Why reluctant you may ask? Well, Bangkok is a special place for me. A home if you will. And I’ve seen the damage mass tourism has done here, ala The Grand Palace. However, Bangkok is an enduring place with many faces that I think will survive a few more tourist here and there. Be warned, if you ruin Bangkok for me, I will find you. I have a particular set of skills that make me a nightmare for someone like you.
Although I don’t feel Bangkok is an elite “tourist” city, it does have plenty to offer those on a 2-3 day visit. And depending on your interest, it could turn out to be one of your favorite places. Unlike other lists I see floating around, I’m not going to tell you ANYTHING that gets you to leave the city. Kind of defeats the point of a top ten city list don’t you think?
Yes, You Have to Visit A Temple. Suck It Up
Everyone is going to tell you to visit the Grand Palace. Every travel guide, listicle, and tour company. I’m telling you DON’T. It’s overcrowded and overpriced. Not to mention there just isn’t anything special about the place at all. You can’t even take pictures of the Emerald Buddha, which is the highlight of the Grand Palace. A far better option is Wat Pho. The best temple in Bangkok and an excellent representation of Buddhism and Thai culture. The Reclining Buddha is a marvel to behold in person. Entrance only cost 100 baht, and you get water.
No Instacation is Complete without a Rooftop Selfie
Bangkok is the rooftop capital of the world. Restaurants, bars, pools. Everything. From luxury hotels to apartment buildings, Bangkok is full of rooftop options. Now typically I find them to be overpriced and a bit cheesy, but Bangkok does them right. Many Bangkok hotels have rooftop bars or pools, but I recommend you check out Mode Sathorn. They have an excellent rooftop pool with a swim up bar. Also, a cool club/bar with very reasonable prices and some delicious tapas.
The Food Alone Is Worth The Trip
Do I need to bother with this one? It’s more than likely you’ve already heard about Thai street food. But I’ll let you in on a secret. If it’s being sold near a tourist destination, which it always is, you’re likely being ripped off. Not so much as it’s dishonest, but the quality is likely lower and cost hire. Even though that’s likely only an extra dollar or two, it adds up. For me, quality is critical and worth the effort to find. I recommend you check out the Phra Khanong area. There used to be an excellent street food market called On Nut, but it was closed by condo developers. The Sad reality of Bangkok life. Those vendors have since moved to the Phra Khanong area. Check out Sukhumvit 71 between Soi 1-5. The street is lined with excellent street food vendors.
London, Milan, and New York Can’t Compete with Bangkok
Bangkok is the shopping capital of the world. I say that with zero reservations. Bangkok has everything from luxury brands to Thai crafts. You can buy anything here. There are several areas in Bangkok that you can shop in. I recommend you try the Siam Shopping district. You’ll find everything from luxury brands like Louis Vuitton to smaller Thai designers at Siam Square. And if they don’t have what you want/need, they’ll make it for you.
Another must visit shopping spot is Patpong Night Market. This isn’t the place you go looking for bargains. It’s overpriced by comparison to other markets in Bangkok. But what you will get is a crash course in the seedier side of Bangkok as it’s located in an “entertainment” area synonymous with The Hangover movies.
Everyone Loves A Cook.
Thai food is delicious. And not only street food. Traditional Thai cuisine is something you should try and what better way than learning how to make it? I’ve taken two classes in Bangkok. At Blue Elephant Cooking School, which was about 3000baht. And at Sompong Thai Cooking School, which was 1000 baht. I preferred Sompong not only because it was significantly cheaper, but felt far more authentic. Blue Elephant is a good school to be sure but seems a bit “sterile” to me.
Nothing Says Holiday Like Watching Someone Get Kicked in The Face
Westerners have long been fascinated by Muay Thai. The martial art has become part of the national Thai identity and today is easily the most popular sport here. No visit to Thailand is complete without checking out a Muay Thai bout. Check out a free fight card every Wednesday at MBK mall. A pretty good set up. For a more authentic experience check out Rajadamnern Stadium. Thailands most famous Muay Thai venue. Lumpini Stadium is cool also, but I preferred the Rajadamnern Stadium set up.
A Real Sense of Tranquility From the Water
I like to say Bangkok isn’t the real Bangkok until 6pm because the city transforms into something different and special. The Chao Phraya River is especially beautiful at night. Once a shipping lane, today it’s lined with some of the best attractions Bangkok has to offer. Wat Arun is stunning at night from a boat. You have several options, but two I recommend and both are very different experiences. Shangri-La Hotel has a dinner cruise that’s very well organized and laid back. Relaxed and quiet. Perfect for a romantic experience. Chao Phraya Princess is another option but has a livelier vibe with a live band and DJ.
Kitch isn’t Always Bad
Asiatique is a collection of shops, restaurants, and shows that sit brightly on the Chao Phraya river. I was a bit reluctant to put this place on this list. Only because it’s so “sterile”. No real character to it and is nothing more than a tourist attraction. With that said, they have a cool Ferris Wheel. Which for me is worth the visit. Set up kind of like a small town, Asiatique caters to new travelers and those with relatively deep pockets looking for everything to be clean and easy. There’s clearly an audience for it.
No Happy Ending Required. But………….
Thai massages are some of the best in the world, and Bangkok streets are lined with excellent spas and massage houses. You can’t drive five minutes in Bangkok without being near a massage place. I’m personally partial to locals places. They’re the best and by far the cheapest. A traditional Thai massage will cost between 150-250 baht for an hour. Hotels are an entirely different story. Here, you’re paying for the overhead of a luxury hotel. These typically range from 1200-2000 for a traditional Thai massage. Big difference right? The mid-range massage places cost about 300-400 baht for the same treatment. So I recommend those for travelers. HealthLand Spa is an excellent option.
The Place To Ball Out of Control
Bangkok has the world’s best and most affordable luxury accommodations. So you can’t afford the $600 a night rooms back home? Drop $150 on the same thing here. Not to mention you’ll have the pleasure to experience the wonderful Thai hospitality. Here are a couple I recommend.
Shangri-La Hotel is located right on the Chao Phraya River. Easily accessible but secluded enough to give you a sense of peace and quiet while you enjoy their excellent facilities and restaurants. Outstanding pools and breakfast. Not to mention stunning rooms overlooking the river. Best sure to request a room with a river view.
The Sukothai is just legendary. With some of the largest rooms, I’ve stayed in for the price. I especially enjoy the ambiance they create. Although a bit dated in some areas, I feel Sukothai goes out of their way to ensure guest have a unique and tailored experience. Be sure to visit Spa Botanica.