Bangkok welcomes more visitors than any other city in the world and it doesn’t take long to realise why. Bangkok is a city of contrasts with action at every turn; marvel at the gleaming temples, catch a tuk tuk along the bustling Chinatown or take a long tail boat through floating markets. Food is another Bangkok highlight, from local dishes served at humble street stalls to haute cuisine at romantic rooftop restaurants.
Luxury malls compete with a sea of boutiques and markets, where you can treat yourself without overspending. Extravagant luxury hotels and surprisingly cheap serviced apartments welcome you with the same famed Thai hospitality. And no visit to Bangkok would be complete without a glimpse of its famous nightlife – from cabarets to exotic red-light districts, Bangkok never ceases to amaze. Do not miss out on a few nights in Bangkok no matter where you are headed for your Thai holiday.
• How to get there?
Bangkok is served by 2 international airports.
Around 50 million passengers travel through Suvarnabhumi Airport every year, and as well as being the international arrival point for Thailand it is also a transfer airport for South East Asia. Bangkok international airport is located 16 miles outside town, but it is easy to get to Bangkok city centre, either via the airport link or via taxi – although be warned that traffic jams are likely during peak hours.
Don Muang Airport reopened in October 2012 to take the pressure off Suvarnabhumi International Airport. It will now be the main hub for budget and domestic flights, including Air Asia and Nok Air. A Skytrain link isn’t due until 2016/17 so the easiest and quickest way to get here is via taxi, although there is also a bus from the city centre and for transfer to Suvarnabhumi. With recent renovations and less air traffic, travelling via Don Muang is usually trouble-free. A metered taxi ride should cost around 400 to 400 Baht.
Currently Air Asia, Nok Air, Orient Thai, Solar Air and P.C. Air fly in and out of Don Muang Airport.
• Food & Accommodation
Bangkok restaurants cater to all price ranges and are open all hours, proving that this city is certainly heaven for food lovers; a sensational culinary journey and taste experience waits in Bangkok, guaranteed to delight your taste buds. Apart from renowned Thai cuisine with its blend of spicy, sour, sweet and salty, the array of options includes every other famous type of cuisine found in the world. Eating options are limitless, night or day. Great value-for-money food courts, riverside eateries, Thai-style dining in antique teak houses, dinner cruises, trendy restaurants and food markets are only some of the options available.
Of course there are also the small family owned restaurants that you can stumble on and be blown away by the level of quality put into such seemingly simple food. Food is certainly one of the highlights of a trip to Bangkok.
Planning your vacation to Thailand should involve some preparations at home as well as taking certain precautions while you're in the country. Fortunately, there are no major health risks in Thailand that you wouldn't be able to prevent. Make sure you are up-to-date with your routine immunizations and inform yourself about additional jabs when planning travel to rural areas. Also, protect yourself from mosquito bites at all times, and be careful about what and where you eat.
Travel Loop Adventure highly recommends a good medical insurance policy.
Should for some reason medical attention be required, rest assured that Thailand provides excellent health services. In fact, medical services are so exceptional, that the Kingdom is increasingly becoming popular as a medical tourism destination, as well as the most popular place to emergency medevac to from other SE Asian countries.
Bangkok is a busy, bustling city packed with tourists, so while it is relatively safe in terms of physical safety, be aware there are several scams and people ready to overcharge you for a taxi, tuk tuk or long tail boat ride, not to mention some exorbitant bar bills in the more shady venues in the night districts.
On a busy night in places such as Khaosan Road, keep your personal belongings such as smart phones, cash or credit cards out of reach of pickpockets.
• Where to go
The Grand Palace
If there is one must-see sight that no visit to Bangkok would be complete without, it's the dazzling, spectacular Grand Palace, undoubtedly the city's most famous landmark. Built in 1782 - and for 150 years the home of the Thai King, the Royal court and the administrative seat of government - the Grand Palace of Bangkok is a grand old dame indeed, that continues to have visitors in awe with its beautiful architecture and intricate detail, all of which is a proud salute to the creativity and craftsmanship of Thai people. Within its walls were also the Thai war ministry, state departments, and even the mint. Today, the complex remains the spiritual heart of the Thai Kingdom.
Within the palace complex are several impressive buildings including Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), which contains the small, very famous and greatly revered Emerald Buddha that dates back to the 14th century.
Robes on the Buddha are changed with the seasons by HM The King of Thailand, and forms an important ritual in the Buddhist calendar. Thai Kings stopped living in the palace around the turn of the twentieth century, but the palace complex is still used to mark all kinds of other ceremonial and auspicious happenings.
The palace complex, like the rest of Ratanakosin Island, is laid very similar to the palaces of Ayutthaya, the glorious former capital of Siam, which was raided by the Burmese. The Outer Court, near the entrance, used to house government departments in which the King was directly involved, such as civil administration, the army and the treasury. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha is located in one corner of this outer court. The Central Court is where the residence of the King and halls used for conducting state business were located. Only two of the throne halls are open to the public, but you'll be able to marvel at the exquisite detail on the facades of these impressive structures.
The Inner Court is where the King's royal consorts and daughters lived. The Inner Court was like a small city entirely populated by women and boys under the age of puberty. Even though no royalty currently reside in the inner court, it is still completely closed off to the public. Despite the proximity of the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, there's a distinct contrast in style between the very Thai Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the more European inspired design of the Grand Palace (the roof being the main exception). Other highlights are Boromabiman Hall and Amarinda Hall, the original residence of King Rama I and the Hall of Justice.
Nowadays the impressive interior of the royal reception halls is used for important ceremonial occasions like coronations. It also contains the antique throne, used before the Western style one presently in use. Visitors are allowed inside the spacious European style reception room or Grand Palace Hall (Chakri Maha Prasat). Then there's the impressive Dusit Hall, rated as perhaps the finest architectural building in this style, and a museum that has information on the restoration of the Grand Palace, scale models and numerous Buddha images.
Note: A strict dress code applies. The Grand Palace with The Temple of the Emerald Buddha is Thailand's most sacred site. Visitors must be properly dressed before being allowed entry to the temple. Men must wear long pants and shirts with sleeves (no tank tops. If you're wearing sandals or flip-flops you must wear socks (in other words, no bare feet.) Women must be similarly modestly dressed. No see-through clothes, bare shoulders, etc. If you show up at the front gate improperly dressed, there is a booth near the entrance that can provide clothes to cover you up properly (a deposit is required).
Wat Phra Kaew
Wat Phra Kaew or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (officially known as Wat Phra Sri Rattana Satsadaram) is regarded as the most important Buddhist temple in Thailand. Located in the historic centre of Bangkok, within the grounds of the Grand Palace, it enshrines Phra Kaew Morakot (the Emerald Buddha), the highly revered Buddha image meticulously carved from a single block of jade.
The Emerald Buddha (Phra Putta Maha Mani Ratana Patimakorn) is a Buddha image in the meditating position in the style of the Lanna School of the north, dating from the 15th century AD.
Raised high on a series of platforms, no one is allowed near the Emerald Buddha except HM the King. A seasonal cloak, changed three times a year to correspond to the summer, winter, and rainy season covers the statue. A very important ritual, the changing of the robes is performed only by the King to bring good fortune to the country during each season. The temple of the Emerald Buddha is beautifully decorated and has a great sense of peace about it.
The construction of the Temple of Emerald Buddha started when King Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke (Rama I) moved the capital from Thonburi to Bangkok in 1785. Unlike other temples, it does not contain living quarters for monks; rather, it has only elaborately decorated holy buildings, statues, and pagodas. The main building is the central 'ubosot' (ordination hall), which houses the Emerald Buddha. Even though it is small in size, it is the most important icon for Thai people.
Other attractions in Wat Phra Kaew include a model of Angkor Wat, which was built under the order of King Rama IV when Cambodia was under Siamese control. The model was later recreated in plaster at the behest of King Rama V to celebrate the first centenary of the Royal City. Also, don't miss the Balcony, which can be compared to the temple wall. The murals inside tell the Ramayana epic in its entirety. On the columns of the balcony are stone inscriptions of the verses describing the murals. Each gate of the Balcony is guarded by the five-metre tall 'Yaksa Tavarnbal' (Gate-keeping Giants), the characters taken from the same epic.
A guide is on duty from 10:00 to 14:00 and Personal Audio Guide (PAG) is available in English, French, German, Japanese, Mandarin Russian, and Spanish. Remember that 'wats' (temples) are sacred places and you must dress appropriately. No shorts, slippers, sandals, or revealing tops, otherwise you simply won't be allowed in. There's also a facility that offers proper trouser wear rental should you need it. Admission to the temple is now 400 baht. Remember the temple closes sharp at 15:30.
Wat Arun, locally known as Wat Chaeng, is situated on the west (Thonburi) bank of the Chao Phraya River. It is easily one of the most stunning temples in Bangkok, not only because of its riverside location, but also because the design is very different to the other temples you can visit in Bangkok. Wat Arun (or “Temple of the Dawn”) is partly made up of colourfully decorated spires and stands majestically over the water.
Wat Arun is almost directly opposite Wat Pho, so it is very easy to get to. From Sapphan Taksin boat pier you can take a riverboat that stops at pier 8. From here a small shuttle boat takes you from one side of the river to the other for only 3 baht. Entry to the temple is 100 baht. The temple is open daily from 08:30 to 17:30.
Travel Loop Adventure would recommend spending at least an hour visiting the temple. Although it is known as the Temple of the Dawn, it's absolutely stunning at sunset, particularly when lit up at night. The quietest time to visit, however, is early morning, before the crowds.
Given the beauty of the architecture and the fine craftsmanship it is not surprising that Wat Arun is considered by many as one of the most beautiful temples in Thailand. The spire (prang) on the bank of Chao Phraya River is one of Bangkok's world-famous landmarks. It has an imposing spire over 70 metres high, beautifully decorated with tiny pieces of coloured glass and Chinese porcelain placed delicately into intricate patterns.
You can climb the central prang if you wish, the steps are very steep but there is a railing to balance yourself. Getting up is as tricky as getting down! When you reach the highest point you can see the winding Chao Phraya River and the Grand Palace and Wat Pho opposite. Along the base of this central tower there are sculptures of Chinese soldiers and animals.
Head into the ordination hall and you can admire a golden Buddha image and the detailed murals that decorate the walls. Although Wat Arun is a very popular for tourists, it is also an important place of worship for Buddhists. Make sure you dress appropriately, or pick up one of the cover-ups that are for rent near the entrance.
Even though transactions are more concerned with tourists rather than locals these days, the floating market boats are still piled high with tropical fruit and vegetables, fresh, ready-to-drink coconut juice and local food cooked from floating kitchens located right on the boat.
To enjoy the atmosphere without haggling over prices, try relaxing on a guided tour of Damnoen Saduak market. The more popular floating markets are Taling Chan Market, Bang Ku Wiang Market, Tha Kha, and Damnoen Saduak.
Amphawa Floating Market
Amphawa is the second most popular floating market near Bangkok, not as large as Damnoen Saduak but more authentic, with visitors almost exclusively Thai. Located 50 km from Bangkok this once small village was apparently already present in the mid-Seventeenth Century. It has become such a magnet for Thai weekenders that food stalls have grown from the riverbanks and stretched far into the surrounding streets.
The main draw is of course eating seafood, grilled precariously on wooden boats moored around the famous central bridge, serving an appetizing array of huge prawns, shellfish and squid. From noon until late in the evening, the smell is simply irresistible and customers flock to each side of the river all day long.
Most Booked Hotels
Seafood prices are what you would expect at floating markets: according to weight, but to give you an idea, five large prawns usually cost 300 baht. Customers perch on rows of narrow steps leading down to the water and food is brought directly from the boats onto really tiny tables. If you don't feel like sitting on a concrete ledge very close to brownish waters, walk a bit further from the bridge to find restaurants with real tables and chairs. Even better, try to get a seat on the balcony of the restaurant next to the bridge, it's the only one around but you might have to wait a bit or come early. The nicest and most quiet restaurant is located at the very end of the boardwalk where the canal meets the Mae Khlong River.
All along each side of the canal, old charming wooden shops sell Amphawa souvenirs, from the obvious T-shirt to some more interesting creations, and of course lots of sweets, snacks and ice cream - Thai people have a very sweet tooth and a passion for nibbling all day. In all streets radiating from the market you can find an incredible array of local food sold from small carts during the weekend only. Most food looks familiar but some really look unusual or even funny, from ice cream sandwiches to alien-looking helmet crab egg salad (Yum Magda Talay).
Once you have had enough walking (or trying to walk) around Amphawa, it's time to take one of the many long tail boats and explore the surrounding canals and rivers. It's not as impressive as the Bangkok Khlongs but it's always good fun, and after the heat of the market the breeze from the river is a welcome relief.
On the other side of the Mae Khlong River, Amphawa hides a very surprising temple called Wat Bang Koong, which you definitely shouldn't miss if you came all the way from Bangkok. The boat takes you first to a couple of temples, that are rather small but each have their own personality, such as surprisingly large golden seated Buddhas, tall chedis and even small museum houses. It's not all that impressive but it's a good change from the crowds at Amphawa.
The true highlight of the cruise is Wat Bang Koong... built in the middle of nowhere, this temple alone is worth the trip to Amphawa. Of course kids and teenagers love the wacky mini zoo set on the temple grounds - a camel, an ostrich, a dozen deer and a group of boars, a couple of naughty goats and two beautiful peacocks happily doing what they do best: parading around and showing off their colourful feathers to happy photographers.
It's hard to believe but some people come all the way here and miss entirely the magnificent temple located a hundred metres from the river... Just like a scene taken directly out of an Indiana Jones movie, a whole temple entangled in the roots of an immense tree, similar to what you see around Angkor Wat, but not just partially covered but literally swallowed. Only the door and the six windows are free from roots. The temple is not abandoned nor neglected, far from that... a queue of devotees are permanently walking in and out to pay respect to the golden Buddha seated inside the temple.
Amphawa is definitely the most attractive of all floating markets, having retained its authenticity and not yet on every tourist map. But Bangkok locals love this place so much, that past noon it becomes impossible to walk. The best way to enjoy Amphawa is to come before 10:00 and leave soon after lunch.
Bangkok’s Chinatown is a popular tourist attraction and a food haven for new generation gourmands who flock here after sunset to explore the vibrant street-side cuisine. During the day day time, it’s no less busy, as hordes of shoppers descend upon this 1-km strip and adjacent Charoenkrung Road to buy a day’s worth of gold, or pay a visit to one of the Chinese temples.
Packed with market stalls, street-side restaurants and a dense concentration of gold shops, Chinatown is an experience not to miss. The energy that oozes from its endless rows of wooden shop-houses is plain contagious – it will keep you wanting to come back for more. Plan your visit during major festivals, like Chinese New Year, and you will see Bangkok Chinatown at its best.
Wat Pho (the Temple of the Reclining Buddha), or Wat Phra Chetuphon, is located behind the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and a must-do for any first-time visitor in Bangkok. It's one of the largest temple complexes in the city and famed for its giant reclining Buddha that measures 46 metres long and is covered in gold leaf. It’s an easy ten minute walk between here and the Grand Palace, and we recommend coming to Wat Pho second, because even though the golden Buddha here is just as popular many people don’t take the time to wander around the rest of the complex so the experience tends to be far more relaxing. This is also a great place to get a traditional Thai massage. Wat Pho is often considered the leading school of massage in Thailand, so you really are in good hands here. Since December 2012, entrance to the temple costs 100 baht and you can visit any time between 08:00 and 17:00.
The highlight for most people visiting Wat Pho is the Reclining Buddha. The figures here are impressive: 15 metres tall, 46 metres long, so large it feels like it has been squeezed into the building. The Buddha's feet are 5 metres long and exquisitely decorated in mother-of-pearl illustrations of auspicious 'laksanas' (characteristics) of the Buddha. 108 is a significant number, referring to the 108 positive actions and symbols that helped lead Buddha to perfection. You’ll need to take your shoes off to enter, and if you would like a little good luck, we recommend purchasing a bowl of coins at the entrance of the hall which you can drop in the 108 bronze bowls which line the length of the walls. Dropping the small pennies in makes a nice ringing sound and even if your wishes don’t come true, the money goes towards helping the monks renovate and preserve Wat Pho. As this is a revered image, all visitors must wear appropriate clothing; this means no exposed shoulders or skin above the knee.
Wat Pho was the first public university in Thailand, specialising in religion, science and literature. It is now better known as a centre for traditional massage and medicine. After a walk around the temple there is nothing quite like a relaxing foot or head and shoulder massage. If you've never tried a traditional Thai massage, Wat Pho is a good place to experience this popular leisure activity. It's quite different to most other forms of therapeutic massage and tends to be invigorating rather than relaxing, incorporating yoga style postures to relieve stress and improve blood circulation. This is a very popular activity at Wat Pho temple, so we recommend you pop in before your treatment to book a spot, or you might end up with a long wait.
Bangkok Khlongs and Waterways
The 'Venice of the East' nickname in fact predates Besso's scribbling by hundreds of years. However, though it is unclear when exactly the phrase was born, it is clear that no tourist guide since (book, person or website) has been able to resist this captivating cliché. Like Burma's 'Mandalay', it evokes the romance of the Orient, only Bangkok-style: of languid sampans drifting down tree-lined canals, of stoic locals living next to them in floating wooden shop houses, and of city life before the advent of tuk-tuks and traffic jams.
But does the Venice of the East still exist? Yes and no. Many canals were drained or filled because of the risk of cholera they posed, or to make way for badly needed roads. Unlike the city's Chao Phraya River, little or no trade passes along those that remain. However it's not a tale of total stagnation. In places remaining khlongs are, though pungent, still picturesque. Old bridges survive; crooked houses still crowd the waters edge. For a few measly baht you can whiz past them, engulfed in noise and heat and fumes, rancid water flying toward you as the boat surges forwards (for speed and sheer exhilaration they put Venice's gondolas to shame!). Or take a gentle stroll along canal paths; peeking with every few steps into a new home, stepping as you go over shoes or past elderly ladies watering potted plants.
Chatuchak Weekend Market
Once only popular among wholesalers and traders, Chatuchak Weekend Market has reached a landmark status as a must-visit place for tourists. Its sheer size and diverse collections of merchandise will bring any seasoned shoppers to their knees – this is where you can literally shop ‘till you drop’.
The 35-acre area of Chatuchak is home to more than 8,000 market stalls. On a typical weekend, more than 200,000 visitors come here to sift through the goods on offer. Veteran shoppers would agree that just about everything is on sale here, although not all at the best bargain rates. But if you have one weekend in Bangkok, squeeze in a day trip to Chatuchak Weekend Market and you will not be disappointed.
For first-timers, ‘conquering’ Chatuchak may seem like an impossible task, but worry not. There is a system to help you navigate your way through Chatuchak. Inside, one main walkway encircles the entire market, and it branches off into a series of numbered alleyways called Soi 1, Soi 2, Soi 3, and so on.
These alleyways are grouped into sections, with 27 sections in all. You will find more than one category of goods contained in one section, and the same category of goods will appear again in the other sections. In terms of locating your category of goods, this system is rather useless; but it will come in handy when you try to locate your particular stall or where your exact location is on the Chatuchak map.
Another way to find your way around Chatuchak is to find points of reference as you go along. The BTS and MRT stations as well as banks and numbered entrance gates are good points of references, as you will come across them as you turn corners. Then again, use the map to locate these references to find your correct orientation.
What’s For Sale?
If you can dream it up, Chatuchak probably has it. Here, you will be amazed at the sheer variety of merchandise, whether a Moroccan lamp, an antique wooden chest, a pair of vintage Levi’s jeans, or, on the exotic side, a python.
Although it’s impossible to name all, the selection of goods being offered at Chatuchak can be roughly divided into 11 categories:
Clothing & Accessories
Furniture and Home Decoration
Food and Beverage
Plants and Gardening tools
Art and Gallery
Pets and Pet Accessories
Antiques and Collectibles
Miscellaneous and Used Clothing
When buying goods at Chatuchak, particularly ‘antiques’, it is wise to exercise a few precautions. Check your goods thoroughly to see whether there is any damage, as many vendors sell factory rejects. For ‘antiques’, don’t trust the vendor when he tells you it is genuine. It’s better to bring along an expert, unless you are happy with what you are paying for.