Discover a hidden side to Bangkok

From ancient temples and edgy art hubs to street food, markets and massages – here’s how to explore Bangkok like a local.

The Thai capital is a hotspot of food, shopping and fun
  • Pilar Mitchell
  • December 2018
Brought to you by Tourism Authority of Thailand

Whether it’s exquisite architecture that dates back thousands of years or thought-provoking modern art, the list of things to see in Bangkok is endless.

Top temples

Wat Arun presides over its pearlescent mirror image in the Chao Phraya River and golden Wat Phra Kaew is Thailand’s most sacred temple. While Bangkok’s famous temples are indeed breathtaking, they can also be busy. So, why not try the smaller, lesser-known places of worship for serene beauty and quiet?

Wat Saket, or the Golden Mount temple, is a stunning structure at the top of 300 gentle steps to the north of Bangkok’s Chinatown district. The spectacular gold structure houses a Buddha relic and although the climb is long, the views of the city are worth it. Less than a 10-minute walk to the west is one of the oldest temples in the city, Wat Suthat, where you’ll be greeted by a red giant swing outside and intricate wall murals within. Visit Wat Bowonniwet Vihara, known locally as Wat Bowon, for murals that depict 19th-century Thai images of Western life.

Wat Phra Kaew is probably the best known temple of Bangkok
Wat Phra Kaew is probably the best known temple of Bangkok.

Museums & galleries

With a population of more than eight million, Bangkok has something for everyone. Royal watchers can get closer to Thailand’s revered monarchy at the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles, located next to the visitors’ entrance to the Grand Palace. Exhibits tell the colourful history of Thailand’s textile tradition and fashion followers will love the queen’s personal dress collection.

For something hands-on, Museum Siam’s interactive space has the motto “Play + Learn = Joyousness”. Its delightful exhibits focus on the country’s long history and what it means to be Thai.

The Museum of Contemporary Art houses more than 800 fascinating and visually stunning artworks that make you think. Artists are free to explore tricky political issues, providing a sometimes confronting and honest approach to Thai culture.

The best way to experience Thailand is with one of their colourful festivals such as Songkran
The best way to experience Thailand is with one of their colourful festivals such as Songkran.

Retail therapy

Lovers of luxury goods and bargain hunters alike are catered for in this incredible city packed with outdoor markets and shopping centres. If you’re after vibrant chaos, head to the suburb of Pratunam for authentic street markets and factory outlets at The Platinum Fashion Mall. If you need refreshments with your bargains, near one of Thailand’s largest public hospitals, Siriraj Hospital, you’ll find Wang Lang Market, where street food and affordable fashion come together.

The home of high-end fashion is Siam Paragon where international luxury brands such as Hermès, Prada and Jimmy Choo can be found, but high-street labels including Zara are also on offer. The fourth level is home to IT City, which stocks all the latest technological gadgets and is known for its excellent service.

For those keen to try something new, Icon Siam opened in November 2018 on the Chao Phraya River and offers over 500,000 square-metres of glistening retail and entertainment space. Get happily lost, hopping from store to store, all day long.

Must-try experiences

No trip to Bangkok is complete without a Thai massage in an indulgent haven where you can rejuvenate your body and enrich your mind. Watpo Thai Traditional Massage School is located inside temple grounds, making for a spiritual visit as well as a physical one. The skilled masseurs provide treatments that are invigorating, relaxing and cheap enough you could afford to go every day of your holiday. Those who feel more at ease going to a spa chain can try Let’s Relax, which offers a range of spa and massage treatments in various locations.

You’re likely to miss all the delicious Thai food once you return home, so have a cooking lesson before you leave. Amita Thai Cooking Class teaches authentic comfort recipes, while Blue Elephant reveals the secrets of ancient Thai dishes – think green papaya salad with coconut rice and caramelised salted beef or steamed chicken mince with crabmeat.

Bring home the flavours of Bangkok with a cooking class
Bring home the flavours of Bangkok with a cooking class.

Foodie hotspots

For real-deal street eats, there’s nowhere quite like Yaowarat Road, Chinatown’s main drag. Although it’s tempting to stay in one spot and fill up on things such as spicy barbecued seafood, the best strategy is to keep moving and eat a little of everything. Try the roasted chestnuts, bird’s nest soup and suckling pig.

Sky Train riders should stop off at Victory Monument station, which doubles as a street-food haunt. A favourite is boat noodle alley, famous for its rich, tangy broths filled with noodles and all manner of meats and seafood.

For something a bit more upscale, Bangkok doesn’t want for opulent dining. Michelin-starred eateries like Paste Bangkok, Mezzaluna and Bo.lan are a must for sophisticated palates.

Experience upscale dining at Paste Bangkok
Experience upscale dining at Paste Bangkok.

And for after-hours, Bangkok’s nightlife is worth checking out. While its clubs are well-known, try some off-the-beaten-track small bars to avoid the tourist crowds. Chinatown has countless nooks where you can enjoy a cocktail. For stunning views however, head to Moon Bar on the rooftop of Banyan Tree resort in Sathon, where you’ll be surrounded by the glittering lights of the city.