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Best things to do & places to stay:

Last updated: 27 November, 2022
Expert travel writer: Chris Schalkx

Bangkok is one of South East Asia’s most complex and contradictory cities. Gritty but glamorous, lively but laid-back, the Thai capital is a hive of frenetic street activity with traffic gridlock that grinds the place to a halt for hours.

It’s home to the region’s best fine dining restaurants, as well as tasty street food stalls, sleazy girlie bars and sleek cocktail spots. It’s the address for retro hipster markets and posh designer stores, lofty luxury hotels and charming B&Bs.

Perhaps surprisingly, it’s also a tranquil haven dotted with tropical gardens and glinting temples.

Whatever your penchant, Bangkok’s almost certainly got it covered.

Orientation

Bangkok is a colossal, sprawling city and few tourists ever get as far as its genteel suburbs and posh housing estates.

Most visitors check into a smart hotel along busy Sukhumvit Road or one of the quieter sois (lanes) leading off it, confining their explorations to the historic centres of Chinatown and Bangrak, and everything in between that lines the Chao Praya river.

The areas they miss out on, such as laid-back and cafe-studded Ari, street food haven Talad Phlu, or the on-the-up nightlife enclave of Chinatown’s Soi Nana are the most fun.

The bucket list experiences our writer says you must do in this destination

Grand Palace

Bangkok, Central Thailand, Thailand

Thailand’s most famous cultural site is a glittering complex of jaw-dropping magnificence dating back to 1782. This former seat of power of Siamese kings houses the Emerald Buddha – Thailand’s palladium.

Best for ages: Any | £11

Ayutthaya Historical Park

Bangkok, Central Thailand, Thailand

Thailand’s ancient capital flourished in the 14th-18th centuries. Today. it’s home to ruined palaces and crumbling Buddha statues, offering a fascinating glimpse of past glories.

Best for ages: 13+ | £3

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Boat tours of Bangkok

Bangkok, Central Thailand, Thailand

From fancy river cruises to public transport boats, seeing Bangkok from its many waterways gives you a whole new perspective of the city and lives of the locals.

Best for ages: 4+ | £3 | 30+ minutes

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Other worthwhile experiences in this destination if you have the time or the interest

Bang Krachao
Experience

Bang Krachao

Bangkok, Central Thailand, Thailand

This island in the horseshoe of the Chao Phraya River is only a 10-minute hop from the city centre, but feels like a world away. Rent a bicycle and follow stilted pathways through lush jungle and laid-back villages.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Bangkok’s Creative District

Bangkok, Thailand

With galleries, concept stores and art markets amalgamating into a kaleidoscope of creativity, Bangkok’s de-facto design district offers an excellent primer on the city’s burgeoning creative scene.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

Teak house surrounded by lush greenery
Experience

Bangkokian Museum

Bangkok, Central Thailand, Thailand

One of Bangkok’s most popular little museums. The charming, 70-year-old restored teak house offers a compelling glimpse of family life in Bangkok from the 1930s to the 1960s.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Overhead view of long tail boats with vendors selling food products
Experience

Floating Markets

Bangkok, Central Thailand, Thailand

Flaming woks balancing on tiny canoes, mountains of fresh fruits – Bangkok’s floating markets are a kaleidoscope of Thai-tinged wonder. That said, their old-timey charm has long faded as souvenirs shops have replaced most noodle joints. It’s a fun day out, but no longer an authentic experience.

Best for ages: 13+ | Free

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Our selection of the best Viator tours of this destination, plus helpful tickets and transfers

A Magical Evening in Bangkok: Private City Tour

A Magical Evening in Bangkok: Private City Tour

Bangkok

As the sun starts to set, Bangkok lights up, showing its true beautiful colors. Enjoy a night to remember in Bangkok exploring the best th...

€49 | Rating 4.26 / 5 [57 ratings]

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Bamboo Bicycle Tour in twilight: watch dancing Fireflies in Bangkok

Bamboo Bicycle Tour in twilight: watch dancing Fireflies in Bangkok

Bangkok

This Bike & Dine Tour is a unique outdoor experience you will remember for a long time. First, you will be taken on a relaxed, awesome bambo...

T2,000 | Rating 4.61 / 5 [31 ratings]

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Bangkok Airport Arrival – Shared Transfer

Bangkok Airport Arrival – Shared Transfer

Bangkok

Ensure your trip to Thailand is free of hassle by booking your Bangkok shared airport transfer now. Travel from the Suvarnabhumi Internation...

T507 | Rating 4.38 / 5 [347 ratings]

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Bangkok Airport Departure – Private Transfer from Hotel to Airport

Bangkok Airport Departure – Private Transfer from Hotel to Airport

Bangkok

Our services are private transfer The chauffeurs are carefully selected for their professionalism, knowledge and discretion. Transfer servic...

T924 | Rating 4.64 / 5 [53 ratings]

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Our writer’s picks of the best places to stay in this destination

Bangkok Publishing Residence

Bangkok, Central Thailand, Thailand

A charming, family-run boutique stay in Bangkok’s atmospheric Old Town, with all the mod-cons of a well-appointed five star. Min age 15.

Official star rating:

Shanghai Mansion

Bangkok, Central Thailand, Thailand

Shanghai chic in the heart of Bangkok’s historic Chinatown, close to some of Bangkok’s best street food stalls, makes for an exotic Chinese-infused stay.

Official star rating:

ASAI Bangkok Chinatown

Bangkok, Central Thailand, Thailand

A hyper-smart design hotel on the fringe of Chinatown, within walking distance of legendary street eats and kaleidoscopic temples, but out of earshot from roaring tuk-tuks and rowdy market vendors.

Official star rating:

Loy La Long

Bangkok, Central Thailand, Thailand

A disarmingly eclectic boutique hotel with river views like no other, and rooms with balconies over the water. One of Bangkok’s best budget stays.

Official star rating:

When to go

High season (November-January) is also the ‘cool’ season. Don’t get the wrong idea, though. It’s only a few degrees cooler than the hottest months, and even evening temperatures rarely dip below 21°C. February and March are hot and sticky, while sweltering April is the hottest month.

The rainy season usually begins in May and lasts until October – downpours can be pretty intense, but generally only last for an hour or so in the afternoon. Wear flip-flops or sandals, as there’s no way to avoid wet feet, and carry an umbrella.

Getting there and away

The easiest way to travel from Bangkok’s sleek Suvarnabhumi Airport to downtown Bangkok is by cab. Taxis are cheap and clean – you buy a ticket from the desk outside the terminal – although London-style taxi ‘limos’ are available for those wanting a little extra comfort.

The Airport Rail Link is convenient if you’re staying close to a stop, but be warned that there are no elevators (and lots of stairs) at several of the stops.

Getting around

The BTS/Skytrain system is affordable and excellent, whizzing you across Bangkok in minutes – savvy travellers base themselves at hotels near a BTS stop. Buy a transport card so you don’t have to line up for tickets during peak hours. The MRT (underground) is handy, but it doesn’t have the Skytrain views.

Taxis and tuk-tuks are cheap and useful for heading out at night, but avoid them at peak times when you’ll waste hours in gridlock.

For a break from taxis and trains, take to the water and bounce along the khlongs (canals) in a speedboat with the locals.

Where to stay

First-time visitors like to base themselves on the Chao Phraya River (Bangkok’s ‘Grand Canal’), in atmospheric Chinatown or in or near old Bangrak to be in the heart of the action.

However, while Chao Phraya River views are wonderful and it’s great to be able to step out of the hotel door into bustling Chinatown, staying there isn’t really necessary as the BTS/Skytrain makes it easy to get anywhere fast – which is why hotels along Sukhumvit Road (dotted with BTS/Skytrain stops) are very popular.

Second-time visitors tend to prefer Asoke, surrounded by restaurants, or the hipster neighbourhood of Thonglor.

Avoid the backpacker ghetto of Banglamphu, and its main street Khao San Road, like the plague. It’s not even worth a look to satisfy curiosity.

Where to eat or drink

Superb restaurants are dotted all over the city and there are fantastic street food stalls on every corner.

After dark, Chinatown’s main drag turns into the city’s best street food destination; Sukhumvit Soi 38 (BTS Thonglor) is a more intimate version.

Thonglor, Ekkamai and Ari are the locals’ choice for affordable eateries, stylish restaurants and hip bars and pubs. RCA is where Thais go for dance clubs and live bands.

Also see our guide to Bangkok’s best food and drink.

Where to shop

Siam, with its swanky malls, is the spot to shop for everything from Thai designer fashion at Siam Centre to cheap cameras, phones and electronics at MBK.

Shopaholics love Chatuchak or JJ markets for clothes, crafts and souvenirs, while Sampeng Lane in Chinatown is fun for colourful Asian trinkets, accessories and kids’ toys.

Pahurat Lane in Little India is the place to head for textiles, while the Amulet market sells Buddhist images, statues and amulets.

Also see our guide to Bangkok’s best shopping.