Known locally as Krung Thep, Bangkok is many things: a city of decadence, concrete, ancient customs and some of the most indulgent shopping anywhere in the world. Markedly different from the rest of Thailand, the capital is a vast, sprawling metropolis of neon signs, roadside vendors, high rise shopping malls, winding canals, teak villages and more taxis than all of London and New York put together (well, probably!)
Bangkok is a city to get lost in, to walk past hordes of street vendors cooking up unusual delights, to revel in fine museums and to stay in luxurious hotels at a fraction of the cost of that in the West. With so much to do and see, and with an endless roar of motorbikes and cars in the background, it has been given the status of ‘one of the most exciting cities in the world.’ From shopping to cultural attractions, here’s what you can get up to....
Bangkok is as intoxicating as it is diverse; a melting pot of exotic aromas, interesting sights and visual delights. It’s a city with infinite layers which you need to explore to reveal its hidden secrets. However long you’re visiting for, make sure you put aside a little time to explore some of its cultural attractions. If there is one ‘must-see’ attraction it would have to be the dazzling Grand Palace. Built in 1782, and used as the home of the Thai king for 150 years, the palace continues to wow visitors with its beautiful architecture and intricate detail.
Make sure you take a canal trip through the ancient waterways that once gave the city its nickname of ‘Venice of the East.’ Passing stilted houses, ancient temples and families washing vegetables by the water, it’s a great way to see old Bangkok. And as the atmosphere and architecture is so markedly different from the modern, glitzy high rise city all around, it feels like you’re in another world.
As in all of Thailand, temples are very significant. With a strong Buddhist following, many of the city’s temples are ornately decorated, very old and exude a calm kind of spiritual atmosphere which has to be felt to be understood. The Temple of Dawn is located on the west bank of the grand Chao Phraya River, standing tall and golden with its 70 metre spire. The best time to see it is at night when it’s all lit up. Make sure you also visit the 46-metre-long reclining Buddha in Wat Pho.
With an international reputation as a no-holds barred hedonists’ delight, it always comes as a surprise to visitors when they realise there is much, much more to the city’s nightlife than seedy bars. Due to its status as a financial centre, the city’s riches are unbounded and a whole host of upmarket restaurants and bars have sprung up over the
Perhaps the most unique are the rooftop bars. As a city that abounds in high-rise skyscrapers, the sheer size and magnitude of Bangkok is best experienced in these rooftop bars. While some, such as D’Sens and The Long Table are 22 and 25 story-high bars respectively, if you really want to dine luxuriously and in style, The Rooftop Bar is located on the 83rd floor of Bangkok’s tallest building. Sipping a cocktail here is best experienced at sunset, when the sun sets over the magnificent Chao Praya River and the din of traffic is a distant memory far below.
While the infamous Khao San Road area is a great place to go for a drink and listen to a band or two, Sukhumvit District is the place to come for upmarket nightlife. Perhaps the most sophisticated is BarSu at the five star Sheraton Grande. Fusing Asian and Western cuisine together, the food is created by a two Michelin star chef from Belgium and the cocktails are divine. DJs play a range of music and the setting is relaxed but luxurious. Glow is an arty, minimalist club with lounge beds while Q Bar is a thumping, New York style establishment selling over 50 types of whisky.
Bangkok is a food heaven with an unrivalled culinary scene. Apart from offering renowned Thai cuisine in gourmet and street varieties, most world menus can be found here. Eating options are limitless, from jam-packed, cheap food courts to riverside eateries, antique teak establishments, dinner cruises and trendy restaurants. For upmarket Thai food head to Bo Lan, while if it’s an unrivalled atmospheric experience you’re after, Chinatown’s hawker stalls are brilliant. Khin Lom Chom Saphan offers great sunset dinner cruises while Blue Elephant serves royal cuisine in an ancient colonial home. If you’re after a more cultural experience, Sala Rim Naam puts on traditional Thai dance performances while you eat.
For out of this world shopping ranging from high end, Western malls to bustling markets where baby rabbits sit beside cheap dresses, Bangkok is your place. Sometimes referred to as ‘the Battleground of the Malls,’ unabashed Siam Square is more akin to New York’s Fifth Avenue and London’s Bond Street than Thailand. Huge, glass and chrome structures rise high into the sky, selling international fashions in designer stores. MBK and CentralWorld are two of the biggest and best. But if you’re after some bargains, braids, jewellery or second hand books, head to the ever-fun markets and road stalls of Chinatown and the Khao San Road.
Where to sleep
From backpacker pads to high-end, five star hotels and unique boutique stays, Bangkok has it all. Luxury travellers will feel right at home in Sukhumvit and Chidlom – Ploenchit districts where dozens of five star hotels line the streets. Some of the best include Centre Point Langsuan and AETAS Bangkok.
Bangkok is everything; an assault on the senses, friendly, delightful, shocking and loud. It really is one of the best cities to be and be seen in...