BANGKOK IN BRIEF
WHY GO: Bangkok’s nickname the Big Mango is rightly deserved: Bangkok is the tropical equivalent of New York, one of the world’s most fascinating cities, a melting pot of people and ideas from around the world. Bangkok is at the same time extremely futuristic and uncompromisingly traditional. Each moment in Bangkok is fully loaded with experiences.
WHY NOT: Well, Bangkok is one of world’s hottest cities (temperature wise too), and it has its share of traffic jams and exhausts, but come on, which big city doesn’t. There is really no good reason why not to travel to Bangkok.
BACKPACKERS: World’s most famous backpacker street Khao San Road is the quintessential first step on the Backpackers trail through Thailand and Southeast Asia.
FAMILIES: Bangkok has a plenty of sights and activities to keep the kids happy. Children will love Bangkok’s tuk-tuk and boat rides, and a visit to the temple of the gigantic reclining Buddha statue. Read more: Bangkok with the Kids.
CULTURE: Bangkok is Thailand’s best place for cultural experiences, with a plethora of temples, museums, concerts and other interesting events and attractions. Old traditions blend seamlessly with modern life in Bangkok.
PARTIES: “One night in Bangkok and the world’s your oyster.” Bangkok is arguably the most legendary party city in Southeast Asia. Former Abba members Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus knew it already in 1984 when they composed the classic hit song One Night in Bangkok.
SHOPPING: Bangkok is the place to do your shopping in Thailand. Bangkok is full of large shopping malls and numerous smaller specialty shops. In addition, there are lots of street vendors and big bazaars.
FOOD: Although best known for its street food culture, in recent years Bangkok has also gained a reputation as a high-end gourmet destination with several restaurants making it to the Asia’s Best Restaurants listing.
ADVENTURER: Visit Bangkok’s Weirdest Sights for some memorable experiences on the more peculiar side of humanity. You will encounter amulet markets, abandoned skyscrapers, shrines dedicated to famous ghosts, and a serial killer’s preserved body in a museum.
Atrip to Thailand is not complete without a visit to Bangkok, the kingdom’s beating heart. Bangkok is like a glass of one hundred percent pure, freshly squeezed essence of life: full of sounds, smells and tastes.
Bangkok has some 12 million inhabitants in the whole metropolitan area, so we are talking about a mega city here! Bangkok is one of the most economically important cities in Southeast Asia and one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations.
In Bangkok you will find Thailand’s most glittering temples, delicious restaurants and fancies shopping malls. Thailand’s capital is at the same time extremely futuristic and uncompromisingly traditional. At the foot of towering skyscrapers one can see a constant stream of people heading to traditional temples and small spirit houses, where they ask for supernatural help from ancient spirits.
Just moving around in Bangkok is in itself an adventure: to whiz around on a motorcycle taxi in the wrong lane of oncoming traffic; jump aboard a canal boat which is still in motion; and dodge elephants while walking on sidewalks. There is hardly any other city in the world that better deserves to be called a concrete jungle.
Although Bangkok is in paper a mega city, the city center is surprisingly compact. If time is tight, you can get a general picture of central Bangkok in just two days.
Bangkok’s city center can be divided into two parts: the older, western part adjacent to the river and the newer part further east. The older, western part consists of the old town on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, whereas the newer, eastern part of Bangkok is concentrated around Skytrain routes.
The old town is called Rattanakosin. Here are the city’s main historic attractions, including the Grand Palace and Wat Po Temple with the gigantic reclining Buddha statue.
Dusit little further north is the center of the Thai state administration. Here are the Parliament, the Prime Minister’s Office (Government House) and several ministries. Here’s also the current royal palace. Dusit is characterized by early 20th century European urban planning with open views, parks, canals, wide tree-lined boulevards and old low-rise buildings. Dusit is an oasis of calm in the otherwise busy Bangkok.
Bangkok’s most exotic neighborhood is Chinatown, located between the old and the new town. Chinatown was once Bangkok’s financial center and is still a thriving and lively neighborhood with a warren of narrow alleys filled with old shop houses and market stalls. Chinatown is drowned in a glow of neon and vapors from the endless rows of noodle stalls.
The commercial hub of the modern Bangkok, the east side, is the area around the Skytrain stations Siam, Chidlom and Ploen Chit. Here are the fanciest shopping malls Paragon, Central World and the trendy alleyways of Siam Square.
Bangkok’s financial district is along Silom Road. It originated in the 1800s foreigner neighborhoods, and some of the beautiful colonial buildings have been preserved around the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on the riverside. In the east end of Silom Road is Lumphini Park, Bangkok’s central lush oasis.
Along modern Bangkok’s main street Sukhumvit Road are large number of hotels where many western tourists stay. There is also the city’s trendiest neighborhood Thonglor, which is worth a visit to see how the pundits of Bangkok’s high-so (as the local upper class is called) live and, mostly, party.
Top Things to Do in Bangkok
The biggest attraction in Bangkok is Bangkok itself: ride the Skytrain (BTS) between the skyscrapers, and do a boat trip along the Chao Phraya River to Bangkok’s old town’s glimmering temples and palaces. Shop till you drop in Bangkok’s shopping malls and feast on the fantastic street food. Party the night away in Thong Lor’s bars and nightclubs and chill out the morning in Bangkok’s wonderful central park, Lumphini Park. And when you finally reach your physical limits, relax in a spa.
Bangkok can be enjoyed perfectly well without even visiting its main attractions, but anyone interested in Thailand’s cultural heritage should pay a visit to the Grand Palace, where the Wat Phra Kaeo temple houses the country’s most revered Buddha image, the Emerald Buddha.
Next door to the Grand Palace is another highlight, the Wat Pho temple with its 46-meters long reclining Buddha statue.
Important sight in the Rattanakosin area is also The National Museum, which houses one of the largest and most comprehensive collections of Southeast Asian art, and is an excellent introduction to the Thai history, art and craft. Two of the buildings, erected in the 1700s, are works of art in themselves.
All these Bangkok’s main sights are located in the old town and can be seen in a day.
West of the Chao Phraya River are a number of canals lined with simple houses on stilts. A long-tail boat ride on these canals is a delightful experience. This is how Bangkok, the Venice of the East, looked like before the era of skyscrapers. Take a taxi down to the river to the River City Shopping Center just north of the Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel. There, you can usually find longtail-boat skippers and agree on a price for a canal ride.
Another must see attraction in Bangkok is the Jim Thompson House Museum, a beautiful and artfully decorated traditional house, where lived the famous American silk magnate (and supposed CIA spy) Jim Thompson.
Hotels in Bangkok
Bangkok is visited annually by millions of tourists, and to house them the city has more than a thousand hotels and a countless number of small inns. Usually Bangkok’s hotels have a great value for money ratio, and you won’t go too wrong with any hotel you choose, as long as you realize you get what you pay for, except that in Bangkok you usually get even a little bit more.
The most important decision when choosing a hotel in Bangkok is not which hotel you stay in but where you stay. Should you stay in Bangkok’s old town Rattanakosin or in the modern side of the city along Sukhumvit or Silom roads?
Both areas have their own advantages, and they tend to be best suited to different types of travelers. In a nutshell, the modern part of town is great for business, shopping and nightlife whereas the old town is better for sightseeing and for backpackers who want to experience the buzz of the Khaosan Road.
A great midway option is the hotels along the Chao Phraya River. These hotels close to Skytrain station Saphan Taksin are connected by Skytrain to Bangkok’s shopping district Siam and by river boats to the old town Rattanakosin. By the river you’ll find several high-end hotels such as the Mandarin Oriental , Bangkok’s first and most legendary hotel full of history and great atmosphere.
Check out discounts to hotels in Bangkok.
You won’t go hungry in Bangkok: food is everywhere, literally everywhere. Bangkok’s sidewalks are covered by small stalls selling delicious street food.
Good places to try street food are the food courts of shopping malls where numerous small stalls sell low-priced meals.
Beside Thai food you can do a culinary tour around Asia; Bangkok has excellent and authentic Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese and Indian restaurants.
Bangkok’s international restaurant scene is thriving too, new interesting restaurants from top chefs opening all the time. Bangkok has always been a great place to eat, but during last 10 years it has truly developed to one of world’s leading culinary cities.
Nightlife in Bangkok
Bangkok’s night is legendary be it the city’s skyscraper roof-top bars, vibrant clubs, red-light districts or backpacker haunts. Bangkok has also a lot of gay clubs, and a couple of bars for lesbians too.
Backpackers party in Khaosan Road, but more sophisticated clubs can be found in the Thong Lor area and the always happening RCA street. Most famous gay clubs are in Silom. If you want to have a look at Bangkok’s go-go bars, the best place is Soi Cowboy, a small alley covered with neon signs, which has been featured in almost every international movie filmed in Bangkok.
For the skyscraper bars our absolute favorite is the stunning Vertigo, whereas the more famous Sirocco can feel a tad too touristy (Sirocco was featured in the movie Hangover 2).
Bangkok’s bars and clubs officially close early, no later than at one, but there are always some clubs where the party continues until the morning. Remember to bring passport with you as age limits are monitored closely in Bangkok.
Shopping in Bangkok
Shopping in Bangkok is concentrated in large shopping malls and large bazaars such as Chatuchak Weekend Market and Talad Rot Fai Night Market. Bangkok’s shopping malls are not just places to shop – they are also windows to modern Thai way of life. Many local urbanites spend most of their free time in the city’s shopping malls.
Shopping malls have great arrays of restaurants, spas and leisure activities such as kids’ playgrounds, bowling alleys and movie theaters, even ice-skating rings. Only thing missing in shopping malls are Buddhist temples.
Bangkok’s most famous shopping malls are the fancy Siam Paragon and Emporium malls, and the huge and more affordable Central World, all of them good for international brand names.
Trendy and youthful Siam Center has a good selection of local high-end Thai brands, and bohemian chic Terminal 21 has boutiques from the less known Thai designers.
Crowded MBK and Paltinum Fashion Malls are the best places for really cheap clothes and accessories.
Local Transportation in Bangkok
The fastest way to get around long distances in downtown Bangkok is to use the Skytrain (BTS) and metro (MRT). They have a total of 40 stations. Both are very modern. They are operated by two separate companies and have different ticketing systems.
There are tens of thousands of taxis in Bangkok, all with taximeter and low prices. The startup cost is 35 baht. But congestion is the rule rather than the exception, and taxi rides can take time.
For shorter trips on cross streets (called soi in Thai), one can use a motorcycle taxis. Tuk-tuks operate mostly in the old town and Chinatown and are usually more expensive than taxis.
Travel to Bangkok
Bangkok has two airports. Suvarnabhumi (BKK) is the newest, largest and most important. The old airport Don Muang (DMK) is mainly used by low cost airlines for domestic traffic. The airports are located quite far from each other. Suvarnabhumi lies 30 km east of the city, while Don Muang is located 25 km north of the city. One should expect at least a one-hour transit time between the two.
From Suvarnabhumi Airport Link train goes to Makasan station, near Petchaburi Road in central Bangkok. The transportation is fast and cheap (35 baht) but often one has to continue the journey by taxi to another location in the city.
Those who have much luggage should consider taking a regular Bangkok taxi directly from the airport to downtown Bangkok. Cost about 300-400 baht including the fee of the expressway. Avoid verbal offers of “special taxis” and “limousine transportation” in the airport – they are just ways to make you pay extra for your ride.
Travel on from Bangkok
Bangkok’s nearest seaside resorts are Pattaya, Cha-Am, Hua Hin and Koh Samet. All can be reached by bus within two to three hours, in addition to the island of Koh Samet, which also requires a ferry ride that takes 15 to 45 minutes.
The ruined city of Ayutthaya is just a couple of hours bus or train ride from Bangkok, and the beautiful jungle in Khao Yai can be reached by car in just under three hours.
Read more: Beaches close to Bangkok
Bangkok’s Train Station
Bangkok’s main railway station is Hua Lamphong, located on the eastern edge of Chinatown. The station can be reached directly by subway (MRT). The station building was built in the Italian neo-Renaissance and is very pretty.
Bangkok’s Long-Distance Bus Terminals
Bangkok has three long distance coach terminals: the Northern, Eastern and Southern, operating buses to respective directions.
The Eastern Terminal is centrally located at the Ekamai Skytrain Station. From there, buses go to Pattaya, for instance.
The Northern Terminal is a short taxi-ride away from the Skytrain station Mo Chit.
The Southern Terminal is located uncomfortable far from city center.
Minibuses from Victory Monument
There’s also an unofficial minibus terminal next to Skytrain Station Victory Monument, where minibuses leave when full to close-by destinations such as Cha-Am and Hua Hin. The minibuses are a very convenient option to reach nearby destinations from Bangkok.
This post is also available in: German