Bangkok is a city of contrasts. Modern restaurants beside street food carts; cars at complete halts while motorbikes and people whiz by on sidewalks; English on all of the signs and menus but little spoken; expensive high-rise apartments rising over poverty-filled slums. It was one of the most interesting cities I’ve ever visited.
Many people only see Bangkok through the windows of the airport on the way to Chiang Mai or Phuket, but it’s worth stopping for a couple days to explore this sprawling capital city.
So what’s the best way to experience Bangkok?
The first word that will always come to my head when I think of Bangkok is traffic. I have never experienced worse traffic in my life (and I’ve lived in Houston, TX and Washington, DC!). When you hear that the traffic in Bangkok is horrendous, it is no exaggeration. Think moving one city block in 10 minutes. Yes, only one block. You might ask why would people even get in a cab to go that slow until you've experienced the Bangkok heat. The cabs are ridiculously cheap (and often hot pink!), but it takes forever to get anywhere. We learned to double the time that Google Maps estimated. If you get in a cab, just sit back, relax, and take in the bustling city outside your window.
Patience applies to the crowds in Bangkok too. If you head to any of the main sites, be prepared to feel like a sardine only moving when pushed from behind. And if you decide to take the BTS Skytrain, be prepared to wait in line while multiple trains pass by completely full and then hold your breath and try to squeeze in when you turn comes.
Patience is a much-needed virtue in Bangkok.
Don’t feel like you need to see every temple.
Bangkok is known for its temples. They are gorgeous and certainly worth seeing. However, once you’ve seen one up close and braved the crowds, you might feel defeated. It’s okay to stop at one. There’s plenty more to do in Bangkok! After visiting the Grand Palace and Wat Pho, my husband and I decided we were too hot and too impatient to visit anymore temples. So instead of seeing Wat Arun up close, we saw it from a floor-to-ceiling window-front dinner table at Sala Rattanakosin. It was just as beautiful from across the river and much more relaxing.
Another note on temples: I received very conflicting information from people on what clothing was allowed at the temples. At the Grand Palace, scarfs are not allowed to cover your bare shoulders. You must also have your legs completely covered (pants or long skirt), and your chest, shoulders, and stomach completely covered. It was quite comical to see them let people wearing sheer tops that technically covered their shoulders inside, but not let people wearing non-sheer scarfs covering their shoulders through. The rules may not make sense, but they are strictly enforced! If you visit the Grand Palace, dress according to the rules and be prepared to feel hotter than you ever have in your life.
Visit Khlong Lat Mayom Floating Market.
While we visited the Amphawa floating market on a day trip to Kanchanaburi, our favorite floating market was the Khlong Lat Mayom floating market located right on the outskirts of Bangkok. We took a cab out there and watched as the concrete city disappeared and the countryside began. While it was technically still a part of Bangkok, it felt worlds away. The market is on the river, but not actually floating as some of the other markets are. There were tons of great food stands. We really enjoyed some pad thai, gai galae (Thai barbecue chicken on a stick), and khao lam (sticky rice roasted in a bamboo stick). You can also take a boat ride from the market, which travels through the neighborhood via canal, for only $1-2 per person (there are multiple groups that will take you and they charge different prices). It takes you to a small local temple and an orchid farm. While the destinations aren’t amazing, it’s really fun to boat through the area to see the houses and get another perspective on Bangkok. The cab ride out there only cost about $5 and took about 30 minutes. It’s definitely worth a morning venture!
Get a Thai massage.
Especially if you arrive in Bangkok from a long international flight, don’t hesitate to get a Thai massage. Traditional Thai massages are different than a typical massage in that they literally get on top of you and use their full arms and legs to massage you, in addition to putting your arms and legs into some interesting yoga positions. My husband and I both enjoyed our massages and thought about going back for a second! It only costs about $10 per person for a high-end massage company, and it’s a great way to relieve post-flight aches. Just make sure to research where you go! We had a great experience at At Ease Massage.
Take in the skyline views at a rooftop bar.
There are a ton of rooftop bars in Bangkok, but the price range is wide, so choose wisely. We went to Brewski before dinner one night and had a great view over the city plus drinks for a fraction of the cost of going to the famous Sky Bar. Another rooftop bar that was highly recommended to us but we never visited is Above Eleven.
Bangkok has tons of great places to eat, whether it be higher-end restaurants with views, traditional local places, or street food. Don’t forget to be careful with street food! Eat when the locals eat, go to places that are more crowded, don’t drink anything with ice or cold tap water in it, and when in doubt, don’t eat it. Here were a few tasty places that stood out to us:
While our favorite part of Thailand was venturing out into the countryside, we really enjoyed Bangkok and were glad we didn’t skip such an interesting city.