The world’s largest reclining Buddha image, the astonishing Grand Palace, and Muay Thai performances that will take your breath away…these are only a few of Bangkok attractions.
Bangkok, Asia’s most cosmopolitan city, has several contradicting faces. Some of the most sacred Buddhism temples stand in contrast with shameless nightlife taking over Khao San Road and other notorious districts after the dusk. Bangkok, home to 11 million, offers something for everyone.
Let me say this directly: moving around Bangkok isn’t really convenient, especially for first-timers. The suffocating heat, humidity, and hectic traffic dominated by unpredictable tuk-tuks, can make one tired easily. But don’t let the discomfort fool you! The more time you spend here, the more you get to see and discover the real Bangkok: a city with stunning architecture, colorful markets, and saffron-robed monks.
The Thai capital makes for a great stop when you are off backpacking southeast Asia. For me personally Bangkok is a fascinating place to visit, and even more interesting to return to. The city’s landscape is changing very fast – maybe too fast, with new skyscrapers popping up all over town. But with all these changes, I hope Bangkok’s overall atmosphere will remain unchanged for years to come. There are at least 7 reasons to visit Bangkok.
Flights to Bangkok
The easiest way to travel to Bangkok is by airplane. There are two airports in Bangkok, and most international flights use Suvarnabhumi Airport, Bangkok’s main airport and the busiest airport in Southeast Asia. It’s located 30 km to the east of the city.
I recommend Kiwi.com to find cheap flights to Bangkok. When getting from the airport to downtown, the fastest and most convenient way is by high-speed train. Follow the signs for Airport Rail Link City Line. It takes 25 minutes and costs THB 45/USD 1.3 per person.
Thailand is 95 per cent Buddhist and its temples are a unique part of the capital’s heart and soul. It is hard to believe that Bangkok is home to as many as 400 temples! I wonder whether there is anyone who has ever visited them all 🙂
Bangkok is a great place for food and nightlife as well. I recommend 3-4 days to visit the main attractions. If you have more time and want to fully experience the place, 2-3 weeks would be ideal. c
These are the best places to see in Bangkok:
01 | The Grand Palace
If you could only visit one sight it Bangkok, the dazzling, spectacular Grand Palace is a perfect choice. Undoubtedly, this is the city’s most famous landmark. The Grand Palace was built in 1782, and for 150 years represented the home of the Thai king, the royal court, and the administrative seat of government.
The Grand Palace features beautiful architecture with lot of stunning details, demonstrating the creativity and craftsmanship of the Thai people. Today, the complex remains nothing less than the spiritual heart of the Thai kingdom. Unfortunately, the experience can be spoiled by the tourist crowds. It’s best to visit first thing in the morning.
Practical info: Open daily from 8:30 am to 3: 30 pm. The entrance fee is THB 500/USD 12. This includes the entrance fee to the temple of Emerald Buddha and few other sights in Bangkok (that can be used within 7 days of your Grand Palace visit). You have to wear modest clothes, with knees and shoulders covered.
Wat Phra Kaew, or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, is regarded as the most important Buddhist temple in Thailand. Located within the grounds of the Grand Palace, it is not a single building, but rather a whole temple complex.
The primary attraction of the temple is a small but incredibly famous Buddha image. It’s meticulously carved from a single block of jade, dating back to the 14th century. The small size (just 66 centimeters tall!) makes it somehow easy to miss. It would be a pity indeed: it’s actually the most sacred object in Thailand.
The Buddha is dressed in special robes, changed by The Kind of Thailand himself! The ceremony takes place three times a year and brings fortune to the country during the various seasons.
Practical info: The entrance fees and the opening hours are the same as for the Grand Palace, from 8:30 am to 15:30 pm.
03 | Wat Pho
When you are in the Grand Palace area, I greatly recommend visiting Wat Pho temple, too. Also called Temple of the Reclining Buddha, it’s the oldest temple is Bangkok. You will spot the highlight right away: a 46-meter-long Buddha covered in gold leaf.
Wat Pho, constructed in the 16th century, is also a great place to get a traditional Thai massage. The temple is often considered the leading school of massage in Thailand, so you really are in good hands here. Its masseuses take it really seriously: during the 60-minute body massage I had to repeatedly beg the masseuse to go softer on me.
Practical info: The temple is open from 8:30 am to 6 pm. Entrance fee is THB 100/USD 3. A one-hour massage costs THB 420/ USD 12.
04 | Chao Phraya River
Boats are a great way to get around the famous riverside area with its many Bangkok attractions, temples, and architecture. When you get into the minor canals, you might get feeling that time stopped there about a hundred years ago.
Several kinds of boats run up and down the Chao Phraya River starting from as little as THB 20/USD 0.5 for the ride. Thanks to the ferries it is also possible to cross the river at various points.
If you want a bit more of an exclusive experience, you might cruise the river by long tail boat in the evening. The price for a 1- or 2-hour boat ride is from THB 600 to 1500/USD 17 to 45. Some tours include food as well.
Yet another option for navigating around Bangkok is the much loved and much-hated tuk-tuk. This three-wheeled vehicle has somehow become a symbol of Bangkok. It is simply a must-do!
You can find up a tuk-tuk at any street corner (and the price you will be charged could vary hugely). In a tuk-tuk, you can whiz around Bangkok’s streets without spending much, but just for the record: The price is greatly defined by your bargaining skills 🙂
The oldest part of the city is also a food heaven. The narrow lanes are full of stalls selling all kinds of snacks. If you are brave enough, you can taste here things that are impossible to get in other parts of Bangkok or even Thailand.
Typical Thai food is this:
- Tom Yum Gung: typical Thai soup teeming with shrimp, mushrooms, tomatoes, lemongrass, galangal, and kaffir lime leaves.
- Pad Thai: Thailand’s national dish. Rice noodles stir-fried with a host of ingredients like tofu, peanuts, shrimp, green onions, bean sprouts, garlic, pepper, fish sauce, and lime juice.
- Moo Dad Diew: Small bites of deep-fried pork are marinated in a dark sweet soy sauce and then deep-fried to accentuate the flavors.
- Kai Jiew Moo Saap: Thai style omelet prepared with eggs, fish sauce and soy sauce, and minced pork. It is deep fried and best eaten with rice.
- Gai Yang: Grilled chicken on a stick that you can find pretty much everywhere. Easy, cheap, and super tasty.
- Pad Pak Bung Nam Man Hoy: Morning glory is simply yummy. It is stir-fried with garlic, oyster sauce, and sometimes chilies.
It’s better to visit Chinatown in the late afternoon and stay until dark when the streets become more lively.
07 | Wat Traimit
Located at the end of Chinatown, Wat Traimit houses the world’s largest gold seated Buddha. It is nearly five meters in height and weighs five and a half tons. After repeated visits to Bangkok, I enjoy Wat Traimit for its serene atmosphere, amazing views, and because it has fewer tourists than the other temples I visited.
The funny thing is that the Buddha at Wat Traimit was discovered by accident. When it was being moved, the workers accidentally dropped it, revealing, under a casing of plaster, a beautiful solid gold Sukhothai-style Buddha. Pieces of the plaster are still kept on display.
Practical info: The temple is open from 9 am to 5 pm. The entrance fee is THB 40/USD 1. The temple is located west of Hua Lampong Station.
Another extraordinary way to experience Thai culture is by observing the combat sport Muay Thai. If you want to get involved, this is a great opportunity for doing exercise. I did a half-day muay Thai workshop at a gym established by Buakaw Banchamek, one of the most globally famous Thai fighters in history. I was sweating like hell, but it was awesome!
I can also greatly recommend the performances hosted by Muay Thai Live, which introduce the origins of this sport. If you think this is just interesting for men, you are mistaken – there are plenty of muscular bodies for the female visitors to enjoy J I think I saw there more women in the audience than men.
Practical info: You can buy your ticket on the spot or book online. It costs THB 1200/USD 35. If you would like to attend real match instead of the performance, a fellow blogger recommends watching Muay Thai at Channel 7 Boxing Stadium. It’s even for free!
Where to sleep in Bangkok
Bangkok offers a wide range of accommodations, just open Booking.com and chose what you like. From the places I have experienced on my own, these are my favorites:
Bright rooms and homey atmosphere are two main features of De Talak Hostel. If you are a backpacker in search of a quiet place for relaxation and a fully equipped kitchen, this is your place. Google the location first – it can be a little hard to find.
This boutique hostel is the perfect choice for flashpackers. Lub D has got an onsite bar, 24-hour reception and beds that feature individual locker, shelf, power socket and towel rack. Located near Chinatown. I love that they serve popcorn in the reception:)
I have already stayed twice in this hotelJ Pathumwan Princess is modern and really comfortable, featuring a large outdoor pool and outstanding fitness facilities. It has 30 floors, so try to get your room as high as possible. The views from my room on the 28th floor were just awesome; I could see all of Bangkok.
Planning your visit to Bangkok
One of the most amazing things about Bangkok is a great variety of sights: every traveler can find there what they like most. Deciding what to do in Bangkok is not easy at all“ there is the way to many temples, food markets, and other sights. My Italian blogging fellow Claudia shared her favorite 13 Things to do in Bangkok, too.
Often, if you have more time, it’s great to dedicate time and see the less touristy places. If you are more into mysterious and abandoned places, you will find the Bangkok airplane graveyard indeed interesting
You can also join a variety of day trips, as there are many places to visit near Bangkok.
Planning your Thailand Itinerary
Thailand has much more to offer beyond Bangkok: you can read about other interesting places in Thailand here. It is not always easy to squeeze all into one trip, I would recommend to spend some time planning. You can get inspired for example by this 3 Week Thailand itinerary with some of the country’s highlights.
Thailand is one of those countries that you can easily explore on your own. A fellow blogger posted a detailed guide about Solo Travel in Thailand. It’s full of useful travel tips
Last but not least, if you plan to spend more time in the region, Thailand is a great starting point for any Southeast Asia travel itinerary. Make sure to make the best of your time in Southeast Asia and discover as much as possible: it’s truly one of the best backpacking regions in the world.
Thanks for reading!
I hope you enjoyed my article. Feel free to follow my Facebook page, too.
The information and pictures from this guide are based on several visits. In 2012, I visited the city as a backpacker exploring South East Asia. Later, I returned as a professional travel blogger attending the conference TBEX. My third, and by far the most enjoyable trip was done in partnership with the Tourism Authority of Thailand. All opinions are, as always, my own.