Bangkok – Metropolis of South East Asia. From shopping of cheap artifacts, luxury brands under fake labels to genuine luxury brands, history, architecture, or simply partying everything can be seen, done, experienced, and enjoyed. When tired, enjoy the drink in the sky bar or a heavenly massage in a spa or a massage parlor.
Bangkok is interesting mix of old and new. Go to the tourist center and you will be awed by the crowd, rush, energy, and the atmosphere. Go two blocks away from the tourist spots, and you will wonder why this city has gone so quiet. Streets have usual amount of traffic, you could be walking alone on the roads on early Sunday afternoon. Old parts of Bangkok are still how a city typically is. It has not changed itself for the tourists, hence the tourists do not go there.
However the touristy part of the city offers plethora of options to explore and enjoy.
Places to Go:
Ko Ratanakosin Area:
This is the THE place to go. Even if you have half a day and want to know about history and culture of Bangkok and Thailand, this is the place to be in. All important and most popular and also forgotten attractions are located here. Grand Palace, Wat Pho / Wat Phra Krew and across the river, canals, boat museum, all are part of this area. Depending on your interest levels, you can allocate one full day to it.
Grand Palace & Wat Phra Krew
Right name for the place – Grand. Though the palace per se is not open to public, but every part of the complex is grand. The pagodas of Wat Phra Kaew containing the emerald Buddha has high ornamentation and stupas around it is richly decorated will be an understatement. Stupas decorated with polished orange and green roof tiles, combined with mosaic encrusted pillars, and mirrors and marble pediments, it may qualify as architectural marvel. After exiting from the pagoda complex, you will cross the palace where King once used to live. It is now used only on special occasions if required. However, it is equally grand and well maintained. Opposite the palace is French styled Borombhiman Hall which is sometimes used to house foreign dignitaries.
Wat Phra / Emerald Buddha are extremely religious place and revered by locals. Royalty has to be respected at all costs. Hence being properly dressed, covered from shoulders to knee is a must. Temp clothes / wrap ons are available on rent from the palace incase you decided its too hot to cover yourself fully. Also, ticket available is a combo ticket enabling you to see three to four other places in one ticket. Combined ticket cost is 500TBH
Another popular pagoda esp for its structure and the key attraction – 46m long reclining Buddha! Covered in gold leaf and eyes and heads decorated with jewels and precious stones. The reclining posture signifies or illustrates passing of Buddha into Nirvana or death hence the importance. Apart from the reclining Buddha, four Buddha images are on display in chapels which are worth a look esp those in South and East chapel. The galleries connecting the chapels have ~394 gilded Buddha images, making Wat Pho the holder of largest Buddha images in one place. The complex also houses Thailand’s earliest center of education, and now closed Crocodile Park.
Not a place for sightseeing, but a place to meditate or learn meditation. Classes for sitting and walking meditation are held three times daily. You can reside here too but will have to follow strict rules of staying here.
Just outside Wat Mahataht, occupying the pavement, this market sells talismans which seem to be carefully scrutinized by the collector. These talismans are bought by monks and people who claim to have knowledge of how to use it. Not for everyone. If visiting in winters, stop by to have herbal soup which fights and wards off cold and sinus.
Iconic pagoda and forms kind of a trinity with Wat Pho and Wat Phra Krew. Locally known as Wat Chaeng, Wat Arun is famous for its tall tower and beautiful sunrise photo-op. It significance arises from the fact that King Taskin tok reins and established his rule here after fall of Ayutthaya. Under construction in mid 2015, it should be open to public now. Beware of paying 40TBH if someone asks you to pay after you have clicked some pictures of folk Thai dancers outside.
Lak Meuang: City Pillar / City’s Guardian Spirit, it is a talismanic pillar considered to have given power and strength to Thai’s to defeat Burmese. Located on a roundabout and housed in white sanctuary, it now lends practical purpose of a marker and measure distance between two cities.
National Museum: One of the largest museums in South Asia, it has an impressive history wings containing artifacts dating back to pre-historic era. It has oldest records of Thai writing, and thrones of earlier Kings.
Royal Barges National Museum: Hardly visited, and not conveniently accessible, it displays barges used by the King during his annual coronation day ride and otherwise. Apparently being a oarsman of this barge requires lot of skills and training. It is a must go place if you like barges and want to know more about them
Banglamphu Area: Home to the famous Khao San road, it also houses few good places to go and see:
A round-about / traffic circle, but artistically built with four pillars. It is best seen after dark when lighted up. The main road leading towards Wat Saket and ahead is lit up as if some festival is there today.
Wat Saket and Golden Mount:
Walking distance from Democracy Monument, another revered pagoda located on a mount, it appears closure than it is. It offers interesting views of rest of the Bangkok from the top. You will need to climb couple of hundred comfortable steps to reach the top of the mount. Like I said above, being in non-touristy part of Bangkok, it is amazingly quiet and peaceful.
Dusit Area: Built in the name of modernization, this area has planned layout, wide roads, and measured elegance of European capitals. Area is a welcome relief from the crowded streets of Bangkok.
Vimanmek Teak Mansion: Mansion built from only teak, is a three storied 81 rooms / halls mansion and is said to the largest gold painted teak mansion. English tours are compulsory and included in the price of ticket. Due to heavy rush, tours will be lapped.
Abhishek Dusit Throne Hall:
Adjacent to Vimanmek, it is the finer example of architecture of the era. Built as throne hall of Rama V, the hall displays some exquisite specimen of regional handiwork of an organization sponsored by the Queen. Victorian influenced gingerbread architecture and Moorish porticoes blend to create a unique and particularly beautiful Thai exterior.
Royal Elephant Museum:
Close to the exit from Vimanmek Mansion, small, one room museum has stored history of elephants in Thailand, their importance, and how elephants have been treated in Thailand since centuries ago. It also explains how to identify different types of elephants and their role and importance in Thai culture.
The famed Chinatown, is easily reachable from Democracy Monument. Identified either through a tall red iron bar gate or a colorful Yaowarat road. Yaowarat road is the main thoroughfare and is lined with hotels and street food vendors in evening. China town earlier known for nearly all nefarious activities and vices, has been cleaned out. Today wholesale traders, regular restaurants, and pawn shops are visible. Main area to go here is small roads along the river, and Phahurat region for Indian fabrics and necessities.
The main and posh shopping center. It has luxury shopping mall of Siam Paragon, along with many other regular malls. Jim Thompson House is also in the vicinity. And so Erawan Shrine
Jim Thompson was an American architect who served briefly in WWII in Thailand and created silk appetite in Thailand. He liked Thailand so much that he decided to settle here. His house has been converted into a well maintained museum. The tour guides of the house are extremely well versed with the architecture and reasons of the house.
The artery of Bangkok’s financial district, it has few tourist attractions and plenty of Indian and Muslim cuisine restaurants. It’s most popular attraction is a patpong, raunchy circus of go-go bars, and also a night market for pirated goods for locals. This area houses Lumphini Park for strolling in leaf shaded paths and if you desire to escape Bangkok crowd by being in Bangkok. You can also visit Snake farm or Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute.
Chatuchak Weekend Market / Mo Chit:
Nothing particular about it except the weekend market! One of the largest of its kind, this market is famous for housing everything at affordable rates. Bargaining will be required at the most counters. After getting down from the BST, follow the crowd and explorer! While getting down, use the gate on your left hand side when your back is facing the way you came from from. It should be Exit 1. Walk across the park where people are going and 3 – 4 minutes later you will be in the weekend market. They have their own website 🙂 http://www.chatuchak.org/
The party area. Houses various hotels and some of the best hotels, it is the center point for tourists esp in evenings. Not much to see except shop, eat, drink, and party.
When Go – Winter months starting from October to March when temperatures are enjoyable. Other months if you don’t mind the heat
How Go – BST, public buses,and Taxis
Hotel & Accommodation:
Several hostels and hotels exist in and around Silom / Sukhumviet. These are the central and most popular area of Bangkok.
Day Trips- Maeklong, Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, Kanchanaburi, Ayutthaya.
Though Kanchanaburi can be done in one day but it will be a stretch and you will always be playing catch-up on time. Better option will be to go here after seeing Bangkok and spend one night here. Next day catch train to Chiang Mai or another Northern destination.