15 Must-See Tourist Attractions in Bangkok

Wat Arun

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 Continue…

Bangkok’s Taling Chan Floating Market

Taling Chan market

As I bite into the pastry, the warm custard filling oozes over my hand. “Real Macau egg tarts,” the sign reads. Well, this is better than anything I ever had in Macau. Licking my fingers, I wonder how I could get my hands on the recipe. But the sensory onslaught distracts me – the smell of grilled fish, the exotic scent of orchids, an old Thai man playing a traditional stringed instrument. I turn just in time to jump out of the way of a speeding motorcycle. A blast of exhaust fumes hits me as the driver plows through the crowd. Clearly, this guy is even hungrier than I am!

Taling Chan Floating Market in the northwest of Bangkok is small, not especially traditional, and usually appears as an afterthought in most guidebooks (if it appears at all). But as hordes of tourists flock to the larger commercial floating markets, travelers in the know realize that Taling Chan is an exceptional opportunity for excellent, inexpensive Thai food in the company of friendly and inviting Bangkok locals. It also provides the perfect launching point for a boat tour of several typical Bangkok neighborhoods that gives visitors a glimpse of what Bangkok used to feel like when the city was more water-based.


Merry Tri-National Christmas

Christmas in Central World, Bangkok

If you are one of those people who complains about how early the Christmas decorations go up each year, Asia is not for you. Starting the day after Halloween (there’s no Thanksgiving here), the Christmas trees started popping up around us in Osaka. The tinsel and the carols followed us to Kyoto. We explored the temples and fall foliage to a sound track of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer and Jingle Bells. From Japan, we made our way to Taiwan where we discovered crowded German-style Christmas markets filled with bratwurst, gluhwein, pretzels and Chinese dumplings.

Yes, we swayed to Stille Nacht (Silent Night in German) as we stared up at Taipei 101, Asia’s most stunning skyscraper, and basked in the light of fake log fires and a sea of twinkly Christmas lights. From Taiwan, we Continue…

Om Garden Cafe

So what does the adventurous traveler do in the area around Pai? I have absolutely no idea. I’m proud to say that we spent virtually our entire 4-day Pai experience within the relaxing thatched walls of Om Garden Cafe, run by our friends Mark and Anon. (Mark and I go back over two decades – geez, I’m getting old.)

Mark and Anon have spent the last few years in Pai. Anon, chef extraordinaire, runs the Om Garden Cafe kitchen dazzling Pai’s smartest visitors with scrumptious treats ranging from a fabulous Mediterranean plate of hummus and baba ganoush to a knock-your-socks-off pavlova. You never know what Continue…

Vomit Road to Pai

I don’t get carsick. Well, I didn’t think I did. I’ve driven across Europe, the Middle East, Central America, and Africa. I crossed North America multiple times. We’ve driven thousands of miles across Asia including the most notorious mountain regions on the continent, including Sichuan, Qinghai, Tibet, Nepal, Spiti, Ladakh, Kashmir, and Sikkim. And I’ve never gotten carsick once… until the vomit road to Pai.

Apparently, I’m not the only one. When we arrived in Pai, everyone kept asking whether we had gotten carsick on the way in. I have absolutely no explanation for what makes this road so bad. It’s well paved, quite smooth, and the bus driver wasn’t nearly as bad as the drivers in China, Nepal and India. So what is causing so many visitors, both Thai and foreign alike, to get sick? Could it be the swirling cosmic energies that have made Pai the New Age center of Thailand?Can cosmic energy make you puke?

Wat Ku Tao

I know what you’re all thinking: Another picture of a stupa?

Yes, but this one’s for the architecture freaks out there (including myself). I love my exotic buildings, so when I caught a glimpse of my first real example of a Thai Lü inspired stupa, I insisted it go on the blog.

Such temples are more commonly found around Xixuangbanna in southern Yunnan. But for those who don’t have time for the epic trip across mountainous Laos to southern China, this little gem is a great introduction to a little known culture.

Wat Ku Tao, which roughly translates as “the temple with the watermelon stupa,” is a great example of the very unique stacked-sphere design used around Xixuangbanna. Apparently, Thai traders thought the style was fun, so they decided Chiang Mai needed one – with an appropriately comical name, of course.

In a town which boast nearly 300 similarly styled temples, this curvaceous specimen definitely stands out.

Thailand’s Posing Tribal Children

While visiting Wat Phra Tat Doi Suthep north of Chiang Mai, we discovered a relatively large number of very young Akha and Miao children who had been dressed up and strategically positioned around the monument to make some not-so-quick cash off Thais and foreigners alike.

Well-intentioned tourists will often snap some cute pictures of the kids and hand them some Baht without really asking themselves some basic questions: How long has this tiny child been forced to sit here? Has this child been pulled out of school to beg for money because the parents value quick cash over education? Why is the parent not sitting here dressed up in “traditional clothing” rather than the child? Am I indirectly contributing to the cultural marginalization of minority children by teaching them that begging is a sustainable lifestyle?

Yes, many minority groups around the world lack education and real opportunities for work, and as we mentioned in our Paduang post in Myanmar, sometimes the commercialization of “traditional culture” may be the only real survival strategy. But it’s worth taking a second to reflect a little on how these kids are being treated before rushing to snap some cute pictures.

The shot above was taken from a distance while a young Akha girl was trying to convince a tourist to cash up. We chose not to participate in this particular cash-for-photo scheme.

Saturday and Sunday Walking Streets

When it comes to street markets, Thomas and I are experts. From Lhasa to Chichicastenango, from Antananarivo to Santa Fe, we’ve seen them (and enjoyed them) all. So when we say that Chiang Mai’s Saturday and Sunday Walking Streets are good, it actually means something.

Thailand excels at open markets and we’ve sampled many of them including night markets in Satun, Trang, Krabi, Had Yai, Sukhothai, Chiang Rai as well as half a dozen in Bangkok. We’ve gushed about Chatuchak and Taling Chan. Even in a country where the street market is a highly developed art form, the sprawling Saturday and Sunday Walking Streets stand out.

You want it, they’ve got it: metallic alien statues, hill tribe pants, boot-leg CDs and DVDs, Coca Cola art, cell phones, fake Akha head dresses, posters of monks in exotic poses, sexually explicit Continue…

Striking Gold in Chiang Mai

Statue at Wat Phra Singh

There’s a very distinct color coordination effort going on in much of Thailand’s religious architecture, and it’s, perhaps, most noticeable in the compact back alleys of Chiang Mai. The old town is packed with stunning golden temples with gilded statues, chedis, and latticework as well as gold-infused temple murals and column art. This is just a VERY small sample of the Buddhist bling the ancient town has to offer visitors. The pilgrims are literally walking into the temples and pressing Continue…