Bangkok is a great transport hub and is often the gateway to Southeast Asia for many travellers flying in from outside the region. While the capital city of Thailand isn’t the most beautiful place you’ve ever been it does have some attractions that make extending your Bangkok stopover to a few days or more a great idea.
This list of attractions contains some of my personal highlights of Bangkok; they are a great way to spend a few days and nights in the city. If you’re a Bangkok expat and have got guests coming into town, then these spots are a great way to give them a rounded view of the city in a short amount of time.
Take a River Ferry on the Chao Phraya
You could hire a long tail boat with a driver at the Central Pier, but for $20 a person or thereabouts it might not be your preferred way to spend your money. Another option is to take the express boat for less than $1 per person, and go up and down the river with the commuters. Even if you don’t get a seat this is a great way to see the city that has been built around this river. There is also a tourist version of the express boat which costs a bit more, but does allow hop on hop off access to the boats and includes live commentary. Due to the terrible road traffic in Bangkok, getting one of these boats whenever possible is always a better idea than battling the cars and bikes of Bangkok.
Getting There: these boats can be picked up at many of the piers along the Chao Phraya river, but start as the Central Pier, which is right next to Saphan Taksin BTS Skytrain station. You can buy a ticket on board from the conductor who will come and find you.
Chatuchak Weekend Market
This is the world’s largest weekend market, and it is a great way to dive in at the deep end when it comes to experiencing Asia. You can easily spend a day here browsing and eating your way around the stalls and shops. It’s a great way to try a whole wide range of fresh Thai food in one place. If you need to do any shopping for souvenirs or gifts to take back home, this is the place to come, with prices usually cheaper than the popular Bangkok tourist mall MBK. Longer term residents of Bangkok would do well to check out this market for picking up cheap home ware goods, such as plates, glasses and furniture. As this Bangkok market is so big, if you see anything you like, buy it, as you won’t be able to find it again on your way out! A word of warning though: stay away from the live animal section, and don’t even think about buying one of the cute puppies!
Getting There: you can either get to the market by hailing a cheap taxi or get the BTS Skytrain to Mo Chit station, or the MRT Subway to Chatuchak Park. There is a large park next door to the market if you fancy a break from the crowds.
Hit the Malls
Bangkok is a great place to visit if you are at the start of your travels, or are starting the next leg of your journey from a less hot and humid region. If you need to stock up on suitable clothing for the heat and humidity of Thailand or get some new travel gadgets you don’t really need then visiting one or two of the 100’s of malls of Bangkok is your best bet.
While prices aren’t going to be cheaper than back home, there is a good selection of shops in Bangkok to suit most tastes. To make life more comfortable in the hot and humid climate, pick up some sports wear to keep you cool and dry in the sticky weather, from one of the many sports shops in the big malls.
The best two malls in Bangkok are the massive Central World and the impressive Paragon shopping malls. Both are easily accessible from the Siam BTS Syktrain stop. These malls just aren’t for shopping though, as you can get great food, watch a movie, go bowling or see some underwater wildlife at the aquarium in the Paragon shopping mall.
Soak up the Views from the Sky
One of the great things about Bangkok is the low cost of living which gives you access to a lot of things you might not afford to do at home. One such option is to go for a drink at one of the rooftop bars of the five start hotels dotted around the city. While the prices of the drinks are greatly inflated at these bars, thanks to this being Thailand, they are still cheaper than a regular drink back home in most cases. When you factor in the views on offer at bars like the Moon bar at the Banyan Tree, and the Sky Bar at the State Tower, then the drinks seem like great value.
While they let most people into these bars, and there is no need to make a reservation, a dress code does apply which forbids flip flops, backpacks and sportswear, basically don’t look like a traveller!
See the Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho
The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew might be the main tourist spots in Bangkok for those looking for a bit of culture, but the Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho is much more impressive and easy to see. While popular, you won’t be queuing for hours and fighting with large crowds in order to see this 43 metre long, and 15 metre high gold leaf gilded lying down, or reclining Buddha. If you are only going to visit one temple in Bangkok then this is the one to see, although the Temple or Dawn, or Wat Arun, gives it a good run for its money. If you are going on to visit the rest of Thailand or any of its neighbouring countries then the chances are you will be templed-out pretty quickly, so pace yourself with the temple visits while in Bangkok.
Getting There: Wat Pho is easy enough and the best way is by river on the Chao Phraya Express and alighting at Tha Chang Pier (N 03 Pier).
Try Some Authentic Thai Street Food
Street food in Thailand is great because it is almost always freshly cooked, it comes in all shapes and sizes, and it costs almost nothing. Don’t be squeamish about eating food cooked on the streets of Bangkok as it’s cooked right before your eyes so is probably fresh. Besides it tastes great, so who cares if there is no running water for the cooks to wash the utensils and hands after handling raw meat or tasting some of their wares; we’re in Asia now so get used to it!
While there is street food everywhere you turn in Bangkok, if you want to go to one place where there is a large selection, as well as easy to read signs and lots of seats, then the little enclave at the mouth of Sukhumvit soi 38 is a perfect place to browse a varied selection of Thai street food in one location. You can even get a beer here once you are seated. These stalls don’t kick into action until after about 6pm but stay open until the early hours for those looking for a post-pub feed.
Getting There: you can easily get to the Thai street food at the mouth of Sukhumvit soi 38 by taking the BTS Skytrain to Thong Lo and then leaving the station using exit 4. Once at street level follow the smell of freshly cooking food.
While there are countless things to do and see in Bangkok, the above recommendations should give you a few ideas on how to get a diverse view of the city in just a few days, and hopefully see that there is more to Bangkok than smog, smut and insalubriousness.