Bangkok is by far the largest city in Thailand. In fact, it’s roughly 8.2 million population is close to 13% of the entire population of Thailand.
Even if the city does seem horrendously busy and overcrowded, bear in mind that Bangkok is relatively small (population-wise) when compared to other major cities of the world. It currently ranks 24th largest, behind the likes of Moscow, New York City, Shanghai and Beijing.
Of course, the population of Bangkok is the number of people who live there full time, but what about all the visitors who come to Bangkok every year?
Add these to the permanent population and you start to understand why the city is so busy! Bangkok is one of the world’s most popular cities, attracting more tourists each year than even Paris. Exact numbers vary according to who you ask, but it’s somewhere in the region of 15 million visitors per year.
According to the World Meteorological Organization, Bangkok is the world’s hottest city. The average air temperature throughout the year is 28 degrees centigrade, but this jumps to a sticky 34 degrees between the months of March and May. That would explain the sweat stains! The best time to visit Bangkok is between November and February when the city enjoys cooler temperatures and blue skies. The only problem is everyone else has the same idea.
You probably already know some Bangkok facts, such as it’s the capital and largest city of Thailand, and that it’s full of exquisite temples, palaces, bars, clubs, shopping, dining, and plenty more things to see and do, but what else do you know about this amazingly vibrant city?
Let’s explore the best place to visit in Bangkok:
One of the largest aquariums in Southeast Asia, SEA LIFE Bangkok (previously known as Ocean World) is a welcome break from the heat and crowds you find in many of Bangkok’s outdoor attractions. If you’re looking for what to do in Bangkok with kids this should be on your list of places to visit.
Admission prices are quite steep if you’re only planning to be here for an hour, but stay for longer and you’re more likely to get your money’s worth. Also consider upgrading your ticket to include a ride on the glass bottom boat through the shark tank.
This is the closest many of us will ever get to a shark! The upgraded entry also includes the 5D cinema, and a souvenir photo, plus there’s an option to get a combined ticket for the aquarium and Madam Tussauds.
Exhibits include an underwater tunnel, and there are countless different species of fish and other marine life here including octopus, seahorses and turtles, and the always entertaining penguins. With everything indoors, and the food court of the Siam Paragon shopping mall right outside the doors, this is a popular thing to do in Bangkok.
- Bangkok National Museum
When deciding what to do in Bangkok you’ll discover there are countless museums of different sizes and different subjects all across the city but if you want a general overview of Thai art and history, be sure to visit the Bangkok National Museum.
This is the largest museum in Southeast Asia so you should set aside several hours at least for visiting this particular Bangkok attraction. It’s recommended for anyone who’d like to learn more about the intricate history of Thailand. Starting in pavilion one you’ll see some very nice exhibits that begin to summarise the country’s history.
The rest of the museum is set over numerous buildings, some with more to offer, and some with better exhibits than others.
Parts of the museum have benefited from refurbishment, while others would still benefit from more work, but overall the insight you’ll gain from visiting will help you have a better understanding of the local culture and more of an appreciation for the many things to do in Bangkok.
- Khao San Road
It’s only a short street but Khao San Road is probably the best known street in the city, making a visit to the backpacker’s paradise one of the top things to do in Bangkok. You could call it a tourist trap, but if you’re wondering what to do in Bangkok one evening, this is a great place to try.
It’s friendly and has a fun and laid back atmosphere thanks to the welcoming locals and the worldly tourists. If you wanted cheap, backpacker accommodation you would come here, and you’d also come here to pick up many of the buses that leave for other parts of Thailand each day.
But if you’re not staying in a cheap hostel in the heart of this Bangkok attraction, what does Khao San Road offer? During the day you can buy cheap goods from the stores that line the street; anything from pirated CDs to handicrafts to essential backpacker items.
Come evening and this short street is packed with people looking for a fun night out. Music blasts from the shops and bars and there are ample places to grab some authentic Thai food.
Try a cheap foot massage after a day of sightseeing or watch one of the far-out shows and entertainment offerings. Even if you just have a short visit to see what all the fuss is about this Bangkok attraction really is one to experience.
- The Chao Phraya River
The Chao Phraya River meanders its way right through the heart of Bangkok and adds to the charm and appeal of this bustling metropolis. Getting out on the water offers a break from the crowds and the heat, making a trip along the river a popular thing to do in Bangkok.
River ferries dart back and forth between hotels and landmarks so even if you just take a quick trip from one side to the other it’s a nice experience. The best way to see this Bangkok attraction though is on a river cruise or by renting a boat and travelling at your own speeds.
Longboats can be rented from a couple of different piers and the price includes a driver so you don’t have to worry about finding your way around. Ask him to take you to the canals as this is a wonderful thing to do in Bangkok that many visitors to the city don’t get to see.There are guided river cruises as well if you want to learn all about the river while cruising on it.
Dinner cruises are the perfect end to a day and allow you to see the city from a different perspective as the sun goes down and the temples and palaces are lit up.
- Lumpini Park
Lumpini Park is to Bangkok as Central Park is to New York! It is the largest public park in the city and one of the few places around the city centre that you can come to enjoy open spaces and greenery, away from the crowded streets, traffic congestion, noise and fumes.
Just like Central Park there is a variety of things to see and do here, and after a couple of days experiencing Bangkok, Lumpini Park really is an oasis of calm.
The park was created in the 1920s on royal land, and back then it was actually on the outskirts of the city. Today it has been swallowed up by the city, and is situated right in the heart of the main business district, making this an easy Bangkok attraction to get to.
You can rent boats and paddle around on the artificial lake then stroll the park’s 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) of paths that are popular throughout the day and evening with walkers and joggers. The park comes to life early in the morning as locals come for their morning exercise and there are stalls set up where you can buy food and a variety of other items.
People watching are a fun thing to do in Bangkok, and early morning in Lumpini Park is the ideal time to do it. Pick a bench or a picnic table and simply watch the world go by.
- Chatuchak Weekend Market
Among the many things to do in Bangkok, shopping is always a popular pastime both for tourists and for locals. There are countless markets and shopping malls, but none come close to beating the experience you’ll find at the Chatuchak Weekend Market.
It’s a mammoth market and one of the top attractions in Bangkok, with somewhere in the region of 15,000 different stalls and about 200,000 visitors each day that it’s open. As the name suggests this is primarily a weekend market, open Saturday and Sunday, though one section, called Jatujak Plaza is open throughout the week too.
There’s no point in trying to list what you can buy at the market because the fact is you can buy just about anything and the goods are all affordably priced. Of course, you should haggle over prices anyway and get a little more off what the vendor first quotes you as this is the expected thing to do in Bangkok!
Come early to beat some of the crowds and to beat the heat – with so many people wandering around the stalls the market does get very hot and uncomfortable, and you don’t want this to ruin your visit. If you’re okay with the crowds stay for the day and enjoy some great food from the multitude of food carts.
- Jim Thompson House
The Jim Thompson House is one of the top Bangkok attractions offering insight into the life of owner Jim Thompson as well as a look at some of Thailand’s traditional architecture, beautiful silk and art.
Even if you don’t know who Jim Thompson was, the house museum is interesting, and guided tours are informative and fun. Outside, the lush gardens are quite the oasis compared to the busy streets just steps away, and the large fish pond is a great place to sit and relax after a tour.
Jim Thompson was a renowned American businessman who established a large and successful Thai silk company. Over the 1950s and 60s he put together this home with pieces from six different antique Thai houses to create the unique place you can visit today.
The combination of historic Thai architecture with his own Western influences make this an intriguing place, but maybe more intriguing is the mystery of what happened to Jim Thompson when he went missing in the jungles of Malaysia in 1967.
- Dusit Palace
Dusit Palace wasn’t the official residence of King Rama V, but it was his primary residence. The king had this complex built between 1897 and 1901 as a place to go to beat the heat of the Grand Palace. This palace complex is really quite different to the elaborate architecture and ornamentation of the Grand Palace, but even so, it is still among the top things to do in Bangkok because of its differences.
The main structure at Dusit Palace is Vimanmek Mansion. The architecture is more akin to traditional Thai but what sets this building apart is that it is reputedly the largest golden teakwood house in the world. It is very beautiful with its sometimes intricate details, and amazing to think that its walls are built entirely of wood.
The palace grounds are also beautiful and to make the most of your visit be sure to pick up an audio guide. Other points to mention are that it’s best to visit in the morning before the tour buses arrive. You will have to walk around in bare feet and be appropriately dressed, and finally, if you visit the Grand Palace before this one you should keep your ticket as it gives you free entry into the mansion.
- Wat Arun
One of the most familiar sites in Thailand, and best known temples in Bangkok, Wat Arunis actually fully titled Wat Arun Ratchawararam Ratchawaramahawihan, which is a bit of a mouthful. It’s often known by the simpler title of the Temple of Dawn.
Its soaring golden tower is a spectacular sight at any time of day but is especially impressive when the sun is setting on the horizon. Wat Arun is situated opposite to the Grand Palace, across the Chao Phraya River. You can easily catch a boat from Sapphan Taksin boat pier which will take you to pier 8.
From there you can take a shuttle boat to get you across the river. There’s an array of beautiful architecture to see at Wat Arun, so it’s a good idea to allow you at least an hour for a visit to this site.
- The Grand Palace
It’s called The Grand Palace but “grand” doesn’t even begin to describe just how stunning this historic complex of buildings really is. It is among the top tourist attractions in the whole of Thailand, and has played an important role in the country’s history, being home to the Kings of Siam since 1782. Although it isn’t the official residence of the present king, King Rama X, it is still used for official events such as state functions and royal ceremonies throughout the year.
Of the numerous things to do in Bangkok this is a must-visit attraction for its architectural and cultural value. Get past the hawkers outside who will try to lead you away to spend your money elsewhere, then try to forget about the throng of tourists wandering the palace with you and the inevitable din that goes with them. If you can put all these negatives aside you’ll enjoy the artefacts, beautiful Thai art, and exquisite architecture and decoration throughout the palace complex.
Arriving by boat is probably the most stylish way to get to this Bangkok attraction, and you’ll enjoy great views of the palace from the water as you approach. Be sure to wear clothes that cover your legs or you’ll have to rent a gown to be allowed into various parts of the palace. Also consider joining one of the free guided tours as these are the perfect way to see the best bits and to find out more as you go.
- Temple of the Reclining Buddha
Located immediately south of the Grand Palace precinct, Wat Pho makes an excellent addition to your tour, provided your feet are up for more walking.
Also known as or Wat Chetuphon), the temple was built by King Rama I and is the oldest and in Bangkok. It has long been considered a place of healing, and was famous centuries ago for its pharmacy and as Thailand’s first “university,” both established by King Rama III.
You can get a Thai or foot massage at the traditional medical school on the premises, but the prices are significantly higher than what you will find at massage parlors elsewhere in the city.
Today Wat Pho is best known for the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, where you’ll find a statue so big (45 m long and 15 m high), it cannot be viewed in its entirety only appreciated in sections. The soles of the feet, inlaid with a myriad of precious stones, are particularly interesting with the 108 signs of true faith. Also look for the long earlobes signifying noble birth, and the lotus-bud configuration of the hand to symbolize purity and beauty.
- Famous floating market
For an even more interesting market experience, you can arrange a tour to Damnoen Saduak, a famous floating market located in Ratchaburi (about 1.5 hours outside Bangkok).
The popularity of floating markets once earned Bangkok the nickname “Venice of the East”, bear in mind that this has now become something of a tourist trap, so don’t expect an exclusive morning of shopping by boat. But you will be able to buy fresh and delicious foods and interact with locals in an authentic way.
The best tour option is a Floating Markets Cruise Day Trip from Bangkok, which takes about six hours and includes pick up right from your hotel and offers transport in an air-conditioned coach. This tour guarantees the lowest price.
The best things to do in Bangkok:
Fancy peddling your way into the wilderness? Then hop on a bike and swap the bustle of the city for the wilds of the jungle. Don’t worry, you don’t have to be Lance Armstrong to join this tour, it isn’t too challenging (but there are a few slender walkways that are relatively high for you to negotiate).
You’ll have to board the ferry and cross the Chao Phraya river to get there, but it’s certainly worth the trip. Your journey will take you through villages. You will visit a workshop to see how incense is produced. En-route, you will also check out a temple from the Ayutthaya-period (estimated to be around 250 years old). Join a weekend tour if you fancy visiting the floating market.
Like to get about under your own steam? If so, take advantage of a one-day-pass which allows you to climb aboard a Tuk Tuk and Tourist Boat as often as you like during a 24-hour period. Tuk Tuk is the way to travel in Bangkok; you can sit back and relax as you discover the old town.
The lengthy Chao Phraya River also offers ample opportunity for adventure; float along it on board a tourist boat. Make your way around the city and sample everything Bangkok has to offer at your own leisurely pace.
Take this chance to immerse yourself in Bangkok’s unique culture and culinary heritage with this four-hour Midnight Supper Tuk-Tuk Food Tour.
Meet up with your guide at the Sam Yan MRT station before hopping on a tuk-tuk that’ll take you on your food adventure.
Calling all adrenalin junkies: how about an adventure that takes you into the depths of the jungle and up high amongst the treetop canopy?
If you’ve got a head for heights then this is for you. Find out about the delicate eco-system as you cross sky bridges and make daring rappel descents.
Zip-line your way through the lush greenery, safe in the knowledge that you’re not only having fun, but also supporting the conservation efforts.
This one day tour takes you to River Kwai, Kanchanaburi where you can enjoy a soft trekking adventure with elephant riding into the unspoiled jungle and bamboo rafting in a natural stream.
See the famous bridge over the River Kwai and take an interesting train ride along the Death Railway route.
If you like massage, Bangkok’s your city, with everything from 100-baht-per-hour reflexology to day packages that cost hundreds of dollars.
Most street massage shops do a perfectly adequate foot massage for 250 baht per hour (a 50 to 100 baht tip is appreciated).
For a more professional experience, Health Land, Body Tune and Urban Oasis are reputable chains.
The most pampering spas are undoubtedly those attached to luxury hotels, Peninsula, Park Hyatt Erawan and The Siam are three of myriad indulgent outlets.
Hungry? Come and discover the local delicacies and get your taste buds tingling as you sample the street food of Thailand.
Savor the Some Tam Tai (a zingy papaya salad), enjoy the delicious dim sum and swallow down fishy noodles – finally wash the feast down with a traditional beer served at a hidden gem of a local bar.
The world-famous energy drink Red Bull can be found throughout the world and was the pioneer of what is now a multibillion dollar power drink industry. But few people know that this caffeine-and-sugar concoction has been a popular brand in Thailand since 1976 when it was created by a Chaleo Yoovidhya, a man with little formal education and who had moved to Bangkok from central Thailand to seek his fortune.
At the time of his death in 2012, he was reportedly the third richest man in Thailand with an estimated wealth of $US 5 billion. It must be said that he received quite a bit of help from Austrian businessman Dietrich Mateschitz, who regularly travelled to Bangkok for business in the 1980s and would drink Red Bull as a cure for jetlag.
They became partners and modified the taste for the western market. The original, syrupy mixture is a fair bit different from the carbonated version enjoyed around the world, and in an ironic twist, modified western Red Bull is now sold alongside the original version in some shops and bars. Try them both and decide which one you like more.
Bangkok takes its nightlife very seriously and you would be crazy not to grab a bit of that party atmosphere for yourself.
Join the Bangkok bar crawl on either a Wednesday or Thursday and make your way around the local pubs, bars, and clubs of Sukhumvit or Thonglor (depending on the day you choose). Make sure you’ve got your drinking head on – and let the fun commence.
Thailand is the best tourist destination in Asia. You can head there come the next holiday.