Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, is a city where modernity and tradition blend perfectly. Indeed, ancient architectural wonders can be found between modern buildings. There, we have seen the most richly decorated temples. It is also a city that never sleeps and never stops eating (and for a good reason as the food is delicious both day and night)!
To finish off our journey in Thailand, we spent four days exploring this amazing city. For us, with a full week in Bangkok you couldn’t run out of activities and things to see.
What to do in Bangkok?
This huge city has a lot to offer for all tastes and budgets. The city is best known for its delicious street food and nightlife but fans of history, architecture, shopping, luxurious spas or combat sports will also be happy here.
1) Treat yourself with the famous Bangkok street food
Thailand is famous for its cuisine and Bangkok is the ideal place to experiment dishes from different regions. In addition, no need to worry for Clémentine who is allergic to lactose as food is mostly cooked without using dairy products. Our favourite aspect of Thai food are undoubtedly the delicious desserts and sweets.
You will find sellers in many streets and neighbourhoods as well as in many markets. We encountered a lot of tourists who, unlike us, were starting their Thailand trip in Bangkok and were uncertain about what they could eat. According to us, the food hygiene in Thailand is good and it seemed quite reasonable to have street food. However, we respect a few principles: choose a place which seems to be popular with locals, preferably where the food is cooked in front of you and if you have doubts prefer to eat vegetarian. We also avoided raw food and unpeeled fruits and vegetables. Since Bangkok is not far from the sea, it is not too risky to have fish and seafood. If you really are unsure, choose a vegetarian and a fried dish for your first day.
The best way to enjoy fully without having to worry is to hang out with locals. We did two guided tours in Bangkok and absolutely loved these experiences which allowed us to discover a lot of new flavors. It is also a great way to feel comfortable when you arrive and to learn how to pick what you want to eat in the rest of the country.
Our amazing foodie evening with Bangkok Food Tours
To tie up nightlife and street food, we went around the city by tuktuk with Bangkok Food Tours. We love visiting with tours. In general, this kind of experience gives us access to things that we would not have done ourselves.
During our evening with Bangkok Best Eats Midnight Food Tour by Tuk Tuk, we tasted delicious food (recommended in the Michelin Guide for some places) the way locals do. Our feast was composed of pad thai, noodles, Isaan food and incredibly tasty desserts. We were served in small restaurants where the food was cooked on charcoal directly on the street (at the back of the restaurants or even directly on the sidewalk in front). We also got some behind the scene peeks into the kitchens.
The tour also includes a night visit to the flower market, a temple (no other tourist seemed to have realised it was accessible at night) and a rooftop bar. Our guide Chanya was amazing and gave us a lot of detail into the Thai culture. Through visits like these, we can build confidence to be able to taste the wonderful street food available across the country.
2) Be amazed by the temples and the royal palace
The temples of Bangkok are breathtaking!
Wat Pho and the Reclining Buddha
Wat Pho is the one who impressed us the most with the superb 46 meters long Reclining Buddha. How small we felt by the side of this imposing statue! There are excellent photo opportunities if you have the patience to wait for no tourists in your sight.
The Royal Palace and the Emerald Buddha
The Royal Palace (also called Grand Palace) is also a very interesting visit with the famous Emerald Buddha. The site is wide and it takes a few hours for the visit. We strongly advise you to do it early to avoid hordes of tourists. We made the mistake of going there in the afternoon and did not make the whole tour because the crowds were difficult to manage. Do not forget to cover your legs (whatever your gender is). Otherwise you will be forced to buy souvenir pants with elephant motifs to wear around the temples. Be sure to have a look at the elevated entrances which were previously used for royal arrivals on elephants. Did you know that white elephants are always offered to the king?
Wat Arun and its beautiful architecture
Wat Arun is just across the river from the Royal Palace but does not attract so many people. This temple is also beautiful and worth a visit (plus the boat trip is a great experience). To get there you just need to go to the Tha Tien pier at the end of the galleries and pay your ticket a few baths.
Wat Paknam and its astonishing ceiling
Thanks to our day with our guide Peach from Your Thai Guide, we discovered this beautiful temple away from international tourists. The structure has several floors on which you can observe many statues and valuable objects related to the country’s history. The highlight is on the top floor with a magnificent ceiling and access to the outside for a view of the surroundings (including other temples and their giant Buddha statues). You can get there by boat if you visit local / floating markets nearby or with a taxi.
3) Take a cooking class to enjoy Thai food at home
Thai food is absolutely delicious and we could not leave the country without trying to bring a little home. Cooking classes are widely available at most tourist destinations across the country. However, Bangkok seemed perfect to take a class with a chef from a prestigious restaurant.
We attended a cooking class at the fabulous Blue Elephant Cooking School & Restaurant Bangkok.
We started the class by observing the talented chef in a classroom style. We sat at desks to add notes to our recipes (of course Clémentine took a lot of notes and Nicolas none). After this, we went to a real restaurant kitchen to practice our newly acquired skills. We learned how to prepare three main dishes and a desert: a chicken massamam curry, a soup with fish, a tasty pomelo salad with chicken and shrimps and a mango sticky rice. The mango sticky rice is Clémentine’s favorite so we are very happy to now know how to prepare it.
The restaurant is so classy and professional that we felt a little intimidated at first. However we were quickly put at ease and had a great time. In addition, we are going home with recipes, an apron, some spices and even a diploma. This will make our return much more interesting!
After the class, it is time for tasting. It is possible to eat on the spot in the very elegant restaurant or to take away. Even if it is tempting to immediately eat your dishes, we advise you to take away. You will have three full size dishes and a dessert which can easily be shared with another person. We were very frustrated to not be able to finish our dishes at the restaurant!
If you also want to visit the market before the class and pick the products yourself, you have to book the morning session.
4) Stroll in the floating markets away from tourists
Floating markets are an institution in Bangkok, and with no doubt by doing your research, you will stumbled across the colourful photos. Also on the spot, you will find many offers for day trips to the markets. There are two things you need to know about this: first of all they are very far, about a two-hour drive from the city, and then they have become very touristy. So much that in those markets you will mostly find tourists rather than locals.
We decided to avoid those touristy markets and we went on a guided day trip to discover the markets where locals actually go.
Thanks to our wonderful private guide Peach from Your Thai Guide we had an amazing day away from the tourists. We have been able to taste street food we had never seen elsewhere (including delicious sweets). All day we went along the canals in different boats between small local floating markets. We also visited incredible temples and even had our fortune read (very good for Nicolas and terribly bad for Clémentine).
Peach, our guide, organised our tailor-made day taking into account our requests. On the program :
- Watsai temple and the tiny floating market
- Wat Paknam temple in Parsi Charoen
- The floating market of Taling Chan (another floating market a little bigger with some tourists)
- Khlong Bang Luang Floating Market and Dancing and Puppet Show
- The Chatuchak market, a huge market open only on weekends but very touristy
To visit the first four floating markets we were boating in the canals. We used two different boats, a small one usually used by the locals and a bigger one for tourists and groups. We must admit we got wet in our little boat and going in and out was a little complicated but it was a great experience.
The markets were very interesting, especially the Taling Chan where you can taste many different flavors in small portions street food style. The dishes we tried with Peach were all new and unknown to us even after three weeks in the country. We probably would not have dared to taste those ourselves and we wouldn’t have been unable to pick what to taste without her valuable advice.
Floating markets are really just markets along the canal. There are some food cooked on boats but it is mainly on dry lands. The experience is excellent but do not expect hundreds of boats.
We loved visiting with Peach who showed us places frequented by locals and very little by tourists. The experience is very authentic and she really took our desires into consideration. Indeed, each tour is unique and adapted to your specific needs, so you will certainly not do the same as us. We 100% recommend a day with Your Thai Guide. This is a great way to start your Thailand trip or your few days in Bangkok. You will learn a lot about the culture, the political situation and especially how to take advantage of the excellent gastronomy.
5) Take a detour through Chinatown
Bangkok’s Chinatown is one of the most authentic Chinese neighbourhoods we have ever visited in the world. This can be explained by the fact that Thailand is very close to China geographically and many expatriates live in Bangkok.
Get amazed by looking into the shops and do not miss visiting the market. We ate incredible dumplings at the market entrance near the new Wat Mangkon subway station. Behind the display you will find a few tables to sit down.
At night, the district is illuminated and very lively!
6) Discovering Thai Boxing: Muay Thai
Muay Thai is a fascinating martial art, an ancestral practice which is widespread in Thailand. Bangkok is the perfect place to watch a game or even try it. It must be noted this is a violent practice which can be dangerous.
It is possible to take lessons from champions, whether for an afternoon or several months, many tourists come here for training. Training is safe if you do not plan on fighting in matches.
To attend a match and get a glimpse of the atmosphere there are three possibilities in town:
- Go to one of two stadiums: Lumpinee or Ratchadamnoen. Be careful to check the days of matches and schedules beforehand. The seats are quite expensive but we have heard the atmosphere is incredible and the experience very authentic.
- Attend a free match in the studios of the national TV channel CH7. This is possible every Sunday or the 3rd Wednesday of the month. The studios are located next to the Chatuchak market which is open on weekends, convenient for organising your Sunday between boxing and shopping.
- We were fortunate to stumble upon a free performance on the street in front of a mall. The matches were very impressive and we could also observe female fighters, this sport is not reserved for men!
7) Enjoy the nightlife
As we mentioned in the introduction, Bangkok is a city that never sleeps and we did not sleep much during our stay.
First of all it is very impressive to see the activity in front of the street food vendors even after midnight (and you even see in the queues of popular places families with children in pyjamas).
Where to go in the evening? You have plenty of options, but here is what we tested for you:
- Rooftop bars to enjoy the view on the river, the Royal Palace and Wat Arun. You can choose between the Eagle Nest (more affordable) or the Sala (classier with a slightly better view). Prices are high but the view is worth the cost. We have not tried it ourselves but if you have the budget it is also possible to go on cruises with dinner and a show.
- Discover the temple of Wat Pho illuminated after dark. It is possible to enter in the evening. This secret seems well kept and we did not see any other tourist! However access to the reclining Buddha is not allowed.
- The Chinatown area is very interesting and offers amazing and affordable food. We went only during the day but it is recommended to visit at night to enjoy the lighting and the nightlife.
- Take a mini-cruise on the Chao Phraya River to go to Asiatique. On site you can enjoy the entertainment, shops, restaurants and the very nice market with street food. Be careful however it is expensive.
- Observe the madness and chaos of Koh San Road. This party district pushed to the extremes of tourism is worth having a look. There you will see scorpions and tarantulas skewers, crocodiles on barbecues, tattoo artists and many drunk people…
- Finally, Bangkok is also notorious for its “red light” district. We had a look around the Patpong district. At first, it seemed as just a market with very bad souvenirs for tourists. Then, on the street with the busy bars we quickly noticed many striptease bars and drag queen shows. Walking further into the area we came across alleys with many women “exposed” in lines, waiting to be “chosen”. This deeply disgusted and shocked us, consequently we do not recommend visiting this area.
Unfortunately, even though we knew about the sad reputation of sex tourism in Thailand it did not stop us from being deeply shocked by the customers. We were surprised to see many tourists from Europe or North America taking part. These people who support sex tourism are also encouraging paedophile networks, human trafficking and sexual slavery. Many sex workers (adults and children) are forcibly taken from neighbouring countries. It is all the more horrible that we felt really helpless about it.
Where to stay in Bangkok?
Regarding accommodation, there is plenty to choose from. We moved away from the city centre to enjoy some quiet at night. If you have other interests than partying we advise you to avoid the proximity to Koh San Road or the Patpong district.
Our hostel, Siamaze was a great choice. Although the hostel is located away from the city centre, the metro is nearby and taxis are very affordable from there. Our private room with bathroom was very spacious and clean. We even had a balcony. The breakfasts were nice and the kitchen available if you want to cook in addition to the possibility of ordering Thai food cooked there. The staff is incredibly friendly and helpful.
On top of this, there are activities offered such as cooking classes, barbecues and even group tours in Bangkok. All these activities are free! Feel free to chat with the staff to get the most out of your stay. We were able to attend the cooking class and spend a day visiting the temples and Chinatown with them.
It should also be noted that Siamaze is located next to one of the city’s best Pad Thai street vendors: Baan Yai Phad Thai (recommended by the Michelin guide since 2018).
How to move around in Bangkok?
Bangkok is very well served by public transport. Moreover traffic jams are not uncommon so the underground metro is a very good option. It costs about 50 baths for a metro trip (you have to pay at the ticket counter and it depends on the distance). It is also rather simple to navigate. Pick your place to stay close to a metro line in order to get to the centre quickly.
Taxis are cheap when traffic conditions are good and often cheaper than a Grab or Uber. We advise to download those apps however (Grab and Uber) as they can be very useful if there are no taxis in sight. The auto rickshaw or tuk tuk may be more expensive than taxis but are an experience to try at least once!
It is possible to travel by boat on the Chao Phraya River for example to visit the Asiatique The Riverfront from Wat Arun. The trip is very pleasant and will serve as a mini-cruise at an affordable price. To find a ticket you just need to ask at any boarding port. We picked up our tickets at Wat Arun.
Bangkok is a very accessible Asian megalopolis where it is easy to get around. Although touristy, it is not difficult to access the local life. The best way to do this is to visit with locals, whether on a private tour or in a group. We loved all of our experiences (which were mostly culinary) and cannot wait to come back to do more.
Thank you for reading, please do not hesitate to leave us a comment.
Clémentine’s reading list on Bangkok
- The Lonely Planet travel guide on Bangkok or Thailand if you are travelling around the country.
- Since Thai is a difficult language, we also went with the Lonely Planet guide Fast Talk Thai.
- We are still looking for a suitable novel, if you have ideas please leave us a comment!
- There are many Hollywood movies set in Bangkok but not necessarily the best ones… For example, Very Bad Trip 2 (The Hangover 2) or The Beach with DiCaprio.