I’ve visited Bangkok more than I care to admit and spent about 9 months there working on a project, so I have a few ideas when it comes to the top three Bangkok attractions. These are in no particular order, but three of the key spots that first time visitors must see:
1. Grand Palace & Wat Pho – both are in the Phra Nakhon district and directly next to each other. The Grand Palace was built in 1782 and is home to the Emerald Buddha. Both attractions can seriously heat up (maybe it’s all the gold) so try to go early if you can. Both are open daily until 3:30 pm and close for special observance and holidays. Check with your hotel to ensure they are open (and don’t trust anyone near the gates if they tell you it’s closed. They probably want to scam you. The area is a huge spot for tourist scams, so don’t get ripped off by people offering cheap tours, cheap tuk-tuk rides, etc..) You have to dress modestly – or rent clothing there, for a refundable deposit – long pants/skirt, no tank tops and flip-flops can be hit or miss. Sometimes you can get in with them, sometimes not. Sandals are okay.
2. Wat Arun, or Wat Chaeng, is on the bank of the Chao Phraya River. It is believed that after fighting his way out of Ayutthaya, which was besieged by a Burmese army at the time, King Taksin arrived at this temple just as dawn was breaking. He then named it Wat Chaeng – Temple of Dawn. It’s quite beautiful and also a great place to see the river. You can take a river tour, but I think they’re most a rip-off. You’ll stop at floating tourist traps and stop to feed the feed. If you really want a ride down the river, take the public boat from the Grand Palace to the Temple of the Dawn.
3. Jim Thompson House – I’ve written about it several times. This is one of the more tranquil, quite attractions in the city. If you don’t know about Jim Thompson, check out this post. Plan to visit around lunchtime and make reservations to eat at the restaurant, you won’t be disappointed. Jim Thompson revived the Thai silk trade, then a dying art, changed the the industry forever. After he mysteriously disappeared into the jungles of Malaysia, he left a legacy which is reflected through his collection of Thai art and antiques. The house itself is an amazing complex of six Thai-style teakwood houses which will leave you wanting to redecorate.
If you have more than a few days in Bangkok, here are some other ideas of things to do and places to see
1. If you’re in the city on a weekend, you’ll have an opportunity to check out JJ market also called Chatuchak, but in Thai, Jatujak or JJ. This is one of the more famous markets in the world and worth a trip. There are over 5,000 stalls and more than 200,000 people per day visit the market. Going in the morning is your best best as it’s much cooler and fewer tourists will have descended upon it yet. You’ll find everything you can imagine at JJ including an underground for trafficking illegal and endangered species in the north west corner of the market.
2. Or Tor Gor, the farmer’s market across from JJ is a great place to spend the afternoon and enjoy some amazing Thai cuisine. \3. Pak Klong Talad is the flower market on the border of Chinatown. The flower market is really an experience and the flowers – orchids, birds of paradise, lilies and more are amazing and amazingly cheap. After a walk through the flower market, head over to Yaowarat Road for some Chili Fried Crab. You won’t be sorry!
4. Sri Mariamman, on Silom Road, is the oldest Hindu Temple in Bangkok. It’s incredibly ornate and worth the trip. The Temple is devoted to the goddess Uma and has become a mecca for transsexuals. You’ve never seen anything quite like this Temple, I guarantee it. It’s amazing.
5. If you find yourself looking for something to do at night, you’ll have your pick of activities. Bangkok is known for its nightlife and there are some hidden gems as well.
- Night Market – The Patpong night market offers more than a market. It’s surrounded by the red-light district and tons of touristy bars and more authentic restaurants. It’s an amazing contrast in 2-3 blocks. One of my all time favorite restaurants is located in this area – Mango Tree is an authentic and very reasonable restaurant just around the corner from the night market. Be prepared to negotiate. The prices are about 2-3 times more than you should pay. Vendors are pushy, but don’t be intimidated and just walk away if you’re not happy with the deal – there’s about 20 other stalls with the exact same goods waiting for you.
- Soi Cowboy – this neon laden area was named after the African-American man who opened the first bar – a cowboy bar – on the street. A red-light district sprung up around the clubs and bars and became known as a party district. Be careful, prices are set for tourists and you can easily shell out Manhattan prices for cheap drinks.
- Roof Top Bars – there are dozens of these in Bangkok now. These bars range from the famous Sky Bar featured in Hangover II to flashy, trendy places to be seen. The drinks at these rooftop locations won’t be cheap, so keep that in mind.
- If you prefer something a little more low key, you could catch a movie. Yes, that’s right, go see a movie in Thailand. The theatre at Siam Paragon mall is out of this world. There’s 1 theatre sponsored by Bangkok airways which has around 32 seats and they’re lie-flat seats like you’ll find in first class on many airplanes. The experience is surreal and you’ll be treated like a star at a private screening. It’s a cool way to spend an evening in Bangkok.