Bangkok, Thailand: The City of Angels
Bangkok is the most visited city in the world, edging out London with 21.98 million visitors in 2018. It’s also the hottest city in the world, has the longest city name in the world (too long to put here, so check the bottom of the blog post), and is known by such honors as “The Venice of the East” and, officially, as “The City of Angels”.
Bangkok is many things to many people – a conglomeration of skyscrapers, temples, scrumptious food, world-class hospitality, and an endless array of things to do. You will literally never run out of things to do in Bangkok. We sure didn’t. We had 4 days in Bangkok, and only got a small sample of what the city has to offer.
Not enough can be said about this amazing city. People can live there, and still only know part of the city. Jam-packed full of culture, delicious food, beautiful art, amazing architecture and some of the most friendly and happy people in the world, Bangkok was one of our favorite cities we’ve visited. The City of Angels has an energy like none other, food like no other, and is a world-class city every traveler must visit, maybe even multiple times.
We’re hoping that through writing about our experiences and what we know about Bangkok, that we help you come closer to a decision to visit the city. If you’ve been there, then we hope that we bring back good memories for you and offer a few new things to do in this awesome city
First, lets talk about getting there.
Arriving in Bangkok
When we arrived at Suvarnabhumi International Airport we were stoked to finally be in Bangkok. Our adventure promptly began when we touched down.
At the airport while going through Immigration Reggie and I had to approach the officers separately. The officers shared a desk and Reggie and I were side by side. After exchanging pleasantries Reggie mentioned to my officer that is was my birthday. My officers’s face lit up like a Christmas tree. “Really..?!” he said, taking a double take at my passport and clearly scheming up ideas in his head.
Reggie and I looked at each other, as we both said in our minds “oh crap”. “Wait here” the officer said. He picked up the phone, talked to someone on the other side (in Thai) and then left the desk. We’re here thinking “what is going on…?”.
We noticed that he was visiting other officers and other desks as if he was looking for something. We were getting quite worried because usually when things like this happen it is never good. But neither of us knew what was about to happen. Was there some bizarre law about birthdays in Thailand that we didn’t know about? Surely not.
When he returned to his desk, he presented me with a Birthday Card from the Custom and Immigration Department of Thailand! How cool is that!
He then asked if he could take a picture with me and the card. We were shocked as we have never had this happen or heard of this happening to anyone else.
This is just one example of the warm Thai hospitality – a theme that continued throughout our stay in Bangkok, as people smile and greet you almost everywhere you go. Despite Thailand’s popularity as a destination, a surprisingly low percentage of the population speaks English. The ones that do will jump at a chance to practice with you, so be ready for the occasional surprise conversation with a local.
Whether it’s the hotels, the restaurants, the boat driver or anyone, people in Thailand are social and love interacting with others. That, and everything else that happened in Bangkok made our stay there a special one.
Without further ado, lets get into our trip!
Where to Stay in Bangkok, Thailand
Bangkok is huge. Like New York huge, literally – both cities are home to around 8.5 million residents. Unlike New York however, Bangkok’s landmass isn’t limited by geography, so it feels like it goes on and on. Because of this, Bangkok has some very large districts, many of which are good options to find a great hotel.
Bangkok Hotels vary widely in luxury, style, services, and quality, and your choice depends largely on budget. Know that your money will go farther in Bangkok then most cities, of this magnitude, around the world.
So, to figure out where to stay, it all depends on what type of experience you want. We stayed in Sukhumvit due to its location, its balance between urbanity that is not overly cramped, and a nice blend of things to do.
But to help you think about how your Bangkok trip would look, below is brief guide on the best districts in Bangkok to stay, and their differences.
- Sukhumvit – This is the place to stay if you’re looking for a slice of culture, city, food, nightlife and luxury hotels. It is probably the most international district in Bangkok, where expats, globally recognized chefs, business people and a vibrant nightlife all meld together to exude a type of urbanity only Bangkok is capable of.
- Khao San – Khao San is a smaller area close to Chinatown, full of expats, nightlife, chic restaurants and markets. It’s a younger crowd of 20-somethings having a good time in Southeast Asia.
- Chinatown – The largest Chinatown in the world offers visitors hectic markets intermixed throughout a chaotic sprawl of restaurants, bars, and shops. This Chinatown is not intended to be a tourist attraction, as it’s literally a huge Chinese district within Bangkok.
- Siam – Close to Sukhumvit, Siam is closer to the river and has tons of restaurants and bars intermixed with hotels. This area has less street food, and is more geared towards tourists. But both Sukhumvit and Siam are connected by the Sky Train. There are a ton of rooftop bars in this area. Siam is also the most ideal location to get to other districts in the city as it is basically in the middle of the city.
- Riverside (Chao Phraya River) Area – This area is not connected on to the Sky Train which is unfortunate, but it is a wonderful area with some of the nicest hotels, and is close to many of the great sites such as The Palace and Wat Pho (will discuss later on in the blog post). It’s also close to Silom, which is a much lower energy district (relatively speaking) that has Lumphini Park, and other relaxing activities.
There are other areas to stay in Bangkok, but these are the best due to the proximity of things to do and overall vibe of the district. Bangkok has many sides, so staying in one of these districts will let you see multiple sides of this multifaceted city.
Wherever you stay, you will not be short on things to do, and while the traffic is horrendous, the public transportation is pretty good overall.
The Well Hotel
We stayed at The Well Hotel – a hotel that gives much attention to health and wellness. It’s centrally located right in the middle of Sukhumvit and is a self-proclaimed ‘lifestyle hotel’, full of dining options, Spa and Fitness services and nice rooms.
We enjoyed our stay here immensely. The rooms are spacious yet comfy, and it is close to food options and a giant mall.
There was even a fitness bike in our suite, which was a nice touch. The hotel has multiple wellness classes including traditional Thai boxing (Muay Thai), Abs & Cardio classes, Water Cycling and others. There is a large menu of various types of massage as well.
Well hotel is a great option in Sukhumvit with a good balance of luxury, amenities, and location.
Now let’s talk about some of the amazing activities Bangkok has to offer!
6 Things to do in Bangkok, Thailand
Chao Phraya River City Tour
This is highly recommended for anyone visiting Bangkok for less than a week. We found this company, Chao Phraya Tourist Boat, with a quick google search and were happy with the reviews. It seemed like it was going to be great, and spoiler alert – It was.
Basically, we got to see a large portion of the city in a short period of time thanks to the proximity of the city’s sights to the Chao Phraya river. The Chao Phraya river splits Bangkok in half – Sukhumvit, Siam and Thonglor on the east side, and the Riverside, Chinatown and Khao San areas on the west side. Wat Pho, A.K.A. The reclining Buddha, and The Grand Palace are some of the stops on this great tour.
This company has a great hop-on-hop-off boat tour, similar to the hop-on-hop-off busses of London, Paris and other major tourist destinations. While there are plenty of other ways to explore a city, this seemed right due to the proximity to the sights to the Chao Phraya River, and the insane traffic – more on that later.
So, we opted for the hop-on-hop-off tour and started at Sathorn. In the next sections I detail our Chao Phraya River City Tour by stop, and in the process talk about some of the great tourist sights this incredible city has to offer.
IconSiam is a huge mall whose recent opening was highly anticipated, as IconSiam is Thailand’s largest shopping development, housing over 7,000 Thai Brands, Michelin Restaurants, Apartments and more. Now we know what you’re thinking – another Asian mall, woop-d-doo. No. Not another Asian mall. IconSiam is over the top. Right on the water, this huge – and we mean HUGE – shopping mall has great food (including Michelin starred restaurants), wonderful shopping, and somehow is just not another Asian mall. Get lost in this mall or just stop by and get a taste of it. Definitely recommended for a visit if you’re trying to get some shopping in.
Lhong 1919 is an old Chinese-Mansion-turned-tourist-attraction with some chic shops, eateries, and interesting architecture.
It was an old shipping port that was Chinese owned, however the owner decided to turn it into a tourist destination. Some things to do at Lhong 1919 include visiting a small shrine in the middle, browsing some galleries, and having a nice lunch with a pleasant view of the Chao Phraya River.
It’s a neat stop along the Chao Phraya river. We loved the architecture of the former mansion and were surprised as we hadn’t heard of this little tourist spot before arriving.
The largest Chinatown not in China, Ratchawongse offers visitors skinny alleyways chock full of insanely busy markets boasting a you-can-buy-anything-here-vibe, along with some good food. It’s dense, it’s busy, it’s southeast Asian commerce at its finest.
Along the busy streets, you’ll see shops ranging from cell phone dealers to scarf makers, and everything in between. However, in Chinatown in Bangkok, there is more than meets the eye, at first glance.
Looking a little further, visitors will see that many of the markets are actually “inside” very narrow alleyways going straight through buildings. Wandering down the alleyways you’ll discover an entire micro-economy of various goods, with locals and tourists alike bargaining and doing business. If you happen to be in Chinatown at night, its bright neon signs reminiscent of Hong Kong, light up the area with street food at every corner.
Definitely worth a stop to soak up the atmosphere and buy a trinket or something more substantial to take home to your family and friends.
The Flower Market
Pak Klong Taladd is a flower market in Bangkok that is well known to its residents. Taking a walk down this street is rewarding for the senses, as intense aromas from the flowers fill the olfactory senses, and the beautiful colors light up the busy market.
The flowers sold here are extremely inexpensive by western standards (as virtually everything is in Bangkok), and it’s fun to stop by here and grab a bouquet of flowers – and maybe take a sweet Instagram picture in the process.
Wat Pho is a Buddhist temple and giant reclining Buddha close to the river, and is an iconic Bangkok landmark. Being one of the oldest temple complexes in Bangkok it has a great deal of significance to the history of Bangkok. Around the temple grounds, visitors will find many pictures of Buddha and other relics.
It’s one of the most popular tourist spots in the city.
The Reclining Buddha sits inside a long corridor offering various points where you can snap a couple of pictures. The Buddha is 150 feet long and 50 feet high. It’s a stunningly large Buddha, and for the traveler(s) interested in Buddhism it is definitely a must-see attraction in Bangkok. The temple complex also has beautiful architectural accents so it is worth taking a walk around the complex.
It’s best to go here later in the day, as most of the tourists have moved on to other sights by then. It’s pretty incredible how big it is, and it makes for an awesome picture.
We loved this temple! This temple is beautiful in color, design and aesthetic. Looking at it from afar, or close up it is clear that this temple is a stunning architectural monument in addition to its Buddhist relevance.
Wat Arun has been standing since at least the mid 1600s. It’s said to look different in different types of daylight. Walking around and enjoying the beautiful architecture and lovely spires was definitely a highlight of our Bangkok trip.
From afar, it springs up out of the trees but is simply spectacular from every angle. It’s also right along the Chao Phraya, which adds to its aesthetic. Wat Arun is a landmark temple in Thailand, and just from a beauty standpoint it’s clear to see why. Needless to say, our cameras were quite busy at this wonderful temple.
Tha Maharaj (A.K.A. The Grand Palace)
The grand palace is indeed grand. It’s also the most popular tourist attraction in Bangkok – so busy, in fact, that trying to find the best time to go is, well, impossible. There’s no best time to go, which means any time is the best time you’ll get. Also please make sure you dress appropriately men can not wear shorts and must have shirts with sleeves and women must have shoulders covered. There is a booth, near the entrance, that can provide garments to cover up.
We were there late afternoon and were stifled by crowds. Note that ticket gates close at 3:30pm, and the palace closes at 4:30pm. That aside, though, The Grand Palace consists of numerous gorgeous gold and white pagoda shaped buildings smack-dab in the middle of Bangkok, and is so authentically Thai, that you really have to see it.
Upon making it through the gates and onto the palace grounds, you’re treated to multiple structures each with different types of architecture, making this a very interesting visit if you’re into architecture. However, the significance of The Grand Palace cannot be understated, as it has been the residence of many Thai kings of yesteryear.
This tourist attraction is arguably more crowded then Angkor Wat over in Cambodia – there are often times lines to take certain photographs from certain angles. But this is also so very Bangkok – poetically representative of the city itself. So if you can handle the crowds, it’s definitely worth a visit.
This boat tour was not only comprehensive, but it was pleasant. While it is natural to do lots of walking in Bangkok, this provided a nice break in between the tourist sights. It also made for some fantastic views of the city and of course, some lovely pictures! It’s definitely the best way to see Bangkok while avoiding traffic.
Speaking of traffic, one thing to note about Bangkok is according to an Inrix study published by CBS in 2018, Bangkok has the 10th worst traffic in the world and Thailand was the most congested country in the world in 2017. When you are walking around the city, sometimes you’ll notice that you’re moving faster than the traffic because of how congested it is. Traffic is a huge challenge for the city, and has residents complaining left and right. As a visitor to this fine city, what this means is you may find yourself in a Grab (which is just like Uber) trying to go two miles, and realizing that it would absolutely be faster, but more tiring, to just walk.
Some areas around the Sukhumvit and Siam districts have MRT (subway) access and the Skytrain available. If you can use the skytrain, use the skytrain, and if you can’t, then hopefully you avoid peak traffic times. Because it is brutal, and is the cause for pictures such as this.
For these reasons, using a boat tour to see the sights is a quick and painless way to see as many sights as possible in Thailand.
If you don’t like boats, or want to find some other way to see the sights, it’s recommended to plan ahead. No one wants to spend their vacation starring at the backseat in a taxi or a Grab.
Khao San Road
You’ve probably seen a picture of Khao San road in your life at one point or another, and perhaps you didn’t know what it is. Khao San road is now known as the “center of the backpacking universe” thanks to the famous book The Beach by Alex Garland.
Khao San Road is a short but busy street with Hostels, Restaurants, and bars, with young folks having a ball at literally any time of the day. Even at 9:30 in the morning when most 20-somethings are sleeping off their sins of yesterday, this little area continues to buzz like a Friday evening in almost any other city.
Surprisingly, there is some incredibly tasty food on this street, albeit slightly touristy. For the equivalent of $1 you’re given a huge bowl of Pad Thai at just about every restaurant, each with outdoor seating. Before you know it, you’ll be chatting up some guy who is on a 6-month trip from Bulgaria to Indonesia.
In that sense, Khao San Road is cool because you’re surrounded by fellow travelers who are living a nomadic or traveling lifestyle and it’s possible to hear some great stories. If you don’t plan on sticking around too long, then visit around noon and grab a quick bite and soak up the atmosphere.
Right around the corner from Khao San road is some nice shopping, but otherwise, Khao San road is a quick and rewarding stop. Because of this, be sure to go midday because any other time, you’ll be stuck in traffic to and fro, which in Bangkok is extremely far from ideal.
Visit a Floating Market
There are several floating markets in and around Bangkok. Some locals use the waterways (remember, “Venice of the east”) to pick up the daily essentials like fruits, vegetables and other important things to bring home. Others use them to sell said daily essentials. Floating Markets have been an important staple for Southeast Asian Commerce for hundreds of years. They are now a popular tourist attraction across Southeast Asia, and for good reason. I mean it’s a floating market! It’s definitely something that you should do once in Southeast Asia and Bangkok is a perfect place to do it.
Many floating markets sell other things besides the daily essentials including art, crafts, clothes and ‘street’ food (river food?).
Rowing along in a boat and stopping to see the interesting things for sale is a very fun way to spend a morning, and is definitely one of the best things to do in Bangkok. Damnoen Suduak is one of the oldest and largest floating markets, and while it’s slightly outside of Bangkok, it is probably the one you should visit!
Eat Pad Thai or Pad See Ew at a Food Stall
As you roam around Bangkok, you’ll likely see many carts selling noodles lined with a couple of chairs and tables. While you should be careful eating street food anywhere that is not your home country, you also want to be sure to get the most authentic experience when you visit abroad.
If you do choose to partake, many of the chefs cooking at these stalls have been doing it for decades, and sell one or two dishes that they have mastered. Many of these stalls serve Pad Thai, or Pad See Ew. Often times they serve their dishes without meat because meat is expensive, but this allows you to steer clear of any potential bad times on the toilet the next morning.
Fun fact: Bangkok is home to one of the few Michelin starred food stalls – Raan Jay Fai. Read more about it in this interesting article.
Because many of the street food chefs serving up Pad Thai and Pad See Ew don’t serve meat, you’ll pay the equivalent of 70 cents for a huge plate of noodles, topped with scallions, egg and a sweet glaze that makes you wish they operated in your hometown. It will be one of the tastiest things you eat while in Bangkok.
Not only is street food in Bangkok simply scrumptious, it is found on almost every corner in some districts, and is a staple of local, and therefore authentic, Thai cuisine. Many of the Thai restaurants in other countries base their food exclusively off of Thai street food.
Bangkok is one of the best street food cities in the world, and if you’re feeling adventurous enough, it’s definitely recommended that you partake in the authentic cuisine served in these stalls.
Eat at a Michelin Starred Restaurant: We Suggest Nahm
Bangkok is full of incredible restaurants from food stalls to Michelin starred restaurants, and even a Michelin starred food stall. Bangkok has 17 Michelin starred restaurants, and among them is Nahm, a contemporary Thai restaurant headed by chef Pim Techamuanvivit that sits at the bottom floor of the Como Metropolitan Hotel. It was my birthday the night we arrived, so we were looking forward to a special meal and made reservations at Nahm to celebrate.
As Chef Techamuanvivit proclaims about her restaurant, she “wants diners who visit Nahm to feel as though they’re dining in the home of sophisticated Thai friends”. She accomplishes this with a beautiful interior that faces the pool, and offers delectable contemporary Thai cuisine that Reg and I absolutely loved. It was a 4-course meal with multiple plates per course that satisfied both our palates and our tummies.
If you’re going to Bangkok any time soon, definitely consider giving this restaurant a try!
Bangkok has a wide variety of restaurants ranging from Michelin starred restaurants to holes in the wall, all of which satisfy even the most difficult palates. If you’re a foodie, be sure to plan out your food adventure before you go!
Chris And Reg Travelers Tip!
Like many large Southeast Asian cities, Bangkok is known for its food scene. While we did not do this, if we had more time, we would have definitely taken a food tour. Like Phnom Penh, there are a variety of companies offering food tours of the city! This would be a great way to learn more about the city and have scrumptious food and sample signature Thai dishes along the way.
Partake in Bangkok’s Famous Nightlife
Of the many things that draw the 21 million visitors per year to the City of Angels, Bangkok’s nightlife is probably the most infamous. Bangkok nightlife offers so many things to do, it’s impossible to fully get your arms around it. Featured in countless movies including The Hangover II, there is something for everyone in terms of nightlife in Bangkok. Explore at your own risk, but know that there is a huge variety of nightlife options raging from clubs to serene rooftop bars and late night eats, among other things.
One thing that we loved were the rooftop bars. Bangkok’s maintains warm nighttime temperatures throughout the year. So, no matter when you visit Bangkok, the open-air bars at the top of many of the endless skyscrapers are sure to be a nice way to relax after a long day of walking and checking out the sights.
Check out Sky Bar, a fancier rooftop bar with great views of the city. Another highly recommended one is Vertigo, one of the highest rooftop bars in the world.
While there are many other nighttime activities in Bangkok, we chose to enjoy a tamer Bangkok experience than many others do. We enjoyed our comfortable hotel, our boat ride, and all the wonderful exotic food that we had.
Bangkok Has Something For Everyone
There are so many things to do in Bangkok, it’s insane. So many amazing districts, so much incredible food, an endless number of great places to stay, and all at a variety of budgets. Bangkok is the most visited city in the world. It’s clearer why 21.98 million people were brought to this incredible city.
Different types of people go to Bangkok for different reasons. We went to Bangkok to see what the hype was all about. After seeing so many Instagram pictures, hearing so many stories, and reading article after article, we simply couldn’t resist. Now we get it. Now we are part of those articles, those pictures, those stories, that allure that brings visitors from all around the world to its expansive city limits.
The gorgeous temples, wonderful food, comfortable accommodation, authentic culture and buzzing energy are all things that will likely bring us back to Bangkok some time in the future. For travelers looking to explore Bangkok, also know that it’s a perfectly located city because there are so many places to visit near Bangkok. Destinations like Saigon and Hanoi in Vietnam, Cambodia and all its wonders, mysterious Laos, Singapore and many more!
We hope that you’re one stop closer to deciding whether you’re going to Bangkok, but if you ask us. Do it!
If you’ve been to Bangkok and think we missed anything, let us know in the comment section below. We’d love to know what your favorite things to do in Bangkok are!