Bangkok is a unique city like no other place in the world and I personally believe everyone should visit this city at least once in their lifetime. I’ve had the pleasure of living here teaching English for most of the last decade, using my experience to help you get a ‘real’ feel of the city, here are my Top 10 cool must-do things to do in Bangkok…
See the must-sees
Every city has its ‘must-see’ attractions and Bangkok is no exception. The city’s most popular sights are steeped in history, culture, Buddhist tradition and many bear the hallmarks of exceptionally ornate Thai architecture. If you’re going to fit in all the best things to do in Bangkok then you must see the main attractions – The Grand Palace, Wat Pho, and Wat Arun. Handily they’re all in close proximity to each other (and only a short walk away from another must-see Chinatown). Taling Chan Floating Market welcomes tourists in droves at weekends and Jim Thompson’s House is another favourite, located centrally beside Siam Square. Each is most definitely worth a visit, some are free and some have a reasonably priced entrance fee.
Stay in a cool Bangkok hotel
With an increasingly progressive vibe and a fabulous collection of cool cafes, eateries and bars Bangkok is now one of the most hipster cities in South East Asia. So to stay in a suitably trendy hotel, choose one of the many cool and unusual hotels in Bangkok to stay in and feel hipper by the minute!
Take alternative transport
A tuk-tuk journey is another Bangkok adventure not to be missed. These noisy three-wheeled contraptions are iconic symbols of the city and can be hired anywhere day and night. Negotiate a fee beforehand and ignore any suggestions of stopping at jewellers, tailors, or art galleries (which there will probably be many!). Just sit back and enjoy the slightly hair-raising ride.
The Chao Phraya Express Boat is an excellent way to dodge the traffic and see the sights from a more modest distance. Hop on or off at stops including Khao San (Phra Arthit) and the Grand Palace (Tha Chang). The flat fare of 14 baht won’t burn holes in any pockets, and if you’re lucky, you may even see a frightening-looking Komodo dragon, with the chances being that it’s actually a friendly monitor lizard.
Eat at one of Bangkok’s trendy eateries
Where better to enjoy your favourite Thai dishes at prices which will probably make you wonder where the profit margin comes in? Street food is the cheapest and most authentic of dining options and you should definitely sample some before you leave. Contrary to many other cities in Asia, vendors maintain a much higher standard of hygiene than you may expect from the often ramshackle surroundings. There’s also plenty of upmarket restaurants to choose from and countless reasonably priced eateries serving food from all corners of the earth. All things taken into account, Bangkok must rank up there with any city in the world for its quality and variety of dining options to suit any budget. And when it comes to the scorpions and water beetles – my motto is to try everything once!
Shop in a trendy boutique (or mall)
Another one of the best things to do in Bangkok and the city is not short of places to shop. There are a number of big shopping malls (all offering the welcome relief of air-con), but in my opinion there’s not much which couldn’t be bought at home. The streets and markets, though, are a different experience altogether, especially in the main tourist areas. Here you’ll find hundreds of stalls selling everything from T-shirts and designer copies, to samurai swords (good luck at airport security) and Viagra. Chatuchak Weekend Market remains one of the busiest and most colourful of its kind in Asia, while Patpong Night Market is perhaps the best of many late-night shopping arcades.
Go to the Khao San Road
The Khao San area – for it has swallowed up neighbouring streets in recent years – probably needs no introduction. Drink, dance, eat, talk, walk, sing, shop or just chill and watch life pass by. Khao San, these days, attracts a mixed crowd of Thais, backpackers and a scattering of more affluent types. Khao San Road is like a party island in the centre of a metropolis and is a place that has that unique aura to it. Although things officially shut down around 2 am, bars such as Center Khao San, never close.
See the sunrise in Bangkok
If you can get yourself out and about by 5.30 am, taking a walk anywhere in the city is definitely recommended. With the temperature at its kindest, the air at its freshest and the sky delicately hushed with wisps of orange and violet, this is Bangkok at its most serene. A walk around Lumpini Park perhaps tops the list but if you’re starting from Khao San Road head past Democracy Monument towards the Grand Palace for another great way to start the day.
See the sunset
The day’s build-up of petrochemical fumes often means that the sun is blurred to invisibility come dusk, and in monsoon season the early evening sky can often be nothing more than a giant swirling grey raincloud. Still, watching day become night can be a Bangkok highlight from the right vantage point. I would personally recommend viewing from The Sky Bar atop the State Tower, the Moon Bar at the Banyan Tree or the 84th floor of the Baiyoke Tower.
8. Get a massage
Massage shops are ubiquitous around Bangkok and offer a professional service at a fraction of the prices paid in Western countries. The tourist spots have the largest concentration of such establishments but it can be worth taking a stroll and finding a place where the locals go. One well-known reputable company is Health Land which has branches around the city and provides a tranquil, air-conditioned release from the chaos taking place outdoors.
Catch a film
All the major shopping centres in Bangkok have quality cinemas at affordable prices. Thai films almost always have English subtitles and all mainstream Western movies are shown. For more independent films, House RCA is a good spot, as are Lido and Scala at Siam Square. Before every film in Thailand, the King’s song is played and the audience – foreigners included – are expected to stand and pay their respects.
Stay for a year
If you’re not quite ready to go back to winter in Siberia and all inclusive holidays aren’t really your thing you can always become a teacher in Bangkok (especially if your English language skills are of native-like proficiency). Jobs are aplenty and although certain qualifications are desired and helpful, with a bit of research and by speaking to the right people, you will be able to find something which affords a good lifestyle and the opportunity to explore the country in greater depth. But be warned, Thailand can become addictive, so remember these famous last words … just one more year!
Useful resources when travelling to Bangkok
- We always prefer to stay in somewhere a little unique when staying in Bangkok. Find awesome, cool and quirky hotels to stay in Bangkok here.
- To find out where all the hip and happening events are in the evening or the day we always use TimeOut.
- Want to get around Bangkok quickly or to and from the airport safely? It’s always best to pre-book taxis at somewhere like booktaxibangkok.com rather than pay ‘tourist’ taxi prices!
Written by Bryn Tennant. Bryn’s originally from Edinburgh but has lived and worked in Ireland, Brighton, Spain and China. For most of the last decade, he has taught English in Thailand, a job that has afforded the opportunity to travel extensively around Asia and beyond. Apart from writing travel articles like Top 10 things to do in Bangkok he also likes eating and sleeping.