Temples, street food, shopping and nightlife: thrills for all tastes
Whatever your pleasure, Bangkok, aka '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 3000 or find a foot massage for THB 300; you can eat high-end cuisine at award-winning restaurants, or 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 an MRT station and you'll 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 'mai pen rai' ('what will be') and attitude of sanook (easygoing fun) and you won’t fail to enjoy this sprawling, bewildering and 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 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 boats 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 opens in new window has interactive exhibitions and games relating to language, music and science.
From the bustling mega malls of Siam Paragon opens in new window and CentralWorld opens in new window to the street markets offering designer knock-offs, Bangkok is a shopper’s paradise. The city’s most famous market, Chatuchak Weekend Market opens in new window (known to locals as 'JJ'), has over 6000 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. One of the city’s best street food hotspots is Sukhumvit Soi 38, near Thong Lor BTS station. Stalls are open until 3am and it gets busier and better the later you go. Try wonton noodles, pad thai and 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.
Distance to city centre 17km
Taxi Taxis are available outside the terminal on the first floor. Depending on where you’re going and how heavy the traffic is, it should cost THB 250-400 and take 30-60 minutes. Make sure the driver uses his meter, and be prepared to pay tolls (carry some change) plus a THB 50 surcharge to the driver. Ignore the touts who will make you various transport offers inside the terminal.
Train Airport Rail Link opens in new window is the fastest way to get into town, taking about 30 minutes to the Phaya Thai Skytrain stop. The journey costs THB 45.Back to top
When to go
Bangkok is a year-round destination, although it's worth taking account of the weather at different times of year. The cool season from November to February, with its blue skies and breeze is the most enjoyable – but it’s also the city’s busiest period. Things get very hot from March to April, with April temperatures shooting up to 40°C, and the months of September and October are subject to flooding.
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. Luckily, there is good, reliable public transport opens in new window. The Bangkok Mass Transit System (BTS Skytrain) and Mass Rapid Transit (MRT, the subway) will keep you clear of the traffic and 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. You may be tempted to ride one of the city’s motorbike taxis, but keep in mind you won’t be covered by your travel insurance if there’s an accident.Back to top