Thailand’s capital city is a tourist attraction in itself and most visitors invariably spend a day or two on tours of Bangkok. In fact, it’s so big, busy and daunting to some that tours are the preferred way of getting to all the main sights in Bangkok before moving on to the rest of the country.
Tours of Bangkok can be arranged through your hotel concierge or one of the many travel agents in tourist areas. There are numerous options allowing you to experience Bangkok and all its attractions by foot, boat or bus. But beware of tuk tuk drivers who offer free Bangkok tours as these are always scams to transport tourists to commission-paying shops which normally sell inferior products.
There are even some bicycle tours of the outlying areas for those happy to meander around the city on two wheels. Standard tours visit all the main sites in a day, and then there is the option of specialty tours such as the Thon Buri canals, which give you a glimpse of what Bangkok was like when it was known as the ‘Venice of the East’.
There is also the Floating Market (one of many), the Ancient City historical park and a host of off-beat tours of Bangkok.
Highlights of Bangkok city
The most common tours of Bangkok take in the Rattanokosin Isle and its temples and palaces. This is the Royal quarter of the city, close to the famous backpacker Mecca of Khao San Road – a tourist attraction in itself.
Here you will start with the impressive Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew. This is certainly the most spectacular temple in all of Thailand with its massive gilded chedi, glittering temples and exotic Emerald Buddha. Although the Royal Family no longer live here, there is a neo-baroque palace on the site.
Right beside this is Wat Pho, which is noted for its giant reclining Buddha and manifold chedis. A third key attraction in Bangkok is found right across the river in the form of the exotic looking spired chedis of Wat Arun. This complex dates from before the founding of the present city in the 18th Century and offers a gorgeous silhouette against the setting sun (best seen from boats).
A few other attractions are found in this area, which some Bangkok tours include on their itinerary of the city. The Golden Mount is a lofty structure topped with a chedi and was once the tallest point in the area. The views from the top are good and the climb won’t kill you.
Wat Ratchanada, near its base, is an unusual architectural piece that is easily visible when you approach the area from Rachadamnoen ave. Also on this avenue sits the distinctive art deco Democracy Monument, which has been at the centre of political change over recent decades. Tucked away nearby is Wat Suthat another auspicious site, and the newly renovated Giant Swing (or Sao Ching Cha), which has its own fascinating legends attached to its history.
Another area that is popular with Bangkok tours is the Dusit area – a stately suburb of wide tree-lined boulevards which was laid out by King Rama V at the end of the 19th century. Today it houses many government buildings and residences, but tourists will be more interested in the lovely Vimanmek Teak Palace that he built, along with the neo-Baroque styled Abhisek Dusit Assembly Hall. The Zoo and Chitralada Palace – where the Royals usually reside in Bangkok – are also found here.
Tours of Bangkok invariably end up in the Siam Square area, which is loaded with shopping malls. Tucked away down a quiet lane near the National Stadium BTS station is Jim Thompson’s teak house, which now serves as a museum to Thai cultural artifacts.
When the tours are over and you’ve worked up an appetite, the best area for choice is the expat avenue of Sukhumvit Road, which sits in the shadow of the BTS Skytrain. Here there are numerous restaurants and pubs, as well as good mall and market shopping among all the plush hotels.
If you’re interested in walking tours of Bangkok then a visit to Chinatown and Phahurat is intriguing with its Sino-influenced culture and ancient lanes. A more modern, but equally interesting, culture can be seen by wandering the lanes of Banglamphu, which are adjacent to the bohemian cultural melting pot of Khao San Road, where East meets West in a tourism frenzy. Thankfully, the lanes that are a few minutes walk away have retained their character that has changed little over the decades of development in the city.
Night tours of Bangkok are also an eye-opener. These usually centre on the go-go bar neighbourhood of Patpong, which is in the heart of the commercially busy Silom area. Nowadays these two lanes are full of vendors hawking fake watches and labels, but you can’t ignore the many entrances to the go-go bars with their pole dancers and raunchy sex shows.
To escape the urban madness you can find your way to Lumphini Park, which sits in the centre of Bangkok close to public transport lines and offers a large, lake-filled oasis in the city.
But a much better diversion are Bangkok tours to Koh Kret and the Ancient City. Koh Kret is a small island in the north of the city where a traditional way of life has been retained within the Chao Phraya River. It’s a wonderful day trip that is often overlooked.
Similarly, Bangkok tours to the highly recommended Ancient City (Muang Boran), near the river mouth in Samut Prakarn, is a fabulous chance to witness replicas of most of Thailand’s most important historical sites in a single day. From Bangkok, tours are the best way to see both and you are free to walk or cycle among the lovely grounds.