The complete guide to Bangkok
From a humble customs outpost on the Chao Phraya River downstream of the ancient capital Ayutthaya to the world’s top tourist destination, the Thai capital’s rise has been meteoric. From prayer to party, there’s a whole range of things to do in Bangkok.
What to see and do in Bangkok
Before you begin exploring this land, remember to carry a Bangkok map along with you. Take the Chao Praya Express Boat to Bangkok's largest flower market Pak Khlong Talat. At its colourful best at dawn, this market is open 24 hours and lies en route to two of Bangkok's must-see temples – Wat Pho or Temple of the reclining Buddha, and Wat Arun, Temple of Dawn. Wat Phra Kaew, regarded as the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand, enshrines the dazzling statue of the Emerald Buddha. It is located within the sprawling Grand Palace in Phra Nakhon district, the historic centre of Bangkok. Spread over 234 acres, the palace complex is built in the style popularised by the Rattanakosin kingdom with over 100 buildings, pagodas and statues.
Besides a plethora of Buddhist temples, the multi-cultural city also has beautiful shrines of other faiths – the Hindu Erawan Shrine and the Chinese Wat Mangkon Kamalawat in the heart of Yaowarat or Chinatown. At the sprawling Abhisek Dusit Throne Hall , drop by at Vimanmek Mansion, the world's largest teak building, that houses royal gifts and treasures collected on overseas trips. Also within the palace complex, visit the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall, within which is housed Thailand’s most majestic museum Arts of the Kingdom, a royal art exhibition of masterpieces by Thai craftsmen. Other important museums include the Bangkok National Museum and the National Museum of Royal Barges.
There are many interesting places to visit in Bangkok. The centrally located Lumpini Park spread over 142 acres near the Silom–Sathorn business district is a popular public hangout. Cruises and boat trips on the Chao Phraya and Thonburi's canals offer an insight into life on the waterfront and the city’s traditional architecture. The Jim Thompson House is the perfect example of traditional Thai architecture, and features a collection of Asian artefacts. At Asiatique The Riverfront, spend an evening at the shops, restaurants, bars and giant Ferris wheel, in addition to the live Muay Thai shows and terrific riverfront scenery. Other Bangkok points of interest include the Siam Paragon shopping centre, which even has a Madam Tussaud’s!
Bangkok’s central location makes it a great base for excursions to Ayutthaya, Khao Yai National Park, Ganesha Park, JEATH War Museum at Kanchanburi, Hintok River Camp at Hellfire Pass and Sai Yok Noi Waterfall. The city is at its vivid best during festivals like Songkran (Thai New Year) in mid-April when playful water fights and colours paint the city. Loi Krathong in November is accompanied by the annual Golden Mount Fair, which sees a candlelight procession make its way from Wat Saket. New Year celebrations take place at multiple venues, the most prominent being the CentralWorld plaza, and if you can’t make it at the end of December, there’s also Chinese New Year to celebrate in January—in case you feel the need to party some more.
The best restaurants in Bangkok
Sra Bua by Kiin Kiin, Siam Kempinski HotelThis fine-dine Thai restaurant is helmed by consultant chef Henrik Yde-Andersen of Kiin Kiin fame, the Michelin-starred Thai restaurant in Copenhagen. Try their 10-course ‘The Journey’ dinner
DID (Dine in the Dark), SukhumvitA unique culinary experience where you are explained the concept over a drink at the bar, before being led to a dark room where you are served by visually-impaired waiters (money from the restaurant goes to a foundation working with the blind), for a meal where you can awaken your senses.
Supatra River House, Bang RakLocated by the Chao Phraya opposite the Grand Palace, the great al fresco setting is only matched by the excellent seafood platters, shrimp cakes, soups and more.|
Tsu, JW Marriott Hotel BangkokHailed as the best Japanese restaurant in town, Tsu offers amazing sashimi, soft shell crab salad and uni flown in twice a week.
Le Normandie, Mandarin Oriental, BangkokThe best French restaurant in the city is, not surprisingly, located at Mandarin Oriental overlooking the river. Try the five- or seven-course set menu, paired with excellent wines.
Susie Wong’s Beers & Buns, BanglamphuThe softest BBQ pork buns, sausages, American pub grub and beer in a friendly environment makes this a popular hangout.
Punjab Grill Bangkok, Radisson Suites Bangkok SukhumvitIf you’re missing the familiar comfort of Indian food, head into the best Punjabi restaurant in Bangkok. The spiced cocktails perfectly complement the assortment of fish, meat, chicken dishes and curries.
Ban Khun Mae, SiamA good place for Thai cuisine if you’re in Siam Square area. Try their steam fish, fried fish, shrimp cakes, pad Thai, green curry and sticky rice.
Siam House, SilomThis is a no-frills, family-run Thai restaurant with value for money meals, a mean Thai green curry and a large vegetarian spread.|
The best places to party in Bangkok
There is no dearth of party spots in Bangkok. Sky Bar at Lebua at State Tower, which featured in the film The Hangover 2, is a popular nightspot. While in Silom, drop by Cloud 47 at United Center Building, the independent Tapas Room Nightclub or Maggie Choo’s at Novotel Bangkok Fenix Silom Hotel. RCA (Royal City Avenue) in Ratchada is the top party hub in town with clubs like Route66, Onyx and Live RCA that have live music and international DJs. Sukhumvit Road, especially Soi 11 and Thonglor (Soi 55), has several clubs throbbing with EDM – Beam, Narz, Demo and Funky Villa. Octave Rooftop and Lounge at Bangkok Marriott Hotel Sukhumvit is the highest party spot in town with a 360-degree view of Bangkok. Chidlom in Central Bangkok has several hotels that have clubs in the basement or rooftops. Try Mixx Discotheque at the InterContinental Bangkok basement and Love F Bar also in the same hotel. Other options include the swanky Club 87 Plus at Conrad Bangkok while Falabella nightclub at Royal Bangkok Sports Club in Ratchadamri is where the posh crowd turns out to party. To drink and dance with locals to some Thai rock, head to Coco Walk, an entertainment hub with pubs, bars and live music venues near exit 2 of Ratchathewi station in the shopping district of Siam. While there, check out Spasso at Grand Hyatt Erawan.
Where to stay in Bangkok
InterContinental Bangkok, LumpiniOne of the largest hotels in the city, the centrally located luxury hotel on Phloen Chit Road overlooks Lumpini Park. Don’t forget to make time for a meal at the excellent Fireplace Grill & Bar.
Tints of Blue Residence, SukhumvitA small boutique hotel in a quiet lane off Sukhumvit Road in Central Bangkok, it has a rooftop pool, garden and a terrific Western or Asian breakfast.
AriyasomVilla, SukhumvitAn old Thai villa offering 5-star luxury in a traditional Thai setting, with wood-floored rooms decorated with gorgeous fabrics, hand-made tiles and antique furnishings.
Phranakorn-Nornlen Boutique Hotel, PhranakornA quirky, nicely-decorated boutique hotel with a laidback vibe and handy services like in-house Thai and foot massages, besides workshops on Thai cooking, fruit carving and tie dye.
Where to shop in Bangkok
Teak handicrafts, elephant figurines, reclining Buddha statuettes, Thai silk, cheap clothes, high fashion, shoes; there’s a lot to buy here and Bangkok seems to burst at its seams with shopping centres, department stores and street stalls. The main shopping avenues are in Siam Park City and Ratchaprasong. On every shopper’s must-visit list is the sprawling Chatuchak Weekend Market, the amazing Taling Chan Floating Market and the tarpaulin covered stalls at Patpong Market. Another local institution is the Pratunam Market known for its wholesale prices, which is open 24 hours a day. Visit early morning, 4am to 9am for insane deals. The small alleys and streets of Yaowarat or Chinatown towards the riverfront is full of little shops while the backpacker favourite—Khao San Road is crammed with outlets selling travel gear and clothes. To shop in style and comfort, head into the various air-conditioned shopping malls in Bangkok–MBK (Ma Boon Khrong) Centre, Siam Paragon, CentralWorld, The Emporium or The Platinum Fashion Mall. For high-end brands, there’s EmQuartier while at Terminal 21, each thematic floor represents a different city. The Amazing Thailand Grand Sale (15 June–15 Aug) is a good time to visit with excellent bargains.
6E & Cheeky
There’s a lot to do in Bangkok for the daring and adventurous. From Muay Thai kickboxing lessons at Buddy Lodge, a 6-Hour Siam Ratree Night Bike Tour of Bangkok to an Evening Food and Tuk Tuk Adventure tour; there’s plenty of choice out there. Go on a romantic cruise on the Chao Phraya river at night – try Banyan Tree’s Apsara Dinner Cruise or River Star Princess Cruise with live music and dancing. Get a Thai massage at Wat Pho or Hot Stone therapy at the RarinJinda Wellness Spa in Ratchadamri. Drop in to Khao San Cooking School for lessons in Thai cooking or go on an Old Town Food Tour. Get a suit tailor-made at Rajawongse, but you don’t have to wear it when you head out to paint the town red. Soi Cowboy, Nana Plaza and Patpong are the main naughty neighbourhoods with go-go bars, karaoke dens and massage parlours.
Head out of town to Nakhon Nayok province for some rappelling and zip lining with Khao Lon Adventure Centre, ATV rides with Sarika Adventure or white-water rafting on the Nakhon Nayok River. At Scenical World, there’s a range of adventure activities and amusement park rides for those that want to add some excitement to their itinerary. Go on a wine tasting trail at Nakhon Ratchasima province to Gramonte Vineyard and PB Valley Khao Yai Winery. If you’re looking for something more bucolic, make your way to Farm Chokchai, an 8,000-acre dairy farm, where you can enjoy a rodeo show and pony rides or visit the petting zoo. Famous weekend getaways from Bangkok include Pattaya, Krabi, Phuket, Khao Lak Patong, and Phi Phi Island. Hua Hin is yet very popular for destination weddings among Indians.
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