The City of Angels
When it comes to the megacities of the world, Bangkok is in the same league as London, Shanghai, and New York City. In terms of international visitor arrivals, Bangkok is poised to clinch the top spot as the most visited city in the world in 2013, according to a MasterCard research. Bangkok's popularity as a destination has also seen the Thai capital crowned the 'World's Best City' by readers of Travel + Leisure, with 2013 being the fourth year in a row the city has gained this recognition.
A Bangkok evening skyline; becoming the most visited city in the world in 2013
City of ContrastsThe City of Angels – the literal translation of the Thai word for 'Bangkok' – offers an captivating proposition of extremes, where seemingly contradictory parts intriguingly make for a peaceful whole pulsating with a riveting energy. Swanky shopping centers and shiny skyscrapers are juxtaposed against traditional markets and stilt houses perched atop canals. Gilded roofs of centuries-old temples glimmer during the day, and when the sun sets, laser and LED lights provide a shimmering visual backdrop to the city's vibrant nightlife. Master chefs of Michelin-starred restaurants daintily cook up a storm at the city's finest gastronomic establishments, steps away from some of the most delectable street food the world over. Ask any resident and they'll expound on the many joys and lament on just as many woes of the thriving metropolis, but few will argue that the City of Angels is one that gets under your skin. Bangkok may be crowded, busy and noisy, but the irrepressible smiles that greet visitors everywhere that they go make every excursion in the city inspiring and entertaining.
The Chao Phraya flowing through the middle of Bangkok, often a good destination for restaurants
Thai people like to have fun and April being the hottest month of the year sees the entire country participate in friendly water fights and street parties that last nearly a week.
Songkran is the time for New Year Traditions, family visits and temple visits. During Songkran, most businesses as well as family-run shops and restaurants shut downcompletely, but big shopping malls remain open. Many Bangkok residents travel back to their home towns for family re-unions. Tourists fly into Bangkok to enjoy one of the most colourful and festive times of the year. Traditionally, Thais perform the Rod Nam Dum Hua ritual on the first day of Songkran, which is officially National Elderly Day. During the ritual, young people would pour fragrant water into the elders’ palms as a gesture of humility and to ask for their blessings.
Songkran Festival tradition calls for white powder on face
OverviewWith its shopping mecca status, travellers sometimes forget there is an entire cultural side to the Thai capital. An obvious place is start is with temples (“wat”, as they're known locally), of which there are literally hundreds around the city. A quick word of advice: Impressive sights mean tourists, and where there are tourist hoards, there are unscrupulous individuals. So don't bet on getting that perfect shot with no one else in it, best go early, and keep your wits about you – if a 'helpful' person tells you that the palace or temple is closed, insist on checking it out yourself. Also remember that strict dress codes are observed – after all, these are royal residences and places of worship, so make sure knees/ankles and shoulders are covered with decent clothing (ie. See-through and ripped clothing probably won't cut it).
Bangkok's Grand Palace and Royal Residence for 200 years
Gilded palaces and heritage mansions also provide a peek into the city's past. The most well known of them all is the Grand Palace, where for the THB 500 (~US$16), you'll also get an entrance ticket to the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall and Vimanmek Mansion, both at the Dusit Complex.
Museums and galleries are also a good way to have a crash course into a country's culture and heritage.
The Jim Thompson House – named after its former resident who is widely credited as popularizing Thai silk inn the west– is also worth checking out for its traditional residential setting and a glimpse into the world famous fabric.
Travel tip: Traveling with kids? Here are some ideas for a fun family day out.
Bangkok's Jim Thompson House
MuseumsThe National Museum showcases the best of Thai arts, while the nearby Museum of Siam offers interactive and informational fun for the whole family. Rattanakosin Exhibition Hall similarly offers high-tech edutainment, while on the other end of the scale, the elaborate multi-oarsmen longboats at the Royal Barges Museum showcase the intricacy of traditional Thai craftsmanship.
The Royal Barges Museum
Dream World, not far from the airport, is modeled on American and European theme parks, with various themed sections that include Fantasy Land, Adventure Land and Dream Gardens. A river raft ride takes visitors through a model of the Grand Canyon. Dream World features a hanging coaster thrill ride as well as 40 other rides and attractions. The park is open Monday through Friday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm and on Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm.
Siam Park, a 120-acre theme park located in the Min Buri district in the outskirts of Bangkok, Siam Park is the largest theme park in Thailand. Although the park contains a zoo, botanical garden, aviaries and playgrounds, the main attraction is the water park. The water park’s wave pool as been certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as being the largest in the world. Other aquatic features include slides, waterfalls and fountains. Siam Park offers 30 different rides. The park is open daily from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm.
Safari World is also located in the Min Buri district, this 300-acre theme park features a safari park as well as a marine park. Visitors drive through the 5-mile-long safari park to view a variety of animals, including lions and tigers. The park features daily animal feeding shows. The marine park has a variety of shows as well as hundreds of sea life exhibits. The marine park also has rides like the Jungle Cruise river ride. The parks are open daily from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm.
TemplesOf the more well known temples are Wat Phra Kaew (a.k.a. Temple of the Emerald Buddha for its revered jade statue), Wat Pho (known for its 46 meter-long reclining Buddha and traditional Thai massage school), and of course, one of the most iconic silhouettes which adorn the 10-Baht coin – the riverside Wat Arun, a.k.a. Temple of Dawn.
Wat Arun the Temple of Dawn
OverviewWith the plethora of attractions and activities, the mere thought of planning a day can be daunting. Where does one start? Truth is, you're never going to see it all – the city is ever-evolving and locals still find “new” places to go. Pick a theme, identify some potential places you'd like to see. Remember to leave some leeway for traffic, and allow yourself the chance to just float along with the heaving city – Bangkok may just surprise you yet with some unexpected encounters that will define your journey. Here are some ideas to get started.
Charoenkrung RoadThe so-called “New Road” is actually the first paved road in Bangkok, running parallel along the eastern shores of the Chao Phraya river. The road is dotted with buildings that hint at the area's rich trading post past, including Italian neo-renaissance Assumption Church and the central post office with a grand Art Deco facade. Food around here is also some of the city's best, with some restaurants still operating after a century under the second or third generation. Come evening, take the free shuttle boat from the Sathorn Pier to Asiatique riverfront shopping complex, built on the site of a former Dutch trading port.
Venturing out on the Chao Phraya River is a good way to see the city and river life as well as a good way to reach your destination
AyutthayaThe UNESCO historic city of Ayutthaya, an ancient capital, is close enough for an easy day trip from Bangkok. Your best bet is to take our 2 day / 1 night upstream river tour aboard the teak Mekhala river boat complete with Bike tour. Located in the valley of the Chao Phraya River, the city was founded in 1350 by King U Thong. Ayutthaya became the second Siamese capital after Sukhothai. By the year 1760 Ayutthaya had a population of about 1,000,000 qualifying it as one of largest cities in the world at that time. However, the Burmese army attacked in 1767 resulting in the collapse of the kingdom. The Ayutthaya historical park is the ruins of the former capital of the Kingdom of Siam.
The Ayutthaya Ruins, the former Kingdom of Siam
River & Canal ToursBook a canal tour that will take you through the meandering waterways flanked with stilted homes and a traditional way of life. Or make your way to the Sathorn pier under BTS skytrain Saphan Taksin station, and hop on a blue-flagged Chao Phraya Express Boat, specifically designed for tourists and offering stops at a number of piers and glimpses of Bangkok's more iconic landmarks along the scenic journey. Tourist boats depart every 30 minutes from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and cost THB 150 for the day (~US$4.85), so as long as you hold on to your tickets, you can hop on and off anytime you like.
Night Cruise on the Chao Phraya
ShoppingIf you're more air-conditioning-dependent than not, you can easily spend a day or two cocooned in the cool air of high end retail on the strip of shopping malls between BTS Chidlom and Siam stations (see shopping section). If you have a more adventurous retail spirit, head to Chatuchak Market on the weekends. It's hot, it's packed, and with 15,000 stalls spread over 35 acres of land, you will get lost. On the bright side, whatever you're looking for – trinkets, clothes, pottery, or pre-loved stuff, Chatuchak will have it. Not sure where exactly , but it's there, so happy hunting.
Shopping at the Chatuchak Weekend Maret
Interesting MarketsTake a day trip combining Amphawa floating market and the Maeklong railway market, located nearby to one another, just over an hour from Bangkok. Unlike its more well known counterpart Damnoen Saduak, visitors to Amphawa needn't get up at the crack of dawn to get to the market in the early morning. Amphawa is smaller, but less touristy, more known to the local Bankokians, and gets going in the mid-afternoon. The railway market, so called for the train that goes through the traditional fresh market a few times a day, provides unique photo ops of vendors taking down and setting up their stalls after the train passes. A privately-hired taxi should be able to get you there and back for approximately THB 2,000 (US$63) roundtrip.
One of many floating markets near Bangkok
OverviewBangkok is renowned the world over for its shopping, offering an extensive gamut of retail options ranging from gleaming malls to bustling markets and streetside vendors jostling for space.
Market stalls range from the standard tourist tack to quirky goods crafted by independent designers. Floating markets offer a unique cultural slant to the shopping experience, while dedicated wholesale shopping areas (including Platinum Fashion Mall) offer bulk discounts on already affordable rates.
many good night markets
Floating Markets & Specialty Markets
There are several floating markets near Bangkok, the most famous is called the Damnoen Saduak Floating market, located about 100 KM southwest of Bangkok. Its a great day trip by taxi, rental car or tour. Bangkok’s also has canals that are best viewed via a tour, allow all morning and enjoy the many tastes of food and fruit.
Flower Market, perfect for night hawks or those who cannot sleep, best to visit at 3am to view rare lotuses, orchids and a colorful potpourri and variety of flowers. (Pak Klong Talad) is the largest wholesale and retail fresh flower market in Bangkok. The market has a wide variety of popular flowers, including roses, forget me nots, and orchids. In the the Old City, the Bangkok Flower market is located on Chak Phet Road near the Memorial Bridge. Flower shops are located inside three-storey houses on both sides of the road. The market is close to Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha) Pier access from the Chao Phraya is also close.
Pratunam Market, action packed with stalls and peddlers with large crowds enjoying open air restaurants located near the Baiyoke Tower or the Amari Watergate Hotel. The intersections of Ratchaprop and Petchburi Roads is your best guide. This wholesale market specializes in clothes and fashion items at great prices.
The ever captivating Damnoen Saduak Market about 100 km west of Bangkok is a must see
AsiatiqueFor a more unique shopping experience, Asiatique bills itself as a shopping and lifestyle complex on the riverfront, with vendors selling everything from ukuleles to T-shirts and home décor designed by independent artists. A new tenant, a 60 meter-tall ferris wheel, gives you an opportunity to enjoy the riverfront view as you rest your feet from the mission.
Visitors to the kingdom can also get a 7% VAT refund from participating stores including the aforementioned retail biggies. If you're not on a certifiable shopping spree, the process may be more trouble than it's worth. If you are, then don't forget to ask for the tax invoice and refund form when you purchase the items. At the airport on the way back home on an international flight, note that you'll need to check in with customs before and after immigrations for inspection – just look out for signs that say 'VAT refund for tourist office'.
Asiatique on the Chao Phraya
Shopping MallsThe main tourist shopping centers carry the usual suspects sounding off the alphabets – Armani, Bvlgari, Chanel, Dolce&Gabbana, Emilio Pucci, Fendi, etc. Presented alongside the global fashion houses, famed Thai fashion designers showcase their best, including couture from Flynow, Milin, and Greyhound. Tourists can also apply for a tourist card, which entitles them to varying discounts at major malls. Present your passport at the respective shopping centers' information counters.
The stretch between BTS Chidlom and Siam stations boast the highest concentration of malls in the city, including, in order from east to west respectively, Central Chidlom, Gaysorn Plaza, Amarin Plaza, Erawan Bangkok, CentralWorld, Siam Paragon, Siam Center, Siam Discovery, and one station eastward at National Stadium, the MBK shopping center.
Terminal 21 shopping center off BTS Asoke station also gives the standard mall set up a run for its money, with themed floors and stalls on the upper floors giving it an air-conditioned night market type of appeal.
Siam Paragon Mall
Outdoor, Weekend & Night Markets
Patpong Night Market, after the sun has gone down just off busy Silom Road near the BTS Skytrain Station Saladang, look for this pedestrian area to transform itself into busy night market for garments. Also featuring many famous bars and night life hot spots that are certainly not intended for the narrow minded or easily offended.
Suanlum Night Bazzar, very popular with about 3500 stalls, stands and shops, selling the largest selection of Thai products in the country.
Bang Lamphu Market, specializing in clothing, handbags, shoes and cosmetics, bargaining is a must.
Bo Bae Market, the busiest time is in the morning because this is a wholesale clothing market where selling by the dozen is expected.
Chatuchak Weekend Market, sometimes spelled JaktuJak, perhaps Asia’s largest open air market with an amazing 15,000 stalls and vendors selling everything under the sun (literally) a bargain hunters paradise. Take the BTS Skytrain to the Mo Chit Station and exit. You are there.
Map of the Chatuchak Weekend Market
Resonating with endless options, vibes and neighbourhoods, the cosmopolitan and anything-goes attitude of Bangkok ensure its top notch nightlife. The skytrain (BTS) brings it all together and makes evening travel between the different districts an ease. Silom and Sukhumvit are recognized as the city’s most energetic and spirited nightlife spots and there is no shortage entertainment here. When the night falls, vendors set up shop along the Silom sidewalks under BTS skytrain Sala Daeng station, catering mainly to tourists and prowlers of the night. During the annual Songkran Festival in April, fun and water fights simply cannot be avoided.
Street food is more than ubiquitous in Bangkok, its a way of life, its impossible to avoid and nor should you. The most delicious and scrumptious meals and treats, not to mention economical, are served up every day all day all over the city.
Some say that the city's best food are found on the streetside
Roof Top Bars & RestaurantsClassier soirees of of Bangkok attended to by business executives and high society locals depend on the day of week and the flavor of the month. New openings such as Whisgars on Sukhumvit 23 offer the finer things in life, while other scattered gastropubs such as Hyde & Seek off BTS skytrain Ploenchit station, Water Library on Thonglor, or Maggie Choo's on the far west end of Silom Road, are also packed with enthusiastic fun seekers willing to shell out a pretty penny for a night of indulgence.
Bangkok is also in no shortage of hotel rooftop bars and restaurants. Banyan Tree, Tower Club at lebua, Muse, Sofitel So Bangkok, Sofitel Sukhumvit, Marriott Bangkok, Pullman G, Centara Grand at Central World, The Okura Prestige all have lovely rooftop venues with price tags proportional to the height and view vantage advantage. Visiting one or more of these venues is a must do while in Bangkok.
Red Sky Bar and Sirocco Italian Restaurant on top of the Lobua State Hotel
Soi 11On Sukhumvit Soi 11 there is a smattering of eat-drink-dance hotspots catering to a mix of tourists and Thais. Start the evening at Cheap Charlie's, a hole-in-the-wall popular with locals and their expat friends. Oskar bistro and wine bar gets quite busy on weekends with the DJ setting the pace. QBar is a nightclub instituion offering a busy dance room, comfortable outdoor lounging, plus a new boudoir-styled annex Le Derrière. Don't miss Levels, a very busy multi room dance club. Above Eleven, located on the 32nd floor of Fraser Suites is a lovely outdoor restaurant, and Nest, perched on the 9th floor of Le Fenix hotel, offers more rooftop settings and a more loungey vibe than its street-level counterparts. Zanzibar is a popular street level outdoor restaurant featuring live music nightly. On Soi 11, the world famous Volkswagon Westfalia has been reborn as a well stocked bar catering to passersby who cannot go the next block without a quick drink. All done up in various psychedelic colors and styles, they add a colorful addition to Soi 11.
Soi 55Thonglor (Sukhumvit Soi 55) is also a nest of hotspots, popular mainly to the local yuppies and their international friends. After dinner at trendy restaurants including Tribeca Restobar and Littlebeast, both on Thonglor 13, head down to Seen Space. Patrons of the cluster of restaurants and bars, the latter of which include Brew Beer & Ciders, Cloud, and Fat'r Gut'z, spill out only the central spill out onto a central courtyard that is heaving every night without fail. On the top of Thonglor Soi 16 is Penny's Balcony, a similar group of bars – namely Mellow and Hobs – whose loyal guests guarantee their outdoor seating areas are abuzz with activity every night.
Khao San RoadOn the other side of town, Khao San Road heralds its neon lights after dark, while music fills the streets, and the venue choices are endless. Laid back bars, heaving clubs, and curb side plastic stool beers keep all budgets and moods satisfied. Even the streets have a party vibe as many people – with a big majority backpackers that congregate here – wander the streets enjoying convenience store-purchased drinks. Nearby to Khao San road, Chinatown is a great place for dinner, perhaps followed by a shot of snake wine to fuel the evening ahead.
Many street level restaurants offering tasty menus
RCA Many expats looking to venture past the popular Khao San Road and Sukhumvit Road contribute to the mix of well dressed young Thai’s out for an evening in Ratchadapisek. Royal City Avenue (RCA) is the place to go for twenty something Thais. As a government designated nightlife zone, you’ll notice the security and crowd management here, but the mood throughout is still carefree and the crowd young and invincible. It's helpful if you can speak some Thai here.
OverviewOnce famous for its traffic jams and to a much lesser extent today, Bangkok has both traditional and new mass transportation systems that can help you navigate the city.
Rapid mass transit
The most convenient way to navigate Bangkok's downtown areas (whilst bypassing the oft gridlocked traffic during rush hours) is on the BTS Skytrain or MRT Subway, which open from 6 a.m. to midnight daily.
BTS Skytrain & MRT SubwayThe BTS Skytrain comprises of two lines which intersect at Siam station. Single journeys cost 10 to 52 Baht, and one-day passes offer unlimited rides for THB 130 (~US$4.20).
The MRT Subway consists of just one line. Single journeys cost 16 to 40 Baht (~US$0.55-1.30), and one-day passes offer unlimited rides for THB 120 (~US$3.85).
The two systems interchange at the following stations, but note that you need to purchase separate tickets/tokens for the Skytrain and Subway:
• BTS Mo Chit <> MRT Chatuchak
• BTS Asok <> MRT Sukhumvit
• BTS Sala Daeng <> MRT Silom
To get to/from Suvarnabhumi International Airport, the Airport Rail Link connects to the MRT Subway Phetchaburi station at the Makkasan station (via a 166 meter covered skywalk) and BTS Skytrain at Phaya Thai station.
A map combining the routes for the skytrain and the subway
River TaxiFor a mode of transport that will help visitors get acquainted with city in a more traditional way, the Chao Phraya Express Boat travels the length of the river, stopping at most of Rattanakosin’s major attractions along the way. Colored flags on the boat indicate varying routes, which cost between 10 to 32 Baht (~ US$0.35 – US$1.05). The Express Boat service runs from about 5:50 a.m. to 7 p.m. depending on the route.
Sathorn Pier is located right under the BTS Saphan Taksin station. All the five-star riverside hotels operate boat shuttles to this pier.
Until the late 19th century when the canals began to be filled to make way for modern roads, Bangkok was known as the “Venice of the East.” Some canals remain, inviting adventurous visitors to access city attractions in colorful long-tail boat taxis while dodging occasional splashes of the not-so-pristine canal water.
Used primarily by local commuters, the Saen Saep Express Boat provides easy access to the Golden Mount, Siam Square and the Pratunam shopping district. Two lines cross at the central transfer point of Pratunam. Boats come by every 20 or so minutes, and cost between 10 to 20 Baht (~US$0.35 – US$0.70).
The service operates from 5:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. (7 p.m. on weekends and holidays)
River Taxi on the canals a good way to get around
By RoadBangkok has three kinds of taxi services available: traditional taxis, motorcycle taxis and tuk-tuks. The base fare of a four-wheeled taxi starts from 35 Baht (~US$1.15) and increases by THB 2 (~US$0.06) increments. There is a THB 50 (~US$1.60) surcharge for cabs at the airports, but other than that, insist on having the taxi meter turned on. A trip on a tuk-tuk is a tourist favorite, but as they're not necessarily cheaper than regular taxis, the motorized open-air trishaws are best suited for a one-off short trip. Motorcycle taxis pick up passengers from designated areas – commonly on the top of soi's (lanes) – and are identifiable by their colored vests.
The famous Tuk Tuk
TrainTravelers with more time or enjoy the journey to the destination should experience the country's from the tracks. The central railway station Hua Lamphong is located on Rama 4 Road in central Bangkok, and is conveniently connected to the MRT Subway Hua Lamphong station.
For overnight journeys, book a second class air-conditioned sleeper train for more comfort – the lower bunk may be slightly more expensive, but you'll appreciate the additional wiggle room.
Bangkok Hua Lamphong Train Station
Mini VanFor closer destinations such as Pattaya, Hua Hin, Lopburi, or Hua Hin, another cheap option is to catch a mini-bus from Victory Monument. The privately-operated vans are spread out street level all around the monument under the BTS skytrain station. Vans leave every hour or so depending on destination (and whether the vehicle is full), but as most signage is in Thai, finding the right van to hop on can be somewhat challenging. Follow the mini-vans or fellow backpack-toting travelers, and say your destination to the mini-van driver, most of whom would be happy to point you in the right direction. Travelers should note that minivan drivers have a reputation of being speedy gongalezes on the road, and to keep luggage to a minimum as it is quite cramped in there.
Victory Monument Map, important and convenient
Getting In and Out
TravellingBangkok has two airports – the main Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK), and Don Mueang (DMK). The two airports are a fair distance apart, so take note if you have a connecting flight. Low cost carriers, including the regional Air Asia, mainly operate out of Don Mueang.
Domestic flights from Bangkok to anywhere around the country take more or less an hour. Main airlines, both full service and low cost carriers that offer domestic routes include Thai Airways, Bangkok Airways, Air Asia, and Nok Air.
BusLong-distance buses going out of town leave from one of three terminals – Sai Tai Mai for destinations in the south (Phuket, Krabi, etc.), Ekamai for the east-of-Bangkok destinations (Koh Chang, Koh Kood, Pattaya, etc.), and Mo Chit 2, which serves the general North (Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, etc.). The bus stations are located a fair distance from one another, and Ekamai is located just beside the BTS Skytrain station with the same name. For longer trips, book on an overnight VIP bus, which offer plush comfy reclining seats.