I will always remember the first time I set foot in Bangkok. It was fifteen years ago and it was my first time in Thailand; in fact, it was also my first time in Asia. At the time I wasn’t well travelled and I was so looking forward to visiting a new country with a culture different from my own.
But I can’t say it was love at first sight when we arrived in Bangkok. I’ll always remember the taxi ride from the airport. The boot of the taxi didn’t shut completely and the driver held it partially shut with a couple of octopus straps. I worried about my suitcase falling out for the entire cab ride! There weren’t any seat-belts, the traffic was insane, the incessant honking gave me a headache and the whole place just seemed really dirty. Bangkok felt like a whole new world to me. After two days amid this chaos, I couldn’t wait to escape it.
But in the years since then, Simon and I have travelled a fair bit around Asia and we’re now quite adjusted to it. After reading so many glowing stories from fellow travellers about Bangkok, I knew that I had to give it a second chance. I’m so glad that we did because this time around I absolutely loved Bangkok!
Bangkok was not at all like the way I remembered it. Maybe it has changed, but more than likely, I’m the one who’s changed. It’s still chaotic, but I now love the chaos! Dirty? Arriving there after almost three weeks travelling around India, Bangkok looked clean! It felt like we were exploring a brand new city but actually, we were simply seeing the same city with a new pair of eyes.
What to do in Bangkok?
The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew
It goes without saying that the Grand Palace should be your number one monument to visit while in Bangkok. We visited it on both of our trips and personally, I can’t get tired of its beauty. The Grand Palace is the most famous site in Bangkok and is situated on the same grounds as Wat Phra Kaew, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.
The Temple of the Emerald Buddha is the most important Buddhist temple in Thailand. Your ticket for the palace includes entrance to Wat Phra Kaew as well. The whole complex is massive, so take your time to admire the incredible detail put into every single building. You’ll be amazed by the sheer amount of gold, diamonds and other gemstones, together with the stunning, brightly coloured mosaics.
King Rama X does not live here but he uses the palace for important ceremonies.
If you want, you can hire a local tour guide at the ticket booth or rent an audio guide (200 Baht for two hours). As with many other places in Thailand, there is a dress code. Everyone must dress respectfully, which means wearing trousers and having your shoulders fully covered. Don’t worry if you’re not dressed appropriately. You can borrow or hire shirts and trousers at the entrance. Shirts are free of charge and the trousers cost 30 Baht to rent.
Entrance fee: 500 Baht
Opening hours: Everyday from 8:30 a.m to 3:30 p.m. Try getting there 15 minutes prior to opening. It gets pretty busy, almost as bad as the Taj Mahal!
Note: Beware of touts approaching you and insisting that the palace is closed. The palace is open every day! They just want to take you to a tailor or a souvenir shop instead, where they’ll make a commission. Ignore them and keep on walking.
A short ten-minute walk from the Grand Palace is Wat Pho, the temple of the impressive reclining Buddha. This heavily photographed Buddha is covered in gold leaf and is 46 metres long and 15 metres high! It depicts Buddha entering nirvana (i.e. Buddha`s death). While this reclining Buddha is absolutely stunning and a must-see, do spend some time enjoying the wider temple space as well. There is more to see in this palace complex than just the reclining Buddha.
Entrance fee: 100 Baht
Opening hours: Everyday from 8:00 a.m to 5.00 p.m.
Wat Arun – Temple of the Dawn
Wat Arun is another famous temple in Bangkok and it is absolutely beautiful. Its central tower is called the Phra Prang and is 80 metres tall. From the top of this tower you apparently get great views out over the river and across to the Grand Palace but when we visited the stairs to the top were closed off.
But we still found this temple worth a visit even without the views. The thousands of mosaic stones that decorate the Prang are very impressive. When you look closely, you can see how they represent the path of Buddha’s life from his birth to his death.
Wat Arun is just across the Chao Phraya River from Wat Pho. You can catch a cross-river ferry from the Tha Tien pier which is only a few minutes from Wat Pho (or you can get there by tourist boat). The cross-river ferry charges 4 baht and will get you across the river to Wat Arun in just a few minutes. Before the ferry ride, grab some freshly cut mango slices from the nearby street vendors. They’re amazing!
Admission fee: 50 Baht
Opening Hours: 08:30 to 17:30.
A Boat trip down the Chao Phraya river
Taking a boat cruise on the Chao Phraya river is one of our favourite things to do in Bangkok. It’s also a popular way to travel because many of the main attractions (such as the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, Wat Arun and Chinatown) are close to the river.
There are many different boats to chose from and it can be a little confusing for first-time visitors. Tha Sathornhe is the central pier and is conveniently located right next to the Saphan Taksin Bangkok Skytrain (BTS) station. From there, you can take a boat either north or south. We’d suggest you head north first because this is where most of the attractions are.
The main boats that run along the Chao Phraya River have different colour flags. The blue flag is the Chao Phraya Tourist Boat. If this is your first time in Bangkok, you may want to use this boat as it offers an English commentary along the way, that points out all of the major attractions. Bear in mind that the Chao Phraya Tourist Boat only stops at the main attractions. It costs 150 Baht for a daily ticket or 50 Baht for single trips.
You’ll also find orange, green and yellow flag boats, as well as no flag boats. These other boats are local boats. They have no commentary but they cost considerably less.
Khaosan Road is the backpacker capital of the world and Bangkok’s party central! For us older couples, Khaosan Road is a bit too rowdy, especially at night, but we did end up there for a couple of Chang beers one afternoon, to just sit back and enjoy the atmosphere. The streets are lined with bars and restaurants and shops selling just about everything. Fifteen years ago we enjoyed it a lot more. If you’re young and wild you’ll love it here!
Bangkok´s Chinatown is one of the largest Chinatowns in the world and is located in one of the oldest parts of Bangkok. It represents the first resettlement of Chinese and dates back to 1782. Bangkok’s Chinatown has tiny alleyways, centuries-old temples, and many extremely busy markets.
There is action both day and night. By day Chinatown is a large retail market where you can find pretty much anything you can think of to buy. At night, Chinatown becomes the place to go for street food, with some of the most delicious Thai and Chinese street food you can find in the city. The smell alone will make your mouth water!
The Golden Mount temple or Wat Saket is a beautiful temple set on the top of a hill. To reach the top you have to walk up the 344 steps. That’s not really as hard as it sounds and it takes only about fifteen to twenty minutes depending on your level of fitness. The reward when you reach the top is well worth the effort! There are awesome views of Bangkok’s skyline. It’s also a great place to watch the sunset.
Visit a floating market
There’s something special about floating along a canal in a wooden boat haggling for a deal. There are a few floating markets in Bangkok. The most famous one is the Damnoen Saduak floating market, about one hundred kilometres South-West of Bangkok. The narrow canals of Damnoen Saduak were originally built to help farmers bring their heavy produce to market.
But nowadays the market is mainly used for selling souvenirs and food to tourists. A visit to a floating market is a must for a first trip to Bangkok. If you go to the Damnoen Saduak floating market, arrive there early because it becomes super busy when the tour buses flood in around 9:30 to 10am. Taking a tour is, in fact, the easiest way to visit this floating market and tours can be organised all over the city for about $30 per person.
Maeklong Train Market
Another market worth a visit is the Maeklong train market. This local market is built around the train station and set right on the train line. It’s less touristy (although thanks to Instagram it’s now becoming a lot more popular) and you’ll mainly find produce such as fruits, veggies and meat being sold at the market. The highlight is when the train comes through the market. All the vendors have to prepare for the train to slowly pass, just inches from their stalls. There’s a sudden flurry of activity as they push back their produce from the train tracks, but they seem pretty relaxed about it all!
You can hire a private driver to take you to the train market, catch a train there, or book a combined tour that visits both the floating market and the train market.
Chatuchak weekend market
If you happen to be in Bangkok over the weekend, check out the Chatuchak weekend market. This market is home to more than 8,000 market stalls and attracts more than 200,000 visitors on a typical weekend. People come here to sift through all sorts of goods on offer and to eat some great food. If visiting, make sure you allow a few hours (the market is huge) and bring an empty stomach and an empty backpack. Both will be full when you leave!
Shopping in Siam Square
If you haven’t done enough shopping at all of those markets, Siam Square is the place to go to shop until you drop. It’s Bangkok’s shopping mecca. Siam Square is a bustling all-in-one collection of shopping malls and streets. At Siam Square, you’ll find independent traders alongside internationally renowned high-end brands. Of course, the prices vary accordingly from the super cheap to the crazily expensive!
When you get sick of Bangkok’s concrete jungle, head to Lumphini Park for some greenery and relaxation. This park is very popular with the locals and if you visit in the morning you’ll probably see a few of them practising their Tai Chi. Inside the park is an artificial lake where you can rent boats. There are walking paths all around the park if you fancy a quick stroll or a morning jog.
How to get to the city from the airport?
Bangkok has two international airports – Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) and Don Mueang Airport (DMK). Suvarnabhumi Airport is the main airport and it services more of the international flights. The majority of tourists will probably enter the country through Suvarnabhumi Airport.
From Suvarnabhumi Airport
By metered taxi
Head to the first floor, exit the airport terminal and grab a ticket from the ticket machine, which will allocate you a numbered bay for your taxi. Head over to that bay, meet your driver and hop into your taxi. Easy!
There’s a 50 Baht surcharge on the meter for airport pick up. In addition, you have to pay for two expressway tolls of around 70 to 100 Baht. The meter should run up to around 300 to 350 Baht and it takes approximately 50 to 75 minutes to reach the city depending on the traffic and where exactly you’re heading. So expect to pay around 450 to 500 Baht all up.
Note that you need to hand the driver the money to pay the tolls at each toll booth. He doesn’t just add it to the final meter reading, so have your wallet ready!
By Airport Rail Link
The train from Suwannabhumi Airport leaves every 15 minutes, from 6:00 am till 24.00 and stops at Phayathai Station. A train ticket costs 45 Baht and the train trip lasts around half an hour. From Phayathai Station, you can transfer to the BTS (Sky Train) and take the Sky Train to the station nearest to your hotel.
By Airport Bus
Take the “S1” bus from Suwannabhumi Airport to Khaosan road. It departs from Gate 7 on the first floor of the passenger terminal and runs from 6 am to 8 pm, every 30 to 60 minutes. It takes around 60 to 90 minutes to reach Khaosan Road and costs 60 Baht.
From Don Muang Airport:
By metered taxi
Head to the taxi counter and state your destination. Similar to the Suvarnabhumi Airport there is 50 Baht airport surcharge on the meter and you have to pay for two expressway fees. Depending on the traffic, it should cost you around 400 to 450 Baht.
You can catch the A2, A3, or A4 buses from Don Mueang Airport to the Victory Monument (A2), Pratunam and Lumpini Park (A3), or Khao San Road and Sanam Luang (A4). The fare is 50 Baht and it runs every 30 minutes or so from 7:30am through till 11:30pm.
How to get around Bangkok?
Walking is always our preferred mode of transport because you can stumble upon interesting things along the way. Even though the traffic can be a little bit crazy, Bangkok is not a bad city to walk around. If you are used to Asia, you’ll find Bangkok perfectly fine to walk around.
By BTS Train
Also known as the Sky Train, the BTS train is great for getting to shopping centres, travelling around central Bangkok and getting to the main river boat terminal.
By MRT train
The mostly underground MRT train system connects to the larger suburban areas, to the BTS train, Suvarnabhumi airport and several popular tourist destinations.
By metered taxi
Taxis in Bangkok are either two-tone yellow and green or bright pink all over. You’ll find them everywhere and they are metered and relatively cheap. Just make sure that the driver puts the meter on before he starts driving. The drivers don’t always speak English, so to help them out, try and have your destination written down in Thai to show to them.
If you are used to using Uber or Grab back home, you might want to use Grab in Bangkok. Grab cars are more reliable and somewhat cheaper than taxis and because the app tracks your exact journey, they won’t take a wrong turn just to try and get more Baht from you. Uber is no longer operational in Thailand but Grab is just as easy. You simply need to download the app and sign up to start requesting rides.
Regular motorised river boats go up and down the Chao Phraya River (see above). For cheaper fares, use the local boats instead of the (blue flag) tourist boats.
Your visit to Bangkok would not be complete without a ride in a Tuk Tuk. These motorised three-wheeler cars are found all over the city. As they don’t have meters, all prices must be negotiated beforehand. Bargain hard as they like to overcharge tourists. I’d suggest to trying it once, but be careful. Some drivers are not honest and are renowned for taking tourists to souvenir shops along the way, or to other places where they’ll make a commission.
Where to stay in Bangkok?
There is no lack of hotels in Bangkok and you’ll find one to suit every budget.
Bangkok Saran Poshtel
This cross between a hotel and a hostel offers dorm rooms, as well as doubles with a private bathroom. They offer free breakfast which is surprisingly good, free drinking water, and free wifi. The best part is the location. You are walking distance from many of the city’s best attractions such as the Grand Palace, Wat Pho, Kao San Road and the Golden Mount. There are many nice, cheap cafes and restaurants close by. Find the latest prices here.
Chatrium Hotel Riverside Bangkok
This hotel is located directly on the Chao Phraya River and gives guests boat access to the Sathorn Pier, where the express boats leave, and to the Saphan Taksin BTS station. The hotel also offers an extensive breakfast buffet, a swimming pool and large modern rooms with views over Bangkok. Find the latest prices here.
Mandarin Oriental Bangkok
If you’re looking for luxury, the Mandarin Oriental sits beside the scenic Chao Phraya River in downtown Bangkok. This hotel offers rooms decorated in teak wood furnishings and Thai silk. It has a large outdoor pool, Thai cooking classes and yoga lessons. They also provide a free shuttle boat to Taksin BTS Sky Train Station, River City Shopping Complex and Sala Rim Naam Restaurant. Find the latest prices here.
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