Bangkok itself is Thailand’s number one attraction, with its gaudy palaces, exotic pagodas and many regal sights. Even though it was only founded in the late 18th century, it has been the centre of Siam and Thailand through several glorious eras that have resulted in all sorts of impressive sites.
Over the centuries, grand palace compounds, soaring chedis, giant swings, lofty temples and teak mansions have all been added to the city’s façade. Among the modern skyscrapers and highways are plenty of cultural gems to keep tourists occupied for days. Then there are the contemporary magnets, like the backpacker haven of Khao San Road and the shopping district of Siam Square.
Located in the grounds of the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew is among the top attractions, drawing tourists with its stunning temples, towering golden chedi, ornately decorated interiors and the much revered, though diminutive, Emerald (Jade) Buddha.
The palace, although not as impressive as the surrounding temples, is an interesting example of new-Baroque architecture. Fine murals are also on display, and there is a decorations and coins museum on site, too.
It’s the one site all tourists should get to while in Bangkok.
Open: 08:30–15:00. Entry: foreigners; 500 Baht, Thais; free. Na Phralan Road, Phra Nakhon, Tel: (02) 623 5500.
Located beside the Grand Palace, Wat Pho is a complex of stunning temples with intermingling spires of intricate and ornate design. The most outstanding attraction is the massive, 40-metre long reclining Buddha, which is one of the most impressive, and certainly the largest, in all of Thailand. Wat Pho is also noted for its ancient school of massage.
Open: 08.30-16:30. Entry: foreigners; 100 Baht, Thais; free. 2 Sanamchai Road, Phra Nakhon, Tel: (02) 221 9449.
With its spectacular riverside location and soaring 82-metre spire set right in the centre of the temple, Wat Arun is another of Bangkok’s top attractions. It’s also one of the oldest, pre-dating the founding of Bangkok when the original capital was set up in Thon Buri across the river. Wat Arun makes an excellent sunset backdrop from river boats and is located opposite Wat Pho and Tha Tien pier.
Open: 08:30-17:30; Entry: foreigners; 50 Baht, Thai; free. 34 Arun Amarin Road.
Vimanmek Teak Mansion
Fomerly a summer retreat, built in the Reign of King Rama V, this handsome palace is the world’s largest teak construction. Its construction signalled the expansion of royal quarters into the present day Dusit neighbourhood, but the palatial 72 room palace was never formally a royal residence. In 1982 Queen Sirikit had it restored and today it serves as one of the few former residences of a Thai king that the public can tour, complete with its European comforts. As you wonder around the palace, and its lovely gardens, bear in mind it was originally constructed on Koh Si Chang island and rebuilt on this site. Easily reached from Khao San Road and the Grand Palace, it’s highly recommended.
Open: 09:30-16:00. Entry: foreigners; 100 Baht, Thais; 75 Baht. 16 Ratchawithi Road, Dusit.
Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall
Somewhat out of place among the exotic Siamese inspired decorative sites of Bangkok is the neo-Renaissance, Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall, which occupies a stately position at the end of Ratchadamern Nok avenue. It faces a royal plaza where half a million faithful gathered in 1996 to celebrate their beloved King’s 60th anniversary on the throne. He made an appearance from balcony of this Italian built and designed building which now only serves for state occasions, but was the seat of parliament until 1974. This is one of the handful of European touches to the city resulting from King Rama V’s impressions touring abroad in the Nineteenth Century.
It’s generally not open to the public.
This is home to a large and impressive collection of Thai art spanning many eras. It’s probably one of the most important repositories of Southeast Asian antiquities in the world, with many impressive items on display covering Buddhist art over 1,500 years. Large enough to keep you occupied all afternoon, the museum has a wide ranging collection of artefacts covering all aspects of ancient and recent Thai history and placards are in English. The National Museum is located beside the Grand Palace opposite the Sanam Luang ground. Free tours of the National Museum depart daily at regular intervals from the entrance.
Open: 09:00-16:00 (Wed-Sun). Entry: foreigners; 200 Baht, Thais; 30 Baht. Na Phrathat Road, Phra Nakhon, Tel: (02) 224 1370.
Jim Thompson is credited with the international revival of the Thai silk industry. His Bangkok home is one of the best preserved examples of a traditional Thai residence, with an outstanding collection of art and antiques from throughout Southeast Asia. Located near Siam Square (National Stadium BTS station).
Open: 09:00-18:00. Entry: adults; 150 Baht, students; 100 Baht. 6 Soi Kasemsan 2, Rama 1 Road, Tel: (02) 216 7368.
The Royal Barges National Museum
This museum is home to the spectacular barges that are used by royalty for special ceremonies. They are astoundingly ornate and more curious in appearance than beautiful, but certainly worth a look. Located at the riverfront, near Pingklao bridge. Most conveniently visited on a canal tour of Thon Buri.
Open: 09:00-17:00. Entry: foreigners; 100 Baht, Thais; 20 Baht. Arun Amarin Road, Bangkok Noi, Tel: (02) 424 0004.
For some of the best in Chinese food, a bustling and diverse market and fine examples of architecture, Chinatown is an experience not to be missed. Although the streets are jam-packed with stalls and shops and crowded with people at the best of times, the sweat lost will be worth it for a truly new experience. Chinatown has the biggest concentration of gold shops in the city, but you will also find a host of ornaments, wholesale jewellery, textiles, antiques, musical instruments and ancient Chinese medicine shops. Try wandering down some of the quieter lanes to witness an unchanged Bangkok.
Open: 07.00 to midnight. Hua Lamphong Metro station, plus some walking.
Wat Suthat and the Giant Swing
This is one of the more impressive of Bangkok’s many temples and a chance to experience a temple compound without too many tourists. Nearby is the recently renovated Giant Swing; a bizarre and unique sight used in Brahman rites festivals. It is located in the Grand Palace vicinity near the Democracy monument.
Open: 08:00-18:00. Entry: free.
Thon Buri canals (trip)
A trip along Bangkok’s canal system is one great way to see a number of the major sites from an interesting perspective, without the hassle of having to navigate Bangkok’s city streets. A leisurely cruise along one of Bangkok’s waterways affords passengers a glimpse inside the daily life of locals – boats can be boarded from many pier along the canals.
The Chao Phraya Express boat passes many of the city’s major sites. The quiet canals of Thon Buri, across the river, are a world away from modern Bangkok and show how Bangkok once was when it was described as the ‘Venice of the East’ a century ago.
This was once the highest point in the city until skyscrapers arrived in the second half of the twentieth century. Built on the remains of a collapsed giant pagoda, this elevated temple offers magnificent views of the city, and is attached to Wat Saket. It supposedly holds a Buddha relic.
Open: 08:00-17:00. Entry: Foreigners; 10 Baht, Thais; free. Tel: (02) 621 2280.
located near Chinatown and Hualumpong Station, Wat Traimit is a must-see as it contains a five- tonne, three-metre tall solid gold Buddha, which curiously lay hidden beneath a stucco cover for centuries, saving it from marauding Burmese. The gold was accidentally discovered 40 years ago while it was being moved and became damaged. Gets busy with Thai tourists, has a new contemporary pagoda on site to add to the camera views of this otherwise non-descript temple ground.
Open: 08:00-17:00. Entry: free. Chaoren Krung Road, near Hua Lamphong Metro station, Tel: (02) 623 3329.
Yet another temple, although this one is unique for the neo-gothic appearance of its Loha Prasat – a specific style of Buddhist architecture which has a maze of passages within the pagoda. A curious story is attached to the temple, and it’s hard to miss when you travel down Ratchadamnoen Avenue to the Grand Palace or Khao San Road. An interesting exhibition about the temple, the princess it was built in honour of, and the area in general, is found inside. Worthwhile.
Open: 08:00-17:00. Entry: free. Ratchadamnoen Klang – Maha Chai Road, Tel: (02) 224 8807.
You’re likely to view this without stopping while being driven to the Grand Palace or Khao San Road. It’s an Art Deco-inspired symbolic shrine to the first constitution, addressed by four upright wings. Sitting on a circle in the middle of Ratchadamnoen Avenure, it commemorates the switch to Constitutional Monarchy in 1932 but has, over the years, become the rallying point for various protests against military rule, often with tragic results.
Open: 24 hours. Entry: free. Rachadamnoen Road.
Siam Square & Ratchaprasong
A modern cosmopolitan area which makes a good effort at being the ‘Times Square’ of Bangkok. The bustling hub is packed full of large shopping malls with the best in designer names, upmarket outlets, restaurants and bars, cyber cafés and fast-food outlets – you name it, Siam square’s got it. It’s a popular hangout spot for the young and trendy, who use the area as a large catwalk. It was here, too, that the protesting ‘Red Shirts’ infamously laid seige to central Bangkok in 2010 in their unsuccessful bid to topple the government. During the army-enforced retreat, they set fire to some of the buildings; the damage of which is still visible.
Open: daily 10:00-22:00. Entry: free. At Siam BTS station.
This is the bohemian backpacker-capital of Asia. There is a constant flow of tourists from every conceivable corner of the world as well as ‘out there’ Thais who come and go in a never-ending stream. The area is packed with tourist agents, bars, restaurants and nightclubs, while the street stalls offer a good selection of cheap clothing and counterfeit items.
Located near the Grand Palace. Open: 08.00-02.00. Entry: free.
Despite being one of Bangkok’s original red light districts, Patpong attracts loads of tourists to its market with its vast array of fake designer goods and prices that are hard to beat. It’s an excuse for the more curious to pop in on the go-go bars and ‘ping pong sex shows’ upstairs.
Open: 18:00-01:00. Entry: free. Silom area (Sala Daeng BTS station).
There are three distinct areas, including Patpong, Nana plaza and Soi Cowboy, which at night turn into centres for all-sex related activities. Some make a bee-line for these, others should give them a wide berth, though a curious ‘look’ is pretty harmless. Open: early evening to early morning.
Entry: free. Near Sala Daeng, Nana and Asoke BTS stations.
This crammed labyrinth of market stalls is hard work, but it’s completely worth it for the range of offerings and jaw-dropping bargains to be had. With everything from Thai handicrafts and souvenirs to the hippest of second-hand clothing, Chatujak is the place to fulfil your heart’s shopping desires. Drink plenty of water and take regular breaks while mingling.
Open: 06:00-19:00 (Saturdays and Sundays). Entry: free. Near Mo Chit BTS station.
Suan Pakkad Palace
A curious little museum tucked away in pretty gardens among the bustle near Siam Square. Meaning Cabbage Patch Palace, Suan Pakkad was built as a residence for a Rama V-era princess and has been well preserved as an indication of regal 19th century Thai living. It contains many interesting items form the era, along with a stunning collection of Thai musical instruments from Prince Paributra.
Open: 09:00-16:00. Entry: foreigners; 100 Baht; Thais; 50 Baht. Sri Ayudhya Road, BTS Phaya Thai station, Tel: (02) 245 4934.
Located in the heart of the city, this expansive area is a nice escape from the city madness. Early morning in the park, you will find hundreds of residents out for their daily yoga, tai chi or jog. There are a number of Thai restaurants, and boats are available for hire for a peaceful cruise on the lake in the heart of the park.
Open: 04:30-21:00. Entry: free. Rama IV Road, Lumphini Metro station, Tel: (02) 246 0354.
Most tour itineraries include the delightfully chaotic Floating Market, but its an early start to get to the area in Damnoen Saduak, which is an hours’ drive southwest of the city – an organised tour is the best option. The sights, sounds, smells and array of goods on offer can be overwhelming, but you won’t find this experience in many other places in the world. Although quite touristy, it reflects a typical central Thai market that uses canals instead of streets for commerce.
Entry: free. Boat trip: 800 Baht (per person). Tel: (032) 241 392.
Formerly known as The Ancient City, this marvellous and under visited attraction offers tourists a step back in time and almost perfect replicas of Thailand’s most historically renowned sites and monuments. In some cases, original structures have been moved here, while others were rebuilt from plans to recreate originals that have long since disappeared. This open-air museum is located amid tranquil lakes and beautiful gardens and is a great way to see historical sites from all over Thailand without travelling! Located in Samut Prakarn, an hour south of the city by taxi, but well worth it.
Open: 09:00-19:00. Entry: foreigners 700 baht, Thais 350 baht. 296/1 Moo 7, Sukhumvit Road, Samut Prakan. Tel: (02) 323 4094-9, Fax: (02) 323 4055.
Located about an hour’s drive from the city centre, Koh Kret is a small, picturesque island and a place of great historical value, dating back to the Mon settlement of the 6th century. It is the perfect getaway from the overwhelming buzz of Bangkok, with ceramic artists who open their workshops to visitors and sell their beautiful designs onsite. The best way to get there is to catch the weekly boat tour from Phra Arthit pier near the Grand Palace and Khao San Road on Saturdays.
Open: 24 hours. Entry: free.
Khao Kheow Open Zoo approx 90 mins from Bangkok boasts the majority of animals you would expect to see in the wild, such as tigers and monkeys, roaming relatively free. There is also a petting zoo where children can handle safe and friendly animals.
Open: 08:00-18:00, 235 Moo 7, Bang Phra, Sri Racha, Tel: (038) 318 444, Fax: (038) 318 400.