walked around with my fruit lollypop, juice drooling all over my face and arms as I enjoyed what must have been the sweetest pineapple I have ever had.
Have fun in Bangkok nightlife
Dodging Bangkok nightlife is no easy task. There are bars and nightclubs everywhere in Bangkok, but with such a choice and in such a wide city, it isn’t always easy to find a place that matches one’s tastes and interests. I was lucky enough to have a friend who lives in Bangkok take me around – she knew exactly where to go and we ended up at a fun place with live music, the kind of place we used to go in our college years back home.
In recent years Bangkok nightlife has seen a tightening of regulations. Bars and clubs now close between 1:00 and 2:00 am (way past my bedtime anyways!) and smoking is not permitted indoors (a welcome fact for me, as I can’t stand cigarette smoke!). In general, unless at a dirt cheap backpackers’ kind of place, cocktails are generally good.
As my friend who lives in Bangkok explained to me, the trick to make the most of the incredible Bangkok nightlife is to know where to go on which night of the week. In lack of a local friend, there are some websites that report the various bars, clubs and whatever is on in Bangkok nightlife.
Shop till you drop
I have never really had much interest in shopping – most of my money is spent on travel and on travel related items. Having said so, one of the best things to do in Bangkok is shopping, so much so that I would never recommend the city to a shopaholic on her way to recovery. From small market to shopping malls, from designer clothes to bargains, the only issue one may find while shopping in Bangkok is having to choose among the millions of inviting items to buy. Even I could not resist the temptation and had to shop!
Have a proper night’s sleep in a fabulous hotel
One of the best things to do in Bangkok is to be treated to a great hotel. The good news is that luxury is more than affordable there, and that even a budget hotel such as Nasa Vegas can be a total treat. Besides, Bangkok is so big that, in terms of accommodation, there is something for any budgets and need: from hostel dorms to home-stays, from boutique hotels to luxury and anything in between.
Knowing that I can’t stand traffic noise and that I need my beauty sleep, I decided to stay in Lumpini Park, an area that, although very well connected to all the main Bangkok attractions, is not nearly as busy. Lumpini Park, in Silom, is where most embassies and consulates are located; it is clean, quiet and with lots of trees and pleasant to walk around. In fact, Lumpini Park is one of the places to visit in Bangkok. Lumpini Park is also where the Aetas Hotel Lumpini is located.
I stayed at Somerset Park Suanplu Bangkok and had an entire 70 square meters apartment to myself. Arriving there after a long journey from Italy, I was really happy to find such a spacious, comfortable and quiet place.
My apartment was on the 20th floor, offering an incredible view of the city. It consisted of a large bedroom with all the amenities and a balcony; a fantastic living room with a cozy sofa and a large flat screen tv; a walk in closet which included an ironing board and a safe; a fully equipped kitchen with a large fridge, washing machine and anything I may possibly need to prepare and serve a meal (provided that one would ever cook in a city like Bangkok, where street food is so good!) as well as a large dining table; and a bathroom with a walk in shower.
The hotel has a gym, but I am more of a swimming pool kind of girl so I found no better way to relax and wash away the heat of the day after having explored the city than jumping in that fantastic pool.
Breakfast at Somerset Park is incredibly varied – from traditional Thai dishes, to eggs, pancakes, and pastries and a very large selection of fresh fruit. The hotel also offers a free tuk tuk service to the main metro station nearby, and to some of Bangkok attractions – which is very convenient.
Somerset Park really proved to be an excellent choice of a place to stay for me. In fact, if I ever go back to Bangkok for a prolonged visit, I plan to stay there again.
Have you ever been to Bangkok? What did you like the most about it?
LEGAL DISCLAIMER: I was a guest of Somerset Park Suanplu Bangkok during my trip to Thailand, however all the views expressed are my own.