Whether you’re riding on a Tuk Tuk through the snarl of its neon-lit streets or plopping down by the crowded tableside of its many gas-powered roadside kitchens, Bangkok is simply electric. A sprawling cosmopolitan urban centre pulsing with the din of markets, booming nightclubs, and live entertainments, Bangkok is animated by its decadent nightlife. But at its core, the city remained true to its transcendental Buddhist culture with the many gilded Wats, Buddhist temples, and historical monuments found alongside gleaming skyscrapers and the rumbling city streets.
From what to do and see when visiting this glittering world-class metropolis, here is our list of the top 5 things to do in Bangkok.
Visit the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew
Located in the heart of the city, the Grand Palace and temple complex once served as the residence of the Kings of Siam and Thailand. During the period of absolute monarchy, it was also the administrative centre for the country.
Built in 1782, the Grand Palace overlooks the Cho Rhraya River from behind ivory walls, with golden pavilion rooftops rising above the parapet and manicured tree line. Up close, it’s an impressive display of Thai architectural craftsmanship. The courtyard and main buildings are asymmetrically designed, containing a wide range of Thai and European style accumulated over various development stages. Inside, palace’s gilded halls are decorated with murals, marble floors and chandeliers, liken to a European-style royal palace.
Adjacent to the palace grounds is the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Wat Phra Kaew. Within the compound, are golden chedis surrounded by temple walls crawling with intricately carved religious motifs inlaid with gemstones and miniature gold statues. The temple houses a 66cm tall statue of a Buddha carved from a single translucent jade stone, considered to be one of the most sacred religious objects in all of Thailand.
Walk a few blocks in Bangkok, and you’ll go from gleaming skyscrapers to gilded chedis. Going across downtown Bangkok, several major temple sites are integral to the city’s overall landscape.
The temple of the reclining Buddha, Wat Pho, just south of the Grand Palace, is iconic for housing a 46m long golden Buddha in its main chapel lying on its side, with head resting on a bent arm. The bottom of its soles are covered with mother of pearl panels depicting auspicious religious symbols. A happy coincidence — and for entirely unrelated reasons — Wat Pho is also the birthplace of Thai massage, and is still practiced at the temple.
Just across the river, the Temple of Dawn, Wat Arun, is famous for its towering prangs that are iridescent under the sunrise. At night, the pearl-white towers shimmer with the bright lights cast from the temple grounds.
Other cityside landmarks that add a traditional flair to the city are Wat Saket and Wat Tramit. Both temples feature golden spires that punch above the urban sprawl surrounding them.
Markets & Street Eats
Bangkok is fueled by markets and street vendors. From morning till night, you’ll find the locals dining by the mobile kitchens and roadside carts parked along the streets and markets.
Browsing sundries underneath the awnings of Chatuchak Weekend Market’s 15,000 plus stalls are both mesmerizing and discombobulating. This 35-acre market space is a labyrinth of glass and porcelain ware, handicraft, pet shops, massage parlour, and art galleries all roll into one convenient space. Open every weekend, the market draws over 200,000 shoppers every week.
To experience a less touristy floating market, Khlong Lat Mayom in the Taling Chan District offers a less hurried and authentic Thai market experience. For the locals, the Pak Klong Talad flower market just south of Wat Pho is the place to browse through kaleidoscopic flowers, floral arrangements, horticultural goods, and spices, and a distinct Old City attraction for catching the everyday Thai city life.
Night markets in Chinatown, Old City, and Khao San Road are bubbling hotspots to partake in Bangkok’s unique roadside edible culture. From grabbing a boiling, steamy bowl of glass noodle soup and minced pork Gieow wontons, to munching down a few skewers of grilled meat or crispy grasshoppers and larvae, you’ll find some of the best food in Bangkok along the city streets.
Strolling down Soi Cowboy after dark and you’ll quickly find yourself bathed in the cold, lurid magenta glow of the many neon signs of go-go bars, open-air bars and clubs. For taking in Bangkok’s radiant skyline, check out the many rooftop bars scattered across downtown. Bars like Octave, Park Society, and Vertigo serves up cocktails in romantic ambiences alongside a panoramic view of the city.
Catch a Show
Bangkok dazzles in one hand with its glamorous ladyboy cabaret shows, while on the other thrusts us into the heart-pounding, high octane arena of Muy Thai boxing. While in the city, check out Calypso Cabaret for Broadway-style ladyboy show, or watch the enchanting dance ensemble at the Mambo Cabaret.
Throughout the week, you can sit by the ringside New Lumpinee Boxing Stadium or Rajadamnern Boxing Stadium to watch the exhilarating Muy Thai fights. Every Sunday, Channel 7 Stadium near Chatuchak offers free admission to the fights, and broadcasts it live on Channel 7.