What makes Bangkok so special and one of the hottest tourist destinations, any time of the year. Its pretty simple; it has a lot to offer. You could spend a few weeks just in the city and still not run out of things to do or sights to see.
It is a fairly new city. In 1782, after the passing away of King Taksin of Thon Buri (now part of Bangkok) Chao Phraya Maha Kasatsuek ascended the throne and was known as King Buddha Yodfa or Rama I. The King moved the capital to the opposite side of the river known as Bangkok and established the Chakri Dynasty. The canals were dug around the city including Banglamphu and Ong Ang canals to the east. They have then linked the Chao Phraya River at both ends so the city was surrounded by water and the whole canal was named “Khlong Rop Krung” meaning the canal around the city. These canals together with other smaller ones were the source of Bangkok’s nickname “Venice of the East”.
In 1932, following a revolution constitutional monarchy came into existence. Bangkok on the east bank known as Krung Thep or Phra Nakhon became a province and Thon Buri on the west bank became another province. In 1971, the two provinces were merged under the name of Nakhon Luang Krung Thon Buri or Bangkok-Thon Buri Metropolis. One year later, the form of local government in the metropolis was reorganized and the province obtained a new name as Krung Thep Maha Nakhon or popularly called Krung Thep for short. The name is still used among the Thais today as always, while the foreigners know Krung Thep as Bangkok (village called bang in Thai was full of wild olives called makok in Thai which was shortened to kok).
Bangkok’s history is interesting. In the 19th century, the British conquered Burma whereas the French took Siam’s formal vassal states, Laos and Cambodia. Due to the diplomacy of King Rama IV and V, who conceded territorial claims in exchange for independence, the two western powers accepted Siam as a buffer state between them. Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country never to have been taken over by a European power.
Any visit to Bangkok can get overwhelming due to the sheer number of options. We stayed there for a few days and it was packed. At the end of the trip, we felt we had barely scratched the surface. The city surely left me and my wife with an odd longing to go back and explore more. Its one of the few places that I don’t mind going again and again. Here’s a list of things that you can do and see to scratch deeper!
Must See Places in Bangkok:
1. The Grand Palace: Its right in the epicenter of Bangkok. It was a former residence for King Rama I to King Rama V of the Rattanakosin Kingdom. Today, the place is used for hosting royal ceremonies and welcoming the king’s guests, State guests, and other foreign dignitaries. It is also a place where remains of kings and high-ranked members of the royal family were situated before cremation.
The Grand Palace is divided into two main zones, which are the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the royal residence. The latter is divided into three major areas: the Outer Court, the Middle Court, and the Inner Court. (Website)
Within the palace complex is the majestic Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), which contains the greatly revered and mysterious Emerald Buddha that dates back to the 14th century. The statue is 30″ tall, and made of green jasper. The king himself changes its garments three times a year, at the beginning of each of the three seasons. Visitors are allowed inside Grand Palace Hall (Chakri Maha Prasat) and the impressive Dusit Hall.
Here you cannot enter with short pants or shirts without sleeves. As in any temple in Thailand, please take off your shoes. Near the entrance of the Palace complex is a booth where proper clothes are provided if needed.
2. Wat Arun: This temple is unmissable in its style and location. It is also called the temple of Dawn and dedicated to Aruna, the Indian God of Dawn. Sitting sublime on the Thonburi side of the Chao Phraya River, the legendary Wat Arun is one of the most striking riverside landmarks of Thailand. Despite the name, the most spectacular view of the glittering monument can be seen from the east side of the river at sunset, when the spires of Wat Arun make an impressive silhouette against the skyline. (Pic:travelspro.com)
This temple is an architectural representation of Mount Meru, the center of the world in Buddhist cosmology. In the mythology of Tibetan Buddhism, Mount Meru is a place that simultaneously represents the center of the universe and the single-pointedness of mind sought by adepts. Thousands of miles in height, Meru is located somewhere beyond the physical plane of reality, in a realm of perfection and transcendence. The four-corner prang of Wat Arun, which house images of the guardian gods of the four directions, reinforces this mystical symbolism. Read more at www.hinduwebsite.com It makes for a very interesting read with a different perspective!
3. Chao Phraya River & Cruises: Though these cruises are very touristy, they do lend an entirely different view of this bustling city. It is also a relaxing way to spend a few hours and especially stunning at sunset!
You can also just choose the public commute boats and let them whisk to various stops on the river. But hold on to those poles. They do accelerate pretty fast. The packages do come with lavish meals and entertainment of sorts. We went with these guys.
4. Floating Markets: This is surely one of the top draws for visitors. you will see boats are stacked with tropical fruit and vegetables, fresh, ready-to-drink coconut juice and local food cooked from floating kitchens located right on the boat.
To enjoy the atmosphere without haggling over prices, try relaxing on a guided boat tour of Damnoen Saduak market. Floating markets are Taling Chan Market, Bang Ku Wiang Market, Tha Kha, and Damnoen Saduak. Damnoen Saduak is the most lively and also the most crowded. However its well worth because of the great pictures that you can take! There are specific stops for Orchids and flowers too. Don’t be surprised if you see someone carry snakes too! It’s about a 100kms for city center and should take two hours to get there.
5. Wat Pho: This is another of the amazing and intricately designed temples in Bangkok. Its the abode of reclining Buddha. It’s a small walk from the Grand Palace and tends to be far more relaxing than the bustling Grand palace.
Another specialty of the temple is the number 108. It refers to the 108 positive actions that helped lead Buddha attain moksha. Also, there are 108 bronze bowls which line the length of the walls for you to drop coins in. In the campus also find 394 images and golden statues of Buddha. there is an in-house massage center for an authentic experience.
6. Chatuchak Weekend Market: You want to see one of the busiest markets you will ever see. Head to Chatuchak on weekends. Its 27 sections are a maze of shops of all kinds. Its one of the best places to buy souvenirs. Here you really can find anything you’re looking for, along with many things you never knew you wanted! It attracts around 200,000 visitors each day of the weekend, and, according to the official website, about 30% of those visitors are foreign tourists.
Getting there: 1. Chatuchak Market is adjacent to the Kamphaengpecth Station
(MRT) about 5 minute walk from Mochit Skytrain (BTS) Station and Suan Chatuchak (Chatuchak Park) Station (MRT)
2. SkyTrain BTS get off at Sapan Khwai Station or Mochit Station MRT get off at Kamphaenpetch Station
3. Bus No. 3,826,27,28,29,34,38,39,44,52,59,63,77,90,96,104,408,112,122, 134,136,138,153,159
AC Bus No. 2,3,9,18,19,28,34,39,44,134,145,153,510,512,513
7. Jim Thompson House: Jim Thompson, an American was an architect who moved to Thailand and decided to start a textile business once there. His interest was piqued by Thai architecture and built a house in the traditional style of Thai houses.
Its a decent visit with some insights into the traditional silk and architecture. A couple hours should suffice. The Jim Thompson Art Center in the adjacent building is worth a look as well. They also organize some interesting exhibitions by various artists.
8. Go to a Muay Thai class or a match: As violent as it looks at the first glance, it is considered to be one of the perfect martial arts. You can use any part of the body and hit any part of the opponent.. well almost. Not many martial arts can match the speed and the sheer variety of attacking and combos that Muay Thai has.
Better than watching the show (which is a spectacle BTW) go to a Muay Thai school for an intro class. They will teach you the basic combos, positions and some ground rules. After the two hours there, you will fall in love with this sport. We went to the Chacrit School. They are awesome!
9. Siam Niramit Show: I just feel this show doesn’t get the publicity it deserves. Everyone in Bangkok talks about Cabaret shows and all other kinds of shows, but Siam Niramit is truly world class. We bagged a ticket at the last moment and rushed in. And wow, was the show awesome.
Its a unique way of Thai storytelling with so many props and even elephants and even a water stream on stage. Imagine Cirque du Soleil with a more linear storytelling. I can’t think of a better compliment than that! Photography is not allowed and the photos here are from their Website. This would be the best 45USD (1500 THB= 3000INR) that you spend on a Bangkok evening! (wink, wink)
10. Take a Thai food tour: No post on Bangkok is complete without a note on the food scene. the first thing that strikes you as you enter the city is the faint smell of lemongrass. Its omnipresent in every street and in every dish. You will take a few seconds to get used to it though. But then on its an unending stream of amazing hotels, hawkers, and food that one could die for. Though not as mystic or nuanced as compared to the Vietnamese or Indian food, Thai food is famous the world over for a reason.
Try hotel or hawker hopping and check out the local delicacies. Or even better take a guided food tour for more insights! Try fish soup Khao Tom Pla Kimpo, Tom Yum Pork Noodles, Mango Sticky Rice, Pad Thai or just try anything on instinct at any of the food courts! You can hardly go wrong!
11. Get a Thai massage: Thai massage sometimes gets a bad rep due to prostitution that is attached to many seedy places in Bangkok. But finding a clean one not difficult at all. Just ask the hotel guy or google it!
The Thai style of massage as opposed to the Indian style uses more pressure and stretches the joints with a lot more pressure. You probably won’t fall asleep while getting it done, unlike the Indian version. But you do feel every loose indeed after its done! try one and be a fan forever! we went to the So Thai spa and the Dahra Spa. Both were good and reasonable!
As I had mentioned earlier, this amazing metropolis has too much for anyone to completely list the things that can be done here. If you have more time to spare, do consider a relaxing day at the Lumpini Park, spend an evening watching the sunset from one of the many sky bars, take one of the many day trip options or visit the interesting Bangkok art and cultural center. Bangkok won’t let you down whatever you decide!
Useful Bangkok Practical Tips:
- You will encounter scammers unmissably. If something sounds too good or too cheap to be true, then it isn’t.
- If there’s no price tag, it can be bargained down. You can shave 25-50% off the seller’s asking price if you use a smile and a patient disposition.
- If approached and engaged in unsolicited conversation by any person, be they Thai or from your home country, WAKE UP, chances are there’s a scam coming
- It can get pretty humid here and congested. keep your self well hydrated and keep your wits about the traffic too. Don’t drink tap water.
- The buses and metro are organized and convenient. Use the metro in peak times. Road traffic can get messy!
- Carrying a photocopy of your passport is a must in Thailand. Though it may never be needed, the police guy may suddenly ask for it. Be prepared.
- Most hotel visiting cards come with directions in Thai. Use it for guiding your cabbies and even while walking. You may need the help. Use Google translate and maps if the need arises
- Local sim cards are pretty cheap. The data is super fast too.
- Changing currency is easy. Change only what you immediately need at the airport. You will get better rates in the city. However, have an eye on scammers especially while counting
- Taxis and Tuk Tuks don’t always go by meter. Use their taxi-hailing service ‘Grab‘. Its merged with Uber and is user-friendly.
- From the airport: Taxis can get confusing. Tell them to take the highway with tolls and pay for them and also ask them to turn on the meter.
- Visa for Indians: Thailand allows Visa on Arrival to Indians and many other countries for tourism purposes. There is a 2000 Baht fee and you need to fill up a form at the counter. (Embassy Link)
- What I Read: This one is amazing. A great style of writing and narrative. The story is about Justin or Little Frog, a 12-year-old Thai boy, as he lives with his extended family in a compound in Bangkok while his parents have been ‘away’ for the last three years. It’s a cross between magic realism and a bildungsroman/coming of age story, in which a boy teeming at the cusp of adolescence discovers many things about himself, his family’s culture and the tumult of the world outside his family compound and outside Thailand. Amazon link.
- What I Saw: There are so many movies that are set in Bangkok and that give you a peek into its wild and unexplored side. Bangkok Dangerous is one the few watchable Nicholas Cage movies. He plays an assassin who falls in love with a deaf and mute Thai lady and his life spins out of control. The Hangover Part II is an equally hilarious sequel to the superhit. It’s fully set in Bangkok and takes you well into its dark underbelly. I watched Pee Mak with subtitles and it was simply sublime. It follows Mak who served in the war during Rattanakosin Dynasty. At war, he became friends with Ter, Puak, Shin, and Aey, whose lives he saved. Once the war was over, Mak invites his four friends into his home in Phra Khanong town and introduces them to his beautiful wife Nak and his newborn baby boy Dang. In a weird twist after some rumours and darkness, the four friends fell that Nak and Dang are actually dead and lingered as haunting ghosts. It’s up to Mak to choose love or reality.