Bangkok is a city we had dreamt of visiting for years, the heart of Thailand and a huge metropolis with so much to see, both old and new. Since my parents told me of their adventures here in 1987 this far off Asian city has been so high on my list! But with expectations comes pressure, and in Bangkok I found a place with an overwhelming amount of choice of Places to visit in Bangkok, a chaotic list of transport options and a huge and confronting layout!! I always knew I would fall in love with it though, regardless or rather because of its insanity! But navigating this chaotic place needn’t be overwhelming, here’s our first timers guide straight from our first time impressions! Luckily though, we know we will be heading back in a few months for a second bite!
Transport: Getting around the city!
There is an endless amount of ways to get around Bangkok, but some areas of the city are better served than others, the older areas for example don’t have a metro system. The two main light railways are the Metro (MRT) which is underground and the Skyline (BST) which runs overground. These are well connected to other transport as well as to the airport making it easy to see all the best Places to visit in Bangkok!
From Don Muang, which is a little more out of the way, there is a shuttle bus that takes you to a MRT/ BST interchange. The other and much larger of the city’s airports has a direct link to the system. The BTS max fare is 52 Baht for one way and the MRT is 40 Baht.
The other major public transport systems include the canal boats and the buses. The buses are a little more complicated to use as is the wide range of their network but trips on these cost pennies. The best advice for using the bus would be to ask your hostel which bus numbers to get on! The canal boats however are quite simple as they only really go one way and then back. The water is pretty unpleasant and can get really quite choppy at times, but you get a real insight into local life. The most a trip can cost you is 19 Baht.
There are other boats/ ferries too that travel down the river and also across for example to Wat Arun, which costs around 3 Baht.
One of the most popular and fun ways to race around the city is in the back of one of Bangkok’s famous Tuk Tuks! These nippy little carts can whizz in-between traffic and are an experience everyone should do at least once whilst in Bangkok! Beware though, you will often be overcharged and need your best bartering skills in order to get a good deal. We have gone from Khao San Road to Patpong for 100 Baht, really quite a good deal for that distance!
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Where to stay
Some cities around the world have two maybe three decent hostel options, so making a decision is pretty easy! Not Bangkok! The backpacking mecca has probably the most hostel listings I have ever seen, so choosing the right one can be an overwhelming headache in itself! You also want to take into consideration location, in such a big city where is the best place to stay, do you want to party, or have a quiet trip? One of the things to know before you travel to Thailand is getting the right hostel for the right experience you want!
We stayed at “The Cube” a boutique capsule hostel in the more upmarket area of town that is a short walk to both the MRT and BST as well as a 20 min walk from the canal boats! You can read more about it here: The boutique hostel that offers an escape from the party scene: The Cube, Bangkok. From here all the Places to visit in Bangkok are easy to access!
If you are looking for accommodation in Thailand, you can check this website for price comparison and the best deals
Places to visit in Bangkok: Seeing the old and the new
Explore the Temples
Bangkok might look like a bustling modern city but what makes it so special is how that blends with the very ancient world of the Wat’s that still dominate this metropolis. There really are so many temples to see here that it would easily take you two days of tuk tuk touring to see them all. We decided to choose a few and explore them and maybe when we come back we will pick up the others. But this is by far the top of our Places to visit in Bangkok list!
Some of the best and most popular are Wat Arun: Sitting across the mighty Chaophraya river the huge “prang” of the Wat dominates this area. One of the most impressive temples due to both its scale and location is can’t be missed. Built in the 17th century it is a icon of the city that people travel the length of the country to gaze at! The temple also offers amazing views over the city as well as stunning sunset scenes across the river.
Another must see in the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, or Wat Pho. Dominated by the huge reclining golden shimmering buddha it offers so much more to explore in these huge and complex grounds. The whole area is like something from a fairytale with unbelievably stunning prangs dotted around the temple, each decorated with an impeccable level of detail. For me this has to be at the top of the Places to visit in Bangkok!
Wat Saket is also one of our favourite temples as it also offers some great views over the city and the chance to see the iconic golden Chedi of ‘Phu Khao Thong’or the Golden mountain that glistens above the city below. An interesting temple the central Chedi collapsed several times before the one we see today was finally successfully built!
Others to check out are: Wat Traimit, Loha Prasat, Wat Mahatat, Wat Suthat, Wat Benjamabhopit (Wat Benja) and Wat Prayoon.
Head into the Markets and get ready to barter
Markets are always the best place to see local life in action and also sample some of the foods on offer. The sprawling markets just off the side of the Mo Chit (pronounced “more shit!) sky train station are some of the biggest in the world… they even have their own map and have to be divided into sections! The Chatuchak weekend market (also known as JJ market) are the chaotic centre of commerce over Saturday and Sunday when it feels like the entire arrives here to either buy, sell or barter! You can find pretty much anything you could ever imagine here, from dog clothing to fried quail eggs, fake travel guide books and ancient antiques! For local life this tops the Places to visit in Bangkok list!
Enter the surreal world of the Bangkok Mall!
This might seem a little bit of a strange inclusion in our Places to visit in Bangkok but stick with me here. This isn’t really about shopping but instead witnessing the strange mall culture of Bangkok. Much more than our average “shopping centres” at home these are huge air conditioned centres that are an experience in themselves, it’s no wonder teens come to hang out in these on the weekends and after school. We even saw a comic convention going on inside one and the cinema was like a huge theme park rather than the rundown screens of England! If you’re not convinced just head inside one of these huge and surreal complexes just for the air conditioning before you get taken away for a confusing and crazy ride when you inevitably get lost!
Get lost in the chaos of Chinatown
Another opportunity to indulge in the chaos of Bangkok is China town, not having enough of this crazy country after a month there we had to visit this area. Not only is it famous for its numerous street carts of all shapes, sizes and tastes but it offers some weird and wonderful street markets too. If you are fed up of the “no photo or pay” signs on Khao San Road then take a walk down here for a far more authentic and open experiences of local life… fried bugs and all! One of the most crazy and authentic Places to visit in Bangkok!
See the local side of the city on the canal boats
Our favourite method of transport through Bangkok has to be the sea sick inducing canal boats. For as little as 4 Baht and a maximum of 19 Baht you will find yourself in the underbelly of the city. Below the malls and the high rise apartments runs the stinking cesspit of the canal and its murky green waters that let off a tell tale stench. The long boats race up and down creating a wake that rocks you in all angles and you travel through makeshift villages and shanty towns built on the banks of the river. The ticket collector hangs off the side of the boat taking fares and stepping on and off will test your agility, but for a slice of local Bangkok life nothing comes closer! A little off the wall but a must do on our Places to visit in Bangkok list!
Embrace the insanity of the home of backpacking: Khao San Road!
Despite whether you grow to love or hate the place as a backpacker you must visit the home of all that is travelling down on Khao San Road. Here the “traveller pant” brigade and the “gap yarrr” kids are out in full force, but if you take it all in good humour it is an entertaining and lively place to take in! The atmosphere down here is always buzzing and you get the sense that some of these people have been perpetually trapped here for years, their hair becoming more and more dreadlocked and their pants ever baggier and more patterned! You will however find great Pad Thai down here and also reasonably priced western food if you fancy a break from noodles and rice! Whether you are on honeymoon in Bangkok or backpacking Southeast Asia you just have to check it out!
Street food in Bangkok is second to none and the most popular food you will come across on the carts is the simple but perfect noodle dish of Pad Thai. By anyone’s calculations that is an amazing deal for an authentic dish that will be sure to both fill you up and delight your taste buds.
The best place in the city for street food is around Chinatown, but if you are after something a little easier but just as tasty then the area around Khao San Road offers so many Pad Thai stalls that also sell amazing Spring Rolls too!
Expect to pay around 30-50 Baht (£0.70 – £1.15 / $80 – $1.30) depending on what you have it with.
You can’t visit Thailand without having a proper Thai curry!! The Thai red curry have been a firm favourite of mine for many years and I was keen to sample the read thing here in Thailand! I was not disappointed, here the spicy chilly mixed with the cooling coconut milk and sticky rice was as divine as I had dreamt. You will find it a little harder to find on the street food stalls but near Khao San Road many of the small cafes do it.
Expect to pay around 70 Baht.
Mango and Sticky Rice with coconut milk
To finish off an amazing Thai meal the only desert you need is mango with sticky rice and coconut milk drizzled over the top. This refreshing, tangly and milky sweet but savoury desert is one of the most amazing we have ever tried. Again, we were keen to give this a go when we arrived in Thailand and once again it lived up to its reputation! This is a popular dish and can be found on most street corner stalls as well as at proper restaurants.
On a stall expect to pay 50 baht!
A little more off the beaten track!
If you fancy something a little different and more of a unique Bangkok itinerary, then at the end of the canal boat route there is an airplane graveyard you can pay a local family who have made the place home to explore. This place is seriously surreal, eery and a little bit creepy too! But we love a good urban exploration and this one really lived up to the bill! Read all about it here, oh and how a 7 year old boy threatened us with a needle there too: Exploring the eerie airplane graveyard Bangkok! If you want to so something more wild and crazy in the capital of Thailand then also check out the Bangkok gun range where you can have a go at a number of different weapons in a safe environment.
On our hit list for next time!
We are lucky in the fact that as backpackers making our way through Southeast Asia we will be heading back around and to Bangkok again for a second bite in a few months time. Whilst we managed to see a hell of a lot on our first visit there were a few things, two in particular, that we can’t wait to return to the city to see. We are on a pretty tight budget, so sometimes you need to make choices, for use these two thing were something to put off for next time!
The Royal Palace and The Temple of the Emerald Buddha
Costing 500 Baht each might not seem like it is breaking the bank, after all that is only £12 / $14. But when your budget is around £24 for the day it kind of is!! Add that to the fact we spent a little more than we should here getting tattoos on Khao San Road as a Christmas present and most other temples were at least 100 Baht too. We decided to leave this ancient wonder for another time. However if you are visiting as a one off you probably want to add this ancient pilgrimage to the top of your list!
The Floating Markets
Again, with many things there are so many options. The floating markets we were keen to see are the Amphawa markets that are an hour by bus away from the city. Again, adding everything up it would have cost us 100 Baht each, each way to get to the markets, 50 Baht for a boat and then more if we wanted to buy anything or get some food. We want to make the most of an amazing place like this rather than go and be constantly worrying about money. So again we left this one for another day!
What did you do on your first time in Bangkok?
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