Bangkok is one of the most famous cities in the world. In the Thai language, the capital is known as ‘Krung Thep’ – the ‘city of angels’. If you do any traveling in South East Asia, you’re likely to pass through this bustling hub and, if you can stay a few days: do. With its urgent, intense surface and tranquil, ancient core, Bangkok is a fascinating metropolis to explore and experience.
As well as the five un-missables below, take some time to just grab a map and wander around the city. You’ll meet some remarkable people, witness some unexpected sites and come away understanding exactly what the notorious ‘Thai smile’ looks like.
Grand Palace & Wat Prakeaw
The Grand Palace is slap bang in the middle of the tourist trail, but it’s totally worth the crowds to see this sprawling structure close up. The highlights are Wat Phra Kaew, a temple that houses the holy Emerald Buddha (an ancient artifact that supposedly dates back to 43BC), Dusit Maha Prasat, the beautiful throne room built by King Rama I in 1789, and Chakri Mahaprasad Hall, the largest of the Grand Palace buildings, designed with a curious blend of Italian renaissance and Thai architecture.
There’s no real off-peak time to visit the Grand Palace, it’s always going to be busy. Wear respectful clothing (you can hire something to cover up with from the ticket office if needs be), and consider hiring a guide to make the visit more rewarding. Opening hours are 8:30am to 3:30pm – don’t believe any touts that tell you its closed and offer their own special tour!
With its winding network of canals, known as khlongs, Bangkok was once nicknamed ‘Venice of the East’. Today, although many of the canals are gone, ferries and riverboats are still a good way to get around parts of the city. However, it’s the floating markets that really make Bangkok’s canals worth visiting. These markets (Damnoen Saduak and Taling Chan are two of the most famous) are inevitably tourist traps, but, chaotic, colorful and raucous, they still give an authentic and exciting experience.
Each market is in a different location and not all are actually in Bangkok, so do your research before jumping in a tuk-tuk. Visit as early as possible to avoid the crowds and buy produce before it spoils in the sun.
Bangkok has hundreds of temples, so it’s not surprising that another one has made it on to this list of must-sees. Wat Pho is situated in the Rattanakosin district and is known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. The temple houses an astonishing 46 meter, gold-leaf Buddha, lying on one side. The Buddha’s feet are 3 meters long and feature intricate and beautiful mother-of-pearl illustrations.
Wat Pho is within walking distance of the Grand Palace, so consider combining your trip. The temple is open daily from 8am to 5pm.
One of the best experiences Bangkok has to offer is its food. If you’re a fan of fresh and deliciously-spiced noodles, soups, curries and rice dishes, then you’re in luck. There are hundreds of restaurants worth visiting, but if you’re up for a new kind of experience, try sampling some street food. You’ll find food stalls scattered all over the city, as well as food markets that have a much higher concentration of stalls.
There are a few dishes that you might want to avoid (deep-fried water roaches anyone?), but, by and large, the chances of getting something delicious, healthy and cheap are very high! A safe bet is always pad thai (stir-fried rice noodles), but if you don’t know what to ask for, don’t be afraid to just point at someone else’s dish and smile!
You won’t have to walk far to discover street food, but if you’re after a more intense and flavorsome experience, visit one of the following four areas: Thong Lor, Chinatown, Lumphini Park or Victory Monument.
Traditional Thai massage
If you’ve never experienced a Thai massage before then Bangkok is a very good place to start. Traditional Thai massage is very active and invigorating. During the treatment, you can expect your masseuse to use their hands, knees, legs, and feet to manipulate you into various yoga-like positions. They will also dig their fingers, elbows and knees into acupressure points to release tension and improve circulation.
Wat Pho, featured above, is known as the birthplace of this distinct style of massage, and you can still buy a massage from the students there. Alternatively, try a ‘blind hands’ massage. As the name suggests, this is when your masseuse is wholly or partially blind. Apparently, a visual impairment increases the skill of the masseuse and you’ll walk away even more relaxed!
You can pay almost anything for a traditional massage, but 150 baht is a good starting guide. Beware the sleazy side of Thai massage parlors, particularly if you’re a man traveling solo.
Rob Millard writes on behalf of Hotels.com, a leading accommodation website offering a wide range of cheap hotels.
Photo credit: nicocrisafulli, oksidor