Ask anybody which is the first southeast Asian country they visited and usually the answer is Thailand. For most backpackers, southeast Asian travel kicks off in Bangkok, Thailand’s capital and the second most populous city in Southeast Asia. Bangkok is a cosmopolitan budget-friendly city, famous for its magnificent temples and palaces, great food, and exciting night-life. And yes, ‘beautiful lady-boys‘!
Wonder how Bangkok got its name? Watch Russel Peter’s hilarious version.
Ok, so everybody, more or less, knows what to do in Bangkok. However, here are my suggestions on the top things to do in Bangkok.
Top things to do in Bangkok
Visit the famous temples (‘Wat’ in Thai)
Out of the hundreds of temples in Bangkok, my (and most others would agree with me) must-see temples are Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Pho, and Wat Arun.
Wat Phra Kaew or The Temple of the Emerald Buddha is located in the Grand Palace grounds and is the most visited and famous temple in Bangkok. The much-talked-about Emerald Buddha is carved from a single jade block, dates back to the 15th century AD., and is Thailand’s most sacred site.
Wat Pho or The Temple of the Reclining Buddha houses a 15meter high, 43 meter long golden color Buddha. This is also the place to get a traditional Thai massage—a respected Thai massage school training Thai masseurs over many years is within the temple grounds.
Compared to Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Pho sees fewer tourists.
Wat Arun or The Temple of Dawn is situated on the banks of Chao Phraya river. You can climb the central tower of the temple (for a fee) to get a closer look at the porcelain decorations and get a view of the river and Grand Palace.
Be sure to be around during sunset; it’s splendid. Best view is from the opposite bank of the river or from a boat.
You can unhurriedly cover these three temples in one day. Wat Pho is very close to Wat Phra Kaew, and after touring Wat Pho, get to the nearest pier Tha Tien and take a water taxi to Wat Arun.
Now, for some etiquettes to keep in mind when visiting these lovely temples:
- Dress appropriately. No bare shoulders, shorts or short skirts.
- Remove your hats, sunglasses, and shoes when you go inside a temple.
- Keep your mobiles on silent.
Shop in Thailand’s largest market – Chatuchak weekend market/ JJ market
Chatuchak or Jatujak (Thai) market is open only on Friday evenings and full day Saturdays, Sundays. It is divided into 27 sections and has more than 8000 shops. You will find everything from clothes, shoes, accessories, antiques and collectibles, furniture, home deco, plants, food, pets, and pet accessories too.
My favorite sections are the Handicrafts and accessories section. You will see creative and impressive stuff here. It’s the best place to buy local handmade accessories, home decor, and art.
- Pick-up a map of the market.
- Look-out for the short performance by the famous Thai iced-tea maker.
- Don’t shy away from the delicious street-foods available in the market.
Go for a cabaret
There are many drag shows around Bangkok. The most famous and talked-about is the Calypso cabaret, which is the one I went to. Great performance and very entertaining.
Read about ladyboys or kathoey/katoey here.
Take a boat on Chao Phraya river during sunset
You can very well take an organized canal tour or a private cruise on Chao Phraya, but I would suggest you to take a boat taxi/public boat on the river. Take a longer route which passes by Wat Arun, and do this trip in the evening around sunset.
See the city from it’s tallest building
Baiyoke tower II is the tallest building in the city. It has an observatory on the 77th floor and a 360 degree revolving deck on the 84th floor.
We spent an evening here in the roof-top bar on the 83rd floor.
Feast on Thai cuisine
Thai cuisine needs no introduction, but when you are in ‘the land’ itself, go crazy and try out everything.
You can even try fried crickets, silk worms, grasshoppers, larvae, and much more. Like Andrew Zimmerman says, “If it looks good, eat it”!
Before embarking on your tasting adventure, here are two things to note:
- A staple ingredient in Thai dishes is fish sauce. Some dishes use shrimp paste and oyster sauce too. Vegetarians may want to explicitly specify to not use these sauces instead of just asking for vegetarian dishes.
- Request to tone down the spice level. Trust me on this. Coming from India, I could handle only ‘less’ or sometimes ‘medium’ spice levels in Bangkok. Thai ‘spicy’ will knock your socks off!
Now, for two things which I wasn’t keen on and hence skipped –
See a Muay Thai match
If you are interested to watch a Muay Thai or Thai boxing match, head to Lumpini boxing stadium.
Visit a floating market
Three of the known floating markets in Bangkok are: Taling Chan floating market, Amphawa floating market, and Kwan-Reim floating market.
You can visit these markets on your own, or take a tour. Check the timings as most of them are open only on weekends.
What is your must-do in Bangkok? OR What was your best experience in Bangkok?
(Visited Bangkok in the months of April and September)