13 Things To Do In Bangkok
Before I headed to Bangkok my only knowledge of the capital city was what I had seen from Bridget Jones’s Diary: The Edge of Reason, and after visiting, I can say while the movie was beautiful (that boat ride out to sea!) it certainly wasn’t all-encompassing of Bangkok’s best sites to see.
From multi-cultural sections within the city to its obsession with vintage artifacts from all over the world, Buddhist temples and tasty sidewalk treats, the best of Bangkok is more than just a massage parlor, that’s for sure, and all the spots on this list are exactly how I know! So whether you’re heading for a couple’s vacation or on a solo romp around Southeast Asia, these 13 things to cross off your bucket list will be a good time, a good taste, and most importantly, a good treat!
Rod Fai Market
Colorfully topped tents, people, and local treats and delicacies galore, Rod Fai Market is Bangkok’s best open-air (and authentic) bazaar with vintage collectibles and various incredible memorabilia that will delight all the rockabilly lovers. And for bonus rounds, modern fashions, cool restaurants, and vintage items from around the globe, like Japan (and even France) will make this market a favorite for it’s authentic Thai feel and continuation of the age-old Bangkok tradition of being one of the world’s best trade centers.
Bangkok Forensic Museum
If you’re a fan of the weird, the strange, and don’t have a easily upset stomach, definitely head for the Siriraj Medical Museum, also known as the Bangkok Forensic Museum. From conjoined twins to lateral cross sections of grown human bodies, there are more than a few exhibitions to thrill the mind and keep you chatting about what you saw even after you’ve returned home. So get out your camera and get lost somewhere between the mummified serial killers and the severed hands; there is plenty to get squirmish about!
Dine In The Dark
Now that there’s a Dine In The Dark location in Bangkok, you’ve got to head over to the Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit to give up your sight and dive into darkness. A conceptual dinner experience that benefits the blind, Dine In The Dark strips you of your lighted devices (watch, phone, and everything in between) to submerge you into temporary blindness and excite your other senses. You can explore the menu with everything but your eyes, and then come back to the light to enjoy the delights on your plate.
Papaya Vintage Shop
If you didn’t get enough of the vintage vibe from the Rod Fai Market, it’s best to head straight to Papaya to satisfy the urge. One of the most unusual shops you’ll ever visit, this humongous organizes mess of a store is exactly what any hoarder dreams of. Delve into the shelves to discover full-size superhero figurines and vintage Vespas to Alice in Wonderland acid-colored pots and pans to Star Wars memorabilia.
A word to the wise though, not all items are for sale. This part-shop, part-museum is so popular for some of it’s treasures that they remain off of the no-sell list to be enjoyed by future visitors the world over.
Wat Arun, Wat Pho, & Wat Ratchanatdaram
There are many (so many) Buddhist temples in Bangkok, but Wat Arun, Wat Pho, & Wat Ratchanatdaram are my three picks for someone looking to narrow down the tourist attractions to the really great, must-see spots. Wat Arun, or The Temple of Dawn, is right by the river and best caught when the sun is going down (despite it’s name meaning the opposite), and Wat Pho is just a stone’s throw from the Grand Palace and worth it for the walls lined with golden Buddhas. And Wat Ratchanatdaram, king of the trio in my opinion, has beautiful white and gold-roofed towers that glitter in the some and make for a beautiful afternoon walk.
Special tip to visitors: Since they are temples, it’s customary to be respectful and dress well while touring here. They do have clothes for hire if you forget, but it’s better just to remember to cover your shoulders, your toes, your cleavage, and your knees. That means no low-cut dresses, men in t-shirts, or flip-flops allowed!
One of the best parts of Bangkok is it’s culture melding—from it’s famous Chinatown to the Arab Quarter, Bangkok is ripe with all of the delights from around the globe in one great town, and that’s the beginning. You truly don’t realize the greatness until after your first bite of shawarma—and I say this completely from personal experience with the delicious Middle Eastern wraps. Whether you head for well known shawarma spots like Ottoman Turkish Restaurant or to the tiny hole in the wall street food eateries along Sukhumvit, you can’t go wrong with the grilled meat wraps or even the “pizza” version.
My only word of advice: go really hungry! With generous portions and lots to taste, you’re going to want to be one for a taste test here and there so either order a lot and plan on not finishing, or find a fun travel buddy to share in your meal.
Rama IX Park
No one gifts like a royal, which is (partly) why the Rama IX Park is so spectacular. Built for the 60th birthday of the current monarch King Bhumibol, the park is the largest green space in the bustling city of Bangkok, and while not usually on the tourist path, is definitely a spot travellers shouldn’t miss hitting up. From the golden Ratchamangkhala Pavilion to the extensive gardens, which boast a beautiful flower festival during the year, you can wander among the landscaped greenery or get your work out on (it’s also a favorite space of the locals to get in their exercise for the day).
Go On A Pad Thai Hunt
With more than a plentiful amount of pad thai restaurants to try from, it may be hard to narrow down just one place to chomp noodles, which is exactly why I say that sticking to one dish while you’re there is basically a sin. So take my advice and head out on a hunt: a delicious pad thai hunt. While I won’t tell you where to go (though I’ve heard people swear by Thip Samai Noodle Shop) I will suggest taking yourself out of the tourist centers and down little back alleyways to get the best of the best because I know it’s more than just a matter of finding the “best,” but finding your best. But no matter where you wander for noodles, the truth is in the pad thai—just taste everything and get as much delish as you can.
For the beginning of this adventure, I say download Ness (a highly recommended food app that picks restaurants like Pandora picks songs) if you’re on a tight schedule or just weary of wandering around every night.
Bangkok Thonburi Khlongs
A trip along the khlongs of Thonburi is to experience Bangkok as it once was; it’s a far cry from the tourist centers with cheap tourist gags and street eats. For delving into Bangkok’s past, grab a seat on one of Bangkok’s flat-bottom boats—perfect for navigating the narrow and shallow waters—at any of the major tourist piers like Chang, and head out to the ramshackle riverside houses and docks. Just make sure you settle on a price before getting into the boat, it’s the best way for not getting swindled out of your money.
Pro-tip: Though your boat driver may be in charge of transportation, the reality is he probably won’t be a great English-speaking tour guide. Don’t fear, just take out your camera, because even if he doesn’t know how to say “historic district,” he knows exactly where it is and in this case seeing is believing.
Yadong, or Thai rice whiskey, is more or less the local version of moonshine and man, is it tasty. You’re definitely going to want to figure out who the designated driver is before going out for a taste testing of this liquor, for its potency will not disappoint. From grabbing it barside or having it along with a sumptuous dinner, the upmarket bathtub brew is definitely one of the top 5 best tourist must-do’s in the city, and if you’ve got the chance to choose between a fancy cocktail and this paired down favorite, go with simplicity every time.
Fresh Flower Market in Rattanakosin
No trip to the Old City is complete without a walk along Pak Klong Talad for a browse of the fresh and colorful selections. At (famously) low prices, the flowers are going to jump into your arms with very little volition, and you’ll have to reason to put them back, but for something that lasts a little longer than the beautiful (but fragile!) life of flowers, head with your camera or Instagram open, it’ll for sure be the most colorful photos you take all trip. Don’t forget to check out the vegetable stands at the far end of the market as well, because the varieties are as delicious as the flora is beautiful.
Go Out In Secret
Nightlife in Bangkok has no rival; immortalized by The Hangover Part 2 and a few James Bond adventures, the city has amazing going-out potential, but there’s no reason to get stuck in the same-old, same-old. To get out of the normal, take a secret tour of the best bars in city and follow the guides that lead you to Havana Social (a 1940’s-style de facto Cuban haunt that requires a nightly secret code for entrance), U.N.C.L.E. (located above Lady Brett with a Mad Men speakeasy ambiance), and to J. Boroski (a place for true cocktail lovers, Boroski is such a celebrated mixologist you can’t even get here without a personal Facebook invite and map from the man himself).
And while these three locales are nowhere near exhaustive of the extensive nightlife adventures awaiting in Bangkok (I think you can’t leave the city without going to a lady boy cabaret but it could just be me), a little research on the subject will find a place that’s quiet and hipster (Jing Jok Bar) or comes with a rooftop skyline view (Wanderlust Bar), and is tailored specifically for you.
There is no way to go to Bangkok without checking out the residence-turned-museum that is The Grand Palace. Dating back to the late 18th century, this palace was the center of the Siamese kingdom and housed the royalty well into 20th century, and exhibits traditional Chakri Dynasty architecture. Go to see ancient artifacts (a green Buddha from the 14th century lives here) or just to fill your Facebook feed of snaps of perfectly tapered (and perfectly traditional) Southeastern Asian spires, because a walk along the elegance of ages past is good for your imagination, and for your eyes.
More than just a place to bar hop during the night, Bangkok is full of delightful (and delicious) must-see stops that don’t require so much digging as they do lots of energy and adventurous spirit. So what are you waiting for? Get to discovering, and bon voyage!