Bangkok is a vibrant, colorful, and welcoming city with lots of sights, shows, and culture to experience. This is not a city to be avoided. It’s a city with much to offer any tourist who chooses to spend a few days here. Here’s a list of the Top 15 things to see and do while in Bangkok.
Note, Bangkok is the type of city where you could easily fill up a Top 100 and still not have enough room. I’ve selected what I consider (as someone who’s lived in Thailand for five years) the must-do, must-see things.
The good news is that you can knock off all 15 of these points in less than a week in the city!
#1 Grand Palace
The word “grand” is used for a reason when describing the most visited attraction in Bangkok. This palace has been home to Thai royalty since 1782, and throughout the years, different buildings have been added using the architecture that was popular during the various times of different kings. This adds an element of uniqueness and interest to the Grand Palace. The Palace isn’t the current king’s official residence, but it is used for special events and government functions.
As you approach the palace, you’ll be approached by local vendors and hawkers trying to lead you to other attractions. Ignore them and head inside the palace grounds to see the incredible architecture and beautiful works of art. You can reach the palace by boat (river taxi) and you can get some great photos of the palace and grounds as you approach. There are also free guided tours of the palace.
Tourists cannot go into any of the buildings on the palace grounds, but it doesn’t matter. The architecture and gardens are just beautiful. If you visit first thing in the morning, you can avoid the large crowds. Be sure to wear clothing that covers your shoulders and your legs. If you don’t, you’ll have to pay for a gown that covers you in order to enter certain areas of the palace grounds.
#2 Wat Pho and the Reclining Buddha and Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn)
Within walking distance of the Grand Palace (don’t listen to hawkers who tell you it isn’t) is Wat Pho, one of the most visited temples in Thailand. This temple complex covers an entire city block. While it may not take long to visit the actual status, the grounds themselves are like a labyrinth just waiting to be explored. Wat Pho is home to Bangkok’s largest reclining Buddha statue that is quite impressive and seems to overtake the space it’s in.
There is a Thai massage school on the 8 hectares of statues and buildings in the Wat Pho complex. You can get a great traditional Thai massage here. I did it and it was well worth it.
On the other side of the river from Wat Pho, make a quick visit to Wat Arun, or Temple of the Dawn. It earns this name because of the amazing views from the top. Get your camera ready. I also recommend a ride down the river at sunset to get some great pictures of Wat Arun. It’s lit up at night which also makes for great photos.
If you have a clear sky, make sure you take a sunset showt from the opposite site of the river for a special picture.
For both Wat Pho and Wat Arun, make sure to wear clothing that covers your shoulders and legs. This is a good policy to follow throughout Thailand as modesty is a requirement for entering the temples.
#3 Chatuchak Weekend Market
Shopping is a great experience in Bangkok, not only because of the low prices on quality goods, but because of the sheer variety of goods and the experience. Chatuchak Weekend Market has all three of those things. There are about 15000 shops in this market and it reaches almost 200,000 visitors a day, both local and foreign. It is mostly open on Saturdays and Sundays, thus the name, but part of it known as Jatujak Plaza is also open during the week.
Haggling is encouraged at Chatuchak. You can buy just about anything here, so let your imagination run wild. It’s a great place for fabrics, souvenirs, and gorgeous textiles at very reasonable prices. There are so many food options here and you should indulge in something spicy and something sweet to satisfy your palate while shopping.
#4 Tour Jim Thompson’s House
Jim Thompson? Who is that? He’s certainly not Thai. I asked myself the same questions when I first visited Bangkok. But his life is an integral part of Bangkok and his house is definitely worth a visit. Thompson was an American spy during the 1950s and 60s. He was also a silk merchant who established a Thai silk company that was very successful. In 1967, on a visit to Malaysia, he went missing and has never been found, which makes his house even more intriguing.
His house and gardens are an oasis in the middle of this bustling city. Stunning Thai architecture combined with Western touches make this home beautiful as well as interesting. Guided tours are available, and relaxing in the garden after a meal at the restaurant on the grounds makes for a serene place to take a break from the busy city outside. You can also watch silk being made here. The admission fees are donated to underprivileged children.
#5 National Museum
This stunning architecture complex holds many treasures inside. This museum exhibits Thai culture at its finest with an impressive collection of musical instruments, royal funeral chariots (my fave), recordings of traditional music, and some of the most intricate wood carvings in the world. It’s not a huge museum, so you won’t be overwhelmed once you’re inside, but it is interesting to see, both inside and outside. It’s just a very photogenic and impressive piece of architecture, ranking right up there with the Grand Palace if you ask me.
#6 Take a Food Tour!
As someone who loves Thai food and could probably eat it every day, Bangkok is an assault on the senses with all of its street food carts and open air restaurants. The number of food options can be overwhelming and food of all price ranges is outstanding. There are several food tours offered in Bangkok, but I recommend Bangkok Food Tours. Another food tour offered by Mark Wiens is also highly recommended, called Migrationology. Food tours also offer you the opportunity to explore parts of the city on foot, learn a bit of history, and maybe see some things you might not have noticed otherwise.
Many cooking classes are available as well and I highly recommend taking one, especially if Bangkok is your only stop in Thailand.
#7 Check out the Local Floating Markets
I mentioned another floating market in my Best Things to See in Thailand article, but Bangkok has its own floating markets that warrant a visit, and you don’t even have to leave the city. You can reach them by public transport. The most popular are Khlong Lat Mayom and Thaling Chan. I advise going early when it is less crowded and go hungry! These markets have floating restaurants where you can order on the go from your boat. The food is made by local people with local ingredients they probably bought that morning at the market, and it is some of the best food you will ever eat.
The floating markets are hectic, colorful, noisy, chaotic and wonderful. There are great photo opportunities here and it is a great way to talk with locals. Thaling Chan is the more touristy of the two, and for that reason, I actually prefer Khlong Lat Mayom.
#8 Khao San Road and Soi Rambuttri
On these two streets, you will get a complete sampling of everything Bangkok has to offer, especially if you are a budget traveler looking to meet other interesting travelers and locals. You will find numerous restaurants and bars, serving both Thai specialties and international cuisine. Vendors sell just about anything imaginable, including items you may have run out of or worn out during your travels and are looking to replace.
The bar scene here is unparalleled anywhere else in Thailand, but if you’re in need of a good cup of coffee to help you recover from the effects of the bar scene, you won’t have to wander off either of these streets. Soi Rambuttri is the quieter, more subdued version of Khao San Road, but both are great for socializing and meeting interesting people.
The Kao San area is particularly popular with backpackers.
#9 See a Muay Thai Fight
This sport is gaining popularity by the minute, and Bangkok is where all the best come to compete. This is where you can see the top competitors in the sport compete against each other and it’s well worth it. These athletes are super serious about the sport and have trained for many years (many have been fighting since the age of 8!).
Go see the professionals at the legendary Lumpinee stadium or it’s main rival Rajadamnern Stadium for an exciting (and probably blood-soaked) evening.
#10 Cruise the Chao Phraya River
The Chao Phraya River makes its way through the center of Bangkok and is actually a great way to navigate the city by water taxi. But a relaxing cruise down this river, especially at sunset, can afford some great views and photos, especially of the temples along the river. What a lot of people don’t realize is that you can rent a boat and guide to cruise along the canals that run through Bangkok, not just along the river. Many people miss this opportunity to see the areas along the canals, which are part of daily life for most locals.
Dinner cruises are also available and can give you a different view of the city as the sights along the waterway are lit up at night. It’s a spectacular display of lights.
You don’t have to book a tour to see the river and all the sights. Just hop on a water taxi at the central pier, go to the end of the route, and come back. It costs around 20 baht. The tourist boats make fewer stops along the way and give descriptions of some of the sights, but they are more expensive.
#11 Visit a Rooftop Bar at Night
One night, head to one of the top rooftop bars in Bangkok for an astounding view of the city at night. This may just be the highlight of your trip and is absolutely worth the effort. Even better, bring a significant other as the experience is best when shared.
#12 Shopping at MBK & Siam Paragon
Bangkok is packed with more shopping malls than you can shake a stick at. Once could easily fill out a Top 10 list with just major malls found in Bangkok.
Our favorite mall is MBK, purely for the local vibe and comparatively cheap prices on just about everything. Make sure to bargain as you can secure often secure some discounts if you do so. MBK is the place to buy electronics (there is an entire floor devoted to just smart phones), cheap clothes, knickknacks and souvenirs.
Note that Thailand is not the cheapest place to buy electronics. You can probably get computers, smartphones, and electronic devices much cheap if you buy them in the US, especially from Amazon.com. If you plan to stop in Hong Kong, save your electronic shopping for there.
For high-end shopping, you are just a five-minute stroll away from the world famous Siam Paragon. If you make your way to Siam, make sure to check out the Siam Paragon lower level food court and be overwhelmed with the sheer size and variety of food choices packed into the mall. You’ve never seen anything like it before.
#13 VIP Seats in a Cinema
For an experience you’ve never had back home, try a VIP class (the most expensive) seat at one of the top cinemas. The best cinema is the one in Siam Paragon. Depending on the theater, the VIP will be called by different names. What’s the same though is the price — about $20 to $25 USD. Note it comes with drinks and a snack and is well worth the experience (trust us on this).
It’s even better if you bring your significant other.
#14 An Afternoon in Lumpinee Park
Lumpinee park, an oasis of green in the center of the city, is well worth a few hours of your time to stroll about the spacious area and people watch.
The park is several kilometers in length and you can easily walk the circumference of it in about thirty minutes. There’s a lake in the center of the park and various pavilions scattered beneath the foliage. You can easily whittle away a few hours just wandering through the park on foot, or by renting a paddle boat.
If you are a runner or you want a nice workout, try running around the part about sunset. You’ll be joined by hundreds of other locals and foreigners doing the same thing. If you want an ultra-cheap, yet atmospheric gym workout (free weights), try the open-air gym in the park. Local Thai bodybuilders lift there and the cost is a measly 20 baht (less than 1 USD) to drop in. You won’t find anywhere cheaper in Thailand!
Beware of the giant monitor lizards that infest the lake area.
#15 A Night Out in the City
Bangkok, the city that never sleeps, is rightfully famous for its crazy nightlife,
If you want high-energy night clubs that party into the morning, there’s a smorgasbord of choice to suit every taste from high-end suit-wearing affairs to anything goes, shorts & sandals wear.
There’s also some smaller, atmospheric places worth checking out, especially on the thematic nights (Maggie Chu’s is our pick).
And of course, there’s the infamous red light districts of Patpong and Soi Cowboy.
It’s well worth one full night out (Saturday preferred) to see Bangkok in all its glory…and shame. Just make sure you are not departing the next day because you’ll likely have a serious hangover.