The initial moments in an Asian city are often terribly disconcerting, especially when we are talking about a metropolis as chaotic and vast as the capital of Thailand. There are a thousand things to see and do in Bangkok, but many people are left with only their most superficial side and miss out on one of the most fascinating cities on the planet. You are sure to arrive exhausted at Suvarnabhumi International Airport after a long journey and get slapped with heat and humidity as soon as you walk out. However, if you manage to shake off that initial impression in a very short time, you’ll end up with one of Asia’s most exciting destinations.
As the hours go by you will be enchanted by the sight of its hundreds of watts or temples that adorn its streets, massage parlors scattered in every corner, shopping malls that seem to be taken from the future that coexist with improvised markets, rivers, canals and trains with cutting-edge technology … but above all the perpetual smile on the faces of its people will end up catching you. After our three trips to the old Kingdom of Siam we are preparing a more complete guide of the capital of Thailand, but to open your mouth we recommend these 10 essential places that you have to visit in Bangkok in 2 or 3 days.
Table of Contents
10 must-see places in Bangkok
It has been very complicated to choose which are the 10 essential places to visit in Bangkok because it is an infinite city that also never stops growing and evolving. Our three trips to this Southeast Asian destination have given us time to explore perhaps lesser known facets, but for a first fortnight’s trip to Thailand, the ideal would be to spend at least three full days in the country’s capital. We are convinced that in that time you can only get a very general impression, but to make things a little easier for you we have prepared this list with the 10 places of interest to visit in Bangkok:
1. Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace of Bangkok
We are convinced that all or almost all of us who arrived in Bangkok for the first time have had the same impulse. There can be no stay in the capital of Thailand without visiting the grounds shared by the Wat Phra Kaew Temple and the Grand Palace. And besides, it’s usually the first place we drop our bones. The wonder and feeling of being in one of those special places in Southeast Asia is more than assured. It’s often crowded with tourists, and can even be overwhelming at certain times of the day, so it’s a good idea to be at the gates of the huge complex on Ko Ratanakosin before it opens to the public at 8:30 in the morning.
The Wat Phra Kaew (or Temple of the Emerald Buddha) and the Grand Palace in Bangkok are very important places of veneration, so you have to have a certain decorum with your clothes. If possible, wear long pants and clothing that covers your shoulders. Also comfortable shoes that allow you to put on and take off your shoes quickly. On the other hand, before entering you will find well-dressed people who will tell you that the monument is not open that day and who will very kindly offer to take you to another “more interesting” place. It’s a lie, so be wary of them and don’t get out of the line that leads to the front door of the temple.
At the Emerald Buddha temple, Thai architecture is incredibly refined and the buildings have very seductive sinuous shapes. Also noteworthy are the brightly coloured ceramic ornaments. The main attraction is a 66-centimetre statue carved out of a single piece of nephritic jade and housed in an extraordinary, colourful bòth that you have to enter barefoot and where it is strictly forbidden to make videos or take photographs. In addition, elements such as the venerated statue of the hermit (in black stone), the iridescent giant guards or yaksha, the statues of the elephants (whose heads attract good luck), the dozens of stupas (among which the Golden Chedi), the phallic-shaped prangs or the murals of the Ramakian will keep us entertained throughout the visit to the temple.
After passing through the west gate flanked by two giant yaksha, you enter the Grand Palace in Bangkok. This part of the complex is much larger than the Emerald Buddha temple and most of the buildings cannot be visited, so it can be examined in much less time than the impressive Wat Phra Kaew.
The buildings are arranged in a very orderly manner on a large esplanade that serves as a garden. What struck me most about this visit are the spectacular buildings that are a mixture of various architectural styles, with a western floor plan but with an unmistakable Thai crown with needles and those characteristic winding forms. The most lavish is the one known as Chakri Mahaprasat.
Our recommendation for your trip to Thailand:
The three times we have been to Thailand we have booked the tours (or the whole trip) with Mundo Nómada Travel. Why? Their main strength is that they are Spanish who live in Thailand and directly organize all their trips and excursions, they do not outsource anything. As great travellers they have travelled all over Thailand and have a vast knowledge of the country. In addition, Pol, Mati and all their team are great travellers and have the same style of travel as us, standing out for the flexibility and quality of all the services they offer to the traveller.
Forget about the classic 40-person circuit following a guide with a little flag. They have completely customized trips and groups of maximum 9 people (20 maximum in July and August). They have very busy routes so they do fewer kilometers a day and therefore there is more time to enjoy the trip. With them we have discovered the most beautiful places of interest in Thailand, from the most typical to different experiences like the national park of Khao Sok or a river cruise in Ayutthaya on board of an old rice boat.
The treatment is always exquisite and their team of local guides is truly extraordinary. Thanks to them we love Thailand, so we are already thinking about going back for the fourth time. In addition, we like the details you have with your travellers such as a free local SIM card welcome envelope with contact number, map of Bangkok and Chiang Mai and route with timetables. As well as travel assistance via WhatsApp in Spanish or its superb selection of hotels.
We recommend them 100% if you plan to travel to Thailand, so go ahead and ask for information for your trip or excursions to Mundo Nómada Travel. I’m sure that Pol, Mati or someone from his team will answer you very soon and give you just what you’re looking for. Last time we did their Classic Cultural Route to the north of Thailand that has departures every week, although you can also book with them tours in Spanish through the capital of the country with private air-conditioned transport to see some of the sights of Bangkok that we recommend in this post.
2. Wat Pho or Temple of the Reclining Buddha
The Wat Pho or Temple of the Reclining Buddha is much quieter than the Wat Phra Kaew complex and the Grand Palace and has the added bonus of beautiful gardens where you can relax from the chaos of Bangkok or lie in the shade of a tree to cool off. Pamper yourself with the locals and take a good little nap. Almost everyone goes straight to the pavilion that houses the giant Reclining Buddha. When you’re “face to face” with him you can only unleash an onomatopoeia of admiration. This huge golden statue is 43 meters long and 15 meters high and pilgrims are dedicated to surrounding it. If you close your eyes you hear a constant tinkle. On the back there are like bowls in which the faithful are depositing coins to ask the favor of the deity and which sound like rain hitting a glass.
In the Wat Pho itself is located the main school of traditional Thai medicine and massage or Nuat Phaen Boran. Right at the back of the temple grounds, you can see some stone tablets explaining the main techniques of Thai massage, a transcription that was ordered more than 200 years ago by King Rama III. However, what the traveller may be most interested in is relaxing with a massage in the two pavilions set up next to the school.
3. Temple of the Golden Buddha or Wat Traimit + Chinatown
Getting to Bangkok’s Chinatown is a very good idea, whatever time it is. One of its main attractions is known as Wat Traimit or Temple of the Golden Buddha which is located at the gates of the neighborhood. To reach its zenith you will have to climb some stairs, take off your shoes and enter the main sanctuary where you will find a solid gold Buddha from the 15th century and weighing 5.5 tons which is one of the most important statues in Thailand. The image was discovered under a layer of plaster almost by chance, because when it was transported with a crane it fell to the ground and they saw this impressive golden sculpture appear.
The Wat Traimit is open from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., so after visiting it you can take a tour of Chinatown. Bangkok’s Chinatown, known as Yaowarat, is the main base for the huge Chinese community living in Thailand’s capital. The truth is that at all times you have the impression of being in a slum in one of the most important cities in China thanks to its labyrinthine streets, markets almost at any time and countless street stalls where you can eat wonderfully for very few baths. It can be crazy to drive into Chinatown because the traffic is stifling. Better to get to the Hua Lamphong train stop and take a walk from there.
4. Boat trip on the Chao Phraya River and Wat Arun
Another of the best experiences to do in Bangkok is to take a boat and walk along the Chao Phraya River. The good thing is that you have all the prices and types so money is no excuse. You can take the simple boat-buses to travel along a stretch of the river or book a luxury dinner on a private boat. There are jetties all over the river, but one of the most popular is the Tha Thien jetty near the Grand Palace. From this point you have a spectacular view of the Wat Arun or Temple of the Dawn (in the photo that heads this post) which is one of the icons of Thailand. Right now it’s not allowed to climb its tower, so it’s better to watch it from the river.
It can also be great fun to take a boat ride in the klongs (canals) of Thonburi. You can hire this service at the many jetties that are spread out along the river and will take you to the western part of the city. The normal thing to do is to take a walk for an hour through these labyrinthine channels where you will see many temples and the odd floating market. The price is around 1,000 bath per hour, although of course you will have to haggle to find an optimal price.
What to do in Thailand?
5. Viewpoints and terraces of Bangkok for a drink
We have already said at the beginning that Bangkok is an infinite city that never stops growing and evolving. One way to see this dizzying transformation is by climbing one of its viewpoints or terraces to get a bird’s eye view of the skyline. Currently the Mahanakhonal Tower is the tallest tower in the city, although the construction of the 459 meter high Unity Tower on Charoennakorn Road is already being planned. However, the one that kept the title until recently and that we visited in 2015 is the Baiyoke Tower with 84 floors. At the top there is a restaurant and a lookout point where you can go up to see the city… I assure you that it is very impressive.
Another option is to have a drink or dinner at the Vertigo Bar at the Banyan Tree Hotel (61st floor) or the famous Sirocco Bar (featured in the movie Hangover 2) on the 62nd floor of the Lebua Hotel in the State Tower. The latter is not suitable for all pockets, and a certain amount of decorum is required to be allowed in. Also interesting is the RedSky bar in the Central World Shopping Center (which we talk about a bit below). Although it has nothing to do with these viewpoints, at night you can also walk and have a drink in the backpacker’s neighbourhood and on Khao San Road.
6. Pat Pong Night Market and other interesting markets in Bangkok
It only takes a few hours in Bangkok to realize that its inhabitants have an amazing ability to set up a street market almost anywhere and at any time. They are a good place to buy local products, souvenirs and imitations, although remember that it is important to bargain. But always with a smile on your face and keeping in mind the maximum price you want to pay for a product. Don’t haggle over the penny either, think that what for you may be very little, for the seller is a significant amount.
Pat Pong Night Market
Perhaps the most famous flea market in Bangkok is the Pat Pong Market in Silom. If you stay in this area you can get there on foot, by Skytrain getting off at the Sala Deng stop or by Metro at the Silom stop. The stalls come out of nowhere when the sun goes down (between 18:00 and 19:00) and the sales go on until after midnight. In Pat Pong you will find all kinds of fakes, although in many cases you will have trouble finding the difference. The area is also famous for its sex shows, so don’t worry if they start offering these kinds of shows on every corner. If you say no politely, they’ll pass you by right away.
Chatuchak Weekend Market
Although we’ve been there a couple of times, the Chatuchak Weekend Market is only for those of you who are big fans of flea markets and haggling. Why? Because it is one of the largest street markets in the world, which makes it a huge maze of small shops crowded with people and with a really suffocating heat. In Chatuchak you can find everything at all prices. From the typical T-shirt or clothing stalls to furniture, Buddhist objects, arts and crafts, animals and food stalls and bars of all kinds. You have to be there to explain it. As its name suggests, it is only open on Saturdays and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. It’s a bit far from the more touristy areas, but you can get there on the Skytrain by getting off at the Mo Chit stop or by Metro at Chatuchak Park.
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
Paradoxically, even though it is a floating market, Damnoen Saduak must be reached by road. It is located almost 100 kilometres from Bangkok and depending on the traffic (which is always stifling) it can take between one and a half to two long hours. It is better to get up early, because the shops are usually open between 7 am and 12 noon, although in high season they extend their opening hours. From the centre of Bangkok you can take the No. 79 bus or a taxi to the south in Thonburi and there a service to Damnoen Saduak. This is a souvenir market for tourists, yet the experience can be a lot of fun if you take it with philosophy. Like any stand in Asia it is very noisy, although here what you hear most is the sound of boats crashing into each other, people cutting coconuts offered everywhere or the irresistible mangoes (impossible to say no).
Market on the railway tracks or Talad Rom Huup
Many people take the opportunity to visit the market on the train tracks on the same excursion that takes you to Damnoen Saduak. This market, unlike the previous ones, is a more authentic place, as it is a collection of stalls that sell food to the locals. The funny thing is that it is located on a track where at certain hours a real train passes by. You probably won’t buy anything here, but you’ll hallucinate in colour when an old train horn sounds and the stalls are picked up at lightning speed to avoid being crushed by the railway. When the locomotive and the wagons leave again everything returns to normal as if nothing had happened there. This tour is usually done in private combined with the floating market, but if you want to go on your own you can take a minivan at Mo Chit Bus Station in Bangkok. Although the market opens early and closes when the sun goes down, the ideal time is when the train arrives at 8:30, 11:10, 14:30 and 17:40.
7. Bangkok Shopping Centres
At first glance, you might think it’s a bit ridiculous to spend a few hours in a shopping centre and you might think “I’ve seen one, I’ve seen them all”. However, you can’t really understand the culture of Thailand today without visiting one of Bangkok’s huge shopping malls. Its inhabitants love to shop, but above all, they are the places of interest they choose to socialize, meet friends and take a walk, taking advantage of the air conditioning. Those of us who have traveled to Japan four times and Thailand three times will tell you that some of the malls in the Thai capital have nothing to envy from those in Tokyo or Osaka. Its neons and sophistication give it a very peculiar futuristic air.
That said, unless you’re a big fan of this kind of place, the ideal is to spend a couple of hours in the malls. The most popular and elite is the Siam Paragon which you can access with the Skytrain to the Siam stop. Here you can see shops of the main brands in the world at the same prices as in Spain. On our trip to Thailand with the children, we took the opportunity to visit the Aquarium which is the largest in Southeast Asia. Another popular shopping center is the MBK (National Stadium Skytrain stop) famous for its fakes. The Central World (Skytrain Chitlom), the largest in Bangkok, or the Pantip Plaza for those who love computers, also attracts attention. Our children also liked very much the Asiatique The Riverftont near the Chao Phraya. In addition, right across the street, the IconSiam has just been inaugurated, which is one of the most modern malls in the world with its hundreds of shops and restaurants, an IMAX cinema, a floating market, museums and the first Apple Store in Thailand.
8. Lumphini Park
Lumphini Park is the largest green lung in the centre of Thailand’s capital and one of Bangkok’s tourist spots to take a break from the chaotic traffic and hectic life of the city. The name of the park will ring a bell with those who are most knowledgeable in Buddhist culture because it is borrowed from the home village of Siddhartha Gautama (Lumbini) in Nepal before he attained enlightenment and became known as the Buddha. This is one of the favorite corners of the locals to practice sports, take a boat ride on some of its lakes or simply disconnect.
We recommend that you visit Lumphini the first day you arrive in Bangkok, as jetlag will take its toll on your physical condition and the hustle and bustle of the city may be too much for a first contact. Although this park is open from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m., the ideal time is between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m. or between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., since at both 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. the Thai national anthem sounds and everyone stops at once to show respect. You really do look like you’re facing a flashmob. Something worth seeing.
9. Jim Thompson’s House
This is one of the best preserved traditional Thai houses in Bangkok and the residence of an American silk entrepreneur with a fascinating life. Jim Thompson mysteriously disappeared in 1967 in Malaysia and that same year his sister was murdered in the US which has led to stories of spies, communism and murder that have never been fully confirmed. The collection of art and antique furniture that you can see in Jim Thompson’s house is fascinating, since he was a compulsive art collector.
The house is composed of several abandoned Thai houses that he decorated and transformed to his taste and palate. In addition, the American businessman’s residence is surrounded by lush vegetation, making it a small oasis in the midst of chaos. The house can only be seen with guided tours in English and French that leave every 20 minutes from 9:00 to 17:00. There is also a kind of museum with projections on the silk trade and a shop with very fine but expensive clothes (which you will also find in some airports). We also had the luxury of eating at Jim Thompson’s House restaurant. The easiest way to get there is by boat to Tha Ratchathewi or by Skytrain to National Stadium (3 minutes walk).
10. Watch a Muay Thai fight
Muay Thai or Thai Boxing is an incredible experience for the traveler, combining martial arts, centuries-old traditions and a very authentic atmosphere between sordid and boisterous. We are not fans of contact sports, but Bangkok is the best place in the world to enjoy this show in its most genuine form. There are several options to enjoy the muai thai fights in Bangkok. The Rajadamnern Stadium where fights are held on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays. Prices range from 1,000 to 2,000 Bath, although Thais pay much less.
Another popular place to see the Muay Thai bouts in Bangkok is the Lumpinee Boxing Stadium at number 6 Ramintra Road, Anusawaree, Bang Khen. Fights here are held on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, so between the two stadiums you have cover the whole week. There is a third possibility to attend live Thai boxing matches in Bangkok and also for free in the Channel 7 studios.
To get to the stadiums as well as any of the 10 places of interest to visit in the capital of Thailand we recommend you take a look at our article on getting around in Bangkok.
How to get to Bangkok
The most common international airport for flights to Thailand is Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok. The last times we have traveled to Thailand we have done it with Turkish Airlines via Istanbul, without a doubt, one of the most comfortable, fast and efficient ways to get to this country in Southeast Asia. It is one of our favourite airlines to travel to Asia, as it departs directly from Valencia and connects with the Turkish capital, saving us one or several stopovers. That also means a lot of time and money, which is appreciated when you travel with children. There are daily frequencies with Istanbul and Malaga airport, seven weekly flights to Valencia, four weekly flights to Bilbao, four daily flights to Barcelona and two to Madrid.
In addition, on our last trip we were very lucky to fly in Turkish Airlines business class. The attention to the passenger is magnificent, especially because they take care of everything down to the smallest detail. They make you feel special but without falling into unnecessary ruckus. They immediately detect if you want to rest or if you need something. The seat and all its accessories are fantastic, so the flight even to the other side of the balloon is short and very pleasant.
Our recommended hotels in Bangkok
One of the advantages of booking a trip to Thailand with Nomadic World Travel is that they know the best hotels in most destinations in Thailand and also know how to adjust them perfectly to the budget of each traveler. In our case, we have always stayed in the areas of Silom and Sathorn which is where the best hotels in the city are located. On our most recent trip we stayed at the modern and excellently located Mode Sathorn Hotel. Spacious rooms, very well located and with a scandalous view of the city skyline. In addition, it has a great swimming pool and a terrace on the 38th floor with a very sophisticated atmosphere and very tasty and daring cuisine.
Another of our favourite hotels in the city is the Eastin Grand Hotel Sathorn, also in the same area and with direct access to the MRT trains. It was the one we chose for our trip to Thailand with the children and we were very comfortable in its spacious rooms, relaxing in its beautiful pool or tasting its international cuisine that comes very well to keep the little ones happy.
We never travel without travel insurance
We never travel without travel insurance. When you leave home it is always convenient to be protected by what may happen and more so in a destination where private and quality health care is as expensive as Thailand. We recommend that you travel to Bangkok and Thailand with a policy that covers you at your destination in case of accidents, hospitalization due to illness or setbacks that may result in an extra cost in your travel budget (please note that hospitalization or private medical care in Thailand is extremely expensive). We use the travel insurance of IATI Seguros because it has a coverage above average and always offer a personalized and fast. You can hire here the Travel Insurance of IATI Seguros and only for being a reader of the Pachinko apply directly a 5% discount.
Did you like our recommendations on what to see and do in Bangkok? What did you think of our 10 must-see places to visit in Bangkok? Are you travelling to Thailand soon and have any questions? Tell us in the comments and we’ll help you solve it. Khob Khun Krab!