The first time traveler to Bangkok may be shocked by how huge and sprawling this modern city is. Made up of 50 main districts, Bangkok is comprised of a unique array of attractions including temples and palaces, bustling markets, shiny shopping malls, and an energetic nightlife scene, among many other things sure to satisfy the tastes of almost every kind of traveler. Bangkok is a tropical metropolis that is extremely tourist-friendly. Most resources are available in English, but be wary that most Thai people outside of the tourist industry will understand and speak very little English, so get ready to play charades when ordering your street food.
Given Bangkok’s sheer size, navigating the city is pretty tough for foreigners, so it is recommended you grab a paper map and keep it with you at all times. Be warned that many streets are unmarked, and very few places have physical addresses; also, don’t expect clear cut answers when asking for directions. Even taxi drivers have a tough time navigating, so it’s best to bring written out instructions or maps when asking a taxi to take you some place. The best way to navigate the city is via the BTS Skytrain and/or underground metro. The two systems are not connected in that you’ll have to exit one to connect to the other, but the stations tend to be fairly close to each other for easy transfers. These lines connect many tourist areas making it perfect for visitors.
Withdrew: $1039.15 USD
Total time in Thailand: 14 days
Average amount spent per day: $74.23 USD
Exchange rate: ~$31-32 USD per 1 baht
Most visitors tend to use Bangkok as a launching point for other travelers, so the recommended time in Bangkok is about 2 whole days. The city is large enough that a longer stay can easily be accommodated with tons more sightseeing options, but 2 days is enough to get your fill of Bangkok as well. In terms of places to stay in Bangkok, there is certainly no shortage of bargain-priced hostels and hotels that offer modern amenities including hot water and air conditioning. Personally, I spent my entire stay at Bodega Bangkok where it cost me USD $18/night for a bunk in shared female dorm with clean linens, air conditioning, and hot water. It’s a conveniently located hostel run by American brothers, located in the heart of the Sukhumvit area.
Must See Tourist Sites
There are quite a few big sites to see in Bangkok, but if you’re on a time crunch, make these two your priorities.
The Grand Palace and Wat Pho
Located in the heart of Bangkok is the spectacular, impressive Grand Palace. With its glittering columns, impressively jeweled statues, and perfectly manicured gardens, it isn’t hard to see why this has official residence of the Kings of Siam and Thailand since 1782. Plan to spend at least 2 hours walking the palace grounds. Getting here is pretty easy and scenic as well if you take the ferry down the Chao Phraya River. Ferries run frequently from the Tha Sathon boat dock just off of the Saphan Taksin SkyTrain stop and they run directly up to the Grand Palace. While you’re up in this area, also pop over to Wat Pho next door to see one of the oldest wats in Bangkok. It holds more than one thousand images of Buddha including one huge Reclining Buddha that is 160 feet long.
Once the second capital of Siam and the largest city of the world in 1700, Ayutthaya is now an ancient city of ruins that is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is located 85 km north of Bangkok and is easily accessible by taking a train out of Bangkok’s Hua Luamphong station (on the MRT line). The train ride takes about 2 hours one way and costs 20 baht. Despite the length of the trip, the scenery is pleasant to take in and the trains are quite spacious. Once you arrive at the Ayutthaya train station, hop out and hire a tuk tuk driver to take you around to the 5 famous ruins, a trip that can take anywhere from 2-4 hours depending on your interest and how long you last in the heat. You can also request stops to ride elephants or visit tigers, although I can’t vouch for the humane treatment or practices of any of these sorts of tourist establishments. Ayutthaya is a fantastic day trip from Bangkok.
When I was first hunting for suggestions on things to do in Bangkok, I was surprised when a number of travelers recommend I visit a shopping center known as MBK. It turns out MBK is a paradise for both shopaholics and travelers. Not only can you get tons of touristy items here, but also every day items such as clothes and fashion accessories, food, and best of all (IMO), electronics! There’s a whole floor of this super mall dedicated exclusively to photography. While prices aren’t exactly a bargain, the quality of camera gear sold here is legit (no knockoffs), and the prices are generally manageable if you happen to get into a bind (ie. needing a new camera bag). I ended up visiting MBK on several occasions during my 7 days in Bangkok thanks to its amazing inventory of over 2,000 vendors and its convenient location on the Sky Train route.
Chatuchak (weekends recommended)
Designated as one of the world’s largest weekend markets, Chatuchak is a site to see. Both tourists and locals alike frequent this huge 35 acre market that has more than 15,000 stalls where everything from households goods, clothes, souvenirs, and even exotic pets are sold. Prices here are decent and can usually be bargained upon. Most vendor stalls are only open on weekends, although the western section known as Jatujak Plaza is open daily. In the northwest corner of Chatuchak is the large indoor (and air conditioned!) J.J. Mall where you can shop some more or step inside to cool off.
Most markets in Bangkok are crawling with tourists, but Khlong Toei is a largely locals only market specializing in produce and meats. Bring a camera and strengthen your stomach. You’ll see all kinds of things including seafood still flopping around on the table, innards of animals you never knew were edible, and heaps of fresh fruits, vegetables, and spices. Khlong Toei market’s lack of tourists is probably due to its location, which is a little off the beaten path. The best way to get here is to take the MRT subway and get off at the Khlong Toei stop. Take the #2 exit out of the subway station and find yourself on the massive Rama IV street. Facing the street, take a right and walk about 20 minutes down Rama IV until you reach a cross section of overhead bridges that will dump you out to the bustling Khlong Toei market.
In addition to daytime markets, Bangkok is renowned for having fantastic night markets. City sidewalks that are clear during the day are transformed after sunset with vendors setting up on all sides offering everything from tourist souvenirs and knockoff luxury items to household knick knacks and of course street food. It is of course much cheaper and arguably cleaner and tastier to dine at a street food cart rather than inside of a westernized restaurant. One of the more popular and central night markets is Silom/Patpong, located just off of the Sky Train route near the Sukhumvit area. While Patpong has long been known as a red light district where many ladies of the night offer entrance into their infamous ping pong shows, the area has largely cleaned up and is much friendlier to tourists. Another famous night market area is in the Khao San Road area, long known as a backpacker’s mecca. This is the area where Leonardo DiCaprio started out in in his movie The Beach; it is also known for offering barbecued insects for the exotic foodie.
I’ve gotten my fair share of massages in the United States, so I admit that getting a Thai massage in Thailand wasn’t even on my to-do list. I was more focused on hitting as many visiting sites as possible, not relaxation. However, I was talked into getting a Thai massage in Bangkok, and I’m definitely a newfound believer in the power of Thai massages. These massages last about 2 hours, maybe even slightly longer, and they combine deep tissue massage with stretches akin to those in yoga. They’re not exactly “close your eyes and drift off to sleep” kind of massages like those of the Swedish variety, however they do wonders for increasing your flexibility. If you have a really good masseuse, she will even know exactly which areas of your body to focus on without you having to tell her. Also, contrary to popular belief, these Thai massages are not the notorious “happy ending” types–the best way to differentiate between the two is to ask yourself this: “does my masseuse look like my grandmother, or like she’s heading to the club?” By the way, I found an excellent place in Bangkok that offers a supreme, authentic Thai massage. Contact me if you would like to find out where it is!