Bangkok: the complete guide to discover the Thai capital
The complete guide to discover Bangkok, tips and tricks that will help you understand the Thai megalopolis.
Bangkok with its many facets is one of the most visited cities in the world, it is an international platform for business, tourism, arts, fashion, entertainment and health.
The capital of Thailand is also a province, with an area of 1,568.7 km² (1 687.7 sqft²) and a population of over 8 million.
This huge agglomeration, where 12.6% of the Thai population lives, has a significant impact on the political, economic and cultural life of the country.
The city has many points of interest, it is impossible to get bored!
It has more than 400 magnificent Buddhist temples, palaces, canals, markets, gigantic shopping centers, old quarters and other very modern ones.
The Thais never say “Bangkok” to designate their capital, they use “Krung Thep” which is the diminutive of:
“Krung Thep mahanakhon amon rattanakosin mahintara ayuthaya mahadilok phop noppharat ratchathani burirom udomratchaniwet mahasathan amon piman awatan sathit sakkathattiya witsanukam prast”
and which means:
“City of angels, great city, residence of the emerald Buddha, impregnable city of the god Indra, great capital of the world chiselled with nine precious stones, happy, generous city in the enormous Royal Palace similar to the heavenly abode, reign of the god reincarnated, city dedicated to Indra and built by Vishnukarn”
The Guinness Book of Records noted it as the longest place name in the world.
Before becoming the capital, Bangkok was a village located on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River (Thonburi district).
It was occupied by French troops on October 16, 1687, the king of Ayutthaya, Narai, officially ceding it to them by treaty on December 1.
However, during Narai’s agony, in June 1688, his future successor Phetracha laid siege to the city and succeeded in expelling the French from it in November.
King Taksin, after the loss of Ayutthaya in 1767, withdrew to the site and it was he who decided to found a new capital there.
Subsequently, Taksin went mad and was assassinated by General Chakri who then became king as Rama I and later founded the Chakri dynasty which still rules today.
The new capital, named Krung Thep (diminutive) was officially founded on April 6, 1782.
The name of Bangkok whose origin is unknown (there are a multitude of theories) was mainly used by foreigners and it was no longer used by Thais after the founding of this capital.
Some Thais have never even heard of the name and by great mystery the new name was never adopted by foreigners who continue to name the city Bangkok 200 years later.
When to go to Bangkok
The Thai capital has a tropical climate marked by 2 seasons: the dry season from November to April and the rainy season from May to October.
The best season to visit Bangkok is during the months of November to March, it is the cool season, which does not mean that it is cold, but that it is less hot.
On average, the temperatures are high.
The warmest month is April with 95° Fahrenheit (35.0° Celsius).
The coolest month is December with 89.24° Fahrenheit (31.8° Celsius).
The average annual maximum temperature is: 91.58° Fahrenheit (33.1° Celsius)
The average annual minimum temperature is: 77° Fahrenheit (25.0° Celsius)
Things to do in Bangkok
The Grand Palace (Royal Palace) (Wat Phra Kaew)
A must-see monument where the statue of the Emerald Buddha is located.
The Royal Palace was built in 1782 by King Rama I on the left (eastern) bank of the Chao Phraya. It houses not only the royal residence and the throne room, but also a large number of government offices and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaeo).
Wat Pho, Temple of the Reclining Buddha
This statue represents Buddha on his deathbed, about to enter parinirvana. It is 45 meters long and 15 meters high. The Chapel and Reclining Buddha were built by Rama III in 1832. The Reclining Buddha image represents the Buddha’s entry into Nirvana and the end of all reincarnations.
It is one of the largest Buddha statues in Thailand.
Which is right next to the Grand Palace. Its official name is Wat Phra Chetuphon Vimolmangklararm Rajwaramahaviharn. The construction of the current temple began in 1788, on the site of an older temple, Wat Phodharam, Wat Pho, is a contraction of its old name.
It was extended, with extensive restorations, during the reign of Rama III (1824-1851) and was restored again in 1982. The temple houses a school of Thai medicine and is also known as the birthplace of traditional Thai massage which is still taught and practiced in the temple.
Wat Saket, Temple of the Golden Mountain
This sacred temple is built on an artificial hill 75 meters high which dominates Ratchadamnoen Avenue. Its golden chedi would contain real ashes of the Buddha.
From Wat Saket, you have an incredible panoramic view of the city. Visits are allowed between 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., the price of the entrance ticket is 20 baht.
Wat Arun is a magnificent temple that has an 80-meter-high Prang covered in ceramics, it is one of the most visited monuments in Bangkok.
It is located on the other bank of the Chao Phraya, opposite Wat Pho. Wat Arun (in Thai: วัดอรุณ) owes its name to the god of Hindu mythology: Aruna, symbol of the dawn.
Although it is known as the Temple of Aurora, it is absolutely stunning at sunset, especially when lit up at night.
There are also several bars and restaurants on the other side that will allow you to enjoy a magical show, when this magnificent Asian pyramid lights up at nightfall.
Wat Traimit and its Golden Buddha
Wat Traimit is known around the world for its golden Buddha, 3 meters high and weighing 5.5 tons of solid gold. No one knows where this statue comes from, it is assumed that it originated in Ayutthaya and was then transported to Bangkok. It is near Hua Lamphong station in Chinatown. Open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Entrance costs 40 Baht.
Address: Wat Traimit,, Mittaphap Thai-China Rd, แขวงตลาดน้อยเขตสัมพันธวงศ์กรุงเทพมน 10,10 Thailand.
It is the oldest zoo in the city, originally it was a botanical garden.
You will see mammals (giraffes, elephants, kangaroos…), reptiles, birds (penguins), nearly 1600 species of animals from all over the world.
The park also has a small lake with pedal boats and play areas for children.
The zoo is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Admission adults: 150 baht, children: 70 baht.
The Jim Thompson House
It is a collection of traditional Thai houses that was moved from the city of Ayutthaya to Bangkok in the 1950s. A must visit for lovers of tropical gardens, traditional Thai architecture, silk and Southeast Asian arts.
This residence was home to Jim Thomson, a man who helped Thailand restore the silk industry after World War II.
The residence now has a museum with an exceptional collection of Asian art objects. Born in Delaware in 1906, Jim Thompson was an army officer during World War II and a secret agent for the OSS (the ancestor of the CIA).
He left the army and moved to Bangkok in 1946, but he remained a secret service agent until the end of his life (he would have died on a mission).
He was a multifaceted American: a former architect, a retired army officer, a spy, a silk merchant and a famous collector of antiquities.
In 1967, when he was 61 years old, Jim Thompson was in Malaysia, he went for a walk in the surrounding jungle and we would never see him again.
His disappearance will be the subject of many theories.
According to a new documentary about him (from 2017), he was killed on a mission while trying to get in touch with the leader of the Malaysian Communist Party.
Thompson’s accomplishments during his 25-year stay in Thailand brought him great fame and with his mysterious disappearance he became a legend.
The Lumphini Stadium
For lovers of Thai boxing.
It is advisable to avoid taking the cheapest seats so as not to be disturbed by bettors. Thai boxing, or muay thai, is a combat sport originally created for the Thai military in the 16th century. Muay Thai is also called the “Art of Eight Limbs” or the “Science of Eight Limbs” because it uses punches, kicks, elbows and knee strikes, thus using eight “points of contact”.
Wat Pho massage school in Bangkok
Wat Po is Bangkok’s traditional Thai medical and massage school. She offers massages and massage courses to foreigners.
Bangkok’s Ghosts: Ghost Tower Sathorn Unique
Located near the Saphan Taksin BTS station, the Sathorn Unique tower is easily spotted with its 49 floors of decrepit iron and concrete overlooking the river.
Initially Sathorn Unique was supposed to be one of the most luxurious residential complexes in Bangkok. But its construction, which began in the early 1990s, was abruptly interrupted in 1997. In July 1997, the baht suddenly fell from its fixed rate against the dollar, and triggered an unprecedented economic crisis which quickly spread to the whole of Southeast Asia.
Many investors find themselves indebted to banks, and unable to meet their maturities. Construction stops, leaving many empty half-built towers in Bangkok that Thais call ghost towers.
Prohibited to the public, but…
Even though the tower is officially closed, it is still very easy to get inside. The jails supposed to hide his entrance are wide open. Inside, a guard pretends to tell visitors that it is forbidden to enter.
In reality, it only takes a few tickets to pass. During our visit, the tourists paid their passage for 150 Baht and the Thais for 100. Once this step is over, head for the stairs. In this abandoned building, it is useless to imagine taking the elevator… Do not go there with children.
An increasingly risky attraction
Many advise tourists against visiting the Ghost Tower, which has become increasingly dangerous over time. In some places there are holes several tens of meters deep, camouflaged by a simple piece of wood or even cardboard.
Metal tubes protrude from the ground, and dust and rubble are everywhere. It is clear that you have to be extra careful to climb the Ghost Tower. But this mythical tower could not fail to be stormed by urbex enthusiasts.
This leisure, a contraction of urban and exploration, brings together all lovers of city discoveries. If it is possible to discover uninhabited, abandoned or damaged constructions all over the world, the Ghost Tower is certainly the “spot” of urbex in Bangkok.
Khao San road
Impossible not to mention Khao San road in this guide to Bangkok!
This street is one of the main tourist attractions of the city, just like the Grand Palace or Wat Pho. A few years ago, it was mainly the meeting place for backpackers who found really cheap accommodation there.
Today the street is traveled by all tourists and has become one of the most cosmopolitan places in the city. There are mainly bars and restaurants where everyone meets in the evening for a drink.
The district has managed to maintain its offer of low-cost hotels, but it is not necessarily the quietest place to sleep.
Among the main places of interest in Bangkok, I recommend that you go for a walk in the Chinatown district.
Noise, smells, colors, you will find yourself projected into China. Stroll through the alleys and discover the stalls of shops and street stalls where you can taste Chinese cuisine. The Talat Mai, the Chinatown market, will allow you to stock up on exotic fruits or, for the bravest, some culinary quirks!
The area is also home to many shops specializing in gold jewelry.
A river cruise is a pretty cool activity to do in Bangkok to discover the temples and monuments from another angle.
We advise you to do it at the end of the evening, when the night has fallen and the buildings are illuminated.
Several companies also offer dinner cruises on the Chao Praya. People come here not necessarily for the food served as a buffet but more for the atmosphere and to enjoy the view throughout the meal.
Nothing better than a rooftop (roof terrace) of one of the tallest buildings in Bangkok to contemplate the city.
The tallest skyscraper in Bangkok today is the Baiyoke Tower. A terrace on the 77th floor and the rotating platform located on the 84th floor of the building allow you to admire a panoramic view of the entire city.
If you want to go up there, I advise you to buy your tickets in advance because the queue is often long. The ticket also includes access to a buffet. Just click on the button below:
In Bankgok, there are other rooftop bars that also offer beautiful views of the city. On the other hand, let’s warn you: the prices of the cocktails are rather full-bodied and the dress code quite strict.
Here is a selection of the best rooftops in Bangkok:
The Roof and its splendid view of Wat Arun
The Vertigo Moon Bar which is located at the top of the Banyan Tree Hotel
The Sky Bar Lebua where scenes from the movie “Very Bad Trip” were filmed
The Three Sixty Lounge, at the top of the Hilton hotel
The Park Society, facing Lumphini Park
Cloud 47 in the financial district
The Red Sky on the 55th floor of CentralWorld
Shopping in Bangkok
Chatuchak: the weekend market
Chatuchak is a gigantic covered market where you can find everything, souvenirs, furniture, clothing, food, ancient and modern objects, medicinal plants, etc.
With its 15,000 stalls, it is quite simply the largest market in Thailand. You will even be given a map at the entrance to help you find your way around.
The market is organized into sections where you will find clothes, shoes, jewelry, souvenirs and more. And you can imagine, Thailand obliges, there is also a large part devoted to food.
Do not hesitate to bargain!
When shopping in a large market like this, it is common to bargain a little.
What you need is to always keep smiling and see how far you can go without pissing off the salespeople.
I was told at one time that you had to start bargaining by lowering the price by 50% for very expensive products and 30% for others.
Take a good look around the stands beforehand, because if you are interested in several items in the same store, it will be easier to haggle.
If you can’t agree on a reasonable price, sometimes all you have to do is leave and the salesperson will call you back with a good discount.
The 2 Talat Rot Fai, Vintage night markets
Talat means market and Rot Fai train, and therefore these are the train markets, with a “vintage” or retro atmosphere and where you can find everything, collectibles, antiques, music, clothes, food, gadgets… .
There are also small concerts, exhibitions, hairdressing and tattoo stands.
There was originally only one Talat Rot Fai, located on the Srinakarin road in the east of Bangkok, but as it is difficult to access, they created a new one, smaller but easily accessible by the BTS.
Visit the original Talat Rot Fai
It is at soi Srinakarin 51, you can take the BTS to On Nuts station and then reach it by taxi.
It is open Tuesday to Sunday from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.
Visit the new Talat Rot Fai on Ratchada
It is located 200 meters from the MTR Thailand Cultural Center station (exit 3 and then go left).
It is open Thursday through Sunday, 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.
IconSiam, the mother of all shopping centers
It is the largest shopping center in the country, which has just opened (November 10, 2018).
There is a whole part rather intended for luxury stores, restaurants, relaxation areas with a park, attractions and a whole space that is really worth the trip:
SookSiam, a vast thematic area of 16,000 square meters located on the ground floor, aims to promote the arts, culture and gastronomy of the 77 provinces of Thailand and which has its own small floating market.
Pantip Plaza, the computer bazaar
The Pantip Plaza is a shopping center specializing in IT, located on New Phetchaburi Road, Ratchathewi district.
The sale of counterfeit software and DVDs is one of the reasons for its success and notoriety.
Metro: with the BTS, get off at Rachathewi station.
MBK Shopping Center
It is one of the most popular malls in the city.
It is a vast commercial complex with an area of more than 89,000 m².
There are shops for clothing, jewelry, toys, electronic products (computers, telephony…), restaurants, cinemas, bowling, karaoke…
The MBK Shopping Center is open daily (including holidays) from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Address 444 Phayathai Street (Tanon Phayathai) near Jim Thomson’s house.
You can go there with the BTS: National Stadium station.
What to do around Bangkok?
If you spend several days of vacation in Bangkok and you have toured the attractions, I advise you to visit the surroundings. There are several places to see nearby on a day trip.
Floating markets around Bangkok
Floating markets are one of the classics to do during a road trip in Thailand. I grant you, these markets are very touristy and some were even created just for folklore. But they remain one of the main attractions to see around Bangkok.
If you have to choose just one, I recommend Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, which is one of the best known. To discover it, the easiest way is to opt for an organized excursion from Bangkok.
The one that I propose to you also allows you to discover the Mae Klong market, one of the largest fish markets in Thailand which is held on a railway line. You will take the train from Bangkok to get there and then board a boat to reach the floating market.
The historic city of Ayutthaya is only an hour’s drive from Bangkok.
Former capital of the Kingdom of Siam, it has preserved many temples and vestiges of the time and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
If you only have to do one day trip from Bangkok, this is the one I recommend!
Every day, buses or trains leave for Ayutthaya. And if you don’t want to bother with the organization, you can book an organized day trip.
The trip is by bus from Bangkok. During the day, you will visit the main temples of Ayutthaya and return to Bangkok by boat! It will be an opportunity to enjoy the landscape.
Also worth seeing around Bangkok: Kanchanaburi.
This is where the River Kwai Bridge is located. Built by thousands of prisoners of war during the Second World War (of which more than 100,000 died there) it is one of the most important historical sites in Thailand.
In addition to the bridge, you will find several museums on site to discover its history. A real time travel!
As for Ayutthaya and the floating markets, excursions are organized to go to Kanchanaburi from Bangkok. They include transportation, city tour, bridge, museums, cemetery, train ride and lunch.
The most common scams in Bangkok
All the tourist guides of Bangkok and Thailand in general will tell you that scams are quite regular (and we had been warned, we admit that we were fooled once!).
Here is a brief overview of the most frequent:
- You are told that the place you want to visit in Bangkok is closed and you are offered to take you to see something else. Run away or you will end up in a tailor or a gemstone shop where they will try to force you to buy.
- You are approached by being told that it is Buddha Day, that today the temples are free and that the circuits to see them are cheaper because the tuk tuks do not pay for gas. You get on board (with his accomplice) and he takes you to a tailor-made costume or gemstone shop to force you to buy. A word of advice: don’t go inside. The driver will get angry and end up leaving you there (see our experience below). You will be free to walk or take a taxi.
- The taxi offers you a fixed price and refuses to put its meter. Refuse, it will cost you more! If he doesn’t want to know anything, take another one.
- It is not a scam, strictly speaking, but as in all tourist cities, whether in Bangkok or Paris, Milan, Rome, pickpockets are present. Take care of your things. Personally, we use this backpack, which only opens from the back and has a lined bottom. Impossible to steal anything in there!