As with any large city, there are a lot of things to do in Bangkok. Some of it is ultra touristy, but there is plenty that isn’t your typical type of tourist activity. I figured I’d give you some of both since I like mixing things up, as well as give you my opinion on places that you might want to think twice about. This list is by no means exhaustive, but hopefully it well help you get some ideas.
Of course, I started with this topic! If you’re surprised, you must be new here.
We mostly eat street food, and Bangkok is street food heaven. Street food vendors are very commonly placed outside shopping malls, at night markets, near BTS stations, and so on. Some of the best street food we had, though, was at a huge night market off of the BTS On Nut station (exit away from the Tesco building).
Speaking of Tesco, the food court off of this same station has really great authentic Thai food that is extremely cheap, as in street food cheap. But you can eat indoors where it’s air-conditioned, which makes it extra nice. Check out the food places and decide what you want before heading over to the cashier and getting your payment card so you know how much to load your card with. You can get a refund on anything not used, but the card also works at Tesco food courts all over Thailand.
A surprise find for me was the international food court in the huge shopping plaza called MBK (BTS station National Stadium). The food there was wonderful, very reasonably priced, and there is a lot of selection. You can even find Mexican food there. (It’s American Mexican food, not the real stuff if you’re a Mexican food snob like me.)
When you select a Bangkok hotel, you’ll want to make sure it’s close to public transportation and to night markets or good street food sources.
I don’t know why, but we had several things go wrong with our computers and my smart phone just prior to landing in Thailand. I guess the Universe was cutting me some slack and waiting until we got there. If that’s true, thank you Universe! If not, well I’m happy it waited.
You can get pretty much anything fixed here, and you can get superb prices as well. Your best bet is to head to Pantip Plaza. I will give you a word of warning, though. It’s very easy to spend a LOT of money here. There are about 6 floors of pure technology offerings. Every device you can imagine or dream of!
We had our computers fixed by a couple of outstanding stores, so I wanted to share them with you. One didn’t have a business card in English, so it’s easiest to describe where they are. As you face the main entrance from the street, toward the right corner is a coffee place. Go in that direction and enter the plaza by the door right next to this. It will be the first little shop you come to on the ground floor and has a yellow sign. They’re really great, have fair prices, and warranty repairs for 6 months.
The one who ended up being an absolute wizard is H&A W2005, 4th floor, room 4108 (mobile 081-6688854). Everyone else who looked at my apparently dead internal WiFi card said they couldn’t replace it since they didn’t have the part. This woman took out the card, wiped the contacts with a rubber eraser, brushed the filings off, and it worked like brand new! She wouldn’t let me pay for her time either.
If you need a very cheap phone or tablet and don’t care if it’s genuine, you’ll find some absolutely great deals here. If you want brand name quality, I wouldn’t buy from the kiosks. Instead use one of the department stores where you’ll have recourse if there’s a problem. Also don’t forget to ask for your VAT refund form. You’ll need this to get a refund.
I can recommend Tesco’s electronics section as well. I found some phones that were better priced here than anywhere else, and they’re the real deal, complete with international warranties. I bought my HTC One V at the Tesco mentioned above, and I’m extremely pleased with it! I might actually use the L word when describing my phone, although I haven’t given it a name. Yet.
The Grand Palace is probably the most popular tourist site in Bangkok. At least the crowds were a lot more hellacious here. They are very strict about the dress code. If your shoulders are exposed, you’ll be asked to cover up or will be offered something to wear. Ditto for shorts. Even if they cover your knees, you’ll be asked to cover up. They do have clothes you can use for free (requires a 200 THB deposit per item). If you bring your own change of clothes, or a sarong, you can use the dressing room to change into and out of appropriate attire for your time on the grounds. You’ll also want to wear footwear that can easily be removed as you’ll need to remove them for any of the temples you wish to enter.
While the grounds have some impressive and colorful buildings, I had a hard time finding it worth the rather stiff 500 THB admission price (almost $17 per person; young children are half off). Your ticket does gives you admission into one of the museums (which wasn’t all that interesting to us) as well as the Vimanmek Mansion, which is located in a different area.
If you go, make sure to visit the throne rooms. They are amazing! Unfortunately, they don’t allow photography in those buildings, though, and they have attentive guards.
It’s easiest to use the wonderful river taxi system to get here from other areas of the city. When you come out of the building after exiting the boats, head straight to get to the Grand Palace. There aren’t obvious signs, and if you ask most people where it is they’ll tell you it’s closed and will try to get you to go elsewhere. This is a well-known scam. The grounds are open 7 days a week from 8:30 AM until 3:30 PM.
We enjoyed the nearby Wat Pho more, though. Not only were the crowds thinner, but it had more ambiance. It is open daily from 8 AM to 5 PM and costs a much more reasonable 50 THB (which also includes a bottle of water). The dress code is less strict here, but you will be asked to cover exposed shoulders. Shorts covering the knees should be fine, although women may be asked to cover up. It kind of seems to depend on whose working at the moment.
While you’re enjoying this wonderful temple, or wat, make sure to also stop by the Thai Traditional Medical Science School for massage. I’ve had different variation on Thai massages before, and the people here were by far the best. You can get everything from a foot/leg massage ($4 for 30 minutes, but there is an hour-long massage as well) to a traditional full body Thai massage. It’s also air conditioned.
To head here first, exit the river taxi building and turn to your right. It’s a short walk, and you’ll see directional signs as the road curves.
Some people absolutely rave about Bangkok’s Chinatown. You will not find that response from me. I was extremely underwhelmed and felt that the food was really no different from anything else I could find in the city. If you’ve never been to a Chinatown, it could be worth your while. It really comes to life at night. Easily accessible by the river taxi.
Bangkok has lots of interesting parks, but Lumphini Park was my favorite. You almost forget you’re in a large city! Really quite gorgeous and calm, and you get a nice slice of local life.
Siam Ocean World is an aquarium in the base of the Paragon shopping plaza. Feedback has been highly varied by people I’ve spoken with. Looking at their exhibit offerings compared to their exorbitant 900 THB (children are 700 THB), I’d say skip this unless you just really have to see it and/or don’t mind blowing $30 USD per person over the age of 12. When an aquarium in southeast Asia charges more than one in Paris, it better absolutely blow my socks off, which is not the reaction I’ve heard from others, and I wasn’t about to spend $50 USD to form my own opinion.
Other things to do in Bangkok
This city has some rather unique and interesting neighborhoods. Just wandering around can be really fun.
If you’re a Thai food lover (HELLO!), I’d recommend taking a cooking class so you can prepare the dishes when you get back home. I took a class through Silom Thai Cooking School and really enjoyed it. The cook spoke very good English and was fun. One of the things I liked best about their program is that you learn how to prepare the curry paste AND the curry dish. Most of the classes I checked out did not offer this. The food we cooked together was quite delicious, and you get an attractive recipe booklet that includes their entire repertoire. She also gave us tips on how to replace certain things that are probably not as easy to find outside of Asia.
They do begin with a short market visit to get the ingredients, which I also found interesting. They suggest you eat a very light breakfast before the class. I’d say if you have more than a croissant and a cup of coffee, you’re going to feel like you’re about to burst. You’ll be eating a lot of food in this class, so make sure you leave room.
Bangkok has some absolutely wonderful movie theaters. You can find everything from normal seats to beds that lie completely flat. Watch a movie like a king while you places food and drink orders from the comfort of your bed as you enjoy the show. You’ll pay for that type of service, but there are some other more reasonable options that are still way more luxurious than any theater I’ve been to in the States. Most popular movies will be available in English (with Thai subtitles).
Hit the less-famous weekend and night markets. Not only will you find good deals, but it’s a great cultural experience, and I’ve found some of the absolute best Thai food in these places.
How about bowling? I know, you didn’t come to Bangkok to go bowling. Some of these alleys are more like clubs than the bowling alley you’re probably used to, though. If anything, swing by some night and check them out. They’re pretty interesting. Complete with laser shows, DJs, sometimes live music, you name it. SF Strike Bowl in the MBK is pretty fun.
There are tons of partial or full-day side trips available, from river tours to nearby UNESCO World Heritage site Ayutthaya.
Some people only plan a few days when they come here, but I think that’s a big mistake. There are just so many things to do in Bangkok, and nearby, that it’s a fabulous base. I’d recommend giving it some time.
What are your favorite activities or places in Bangkok?