Bangkok: The Vibrant Capital of Thailand

Updated on April 28, 2017

I’ve been told by people who visited Bangkok that if given the option, they would not go back. While there are some cities in the world that I have similar feelings about (London being one of them), I certainly did not have the same reaction to this vibrant city.

There are lots of great cities and places to visit in Thailand. It can be difficult to whittle down your list, especially if you have limited time to spend here. And while I understand that Bangkok is not everyone’s cup of tea, I’m going to stand up for this city and say that it should not be missed.

Bangkok: Love and Hate

Why don’t people like Bangkok? It’s likely a combination of the gridlock traffic, the pollution, and the utter lack of “tourist” attractions. I’ve heard people say that while they enjoy their time there, there just is not that much to do.

And while it’s true that Bangkok lacks much of what makes a city traditionally attractive to tourists, that doesn’t mean that there is no value in visiting this city.

While there’s nothing to see if all you want to do is be bussed from site to site and take pictures of things for your entire day, there is still lots to do in Bangkok—plenty enough to fill not just a single day, but many days. It takes some time to get to know the city.

Those that do not visit because they heard from other tourists that it wasn’t worth the time aren’t getting their information from the best source. Here are the hidden gems that you can’t find simply by typing “Things to do in Bangkok” into a search engine:

The Grand Palace

This is the only royal palace in all of Thailand, and it is located right here, in Bangkok. It was built over two hundred years ago and is actually still in use. It is officially where the monarch of Thailand is supposed to live, but right now, it is only being used for ceremonial purposes.

On the ground of the palace, you will find the Wat Pra Kaeo, which is a large emerald Buddha statue, made from a single piece of jade.

This Buddha was originally made in Laos, but has been housed at these temples. The robes on the Buddha statue are actually rotated by the king!

Jim Thompson House

Want a little bit of intrigue and espionage during your Bangkok adventure? Why not visit the Jim Thompson house. Thompson was an American expatriate, living in Bangkok during the Cold War, and was both a silk merchant and a spy for America.

Before he mysteriously disappeared in 1967, during a trip to Malaysia, he build a beautiful home in Bangkok, with a wonderful garden and interesting custom furniture.

The house is a magnificent specimen of Thai architecture and craftsmanship, and makes a great visit during your time in this city. All of the proceeds made from the Jim Thompson house got towards efforts to help underprivileged children.

Even just from the outside, you can tell that there is something different about this house. It really is some of the best architecture that Thailand has to offer, and the mystery surrounding the man who lived here only makes the tour more exciting. Do not miss this experience!

Wat Arun

There are lots of temples to see in Bangkok and it can be difficult to decide which to visit, if you have limited time. This is a great choice, and the price of admission is extremely low. For 50 baht, you will get to see the entire temple, poised on the river, just across from the palace. You can probably even visit both of these sites on the exact same day.

The profile of this temple is iconic in Thailand, and if you look at you money, you’ll probably recognize it there after visiting. You can climb to the top of the central spire and see all of Bangkok; a sight especially great when the sun is rising or setting. The climb is a little treacherous, but manageable.

Wat Pho

If you are in Bangkok and you do not take the time to visit Wat Pho, you will miss out on one of the best sights in the entire city. There are essentially two things to do here: see the giant gold, reclining Buddha and get a massage.

Again, this is right near the Grand Palace, which makes it a convenient next stop after touring the palace. There is plenty of street food nearby, too, so make sure to take advantage of the opportunity and grab something for lunch or dinner before moving on to the next attraction.

Bangkok Weekend Market

Visiting the market is a must, no matter what city you are visiting. That is definitely true of Bangkok. While there are lots of different markets you can visit, the Chatuchak Weekend Market is one of the best.

It is huge, with aisle after aisle of good, ranging from fully cooked meals, to fresh ingredients for your own cooking, to presents for friends and family, to souvenirs, and beyond. If you are in Bangkok on the weekend, make sure to plan this into your visit.

Terminal 21

Though not actually an airport, there is still plenty of activity going on at this airport-themed mall. It’s a huge shopping center, with a movie theater, lots of different restaurants, and what is widely regarded to be the very best food court in all of Thailand.

If you’re not sure what you want to do on a particular day or you just want to see how the Thai shop, this is a great place to visit. Don’t skip the opportunity to see a movie in the movie theater, if there is one showing in a language you speak or if there is one that might be subtitled.

It might sound silly to visit a mall when you are visiting another country, but here’s the thing: this mall is more than a mall. Actually, all of the malls in Bangkok can be classified as being more than just a mall.

They all offer air-conditioning, which means that they are a refuge from the summer heat, there are always lots of different places to eat, and they even feature bars and coffee shops.

There are very few malls in other parts of the world that can offer the same variety of activities. If you are trying to get to know the city, you need to visit the mall.

Khao San Road

If you are backpacking in Thailand, you probably already know about this street in Bangkok. If you are a tourist, you might not have heard of Khao San Road yet. It is the center of backpacking activity in the city, and while it might not have much draw for the average person, if you want to find one of the most vibrant parts of the city, where there is always something going on, this is the place to be. It’s a hub.

People are always coming and going, and there are lots of places to stay and cheap places to eat if you are backpacking. There are bars, places to shop, restaurants feature cuisine from all over the world, lots of locals, and vendors looking to sell their goods.

Chinatown

Even if you came to Thailand to experience Thai culture, you will still want to stop by Chinatown. If you are looking for the best seafood in town, this is place to find it. There are always lots of people here, both locals and visitors, and you might have to do a little bit of pushing in order to get where you want to go, but it is totally worth it. There’s even a great flower market here, in case you want to pick up a bouquet. On top of the great food, you’ll also find plenty of shopping in the area.

Suk Soi 11

This is a street, lined with guesthouses, restaurants, and bars. It’s a favorite of every expat living in Bangkok, largely because it boasts restaurants with cuisine from all over the world—even some you might not expect to encounter in Thailand, like Mexican.

Khlong Tour

Sure, Bangkok can sometimes feel a little overcrowded and a little bustling, on its best day. If you’re looking for a way to get away from all of that, without actually leaving the city, a Khlong Tour is the perfect solution. You’ll still be in the city, technically, but you’ll be touring it by boat. These are small, flat-bottomed boats that zip through the khlongs. The boats themselves are an attraction, but you can use them tour an area called Thonburi, where you will find hut villages, propped on the water with sticks.

There are lots of other river tours you can take, too. Even just sailing down the Chao Phraya, you’ll get to see the city and you won’t spend hundreds of baht doing it. If you take the official tour, you’ll learn a lot about the city while you are on the water.

The Floating Market

Do you want to do something that you cannot do anywhere else in the world? If so, then you have to see the floating market. It might eat up half of your day, and it might be one of the strangest experiences that you have while you are in Bangkok, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do it. The earlier you get there, the less crowded the place will be.

Floating Market Bangkok, Thailand

What exactly is a floating market? It’s a market, on the water. There are two big ones in Bangkok, called Khlong Lat Mayom and Thaling Chan. These two are going to be the most crowded, but they are also going to offer you the widest variety of goods.

If you’ve ever wanted to have your lunch cooked by someone on a boat, this is the place to do it. If you don’t see something you like, just wait for the next boat to paddle past.

Do Rush Hour

One of the things that I did not like about visiting cities in Europe was how horrible trying to get anywhere during rush hour was. Bangkok is no different, but there is something uniquely charming about rush hour in this city.

There is just as much yelling and trying to cram far too many people onto a subway than should be on that subway, but you do not feel like everyone is angry and is going to be shouting at you.

If you have to travel in between the hours of 5 pm and 7 pm, consider doing it by subway at least once, just to get a taste for what it’s like to be a local who has to do that commute not just once, but twice every single day.

See a Muay Thai Fight

Muay Thai differs from the boxing and fighting sports in the West, and while many may find that it is not as exciting as other types of boxing, there is something unique and spiritual about Muay Thai.

There are going to be rings set up and matches made specifically for tourists. Those are the ones you want to avoid. If you want to see what Muay Thai is really about, make sure to catch a match at Rajadamnern Stadium. This sport is serious business, and there is a lot of training that goes into becoming a great fighter.

If you know where to look, there is plenty to do in Bangkok. Don’t let the people who say that this city is too busy or too boring scare you away.

Questions & Answers

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      • Sam Shepards profile imageAUTHOR

        Sam Shepards 

        5 months ago from Europe

        Well Bangkok was a centre I always returned to on my south-east Asia travels. First when arriving, then to pick up friends and after a couple of months to return home again.

        There are enough things to do and see in Bangkok for a week I guess, but I never stayed more than 3 days at a time. If I would fly to Bangkok these days I would probably leave the day after arriving to start my travels around SE Asia. It's too busy, big cities combined with heat and traffic is not the thing I'm looking for when travelling.

        Well maybe SE Asia in general is overtravelled these days, I'm not sure, my last visit was around 2012-2013.

      • Greensleeves Hubs profile image

        Greensleeves Hubs 

        21 months ago from Essex, UK

        I agree about Bangkok. It is a city which one may not want to spend a full week in - the heat, the noise and traffic in the streets may be too much, without respite - but there is plenty to see and experience if one knows where to look. Even some nice green parks and lakes. I've been there at least ten times, and I always find something different and interesting to see. Alun

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