Posted: 8/17/20 | August 17th, 2020
Bangkok. It’s one of my favorite cities in the world. It’s a vibrant, chaotic, international, funhouse. A city 600 square miles and with a population of over 8 million, you could spend months here and you’d still only scratch the surface.
I’ve visited the city more times than I can count. I even lived there for a couple of years . I’ve watched the city change and grow in so many ways since I first landed here in 2004.
While there’s not a lot of traditional touristy things to do in the city (those fill a day or two), there’s a lot of food and culture based activities here that can give you a sense of what life is really like in Bangkok beyond the tourists.
To help you, here are my top 22 things to see and do in Bangkok:
1. Take a Free Walking Tour
One of the first things I do when I arrive in a new destination is take a free walking tour. You’ll get to see the main sights, learn a little history, and start to get a sense of the culture. Best of all, you’ll have an expert local guide with you who can help answer any questions you have and give you suggestions and recommendations.
Bangkok Walking Tours has a few different tours available every day that provide a solid overview of the city. Just be sure to tip your guide!
2. See the Grand Palace
The Grand Palace was built over the course of three years between 1782-1785 by King Rama I when the capital moved from Thonburi to Bangkok. It’s the official residence of the king, though he doesn’t live there anymore (it’s just used for ceremonies).
The palace was originally constructed from wood as supplies were short. Eventually, after raiding other sights in the region, they were able to find the building materials they needed. Hidden behind high concrete walls, the palace isn’t one large building but rather a collection of wats (temples), chedis (mound-like structures containing Buddhist relics), carvings, statues, and the famous 15th century Emerald Buddha.
Na Phra Lan Road, +66 2 623 5500, royalgrandpalace.th. Open daily from 8:30am-3:30pm. Admission is 500 THB. Be sure to wear clothes that cover your legs and shoulders. You can rent pants or shirts at the palace if you need them.
3. Visit Wat Pho and Wat Arun
Wat Pho, known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, is famous for its massive golden reclining Buddha statue. Built in 1832, the statue is 15 meters tall and 46 meters long. It’s one of the most popular sights in the city.
The temple is the size of a city block and there are tons of reliefs, statues, courtyards, temples, and spires to see. But there is more than just a photo opportunity here. The prestigious Thai Traditional Medical and Massage School is also located on the grounds. When you are done seeing the sights, get in line for a massage (it’s considered the best massage school in the country). Be sure to arrive early in the morning or late in the afternoon, otherwise you’ll have to wait at least 45 minutes for your massage.
Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn) is a gorgeous Buddhist temple on the edge of the Chao Phraya River (it’s just opposite the Grand Palace on the other side of the river). From the top of the main spire, you get sweeping views of the city. The intricately tiled facade reflects the light beautifully during sunrise and sunset. It’s my favorite temple in the city.
Wat Pho: 2 Sanamchai Road, Grand Palace Subdistrict, +66 2 662 3553, watpho.com. Open daily from 8am–6:30pm. Admission is 100 THB. Massages cost around 260 THB for 30 minutes.
Wat Arun: 158 Wang Doem Road, +66 2 891 218. Open daily from 8am–6pm. Admission is 50 THB. Be sure to dress appropriately for both temples.
4. Experience Khao San Road
This is the backpacker capital of the world. Khao San Road (along with Soi Rambuttri) has been the hub of backpackers in Asia since the 80s. While it’s a full-on tourist trap now, with non-stop bars, hawkers, and street stalls, it’s still a fun place to spend some time — even if you’re not staying in the area. Grab a drink, order some banana pancakes, and spend some time meeting other travelers and watching the world go by.
5. Explore Chinatown
This is one of the biggest Chinatowns in the world. It’s home to some delicious restaurants and street food as well as places to shop. But the main draw here is the food. There are tons of vendors selling food you’ve likely never see anywhere else in the city.
If you’re a fan of seafood, be sure to spend some time wandering the narrow streets and sampling everything. If you’re not sure where to eat, just pick a stall that has lots of locals eating there.
6. Take a River Cruise
To see the city from a different perspective, take a tour of the Chao Phraya River. The river stretches over 370km (229 miles) and river cruises offer a relaxing way to enjoy the view see the city in a new light. That said, avoid taking an overpriced river cruise. Instead, just ride a water taxi up and down the river for just a couple of dollars. You can start at the central pier, go to the end, and come back. You’ll save money and still get an enjoyable tour of the river as it weaves throughout the city.
7. Check out the Floating Market
While the floating markets are a little touristy, they are super fun and can’t be missed. The two main floating markets in the city are Khlong Lat Mayom and Thaling Chan (the latter being the most popular). Locals will paddle their small boats around the water and you can just shop as they pass you by. It’s definitely a unique experience!
The markets are chaotic and aromatic and can be a sensory overload. Arrive early (especially at Thaling Chan) so you can beat the crowds and tour groups. There’s lots of cheap food here too so it’s good to come hungry. I always like to wander the market first to see what I want to sample and then go about eating my way around.
8. Visit the Museum of Siam
Opened in 2007, this museum highlights the origins of Thailand and its culture. Housed in a 19th-century European-style building, the museum is fully interactive. There are galleries, movies, and multimedia displays that cover culture, history, Buddhism, war, and the making of modern Thailand. The museum does an excellent job of keeping things both fun and educational.
4 Maha Rat Rd, +66 2 225 2777. Open Tuesday-Sunday from 10am-6pm. Admission is 300 THB.
9. Visit the Bangkok Malls
Malls in Bangkok are not like malls in most other countries. Thanks to the AC, they are more like social hubs where locals can gather, eat, and hang out to escape the heat. The foodcourts here are actually delicious, there are coffee shops for relaxing or working, and there are even movie theatres and bowling alleys in the too. In short, they are fun places to hang out and to take in some of the less-conventional experiences of the city.
Some of the best malls to visit are Terminal 21 (my favorite mall), MBK Center (for electronics and knock-offs), Siam Paragon (upscale), and Pantip Plaza (electronics).
10. Tour More Temples
If you want to visit more temples, Bangkok has plenty more to offer. You can hire a tuk-tuk driver to take you around the city for a day to see them all (or at least the main ones). Some of my favorite temples are:
- Wat Saket – This is one of my favorites in city because of its beautiful golden temple and wonderful views from its top. Admission is 10 THB.
- Wat Benchamabophit – This temple is pictured on the back of the 5-baht coin and has 53 Buddha images in the courtyard representing different Buddhist mudras (ritual gestures). Admission is 20 THB.
- Wat Ratchanatdaram – Built in the 1840s, this temple is one of the few temples in the entire world with a bronze roof. Admission is free.
- Wat Traimit – Located in Chinatown, this temple is home to a massive solid-gold Buddha statue (it weighs 6 tons!). Admission is 40 THB.
- Wat Mahahat – This royal temple is home to Thailand’s oldest institute for Buddhist monks. It also hosts a weekly amulet market where you can buy amulets to help you with luck, love, money, and more. Admission is 50 THB.
11. Visit Jim Thompson’s House
Jim Thompson was an American spy during the Second World War and silk merchant in Thailand during the ’50s and ’60s. He mysteriously vanished in 1967 while in Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands. Some say he was lost or killed while hiking while others say he disappeared himself (he was a spy, after all).
When he returned to private industry after the war, he almost single-handedly revitalized Thailand’s sinking silk industry. While living in Bangkok, he lived in a traditional Thai home. It was decorated with beautiful teak wood and surrounded by a beautiful garden. Today, you can visit the house and learn about his life, the silk industry, and how and why Thais design their homes the way they do.
1 Khwaeng Wang Mai, +66 2 216 7368, jimthompsonhouse.com. Open daily from 9am-6pm. Admission is 200 THB.
12. Shop (and Eat) at the Chatuchak Weekend Market
This massive, sprawling market is the size of a few football fields and is one of the largest open-air markets in the world. There are over 15,000 stalls and booths here and the market sees upwards of 400,000 visitors each weekend.
It’s is the best place in the city to buy gifts or souvenirs, find knockoffs, barter, and eat delicious food. There are maps around the market so you can navigate the various sections though it always gets crowded and hectic so come prepared.
Kamphaeng Phet 2 Rd, +66 2 272 4813. chatuchakmarket.org. Open Wednesday-Thursday from 7am-6pm, Fridays from 6pm-12am, and Saturday-Sunday from 9am-6pm.
13. Watch a Muay Thai Fight
Muay Thai (Thai boxing) is a martial art/combat sport involving striking and clinching. It’s one of the most popular sports in the country and is taken very seriously (much like football in Europe). Fighters train for years to master the art and you can catch bouts at Rajadamnern Stadium.
Matches typically last around 25 minutes unless there is a knockout and there are usually 7-9 fights per night. There are lots of food hawkers here as well so you can grab a bite while you watch the violent spectacle.
1 Ratchadamnoen Nok Rd, +66 2 281 4205, rajadamnern-boxing-stadium.business.site. Main fights are on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays. Tickets range from 1,000-2,000 THB.
14. Relax in Lumpini Park
Spanning over 140 acres, this is one of Bangkok’s largest parks. It’s home to bicycle lanes, jogging paths, picnic and chess tables, tai chi classes, plenty of trees, and rowboats for rent on its pair of small lakes. There’s a lot to do here, and in a city that really, really, really lacks green space, it’s a blessing to have. Grab a book, pack a lunch, and come and lounge in the shade and watch the afternoon go by. It’s a nice change of pace from the hectic flow of the rest of the city (it’s a no-smoking area too).
192 Wireless Rd, +66 2 252 7006. Open daily from 4:30am-9pm.
15. See the National Museum
Established in 1874, this museum focuses on Thai culture, with highlights that include a large collection of musical instruments, recorded music, ornate royal funeral chariots, and impressive wooden carvings. It houses the largest collection of local art and artifacts and has been undergoing renovations over the past few years so it’s slowly becoming more interactive and English-friendly (though some sections still don’t have English signs). Nevertheless, it’s still incredibly interesting to see the artifacts and items in the collection. They offer English tours on Wednesdays and Thursdays at 9:30am.
Na Phra That Alley, +66 2 224 1333, virtualmuseum.finearts.go.th/bangkoknationalmuseums. Open Wednesday-Sunday from 9:30am-4pm. Admission is 200 THB.
16. Take a Cooking Class
Thai cuisine is one of the most delicious in the world. If you want to learn how to make some of the country’s mouth-watering dishes, take a cooking class. You’ll learn about Thai cuisine and cooking and be able to take your new knowledge and skills home with you. Here are some companies worth checking out to help you get started:
- Chef Leez
- Silom Thai Cooking School
- May Kaidee’s Cooking School (vegetarian only)
- Baipai Thai Cooking School
17. Hang Out at Soi Nana
There are two areas in Bangkok called Soi Nana. One is a sex tourism hub and not the one you should visit. The Soi Nana I’m referring to is known for its fun, hip nightlife. Located near the train station in Chinatown, this street is filled with bars and cocktail lounges making it a great place to have a few drinks and get a feel for the city’s wild nightlife.
Some of my favorite bars in the area are Pijiu (Chinese beer bar), Teens of Thailand (first gin bar in Thailand), Ba Hao (four-floor Chinese-inspired bar), El Chiringuito (Spanish tapas), 23 Bar & Gallery (bar in an art space).
18. Enjoy an Event at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center
If you’re a fan of live music, art, and performance, be sure to visit the city’s Culture Center to see if anything is happening while you’re in town. Opened in 2007, the BACC hosts art, music, theater, film, design, and cultural events in its exhibition and performance spaces. There is also an art library, cafe, gallery, craft shop, and book store here too.
939 Rama I Road, +66 2 214 6630-8, bacc.or.th. Open Tuesday-Sunday from 10am-9pm. Admission is free.
19. Wakeboard at Lake Taco
If you want to get out of the city and have some adventure, head to the eastern outskirts of Bangkok for some wakeboarding (riding on a short board while being pulled along a set route). The lake is just 40 minutes away. This is a popular thing to do with expats and though I never did it (I’m not much of an adrenaline junkie) my friends always said it was a fun time. It costs around 500 THB but comes with everything you need to have fun and stay safe (board, helmet, life jacket).
20. Take a Day Trip to Ayutthaya
Ayutthaya (pronounced ah-you-tah-ya) was founded around 1350 and was the second capital of Thailand (it was the capital before moving to Bangkok). Unfortunately, the city was destroyed in 1767 by a Burmese attack and there are only ruins and a few temples and palaces still left standing.
In 1991, it became a UNESCO World Heritage site and is a popular day-trip destination from Bangkok as it’s just 90 minutes away. While lots of companies offer tours, I recommend you simply go on your own by train (it’s much cheaper that way). A typical day tour of the area will cost you about 500 THB.
21. See a Ladyboy Show
This glitzy spectacle is Bangkok’s version of Moulin Rouge. It’s a lively cabaret show with show tunes, dancing, K-pop, and elaborate costumes. It’s a glamorous, rambunctious night out that is guaranteed to entertain. Calypso Cabaret, founded in 1988, is the best place to see a show in the city. Playhouse Cabaret and Golden Dome Cabaret are two other reputable venues that host fun performances as well.
Tickets from 900 THB per person.
22. Take a Food Tour
Bangkok is all about food. It is a foodie city. The sheer variety of options is staggering. You have food from all over the world. To develop a deeper appreciation of Thai food and learn more about the cuisine, consider a food tour.
My favorite food tour company is Bangkok Vanguards. Their tour was put together with the help of my friend Mark Wiens from Migrationology. Mark is the biggest foodie I know and he spent years crafting the perfect Bangkok foodie tour. It doesn’t disappoint!
Bangkok is a world-class city that is worth spending the time to explore. While I didn’t like it when I first visited, after spending more time there I got to understand and appreciate what the city has to offer. You need to look beneath the surface here to really get a sense of the city. Do that and you won’t be disappointed.
Get the In-Depth Budget Guide to Bangkok!
My detailed, 80-page guidebook is made for budget travelers like you! It cuts out the fluff found in other guidebooks and gets straight to the practical information you need to travel and save money while in Bangkok, a city I used to call home (so I know it really well!). You’ll find suggested itineraries and budgets, ways to save money, on- and off-the-beaten-path things to see and do, non-touristy restaurants, markets, and bars, and much more! Click here to learn more and get started!
Book Your Trip to Bangkok: Logistical Tips and Tricks
Book Your Flight
Use Skyscanner or Momondo to find a cheap flight. They are my two favorite search engines because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned. Start with Skyscanner first though because they have the biggest reach!
Book Your Accommodation
You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the biggest inventory and best deals. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use Booking.com as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels. My favorite places to stay are:
- Green House Hostel
- Mad Monkey Hostel
- D&D Inn
If you’re looking for more suggestions, here is my complete list of the best hostels in Bangkok! And, if you’re wondering what part of town to stay in, here’s my neighborhood breakdown of Bangkok!
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:
- World Nomads (for everyone below 70)
- Insure My Trip (for those over 70)
- Medjet (for additional repatriation coverage)
Looking for the Best Companies to Save Money With?
Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use to save money when I’m on the road. They will save you money when you travel too.
Want More Information on Bangkok?
Be sure to visit our robust destination guide on Bangkok for even more planning tips!
Photo credit: 14 – Bangkok Vanguards