- THE GOLDEN CITY -
Thailand was the first Asian country I got to travel to and that is probably why the country and its people sticked to my heart so much. I keep telling everyone that Thailand is, side by side with Italy, the best country in the world to travel to…
You´ve got a different, rich and traditional culture to discover, extraordinary ancient well preserved cities, incredible landscapes, the best beaches and islands in the world and finally, one of the most important things for me as a traveler: the tastiest food!
And from all the countries in South East Asia I have been able to visit, Bangkok remains hands down my favourite city to visit.
Bangkok can be as wild and thrilling as its fame generally precedes. But it can also be a vibrant, cultural and glamorous place. It´s your call and you can go which way you want in the city.
WHAT TO SEE
The city offers a huge amount of things to do and places to visit either by day or night.
And even though the fact that Bangkok is mostly known for its rich temples - which are so well preserved you can´t almost believe it is true - truth is that the city also became a major shopping and business destination as well as a travel hub for all the South East Asia region.
THE GRAND PALACE AND WAT PHRA KAEW
The true highlight and the one attraction you must definitelty visit in Bangkok is the The Grand Palace (pictured above). The palace is a big complex composed by a large number of buildings and temples, being the most well-known, Wat Phra Kaew - the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.
The Palace has been the official residence of the Kings of Siam since 1782. It is to these days one of the finest representations of Thai art and creativity and noone can stay indifferent to its beautiful details.
Expect long queues to get in as it will be overcrowded with tourists - but which place isn´t these days, right? Also, be sure to be covered from shoulders to feet or you will be asked to rent clothes at the entrance. The Grand Palace and The Temple Of The Emerald Buddha are Thailand´s most sacred site so absolute respect is expected at all the times.
Apart from that, the palace complex is an architectural masterpiece with its beautiful coloured different buildings, halls, pavilions and gardens spreading around an area of almost 220.000 square meters, the equivalent to almost thirty soccer fields.. Be sure to save at least half a day to admire it properly.
Wat Pho, one of the most visited attractions in Thailand and best known as the Temple Of The Reclining Buddha, a Buddhist complex directly south of the Grand Palace.
The complex houses the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand including a 46m long gold leaf covered reclining Buddha. The statue is one of Bangkok´s biggest attractions. The image of the reclining Buddha represents the entry of Buddha into Nirvana and the end of all reincarnations.
The temple also houses a large number of halls and gardens. It is also one of the most beautiful temple complexes of Thailand with its bright white walls topped with red and golden ceilings.
On the other side of the Chao Phraya River, opposite the Grand Palace lies Wat Arun, or as some call it, The Temple of Dawn.
Its riverside location is one of its most different features and the temple stands as one of the most iconic images of Bangkok and Thailand. Be sure to spend at least an hour in the Temple and climb the step steps with an incredible view over the river.
Wat Arun can be easily accessed through the Chao Phraya River, and ferries travel across the river towards the Maharaj pier.
WAT SAKET - THE GOLDEN MOUNT
Wat Saket or as the westerns refer to it, The Golden Mount, is an artificially man-created low hill to house the Temple's grounds.
After climbing its more than 300 steps you are greeted with the temples beautiful gold chedi and an incredible view over Bangkok.
The path is weel-paved and the climb relatively easy if you avoid going at midday or during peak summer months.
It is not the most beautiful temple in the city but it is one of its main worshipping places and to be honest not many places can beat its view at sunset. Expect queues at the end of the day as it is one prime spot for photography.
CHATUCHAK WEEKEND MARKET
The Chatuchak Weekend Market is the city´s biggest market and a gigantic maze of small shops and street food stalls. Being one of the biggest markets in the World, the smells, the sounds and its vibration are really incredible; It contains over 8.000 booths that sell goods from every part of Thailand so be sure to save enough time to wander freely between all its small shops.
You will most certainly get lost so be sure to find points of reference like metro and trains stations. Like most of Bangkok, Chatuchak is a relatively safe place, so the usual safety measures apply: just be sure to beware of pickpockets and keep an eye on your valuable items.
For incredible views of the city head off to one of the countless rooftops available. Most of them are overpriced but you are paying for one of the urban views of a lifetime. Plan ahead and make sure that you arrive before sunset. From the top, you can see the city slowly starting to light up, the changing colors in the sky and the buzz and noise slowly calming down. Grab a cold drink, sit back, enjoy the view and relax.
My favourite rooftop bar is the Scirocco on top of the Lebua hotel. The view is beautiful with the rooftop overlooking the Chao Phraya River and it offers good reasonably priced drinks and cocktails. The food on the other hand is overpriced considering you can eat from less than 5USD or EUR almost everywhere in the city
The Rooftops of the Banyan Hotel (Vertigo and Moon Bar) with its incredible cityscape views are also a must see as is the Three Sixty on top of the Millennium Hilton Bangkok on the other side of the river.
NIGHTLIFE and FOOD
When you finally get back down in the streets, by night, things have completely changed in the city… Be prepared for the fuss and craziness you have always heard about… The smell of food in the streets, the lights and people trying to sell you everything. And I really mean everything.
If you want the true experience, taste the street food. Get away from the so called restaurants and try to eat like the locals do. Besides being much cheaper, the experience is incredibly more rewarding.
Since my first visit to Thailand, Thai food became a personal obsession as big as sushi or pizza and I usually say that you haven´t lived until you tried a Pad Thai… Most of the dishes are spicy but the food is so tasty and incredible you will want to keep on trying something new every time.
Personally, for me, the dish that rules them all is the Shrimp Pad Thai - fried noodles and beansprouts served with shrimp but also cooked with chicken.
Most of the people tend however to Tom Yum Goong, a spicy shrimp soup filled with lime and lemongrass; the Som Tum, a spicy green papaya salad that is so strong and spicy you will cry while eating it; the red, yellow and green curries, incredibly aromatic; and finally the Khao Pad, the fried rice with eggs, served with chicken, shrimp or crab, it is as simple as it is tasteful.
You can also try to take one of the many available Thai cuisine courses available throughout town.
Everyone has also heard about the crazy Bangkok nightlife where anything can happen. It´s true, from young women to lady boys, ping-pong shows and even threesomes or foursomes in bathtubs someone will try to sell you something you have never seen before.
Khao San Road has got all the hustle and life if you want to try the real Bangkok nightlife. But if you want to really dive in Bangkok´s wild side you need to head up into Soi Cowboy, the famous local red-light district or Patpong, known for its infamous Go Go Bars and Ping Pong Shows. Just beware of scams that sometimes can cost you a lot of money or even get you in trouble. And always ask in advance how much you are going to pay before getting into any bar.
A Muay Thai show is also something you can do if you are into live fight shows and a truly Thai experience.
For more upscale options there are countless clubs in town and most rooptop bars offer exclusive parties most of the nights.
In the end, Bangkok´s underground life has something to offer to almost anyone. Whatever you want to explore remember to stay safe and respect the local regulations and customs.
As a further precaution and information, Thailand is one of the strictest countries in the World concerning drugs possession and consumption so always take extreme precautions on that matter.
You all heard about the thai floating markets which are some of the most talked about attractions. I must tell you that I only visited one, Damnoen Sadhuak, and I was fairly disappointed.
Even though it is an extraordinary opportunity for great and unique photos the floating markets were turned into giant tourist traps in the last years. You´ve got countless canals filled with shops selling exactly the same things on and on; all displaying the same clothes and souvenirs all sold at the same price.
The experience of buying on a boat is interesting but this markets no longer work as the place where locals go to to buy and trade traditional products.
Plan the visit ahead as Damnoen Sadhuak is actually far away from Bangkok and closes around lunch time. There are mini vans leaving the city center almost every hour so it is fairly easy to find your way there. Upon arriving to the market the mini vans will leave you right next to the boats where they will try to rip you off by convincing you that it is the only way to get into the market. Actually you can walk by the road until the market area, but the most rewarding experience is to cross it by boat, just try to bargain the value and avoid getting scammed.
WHERE TO STAY
I suggest staying as close to the center as you can as it is where everything happens; Bangkok is considerably big and if you don´t plan on spending much time in the city you certainly don´t want to spend it all getting from one place to the other.
Besides, like in any other Asian big cities its traffic can be an issue if you want to make the best of it.
Depending on your traveler style and expectations you can choose between three or four different areas to stay while in Bangkok.
Hotels and accomodation are relatively cheap in Bangkok and that is why the city remains one of the best desinations even if you are on a budget. The city still remains as a backpacker´s favorite spot brcause of it
The most well-known areas are Siam, if you are a shopping addict; Silom, if you are in Bankok for its nightlife or in a business trip; the Riverside, if you want to splurge a little, for the views and a more relaxed stay; or, near the Old City on Khaosan if you are in town mostly for temple and historic exploration - this is the ideal area for backpackers.
Apart from being a big metropolis with its 6,4 million people, it is actually really easy walking by and getting around. Most people travel by bike and the subway and train system is actually very efficient.
As a tourist the easiest way to get around between small distances is definitely by tuk-tuk which, when shared, are mostly unexpensive.
Beware, however, with scams; some drivers will try to lead you to illegal clothing shops at smaller rates. Always demand to be taken straight to your destination even if you have to pay a little more. Then, just hang on tight and enjoy the city.
If you want a different experience try to go up the river by boat. Either by day or night, the views of the city are stunning.
Bangkok is a relatively safe city to walk and visit so just take the usual precautions when being in a culturally different country. Stay safe, keep your things safe and always keep your passport near you or locked in a safe place; don´t leave valuable items alone and always beware of anything strange that happens around you. Don´t walk alone at night and avoid dangerous parts of town.
Most of all don´t trust in very well intentioned people but don´t shut yourself to the experience of getting to know the locals… Thailand is known as the Land of Smiles for a reason… it´s because its people are genuinely nice.
WHEN TO GO
The best months to visit Bangkok - as well as Thailand - are from December to February; these make up the ‘cool months’ when humidity and heat are relatively low. Bangkok's weather during these months is largely settled and calm too, meaning blue skies almost every day.
The weather is dominated by a tropical monsoon climate which means there are three main seasons: a hot season from March to June, rainy season from July to October and cool season between November and February. As Bangkok holds claim to being the hottest city in the world, expect daytime temperatures to be in excess of 30 degrees centigrade throughout the year. From April to May and September to October are the steamiest, characterised by high humidity. The southwest monsoons arrive between May and October bringing unsettled, cloudy conditions and, rain most of the time.