Bangkok, Thailand’s capital, is a modern metropolis popular for its ornate temples and vibrant street life. It is one of my favorite destinations in Southeast Asia. Thailand is known for its beautiful beaches making it a popular destination for sun worshipers and water sport enthusiasts. Bangkok’s lively street scene, markets, and temples make it a haven for shopaholics, history buffs, and just about everyone who loves to be part of or observe metropolitan life. In short there is something for everyone! There are so many things to see and do in and around Bangkok.
I’ve been to Bangkok several times. We’ve flown in to Suvarnabhum (BKK), Bangkok’s ultra modern airport, and stayed for a couple of weeks, and have taken a one day shore excursion from Laem Chabang where our Southeast Asia cruise docked.
When visiting on a shore excursion you won’t have a lot of time to explore. Laem Chabang is a 2 hour drive from Bangkok making it a very long day with perhaps at best 5 hours in the city. This gives you barely enough time to see a couple of temples and perhaps buy a few souvenirs. You might consider heading for the beach town of Pattaya instead, it’s only an hour away from the port, and saving Bangkok for when you have more time to spend.
When I do fly in and stay for a week or more we usually stay at the Four Seasons Bangkok (it’s now Anantara’s flagship hotel Anantara Siam Bangkok and Four Seasons is working on a new property on the Chao Phraya River that is slated to open in 2018) or at the Shangri-La Bangkok which is right on the Chao Phraya River.
At the Shangri-La we always book a Horizon Club suite at their Krungthep Wing. The rooms here have private balconies with panoramic river views. Rooms come with breakfast, afternoon tea, a cocktail hour, and non-alcoholic drinks throughout the day, along with many other luxuries. The last time we were there our room came with a butler who was very helpful as was the concierge in the lobby.
Whether you stay at the Four Seasons, Shangri-La, or any of the other luxury hotels in the city you will be well cared for. One of the best things about Bangkok is the exceptional customer service you find everywhere you go!
One of my favorite activities in Bangkok is a dinner cruise along the Chao Phraya River aboard the Shangri-La’s Horizon. This cruise leaves every evening from the Shangri-La pier at 7:30 pm and returns 2 hours later. They serve an international buffet as you cruise down the river passing illuminated landmarks including Wat Arun and Wat Phra Kaew (Wat of the Emerald Buddha).
You’ll also pass some very well lit and lively party boats that ply the same route not to mention other water crafts that use the river to get around.
The buffet is pretty good, they have lots of things to choose from. The service is wonderful as you would expect from the staff of a 5 star luxury hotel. The cost of dinner does not include alcoholic beverages, but you can purchase beer and wine on board from your server.
The dinner cruise cost a bit over 2,000 baht per person. You can book it with many local tour companies and can include transfers to and from the hotel, or you can book directly with the hotel. To book your dinner cruise aboard the Shangri-La Horizon click here!
Wat Arun, the Temple of Dawn, is on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River. It is one of Thailand’s most famous landmarks. The best time to see it is at first light when the early morning light reflects off the temple giving it a peaceful iridescent glow. You can reach the temple by one of the ferries that sail across the river towards the Maharaja pier. Tourists are charged 50 baht at the entrance.
Wat Phra Kaew also know as the Wat of the Emerald Buddha is considered to be Thailand’s most sacred temple.
The main building in this temple complex houses the deep green statue carved from a single piece of Jade.
According to legend this Buddha originated in India and the sage Nagasena prophesied that it would bring prosperity and greatness to each country it resides. The Emerald Buddha is deeply revered and venerated as the protector of Thailand.
When visiting any temple in Thailand you must follow a dress code which is strictly enforced. Men must wear long pants, sleeved shirts, and shoes; women must wear long skirts. You may rent appropriate clothing at the entrance if your attire does not meet the dress code.
You must remove shoes before entering the temple and if you are seated in the temple you must not point your feet towards the Buddha. Never, never touch the Emerald Buddha, only the King and the Crown Prince are allowed to touch the statue.
Admission to Wat Phra Kaew is 500 baht which includes admission to the Grand Palace which is somewhat part of the complex. It also includes admission to the Coin Pavillion, Vimanmek Mansion and Abhisek Dusit Throne Hall.
Wat Pho is one of Bangkok’s oldest temples. This temple complex is home to the huge impressive Reclining Buddha. The complex also houses the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand. It is located on Rattanakosin Island, directly south of the Grand Palace. It is not quite as busy as Wat Phra Kaew. To get there take a ferry to Tien Pier. Admission is 100 baht.
These are the 3 must see temples in Bangkok, if you still need to see more you’ll find many more temples in and around Bangkok. But for me this was pretty much enough. It was time to head out of town! There are many things you can see and do if you want to take day trips out of the city. You can buy tours online or from your hotel’s tour desk, or you can strike a deal with a friendly taxi driver.
If you plan on doing the latter do have your hotel call the taxi for you and make sure your hotel knows who you are riding with and where you are going. Hotel staff or the concierge if your hotel has one will always take down the taxi’s information before you head out. Hotel staff can also give you a general idea on how much you should pay for a taxi tour. It is also a good idea to know how much a tour would cost and start your bargaining from there. One of the perks of a vacation in Thailand is affordability. Thailand is quite inexpensive which allows you to “splurge” on luxuries such as private tours, luxury hotels, massages, and more.
One of the most popular day tours from Bangkok is a trip to Ayutthaya the former capital of Thailand. There are many ways to get there and much to see once you get there including riding an elephant at the Elephant Camp. I found, for us that is, the best way to get there was with a tour that included a visit to Bang Pa-in and a lunch cruise back to Bangkok.
We had gone on the Shangri-La Horizon, but right now they aren’t offering this excursion. Another company that offers this itinerary is Sun River Cruise and the cost is about $62 a person.
The tour begins at the meeting place, in our case at the Shangri-La Hotel, where a coach will drive you to the province of Ayutthaya in central Thailand. Travel time to the Bang Pa-in district is just under an hour and you will be taken to the Royal Palace and complex. This palace comples also known as the Summer Palace was originally constructed in the 17th. Century and was restored and added to in the late 1800’s. It is used even today as the Thai Royal Family’s summer retreat, although the present Royal Family mainly use it for banquets and special occasions.
The complex is a delight with extensive gardens, towers, and more. You will have about an hour or so to explore before heading off to the other sites.
Once back on the bus you will be driven to the Ayutthaya Historical Park which is really a collection of 17 sites including the Elephant Camp. The tour takes you to Wat Maha That and Wat Lokayasutharam.
Part of this park, meaning some of the Wats was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991. Wat Maha That where you will see the stone Buddha head entwined in tree roots is one of the sites listed on the UNESCO roster.
The Wats have an impressive number of Buddha statues including the huge reclining Buddha in the ruins of Wat Lokayasutharam.
Once you’re done exploring the park you will be taken to the pier where you will board the boat that will take you back to Bangkok along the Chao Phraya River. On board you will have a nice buffet lunch while you watch the scenery go by. The cruise is about 2 hours or so, you should be back in Bangkok by 3:30 pm. Plenty enough time to get ready for a trip to the night markets!
I thought this tour was a bargain!
A trip to Bangkok isn’t complete without riding an elephant. There are many places outside the city where you can ride one including the Elephant Camp in Ayutthaya. But if you don’t want to wander that far out you can go to the Damnoen Saduak Elephant Village before or after you visit the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market.
If you want to wander further afield there are rides in elephant camps around the country. But do your research on the camps and venues that offer elephant tourist activities to be sure you are supporting a place that treats these majestic animals humanely. (Yes I know we’ve all seen videos and heard stories about how these animals are kept under horrendous conditions, but not all places treat animals poorly. And if you’re in the “free the elephant” camp, that’s fine, but bear in mind that these elephants may not survive in the wild, and there really aren’t many places where they can safely be released, sadly their natural habitat is mostly gone. Also elephants must be chained, it’s as much for their safety as yours. It looks bad, but they are very strong animals and can cause serious damage to each other, humans, and property. And the hooks you will see when used correctly is also to keep everyone safe. But if you’re very sensitive to the treatment of animals it’s best to skip this activity.)
A morning spent at the Damnoen Saduak Floating market is a fun experience you shouldn’t miss. There are several floating markets in and around Bangkok, but Damnoen Saduak is the largest.
You can book a tour that will drive you to the market which is about 90 km. away from Bangkok. The tour will include a guide and the boat that will take you around the market. Tours can be booked from the travel desk at your hotel. Or you can take a bus for about $2 and get there on your own. But leave early as the market is pretty much done by noon.
We hired a taxi from our hotel for the morning, I think it cost us about 1000 baht ($28). He took us to the Elephant Village, the market, and back to the hotel.
At the market you can walk along the paths and shop, admission I believe is about 10 baht. You can hop on a boat, I believe if you haggle you can get on for about 150 baht per person. We hired a boat and had him take us thru the market and around the side canals. After much haggling he agreed to do this for under 1000 baht. This was a bit over priced, but my husband felt the boat man must make some money and that it was a fair price. Really it was less than $30 for a private boat!
This 100 year old market is huge. You’ll find all sorts of touristy things for sale, and seriously it’s more expensive than the shops you’ll find in Bangkok! But you don’t have to buy anything, it’s just fun and the experience is definitely worth it! If you do decide to buy anything bargain hard, it’s expected!
Another attraction not far from Bangkok is the Samut Prakan Crocodile Farm and Zoo. It’s located in the province of Samut Prakan about a half an hour ride away from Bangkok. The Farm and Zoo features an elephant show and a crocodile show where the trainer basically wrestles with the creatures.
You can wander the grounds and pet the elephants and even take a photo with the chained tigers. Admission to the park is 300 baht per person. There is a snack bar and restrooms on site.
It’s billed as an internationally renowned crocodile zoo and boasts that it houses the world’s largest crocodile in captivity named Yai. He’s one of the 100,000 crocs at this farm. Honestly don’t expect too much, the place was build in the 1950’s and doesn’t look like it underwent much renovations since then. But admission is cheap, 300 baht ($8.50) for adults and 200 baht for kids, and it’s an interesting way to spend a few hours.
Further afield you can take a trip out to the Kanchanaburi province of Thailand. This province which is very close to the Myanmar (Burma) before is infamously known for the horrors that happened on the Death Railway (Burma Railway) during WWII. A stop at the WWII memorial sites including the Bridge over the River Kwai , made famous by the movie of the same name and War Cemetery is mandatory when taking a trip to this part of Thailand. The bridge they take tourists to is not the actual bridge, that was bombed towards the end of the war is the ruins can be seen further along the river.
Other than war memorials this province is known for its jaw-dropping scenery. There are many national parks that have waterfalls, caves, and other natural wonders. Thailand’s best nature hikes are located in this province and its national parks. The most popular is Erawan National Park. Here you will see wild monkeys frolicking in the trees and posing for tourists. I wouldn’t try to pet them though, monkeys bite and carry fleas and other nasty things.
The park is about 2 hours from Bangkok and you can get there with a tour group, by public transportation, or by taxi. We hired a taxi for the day, it cost us 4000 baht ($113) and he drove us to the park, the bridge, and back to the hotel. Park entrance is 300 baht for adults and 200 baht for kids.
The park is known for its 7 tiered water fall. You can hike the trail up to as many tiers as you want, the first 3 tiers are an easy walk, the remaining 4 are pretty strenuous. The whole trail is 2km long. You can bring a swimsuit and swim in the clear blue waters of the pools. Level 4 has a natural rock slide. Watch out for monkeys when you bathe, they love to steal your stuff.
The park also has caves and forests you can explore. Not all caves are open to the public. Contact the visitor center before heading out to the cave (it’s a 12km drive) so that a guide can meet you there with paraffin lamps.
Other than monkeys tigers, elephants, sambar deer, gibbons, red giant flying squirrels, king cobras and hornbills also call the park home, but they don’t normally frequent the waterfall area.
You can also stay in the park. You can bring your own tent and pay a fee of 30 baht to camp. Or you can rent a tent or a bungalow that sleeps anywhere from 2-8 people.
Pattaya is a beach town about an hour’s drive from Bangkok. It is mainly known for it’s lively night life that was very popular with American GIs during the Vietnam War, they went there for R&R. Today it’s popular with Russian and other European tourists. The town is trying to clean up its reputation and opening malls and other venues to attract family travel.
The best thing to do in Pattaya is island hop. You can catch a public boat at Bali Hai Pier to Koh Larn (Coral Island) for a 20 baht and sail over to one of the islands and lounge on the beaches. You can also hire a speed boat and island hop. Costs will vary and you should haggle and agree on the price before you get in the boat.
Once on the beach you can hire a lounge chair and beach umbrella. If you’re not staying at an island resort don’t expect great facilities. They have bathrooms and changing rooms, but they are best described as primative. There are kiosks on the beaches that sell beer, soda, and other snacks.
If you want to participate in watersports such as snorkeling, diving, and jet skiing you’ll be wise to arrange this with a reputable tour company in Pattaya before hand.
If you happen to have a weekend in Bangkok you must head over to the Chatuchak Weekend Market. It’s not far you can get there on the skytrain (BTS) or metro (MRT).
You’ll find everything at this 35 acre market. They sell clothing, craft supplies, pets, food and more. The fun is really wandering and getting lost in the market. It’s very safe and haggling is expected. Do be mindful of petty thieves and pickpockets as you would in places with large crowds.
The easiest night market to find is the one along Patpong Road close to many of the city’s hotels. It’s located in Bangkok’s notorious red light district. Vendors are set up in the middle of stings of strip clubs, “special” massage parlors, and go-go bars.
The market sprawls along the main road and into the little alley called Patpong located between Silom and Surawongse Roads. Vendors start setting up about 6 pm and start closing between 10pm to midnight. You’ll find all sorts of souvenirs and knock-off goods here. And of course bargaining is a must do.
This is one of the places where you MUST be aware of what’s going on around you. It’s filled with pickpockets and other undesirable characters. Touts will approach you trying to entice you into one of the bars or sex shows. Be very wary! To be honest I’m very wary when I go to any market or other crowded area in the city, as in any other large city pickpockets and purse snatchers are around looking for an opportunity.
If you must satisfy your curiosity and decide to have a look at the seamy side of Bangkok then be prepared to get ripped off. From what I’ve heard and read following one of those touts will take you to a second floor “showroom” where you won’t know how much a drink will cost until you’re ready to leave, by then the bill can be very large and arguing may not work. Alternatively you could book a nightlife tour with a tour company and maybe not get ripped off. I’ve had relatives go on this tour as it was part of their 3 day tour and they’ve told me they walked out it was that disgusting and degrading to women.
That being said shopping in Thailand is fun and very cheap! Even if you’re not a shopper you’ll find the prices hard to resist. But what should you buy? Well, if you’re into the knock off stuff you’ll find tons of it in the markets, everything from fake Gucci bags to Polo t-shirts, but in my opinion they are all very poor quality.
Here’s what I buy when I’m in Bangkok!
Silk – material, pillow cases, place mats, purses, bags, shirts, and other clothing. You’ll find many silk shops and tailors in the city. You can buy yards of the colorful material or have them make you a suit or dress.
Custom suits and dress shirts – my husband has a tailor not far from the Shangri-La hotel who will take his measurements and whip up a suit in a day. We usually order a couple of dozen silk and cotton shirts made up as well. We pay about $200 a dozen, very cheap for custom shirts! We ordered my husband a tuxedo from the tailor for about $120, my husband has had it for years and it’s still very nice! The tailor shops will deliver to your hotel free of charge, I would recommend not paying in full until delivery.
Fun and trendy clothing – the best place to find fun and trendy clothing is Platinum Mall. It’s a huge mall that’s supposed to be a wholesale mall but anyone can shop there. They have everything from household goods to clothing and more. Each stall is owned by different people and you must bargain to get the best price. I guess it’s considered wholesale because the more you buy from one vendor the cheaper it is. But you don’t have to buy the same item in bulk, you just need to buy more than one item to get the better price.
Jewelry – there are lots of jewelry stores in Bangkok selling everything from gem stones to 24K bangles and more. If you are buying jewelry go to a reputable shop, do not buy anything off the street! There are many jewelry scams around town. And even in the shops be sure you are getting natural stones and not “created” stones. I’ve bought some nice strands of tiny tumbled sapphires, garnets, and rubies from a jeweler by the Shangri-La, they were 1/3 the price for the same pieces I see in Istanbul and Greece. I’ve also bought loose gem stones at fairly good prices, but the problem is it cost me a fortune to set in the US. If you don’t know much about gem stones and jewelry in general I’d resist the temptation of buying any in Bangkok unless you go to a reputable jeweler or know someone you can trust to recommend a jeweler.
A word on Buddha images and statues. Thailand has strict laws about taking Buddha statues and images out of the country. It seems that those sold at souvenir stands should be okay, but antique Buddhas and other artistic and religious renditions of the Buddha will require an export license. But before taking home a Buddha you should check with authorities on what exactly you can take out of the country.
Another luxury you should indulge in while in Bangkok are massages! There are several types of places for your massage, I’m talking about regular foot, hand, back, and full body massages here, if you’re looking for a “special” massage you’re on your own as I have no idea where to find those and exactly what they entail.
You can have your massage at one of the hotel spas. They are quite luxurious and come with all the bells and whistles you’d expect from most high end spas. They come with a hefty price tag too! Expect to pay what you’d normally pay at any hotel spa, starting at about $100+ for an hour long full body spa.
You can have a traditional Thai massage at Wat Pho which is considered to be the home of the traditional Thai massage. The guiding principles are inscribed in stone within the temple grounds and they’ve honed their massage skills here for centuries. A one hour massage here cost 420 baht ($12) and you should make reservations as they do get busy.
The Foundation for the Employment of the Blind in Bangkok has a massage shop on Chan Kao Raod. The blind masseurs are friendly and because of their lack of sight are said to be more in tune with your body. It’s also a great source of income for blind people who find employment opportunities in Bangkok to be scarce. The massage is a bargain at 200 baht an hour, that’s less than $6.
Health Land is often the top pick of the locals for massages. They have several locations around the city and all of them can get very busy. The facilities are high quality and nicely appointed. Booking ahead will ensure you get your massage. The cost for a 2 hour massage is 500 baht ($14).
With 3 locations in Bangkok the Asia Herb Association is a good choice if you’re looking for a place that caters to both locals and tourists. The receptionists speak English and you can request a private room for your massage. Thai massages cost 400 baht ($11) for 60 minutes. You’ll want to make reservations before you go as they do get pretty busy.
The best deal in town are the local massage shops lining just about every street in Bangkok. You can’t miss them! Some will have chairs outside where you’ll find masseurs actually giving neck and shoulder massages to drop in customers, others have large windows where you’ll see rows of chairs with patrons having foot massages, and all will have big signs listing their services and prices. The average price for an hour massage is 200 baht, foot massages run about 100 baht or less for a half hour. But don’t expect great ambiance here. They look more like the Asian nail shops we’re all used to in the US. Full body massages are done usually on the second floor where there will be mattresses or cots lined up in a darkened room. The cots are separated by curtains for privacy and you may be given a pair of loose fitting cotton pajamas to wear during your massage. They speak basic English at these places so don’t expect a lot of conversation, but the masseuses have magical hands!
There are so many of these shops it would be impossible to say which are the best. I’ve been to quite a few and from my experience they are clean and have clean restrooms. My best advice would be to go with your gut when choosing a shop. For the price it’s well worth the lack of frills because the massages are heavenly! When I’m in town I have 2 massages a day! A full body in the morning, a great way to start the day! And a food massage in the evening, a welcome treat after a day of walking!
Whatever you decide to do in Bangkok I’m sure you’ll have a great time!