Temples, street food, shopping and nightlife: Bangkok has thrills for all tastes
Whatever your pleasure, Bangkok, nicknamed the Big Mango, will indulge it: whether you’re seeking cultural highs at Buddhist temples, retail hits in shiny malls or getting lost among the labyrinthine back sois (streets). In Bangkok you can book into a sumptuous day spa for THB 3,000 and find a foot massage for THB 300; you can eat fancy cuisine at award-winning restaurants, and graze on the most delicious street food you’ve ever tasted.
With no distinct centre, the layout of Bangkok is chaotic to the uninitiated. Choose a hotel close to the BTS skytrain or MRT station and you will soon navigate your way with ease. Once you’ve ticked off the temples and the malls, head to the city’s oldest areas to get a slice of the real Bangkok. Chinatown, with its bustling markets and ubiquitous street food is the city at its most intense, while the district of Dusit offers genteel, tree-lined boulevards and quaint Sino-Portuguese architecture. Backpacker haunt Khao San Road is by no means authentic Thailand, but its permanent holiday vibe means there’s always fun to be found.
In Bangkok, the key is to let go. Adhere to the Thai saying of mai pen rai (what will be) and attitude of sanook (easygoing fun) and you won’t fail to enjoy this sprawling, bewildering and utterly alluring city.
Things to do
In full flow
Take a Thonburi khlong (canal) tour in a brightly coloured longtail boat. Negotiate with the driver and you should be able to rent a boat for THB 500 on which to zip around the backwaters of the Chao Phraya River. You’ll get a wonderful glimpse of everyday life; watch children dive-bombing into the murky water, women trading wares from their boa ts and men fishing.
Despite first appearances, Bangkok is a terrific place to take children – it’s safe, people are friendly and kids will find delight in everyday experiences like riding a tuk tuk. If you get stuck, the Bangkok Children’s Discovery Museum has interactive exhibitions and games relating to language, music and science.
From the bustling mega malls of Siam Paragon and CentralWorld to the street markets offering designer knock-offs, Bangkok is a shopper’s paradise. The city’s most famous market, Chatuchak Weekend Market (known to locals as “JJ”), has over 6,000 stalls selling everything from antiques and gemstones to vintage denim and first-rate art.
Bangkok has an excellent restaurant scene, but to experience the real flavours of Thailand, street food is a must-try. Avoid unsettling your stomach by ordering dishes freshly cooked in front of you rather than those that have sat and stewed all day. One of the city’s best street food hotspots is Sukhumvit Soi 38, near Thong Lor BTS station. Stalls are open 5pm–3am and it gets busier and better the later you go. Standout food stalls are those serving wonton noodles, pad thai and the super-fresh mango sticky rice.
The Grand Palace is a glimmering, visual feast that never ceases to arouse wonder. It’s also home to Wat Phra Kaeo, the sacred temple of the Emerald Buddha. Nearby Wat Pho is famed for its grand reclining Buddha and traditional Thai massage school where therapists will intuitively ease out those knots. Massage courses are also available in English.
Travel time 40 minutes
Taxi Approx THB 250-350
Train 15-minute non-stop journey from the airport to City Terminal at Phaya Thai. THB 150 per trip.
Limousine transfers to the city can be arranged at the Limousine Service Counter on arrival.Back to top
When to go
Thailand’s weather is often described as hot (November–February), hotter (March–April) and wet (May–October), and there are slight regional variations. Bangkok is a year-round destination, although April is extremely hot with temperatures shooting up to 40°C, and the months of September and October are often subject to flooding. The cool season, with its blue skies and breeze is the most enjoyable – but it’s also the city’s busiest period.
There are 18 public holidays a year in Thailand, during which most businesses close, but shops and restaurants in tourist areas stay open. Songkran, the Thai New Year and the biggest holiday, falls mid-April.Back to top
Bangkok’s reputation for gridlock is justified – traffic can be a nightmare, especially at peak hours and in the rain. The Bangkok Mass Transit System (BTS skytrain) and Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) are clean, efficient and cheap – use them whenever possible. Taxis are cheap and plentiful; you may need to insist the driver uses the meter. Tuk tuks are fun, but noisy and polluting so they’re best kept for shorter journeys. While there may be temptation to ride one of the city’s motorbike taxis, keep in mind you won’t be covered by your travel insurance if there’s an accident.Back to top