Bangkok. Over 6 million people. A city that never sleeps. Not a single minute.
And when you visit Bangkok it is really easy to not sleep as well.
In the streets there will always be people, every night of the week there are markets, street food on every corner, temples to explore and so much more.
It’s exotic, vibrant, chic and crazy.
All at the same time. And I do like it.
It’s been over two years since I last visited this city and back then I really only stayed for a few days as I had many other places on my list to visit.
Thinking back now I remember the city being even crazier, a little dirtier and more hectic than it appeared to me now. Maybe I am also a little more chilled out now, less restless as I may have been then as a ‘real’ backpacker when I wanted to see everything and all at the same time!
In fact, now that I am here again I feel the city has become cleaner. I don’t talk about the smog or the Chao Praya River, I still think that is the same. But I see more people washing down the streets and in all the places I stayed here they seem to scrub, dust and wipe all the time. I don’t remember that happening last time. Maybe it’s just my memory.
Seeing and realizing all this change I wonder what Bangkok will be like in 100 years?
Will the sparkling temples still be there and will the city be as intoxicating and fun as it is now?
Don’t expect me to come back in 100 years as I will be more than old and wrinkly, but procrastination is fun right? Thinking about the future also makes you reflect upon the past so I thought listing my 6 Bangkok’s Must-Visit sights is fun too, so here we go:
1. The Grand Palace
You cannot go past this one! The Grand Palace, a set of impressively beautiful buildings which served as the official residence of the Thai King since 1782. However the current King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) and Queen Sirikit of Thailand live at a different Palace called Chitralada Royal Villa.
Though the Grand Palace is still used for official events and gatherings.
The Grand Palace is the spiritual heart of the Thai Kingdom and has become one of the major tourist attractions in Thailand.
Within the temple grounds there is Wat Phra Kaew which holds the famous Emerald Buddha from the 14th century. This temple is also the most important Buddhist temple in the whole of Thailand. The small Emerald Buddha is made out of a single block of Jade, which is very impressive and with justice highly worshiped by Thai people.
For an entry fee of 500 THB you will get to marvel at the amazing detail and creativity on the temples in- and outsides. Despite the crowds I have enjoyed my visit to the Grand Palace twice already and I think I will be back again and again!
Make sure you dress properly on the day of your visit. Exposed shoulders and legs are not very welcome, so be sure to cover up and wear proper shoes as well. Otherwise you will need to hire or even buy expensive skirts or pants before you enter the temple.
Getting to the Grand Palace can be either by Taxi or Tuk Tuk as it isn’t directly served by public transport through the BTS or MRT. But because the Palace is very close to the river, you can combine the trip with a little ferry ride on the Chao Praya River. Simply take the BTS to Saphan Taksin station and make your way down to Sathorn Pier to catch the ferry towards the north/right!
2. Wat Pho
Wat Pho is the largest temple in town and right in the neighborhood to the Grand Palace. Within this Buddhist temple the main attraction is the 46 metre long and 15 metre high Reclining Buddha that is covered in gold leaf.
When I walked into the temple for the first time, the size of the Buddha almost felt unreal and I could hardly get it into one photo (as you can see)!
The entry fee is 100 THB. Additionally you can get a massage here since Wat Pho is the birthplace of traditional Thai massage and the first massage school was established here in 1955.
After paying a visit to the giant Reclining Buddha, make sure you explore the rest of the temple grounds as they are just as beautiful and you will get some great shots of the many pagodas.
3. Asiatique The Riverfront
Asiatique is one of the biggest lifestyle projects in Asia on the river banks of the Chao Praya in Bangkok. Hosted in an old warehouse complex Asiatique The Riverfront is a trendy new open-air mall opened in May 2012. And it’s a nice change from the shopping triangle of Siam Paragon, Central World and MBK.
I visited Asiatique in November to celebrate the annual Loy Krathong festival where people gather around the river and canals to show their respects to the goddess of water by releasing flowers and candles onto the water. Therefore the mall was quite crowded and shopping wasn’t a main activity on my mind.
However the mall has a range of international restaurants along the boardwalk, snack stalls, designer boutiques, bazar-style stands and a huge ferris wheel. You can find anything from jewelry to souvenirs, fashion and furniture.
All the action is happening at night as the mall opens from 5pm.
There are also a couple of shows taking place, from puppets to Muay Thai Boxing to ladyboys, you will find something.
The best way to get to Asiatique by BTS to Saphan Taksin and then take the free shuttle boat from Sathorn Pier (towards the south/left) which runs every 15 minutes from 4.30pm to 11.30pm.
Note to self: Traffic in the area can be very heavy (even on normal days)! I didn’t find a free taxi on the festival night of Loy Krathong and ended up squishing on one of the jammed boats.
You haven’t been to Bangkok if you haven’t visited its’ infamous Chinatown. The area is less developed than the rest of Bangkok, you see less foreign faces and a lack of English speaking people and air conditioned places are to be expected.
The heart of the quarter is Yaowarat Road with many small alleys and lanes branching off where you can get lost easily between shops selling gold, clothing, electronics or antiques. There are many temples, shrines and old shophouses scattered across the area as well.
Once the sun sets the street turns into a food market with flickering neon lights of Chinese characters overhead. Here’s the best place to try some exotic foods such as birds nest soup or shark fin – anyone hungry?
Again, it’s easiest to come from by boat on the river and get off at Ratchawong Pier. However Chinatown also has its own MRT station called Hua Lamphong which is also know as the main train station.
Every year around February there is Chinese New Year, the most important holiday for all Chinese people. This big celebration defines the start of the Chinese Year and is a cultural mix of street performances and food fairs that last about two weeks.
5. Khao San Road
If you have read the book The Beach then you probably know that this street is often referred to as ‘the centre of backpacking universe’! Quite rightly as the street houses numerous hostels, guest houses and budget hotels and you see many backpackers flocking through the street. There are also plenty of Internet cafés, souvenir stalls, restaurants serving Western style food, clubs and travel agents.
Walking along Khao San Road you will see a multicultural crowd and with the darkness kicking in, the streets gets even busier making it a good spot for night bazar shopping.
Don’t forget to bargain as vendors will try and sell at the most expensive price to foreigners.
Khao San Road is close to the Grand Palace and I walked it easily in 20 minutes. However you can take a Tuk Tuk or Taxi in front of the palace to get here as well.
If you are looking to get away from the backpacker crowd without leaving the area, visit nearby Soi Rambuttri. This horse shoe shaped street curves around a temple called Wat Chana Songkhram. It is a litte quieter and offers cosy cafés and market stalls while many street bars are popping up at night. As you reach the end of the street there is only one (not so usual) way: Climbing up some wobbly stairs into a restaurant and back down on the other side through the front door.
6. Chatuchak Weekend Market
A little to the north of central Bangkok sits one of the world’s largest weekend markets with over 8,000 stalls selling anything from fashion, plants, pets, souvenirs, antiques, art, food and much much more.
The market is open on Fridays from 6pm to 12am and Saturday and Sundays from 9am to 6pm and can be reached with public transport such as the BTS to Mo Chit Station or the MRT to Chatuchak Park Station.
Come early in the morning if you want to avoid the main crowd and heat of the afternoon walking around as the market is open-air.
I understand, Bangkok is not for everyone, especially living here long-term. It’s hectic, there is so much traffic, skyscrapers and pollution…
However, I seem to enjoy it more and more every time I visit and discover new places while finding hidden gems at old places I have already visited. I think part of me will always like this crazy city.
No matter how Bangkok will change over the next 100 years, I hope it will still have incredible views like this!