The City of Angels – part of the ceremonial name of Bangkok – is a city of contrasts. Imposing skyscrapers and luxury shopping districts; traditional markets and stilt houses spanning canals. By day, the gilded temple roofs glimmer in the sun. By night, laser and LED lights form the backdrop for a vibrant nightlife.
Bangkok’s status as a shopping mecca is renowned. Its culinary scene is a feast for the senses, from Michelin stars to street food. It’s an international draw for health care procedures.
Attractions and activities for the traveler abound in this cultural, historic and religious melting pot. The mere thought of planning a day can be daunting. You won’t see it all. Even locals constantly find new places to go in this ever-evolving city.
We’re here to help you make the best tour choice for your Bangkok visit. Remember, it’s important to leave time in your schedule to explore on your own. Sample the best street food in the world and experience the old-world hospitality Bangkok is known for.
Here is some background to help guide your way.
The City of Angels – the literal translation of the Thai word for 'Bangkok' – offers an captivating proposition of extremes, where seemingly contradictory parts intriguingly make for a peaceful whole pulsating with a riveting energy. Swanky shopping centers and shiny skyscrapers are juxtaposed against traditional markets and stilt houses perched atop canals.
Gilded roofs of centuries-old temples glimmer during the day, and when the sun sets, laser and LED lights provide a shimmering visual backdrop to the city's vibrant nightlife. Master chefs of Michelin-starred restaurants daintily cook up a storm at the city's finest gastronomic establishments, steps away from some of the most delectable street food the world over.
Ask any resident and they'll expound on the many joys and lament on just as many woes of the thriving metropolis, but few will argue that the City of Angels is one that gets under your skin. Bangkok may be crowded, busy and noisy, but the irrepressible smiles that greet visitors everywhere that they go make every excursion in the city inspiring and entertaining.
Bangkok’s temples and palaces are its crowning jewel. Make sure to see the Wat Phra Kaew (a.k.a. Temple of the Emerald Buddha for its revered jade statue); Wat Pho (known for its 46 meter-long reclining Buddha and traditional Thai massage school) and of the riverside Wat Arun, aka Temple of Dawn. It’s an iconic silhouette you’ll find on the 10-Baht coin.
The Grand Palace is a huge complex on the banks of the Chao Phraya. Though it’s used for ceremonial purposes today, it traditionally served as the residence of the Kings of Siam (the former name for Thailand. The Palace is actually comprised of many different buildings arranged in four main courts. One houses the Temple of the Emerald Buddha .
Speaking of shirts, be mindful of strict dress codes when visiting Buddhist temples. That means nothing too immodest or revealing, even in the sweltering heat. You must take shoes off to enter temples, so wear something easily removable.
For in-depth exploration of Thai arts and culture, several museums are worth a visit. They include the National Museum, which showcases the best of Thai arts. Nearby, the Museum of Siam offers interactive and informational fun for the whole family. Rattanakosin Exhibition Hall offers high-tech edutainment; while the Royal Barges Museum highlights traditional Thai craftsmanship. The beautiful and elaborate multi-oarsmen longboats are an inspiring sight.
Siam Park is a 120-acre theme park on the outskirts of Bangkok in the Min Buri district. It’s the largest theme park in Thailand, featuring a zoo, botanical garden, aviaries and playgrounds. Its water park wave pool is the largest in the world, according to the Guinness Book of World Records. The park is open daily from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm.
The 300-acre Safari World is also located in the Min Buri district. It features both a drive-through safari park and a marine park with sea life exhibits and rides. The parks are open daily from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.
Even if you have no specific plans to buy anything, it’s wise to keep extra room in your suitcase. It’s nearly impossible to resist the temptation from street vendors, market stalls, glitzy malls and wholesale districts. You’ll even find markets that float in Bangkok.
Here’s an overview:
If you’d like a break from the heat, head to the malls located between BTS Chidlom and Siam stations.
If you’re feeling adventurous, visit the Chatuchak Market on the weekends. It's hot, it's packed, and with 15,000 stalls spread over 35 acres of land, confusing. On the bright side, whatever you're looking for — or didn’t know you’re looking for — is sure to await you there.
If you’re in the mood for a day trip shopping activity, visit Amphawa floating market and the Maeklong railway market. They’re next to each other, about an hour away from Bangkok. Unlike its more famous counterpart, Damnoen Saduak, Amphawa doesn’t require a pre-dawn excursion. Amphawa is smaller, less touristy, and gets going in the mid-afternoon.
The railway market, named for the train that passes through daily, offers a distinctive photo opp (as well as some good bargains). Vendors dismantle and then set-up their stalls when the train passes. A privately-hired taxi should be able to get you there and back for approximately THB 2,000 (US$63) roundtrip.
Visitors to the kingdom can also get a 7% VAT refund from participating stores including the aforementioned retail biggies. If you're not on a certifiable shopping spree, the process may be more trouble than it's worth. If you are, then don't forget to ask for the tax invoice and refund form when you purchase the items. At the airport on the way back home on an international flight, note that you'll need to check in with customs before and after immigrations for inspection – just look out for signs that say 'VAT refund for tourist office'.
The stretch between BTS Chidlom and Siam stations boast the highest concentration of malls in the city, including, in order from east to west respectively, Central Chidlom, Gaysorn Plaza, Amarin Plaza, Erawan Bangkok, CentralWorld, Siam Paragon, Siam Center, Siam Discovery, and one station eastward at National Stadium, the MBK shopping center.
Terminal 21 shopping center off BTS Asoke station also gives the standard mall set up a run for its money, with themed floors and stalls on the upper floors giving it an air-conditioned night market type of appeal.
Bangkok is also in no shortage of hotel rooftop bars and restaurants. Banyan Tree, Tower Club at lebua, Muse, Sofitel So Bangkok, Sofitel Sukhumvit, Marriott Bangkok, Pullman G, Centara Grand at Central World, The Okura Prestige all have lovely rooftop venues with price tags proportional to the height and view vantage advantage. Visiting one or more of these venues is a must do while in Bangkok.
Several water buses operate regularly on the river. The best option is the blue-flagged Chao Phraya Express Boat. It’s a scenic ride specifically designed for tourists, with stops at several landmarks. You’ll find it at the Sathorn Pier under BTS Skytrain Saphan Taksin Station. Boats depart every 30 minutes from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and cost THB 150 for the day (~US$4.85). Hold on to your ticket so you can hop on and off throughout the day.
Another option is to book a canal tour through waterways flanked with homes built on stilts. It’s a window into the traditional way of life that’s still very much present here.Once famous for its traffic jams and to a much lesser extent today, Bangkok has both traditional and new mass transportation systems that can help you navigate the city.
The most convenient way to navigate Bangkok's downtown areas (whilst bypassing the oft gridlocked traffic during rush hours) is on the BTS Skytrain or MRT Subway, which open from 6 a.m. to midnight daily.
The BTS Skytrain comprises of two lines which intersect at Siam station. Single journeys cost 10 to 52 Baht, and one-day passes offer unlimited rides for THB 130 (~US$4.20).
The MRT Subway consists of just one line. Single journeys cost 16 to 40 Baht (~US$0.55-1.30), and one-day passes offer unlimited rides for THB 120 (~US$3.85).
The two systems interchange at the following stations, but note that you need to purchase separate tickets/tokens for the Skytrain and Subway:
• BTS Mo Chit <> MRT Chatuchak
• BTS Asok <> MRT Sukhumvit
• BTS Sala Daeng <> MRT Silom
To get to/from Suvarnabhumi International Airport, the Airport Rail Link connects to the MRT Subway Phetchaburi station at the Makkasan station (via a 166 meter covered skywalk) and BTS Skytrain at Phaya Thai station.
Sathorn Pier is located right under the BTS Saphan Taksin station. All the five-star riverside hotels operate boat shuttles to this pier.
Until the late 19th century when the canals began to be filled to make way for modern roads, Bangkok was known as the “Venice of the East.” Some canals remain, inviting adventurous visitors to access city attractions in colorful long-tail boat taxis while dodging occasional splashes of the not-so-pristine canal water.
Used primarily by local commuters, the Saen Saep Express Boat provides easy access to the Golden Mount, Siam Square and the Pratunam shopping district. Two lines cross at the central transfer point of Pratunam. Boats come by every 20 or so minutes, and cost between 10 to 20 Baht (~US$0.35 – US$0.70).
The service operates from 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. (7 p.m. on weekends and holidays)
For overnight journeys, book a second class air-conditioned sleeper train for more comfort – the lower bunk may be slightly more expensive, but you'll appreciate the additional wiggle room.
Domestic flights from Bangkok to anywhere around the country take more or less an hour. Main airlines, both full service and low cost carriers that offer domestic routes include Thai Airways, Bangkok Airways, Air Asia, and Nok Air.