Bangkok. A whirlwind of sights, sounds, and tastes. The capital of Thailand and, in many ways, the front door to the world of Southeast Asia. Millions of locals zoom by modern skyscrapers and hundred-year-old temples, while over 140,000 tourists arrive to the city each and every day. This all goes to show how large and overwhelming Bangkok can really be.
Using Bangkok as a pitstop on many Southeast Asian itineraries (as Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport normally has roundtrip tickets hundreds of dollars cheaper than other Southeast Asian metro airports), I have spent anywhere from 6 to 48 hours in Thailand’s capital. Whether you are spending your whole trip or just a night in the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, check out these tips on where to stay, what to eat, and what to do on your venture into the heart of Thailand.
Where to stay?
The first time I traveled to Thailand’s capital, I stayed in one of the hundreds of sky high resorts that speckle the city’s riverbank. If you are looking for Western comfort and luxury, there are dozens of options as low as $150 a night (more details below). One of my favorite stays though was at Niras Bankoc Cultural Hostal.
Stumbling into this hostel’s quaint cafe on my first trip to Bangkok, I immediately fell in love with its refreshing yet quirky vibe. Resembling an East Village coffee bar with its copper pans hung from the ceiling and plush couches spread around, the cafe is a great space for tourists to come together from all over the world.
The accommodation itself has a little something for everybody. From budget doubles for the backpackers, to private suites for those needing a little extra space after the 12 hour flight, the hostel offers a contemporary boho feel with private rooms starting at just $38/night. If hostels aren’t your cup of tea though, check out these other affordable luxury options:
Bayan Tree Bangkok Located in the Thung Maha Mek District of the city, Bayan Tree boasts luxury alongside a mecca for Asian cuisine. With over 6 restaurants, 2 bars, and a rooftop deck, Bayan Tree’s 61 story skyscraper truly make Bayan a city within a city itself.
ARUN Riverside Bangkok Located on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, ARUN features luxury rooms with views of the Wat Arun Temple. With access to water taxis down the block and The Grand Palace a stone’s throw away, the $250 price tag is well worth it.
Now, what to eat?
If you only have enough time for one meal in Bangkok, it has to be at Thipsamai Padthai. My first trip to Bangkok unfortunately didn’t include this local favorite due to poor planning and late opening hours (5pm-10pm) but has been a pitstop ever since.
Located in the Samran Rat district of town, Thipsamai arguably serves the best pad thai in the city. For those wishing to eat in (with AC for an additional 500 baht) or takeaway, the lines are around the block. Some cooks work on the street, blazing their wok fires close to the waiting line while shouting orders to the hostess in charge. Even though 30-60 minutes may be a long time to stand in line for a taste of Thailand’s most famous meal, there is certainly no shortage of entertainment during the wait.
Thipsamai has only two main options for pad thai: vegetarian or shrimp. While choices to vary the noodle type, spice, and oil add a few more bullet points on the menu, the superstar pick is the Superb Pad Thai: pad thai wrapped in a cocoon of fried egg. Read more about this famous pad thai & view the full Thipsamui menu here.
So you’ve eaten & you’ve stayed, but now what do you do?
Bangkok is famous for its hundreds of beautiful and colorful temples that sit side by side to modern skyscrapers all over the city. Intricately designed, the temples ground the city’s ancient history in a growing modern metropolis.
The Grand Palace is without a doubt, the most recognizable complex within Bangkok. Spanning over 218,000 square meters, the details of every temple is absolutely mesmerizing. Built in 1782, it was the governmental seat and center of the Thai kingdom for over a century.
Just a stones throw, is Wat Pho, a temple best known for its enormous statue of the reclining Buddha. As not only the largest temple in the city but also the temple holding the most amount of ancient Buddhist artwork, Wat Pho can often be missed behind the enormous shadow of the Grand Palace. Wat Arun sits just across the Chao Phraya River and is known as the Temple of Dawn, derived from the Hindu god Aruna. With a quick ferry ride from the Saphan Taksin boat pier, all three temples can easily be covered in a morning, before the hundreds of thousands of tourists fill the streets and the heat hits over 100 degrees.
Now for some afternoon shopping.
Capturing the true essence of Bangkok through a myriad of sights, smells, and sounds, the Chatuchak Market is known as the largest market in Asia. Open every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, the market features plenty of food stalls selling everything from chicken satay to grasshoppers on a stick. Once you have chosen your snack, there are hundreds of local crafters selling handprinted prints, jewelry, clothing, and so much more.
Through my travels in Asia, I have definitely learned the trick of the trade (trade being the art of bartering). It is absolutely acceptable and even a sign that you are not a complete tourist to barter with vendors. For a market like Chatuchak, check out these few first timer tips to try your hand at bartering:
- Never take the first offer. Vendors excessively up-sell because they know many Western tourists won’t think twice about it. As long as you are at a market and not a shop with already set prices, never take the first offer.
- Decide when you walk up how much you are willing to pay & only have that much cash in your hand. A great bartering trick is to only approach with the amount of money you are willing to spend, in the exact change. If you find an item and only offer half price but pull out your wallet with three times as much, the bartering will probably not lean in your favor.
- Walk away. Many times I have found a market treasure that I love but the price is still too high. Whether you are bluffing or not, walking away from a stand is a great way to spark a last minute deal. Keep in mind though, these deals won’t always happen so be sure you are prepared to walk away if you go this route.
- Last but not least, while bartering is part of the Asian market culture, there is a fine line in playful bartering and ripping a vendor off. Many people at local markets are living off of whatever money they can bring home that day so it is important to pay a fair price. Tourism rules countries like Thailand so keep that in mind when bartering down a dollar or two.
Bangkok is a city of over 8 million residents and 23 million tourists a year. It is is intoxicating. It is overwhelming. But most of all, it is mesmerizing. Take a few of these highlights & book your next Southeast Asian itinerary through this vibrant city to see for yourself.