Bangkok, known as the City of Angels or the Big Mango, is white hot in travel circles these days. Regularly hitting #1 in places to visit surveys in trusted travel publications around the world, everybody seems to be discovering this exotic gem after many years of only being a destination for the adventurous.
A worthy introduction to Thailand, this heaving metropolis of 14 million people is jam-packed with cultural highlights, eclectic markets, and mouth-watering street meals. Don’t be intimidated by the noise, heat and traffic – once you acclimatize yourself to the controlled chaos of the nation’s capital, you’ll notice the gentleness of Thai life that carries on in the innumerable side sois (lane ways) that can be found everywhere in this massive city. While many just pass through here briefly on their way to the Thai islands, this city can grow on you pretty quickly if you are open to it – just ask the numerous expats that hang out and live along Sukhumvit Road!
THINGS TO DO
Bangkok, by virtue of its massive size, can make it difficult to know where to begin. Let’s start with the many Buddhist temples and relics that can be found in the centre of the Siamese Kingdom.
Wat Phra Kaew, more commonly known as the Grand Palace, should be your first stop. Occupying a central role in the Thai monarchy since the 16th century, and housing the valuable Emerald Buddha relic, this temple is ravishing, flashy, gargantuan and humbling all at once. The entrance fee may seem steep at 400 baht, but it’s well worth the price, also admitting you to a museum on site, and allowing for free admissions to other temples in the area.
IMPORTANT: If anybody approaches you and tells you that the Grand Palace is closed, they are almost certainly lying to you. They want you to go on a “cheap” tour that will only show you the insides of their friend’s gem and suit shops. In other words, it’s a scam. Walk away and towards the palace entrance.
Next up on your list of temples to visit should be Wat Pho. Located a short stroll away from the Grand Palace, this temple hosts the longest Reclining Buddha in Thailand at a staggering 43 metres long and 15 metres high! This temple was also where the Thai traditional massage was created and perfected, so be sure to get the knots worked out of your sore muscles before moving on.
Finally, get to Wat Arun ahead of sunset. First, cross the Chao Phraya River and if you’re adventurous and fit enough, scale the steep steps to the top. This will award you with a commanding view of the old city of Bangkok, and a slightly scary walk back down the aforementioned steep steps. Cross back to the opposite side of the river, and get a priceless photo of Wat Arun at sunset.
Greater Bangkok also offers a dizzying array of options when it comes to emptying your wallet for hard goods. Let’s begin with the outdoor markets.
Chatuchak Market, open only on the weekends, is a virtual city of commerce, selling everything from t-shirts to toilet seats. If you can’t find a souvenir from your time in Thailand here, you may have difficulty finding it elsewhere!
Outside the city, there are numerous floating markets that can be reached via minibuses, such as Damnoen Saduak. Float along and browse for numerous Thai trinkets, purchase bananas, coconut drinks, and boat noodles to snack on, all while enjoying the ambiance of how many Thais used to shop for things in this area, back when much of the city area was canals instead of streets (Bangkok used to be known as the Venice of the East).
If you prefer modern surrounds and the comfort of air conditioning, then be sure to check out MBK Mall, Siam Paragon, and Pantip Plaza. MBK is jam packed with dealers like an outdoor market on the upper floors (particularly the 4th and 6th floor, given over to cell phones and clothes respectively), while Siam Paragon offers a touch of luxury (check out the Ferraris on the 3rd floor!), and amazing food options on the ground floor. Need electronics? Check out Pantip Plaza, where every electronic gadget you can think of is haggled over and sold.
In general, the best value and quality of Thai food (Royal cuisine excepted) can be found on the streets of Thailand. Be sure to check out vendors in Victory Monument, in the streets surrounding Khao San Road in Bang Lamphu and in the business district of Silom, near the Sala Daeng BTS station.
Rule #1 when assessing the quality of a food vendor: if there’s a steady stream of customers, chances are it’s legit.
Many people rush off the islands without taking in this vital centre of Thai culture. Give this amazing mega city at least 3-4 days, and we think your opinion of The Big Mango will change for the better!