Bangkok offers up a great selection of attractions and activities to take in while visiting, and they cover a vast different type of spots. Most traditionalists and first timers will certainly want to take in the main tourist sights, like the awe inspiring Grand Palace, which happens to be the most venerated spot in the country as well. Nearby Wat Pho is also on the must see list, with its giant sleeping Buddha and renowned massage institute for resting those weary muscles. While checking out the architectural wonders, definitely include a visit to the Jim Thompson House, and if you want to see all of Thai temples and monuments but don’t have time to travel the country, make sure to check out the superb recreations at Muang Boran.
For outdoor lovers, a visit to the open green space of Bang Krachao and its quiet waterways is an absolute must, as is a tour of Bangkok’s best car free getaway, the charming Chao Phraya isle of Koh Kret, great for walking. Those on foot will also love roaming around Chinatown, which offers plenty of great lanes and alleyways to explore, not to mention its fabulous eating options. Sea Life Ocean World features fabulous marine attractions for the whole family, and last, but certainly not least, make sure to take the whole family to the Queen Saovabha Institute Snake Farm, where you will be educated and entertained at the same time.
Muang Boran, which means “ancient city” in Thai, is an immense outdoor museum spread over 240 acres on grounds that are sculpted to resemble Thailand. The museum, supposedly the world’s largest outdoor one, has over 100 miniature replicas of famous Thai buildings and sites, all of them placed on the grounds in geographic preciseness to their real counterparts.
The famous temples of Sukhothai and the ancient capital of Ayutthaya are here, as is the well known Phimai sanctuary from Nakhon Ratchasima, and there is also a model of the disputed Phra Wihan (known as Preah Vihear to the Cambodians) Khmer temple on the border.
This being Thailand, there is also a floating market here along with the requisite grilled chicken and som tam papaya salad to keep visitors sated.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: For a great re-creation of places you might not have time to travel to, Muang Boran is worth a visit.
Dave’s expert tip: To get here on public transport, take the 511 air con bus all the way east along Sukhumvit Road to its terminus in Samut Prakan, from where you can either jump on the number 36 songthaew (pick up truck) or take a taxi. A taxi from Bangkok will run about 1000 baht return.
While many might think of Bangkok and nature in the same sentence as being an oxymoron, they probably have never heard of Bang Krachao. Bang Krachao, also known as “the lungs” of Bangkok is a vast area of green space just across the Chao Phraya River from Klong Toey. Originally a settlement for ethnic Burmese Mons, Bang Krachao is made up of orchards and gardens, and a strict local planning code prohibiting high rise buildings and factories has kept the area in a pristine state. The 100 acre Sri Nakhon Kuenkhan Park with its oasis of trees, lakes, and trails is the highlight here, as is renting a bicycle and heading out along the raised embankments that run through villages built on wooden stilts.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: For peace and bliss just minutes from downtown, Bang Krachao is a must visit.
Dave’s expert tip: If here on a weekend, make sure to go to the nearby Nam Peung floating market, an authentic Thai affair featuring excellent food and organic products. Motorcycle taxis go here from the ferry pier. To get across to Bang Krachao, a 10 minute 5 baht ferry runs from the Klong Toey Pier at Klong Toey Nok Temple.
Both entertaining and informative, the Snake Farm is far from being the cheesy attraction one might take it for. The Queen Saovabha Institute which runs the place has a complex housing an exhibition area for 35 species of living snakes, a 100-seat arena for venom extraction, a museum and exhibition about snake evolution, anatomy, toxicology and snake bites first-aid, along with a highly developed research center and an outdoor serpentarium for snake exhibits and handling shows. The indoor museum is full of interactive demonstrations and the live handling show is excellent, with many of the most poisonous and largest snakes brought out for photo opportunities and a bit of playful bravado between them and their keepers.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Despite sounding kitschy, the Snake Farm is great family entertainment and education.
Dave’s expert tip: The snake handling show is at 11, and 2:30, while on weekends, there is no 2:30 performance, so plan your visit accordingly. Best reached via Skytrain to Sala Daeng and then walk up through Soi Thaniya to the Red Cross complex.
Ko Kret is an island in the Chao Phraya River at the northern end of Bangkok. Originally settled by Mons, it is famed for its earthenware ceramics and for the traditional Thai sweet, khao cher, rice served with fragrant water and side dishes which is rare to find elsewhere in the capital. The island feels more like a southern paradise than part of Bangkok, as it is composed of small traffic free lanes, dilapidated homes, and a rustic feel. The island is only 7 kilometers around, so it’s perfect for walking or renting a bicycle, and the morning can be spent visiting pottery shops, the several Mon (Burmese) monasteries, eating seafood or sweets, and taking in some quiet gardens, a great escape from hectic Bangkok.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: For a car free Bangkok escape and a slice of tradition, try Ko Kret.
Dave’s expert tip: Getting to Ko Kret takes a bit of planning. Either take the Chao Phraya “green flag” express ferry from Saphan Taksin Pier to Pak Kret (before 8am), or else take the regular ferry to Nonthaburi (slightly south of Pak Kret) and then either bus 32 or a minivan that goes to the Pak Kret Pier.
A former New York architect who came to Thailand as a soldier in WWII, Jim Thompson is known for re-establishing the Thai silk industry. His beautiful traditional home, renovated from several up-country buildings, house a fine and priceless collection of Asian art, silk, and pay homage to the man who received the royal Order of the White Elephant and who mysteriously disappeared in the jungles of Malaysia. His house, which has changed little since he vanished in 1967, is a series of six traditional teak wood homes, with curved roofs and naga mythical serpent motifs, set amidst pleasant gardens. The Thompson House also features an art center that has ongoing exhibitions, multimedia presentations, and guest lectures.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: For a bit of history, architecture, and the arts, the Jim Thompson House should be on everyone’s Bangkok itinerary.
Local Expert tip: The Thompson House is best reached via the BTS Skytrain and is just across from the station at National Stadium. Guided tours of the mansion are compulsory.
Wat Pho is the largest and oldest (although it has been completely rebuilt) temple in Bangkok, and it is famed for its giant reclining Buddha, which is over 150 feet long. The giant sculpture is completely covered in gold and is noteworthy for its giant feet, which have the 108 auspicious signs of the Buddha inlaid in mother-of-pearl. The spacious grounds of Wat Pho contain over 1000 Buddha images, many from the ruins in the ancient capitals of Ayutthaya and Sukhothai.
Wat Pho is also home to one of Thailand’s most esteemed schools of traditional massage. Many of the country’s rich and famous have come here for treatments, and you can follow in this tradition, with an invigorating body rub down or foot reflexology treatment to relax with after a long hot day of sightseeing.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: if only for a relaxing massage, Wat Pho should be on your visit list.
Dave’s expert tip: A massage at Wat Pho will cost THB 250 an hour, and don’t forget to leave a 50-100 baht tip. The best way to reach Wat Pho is by using the Chao Phraya River ferry to Tha Tien Pier, and walk up from there.
While it isn’t back to nature, for the city’s best outdoor shopping, head to Chatuchak. Originally a flea market started in the 1950’s by a former prime minister who wanted to put a flea market into every town in Thailand, Chatuchak, more affectionately known as JJ Market, is now the largest market in Thailand. Over 5000 stalls vie for business, selling everything from clothing to pets, antiques, plants, amulets, and plenty of food and drink. The market is now a highly touristed affair, hot, crowded, and no longer dirt cheap, yet it is still a great place to people watch, find something you don’t have to buy, and the latest addition of impromptu cafes for sipping a cappuccino or having a cold beer and watching the world go by make it worth an afternoon.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: For the ultimate in people watching and shopping, Chatuchak is a Bangkok institution.
Dave’s expert tip: The back section of the market is probably the most interesting, as fairly illegal things such as cockfighting and various animal (some endangered some not) species are to be found, but don’t get too pointy with your camera back here, as the merchants may be suspicious of your motives.
Bangkok’s Chinatown is full of history, mazes of tiny alleyways to get lost in, find great food, markets, temples, and one of the few places in the city where it is actually pleasant and preferable to walk. Highlights include the giant Wat Traimit Temple with its 700 year old 5.5 ton Buddha image, the largest in the world, along with Wat Mangkon Kalawat, Chinatown’s busiest temple. consistently filled with incense smoke and worshippers waving joss sticks. Besides this, there are old shophouse lanes, the outdoor seafood restaurants on the corner of Yaowarat and Soi Padungdao, the Sampeng Lane alley market and the Trok Itsaranuphap wet market with produce and spices.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: for tradition and great food, Chinatown is an absolute must visit.
Dave’s expert tip: If you ever come through this area at night especially around any festival time, there is a high chance you will see local Chinese opera troupes performing streetside, a beautiful, but seemingly dying art, as the audience consists only of old folks.
Siam Ocean World demands a hefty entrance price, but the kids most certainly will love it. Built underneath the flashy Siam Paragon Mall, this set of giant aquariums is home to over 30,000 fish and marine creatures from around the world, including sharks, piranhas, manta rays, dolphins, and much much more. The 7 zones here showcase everything from loveable water rats and otters to ugly lion and stone fish and plenty of deadly predators too. There are shark feeding, penguin feeding, and eagle ray feeding performances, a 270 degree underwater tunnel, and the amazing Open Ocean, Asia’s largest panoramic aquarium, home to a variety of sharks all swimming as if in your lap.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The sheer range of marine life on display makes Siam Ocean World worth its steep entry price.
Dave’s expert tip: If you purchase tickets online on the website, you can save 20%. Additionally, those foreigners living in Thailand are eligible for large discounts with proof of ID.
This is Thailand’s most venerated and glittering sight, the Grand Palace, which is home to the country’s most visited temple, Wat Phra Kaew, more commonly known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Built by King Rama I, it is the most revered spot in Thailand, and packed with merit making locals on weekends. Make sure not to miss the Emerald Buddha. It may only be 31 inches tall, but it is the most worshipped statue in the country. You can buy joss sticks, candles, and gold leaves if you wish to join the pilgrims in the temple making their offerings. Proper attire is required, appropriate attire is required, no singlets, shorts, skirts, sandals, or revealing clothing of any nature is allowed,although if you forget there are sarongs available for use.
Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The country’s most venerated sight is also its prime attraction and a must see.
Dave’s expert tip: Beware of tuk tuk drivers or local con men, often dressed in official-looking clothes, who will try to convince you that the palace is closed and that you need to buy tickets from them. Just go straight to the entrance and purchase a ticket inside.