Bangkok is easily one of the most popular travel destinations from India right now with the sudden influx of low cost carriers going international and Indians too! We know it’s gone super high on popularity thanks to the cheap shopping and well, frankly the promise of a land where everything goes (ping pong bars and massages with happy endings included). Stereotypes aside, we found Bangkok really does have something for everyone – bachelor (and bachelorette) trips, family holidays, honeymoons and babymoons, it’s all happening in Bangkok. No matter what kind of a trip you’re on, here are the highlights, the top 10 things to do in Bangkok that you won’t want to miss.
The Top 10 Things to do in Bangkok
1. Chatuchak or JJ Market
It’s an iconic weekend market that sets up just adjacent to the namesake metro stop so it’s really easy to get to. But not easy to manoevre. Thankfully we picked up maps at the tourist office at the entrance. The maps are great to manoevre but don’t expect the labels on what you find in each section to be factual. The thing is, you get just about anything at Chatuchak. That’s why it is definitely number 1 in our top 10 things to do in Bangkok. We thankfully managed to visit twice, surveying and picking up a few essentials (like clothes to wear during our trip) and then a second time to shop for things to bring back home. I personally loved sections 7 through 12 where I found loads of boutiquewear, bags and jewellery that was dirt cheap. Charles stocked up on his quirky print tees. If you’re splitting up, I’d recommend meeting up at the clock in the center (that’s what we did and it made things so much easier). They also sell these really large bags or trolleys for you to tote all your shopping in.
Bangkok’s malls are a tourist’s delight. At the welcome counter, they hand you a discount card and inform you about the VAT return counter that’s usually at the top floor. We don’t bother with the VAT return because it means showing your passport, and then having the goods ready for inspection at customs. But the discount card works great, and whether you’re shopping for luxury items at Siam Paragon, The Emporium, Siam Centre, Central Embassy or pawing through the more affordable things at MBK, CentralWorld Siam, Terminal 21, Central Chidlom or Platinum Fashion Mall you’re not going to be leaving the malls empty handed.
3. Grand Palace
Thailand has a very rich and illustrious history and it’s all on show at the Grand Palace. The erstwhile home of the king and the seat of the Government also houses the famous Emerald Buddha. As it is a sacred site, you’ll have to cover your arms, shoulders and feet and heels. But if you do turn up in a tank, you can rent a scarf at the entrance. Beat the crowds early in the morning, ignore the scammers who try to tell you the palace is shut and take you to a jewellery store instead and head right in. We strolled past the gardens, and through to a world filled with intricate carvings, gold plating and bright mosaic colours. There were also lots of photo ops with the resident monks!
4. Wat Arun
You’ll be sure to see its magnificent spires that tower over the neighbouring river, as you make your way around the city. Easily among Thailand’s most beautiful temples, it’s really pretty with all the colourful mosaics that cover its intricate structure. The same conservative dress code applies, and climbing up and down the steep side isn’t for everyone. We remember there being a bit of a bottleneck because everyone was too scared to climb down.
5. Street Food
Speaking of food, when friends of ours told us we won’t really be needing restaurant recommendations for Bangkok we thought they were nuts! But turns out, you really can live off eating only the street food here. No matter which street or which stall you devour these noodle soups at, they’re absolutely delicious. It was also perfectly spicy for those sweltering afternoons and light enough for us to be able to walk around without feeling lethargic. The only downer, it’s difficult to tell what goes into them (especially the seafood soups) so it’s best to learn that Moo is pork and Gai is chicken and then prepare to be surprised. If you’re really into your food like we are, you can up the anté a bit and take a market tour or cooking class at the Blue Elephant like we did.
6. River Cruise
The Chao Phraya river is the lifeline of Bangkok. It connects the entire city, and ferries and river cruises are definitely something you should try. We crossed over from Wat Arun to watch the Loy Krathong processions float across the river. There are so many cruises from the modern liners to traditional converted rice barges with or without dinner and entertainment, and ones that go all the way to Ayutthaya. Whoever you’re booking with, we’d strongly recommend opting for a pick up from your hotel. We spent over an hour trying to find the right pier, there are no signs and nobody there speaks English so it’s a pretty wasted effort if you try to find them on your own.
7. Floating markets
The traditional floating markets of colourful fruits, flowers, freshly cooked food and local beverages are slowly turning into more of a tourist attraction than a real way of life in Bangkok these days. However, actually experiencing this gorgeous sight is something you must do when in Bangkok, so take your pick from the floating markets of Taling Chan, Bang Ku Wiang, Tha Ka and Damnoen Saduak. Sadly we missed this highlight and regret it to this day. Here’s hoping we go see it the next time we’re in Bangkok.
8. Patpong Market
Infamous for its ping pong shows. One that we had the misfortune of witnessing. We squealed in discomfort as disinterested old women left ping pong paddles at our table and shot ping pong balls towards us straight out of their nether regions. We also almost got scammed as the rather intimidating owner came up asking us to pay ten times the agreed amount as show charges. Thankfully the brave boys held their ground and we got out of there without being ripped off. We swear we went in only for the air conditioning. (One of us looked dangerously like he had pissed his pants, and swore it was only sweat)
9. Khao San road
We partied the night away on the streets of Khao San road, surrounded by backpackers glugging down buckets of Sang Som (a potent local whisky mixed with coke and red bull). We danced the Gangnam style with newfound Korean friends, got kicked out of a series dance group, got asked to pay money for using the dance floor so stepped out onto the street and danced, the boys got harassed first by hookers and then by a forced massage in the loo, we made friends with the manager who helped us drag each others’ slumped bodies into tuk tuks and helped a young fellow throw up everything he’d ingested.
10. Siam Niramit show
While we’re not really up for most touristy shows that set an entire nation’s culture on display in one go. We normally think it’s the most meaningless non-immersive way to travel. But the Siam Niramit show is not this. It is a captivating and spell binding few hours of stunning sets, props, choreography, music, lighting and real elephants walking past your seats. Bringing alive the history of the kingdom of Siam and the origin of several pieces of Thai mythology, this is definitely one show we would watch again and again!
Are you a Bangkok frequenter? What are your Top 10 Things to do in Bangkok? What did you like, what did you dislike?