Bangkok is Thailand’s capital city and main population centre as well as the place to go for some of the best entertainment you’ll find in Southeast Asia. The city boasts some of the finest restaurants, best shopping options and some of the grandest historical temples and palaces in the world. Sightseeing, sports, courses, shopping, amusement parks and nightlife – Bangkok has all these things to do and more.
There are temples, monuments, palaces, museums and galleries to see, a river to cruise and parks and neighbourhoods to explore. For a complete look at the range of things to do when visiting Bangkok, visit the what to do section on 1stopbangkok. A list of some of the highlights follows below.
Cycling: sounds like a nightmare in Bangkok but actually there are some brilliant backroads that follow quiet canals, occassionally vault over them and dissapear into the areas of surprising green among the suburbs. Here you will witness an altogether different and traditional Bangkok, unseen by most tourists. Tours are run by several companies, including the famous Dutch guide Co Van Kessel and also Spiceroads.
Massage and Spas: This is a great idea if you’re feeling lazy and can’t cope with the heat, or have aching legs from hours of sightseeing. There are massage shops wherever there are hotels or tourist centres offering impromptu foot rubs, traditional Thai or even oil massages in quiet air conditioned booths. If you really want to spoil yourself and ensure you get a professional and skilled masseuse then check into one of the many new spas popping up in hotels. They’re a bit more expenisve but a wonderful pampering experience. Two spas we suggest are Ananda Spa and Oasis Spa both on Sukhumvit road.
Markets: shopping opportunities in Bangkok don’t stop with malls and shopping centres. Your experience isn’t complete without a trip to one of the many night markets or the gigantic Chatuchak market. This weekend market is probably the most popular place to buy Thai arts and crafts. It is a vast and busy place with hundreds of small stalls, selling goods from all over Thailand. Make sure to bargain hard here: it’s part of the fun and you’ll be sure to come away with some great finds and even better memories. More on Bangkok markets.
Neighbourhoods: the city comprises many neighbourhoods, and the most popular with tourists are Chinatown and the Khao San Road area of Banglampoo. Chinatown is one of the largest you’ll find anywhere, and is loaded with gold shops, places to buy Oriental delicacies and excellent restaurants. The well-known backpacker area around Khao San Road has mushroomed in recent years to include more upscale choices in eateries and accommodation, but remains the height of backpacker-chic.
Museums: if your interest is in museums and galleries, you’ll find plenty on offer – from the Jim Thompson House, with its collection of fine Thai artefacts in a traditional Thai wooden house, to the Vimanmek Teak Mansion, the former home of King Rama V and the largest teak mansion in the world. An interesting blend of Thai history and culture can be found at these and several other museums and galleries around Bangkok. More on museums in Bangkok.
Nightlife: there’ll be no problem filling your evenings with the many entertainment options that Bangkok features. From world-class dining, to sampling the local food; from live music venues to the more hedonistic night-time pursuits there’s an endless array of night attractions and things to do. For detailed information, check out our section on nightlife in Bangkok.
Shopping: Bangkok is heaven for shoppers, where everything you can imagine is for sale – from well-priced top-of-the-line designer goods on down to small hand-made items that make great souvenirs. The Emporium, Siam Paragon and Gaysorn Plaza are a few of the ultra-chic shopping centres where designer labels predominate. The all-encompassing mega-malls such as Seacon Square or MBK have an endless selection of things to buy. If technology and gadgets are more to your liking, head to lively Pantip Plaza on Petchaburi road, or the slightly less frenetic Fortune Town, on Rachadapisek road, for the latest in everything. More on Bangkok shopping.
Sports: for visitors looking for things to do of a physical nature, there’s a variety of sports options available – including state-of-the art fitness centres, tennis and swimming facilities and great golf courses. You might also want to try your hand at Thai boxing, or Muay Thai: there are courses offered on this very popular sport.
Temples: the spectacular Grand Palace with Wat Phra Kaew, plus Wat Pho and Wat Arun are on top of the list of things to do in Bangkok. There’s detailed information on these and other temples to be found in our temples section.
Tours: you might want to try one of the city’s many organised tours if you have a limited amount of time in Bangkok and want to see as much as possible. Or, if you can take things at a more leisurely pace, you might want to explore on your own by taking the Skytrain, the new subway or a river boat. Tours of Bangkok.
Other activities: if you’re looking for an activity that’s a bit different, and enjoy learning new skills, you might want to experiment with Thai cooking techniques or study the Thai language. Have a look here for activities in Bangkok.
Walking tours: these are a great way to explore some of the more historical areas of the city such as Banglamphu or Chinatown, but set out early when it’s cool. Local maps available in tourist areas have suggested routes but often it’s more find to get lost and discover hidden lanes and temples by yourself.
Day trips from Bangkok
Within a short drive from the capital are a number of intriguing destinations, where you’ll find cultural and historical sites well worth visiting, markets galore and the beaches and well-documented nightlife of Pattaya.
Head to the east and Samut Prakarn province, where you’ll come to the Ancient City – an underrated attraction that takes visitors back in time and provides a chance to see all the major temples and historical structures of the country, at one site. This is a beautifully-landscaped, open air museum comprising reproductions – in amazing authentic detail – of many of the country’s most important historic buildings: including a number that can no longer be seen at their original sites. The physical shape of the ancient city follows that of the land mass of Thailand, with attractions positioned in the correct section of the ‘country.’
Foreign visitors flock to the Floating Market in droves to see this traditional chaotic and colourful market held on long-tailed boats. Guides will point out the various items that might be of interest to tourists. As the location is about an hour’s drive to the south-west of Bangkok – and the trading starts quite early – you’ll need to be prepared to leave your hotel by sunrise to see the action at its peak.
Ayutthaya and Bang Pa In are situated approximately 60 miles north of Bangkok, and are at the core of the Kingdom’s history. These are essential stops on the itinerary of anyone seriously interested in ancient Siam. The ruins of the 17th century capital at Ayutthaya – which was the largest in its time in this part of the world – are found in a number of areas around today’s modern city. The majority of the ruins, however, are located on an island in the Chao Phraya river. An overnight river cruise is one of many ways to reach the area, and is as comfortable as it is interesting, particularly when arriving at the ruins of the historic chedis and grand temples by water. If you travel by car, you can add a visit to King Rama V’s summer palace at Bang Pa In which incorporates unusual features of both Asian and European period styles. Full guide to Ayuthaya.
Koh Kret is an island in the Chao Phraya not at all far from the northern edge of Bangkok. A short boat ride from the pier in Pakkret (Nonthaburi province) will take you back to a much quieter time in Bangkok’s history. The island is home to a group of Mon minority residents, who settled here in the sixth century. They are accomplished potters and you can watch them at work and purchase some of their handicrafts in local shops.
Lop Buri dates from centuries before Ayutthaya and attracts visitors due to its distinctive Khmer-style architecture – and the hordes of monkeys that make their home in the centre. Ruins here are smaller in scope than at Ayutthaya, and many have been reduced to rubble over the ten centuries since the Dvaravarti period. The original settlers were members of the long-extinct Lavo civilisation. Lop Buri is an little over an hour’s drive north of Bangkok.
The closest beach resort to Bangkok is Pattaya – which, in addition to its beaches and daytime water sports, has a long-standing reputation for a nightlife scene driven by booze and sex. It’s popular with straight and gay tourists, and buses filled with curious Asian visitors pack the parking lots of the venues offering up glitzy transvestite shows. Full guide to Pattaya.
To the west of the capital, bordering Myanmar, Kanchanaburi is popular with many older tourists due to museums and cemeteries related to WWII Japanese occupation. Most famous of all is the bridge over the river Kwai which was built by soldiers who were prisoners of the Japanese. Many thousands lost their lives during the construction of the bridge and the railroad to Burma (Myanmar). There are lovely resorts here today, lining the riverbanks in the city and to the north.