Things to Do in Bangkok
Bangkok’s glittering Grand Palace is one of the most popular attractions in the Thai capital. Built in 1782, this sprawling 54-acre (21.8-hectare) complex served as the royal court and administrative seat of Thailand for 150 years. Today, while it continues to host royal Thai functions, the palace also impresses swathes of visitors with its intricate golden-spired architecture and cultural history.
Easily one of Bangkok’s most visually striking landmarks, the Temple of the Dawn (Wat Arun) towers over the Chao Phraya River. Its colorfully decorated spires are the star features—the temple’s central prang stands 260 feet (79 meters) tall and is intricately decorated with tiny pieces of colored glass and Chinese porcelain.
Every great city has a river, and Bangkok’s is the Chao Phraya (Mae Nam Chao Phraya). Alive with traditional long-tail boats, passenger ferries, and cargo boats, the Chao Phraya River is the lifeblood of the city. It winds past both ancient temples and modern high-rises, offering a unique, local perspective on the Thai capital.
One of the oldest, largest and most revered temple complexes in Bangkok, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho) is a must-see for all visitors to the Thai capital. The central attraction of the temple complex is its namesake statue, the gold-leaf-covered reclining Buddha, but don't let it distract you from the site's other treasures, including its 95 pagodas, carved narrative panels, and opulent main altar.
The iconic Bridge on the River Kwai is part of the world’s collective historical memory. The site of many POW’s deaths during World War II, it is now the site of the JEATH War Museum and is close to the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery.
Wat Kalayanamit is an elaborate Bangkok temple that sits on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River. It’s located near the mouth of the Bangkok Yai Canal, although any time spent on this part of the river means you’re unlikely to miss it; the temple’s giant ochre-roofed viharn tends to stand out and demand attention.
While Kalayanamit’s viharn can be said to be traditionally Thai in architectural style, the temple’s other buildings and pavilions have a distinct Chinese influence. This is because Wat Kalayanamit was built in the first half of the 19th century when China was seen as the ideal counterbalance to the growing European influences in southeast Asia. As such, Chinese architecture, sculptures, and other decorative artefacts became increasingly popular.
Inside the huge viharn, an equally huge Buddha statue almost fills the entire prayer hall, while the walls are painted with scenes from the time of the temple's construction. Located next to the viharn, a bell tower houses the largest bronze bell in Thailand.
With its heady smorgasbord of street food, gold merchants, wooden shophouses, and ancient Chinese temples, there’s never a dull moment in Bangkok’s Chinatown, also known as Yaowarat. Exploring the bustlingsois (side streets) of the city’s oldest district is a must on any trip to the Thai capital.
In a city and country known for its colorful markets, none stands out so vividly as Pak Klong Talad Flower Market (Pak Khlong Talat). Stalls feature local and imported fresh-cut flowers piled high: delicate orchids, bunches of colorful carnations, fragrant roses, lilies, forget-me-nots, and more. Vendors also sell flower arrangements and hand-strung garlands.
Sukhumvit Road is the longest boulevard in Thailand (with the Skytrain running along most of its length), and the surrounding neighborhood has become the city’s makeshift international zone, with expats and well-off Thais living on the small side streets, called sois, that intersect it. It’s a neighborhood where choices are endless. Luxury hotels stand beside budget accommodations, and the food scene from five star to street stand is top notch.
What Sukhumvit lacks in tourist attractions it makes up for in its buzzing shopping and nightlife scene. By day air-conditioned shopping malls offer just about anything under the sun and sumptuous days spas promise relaxation. By night the neighborhood comes alive with some of Bangkok’s top nightclubs (and a few notorious red light districts).
A giant and legendary shopping mall located just off Siam Square, the MBK Center (Ma Boon Khrong Center) attracts both locals and tourists looking to fulfill their shopping needs. Boasting eight floors crammed with 2,000 shops and a range of stalls, this sleek glass complex sells everything from bargain clothing to affordable electronics.
In addition to retail outlets, MBK has two expansive food courts—one on the sixth floor serving local Thai food and an international one on the floor below. MBK is particularly well-known for its range of cheap electronic items, with the fourth floor dedicated to cell phones, cameras, games consoles, MP3 players and more.
The top floor of this huge mall features an extensive entertainment center, with a multi-screen cinema, karaoke facilities and a games arcade. There’s also the 3D Trick Art Museum, a fun family attraction that both younger and older kids can enjoy. For a unique way to visit the MBK Center and other malls in the area, take a Bangkok city tour that incorporates trips to many of the capital’s major sights via several different modes of public transport.
More Things to Do in Bangkok
MOCA Bangkok (Museum of Contemporary Art) provides a space to display the works of the growing number of world-class artists in Thailand. Built in 2012, MOCA is home to a comprehensive collection of paintings and sculptures within a modern, purpose-built built gallery.
The five stories of MOCA in fact hold over 800 pieces of art, all collected by Boonchai Bencharongkul. The works on display explore such controversial themes as religion and morality, along with issues like corruption and prostitution. Art-lovers are able to explore and appreciate the work on display in a comfortable and modern setting, with plenty of natural light within well-appointed, spacious rooms.
Thai kickboxing—or Muay Thai—is world-famous, and the Lumpinee Boxing Stadium (also spelled Lumpini) is one of the top places in the capital to see traditional matches. Expect to see some of Thailand’s best Muay Thai boxers in matches that are held three times a week.
Home to the world's largest gold Buddha statue, the Temple of the Golden Buddha (Wat Traimit) is a prominent stop on Bangkok’s temple trail. Measuring nine feet (three meters) tall and weighing more than five tons (4,535 kilograms), the Buddha attracts floods of visitors who come to marvel at its size and gleaming golden surface.
The spectacularly ornamented Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew) is one of the most important Buddhist temples in Thailand. Located within the Grand Palace in Bangkok’s Old City, a site highlight is a sacred pre–15th-century statue of the Buddha in a seated meditation pose carved from a single block of jade.
Part of the Thai Red Cross Institute, this snake farm—home to thousands of snakes from around the world—seeks to demystify the demonized creatures, understand local snake habitat, and serve as a breeding center for venomous snakes while procuring anti-venom used to treat bites throughout the country.
For travelers, the two-story center has several interesting displays and exhibits, offering detailed explanations of snakes' evolution, anatomy, and lifecycle, while also showcasing terrariums housing live reptiles. Another highlight at the Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute is the regularly scheduled shows (2:30pm on weekdays and 11am on weekends and holidays), during which visitors can see how venoms are extracted from certain snakes—such as banded kraits and cobras—in order to make needed anti-venoms. Occasionally, handlers showcase tame specimens such as vivid yellow albino boa constrictors and pythons, allowing willing visitors to handle them under supervision of trained staff members.
Additional displays serve a public service: informing residents and visitors of some of the more dangerous snakes in Thailand, while also detailing the toxicology of snake venom and teaching how to offer basic first aid to bite victims.
The energetic Asiatique The Riverfront—part open-air night bazaar, part shopping mall—combines the city’s old traditions and modern commercial energy. Located at the former East Asiatic Company trade docks, the complex contains more than 1,500 shops and boutiques, about 40 restaurants, and several entertainment venues.
The Temple of the Golden Mount, or Wat Saket, is a low hill with a pointed golden temple (chedi). It’s built on the site of a earlier, failed temple building that turned to rubble and became a hill. Wat Saket was once the highest point in Bangkok. Visit today for great views of Bangkok and to see its Buddha relic.
Standing nearly 90 feet tall, the Giant Swing is located in front of Wat Suthat in the heart of Bangkok. The teak archway, originally used in religious ceremonies, was constructed toward the end of the 18th century, during the reign of King Rama I. It has since undergone several renovations.
The Baiyoke Sky Tower is the second-tallest building in Bangkok. It houses a large hotel, viewing platform, restaurants and bars, shops, and a revolving deck. The sweeping views of Bangkok are impressive, especially at night, and will help you get your bearings in the Thai capital.
Wat Benchamabophit—or the Marble Temple—is a Buddhist temple in the Dusit area of Bangkok made from Italian marble. Enter the working temple to take in its ornate features, including typical Thai curved roofs and glittering decorations.
The Maeklong Railway Market is one of the more unusual markets in Thailand. Selling vegetables, fruit, and other food items, it looks like any other market on the streets of Thailand—until a passenger train goes roaring through the middle of it. When the siren calls, the stalls scatter and make way.
Head to Khao San Road to immerse yourself in the heart of Bangkok’s budget backpacker scene. Explore a road packed with budget and mid-range hotels, bars and nightclubs, travel company offices, markets, and other tourist facilities. It’s a convenient place to base yourself while staying in Bangkok, or to head for a meal and nightlife.
Visit the Jim Thompson House for a deeper understanding of Thai history, architecture, and crafts. The collection of six teak houses and gardens belonged to an American expat who helped revive the country’s silk weaving industry and built this peaceful enclave in the mid-20th century before mysteriously disappearing in 1967.
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