When planning our trip to Southeast Asia, everyone we spoke to said to spend the least amount of time, or even no time at all, in Bangkok. We heard everything from Bangkok is dirty and gross, to there’s nothing to see or do. Maybe it’s because we live in New York City and we’re used to living in a concrete jungle, but two and a half days in Bangkok wasn’t nearly enough time for us to feel like we had adequately explored this bustling city. Sure, Bangkok is hot, crowded and dirty, but there are so many hidden secrets and undiscovered gems that make Bangkok a top destination in Southeast Asia.
If you love big cities and learning about new cultures, don’t mind hot (and very humid) weather, and you’re looking for insanely cheap but delicious food and drink, forget what everyone is saying and head to Bangkok! I’ll be the first to admit Bangkok was the city I was the least excited about. In retrospect, I wish we had spent the majority of our time here. That being said, here are are my must-dos, must-sees, and must eats and drinks!
You can’t visit Bangkok (or any other city in Thailand for that matter) without visiting a Buddhist temple. But, after two and a half weeks in Southeast Asia, I can wholeheartedly say, I am templed out. We visited so many temples, I can’t even begin to place the temple name with the corresponding temple.
Temples not to be missed include the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), Wat Pho (Reclining Buddha), and Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn). If you’re feeling adventurous, check out Wat Suthat (Temple of the Giant Swing), Wat Traimat (Temple of the Golden Buddha), and Wat Saket (Golden Mountain Temple).
Make sure to wear proper attire, as the temples in Bangkok are very strict. T-shirts and shorts are generally fine for men, although the Grand Palace does require long pants. For women, shoulders and knees must be covered. We didn’t come across any restrictions on shoes, but I’d recommend a good pair of sandals (or walking shoes) that you can easily take off because you’ll be taking your shoes off more times than you can count.
Because Bangkok is incredibly hot and humid, you might prefer to bring a small backpack or purse that you can fit a pair of “elephant pants” in. (It’ll seem as though every other person is wearing some variation of these pants; any street vendor should sell them for about 100 Baht.)
You can find street food just about anywhere in Bangkok. Depending on the sensitivity of your stomach, you may very well experience the best meal of your life. (It would be wise to get a prescription for a Z-Pack or Ciprofloxacin prior to your Southeast Asian travels!)
We were lucky to get a reservation at Raan Jay Fai, Bangkok’s first Michelin-starred street food eatery — and the food was delicious! The chef and owner, a 73-year-old woman, is a total BA: wearing ski goggles and a black beanie, she prepares and cooks the food all by herself. Since the Michelin-star distinction, Jay Fai has gone as far as asking if she can give back the star!
From endless tuk-tuks and speedy-fast mopeds, to a diverse variety of street vendors with smells that could make anyone hungry, Chinatown is not to be missed. This is one area of Bangkok I wish we had had more time (and room in our bellies) to explore.
There are so many night markets in Bangkok! We walked through several, but Ratchada Rot Fai was by far my favorite. About a 25 minute drive from downtown Bangkok (or accessible by the SkyTrain), Ratchada is open Thursday through Sunday from 5pm to midnight. From endless food stalls and cocktail bars on-top of crates, to souvenirs and clothing shopping, Ratchada has something to offer for everyone. Make sure to climb the parking garage located next to the market from an awesome view of the colorful tents.
If you haven’t caught on from previous posts, Alex and I travel for cocktails. Having won a copy of the 500 Hidden Secrets of Bangkok, I immediately researched the best areas for drinks. If you only have one night in Bangkok, do not miss Soi Nana — a small street near Chinatown. Some of our favorite bars were on this street, including Teens of Thailand and TEP. We really wanted to visit 23 Bar & Gallery and El Chiringuito, but sadly we ran out of time.
Rooftop bars are also very popular in Bangkok, but drinks are pricey and the dress codes are strict. Pack appropriately!
Money: The national currency of Thailand is the Baht. Currently, 100 Baht is approximately $3.15 USD. Besides restaurants and bars, you can pretty much negotiate prices wherever you go — markets, street food vendors, taxis, tuk-tuks…the list goes on and on. Cash is preferred to card, as most small or family-owned businesses don’t accept credit card.
Transportation: If you’re flying internationally to Thailand, chances are you’ll be flying into Bangkok. The BTS Skytrain is supposed to be phenomenal, but after traveling for 24 hours plus, we opted to take a taxi to our hotel. Taxis from the airport will be metered; expect to pay about 400 Baht (plus tolls). We generally relied on tuk-tuks to get around the city, as most cabs refuse to use their meters. If you’ll have cellular service, download Grab — the app is similar to Uber and rides are incredibly cheap. You can even pay in cash once your ride has dropped you off!
Where To Stay: We used Marriott points to stay at the Royal Orchid Sheraton, a five-star hotel located on the Chao Phraya River. If I am going to be completely honest, we ended up at this hotel because I was so overwhelmed with the shear volume of hotels in Bangkok that I randomly selected one of twenty Marriotts in the city. Fortunately, this randomness worked in our favor, as our hotel was located right next to the pier, making it super easy to get around via ferry. If I were to visit Bangkok again, I’d stay riverside (near a ferry landing) or in any of the following neighborhoods: Rattanakosin (Royal Palace and other sightseeing), Chinatown (delicious restaurants and bars), or Sukhumvit (high end shopping and dining).