Bright lights, big city, where tradition merges effortlessly with the megalopolis that Thailand’s capital has become, be prepared to be wowed by Bangkok. With over 10 million visitors per year, you won’t be the only tourist in town, but Bangkok is popular for good reason.
With Bangkok’s history dating back to the 1700s, when the area served as a small trading center and port as part of what was then Siam, you can immerse yourself in the crux of Thailand’s past. A visit to the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew to see the amazing Emerald Buddha will give you a true feel for Bangkok’s sense of tradition, as will a visit to Wat Pho, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha and the iconic Wat Arun.
With today’s population in Bangkok passing the 9 million mark, it is no wonder this ever adaptable city has added to its list of attractions with more modern feats. The shopping malls are an inspiration with every luxury brand imaginable and Bangkok is also home to a myriad of galleries and museums to keep you entertained.
The glitz and glamour of modern day Bangkok starts with the world leading Suvarnabhumi Airport, which is a sparkling welcome to this main hub for South East Asian travel. The airport is complemented by efficient transport links which make getting around Bangkok easier than ordering a Pad Thai. And if the sky train and metro aren’t your style, brightly coloured taxis, which are both affordable and usually air conditioned are everywhere (do insist on a metered fare). As a fun alternative, you could also try the river ferry.
When it comes to spending your Thai Bhat, Bangkok has much to offer beyond its malls. The city is awash with markets and stalls all serving up a bargain and a great place for picking up Thai souvenirs. From shopping markets, to night markets offering mouth-watering local fayre which is as fresh as food comes, you won’t find time to tire in this amazing city.
But when your legs are feeling the strain, head to one of Bangkok’s classy cocktail bars – aim for a rooftop at sunset for amazing views of this sprawling city. The city also has an impressive range of international cuisine from award winning chefs which complements and competes well with the local food on offer.
Picking up a news skill in Bangkok is easy. From delicious cooking classes to meditation or Thai massage (whether as a pupil, or indeed indulging in a bit of well-deserved pampering), the city and its people are more than happy to share their knowledge.
If you look skyward for a sense of when to travel, monsoon can start from May through to November. Keep an eye on the local forecast as Bangkok’s flooding can be prohibitive and the general unpredictability of the weather suggests you pack both an umbrella and sunscreen.
Whether your trip to Bangkok is for business or pleasure, the sights on offer together with the warm welcome assured from the Thai people, will make your trip memorable.
Table of Contents
- 1 History of Bangkok
- 2 Attractions and sights in Bangkok
- 3 What to do in Bangkok
- 4 Nightlife in Bangkok
- 5 Map of Bangkok
- 6 Bangkok Photo Gallery
- 7 SiamGuide Bangkok Review
History of Bangkok
Bangkok started life with humble beginnings as a small trading center and port as part of Siam (now Thailand). In 1767 Siam’s capital, Ayuthaya, was taken by the Burmese and as a consequence the kingdom’s capital was moved to Thornburi. However, when Bangkok’s General Phraya Chakri (latter named King Rama I) came to power, he was concerned that Thornburi’s location made it too vulnerable to further Burmese invasion and so Siam’s capital was once moved again in 1782 to the other side of the river – to Bangkok.
Ayuthaya was destroyed during its occupation but this provided great incentive to King Rama I when the Burmese were later driven out. Determined to rebuild the confidence of his people Kind Rama I set about creating a city which would equal Ayuthaya’s glory. And indeed he did as the seeds for modern day Bangkok were planted.
King Rama I ordered building to start, focusing on Royal palaces and Buddhist temples. The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, which houses the mesmerizing Emerald Buddha, were amongst his first projects along with defensive moats and a city wall. At that time, Bangkok truly was on its way to becoming a Venice of the east awash with a series of canals and waterways with many of the people living on the water, a way of life which continued well into the middle of the 19th Century.
King Rama I’s was the first monarch of the Chakri Dynasty which still reigns Thailand today (though it no longer rules), and his reign had a significant impact on Bangkok’s development.
His predecessors, Kings Rama IV and Rama V, went on to further modernise the city but with a change in direction away from waterways towards the installation of roads and a railway system, a description of Bangkok which is more familiar to visitors today.
Bangkok’s growth continued throughout the 19th and 20th centuries and the city expanded outwards until it eventually crossed over the river. During Bangkok’s more modern history it suffered occupation by the Japenese during the Second World War whilst the 1950s marked a period besieged with coups and was closely followed by the events of the Vietnam war. The following decades saw a struggle by the people for democracy with ever changing rule between civilians and the military.
The 1980’s and early 1990’s favoured Bangkok with an economic boom which saw many multinational companies choosing to situate their regional headquarters in the city. This regrettably ended with a crash in 1997 but Bangkok eventually recovered from its economic crisis. More political unrest followed in the 2000s but tourism today remains strong.
Bangkok’s true name in Thai is Krung Thep (a short version of its formal, longer title) which means City of Angels. As for the name Bangkok, there is much speculation about its origin, one theory being that it means Plum Orchard, apparently what Bangkok used to be. Looking across the skyline of Bangkok’s modern day megalopolis, it is hard to imagine it so.
Attractions and sights in Bangkok
There are so many things to see in Bangkok, it can be a mind-bending task to figure out where to begin. The top sight on most visitors’ itineraries is the Grand Palace. Based in the old city, Rattanakosin, the Palace was home to the royal family for 150 years. Although, they have not been resident since the turn of 20th century, the palace remains an important location for many occasions. Indeed, parts of the palace remain off limits to visitors.
The Grand Palace is a huge complex of buildings, one of the most significant being Wat Phra Krew, which is home to the famous Emerald Buddha. Despite being less than a meter tall, the Emerald Buddha has tremendous significance for the Thai nation and is considered to be one of the most sacred Buddha’s in Thailand. Carved from green jade (not emerald) the Buddha is appropriately sat on an intricately gilded alter. The Buddha receives a change of clothes (robes) with every season, which is performed by the king himself.
Note there is a very strict dress code to enter the palace. Cover up with long trousers and a shirt or top with sleeves. Bare feet are also prohibited, ruling out flip flops and sandals. If you find yourself there in the wrong attire, don’t worry, clothing can be borrowed from a stand near the entrance (deposit required).
Around the corner from the Grand Palace lies another of Thailand’s must-see sights, Wat Pho. This temple is home to the world’s largest reclining Buddha. At 46 meters long and covered in gold leaf, this is truly a breathtaking sight. His feet alone are a spectacular three meters long and are intricately decorated with mother of pearl illustrations and auspicious signs. Stand at either end to get a great photo of the sheer vastness of this Buddha.
Wat Pho is also a Thai massage study center so you can either enroll as a student, or let one of the trainees try out their recently learned skill on you, and all in such a beautiful setting.
Another wonderful temple sits across the Chao Phraya river in Thonburi. The beautiful temple of Wat Arun has imposing spires rising up to over 70 meters which are decorated in porcelain. They create a magical image on the skyline and provide an iconic, much photographed image of Thailand. Although Wat Arun is known as Temple of the Dawn, it is best seen when the sun is setting behind it and the exterior lights switch on to illuminate the temple in all its splendor. A ferry can be taken to reach the temple, but why not hire a long tail boat and arrive in style, getting a feel for Bangkok’s history of canals and waterways as you go.
In addition to its top traditional attractions, like any modern capital Bangkok also has a swathe of museums and galleries as well as parks and a zoo for those looking for nature. Quite simply, Bangkok has it all.
What to do in Bangkok
Bangkok’s range of activities is so extensive you can happily stay busy from sunrise, to sunset and well beyond.
Whether you’re a chef in the making or simply want to dabble in one of the world’s finest cuisines there is no shortage of cooking courses on offer. From carnivores to herbivores, a local Thai cook will have you whipping up a curry paste in no time. Do try and get a course that includes an early morning visit to the local market to purchase your ingredients and make sure you get that all important recipe for Tom Yum paste, the key to nearly every Thai dish.
If tasting Thai food is more to your liking, be sure to head to one of Bangkok’s street food stalls. Only here can you get a real taste of Thailand. Street food is usually the preference of locals, not only because of the low cost relative to restaurants, but because of its taste. Noodles and rice form the staples, but much more is often available. A few of the best areas to sample street cooked delights include Victory Monument – a vast eating area with numerous stalls where you can eat and drink the night away. Tha Char Prang Pier is also a good bet. Close to the university, you should wade through the night market stalls to find the eateries towards the river. Kho San Road is also a popular option. With masses of tourists and ex-pats sinking a Singha beer or two, Kho San is the place to get street food all night long.
To the uninitiated, street food may seem a bit daunting. Menus are rare so, if in doubt, ask. Don’t worry about the cleanliness (unless there are obvious signs), the stalls are well equipped, the produce is usually very fresh and you can see the food cooked in front of you. The most important thing is to go with an appetite.
With Thai food taking its toll, you may want to get some exercise. Limbering up with a yoga course is the way to do it, practically a way of life in South East Asian. And if the yoga has awakened your spiritual side, Bangkok is a great place to indulge in a meditation course.
Another popular pastime and must do while in Bangkok is a Thai massage. There are endless options for learning. But, if you’d rather be on the receiving end, there are plenty of opportunities for that too. A traditional Thai massage involves a lot of pressure, so can leave you feeling a bit beaten up. For a more relaxing experience, opt for an oil massage which is more likely to leaving you floating on air.
For those wanting to stimulate your brain rather than your senses, you could try a local language class. And for the shopaholic’s, Bangkok is a dream destination. With malls a plenty, many open well into the night, put on your best walking shoes and get ready to shop. From luxury brands at the Paragon Mall to a local bargain at MBK, you may well need another suitcase to get your purchases home.
Nightlife in Bangkok
When the sun goes down, Bangkok’s party lights come on. A good way to start the evening is with a visit to the Moon Bar at Vertigo, a cocktail bar at the top of the Banyan Tree hotel. At 61 floors up, this bar offers arguably the best panoramic sights in Bangkok where you can see Bangkok spread out before your eyes. Sip a superb cocktail as you take in the enormity of this impressive city. Sunset is the best time to go. A dress code applies and there is a restaurant attached to the bar.
Bed Supper Club is another great option. Describing itself as a unique combination of upscale restaurant, club, art gallery, theatre and stage merged into one, this entertainment emporium has all you need for a good night out. Set in a futuristic, white, minimalist setting, the idea is to slip of your shoes, lie back and feel at home. You should at least go for one drink in this super trendy establishment to see what all the hype is about.
When it comes to dining, Bangkok is a foodies’ delight. Le Banyan (recently renamed La Columbe D’Or after a renovation) is one of the more popular choices if you’re looking for international food. Set in an old traditional Thai house, this restaurant serves wonderfully prepared French fayre. This is the place for romance with candle light, sparkling wine glasses and beautiful gardens. Le Banyan is not to be confused with the hotel of the same name.
If you are looking for more local food, Blue Elephant is a staple in Bangkok. Despite having its roots in Brussels this popular restaurant (which also includes a cooking school) serves Thai food in a wonderful Colonial building. A definite must try. And, of course, there is Bangkok’s China Town. You’d be remiss to not sample the excellent Chinese food in Bangkok. Head to Yawolat Street for street food or try one of the many restaurants. You won’t be disappointed.
For those wanting to combine food and entertainment, visit Sala Rim Naam, part of the Mandarin Oriental hotel for their wonderful dinner and traditional dance show. Set in a beautiful, traditional Thai-style pavilion you can enjoy the set menu while the entertainment unfolds around you. Another popular night time show is traditional Thai puppetry. In action, these shows can impress with the lifelike poses performed by the puppet operators. Try Suan Lum Night Bizarre or the King Power Theatre for the pick of the best.
Of course there are also the inimitable ‘ping pong’ shows. The content is very explicit, and a personal choice if you want to visit, but if you do decide to experience this infamous part of Bangkok’s nightlife, be careful. Research recommended shows and agree the entire price up front – exorbitant drink prices may be used to make up for seemingly low entry fees especially in Patong, Soi Cowboy and Nana Plaza.
If you want to party late into the night, Kho San Road is the place to be. Try the local tipple, Sang Som whiskey, as you rub shoulders with the best of Thai nightlife. However your night unfolds, Bangkok will keep you out as late as you let it.
Map of Bangkok
Map of Bangkok
Bangkok Photo Gallery
SiamGuide Bangkok Review
I'm new to this great surfing website.
I’m new to this great surfing website. Am interested in locating a young lady from the Bangkok area whose family befriended my father 33 years ago when his job took him to Thailand. Her name is Maysawan Jumpasuit or something like this. The first name is pronounced ‘”My”. My father is elderly now and ill- he still dreams of returning to Thailand. He also loved the Chiang Mai area- I am unsure of the correct spellings. I also remember a store named Johnny’s Gems. My father’s name is Vincent Piazz also called “Buddy”
Hello, all. I lived in Bangkok from 1967-1971, and graduated from ISB
Hello, all. I lived in Bangkok from 1967-1971, and graduated from ISB. I am interested in corresponding with any of my former classmates or ISB alumni.
Having previously lived and worked in Bangkok, I am eager to return
I am a Canadian Lawyer with extensive experience in advertising and sales promotion. Having previously lived and worked in Bangkok, I am eager to return. What I’m looking for is a position that will take full advantage of my superb writing and oral skills.
We plan a visit to Thailand soon
We plan a visit to Thailand soon. Our son lives in Bangkok.
Thanks for all of the good information
Thanks for all of the good information, we will visit Bangkok for the first time next month.