17 best things to do in Bangkok

Bangkok is the pulsating metropolis that has long topped the must-visit lists of travelers. Many are drawn here for the delicious (and spicy) street food, the gleaming gold Buddhas, the buzz of the markets and those glitzy skyline bars. But there’s much more to discover besides. 

Here are the best things to do in Bangkok.

An aerial shot of several Thai people looking at a number of street food dishes of different colors in Bangkok, Thailand.Bangkok has a reputation for being the outdoor-dining capital of the world. ©Anansing/Shutterstock

1. Street food

Arguably home to the world’s most vibrant street food culture, Bangkok offers travelers a mind-boggling variety of light bites and cheap meals at literally every street corner. Be it Thai-style fried noodles, dumplings in myriad flavours, fiery curry and jasmine rice platters, meaty skewers on barbecue, fresh-cut tropical fruits or a vast array of deep-fried desserts, the choice is endless for the of people who dine daily at countless stalls and carts lining Bangkok’s roads, the robust flavours of their offerings rending the city’s air with their distinctive aromas.

In recent years, some of Bangkok’s boroughs have seen clean-up drives resulting in the closure of many stalls, but the collective street food movement still thrives. Mondays, though, are when most stalls remain shut.

Young Asian woman walks with headphones along stalls and stands of Chatuchak market. Visiting the Chatuchak Weekend Market is a quintessential Bangkok experience. ©David Bokuchava/Shutterstock

2. Chatuchak Weekend Market

Possibly Asia’s biggest open-air marketplace, the vast Chatuchak Weekend Market – otherwise known as JJ Market – is the ultimate shopping experience for those in a mood to burn their baht. Rows of pavilions, each housing hundreds of shops, are organised in neat sections across an expansive ground, with each section dedicated to selling specific categories of merchandise. 

Garments, shoes, kitchen essentials, glassware, handicrafts, antiques, healthcare products, home décor, food stuff, gardening supplies or even pet products – there’s pretty much everything that can be found here. Needless to say, one would want to schedule the better part of a day to immerse in this hugely popular and democratic experience. As its name suggests, Chatuchak opens for business only on Saturdays and Sundays. On other days, it remains fairly deserted, except for the nearby JJ Mall that operates through the week. The BTS Skytrain serves nearby Mo Chit station, from where it’s a 500m walk.

The golden, giant reclining Buddha statue lays on its side at Wat Pho temple in Bangkok, Thailand.It’s easy to see how Wat Pho (the Temple of the Reclining Buddha) got its name. ©toondelamour/Getty Images

3. Wat Pho

The 16th-century shrine of Wat Pho is home to a magnificent 46m-long sculpture of the Reclining Buddha – gracefully adorned with gold leaf overlays and mother-of-pearl relief – that commands its pride of place as one of Bangkok’s most iconic sights. 

Unsurprisingly, Wat Pho is visited by hundreds of people every day, either to marvel at the jaw-dropping image, or pay their respects at the many shrines that dot the peaceful grounds of the complex, or simply spend a few meditative moments in the silent corridors and prayer halls before returning to the ceaseless din of the city.

Given Wat Pho’s religious significance, dress modestly in order to gain entry into the temple complex. A 200B entry fee is applicable for adults, and includes a complimentary bottle of water (a welcome freebie on a hot day).

A dancer carries a dragon head on the crowded main street in Chinatown on the first day of the Lunar New Year in Bangkok Chinatown is a colorful and chaotic visit all year-round, but bursts with energy each Chinese New Year. © MLADEN ANTONOV / Getty Images

4. Chinatown

A photographer’s muse, a foodie’s dream, a shopper’s paradise and an anthropologist’s ultimate fantasy. Packed into one of Bangkok’s oldest boroughs, Chinatown is a riotous supernova of smoke-spewing food carts, gold-laden jewellery stores, atmospheric temples, vibrant fresh markets and quaint family homes. 

Walking down the quarter’s main thoroughfare is a sensory overload, when the nose tingles with aromas of burning incense, jasmine tea and burnt garlic oil, even as the eyes feast on a colorful jamboree of flashy neon signage and rows of ornamental lanterns and streamers dangling above streets bustling with open-air kitchens and a multitude of residents and visitors. 

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During the Chinese New Year celebrations around late-January, a carnival spirit sweeps through the entire district, with lively dragon dances and sumptuous food galas adding their festive touch to the proceedings. While Chinatown is a fabulous budget dining destination, it’s worth noting that most street vendors here only operate in the evening (and remain shut on Mondays).

The golden stupa of the Grand palace, Wat Phra Kaew shimmers against a blue sky in Bangkok, Thailand.Bangkok’s Grand Palace is a gold-plated knockout. ©southtownboy/Getty Images

5. Wat Phra Kaew & Grand Palace

Spectacular and majestic, the royal complex of Wat Phra Kaew & Grand Palace was established by former Thai kings to mark the nerve center of the country’s capital city that eventually expanded to become today’s Bangkok. 

Consecrated in 1782, the sprawling premises – which formerly served as the residence of former Thai monarchs – is home to a number of imposing palaces, halls, temples and courtyards, and is easily the city’s biggest tourist attraction. The most important reason to come here, however, is to visit the hallowed Wat Phra Kaew temple, home to the Emerald Buddha – Thailand’s most sacred religious artefact dating back to the 12th or 13th century.

The inside walls of the corridors lining the Wat Phra Kaew’s courtyard feature the famed Ramakian Murals, that were originally painted in the 18th century to depict scenes from the Ramakian (the Thai version of the Indian epic Ramayana). Recently restored, these murals symbolise some of the finest panels of public art from Thailand’s past.

A white river cruise ships passes the stupa of Wat Arun in Bangkok under the soft glaze of an apricot-colored sunsetThe sunsets from the Mae Nam Chao Phraya River really can be special. ©Pakin Songmor/Getty Images

6. Dinner cruise

Ranging in mood from subtly romantic to humorously tacky, a dinner cruise on the limpid green waters of the Mae Nam Chao Phraya River can be an enduring memory of one’s visit to Bangkok. 

Depending on your choice of cruise (options stretch from sophisticated teakwood boats with curated fine-dining facilities to hulking catamarans outfitted with flashy lights and loud on-board entertainment), diners are treated to either an atmospheric candlelit dinner served up by a private chef or a raucous floating party with thumping music and a buffet to feed a few hundred guests. Either way, it’s worth an evening’s adventure, not least for the cool evening river breeze that blows away the discomfort of a hot and sultry day.

Being wildly popular with tourists, most dinner cruisers – especially the top-end ones – tend to get booked out weeks in advance. It helps to reserve a table with enough time to spare. Most dinner cruises operate from the piers at the River City Mall, picking up passengers from around 7pm.

A Thai masseuse at work at Wat Po, Ko Ratanakosin in Bangkok, ThailandA Thai massage is a fab way to round off a day’s sightseeing in Bangkok. ©Greg Elms/Lonely Planet

7. Thai massage

A signature blend of ancient healing techniques and natural products aimed at holistically reviving the mind and body, a Thai massage is among Bangkok’s top offerings. The city has an unshakeable reputation as the massage capital of the world and a little kneading of the flesh, particularly after a long day of sightseeing, can be utterly heavenly.

Ranging from a cheap foot massage at a street-side shophouse to a pampering wellness package at a posh spa, Thai massage comes in many therapeutic avatars, some incorporating aromatherapy oils or herb compression while others simply focusing on a mix of pressure and stretching moves to relax muscles and increase blood flow.

Several well-known spa chains across Bangkok – Health Land, Divana Massage & Spa and Asia Herb Foundation to name a few – offer high quality massages at reasonable prices (typically 1000-1500B for a 90-minute therapy session). But they can often be crowded (especially on weekends), and advance reservations are a wise move.

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As seen from a vantage point, the stalls of Artbox Night Market in Bangkok glow with light as vendors sell their wares. Bangkok has a number of excellent Night Markets, including Artbox. ©JAMESTHEE/Shutterstock

8. Night markets

Bangkok’s celebrated night markets are a delightful combination of guilt-free holiday shopping, socializing with friends over buckets of boozy drinks and tucking into heaps of waistline-indulging dinners at outdoor food stalls. 

The legendary Talat Rot Fai Night Market located in Northern Bangkok promises one of the city’s foremost nightlife experiences, while the fashionable Artbox on centrally-located Thanon Sukhumvit draws young hipster crowds with its arty creations, smooth jazzy music performances and an irreverently laid-back atmosphere. 

In relative contrast, the infamous Patpong Night Market is a curious mix of souvenir stalls, massage spas, pubs with live music, food carts and go-go bars peddling various forms of adult entertainment.

The underground MRT is a convenient way to get to Talat Rot Fai, while the BTS Skytrain has jump-off points for both Artbox and Patpong Night Market.

The ochre exterior of the Jim Thompson Museum is Bangkok. The wooden building is slightly hidden behind some trees. The Jim Thompson Museum in Bangkok is home to some wonderful examples of Asian art. ©cowardlion/Shutterstock

Jim Thompson, the late American entrepreneur, used his traditional Thai-style home as a repository for age-old Thai traditions and artwork. Thompson mysteriously disappeared in 1967 and today his former home is a museum – one that every visitor secretly wishes to live in for a day or more. 

Why? The rooms are adorned with his exquisite art collection and personal possessions, including rare Chinese porcelain pieces and Burmese, Cambodian and Thai artefacts, and the garden is a miniature jungle of tropical plants and lotus ponds.

Drinkers at the Bangkok Bar in Banglamphu enjoy their cold, golden lager beneath the golden glow of the low-slung lights of this bar near Khao San Road.Banglamphu is Bangkok’s coolest neighborhood. ©Greg Elms/Lonely Planet

10. Banglamphu 

Easily Bangkok’s most charming neighbourhood, Banglamphu is the city’s former aristocratic enclave, once filled with minor royalty and riverside mansions. Today, the old quarter is dominated by antique shophouses, backpackers seeking R&R on famous Khao San Road, civil servants shuffling between offices and lunch spots, and bohemian artists and students. 

Vendor carts and classic restaurants also make a patchwork quilt of Banglamphu, offering ample options for a roving stomach, and the area is also home to some of the city’s best live music.

The Helix Quarter at Emquartier Shopping Mall in Thailand as seen from the top floor, with escalators, shops, and green interior plants for decoration all on view.The Emquartier Shopping Mall is just one of the many, many interconnected shopping centers in Bangkok. ©artapartment/Shutterstock

11. Shopping

Even avowed anti-consumerists fold in Bangkok. One minute they’re touting the virtues of a life without material possessions, the next they’re admiring the troves of street merchandise and mapping out the route to the nearest night market. 

In this city shopping malls daisy-chain into an infinite shopping universe with serious space-time warps, and footpaths serve as retail space for every shop without a postal address. Bangkok is also an established destination for bespoke tailoring, and has its own emerging fashion scene.

Under the haze of an apricot-coloured sunset, Bangkok's iconic Wat Arun stupa rises above the Chao Phraya River.The Chao Phraya River gives travelers a whole new perspective on Bangkok. ©seng chye teo/Getty Images

12. Mae Nam Chao Phraya

Mae Nam Chao Phraya (Chao Phraya River) is always teeming with activity: hulking freighter boats trail behind dedicated tugs, river-crossing ferries skip across the wake, and children practise cannonballs into the muddy water. 

You can witness this from the shore (ideally from Ko Ratanakosin or Thonburi), from a chartered long-tail boat or while cruising on the deck of a river taxi. Regardless of your vantage point, as the blinding sun slips below the horizon in serene streaks of reds and golds, sooty Bangkok suddenly looks beautiful.

A woman in a light blue apron, whose head we cannot see, is using a gray pestle and mortar to grind herbs as part of a cooking class in Bangkok.Try a Thai cooking class is you want to take the taste of Bangkok back home. ©DextairPhotography/Shutterstock

13. Thai cookery schools

Why let a plump tummy be the only sign of your culinary visit to Thailand? Instead, spice up your life – and your future dinner-party menus – by learning to create the kingdom’s zesty dishes in your own kitchen. 

Cooking schools in Bangkok range from formal affairs for amateur chefs to home cooking for the recipe-phobic. Everyone always has a grand time – visiting a wet market, fumbling with ingredients, tasting the fruits of their labor and trotting home with new cooking techniques.

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14. Papaya

What began as a private hobby for Papaya’s reticent owner has snowballed over the years into a mind-boggling collection of 19th- and 20th-century artefacts that occupy every inch within a warehouse-size exhibition space. 

Art-deco furniture, 1960s beer signage, superhero statues, Piaggio scooters, typewriters, movie projectors, love seats, TV sets, VHS players, wall clocks, storefront mannequins, lampshades – the list goes on. Many objects are technically for sale, but the owner prices them astronomically just to keep his collection from depleting.

Visitors sit and lie on the glass floor at the rooftop of the King Power Mahanakhon building in Bangkok as the lights of the city skyline, some way below, glitter.The SkyWalk at King Power Mahanakhon offers unrivalled views of the city – if you can handle the height. ©Sek Samyan/Shutterstock

15. SkyWalk at King Power Mahanakhon

Offering an unparalleled 360-degree view of Bangkok’s cityscape, this two-tiered viewpoint is perched atop King Power Mahanakhon, currently Thailand’s tallest building. Stepping onto the dizzying SkyWalk – a glass-floored balcony dangling 78 floors above the earth at 310m – is a spine-chilling experience, but you can soothe your nerves afterwards with a stiff sundowner at the open-air bar one flight up on the skyscraper’s pinnacle at 314m. An indoor 74th-floor observatory offers a less adrenalised experience, and comes 200B cheaper.

Learn Muay Thai in Bangkok

16. Moo·ay tai (Thai Boxing)

Quintessentially Thai, almost anything goes in moo·ay tai (also spelt muay Thai), the martial art more commonly known elsewhere as Thai boxing or kickboxing. If you don’t mind the violence, a Thai-boxing match is well worth attending for the pure spectacle: the wild musical accompaniment, the ceremonial beginning of each match and the frenzied betting.

The best of the best fight at Bangkok’s two boxing stadiums. Built on royal land at the end of WWII, the art-deco-style Rajadamnern Stadium is the original and has a relatively formal atmosphere. The other main stage, Lumpinee Boxing Stadium, has moved from its eponymous ‘hood to a modern home north of Bangkok. Admission fees vary according to seating. We recommend sitting in the 2nd- or 3rd-class seats.

People, captured with blurred motion, walk at night along Khao San Road in Bangkok. This area is very popular with backpackers and other travelers. The fabled, much-changed Khao San Road. No trip to Bangkok would be the same without visiting. ©Didier Marti/Getty Images

17. Khao San Road

Th Khao San, better known as Khao San Road, is genuinely unlike anywhere else on earth. It’s an international clearing house of people either entering the liberated state of travelling in Southeast Asia or returning to the coddling bonds of ‘real’ life, all coming together in a neon-lit melting pot in Banglamphu. 

Its uniqueness is probably best illustrated by a question: apart from airports, where else could you share space with the citizens of dozens of countries at the same time, people ranging from first-time backpackers scoffing banana pancakes to 75-year-old grandparents ordering G&Ts, and everyone in between, including hippies, hipsters, nerds, glamazons, package tourists, global nomads, weekend trippers, gap-year explorers, people of every color and creed looking at you looking at them looking at everyone else?

Th Khao San (kâw sǎhn, meaning ‘uncooked rice’) is perhaps the most high-profile product of the age of independent travel. Today the bedbug-infested guesthouses have been replaced by boutique hotels, and downmarket TV bars showing pirated movies transformed into hip design bars peopled by flashpackers in designer threads. Banglamphu has become just about the coolest district in Bangkok and the city’s own counterculture kids have moved in and brought with them a tasty selection of small bars, organic cafes and shops. No visit to Bangkok would be complete without a wander along the famed street.

Introducing Bangkok

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