Thailand’s busy capital of over 14 million is always on the move. It’s a long tradition – though most have now been replaced with roads, city life once flowed along a network of canals branching from the Chao Phraya River. The river is still the heart of Bangkok, feeding the remaining canals and moving urbanites from place to place. Though the floating markets have moved to solid ground and most traffic jams are now caused by cars rather than boats, the city is as loud and bright as ever.
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What To Do
Take a water taxi – Unlike other cities, river boats here aren’t just for tourists – city dwellers crowd them during rush hours to get around Bangkok. Many attractions, especially in the Old City, can be reached with a river taxi ride, and you’ll get a sightseeing cruise while you travel.
Make an island escape – In the heart of the Chao Phraya River lies the man-made island of Bang Krachao. It’s a green oasis, where cars are prohibited (though you may still be dodging motorbikes) and mangroves block the noise of the surrounding city. Rent a bicycle and make your own tour of Bangkok’s “green lung”.
Visit Chinatown – From architecture to food, touches of Chinese influence have made Thailand’s culture something truly unique. Bangkok’s famous Chinatown is a must-see destination, home to some of the best street food in the city and packed with market stalls.
What To See
Bangkok National Museum – Centuries of art and historical artifacts can be found in Thailand’s national history museum. They’re housed in beautiful traditional buildings – an exhibit in themselves.
Grand Palace – Though they no longer reside here, the gold-clad spire that rises over the walls of the Grand Palace makes it clear this was once the home of royalty. The intricate architecture and long history of the palace make it a must-see stop, but be prepared for crowds.
Wat Pho – Hundreds of golden Buddha statues can be found in this temple, but the largest is the reclining Buddha. Covered in gold leaf, this massive statue is nearly 50 feet tall and stretches for over 150 feet.
Wat Arun – Climb the steep stairs of the breathtaking “Temple of Dawn” for a view over the Chao Phraya River. The 250 foot tower is just as impressive from the ground, with thousands of decorative and storytelling carvings covering each face.
Wat Saket – Stairs aren’t optional at Wat Saket, but when you emerge from the trees at the top of the hill you’ll be rewarded with a view of the towering gilded spire that lends the “Temple of the Golden Mount” its name.
Floating markets - Bangkok’s markets have mostly moved to the shore, but some still bob along the canals as they have for hundreds of years. There’s several to choose from, varying in size and tourist saturation, but all are best seen in the morning, the earlier the better. Vendors sell their wares from small boats, either at the side of the canal or directly to other passing boats.
Chatuchak Weekend Market – Set aside a day to get lost in the world’s biggest bazaar. With over ten thousand stalls, you’re guaranteed to find the perfect souvenir – and probably anything else you can think of.
Siam Paragon – This upscale mall offers the usual luxury boutique suspects, as well as food, entertainment, Southeast Asia’s largest aquarium and even a concert hall.
Khao San Road – It’s known as the backpackers’ road for its many hostels and cheap accommodations (and you’ll find plenty of them hanging out here) but you don’t have to be traveling on a shoestring to enjoy the cheap beer, live entertainment and delicious street food of this lively nighttime destination.
What to Eat in Bangkok
Bangkok is full of the casual and fine dining options you’d expect from a modern metropolis, but the ubiquitous street food is at the heart of the city’s food culture. Roadside stalls and market food courts are a great way to taste Bangkok, so save room for grilled meats, bowls of piping hot noodles and fresh-caught seafood. The most well-known of Bangkok’s specialties is pad thai, and every noodle joint will have its own version. (They’re all the best in town, of course.)
Pay homage to Bangkok’s history with a serving of boat noodles. These savory bowls of beef and pork broth were designed to be served efficiently by a floating vendor, though you’ll eat them now with both feet firmly on dry land. Succulent moo yang, or grilled pork skewers, will keep you going as you browse the market stalls. Sweet tooth? Try the mango sticky rice, a favorite local treat.
When to Go
Bangkok has three seasons – hot, rainy, and cool. The cool season, from November to February, sees temperatures from 70-80F, while the following hot season climbs into the high 90s and beyond. The hot season generally lasts until mid-May, when the rainy season begins, bringing cooler temperatures but near daily rain until October.
The Thai New Year festival, Songkran, begins annually on April 13th. Expect crowds and waterfights – a traditional Songkran celebration.