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 splash out at a sumptuous day spa or find a blissful, budget-friendly foot massage, eat high-end cuisine at award-winning restaurants or enjoy the most delicious street food you’ve ever tasted.

With no distinct centre, Bangkok’s layout can seem chaotic. 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 malls, head to the city’s older areas for a slice of local life. Chinatown, with its bustling markets and ubiquitous street food, is Bangkok at its most intense, while the Dusit district offers genteel, tree-lined boulevards and 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.

The key here is to let go. Adhere to the Thai saying 'mai pen rai' ('what will be') and attitude of sanook (easygoing fun) and you’re sure to enjoy this sprawling, bewildering and alluring city.

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Things to do: Bangkok

  • The giant gold Buddha at Wat Traimit is one of Bangkok’s most memorable sights. Image credit: e X p o s e / Shutterstock.com

    Seek nirvana in a temple (or ten)

    You're never far from a temple in Bangkok: the city is home to more than 26,000! The Grand Palace is a glimmering wonder guaranteed to astound you; it’s also where you’ll find 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. Across the river is the glorious Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) – ironically, most beautiful at dusk. Meanwhile, the six-ton dazzle of Wat Traimit’s gigantic gold Buddha is a spectacle you’ll never forget!

    Image credit: e X p o s e / Shutterstock.com

  • The colours and bustle of a Bangkok street food market, as viewed from above.

    Treat your tastebuds to Thai street food

    Bangkok has an excellent restaurant scene, but to experience the real flavours of Thailand, you can’t beat street food. One of the city’s best street-food hubs 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. Popular with Bangkok locals for street-food delights such as steamed chive dumplings, coconut icecream and Hainan rice noodles, Khlong San Market comes alive at dusk.

  • A longtail boat cruises Bangkok’s Chao Phraya river at sunset, with Wat Arun in the background.

    Go with the flow on a river boat

    Take a Thonburi khlong (canal) tour in a brightly coloured longtail boat. You’ll need to negotiate with the driver up front, but you’ll get a wonderful glimpse of everyday life around the backwaters of the Chao Phraya River: children dive-bombing into the water, women trading wares from their boats and men fishing. Express Boat river taxis are a handy way of getting around: the tourist-friendly blue flag service stops at several of the city’s key attractions. Grab an all-day pass and float from sight to sight!

  • Foreign tourist looks at colourful fabric items at Chatuchak Market, Bangkok, Thailand. Image credit: Vassamon Anansukkasem / Shutterstock.com

    Shop til you drop in mega-malls and markets

    From the bustle of luxe mega-malls like Siam Paragon, Central Embassy 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 more than 6000 stalls selling everything from antiques and gemstones to vintage denim and first-rate art. Expect bargains galore in the city’s largest clothing market Pratunam, while nearby Pantip Plaza is paradise for electronics and tech geeks.

    Image credit: Vassamon Anansukkasem / Shutterstock.com

  • Children play in the water play ground in the Chidren's Discovery Museum in Bangkok, Thailand. Image credit: pattang / Shutterstock.com

    Explore child-friendly Bangkok

    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 or traditional longtail boat. If you get stuck, the Bangkok Children’s Discovery Museum has interactive exhibitions and games relating to language, music and science. For a break from the heat, Fantasia Lagoon Water Park – located on top of The Mall Bangkae – has massive pools, waterslides and play zones for different age groups.

    Image credit: pattang / Shutterstock.com

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Airport information

Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK)

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 ฿300-500 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 is the fastest way to get into town, taking about 30 minutes to the Phaya Thai Skytrain stop. The journey costs THB ฿45.

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When to go

Though Bangkok is a year-round destination, the weather can make a difference. The cool season from November to February, with its lovely blue skies and breeze, is most popular with tourists. March and April are very hot, with April temperatures shooting up to 40°C, while 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 biggest holiday, falls mid-April.

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Getting around

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. 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. River taxis are also an excellent way to bypass the mayhem of the city streets.

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 you may not be covered by your travel insurance if there’s an accident.

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