Bangkok is a city that takes hold of all the senses; a kind of infectious energy seems to seep from every crack of its noisy, Tuk-tuk-crowded streets, where ramshackle buildings cower in the shadows of megamalls, pulsating bars and glossy skyscrapers. For respite from the madness, search for hidden-away Wats (temples) where orange-robed monks meditate.
Buses, taxis and the city’s iconic Tuk-tuks are all good ways to get around without breaking the bank. Bangkok’s roads are susceptible to gridlock however, so if things are looking clogged, opt for the BTS Skytrain or the underground MRT rail system instead. For riverside destinations, boats and water taxis are best.
Bangkok’s attractions run the gamut from the spiritual to the sleazy. There are countless temples to explore, most famously Wat Phra Kaew (The Temple of the Emerald Buddha) in the Grand Palace complex. This famous spot contains the gleaming green 14th-century Emerald Buddha, which is – contrary to its name – made entirely from jade. Admire Asian art and Thai architecture at the Jim Thompson House compound, the former home of an American Thai silk magnate, or explore Vimanmek Palace, a mammoth 80-room teak mansion.
Travelers willing to part with some of their cash will find an eclectic shopping scene. Browse modern malls for global brands or head to the old-style Damnoen Saduak Floating market, where wooden vessels loaded with fresh fruit, vegetables and other produce float on the water’s surface. Chinatown’s wooden shop fronts, stalls and street-side restaurants, as well as the nearby Pak Klong Talad Flower market, make this district well worth a wander.
If the urban commotion becomes too much, escape to the relative peace of the Chao Phraya River and the city’s network of canals where charming stilt houses and old-fashioned bridges still stand. When dusk beckons, ascend to roof level where swanky bars serve cocktails over sunset. As the night progresses, revelers crowd the dance floors of the city’s impressive spectrum of clubs.
Even when you think you’ve exhausted all of Bangkok’s top picks, rest assured there is always more to discover here. On the lesser-explored Thonburi side of the Chao Phraya River, you’ll find the Baan Silapin Artist’s home, where Thai folklore is brought to life through puppet performances, while Bangkok’s Chinatown hosts Chinese opera productions.
For anyone with an interest in anatomy, the fascinating (if somewhat macabre) displays of the Siriraj Medical Museum are a great afternoon’s diversion. For after dark, the open-air Asiatique Riverfront night bazaar has more than 1,500 boutiques and 40 restaurants, as well as cabaret shows.
Eating well in Bangkok requires you to follow your nose. Just wander the streets and note the fragrant aromas, which will lead to the sizzling woks and steaming pots of street-side vendors. Almost any Thai dish you can think of, from pad Thai and spring rolls to a multitude of spicy noodle dishes and simple stir fries, can be found out in the open air here – all you need to do is order and grab a chair. Among the best places for a quick bite on the go are Bangkok’s Old Town, Chinatown and the Saphan Lueng strip. Ubiquitous dishes include Khao kha moo (braised pork leg on rice) and Khao mun gai (Thai-style Hainanese chicken and rice).