15 Must-See Tourist Attractions in Bangkok
There is no city in the world quite like Bangkok. The steamy cultural heart of Southeast Asia beats to a rhythm of cool chaos and quirky contradiction that makes it one of the most fascinating and diverse cities on the planet. Where else do veiled Gulf Arabs, Scandinavian sun worshipers, African money changers and local lady boys line up for a dish of sticky rice and mango, all backed by a mishmash of golden temples and steel skyscrapers? Nowhere.
Over the last three decades, we have visited over a dozen times and cumulatively spent more than a year in the metropolis. We have grown to love our crazy home away from home in Asia, but if you are new to the city, it can be hard to know where to begin. There are so many amazing things to do in Thailand’s capital that taking a couple of Bangkok private tours with locals might be a good idea to help you discover some hidden treasures. Here are fifteen of our highlights, both on and off the beaten track, to get you started.
Wat Pho Temple Complex
The sprawling Wat Pho complex, a site on everyone’s must-visit list, houses a ginormous reclining Buddha whose gargantuan feet are inlaid with mother-of-pearl. Don’t just rush in and out to see the Buddha or you’ll be missing the equally gorgeous Phra Ubosot, a ritual hall at the back of the temple containing a Buddha seated on a mountain of gold!
Downtown Shopping District
Bangkok’s ultramodern downtown shopping district is a sight to behold. From the bargain stalls at MBK to the upscale boutiques at Siam Paragon and Central World, there is something for everyone. Hardcore electronics fans should head straight for Pantip Plaza and clothes hounds for Platinum Mall and Terminal 21. Even if you hate shopping, come here for people watching and events. We’ve seen everything from a manga festival to impromptu rock concerts.
Taling Chan Floating Market
There are several famous floating markets in Bangkok, but the one we like most is Taling Chan Market (only on weekends). We’ve been coming here for years for our favorite local meal: salted catfish, grilled prawns, satay, fried egg rolls, and green papaya salad, all served on a bobbing pontoon dock. The local khlong tours starting from the dock are also a great way to experience the popular long-tail boats and to catch a glimpse of the water-based Bangkok of yesteryear.
The Grand Palace & Wat Phra Kaew
Bangkok’s Grand Palace, which served as the King’s main residence from 1782 to 1925, is Thailand’s most eye-popping display of glittery, gilded Thai architecture. The royal enclave is a sea of golden stupas and tiled spires. At its heart lies the holy Temple of the Emerald Buddha, the Wat Phra Kaew. Don’t miss the side door leading to the 19th century Chakri Maha Prasat and the beautiful Dusit Maha Prasat.
Bangkok’s extensive Chinatown feels more like the backstreets of Hong Kong than Bangkok. From the China Gate to the Wat Mangkon Kamalawat, there is a distinctly Chinese vibe with food to match (we love the dim sum.) Quick visitors to Yaowarat Road might be disappointed. All the real action is in the narrow backstreets like Sampeng Lane which is filled with exotic foods, mystical herbs, and tacky trinkets.
Khlong Toei Market
Shhh, don’t tell anyone about Khlong Toei Market. This massive collection of hawker stalls is a local institution selling fresh produce, meats, flowers, and prepared dishes. When we lived in Sukhumvit, we used to come here to load up on sticky rice and mangos (our favorite). Of course, we had to sample whatever was being fried up at the moment. Yum. The whole place is a people-watching and photographic wonderland.
All the Festivals
About every ten minutes there seems to be some kind of festival: Songkran, Loy Krathong, the Moon Festival, the Vegetarian Festival, Halloween, the Royal Barge Procession, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, and Chinese New Year. If humans celebrate it, they celebrate it in Bangkok. Bizarrely, Bangkok outdoes most western nations when it comes to Christmas overload. We love it so much that we have spent four Christmases here!
Chatuchak Weekend Market
Are you trying to find a stuffed mutant doll? Are you looking for Afghani tribal jewelry, Thai wrap-around pants, or a 7-foot Buddha statue? Or do you just want to eat? Then Chatuchak Weekend Market – also called JJ Market – is for you. Calling this market “big” would almost be a joke. In fact, most visitors would probably collapse into unconsciousness before they could visit every stall. (As the name implies, it’s only on weekends.)
The Giant Buddha at Koh Kret
Even frequent visitors to Bangkok might ask Koh what? This little island in the Chao Praya River north of Bangkok is well off the beaten track. We love it for its very cool pottery, relaxing walks, and the views over the HUMONGOUS gold Buddha on the opposite shore. It’s also a great location if you just need to chillax.
Amazing Street Food
For three decades this has been our #1 attraction in Bangkok. There is nothing better than Thai street food… nothing. From street Thai teas to spicy larb to crispy catfish with green mango, we love it all (well, maybe not the fried insects.) Unfortunately, after the government’s absurd crackdown on street food, the future of roadside treats in the city remains unclear. We hope they reverse these changes.
Bangkok Little India
Just a hop, skip, and a jump from Chinatown, Little India feels a world away. This tiny collection of streets is chock-full of shops selling saris, bindis, Bollywood DVDs, colorful bangles, Ganesh statues, Shiva posters, garlands of fake flowers… you get the idea. Don’t be afraid to visit the gurdwara, Sikhs are welcoming people who love to introduce people to their religion.
Wat Suthat Temple
Bangkok is full of gorgeous temples, but we single Wat Suthat out as one of our favorites for several reasons. We love the giant red swing at the entrance which recalls the ritual swings still used by hill tribes today. Even better, every inch of the temple’s interior is covered in stunning murals. But most of all, the polished stone in the courtyard surrounding the temple makes for one awesome photograph.
Lumpini Park Bangkok
Lumpini Park is to Bangkok what Central Park is to New York. The massive green lungs of the city are one of our favorite locations to take a stroll and spot the giant monitor lizards which live around the lake. It’s also great for people-watching with large crowds doing tai chi or open-air aerobics. Warning: if the national anthem starts playing, stop moving and stand still (it’s the law).
Smiling, Fun & Hospitable People
Perhaps our favorite part of Bangkok is the friendly, smiling faces we see throughout the capital. There is a reason people call Thailand the “land of smiles.” In general, Thais are very hospitable people; they are surprisingly open, modern, and progressive in a way which is quite unique to the region. We have made many friends here. However, I have to admit that niceness doesn’t necessarily apply to taxi drivers or people on Khao San Road. 😉
Ayutthaya Historical Park
A little over an hour north of Bangkok, the ancient city of Ayutthaya once boasted several palaces and more than 400 monastic temple complexes. From the Khmer-style prangs of Wat Chaiwatthanaram to the steep stupas at Wat Phra Si Sanphet, the UNESCO-recognized city is a playground for architecture junkies and Indiana Jones wannabes. Don’t miss the Buddha head embedded in a tangle of tree roots at Wat Mahathat, one of the most photographed things in the country.
Extra Tip: Pad Thai at Thipsamai
For those who read to the end of our lists, we always like to reveal some of our best tips, although this one isn’t exactly a secret. Many Bangkok locals consider the pad Thai at Thipsamai to be the best in the city. (Yeah, yeah, we know not everybody agrees. Leave your favorite in the comment section.) We, however, do agree. They offer up several variations, but we always eat their superb pad Thai wrapped in a blanket of egg. SO DELICIOUS!!! We also love their insanely delicious orange juice as well as their coconut icies.