I’m going to be straight with you here and tell you exactly what I would tell my friends. (You are all my friends, after all.) Bangkok is not my favourite city. It’s no secret I love Thailand but Bangkok is another story. Unlike other Asian cities, Singapore or Hong Kong for example, which I would insist you treat as more than just a stopover and as a valid destination in themselves, I’d say the opposite of Bangkok. It’s a great place to stop and get a feel for Thailand but I’d say give it 2 or 3 days max before heading onto the more beautiful and chilled places like Chang Mai, Krabi or any of the idyllic islands. For me it just feels too hectic to stay any longer.
That being said, it’s a great place for a stopover as it’s got the perfect mix of old sights to see and new bars and spas to be seen in. The very best things to do in Bangkok (in my opinion) are:
1. Wat Pho (The Reclining Buddha)
Wat Pho Temple is home to the famous Reclining Buddha, a dazzling 46 metres long, gold leaf statue of the Buddha. Wat Pho itself is one of the largest temple complexes in Bangkok and has lots for you to explore, including a leading massage school. Entrance to the Reclining Buddha costs 100 baht and is open from 8am to 5pm. You will need to cover your legs and shoulders so take appropriate clothing and be respectful of local customs by not taking a selfie with the Buddha – it’s rude to turn your back on him. Make sure you check out his intricately decorated feet – sadly they were being restored during my visit but usually you can view the exquisite mother-of-pearl illustrations of auspicious ‘laksanas’ (characteristics) of the Buddha.
2. Lat Mayom Floating Market
Bangkok’s roads can be notoriously congested but the canals are completely different. One of my favourite experiences in Bangkok was when a group of bloggers and myself went with a local guide to the Lat Mayom Floating Market. Far less touristy than the more well-known floating markets, Lat Mayon was bursting with Bangkok locals buying their weekly groceries and dining out on fresh seafood, curries and satay with their whole family. Surprisingly not much of the market is actually floating, many of the stalls are in a traditional market on land, but there is seating dispersed along the water and it’s fun to watch the odd floating food vendor come past. Make sure you take small notes in order to make purchases, many items are less than 100 baht. The market is open 9 am to 4 pm on Saturdays and Sundays and can be reached via a taxi from Bang Wa or by hiring a long tail boat.
3. Rooftop Bars
For a quintessential modern-day Bangkok experience you need to hit the roof! Not only are Bangkok’s rooftops where you’ll find chic places to drink and enjoy the views but you’ll be treated to a much-needed breeze up there too. I visited Octave on the 45th floor of the Bangkok Marriott Hotel Sukhumvit on the recommendation of a local expat and it was a good choice. Stylish but not pretentious, buzzing without being packed – we got a table without making reservations. Drinks start from 450 Baht so it’s not a cheap experience by Thai standards but not bad in comparison to similar experiences in Sydney and London. (You can earn free stays here with a Marriott Rewards Card.)
One of the first things I do each time I land in Thailand is head straight to a spa. You’ll find a wealth of places in Bangkok ready and willing to ease the knots after your flight. I generally just head into the first welcoming place I find near my hotel but if you’re short of time and like to book in advance consider treating yourself to an incredibly lux experience at the Mandarin Oriental Spa or for a more traditional (but equally glam) Thai experience check out Divana Spa who have a number of properties in the city.
5. Tuk Tuk Night Tour
For those incredibly short of time or looking for a quick and easy way to get acquainted with the city I recommend the Bangkok Night Lights Tuk Tuk Tour by Expique. This city tour in a traditional Thai mode of transport will take you to some of the top sights in the city and include dinner at the most famous Pad Thai restaurant in Bangkok, Thipsamai. One of the highlights for me was seeing the Flower Market. It’s incredible to see how this vibrant marketplace operates around the clock and was surreal yet beautiful to see the streets filled with blooms even in the middle of the night.
Find out more about the Expique Tuk Tuk tour here
Check out my tips for travelling to Ao Nang, Krabi here
My weekend of rookie travel mistakes in Bangkok