Thailand

Bangkok City Guide: Exploring A Different Side of the Thai Capital

Ntobeko Ntombela

Ntobeko Ntombela

May 23, 2019

Bangkok is the most visited city in the world and it doesn’t take you long to realize why! It’s a city of action at every turn, you can marvel at the glistening temples, catch longtail boats through the floating markets or party till the sun rises in the numerous world-famous nightlife spots!

When you sign up for our teach English in Thailand program, you’ll most likely start your journey in Bangkok, so we’ve listed a few of the must-do things for anyone visiting Bangkok. Most English teachers in Thailand will confirm that Bangkok makes for a great cure of homesickness, so its the perfect place to get your dose of cheese, rooftop cocktails and little two-stepping.

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Culture

As one of the only countries in Southeast Asia never to be colonized, Thailand has kept so much of its true culture and traditions. Bangkok presents a perfect opportunity for one to fully immerse themselves in it.

Experience the famously vigorous Thai massage

Bangkok City Guide - Thai Massage

Traditional Thai massages are hands down one of the best things about traveling through the Land of Smiles.

Thailand is famous for its massages, it’s something you have to experience when you visit the country. Bangkok is obviously at the center of that, with a massage spa in almost every street, you’ll be spoilt for choices! There’s everything from massages to facial scrubs, detoxifying masks with Thai herbs and even manicures and pedicures.

There are hundreds of massage spas in Bangkok that range from extremely high-end to those with super bargain prices, so we can’t name all of them. A place we can recommend for something unique though is Wat Pho near the Grand Palace complex (more on that below) which has been the national headquarters for the preservation and teaching of traditional Thai medicine and massage for the last 200 years.

Muay Thai

Muay Thai is obviously one of Thailand’s greatest exports, you can find a Muay Thai gym nearly in every major city these days, but there’s nothing like trying it out in Bangkok – its home. This mode of kickboxing goes back over a hundred years to the time of King Rama V, who was a huge sports fan and made the sport a national treasure during his reign. It’s more than just a martial art – it involves dance, rhythm, discipline, all handed down through history.

If you’re looking for an awesome Muay Thai experience, you can head to the Channel 7 building near the Chatuchak market, they host live fights every Sunday afternoon which are shown on TV. All spectators can watch for FREE!

Try your hand at fruit carving

You’ll have noticed the art of fruit and veg carving just from eating at your local Thai restaurant where even carrots get turned into intricate blossoms. It is a custom that goes back hundreds of years to the Sukhothai period (1238 – 1438) it was used to decorate and beautify royal food. Head to Thai Thai experience at Show DC shopping mall in Bangkok for an incredible fruit carving class that combines beauty and food in an uniquely Thai way.

Visiting the stunning temples

bangkok City Guide - Wat Arun

Also known as the Temple of the Dawn, the riverside Wat Arun has colorful pagodas and spires that tower over the water.

With over 400 wats (temples) scattered throughout Bangkok, you’d be silly not take advantage of it. The popular ones are Wat Pho (remember that massage I mentioned earlier?), Wat Pra Kaew, where you’ll find the national symbol of Thailand, the Emerald Buddha and Wat Arun across the river which is spectacular at sunset. For something away from the throngs of tourists, Wat Suwannaram is a stunning royal temple dating back a few hundred years. Set on the bank of the busy Khlong Bangkok Noi canal, it’s home to some spectacularly well-preserved murals.

Food

Bangkok might be the street food capital of the world but they’ve got some pretty good restaurants too. Below we pick out our favorite niche littles spots to grab a bite in Bangkok. 

Tealicious

Bangkok City Guide - Tealicious cafe'

If you’re thinking of going to Tealicious, you have to book a table in advance as the restaurant is hugely popular with lots of walk-ins.

If you’re looking for delicious Thai food served with a hint of western flavor then this place is for you! They have a great selection of freshly prepared Thai, vegetarian and Western dishes. The restaurant itself is quite small and located in a small street, besides the Silk Suite Hotel Soi Charoen Krung 49, on Silom street. Get there early or book in advance!

Lon Lon 

If you’re looking for the real taste of Thailand presented with contemporary flair, look no further then this awesome little diner located at one of Silom street’s alleys. The staff are super friendly, the food is to die for and the playlist will get you in the mood no matter what your day was like! They use local ingredients for their modern Thai dishes. They also boast a mean selection of Thai craft beers.  A true hidden gem!

Street food

It’s hard not to find a street corner with a row of carts lined up dishing up Thailand meals like noodle soup, BBQ pork, fish cakes, and delicious curries.

Is there a better place in the world to find street food as delicious as in Bangkok? Many would argue no. Every street in this city is blessed with a huge selection of vendors each selling the most amazing variety of dishes. You simply cannot resist the food here, one can eat street food for their entire stay in the city and not even feel guilty about it. How do you pick a decent spot? Look for where the locals go, or even better, are queuing and just join the line! They know a good thing when they find it.

Transport

Finding your way around Bangkok may seem quite daunting at first but once you know your way around, you actually realize how efficient all the different modes of transport are. For an extensive understanding of Thailand transport systems, check out our full Thailand Transport Guide.

Tuk-Tuk

Bangkok City Guide - Riding a Tuk Tuk taxi

Everyone who comes to Thailand wants a ride on one of these awesome Tuk-Tuks, its easy to see why – they airy, agile and they ooze coolness.

Riding a tuk-tuk in Bangkok has become just as popular as coming to the city itself. It’s become a must-do for all travelers. Tuk-tuks are definitely not the cheapest form of transport as they do not have meters like taxis. It is best to agree on a price with the driver before getting in.

BTS Skytrain, MRT & Airport Rail Link

None of Bangkok’s rail systems communicate with each other as they’re each different companies, unlike in many other cities around the world. This means you’ll need to buy different tickets for different trains as you use them. This shouldn’t put you off though as the rail systems mentioned here are modern, airconditioned and very reliable.

BTS: Its full name is the Bangkok Mass Transit System but better known as the BTS or the Skytrain. The BTS soars above the congested streets, helping you to beat the traffic and move around the city in air-conditioned comfort. The two elevated lanes run through to some of the most popular spots in the city and it’s constantly being expanded.

You buy a card at a machine using coins, or you can use a credit card or notes at each station’s kiosk. Simply insert the card in the marked slot at the boom, it opens once you remove the card from the slot. Do the same when exiting, the machine will keep your used card.

MRT: The MRT is what would be considered the Metro in many other cities. It’s an underground train system which is also currently being expanded to hopefully during 2019 connect the old town (around the Palace complex) with the modern commercial hubs around Silom and the main train station at Hua Lamphong.

You buy a token at a machine using cash, coins or credit card or you can use a kiosk. You simply tap the token at the boom to open and when exiting, drop the token in the marked slot.

Airport Rail Link: You’ll probably only use this to/from the airport as nothing which attracts tourists is on the line, however swanky it may look! The train connects easily with the BTS and MRT and you simply buy a token like you would with the MRT.

Transport Apps

Bangkok City Guide - Grab taxi

Just like uber, Grab allows you to request a ride on your phone, watch it on the map and all without necessarily having to use cash to pay.

Unfortunately, Uber is no longer allowed to operate in Thailand due to regulations by the government. Most people use a very similar alternative called Grab, what’s really cool about grab is you can order a tuk-tuk, a minivan or a normal taxi obviously depending on the number of people you’ll be transporting.

Be mindful of the fact experiences may vary from ride to ride, maybe more so here than in the western world – if you’re struggling to get a Grab ride, there’s no shame in flagging down a taxi and haggling a price.

Activities

Although Bangkok is a concrete jungle where giant billboards fly by and famous skyscrapers come one after another as you make your way through the city on the Skytrain, you can still find some pretty cool spots to do a variety of activities.

Lumphini Park

Open Air Gym Lumpini Park Running in Bangkok.

People exercising at an open air gym at Lumpini Park in Bangkok.

This is a park that spans 242 acres in the middle of the Bangkok metropolis. It’s the perfect place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city that never sleeps. Here you can find some peace and quiet as you watch people practice Thai Chi, meditating, jogging or cycling along the 2.5km of the pathway in the park. The park was created by King Rama VI in the 1920s using royal land and it includes a manmade lake, which visitors can rent boats on.

Khaosan Comedy Club

Comedy is a universal language, so one of the easiest ways to enjoy a night in a new city is to visit a comedy store. In the heart of backpacker’s paradise, Khaosan road, this comedy club plays hosts to both local and international touring comedians.

Explore An Airplane Graveyard

Bangkok City Guide - Airplane Graveyard

These once giant birds of the sky now house some of Bangkok’s homeless community.

This might not be something that would top most people’s bucket lists, but this is one of the most surreal experiences that Bangkok offers. To see these giants of the sky that used to carry thousands of passengers, just laying there, stripped of all their useful parts and left for wreckage and debris is quite fascinating.

Even more humbling are the families that call these planes home, it’s an effective way of realizing your position in this world and how fortunate we are to be able to travel into these places. A cheap bowl of food and maybe old clothes is a welcome donation.

Nightlife

Silom Street

Bangkok City Guide: Silom street

Silom is one of Bangkok’s most cosmopolitan streets and the financial hub of the city.

Silom street is a place like no other. During the day it disguises itself as the city’s central business district housing major financial institutions, law firms, and multinational corporations. By night, it transforms into a vibrant shopping street and a frenetically paced tourist playground. Alongside an array of street vendors and restaurants, sits some of the city’s most iconic renowned streets, namely red-light district Patpong, Soi 2 and Soi 4.

Black Cabin

Imagine partying in an underground bar with handcrafted cocktails and live music rocking in the background. If this sounds like your kind of night, you’ll like Black Cabin. This is one of Bangkok’s best hidden clubs/bars, to get there you have to type in “Wild&Co’ into your google maps. This will lead you into a lush glasshouse restaurant with stunning modern decor, behind this restaurant is a door leading to Black Cabin. Besides offering an impressive cocktail list, their live music schedule is also packed with different genres for every night, Tuesdays are more for the electro house fans while Sundays are for the groovy jazz lovers.

Khao San Road

Bangkok City Guide: Khaosan Road

Expect to see scenes like this everywhere you go on Khao San, tourists enjoying early sundowners and planning their next adventure.

Khao San Road takes off at night: neon signs flicker into life, music begins blasting from streetside sound systems, while the masses begin mapping out the long, alcohol-soaked night in front of them. There’s no shortage of options too, from the upscale Silk Bar to the quiet tranquility of the back-alley Hippie de Bar, Khaosan has something for everyone! With the street being a popular backpacker stop, be prepared to meet like-minded travelers from all corners of the globe!

Shopping

With over 60 major shopping malls in the city, there’s no better place in the world to do your seasonal shopping than in Bangkok, Thailand.

Chatuchak Market

Bangkok City Guide - Chatuchak weekend market

One of the largest open markets in the world, with 15 000 stalls and 200 000 visitors daily.

There are many places in the world that claim the term ‘shop till you drop’ but the sheer size and diversity of collection found at the Chatuchak market in Bangkok might just give the true meaning to the term. You will be absolutely mindblown at the vastness of this market, whether you’re looking for gifts for your loved ones or new swimming costume, you’ll definitely walk away with more than what you needed, for a decent price too!

Chinatown

If you think the Chinatown in your city is impressive, just wait until you see Bangkok’s – it’s the biggest Chinatown in the world by far. Although it’s no longer the commercial hub of the city it once was in the 19th and early 20th century, Bangkok’s Chinatown is now the gastronomic destination for any traveler coming into the city.

Terminal 21

San Fransisco, Istambul, Rome: these are just a few of the global cities you’ll be visiting with just one trip to Terminal 21. This mega mall in Bangkok has become every shopper’s paradise, the space is broken up into different cities of the world with over 600 shops and more than 50 restaurants and cafe’s. It has everything you could possibly want, from killer deals on clothes to luxury brands and the most amazing food to complete the idea shopping extravaganza.

River City Shopping Mall Bangkok

Bangkok City Guide -River City Bangkok Shopping Centre

A view like this can make any traveler in the world want to spend a day here.

This shopping mall situated on the bank of the Chao Phraya river is packed with boutique lifestyle shops ranging from fashion to antique art, it also houses Thailand’s premier auction house – RCB Auctions. Besides its exclusive shops and an incredible range of products, what sets this mall apart is its pristine location, while sitting at the terraces of the many fine dining restaurants in the mall, you can watch people embarking on some of the city’s best dinner cruises along the river.

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