Bangkok is one of the most fascinating cities in the world to me. I love the food that Thailand is of course so famous for, the smiling people, the fantastic markets, the stunning Buddhist temples, and the fact that it is such a great travel hub for getting to just about anywhere else in Southeast Asia. For all these reasons it was practically my second home when I spent a couple of years of my life traveling in Asia a few years ago, and I always look forward to going back. I often get asked for suggestions for things to do and see there, so I have come up with my own personal Top 10 list. Bangkok has so much to offer that such a list is of course going to differ from person to person, but these are the places that I suggest (in no particular order of importance) to family members and friends when they ask:
Grand Palace and Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Prakaew): These grounds became the official Thai royal residence in 1782. The four main buildings of the Grand Palace are quite impressive and worth a look in and unto themselves, but the Temple of the Emerald Buddha is the real highlight. The architecture is an explosion to the visual senses, unlike anything in the Western world, with its gilded stupas, polished green and orange tiles on the ‘layered’ rooftop, and the exquisitely ornate interior that houses the famous Emerald Buddha.
Temple of the Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho) and massage: Not far from the Grand Palace, this is the oldest and largest temple in Bangkok. It houses the gigantic reclining Buddha which is more than 150 feet long and about 50 feet high and is covered in gold leaf. The grounds of the temple are quite intricate and impressive as well with over 1,000 other Buddha images. And while there, if you want an authentic Thai massage, you can get a great one at a very reasonable price at the Wat Pho Traditional Thai Massage School located within the temple complex grounds.
Temple of the Dawn (Wat Arun): Situated on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River and beautifully decorated with broke pieces of Chinese porcelain tiles this is perhaps Thailand’s most picturesque temple. If you can handle steep stairs the views from the areas higher up are definitely worth the climb. The temple is easily accessible via water taxi (see below).
Vertigo and Moon Bar at the Banyon Tree Hotel: Located 61 floors above the streets of Bangkok this open-air rooftop lounge is a fantastic place to have a drink and the food is decent too. Seeing the city after dark from that high up is a great way to experience the modern side of the city.
Water taxi ride on the Chao Phraya River: Bangkok is sometimes referred to as “the Venice of the East” due to its canal system that is connected to the Chao Phraya River. Although many of those canals have been filled in and built over throughout the years water taxis are still a major form of transportation for its inhabitants. The rides are quite inexpensive, and it’s an efficient way to help you get around the city (no traffic jams!) while riding alongside the locals in the open air. (see video of monks getting onto water taxi)
Chatuchak Weekend Market: With over 8,000 stalls this is the largest market in Southeast Asia. It is fairly well laid out into different sections that focus on such things as furniture, souvenirs, home décor, jeans, chimes, textiles, and on and on. Come early in the day if you want to avoid the worst of the heat and at least some of the massive crowds.
Jim Thompson’s House: American businessman, Jim Thompson, helped revitalize the Thai silk industry after World War II, and during the 1950’s he collected six traditional Thai house from various parts of the country and had them tastefully reassembled together as his home in Bangkok. Thompson mysteriously disappeared while hiking in the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia, but his house is now a museum for all to see. High-quality Thai silk products are available for purchase in a boutique shop on the grounds.
Vimanmek Mansion: With its 81 rooms, halls and anterooms this structure built by powerful and well-respected King Rama V to escape the heat of the Grand Palace is said to be the world’s largest golden teak mansion. An English-language tour takes you through several of the rooms that are filled with interesting art, antiques and personal effects of the king.
Street food: If you enjoy street food when traveling, then you are going to be in heaven in Bangkok. The plethora of little eateries formed from wheeled carts and makeshift tables are scattered throughout the city. I’ve had some of the most delicious meals of my life at some of these places, and as a bonus they are inexpensive and allow you to eat side-by-side with the locals.
Cabbages & Condoms: Atmospheric and quirky (“our food is guaranteed not to cause pregnancy”) this restaurant was started by former Thai senator Mechal Viravaidya to help support education about contraception throughout Thailand. His motto was “birth control should be as cheap as vegetables”. The food is delicious, the condom-themed décor is fun and interesting, and the profits help prevent unwanted pregnancies and STD’s. How cool is that?
If you have been to Bangkok before and you feel like I missed something that you would have put on your Top 10 list, please feel free to let us know about it in the comments below.