City Guide to Bangkok, Thailand
Author: Julie Thompson | Last Updated: 26 Jun 2019
The land of warm smiles, mouth-watering cuisine, and awe-inspiring archaeological wonders. Welcome to Bangkok, capital of Thailand. Known fondly by the locals as Krung Thep (city of angels), millions tourists flock here every year, and for good reason. You’ll quickly find that the city boasts way more than just its feverishly raucous night life. The initial blast of warm air that embraces you upon stepping out of the Suvarnabhumi airport swiftly dissipates into a myriad of busy sidewalks and endless hunts for delightful street food. The rich tradition and culture of this amazing city will have you reveling in delight as an entire host of night clubs, fancy dining restaurants, shopping malls and architectural ingenuities make you wonder why this South-East Asian gem wasn’t at the top of your bucket list before.
Best time of the year to visit Bangkok
The weather in Bangkok, like most other regions in South-East Asia is tropical by nature. The 2 governing seasons are dry (November – April) and rainy (May – October). March till May are hottest months hands down – with temperatures soaring to unearthly heights of 104F and above. It is however also during this period that Songkran (the Thai New Year) gets into full swing. These three days of festivities are quite a spectacle to behold, with thousands of lively partygoers thronging through the vibrant streets in joyous celebration. Boisterous water fights line the streets and alleyways during this time, providing brief yet refreshing respites from the relentless heat.
The monsoon period follows closely through the months of June and October, and rainfall is increased by tenfold during this period. If you dig lower prices and fewer tourists, this is the best time for you to visit Bangkok, though be warned that soggy clothes and flashfloods are commonplace. Finally, the months of November to February reign in less rainfall with much cooler temperatures. It is however during this time that high season begins, resulting in a marked increase in tourism and prices. If you are planning your trip in advance, the best period to visit Thailand would be from late November to early December. Good weather, decent prices and lesser tourists will compliment your well-deserved holiday.
Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew
First on the list is Bangkok’s arguably most famous attraction. A sacred pilgrimage destination for devout Buddhists, the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew (temple of the emerald Buddha) spans an imposing 94.5 hectares, housing over a hundred ornate buildings. Inside the royal grounds are a multitude of shimmering golden pagodas, massive god-like statues and intricate little sculptures of ancient creatures from eras long gone. Stunning Thai craftsmanship reverberates across the temple walls on which myths and whispers abound. Deeper into the heart of this majestic palace, you will find a most splendid figure nestled in the tranquil shade of the ubosot (ordination hall). Here lies the statue of the sacred Emerald Buddha, adorned rapturously in intricate golden garments. These luxurious robes are changed by the king himself thrice a year, symbolizing the dry, rainy and cool seasons of this prosperous and fertile land. The grounds are of such enormity that a brief stroll through the sacred area easily consumes a whopping 2 hours. Come prepared!
Chatuchak Weekend Market
With over 8,000 stores packed into a 35 acre (88 football fields) plot of land, the Chatuchak weekend market packs such a diverse shopping experience you definitely do not want to miss (or get lost in) on your first trip to Bangkok. Just about anything shy of vehicles and infrastructure can be purchased here. Clothing, antiques, handicrafts, accessories, pets, furniture, food and books line 27 unending alleyways in this ginormous marketplace. If time is on your side, consider staying till the break of evening when the constant gray covers that provide shelter from the unrelenting sun transform into a myriad of lovely pastel colors.
Upon entering the market, the top of your priorities should be getting your hands on a mildly-scented cup of refreshing Thai milk tea. Once that’s out of the way, you’ll have 35 acres’ worth of wares to bargain your way through. So forage for some change, equip your biggest smile, and get shopping!
Just a couple minutes’ walk away and juxtaposed to the calm and tranquil Chao Prya River is the majestic Wat Arun temple. Known locally as the Wat Chaeng (temple of dawn), this incredulous structure is testament again to the Thais’ architectural genius. It features a central prang (tower) with a seven pronged trident mounted on top. The prang is over 70 meters tall and in its corners are situated four smaller prangs. Adorned with pieces of glass and Chinese pottery, these beautiful prangs emit unearthly reflective glows from light sources all around. There is an option to scale the central prang, though be warned that it is a rather steep ascend. Should you decide to make the journey up, your reward will be an unforgettable view of the peaceful Chao Prya River flowing along below and the awe-inspiring Grand palace just across. Be sure to visit in the evening for a mesmerizing view of the temple lights. Bear in mind that all temples in Thailand are sacred grounds of worship for locals and visitors alike, so do remember to dress appropriately!
Floating Market Damnoen Saduak
Having already explored the immense Chatuchak, you will soon discover that massive land markets are not the only thing the city is famous for. Bangkok is also home to a number of floating markets – many of which are scattered through and just outside the city. The most famous of them all is Damnoen Saduak floating market. Located about an hour’s drive out of Bangkok, this colorful scene is home to all manner of fruits, vegetables and food. Here, the locals peddle all manner of local wares and antiquities. While the distance might require an early call time (around 5-6am in the morning), the transcendent view of quaint little bobbly boats on vibrant green waters make for undoubtedly wonderful photo opportunities. Should the distance prove too much, this is little shame in alternating to the Khlong Lat Mayom and Taling Chan floating markets for a more authentic local experience with less tourists. The markets are close to each other and only a 5-minute drive from downtime Bangkok.
The hustle and bustle of Bangkok city can sometimes get to both tourists and locals alike. A wonderfully simple solution to escape the noise and claustrophobia of the city lies in the pristine Lumpini Park. Located in the heart of Bangkok, this immense park is home to a multi-diverse range of flora and fauna. Amid an unfazed aura of tranquility and peace, one will observe massive monitor lizards strolling nonchalantly through the park while children and adults alike engage in recreational activity nearby. While petting them might not be in your best interests, rest assured that the creatures are completely harmless unless provoked. Given the opportunity, pop by the park on a Sunday afternoon for a taste of some of Bangkok’s finest musical bands. Be sure to stay till the sun goes down for Lumpini park at sunset is truly a spectacle you wouldn’t want to pass up.
Baiyoke Sky Tower
No trip to Bangkok is complete without first, a panoramic view of the city and its astounding skyline. Nestled on the 84th floor of the Baiyoke Sky Tower is a 360 degree revolving rooftop observation deck that makes towers below you appear like little property pieces on a monopoly board. For just 400 baht, you are granted access to this giddily-high platform with a bird’s eye view across incredible Bangkok. As soon as you are done spinning above the heads of thousands below, a cordial invitation to the bar on the 83rd floor for a free drink awaits. As with all things sky-related, the best time to arrive is in the evening. The golden glow in the sky gradually descending into outrageous shades of scarlet and rosé while birds darting back and forth across the swiftly retreating horizon is truly a spectacle to behold. Coupled with the sight of shimmering headlights gradually beginning to line the highways 80 over floors below, you’re bound to have your breath whisked away.
Muay Thai at the Lumpinee Stadium
Wrapping up this city guide to Bangkok (and not in the way boxers wrap their hands before a fight), we jump straight into the rowdy boxing rings of uptown Bangkok. Encasing these exhilarating performances of showmanship and grit is the illustrious Lumpinee Stadium. This state-of-the-art facility holds nationwide status as the penultimate venue for prized Muay Thai fights. Tumultuous ringside experiences await should you muster the courage to set foot into this lion’s den. Passionate, high-spirited members of the crowd from ringside all the way up to the rafters can be seen chanting and throwing placards in the air as prized fighters battle it out in traditional Muay Thai style against their accomplished brethren. The sight of floodlights raining down on the ring amidst the incessant cries that punctuate the electrifying evening atmosphere is truly a wonderful traditional experience you neigh miss.
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