Neon tuk tuks whizzing by during the night blasting funky tunes. Flaming woks with sizzling noodle dishes in Chinatown. Golden temples with sparkling rainbow mosaics honoring Buddha. These are just some of the sights not to be missed in Bangkok!
Most travelers and backpackers fly into the capital of Thailand to begin their adventures around Southeast Asia. Instead of rushing to your next connection, consider lingering for a few days to experience the electrifying energy of Thai culture in this bustling metropolis.
With so many unique attractions, restaurants, and activities, it can be difficult to choose how to spend your days in Bangkok. My head was spinning with all of the overwhelming possibilities! Below I've put together a list of my top 15 things to do in Bangkok to help you plan a fantastic trip.
#1 Chatuchak Weekend Market
If you happen to be in Bangkok on either a Saturday or Sunday, drop by the biggest indoor/outdoor bazaar in Thailand. The Chatuchak Weekend Market has over 15,000 stalls to explore! Shop for colorful souvenirs including elephant knickknacks, art, ceramics, clothing, plants, antiques, and home goods. Vendors are organized by categories and always up for a bit of friendly bargaining.
Come hungry and enjoy an array of snacks such as vegetable spring rolls, coconut ice cream, and taiyaki (fish-shaped waffles filled with custard). Sip a refreshing Thai iced tea with condensed milk while people watching and listening to live music. Besides affordable Pad Thai and chicken satay, you can try fried insects! Brad couldn't refuse a free grub, but immediately questioned his decision after the first crunchy bite!
#2 Grand Palace Complex
Culture, art, religion, and architecture perfectly blend together at the Grand Palace. The complex is made up of lush courtyards, pavilions, temples, and ornate buildings with vibrant colors and golden accents. Since the late 18th Century, reigning kings have left their marks with new additions and renovations.
The beautiful eclecticism is divided into several areas. Some are open to tourists while others are dedicated to royal offices. Most of the architecture is in the Rattanakosin (old-Bangkok) style. Breathtaking marble staircases, gilded stupas (bell-shaped towers) containing relics, sculptures, and glazed tiles await your jaw-dropping stares! Pairs of dvarapalas (gate guardians) protect the entryways to sacred spaces. Walls of finely painted murals depict scenes from the Ramakien; one of Thailand's national epics.
Inside the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew) is the most important artifact of Thailand. The jade Siddhartha Gautama Buddha is 66 cm (26 in) tall and depicted in the lotus position. Quietly sitting next to fellow worshippers inside of this chapel is very spiritual. Show respect by wearing modest attire and never pointing your toes towards Buddha.
#3 Shrimp Pad Thai at Thipsamai
Make your way to Thipsamai to devour Bangkok's most famous version of Thailand's national dish, Pad Thai. The key ingredient of this classic recipe is shrimp oil made with tomalley. Chewy rice noodles, green onion, and bean sprouts are sautéed in a wok before being tucked inside a thin blanket of scrambled egg. Add your desired amount of crushed peanuts and a bit of red pepper flakes for heat. Mix it all up for a decadently delicious meal!
#4 Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn)
Situated on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River, the Temple of Dawn glimmers in the sunlight just as its name suggests. White lime plaster fills the spaces in between seashells and shards of yellow, green, and orange porcelain. Rows of yaksha (mythological spirits) and monkey figures use their strength to hold up different levels while offering protection.
Wat Arun has a central prang (corncob-like spire) topped with a seven-pronged trident. All four sides are symmetrical and feature statues of the Hindu god, Indra, riding Erawan, the lord of all elephants. Each corner has a corresponding smaller prang devoted to the wind god, Phra Phai. Sculptures of ancient Chinese soldiers flank the stairways.
#5 Rooftop Drinks at Sala Rattanakosin Bar
The Temple of Dawn is equally stunning at night! Grab a fruity craft cocktail on the rooftop at Sala Rattanakosin Bar and admire the golden hue of the prangs. Neon party cruises and bedazzled long-tail boats bring the atmosphere to life. There's no better place to toast your Bangkok trip!
During the 19th Century, Bangkok's Chinatown was a thriving commercial playground with a red-light district vibe. Opium dens, theaters, gambling houses, and nightclubs were profitable businesses run by Chinese immigrants. Now the core of Chinatown, Yaowarat Road, boasts an unrivaled street food scene and craft market.
As one of the largest Chinatowns in the world, it's worthwhile to check out the district during the day and night. However, I recommend going at night if you have limited time. Indulge your tastebuds with a hearty bowl of wanton mee soup with succulent crab, BBQ pork, dumplings, and egg noodles. Nibble on a few warm BBQ pork buns and melt-in-your-mouth milk buns drizzled with pandan cream. Chinatown is a fun place to hangout and ride a tuk tuk!
#7 Che Chin Khor Temple and Pagoda
In search of an impressive temple without massive crowds? Check out the soaring eight-level pagoda at Che Chin Khor Temple! Take the public Ratchawong ferry if you need to cross the river. Brad and I were the only visitors at this architectural gem featuring elements of Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism.
Wooden drums, phoenixes, paper lanterns, wise dragons, and fantastic paintings adorn the main buildings. Inside are several shrines with statues of Buddha, monks, and Chinese sages (philosophers). Notice the slow burning incense sticks, signifying symbolic or sacrificial offerings to deities during prayer, sticking out of the outdoor brass pots.
#8 Ayutthaya Archaeological Site
Channel your inner Lara Croft by wandering the massive ruins of Ayutthaya with a day trip from Bangkok. Brad and I booked a small group tour including lunch with Big Country Experience via GetYourGuide. Learning about the historic capital of the Siamese Kingdom, founded in 1350, was a riveting experience!
After admiring the giant reclining Buddha at Wat Lokkayasutha, we explored the holiest temple of Ayutthaya, Wat Phra Si Sanphet. Each of its three giant stupas contains the ashes of kings. Wat Mahathat was my most anticipated temple because of its famous Buddha head entwined within the roots of a Bodhi tree. Our final temple, Wat Chaiwatthanaram, was modeled after the Angkor Wat complex in Cambodia.
Numerous statues of Buddha, lotus-capped columns, and intricately carved prangs kept our eyes wide in amazement! We also encountered a few cute bats along the soot-covered corridors. Even though Ayutthaya was attacked, pillaged, and burned by the Burmese army in 1767, its remaining architectural splendor is worthy of a visit!
#9 Erawan Museum
One of the most uniquely beautiful places I've ever seen was the Erawan Museum with its gigantic three-headed bronze elephant weighing 250 tons! Erawan, the mythological Hindu guardian of Indra's kingdom, stands upon a 15 m (49 ft) high pink pedestal. Surrounding the main sculpture are magical gardens with fountains, altars, and gilded deities.
The interior design of the two-story pedestal represents the universe according to Hinduism. Natural light shrines through the stained glass ceiling with whimsical signs of the zodiac. Visitors are able to climb up inside of the elephant's belly to see relics of Buddha. The abstract blue and golden walls are decorated with constellations.
#10 Crab Tom Yum Noodle Soup at Jeh O Chula
Our first Michelin star restaurant was worth the two-hour wait. Brad and I split a scrumptious bowl of crab tom yum noodle soup at Jeh O Chula for only $20 USD! The creamy egg yolks added a decadent richness to help cut the spice. Tears streamed down our overheated faces as we slurped up the chewy ramen noodles and complex broth. Whenever I return to Bangkok, I will be eating this yummy dish again!
#11 Sri Maha Mariamman Temple
Built in 1879, the Hindu temple of Sri Maha Mariamman has a kaleidoscope façade with animated gods and goddesses in various shapes and sizes. The tapering gopura (entrance tower) covered in themes from Hindu mythology acts as an awe-inspiring beacon for worship. The main shrine is dedicated to Ganesh, Kartik, and Sri Maha Mariamman.
Sri Maha Mariamman is the ancient Hindu goddess of weather, fertility, and disease. She is usually depicted with four arms and protruding fangs. One arm grasps her sword while another holds a damaru (an hourglass-shaped drum with a cobra wrapped around it serving as a handle). To show our respect, Brad and I presented the deities with a flower offering.
#12 Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha)
One of the most popular tourist attractions in Bangkok is the gilded reclining Buddha at Wat Pho. Measuring 15 m (49 ft) high and 46 m (151 ft) long, it's one of the biggest statues of Buddha in Thailand! The pose represents the entry of Buddha into Nirvana and the end of all reincarnations. Buddha's soles have images of swirls, flowers, animals, and chakras (energy points) made with iridescent mother-of-pearl.
The surrounding grounds contain approximately 1,000 statues of Buddha! Murals, elaborate doorways, Chinese-style rock gardens, orchids, and shrines enhance the spiritual energy of the complex. Four massive stupas, decorated with colored tiles in the Rattanakosin style, commemorate the first four kings of the Chakri dynasty. There are 91 smaller stupas that hold the ashes of royal descendants.
#13 Khao San Road
As a Bangkok rite of passage for most backpackers, Khao San Road is the place to be if you're looking for a sleazy atmosphere with buckets of cheap beer, massage parlors, weed, and pop music. Purchase a 7-Eleven tank top, get a tattoo you'll regret in the morning, or eat some questionable street food. The thoroughfare was a fun place for Brad to try a scorpion on a stick!
#14 Monitor Lizards at Lumphini Park
Go Go Godzilla! Take a stroll in Lumphini Park for the chance to see a wild monitor lizard. Brad and I spotted one swimming in the lake before it decided to climb a tree to rest for the evening. Keep a safe distance to avoid trouble. Monitor lizards have sharp claws, powerful tails, and a venomous bite.
#15 Wat Benchamabophit (Marble Temple)
Elegance meets opulence at Wat Benchamabophit! The temple exemplifies classical Thai architecture with its gilded finials, slanted roofs, and symmetrical design. Glistening white Carrara marble pillars flank the main entryway guarded by two snarling lions.
The rear cloister next to the assembly hall is lined with 52 statues of Buddha in different mudra (ritual gesture) positions. Enter the interior ubosot (main prayer room) to see the Phra Buddha Jinaraja; a Sukhothai-style Buddha statue with a glowing halo. Crossbeams of red lacquer with gilded accents complement the exterior palette.
Cash is king in Bangkok! Bring plenty of local currency (Thai baht) to markets, temples, and small eateries. Credit cards are generally accepted in grocery stores, upscale restaurants, boutiques, and hotels. ATMs and currency exchange offices are plentiful.
Brad and I took full advantage of the walkable streets, easy transportation system, abundant tuk tuks (beware of scams), and affordable Grab rides (similar to Uber/Lyft) to make our jam-packed itinerary possible. Traffic can be an inconvenience, especially during rush hour. I highly recommend riding the BTS Skytrain to navigate the city. You can purchase a metro card at any station with the help of an attendant. Remember to bring your passport and enough cash to top up.
Keep in mind most temples require visitors to dress conservatively. Opt for items that cover your shoulders, knees, and chest. Loose and breathable fabrics are crucial to keep you comfortable throughout the humid days. If you need to cool off, step inside one of the shopping malls with revitalizing air conditioning.
Bangkok typically has a love or hate reputation amongst travelers. After our week-long stay in this multicultural city, I found it hard to believe anyone could have a bad time. The iconic temples, diverse cuisine, and friendly locals captivated our spirits. We absolutely fell head over heels!
However you decide to outline your trip, I guarantee it will be memorable. As Mike Tyson once sang in The Hangover: Part II, "One night in Bangkok and the world's your oyster!"