Travel in Thailand Bangkok
Bangkok is truly a city that never sleeps, a city with a real energy that can induce you in, take a firm hold of you and in some cases, refuse to let go! Bangkok is not a city of endless tourist attractions and must see museums, but a city you visit to feel the vibe. Bangkok has an energy seldom found elsewhere.
I'd love to Bangkok to say that Bangkok is a pretty city with lots of parks, gardens and other natural attractions but to do so would be a dreadful lie. Apart from a few areas, Bangkok is not pleasant on the eye. It's flat without many landmarks viewable from all over the city and that makes it a very easy place to get lost.
As you travel around in the heat, fumes and humidity of one of Asia's biggest cities, you can quickly begin to think that the few days you had planned to stay there was too long and you might suddenly want to just press the fast forward button and move on to the next part of your trip. To the uninitiated, it can appear to be another big, drab grey city but if you persevere, exploring the city can be a rewarding experience.
As far as attractions and interesting things to see and do in Bangkok go, there are a handful. The old part of town, that is the area down near the river, not far from the Khao San Road area, is where you'll find a lot of the more culturally and historically significant building and temples. That is one part of the city that is actually quite pretty. For many the highlight of the area is the Grand Palace, the most important of all of Thailand's 40,000+ Buddhist temples. The Grand Palace does suffer from huge numbers of tourists and it would have to be the most visited attraction in the country. Over run with tourists, this is one Buddhist temple where you don't get that serene peaceful feeling that I associate with many other places of worship. The dress code for entry is strictly enforced – you shouldn't wear anything to brief or a sleeveless shirt. The Thai ticket staff are not the friendliest and like a growing number of Thais who deal with huge numbers of Westerners on a daily basis visitors can be made to feel like it is a privilege to pay the 500 baht entry fee (Thais get in free).
Sort of over and behind the Grand Palace is Wat Po, which I personally prefer to the Grand Palace. It doesn't get nearly the same number of visitors as the Grand Palace and there is the huge reclining Buddha to see, the largest reclining Buddha in the world, I believe.
The other major temple in this area is Wat Arun, most probably the most photographed temple, or for that matter, location, in all of Bangkok. Wat Arun is the fascinating temple just over the Chao Praya River from the Grand Palace and Wat Po. You can take a cross river ferry for 3 baht to reach it. Note that the three most popular temples for foreigners to visit are the Grand Palace (Wat Pra Kaew), Wat Po and Wat Arun. There is something very enchanting about Wat Arun that sort of draws you to it. I find it a wonderful temple complex to wander through and explore and I personally never bore of it. I can't count how many times I have been there, and how many out of town friends I have walked through with, but it must be in excess of 20!
In addition to these three temples there are many other Buddhist temples in the old part of town. As they are fairly close together, they can be easily reached on foot – though in the hot season, it might be slightly tough going! Wandering around the area is enjoyable and you just never know what you are going to see around the next corner. Virtually all of the temples in the area, apart from the Grand Palace, charge a 20 – 50 baht entry fee – and in many cases entry is free.
Without wanting to sound negative, if you've had enough of getting ripped off and overcharged, you'll be happy to know that at a lot of the temples, it is not just possible, but downright simple, to slip in one of the side or back doors. That's not to say that I condone doing that, but when you have been ripped off a few times already, such behaviour comes a lot more easily!
The area near the river area is a must see and if you want to get a good look at it AND do it on the cheap, scroll down towards the bottom of this page to the section titled, Stickman's Bangkok Tour.
The tallest building in Bangkok is the Baiyoke 2 Tower which towers above everything else. It's located a few hundred metres up from the Central World Plaza in a busy parks of the Pratunam Market. The tower soars around 300 metres into the sky and from the top, on a clear day at least, you get good views of Bangkok. When overcast the view is not nearly as good. Like many such buildings around the world, there is the obligatory city view restaurant though just about everyone that I know who has been there has said that it was disappointing. With this in mind, consider making your food arrangements back at ground level. Going up the tower to the observation level costs 200 baht. If you fancy eating up there, the cost of the buffet is less than many other hotel buffets around town, and the cost of going up is included.
There's a somewhat dated but still interesting snake farm right in the heart of the city. Located on Rama 4 Road, within the Red Cross compound, it features a show that is presented in both English and Thai. There are a variety of snakes on hand, all of which are horribly fearsome! It would be an idea to time your visit for the slide presentation and snake show which is run three times a day with the times printed on the sign out the front. When they do the snake show, the audience is seated in a small grandstand like structure VERY close to the action. This is great for photos but like a lot of things in Thailand, I have reservations about safety. When I was there, this Australian fellow was sitting down below the grandstand trying to get some close up photos and I guess he was around 3 metres from the snake. Somehow, this somewhat tempestuous snake got away from the handler and accelerated like a Ferrari on a race track, making a beeline for the Aussie. Two snake handlers dived and caught the snake just before it reached the now frozen tourist. The announcer chuckled and someone from the audience asked if that particular snake was poisonous to which he said words to the effect that it was deadly! Don't let this little story put you off as it is an excellent attraction and as long as you don't get too close, there shouldn't be any real safety issue. And at 70 baht, it's a bargain. When they finish the show, you have the opportunity to get the old snake around the neck photo at no extra cost. Being somewhat nervous of these creatures, I declined that kind offer.
Any visit to Bangkok should include checking out some of the city's markets. Chatuchak Market, also known as the weekend market is large and impressive, but not exactly comfortable, and Patpong Night Market, just a short walk from the Sala Daeng BTS station right slap in the middle of the city's commercial district is worth a look. Somewhat more wholesome is the Lumpini Night Market, a large area right across the road from Lumpini Park and reached by the Lumpini underground station.
Also in the Lumpini area is one of the city's two major Thai boxing stadiums, Lumpini Stadium. I haven't been for many years and I have heard that this venue has introduced double pricing at tickets for Westerners are at sky high prices. Someone even mentioned the figure of 1,000 baht though surely this couldn't be right as that is almost $US30! I enjoy the Thai kickboxing and really must make it along again. Rather than go for ringside seats, I think it is a lot more fun to sit up in the main stand with the Thais and watch them gambling. Heaps of fun!
The Ancient City, known as Meuang Boran in Thai, located a fair distance from the centre of Bangkok, is another excellent attraction, in fact the word excellent really doesn't do it justice. In this quite outstanding attraction, the creators have built scale models of more than 100 of the most famous and / or notable buildings, temples and structures around Thailand and made them into what is essentially a drive around theme park! It is a wonderful opportunity to see LARGE scale models of many of the beautiful buildings and temples found throughout the Kingdom. The first time that I went there I didn't even realise that all of the buildings were actually replicas as some of them are that big! You need a few hours to do it justice. It truly is a photographer's dream. The major problem with this attraction is not so much that it is located so far from the centre of Bangkok – which in itself is a minor issue – but more that the attraction itself is spread out over a large area and is too big to comfortably walk around, hence the need for a car, which few visitors have – and I doubt many taxis would be keen to run you around at the standard metered rate. While some people (ONLY foreigners – a Thai would never dream of that) do walk around it, it really is made to be seen by car. I don't know how big it is but would guess quite a few square kilometres. You could try and hire a cab for a half a day to take you there, drive you around and drop you back into the centre of town. I'm not even going to try and give you directions on how to get there because I got lost when I tried to find it… Of course you can hire bicycle to make your way around but in the heat of the Thai sun that is going to become tough work. I hate to say it but this place has now introduced dual pricing and the cost for foreigners is 300 baht while for Thais it is 100 baht. Is it worth visiting? I'll leave it to you to make that choice.
Some of the other more popular attractions for tourists visiting Bangkok are actually outside the city limits. I have never been to the Floating Market which is actually in Rachaburi province, to the south-west of the capital as I have heard that it is very heavily touristed and such attractions don't appeal that much. However, there are supposed to be really good opportunities for photography. I have also never been to the Crocodile farm which is located very close to the Ancient City. Like snakes, crocs make me nervous. Also, the price for foreigners of 400 baht, is eight times the price for Thais at 50 baht – and I refuse to play that game. Make it 100 baht for everyone and I'll check it out.
There are a number of different companies offering dinner cruises on the Chao Praya river. Some of the deals are for a buffet dinner and some are a la carte. Figure at least 1,000 baht a head. The river is a really impressive part of the city and is well worth spending a good chunk of your time.
Khao San Road
If you're travelling on a budget then and are planning to spend some time in Bangkok then you will almost certainly spend some time in Khao San Road, the backpackers ghetto (and I don't use that term lightly) of Bangkok. This 400 odd metre stretch of road and its immediate surrounds are home to all of the businesses that a traveller ever needs with cheap restaurants, internet cafes, travel agencies, photo processing stores and of course a multitude of guesthouses and cheap accommodation as well as many like-minded people on the road, just like you.
Khao San Road is actually well located for anyone visiting Bangkok as it is walking distance to the river and the most interesting and historically significant parts of the city. The must see Grand Palace is about a mile or so away, easily walkable, even in Bangkok's oppressive heat.
For those on a real tight budget, you should be able to find a room for as little as 100 – 150 baht a night. There are cheap places in other areas of Bangkok but not the sheer range and number of places that are available at Khao San in this price range. However, you shouldn't expect the Ritz at this price.
Khao San is slowly moving upmarket. In the old days it was all about cheap, cheaper and cheapest, but now you have more and more better places. Starbucks, McDonalds and Burger King can all be found there and the accommodation options are moving up with some better places charging well over 1,000 baht for a room for a night, and at that price point you're starting to think more of a mid-range place than truly budget accommodation.
I used to think of Khao San Road as a rat hole serving Western food and culture to those who seem oblivious to the fact that they had travelled half way around the world to exotic Asia, only to spend it amongst their Western peers in this false hybrid environment. But as I spent more time at Khao San, never as a traveller mind you, only ever as a resident of Bangkok going to the area for a night out, I began to warm to it. One can find fun out there and the vibe isn't bad once you know where to go.
A lot of Bangkok residents, that is Westerners and Thais, like to go to Khao San Road for a night out as it is different to anywhere else in the city. Having said that, the are is still dominated by budget travellers. What makes le laugh about this bunch is how they try to show off to all and sundry how much they have learnt about Thai culture by doing such dumb, improper and downright inappropriate things such as wai-ing every Thai service provider they deal with. You can see the Thais snicker to themselves when the intrepid farang makes a fool of himself!
Khao San Road has all of the essentials for anyone travelling through Bangkok, Thailand or on to other popular spots in the region. Hippies and wannabe hippies trying to recapture the romance of those who travelled through the region in the '70s can buy their hippy attire on Khao San.
Ironically it's also the best place to buy a variety of copied documents such as foreign press passes, journalist passes, international driving licenses, degrees, RSA English teaching qualifications, ISIC cards etc. Just remember that these documents are NOT real and if you are caught using them in Thailand and purporting them as originals then you will probably go to jail! Think I'm joking? I'm not! In early 2007 there was a major crackdown on foreigners using fake degrees and purporting them to be originals. The first two guys charged pleaded guilty and were sentenced to three months in a Bangkok prison.
A few of the cheaper eateries have disappeared, making way for some interesting bars. Khao San at night can be a fun place and sitting outside one of the restaurants, sinking a few cold ones and chewing the fat is something I enjoy. Khao San Road has increased in popularity with the Thais and at around 10:00 PM, a lot of Thais of university student age descend on the street. They usually start at one of the outdoor bars and as the night goes on drift in to one of the dark clubs, of which there are more than a few.
Suzy's Bar was the most popular for some time….and then Gulliver's came along. These two venues remain popular and with the growth of the street as a centre of nightlife and entertainment there are now quite a number of popular venues and an old guy like me can't keep up with where the most popular spots are. It should be noted that a number of the bars on Khao San Road are home to Thai working girls, so for you guys, if you meet a girl who wants to go back to your guesthouse, please be aware that in the morning she might expect 1,000 baht or more from you!
The bars in the Khao San Road area are amongst the more reasonable places in Bangkok for a night out. A bottle of Heineken or a local beer ranges from around 70 – 80 baht and something harder, such as Jack Daniels coke should be less than 100 baht. Local beers can be very cheap, at around 50 – 70 baht a bottle. Obviously there are cheaper and more expensive places but this should give some idea of the prices you'll pay.
There are also some interesting bars in the streets and alleys around Khao San and there's even a temple just across the road from the Police Station at the west end of the road. The lanes surrounding the temple have some great little bars and restaurants. Some good second hand bookshops exist in the area but prices asked are steep for second hand gear – surely, people don't actually pay these prices which seem to be around 50 – 60% of retail for a book on its last legs up to about 80% of retail for one in good condition.
Khao San Road is worth a visit and its location is good, but it may not the best place to stay if you are not into the whole backpacker ghetto scene. While some visitors may describe the area as vibrant, others might just call it noisy!
It seems that a lot of Westerners come to Khao San Road, spend a week there and then leave for one of the southern islands never seeing the real Bangkok – which seems to be rather a shame. There's much more to Bangkok than Khao San Road and its surrounds!
Khao San Road and the surrounding lanes offer a zillion food options – and most are very good value. Be a little daring and wander away from Khao San Road itself and try something from a street vendor!
For an alternative neighbourhood with budget accommodation, you might like to consider Soi Kasemsan 1 in the Patumwan area. It is very conveniently located in central Bangkok, right across the road from Mahboonkrong Shopping Centre. In this particular lane you can find several guesthouses with rooms in the 450 – 500 baht range – and you get a far better room for the money than you would in the Khao San area. The major shopping district of Siam Square is a stone's throw away and the soi is right beside the National Stadium skytrain station which is convenient if you have any business to do in the city, or if one of your primary reasons for visiting Bangkok is either shopping or nightlife, for the best shopping and nightlife areas are all on, or very close to the skytrain lines
You can actually find cheap hotels all over Bangkok and many apartment buildings will also be happy to rent you a room for a short stay. Even way out in the suburbs you can see apartment buildings with big signs in English saying that they will rent out rooms by the day / week / month.
The Thai capital is less about tourist attractions – although there are many, but more about the vibe. Friendly people who are easily excited like to have fun – and their attitude and zest for life can be infectious.
It's a drab, grey city with awful traffic problems. It is also home to some who prey on tourists with various scams. You won't get hit over the head and left for dead, but you might get tricked or deceived out of your money.
The Bottom Line
Worth a few days of your time!
* Please note that there is only a limited amount of information on this page about tourist attractions in Bangkok. For more information about the Thai capital you might want to check out the living and working in Bangkok section of the site which has much more information about the city, although it is less from the perspective of a tourist, and more from that of an expat.