Bangkok is a city of love and hate—with most people somewhere in the middle. As one of the largest cities in the world, it has a lot going on it. That includes typical city things like pollution, bright lights, loud noises, trash, and an all-around busy environment. However, once you dig beneath the surface of Bangkok you’ll find cheap and delicious eats, historical sites, interesting markets, and a vibe that you can’t get anywhere else.
Although you may find yourself overwhelmed at first don’t worry. After just a few days of hitting some Bangkok points of interest, you’ll start to find your groove here. We sure did!
We’ve been back twice now, and know that we will find ourselves in Thailand’s capital once again. If you’re wondering what to do and see in Bangkok here’s our ultimate list of things to do in Bangkok.
Best Things to do in Bangkok
Visit the Grand Palace
Perhaps the most visited site in a city brimming with must-see attractions, the Grand Palace is one of the things to do in Bangkok that’s an absolute must. Not only will you be intrigued by the palace’s mixture of colonial and traditional Thai architecture, but you’ll get an important insight into Thai culture and history that will serve you well for the remainder of your trip in the city.
The palace served as the official home of Thailand’s royal family and was the seat of government from the late 18th to the early 20th centuries. Now a museum and icon of Thai heritage, the palace sits along the bank of the Chao Phraya River.
It is surrounded by walls on all sides and divided into quarters which are comprised of beautiful gardens, pavilions, halls, courtyards and ‘wats’ – or Buddhist shrines. Visitors must be dressed properly before entering so come with your legs covered and a light jacket or scarf to cover your shoulders. If you forget you’ll be able to find someone to puy a scarf and pants nearby easily.
Tickets sold from 8:30 – 15:30 and cost 500 baht. One ticket includes entry to Vimanmek Palace and Abhisek Dusit Throne Hall. Or you can book a sightseeing tour here.
Temple of the Emerald Buddha
Regarded as the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand, and just a short walk from the Grand Palace, The Temple of the Emerald Buddha is also known by a few traditional Thai names after the wats nearby. Unless you’re fluent in Thai, stick to its English name.
Though the figure was carved from jade, it’s called the Emerald Buddha, because in Thai language the word ’emerald’ refers to color – not the precious stones we in the West call emeralds.
Legend has it that this 26-inch tall Buddha – in the meditative posture associated with northern Thailand – was made in India. After traveling around the region for hundreds of years, supposedly bringing prosperity to each country in which it resided, the Buddha was finally taken to its current location in the early 18th century.
Three times a year, the King of Thailand ceremoniously changes the Buddha’s robe corresponding with the summer, winter and rainy seasons, which is thought to bring peace and prosperity to the country.
Chatuchak Weekend Market
Billed as the world’s largest weekend market, if you’ve got claustrophobic tendencies, then avoid Chatuchak Market like it’s the black plague. With thousands of vendors spread over nearly 30 acres, you’ll wonder how so much teeming humanity can be crammed into such a relatively small area. Bristling with exotic smells, languages, and products, the market purportedly serves more than 200,000 visitors a day – you’ll believe it when you’re stuck in between hundreds of people.
Simply put, if you want it, one of the 15,000 stalls has it, and there aren’t many better ways to learn about a culture and what makes its people tick than by bumping elbows and engaging in a bit of good-natured haggling at a market.
At nearly 150 acres, Lumpini Park is Bangkok’s largest park. It may remind you of Central Park in New York, as the sprawling city is stopped dead in its tracks by the park’s lush, green perimeter, making it a pleasant oasis of tranquility in a city known for its chaos and hectic pace.
Sporting a big lake where you can rent a boat and take a scenic paddle, the park is a favorite of runners, cyclists, and those who feel like they need to get out of the city – without actually getting out of the city. The shady grass spots are great places for picnics and will offer some beautiful city vistas as well.
Originally built in a remote province, this mansion – the largest structure in the world made from golden teakwood – was dismantled, moved to its current location, and reassembled in the early 20th century at the behest of then King Rama V. The museum has been carefully maintained to ensure visitors get an authentic glimpse into the lifestyle of the Royal Thai family in years past.
The museums include original furniture, ceramics, photographs, art, and many of the everyday items that were used too. Located inside the Dusit Palace Complex, the mansion is still occasionally used for official functions, in which case it will be closed.
There are traditional Thai dance shows every day from 10:30 am to 2:00 pm. Entry costs 100 Baht, and remember that you won’t be granted entry if you’re wearing shorts, tank-tops, or dresses and skirts above the knee so pack accordingly.
Get a Thai Massage
You’ve probably had a massage before, but have you ever had a Thai massage? The Thai massage is a healing system that combines acupressure, Indian Ayurvedic principles, yoga postures. If you are looking to unwind and have a relaxing massage skip this one.
If you want something that will truly rejuvenate you, find your sore spots, and beat you up a little in the process then make sure to try this at least once. Spas in Thailand are not expensive so there is no excuse not to at least try. A cheap Thai massage can be had for around 300 Baht – and make sure to throw an extra 100 on for a tip at the end!
Ride the Skytrain
Though known as Bangkok Mass Transit System in official jargon, the locals and tourists alike call the city’s nifty elevated train the Skytrain – it just sounds cooler. And speaking of cooler, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find out that the cars are air-conditioned, giving you a much-needed break from Bangkok’s notorious heat and mugginess. Seriously, every time we stepped into the Skytrain it felt like heaven on earth.
Construction of the Skytrain was completed in 1999. The system transports nearly 700,000 people every day on its 52 trains. Those are pretty impressive numbers, but not surprising considering Bangkok is home to about eight million people, most of whom need to run around making a living and having fun every day. Due to its elevated tracks, you’ll get an unforgettable birds-eye-view of the city and its famous attractions. It’s one of the best and cheapest ways to get around Bangkok.
Watch Muy Thai Kick-Boxing
If you think watching traditional Muay Thai in a crowded arena – dripping with sweat and sipping a Singha beer – was only the realm of wary arms dealers in movies starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, then guess again, because it’s not only something you can do, but one of those things in Bangkok that you should do.
With more venues than you could count, it’s probably a good idea to ask for a recommendation from your hotel or guest house. Some of the venues should be left to the most daring tourists as it can get loud and bloody.. The pre-fight pomp and ceremony can be lengthy, as it’s when the fighters are given time to display their prowess and ask for protection and good luck from the boxing gods. You’ll be amazed at the power these trained professionals generate when punching and kicking one another. If you don’t want to spend your time searching here’s a good option to see the match.
Visit the Jim Thompson House Museum
If Jim Thompson doesn’t sound like a traditional Thai name, you’re already one step ahead of the competition. Nicknamed, ‘The Thai Silk King, Jim Thompson was an American architect and silk merchant who dominated the Thai silk trade in the early part of the 20th century. In 1958, embarking on his most ambitious architectural challenge, Mr. Thompson designed and built a complex of six traditional Thai homes, in which he would live and exhibit his one-of-a-kind collection of Southeast Asian art.
Many of the buildings were built in part by components of traditional Thai homes he collected on his travels in the country’s provinces. To add a little mystery to the whole affair, he disappeared without a trace in 1967. The museum is open every day from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm and will run you 200 Baht.
In a country with thousands of majestic temples, Wat Arun may just be the most magnificent of them all. The temple is often referred to as ‘Temple of Dawn’, after Arun, the God of Dawn, who it was named after. Perhaps the most quintessential example of Buddhist architecture in the country, it’s located on the Chao Praya River, across from the Grand Palace. It’s one of those places to visit in Bangkok that’s well worth the effort.
Wat Arun was constructed in the Khmer Style, from the ancient Khmer – or modern-day Cambodia – that had a strong influence over the region many centuries ago. The wat is perhaps the most stunning at sunset, sunrise, and nighttime when the lights play off its golden surfaces and cast hypnotic reflections on the river’s dark water. If you want to catch it with the least amount of people try to hit it before 8 am.
Bangkok National Museum
National Museums are a great way to get insight into the people, culture, and history of the country which you are visiting. Chockfull of art, artifacts, and implements of everyday life, the National Museum is among the largest and most extensive of its kind in Southeast Asia. Founded in 1874, and the first public museum in Thailand, the museum promotes Thai culture through displays that interest and educate Thais and tourists alike.
The museum is recognized as a UNESCO Memory of the World Site, meaning its cultural and historical importance are priceless and worth preserving. In addition to the Thai items on display, the museum houses collections from other countries in the region, like Cambodia, Vietnam, and China.
Sathorn Unique Tower
Looking for unusual things to do in Bangkok? If trespassing on private property in a foreign country and putting your life in danger for a few dramatic photo-ops from staggering heights sounds like your cup of tea, make sure your phone is charged and tell your parents if they don’t hear from you for a few days it’s because you’re either dead or in a Thai prison.
Okay, that opening was a bit dramatic – the fact is, you’re actually allowed to climb to the top of this marvelous but unfinished skyscraper that has loomed on Bangkok’s skyline since construction was halted in 1997.
You’ve just got to pay the security guards at the gate and they’ll let you walk to the top of its 49 floors. If you’re lucky enough, you’ll run into someone who can tell you the building’s interesting story, which includes the planned assassination of a prominent Thai official.
Have a cocktail above the city
Bangkok is home to over nine million people and one of the largest cities in the world. Needless to say, the city skyline here is seriously impressive and should be enjoyed at least once. If you’re looking for something to do in Bangkok at night head to a rooftop bar.
There are many places where you can enjoy the views, but the higher you go and the better the ambiance the more you will have to pay. Most bars don’t charge a cover, but they will hit you with insanely overpriced drinks. We paid 650 baht for a cocktail at the top of Banyan Tree. Although expensive, the view can not be beaten.
Known to foreigners as the Thai New Year or Water Festival, Songkran is celebrated from April 12-16 every year. In Thai, ‘Songkran’ means renewal, rebirth, and cleansing. It’s the most celebrated festival in Thailand and can be summed up as ‘out with the old and in with the new.’ Thais use this opportunity to thoroughly clean their homes, symbolizing the birth of a new year.
It’s also customary to sprinkle water on friends, countrymen and clueless tourists too. Be prepared, as roving gangs of well-wishers in varying stages of intoxication are known to roam the streets with insanely high-powered water guns, spraying whoever they come across.
Taste the Streetfood
There is no way you can travel all the way to Thailand and not have some tasty Pad Thai from a street vendor. Seriously, forget Thai restaurants and all you ever thought you knew about Thai food – this is the real deal and it’s so cheap. A delicious plate of Pad Thai will run you between 50-60 Baht. Don’t forget a Thai Milk Tea to wash it down.
Of course, Thai food is much more than pad Thai! You can find almost anything and everything and if you like spicy you’re in luck. Some of our favorite dishes are mango sticky rice, roti, green curry, and shrimp tom yum.
Bangkok Puppet Show
A non touristy thing to do in Bangkok that should be taken advantage of is a Thai puppet show. Traditional Thai puppet shows are a classic and traditional art form set on intricate stages. They’re very entertaining but they generally tell folktales too and are accompanied by traditional Thai music, which definitely adds to the atmosphere.
No less than three puppeteers are needed to control the various appendages of each puppet, and although they’re not invisible, the puppeteers are dressed in black, which contrasts with the colorful and vibrant designs found on the puppets themselves. There are many places where you can see a show, so ask around for a recommendation or check online for venues, hours and prices.
See the Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho
At just shy of 50 meters long and more than 10 meters tall, the famous gold-leaf covered Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho is a must see for those in Bangkok. The temple is the foremost of six such temples in the country that have been classified as the apex of cultural importance by the royal family.
Considered the most dramatic due to its sheer size and magnificence, the wat in which it rests is also amazingly ornate, which is why the site is recognized by UNESCO. Wat Pho is on Rattanakosin Island, which is south of the Grand Palace.
See a Movie!
I know we’ve mentioned that Bangkok is hot and humid, but this reality won’t set in until you’re there. Then you’ll see how fast you sweat and run into the nearest mall. For those many times that you are hot, it can feel really good to stop walking around and sightseeing and catch a movie.
Both times we’ve traveled to Bangkok we made it a priority to do some big city things like see a new flick. Our favorite theater to go to is the Paragon Cineplex inside the massive Siam Paragon shopping complex (which is also one of the places to visit Bangkok for high-end shopping).
Fun Day Trips from Bangkok
- Ayutthaya Day Tour by Bus & Boat
- Day Trip to Kanchanaburi River Kwai & Death Railway Tour from Bangkok
- Damnoen Saduak Floating Market & Maeklong Train Market Tour
Where to stay in Bangkok
The Mandarin Oriental
Set on the Chao Phraya River the Mandarin is one of the top luxury hotels in Bangkok. Furnished in teak wood and Thai silk this place is straight up beautiful. It has a good location, but still provides a free shuttle bus to Taksin BTS Skytrain Station, River City Shopping Complex and Sala Rim Naam Restaurant
Tower Club At Lebua
Providing fabulous views over the Bangkok skyline is Hotel Tower Club. Rooms here are comfortable and provide great views over the river with an easy location to many tourist spots.
Suk 18 Hostel
A great hostel that offers a range of accommodation offers including dorm beds, queen rooms, and twin rooms. This place is as clean as they come and have a great location!
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
We don’t travel without travel insurance and neither should you. You never know what can happen while traveling so it’s best to be prepared. HeyMondo provides excellent short-term and long-term travel insurance plans.