Bangkok | Travel spots of the bustling city
Bangkok is everything you’d expect from the capital of Thailand: it’s noisy, crowded, colourful, exciting, infuriating, and smile-inducing. There are temples, ancient sites, and other attractions to be visited, as well as modern shopping malls that have a kitschy yet high-end ambience. Bangkok can be overwhelming, but it’s also a fascinating city that represents Southeast Asia’s tension between the developed and developing worlds.
Bangkok also serves as a gateway to many other parts of Thailand. From here, you can hop a short flight to Phuket, Chiang Mai, Koh Samui, and other popular destinations. You can also board a train or hop on a bus for little money, and visit national treasures such as Ayutthaya, Lopburi, and many other gems around the country.
Discover the best things to do in this bustling city with our list of the top attractions in Bangkok.
If you only visit one major historical tourist attraction in Bangkok, this should be the one. The royal compound lives up to its name, with spectacular structures that would put the most decadent modern monarchs to shame. It’s also the home of Wat Phra Kaeo, which houses the Jade (or Emerald), Buddha.
Built-in 1782, the grand palace was the royal residence for generations and is still used for important ceremonies and accommodating heads of state. Dress modestly when visiting the Grand Palace, which basically means covering your arms and legs and avoiding any sloppy attire.
Located immediately south of the Grand Palace precinct, Wat Pho makes an excellent addition to your palace tour, provided your feet are up for more walking.
The temple was built by King Rama I and is the oldest in Bangkok. It has long been considered a place of healing and was famous centuries ago for its pharmacy and as Thailand’s first “university”—both established by King Rama III. You can get a Thai or foot massage at the traditional medical school on the premises, but the prices are significantly higher than what you will find at massage parlours elsewhere in the city.
Today Wat Pho is best known for the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, where you’ll find a statue so big (45 meters long and 15 meters high), it cannot be viewed in its entirety but only appreciated in sections. The soles of the feet, inlaid with a myriad of precious stones, are particularly beautiful. Look also for the long earlobes signifying noble birth, and the lotus-bud configuration of the hand to symbolize purity and beauty.
Wat Arun is something of a triumphant complex, dating back to the time of ancient battles between the former Siam and Burma. Having fallen to the Burmese, Ayutthaya was reduced to rubble and ashes, but General Taksin and the remaining survivors vowed to march “until the sun rose again” and to build a temple here. Wat Arun, the Temple of the Dawn, was that temple. It is where the new king later built his royal palace and a private chapel. Sunset is really the time to take in this place in all its glory.
Wat Traimit, Temple of the Golden Buddha
Sheer luck makes this attraction special. During the 1950s, the East Asiatic Company purchased the land around the temple.
A condition of the sale was the removal of a plaster statue of Buddha, but the statue proved too heavy for the crane being used. The cable parted and the figure was dropped, being left overnight where it fell. It happened to be in the rainy season, and when next morning some monks walked past, they noticed a glint of gold shining through the plaster. The coating was removed, revealing a 3.5-meter Buddha cast from 5.5 tons of solid gold.
All attempts to trace the origin of this priceless statue have so far failed, but it is assumed to date from the Sukhothai period when marauding invaders threatened the country and its treasures, and it became common practice to conceal valuable Buddha figures beneath a coating of plaster. No one knows how it came to Bangkok, but here it stands, available for the admiration of visitors from all over the world.
Wat Suthat, adjacent to the Great Swing, is one of the oldest and most beautiful of Bangkok’s Buddhist temples. Three kings had a hand in its construction: it was begun soon after the coronation of Rama I (founder of the Chakri dynasty) in 1782, continued by Rama II and completed 10 years later by Rama III.
Apart from its delightful architecture, the temple boasts some exceptionally interesting wall paintings. Wat Suthat is less popular than some of the other temple complexes in the city, so you’ll enjoy a more peaceful and intimate experience here.
In the centre of the busy square in front of Wat Suthat stands one of Bangkok’s most eye-catching sights: the 27-meter-high teak frame of the so-called Giant Swing. Built-in the 1700s to be used as part of traditional Brahmin (Hinduist) ceremonies, the swing was later damaged by lightning and became just decorative.
This used to be the focus of a religious ceremony held every year in December after the rice harvest. Teams of three took turns to balance on a dangerously narrow board and be swung 25 meters or more off the ground “up to Heaven,” at which point they would attempt to catch a bag of silver coins in their teeth. King Rama VII banned the contest in 1932, following a number of fatal accidents.
National Museum & Wang Na Palace
History buffs will want to devote at least half a sightseeing day to the national museum. Until the mid-1970s, this was Thailand’s only museum, which explains why its collection is so big and diverse.
Fortunately, just about every exhibit is labelled in Thai and English and guided tours are also offered in English, so you won’t miss out on any of the country’s fascinating ancient and contemporary history.
King Rama I’s Wang Na Palace, located within the grounds of the museum, remains essentially as it was, and stands as a testament to Thai history. Visitors can see regalia, religious and ceremonial artefacts, ceramics, games, weaponry, musical instruments, and the Viceroy’s throne, as well as an impressive collection of Buddha figures arranged according to period.
Bangkok’s sprawling semi-outdoor weekend market is the largest in the world. Shoppers can find everything from jewellery and religious icons to pet supplies, paper lamps, and delicious street food here. Chatuchak Market is home to over 15,000 stalls offering just about anything you can dream up—even better, any souvenir you might want is probably available here at a much cheaper price than anywhere else in Bangkok.
This is a great place to mingle with locals and immerse yourself in everyday Thai life, so arrive early and clear your schedule for the rest of the day if you want to do this place justice.
The market is adjacent to the Kamphaengpecth Station (MRT), about a five-minute walk from Mochit Skytrain (BTS) Station and Suan Chatuchak (Chatuchak Park) Station (MRT)
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
For an even more interesting market experience, you can arrange a tour to Damnoen Saduak, a famous floating market located in Ratchaburi (about 1.5 hours outside Bangkok). The popularity of floating markets once earned Bangkok the nickname “Venice of the East.”
Keep in mind that floating markets are now highly touristic enterprises, so don’t expect an exclusive morning of shopping by boat—but you will be able to buy fresh and delicious foods and interact with locals in an authentic way.
The best way to reach the market is to join a tour such as the Floating Markets Cruise Day Trip from Bangkok, which takes about six hours and includes pick up right from your hotel and transport in an air-conditioned coach.
Khao San Road
This is Bangkok’s infamous backpacker district, a neighbourhood jam-packed with guesthouses, food vendors, clothing stalls, and travellers from every corner of the globe. You’ll need to tap into your patience when hanging out here because while it is colourful and exciting in its own way, the crowds and scents and blaring music can test even the calmest soul.
All that said, Khao San Road is also a great place to pick up a few pairs of baggy fisherman pants, the perennial staple of every backpacker’s wardrobe when trekking through Thailand; browse the treasures in a used bookstore; and dig into some delicious Indian food from a neighbourhood restaurant.