With approximately 16 million tourists a year, adding to the eight million residents who live in the city, Bangkok can feel a little overwhelming. There’s so much to do and see in the huge capital that it can be hard to know where to start. Having visited Bangkok myself, and seen the herds of people and enormous traffic jams, I completely understand this feeling: that’s why I’ve devised this list of seven things you have to do during your stay in Thailand’s capital.
1 | See the Grand Palace
Home to the Thai royal family since the 18th century, the Grand Palace is one of Bangkok’s most-visited tourist attractions. Entrance to the sight isn’t cheap compared to many of the city’s other landmarks, but the 500 Thai Baht (approx. 15 USD) fee is worth it: you won’t just see the impressive palace and its beautiful gardens, but also the unforgettable Wat Phra Kaew, which houses the iconic Emerald Buddha. Although the Buddha image itself isn’t very big, Wat Phra Kaew is the most spectacular temple in Bangkok, decorated with what looks like millions of colorful sequins. As is the case with all Thai temples and royal sites, you’ll need to wear “respectable” clothing to get in, meaning no shorts, or sleeveless shirts.
2 | Stroll around Lumpini Park
You can’t walk far in Bangkok without finding a park; however, Lumpini Park was definitely my favorite, and is also the most popular among Bangkok locals. Often compared to New York’s Central Park, Lumpini is the perfect peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of the capital. If you feel like getting the local experience, why not join in with a bit of Tai Chi, or an early morning jog around the lake? If you’re a little less energetic, enjoy a snack at the park’s food court, or take a leisurely walk around the beautiful gardens. Be sure to watch out for the monitor lizards on Lumpini‘s river banks. Park rangers removed around 100 of these large amphibians from the park in 2016, but nearly 400 still call Lumpini their home. Don’t worry: they won’t hurt you, but they might try to steal your food, if given the chance!
3 | Visit the Shopping Malls
With approximately 100,000 visitors a day, MBK is the most popular of the many huge shopping malls in Bangkok; however, I found it to be a little overwhelming. With multiple shops that look the same, and sell the same items, it’s easy to get lost in this maze of a shopping center. It’s also one of the most expensive in the city; however, you can find some good deals in the market section, if you’re willing to haggle.
My favorite mall was Terminal 21. With both major brands and smaller boutiques, this shopping center is the best place to go if you need an extra T-shirt or pair of shorts. It’s also the best mall for foodies, with two floors dedicated solely to restaurants and canteen-style stalls, selling food from around the world.
4 | Grab a Bargain at the Markets
Bangkok is home to a huge range of markets; however my favorite was the Chatuchak Market, the world’s largest weekend market. With 8,000 spread across more than 140,000 square meters, this market can get a bit crazy, but it’s a great place to get everything you need at once. Whether you’re looking for clothes and jewelry, or furniture and artwork, you — and the 20,000 other shoppers who take to Chatuchak Market every weekend — can find everything you’re after!
For a completely different experience, check out some of the floating markets. The most popular of these is Damnoen Saduak; however, it’s located 100 kilometers outside of Bangkok, and has become so well-known that its buyers are predominantly tourists. If this doesn’t sound ideal for you, head to one of the more conveniently-located floating markets, such as Taling Chan, which is only 12 kilometers from downtown Bangkok.
5 | Go to Chinatown
Bangkok’s Chinatown is the largest in the world, making it a must-see for all visitors. When Chinese immigrants first came to Bangkok, they settled close to the grounds of the soon-to-be Grand Palace. When the King’s home was built, however, they were forced to relocate to the area that now makes up Chinatown.
If you only have a few hours to spend in the district, you should head straight to Yaowarat Road. Home to amazing street food, interesting stalls, and spectacular rooftop bars, this 1.5-kilometer-long road is the largest, and most popular in Chinatown. If you have a little longer to spend here, check out Yaowarat Chinatown Heritage Center to learn more about Chinese migration and culture.
6 | Take a Boat Tour
One of the best ways to explore the city is via a boat tour along the Chaophraya River. I’d recommend buying a day ticket for the hop-on, hop-off tourist boat, which pulls into each of its ten stops every 30 minutes. The ticket only costs 180 Thai Baht (approx. 5.50 USD), and you can hop on and off as often as you like! Along the way you’ll be able to see sights like the Grand Palace, Chinatown, and, my personal favorite, Wat Pho, home to Bangkok’s enormous, 46-meter-long reclining Buddha. To see Wat Pho, you’ll need to get off the tourist boat at Wat Arun, and take another ferry across the river. This takes just a couple of minutes and costs only a few Thai Baht.
7 | Eat Street Food
Regardless of what district you’re in, you’ll only ever be a few steps away from delicious street food. If you’re not sure where to start, try the popular Thai dish, Pad Thai. This traditional dish is made up of rice noodles, vegetables, tofu, nuts, chili, and a meat/fish of your choice. If you’re looking to start out with a plainer option, many street food vendors serve grilled chicken, sausages, or sea food, that you can pair with anything, from potatoes to corn on the cob.
Craving something sweet? Thailand’s best sweet foods feature bananas; for example, banana pancakes, topped with a sauce of your choice, from condensed milk to peanut butter. My personal favorite was deep-fried bananas: I was a bit skeptical at first, as I’d never seen deep-fried fruit before, but it was absolutely delicious!