Bangkok and Chao Phraya River at twilight, Bangkok, Thailand
Bangkok, Thailand
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10 Essential Things to Do in Bangkok on Thailand Tours

12 min read
Published on Jun 02, 2018
Aren Bergstrom
By Aren BergstromManaging Editor, Globetrotting Magazine

Bangkok is a city to get lost in. You could spend weeks here, feasting on the incredible street food, visiting the temples, and enjoying the friendly company of the people. With so much to choose from, how can you possibly pick out the essentials of a trip to Bangkok on Thailand tours? You can count on our list, for starters. We’ve put together a list of the 10 essential things to do in Bangkok. From temples to markets to famous backpacker streets and culinary delights, our list will make sure you see the highlights of Bangkok and get to know the world-famous appeal of this massive city.

See the famous Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho

Wat Pho is arguably the top site in all of Bangkok, largely due to the incredible Reclining Buddha inside the main chamber. The Reclining Buddha depicts the Buddha passing into Nirvana and is the largest reclining Buddha statue in the country. It reaches 15m tall and stretches 46m long head-to-toe and is entirely covered in gold leaf. As you enter the hall containing the Reclining Buddha, you’ll notice there are 108 bowls lining the statue. As you walk along the length of the Buddha, you can drop some coins into the bowls, which are meant to represent the 108 auspicious characters of the Buddha. Any coins left in the bowls are said to bring good fortune, although they also serve the practical effect of funding the temple. Wat Pho would be worth visiting on Thailand tours even if it didn’t have the Reclining Buddha. The marble illustrations on the walls of the temple are some of the most fascinating in the country, while the collection of Buddha images (including the Reclining Buddha) is the largest. You can also find a Thai school of medicine here that offers massages for an affordable price.

Reclining Buddha gold statue in Wat Pho, Bangkok, Thailand
Reclining Buddha gold statue in Wat Pho

Visit the Grand Palace

Alongside Wat Pho, the Grand Palace is likely the most popular attraction in Bangkok. Built in the late 18th century, the Grand Palace used to be the king’s home and the centre of the Thai government. While it remains the official residence of the King of Thailand, the past two kings have lived elsewhere. The current king, Vajiralongkorn (Rama X), lives in Amphorn Sathan Residential Hall at Dusit Palace. Today, the Grand Palace is largely used for official ceremonies and as a tourist attraction. The palace itself combines traditional Thai architecture (think golden stupas) with some European renaissance flourishes. Perhaps the most elaborate part of the palace is the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, or Wat Phra Kaew, which sits inside the orientation hall. Be aware that the Grand Palace has a strict dress code; if you’re wearing shorts, a mini-skirt, or any kind of tight-fitting clothing or are baring your shoulders, you might not be allowed entrance.

Grand Palace and Wat Phra Keaw at Sunset, Bangkok, Thailand
Grand Palace at Wat Phra Keaw sunset

Visit Chatuchak Market on the Weekend

Chatuchak Market, which also goes by the name J.J. Market, is the largest market in the country and the place to be to shop for any and all kinds of goods you want to take home with you, whether cultural souvenirs to give to friends, or traditional Thai shirts for yourself. The market is only open on Saturdays and Sundays and gets around 200,000 visitors each day. There are over 8,000 stalls to visit, spread over 27 acres of space, so when we say large, we’re talking large. It’s easy to get lost here, so you might want to have a gameplan before visiting, on Thailand tours. Also, make sure to grab a map of the marketplace so you know where you are as you stroll through the endless rows of shops and jostle amongst thousands of fellow shoppers.

Ride the Skytrain

Bangkok is large and can get very warm and humid. It’s hard to move around outside without experiencing the heat. Luckily, the city also has the Skytrain, which offers you a way to get around the downtown core without surrendering to the elements. Also known as the Bangkok Mass Transit System or BTS, the Skytrain has two lines that connect to 35 stations across the city. The Sukhumvit Line runs north and east, while the Silom Line runs along the central roads, Silom and Sathon. True to its name, the Skytrain takes you above the streets so you can enjoy a great view of Bangkok as it passes below you, and the air conditioning makes sure you beat the heat. There’s no better way to get around town on a trip to Thailand.

Skytrain in Bangkok, Thailand
Skytrain in Bangkok

Eat at a Food Stall

Bangkok is the best city for street food in the world. Hong Kong, Singapore, and Hanoi have their claims to the title, but at the end of the day, no city outdoes Bangkok when it comes to the variety and quality of food you’ll find in the streets. Despite some of the new restrictions placed on food stalls in 2017 by the ruling military junta, you’ll still find plenty of areas in the city to feast on Thai favourites like pad thai and som tam. Chinatown (Yaowarat) is particularly great when it comes to street food. Watch to see which stall locals are heading to and line up behind them to enjoy some fresh pad thai, satay, or even a bowl of tom yum goong. You haven’t really experienced Bangkok until you’ve tasted its street food on Thailand tours.

Making Kuay Tiao Rad Na (a stir fried noodle with pork and kale in sticky soup) at shop in Yaowarat, Bangkok, Thailand
Making Kuay Tiao Rad Na (a stir fried noodle with pork and kale in sticky soup) at shop in Yaowarat

Admire Wat Arun at Sunrise or Sunset

Wat Arun, one of Bangkok’s most beloved temples, is an incredible highlight at sunrise or sunset, when the light illuminates the golden stupas of the temple. Known as the Temple of Dawn, Wat Arun is best known for its central prang, which rises over 80m into the air and reflects some of the light that hits it. If you head there at sunrise or sunset, you’ll see the central prang capture the light and come to life. After sunset, the temple illuminates and serves as one of the main landmarks along the Chao Phraya River. Beyond simply admiring the temple, you can also pay an entry fee to visit the temple grounds.

Stroll down Khao San Road after Sundown

Even if you’ve never been to Bangkok before, there’s a chance that Khao San Road is familiar to you. This crowded street in the heart of Bangkok is the world’s unofficial backpacker capital and one of the most energetic streets you’ll ever walk down. Khao San Road is bustling even in the middle of the noonday sun, but after sundown, the street really comes alive, attracting foreign backpackers, street vendors, and all manner of gawking onlookers. You’ll find a lot of good street food along the road, as well as your fill of street vendors, bars, and nightclubs. If you’re bothered by pushy salespeople, you might not want to stay on Khao San Road for long, especially as some of the salespeople will want to sell you illegal services. However, there’s something iconic about Khao San Road and it’s a must-see on a trip to Bangkok. There are few streets with as much life in all the world.

Cruise along the Chao Phraya River

Bangkok straddles the banks of the Chao Phraya River, which snakes north and south across the city. As a city on the river, there’s really no better way to see some of the landmarks, such as the Grand Palace and Wat Arun, than from the water. Odds are you’ll get on the water at some point during your Thailand vacation to Bangkok, whether you take a water taxi to a location like the Grand Palace or do a river cruise that includes dinner and a drink. You can also do a champagne cruise or take a sunset cruise that shows off the best highlights as the sun sets, such as Wat Arun.

Chao Phraya River, Bangkok, Thailand _526106815
Chao Phraya River

Get a Thai Massage

Thai massages are unlike any other kind of massage that you can get. For one, there’s no oil or exotic music and no vigorous rubbing of sore muscles and joints. Instead of "massaging you" as you’d expect a western massage therapist to do, Thai masseuses pull and stretch and even rock your body to relieve tension and stress. This often results in you getting in yoga-like poses throughout the massage. A Thai massage can be surprisingly energetic, but it’s also incredibly relaxing and you’ll find yourself refreshed and agile afterwards. If you’re looking for a good place to get a massage, you can do no better than the Wat Pho Thai Traditional Medical and Massage School, which was the first Thai massage school, founded in 1955. Located on site at Wat Pho, the school lets you enjoy Thai massage in the place where the whole practice got started (and lets you rest easy about heading into the wrong kind of massage parlour by accident).

Wat Pho Thai Traditional Medical and Massage School, Bangkok, Thailand
Wat Pho Thai Traditional Medical and Massage School

Go on a Shopping Spree in one of the Malls

As if the Chatuchak Weekend Market wasn’t enough, there are many shopping malls across Bangkok that can satisfy all your shopping needs. The trio of Siam malls are your best bets to find high-end goods and enjoy an air-conditioned break from the crowds of the city streets. The Siam Discovery was renovated in 2016 and offers all manner of high-end goods in an open-shopfront environment, while Siam Center is the best place to go for food and fashion. For luxury goods and to gawk at sports cars, head to Siam Paragon. In the basement you’ll also find an aquarium, while you can watch a movie at one of Thailand’s largest movie theatres on the top floor. For other malls, you can find almost anything you need at Terminal 21, while the older MBK Center offers you essentially an indoor version of Chatuchak Market. Its many vendors sell goods of all kinds across various floors, making it an ideal place to head to if you want to barter with local vendors but avoid the crowds and heat of the Weekend Market.

Shops at Siam Center, Bangkok, Thailand
Shops at Siam Center

Bangkok is a city where you’ll always find new sights and experiences to energize you on Thailand tours and reveal another facet of Thai culture. However, if you need to cut down the vast number of incredible things to do in the city to a manageable number, our list of the essential things to do in Bangkok will help you see the best of the city.

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Aren Bergstrom
Aren Bergstrom
Goway - Managing Editor, Globetrotting Magazine

You might say that Aren was destined to become a globetrotter after his family took him to Germany two times before he was four. If that wasn’t enough, a term spent in Sweden as a young teenager and a trek across Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand confirmed that destiny. An independent writer, director, and film critic, Aren has travelled across Asia, Europe, the Middle East, and South America. His favourite travel experience was visiting the major cities of Japan’s largest island, Honshu, but his love for food, drink, and film will take him anywhere that boasts great art and culture.

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