What to expect from Bangkok?
Bangkok is a fascinating intertwining fusion of two worlds, combining the traditional local life with a fresh cosmopolitan vibe.
There’s a constant buzz and energy floating through the streets of Bangkok at all hours of the day, giving it the name of the city that never sleeps!
It’s no surprise that Bangkok is the most visited city in the world. It’s a melting pot of palaces, temples, markets, street vendors, huge shopping centres and dynamic nightlife.
The city’s nightlife is a significant draw for travellers, whether it be a backpackers first introduction to Southeast Asia via Khao San Road, or sophisticated rooftop bars offering panoramic views of the bustling life below.
Don’t get us wrong, we know it can be hard to look past the somewhat overwhelming noise, smells and vast number of people that float around the city. Once you do, Bangkok will offer you an amazing and safe experience that serves as a perfect gateway to the rest of Southeast Asia.
Where to stay in Bangkok
Your initial thought may be to always stay in the centre when visiting a city, but for Bangkok it’s hard to determine what the center is.
The area you stay in Bangkok will heavily influence what you get out of your visit.
Covering nearly 1600km² and offering over a thousand accommodation options, it can be slightly daunting picking where to stay.
Basically what we’re saying is – make your decision wisely!
Location #1: Khao San – a backpacker’s party haven
We’ll start with the Khao San area as you’ve probably already heard about this legendary place.
Alex Garland, the author of ‘The Beach’ described Khao San as ‘the center of the backpacking universe’. This couldn’t be more accurate!
Like bees to honey, backpackers can’t help but be enticed by the promise of an unforgettable party! Khao San Road is bursting with bars, food vendors, flashing neon signs and if we’re honest, craziness.
Here you’ll find mainly budget hostels, guesthouses and mid-range hotels. The area is great for anyone on a budget due to the cheap food, alcohol and accommodation. If you’re travelling solo, you’ll be able to meet people in no time as the place is packed with other backpackers.
However, even if you’re not out partying, you won’t be able to escape the noise. That’s why we recommend staying on one of the roads nearby Khao San Road rather than on the actual road itself. Don’t expect this to provide you with an authentic Thai experience though.
Location #2: Sukhumvit Road – great transport, dining and nightlife
The area of Sukhumvit has a more relaxed nightlife, centered around sophisticated restaurants and rooftop bars as opposed to travellers dancing on tables.
It’s also a great jumping-off point to explore the jam-packed city, thanks to the good connections to the rest of the city through its public transport. For example, the Skytrain (BTS) runs along Sukhumvit Road and the Subway (MRT) line crosses it.
Without even leaving the area, you’ll be treated to great shopping, diverse dining options and excellent bars. There’s also plenty of highly rated hotels for all budgets.
The nightlife is arguably as good as Khao San Road, albeit slightly more sophisticated. Soi 11 (soi means side-street in Thai) has a high volume of bars and restaurants whilst Soi 55 boasts trendy clubs that are popular amongst young Thais.
However, though it depends on what you consider good nightlife, there are some streets in Sukhumvit to avoid. Nana Plaza is Bangkok’s red-light district streaming with go-go bars, pole dancing and ‘special’ shows. We’ll leave you to decide on this one!
Location #3: Riverside – an area steeped in history, culture and luxury
Along the Chao Phraya river, Chinese migrants founded one of the first settlements that unbeknownst to them would grow into the Bangkok we know and love today.
The Riverside area is rich in history and culture, hosting many of the popular sights of Bangkok, including the Royal Palace and Wat Pho – the Reclining Buddha.
Despite being close to these significant landmarks, the riverside is an escape from the tourists, traffic and noise. You can avoid the feeling of being overwhelmed and instead take in your surroundings whilst gliding up and down the river on a ferry.
The area does come with a higher price tag though, especially when it comes to accommodation. Here you’ll find the most luxurious hotels including Four Seasons Bangkok and the Mandarin Oriental, so if you’re a backpacker on a budget this area may be more suitable as a day trip.
How to get around Bangkok
Bangkok is a transport hub seemingly offering every form of transport you can think of; trains, tuk-tuks, taxis and even boats. Luckily for us, it makes moving around this vast city easy!
There was so much we could write about to help you navigate yourself around Bangkok that we’ve written a separate post on it, but here’s a quick summary of the options available:
- Skytrain (BTS) – an elevated train system that runs above the city. It’s a good choice for longer distances especially during peak times when traffic is crazy!
- Metro (MRT) – similar to the Skytrain but runs underground. The current system covers 70.6km, reaching a large proportion of the city.
- Taxi – an easy and convenient way to travel around the city but it can also be the most expensive, especially if you get stuck in rush-hour traffic.
- Motorbike taxi – one of the fastest ways to move around the city due to their ability to dart between the traffic, however it isn’t the safest option.
- Tuk-tuk – are better for short distances as they’re not the most comfortable form of transportation, but they are relatively cheap and perfect to whizz you around on a full day temple tour.
- Bus – Bangkok has a mixture of local buses which can be hard to navigate and a high-speed bus route that has its own dedicated bus lane to avoid the traffic.
- Boat – the Chao Phraya Express boat service lets you explore the landmarks in that area from a different perspective without compromising on convenience.
As a heads up, there are a few tricks (scams) to watch out for when using tuk-tuks and taxis. One being that some drivers may take you on an unplanned trip to a jewelry shop so they can gain commission from whatever you feel pressured to buy. Another is that a driver will tell you an attraction is closed but they are your knight in shining armour to take you to another attraction for a small price!
Gecko Routes Top 12 Things to do in Bangkok
Bangkok is a huge city with plenty of things to do.
The city has a number of temples, roaring nightlife, food to die for and extravagant shopping malls but getting a better understanding of what living in this urban jungle is really like is what makes people fall in love with the place.
Although it will be a lot of fun to do all, we recommend choosing a few of our favourites and then hop on to one of Thailand’s paradise islands or explore the more cultural part in the north of Thailand.
It’s easy to want to spend more time in Bangkok, but we wouldn’t recommend doing this if you have to sacrifice time elsewhere in Thailand.
To make sure you get the most out of Bangkok, we’ve shared our favourite things to do in this vibrant city:
#1 Taste Bangkok’s famous and delicious street food
Thai culture is strongly tied to food, so if you really want to understand life in Bangkok, open up your tastebuds to all it has to offer.
Practically every street you go down in Bangkok will have several food stalls, making your options endless! Lucky for us food lovers, the prices are low so you can sample a whole host of foods from Pad Thai, Som Tam (papaya salad) to Kluay Tod (deep-fried bananas).
A delicious Pad Thai starts from 30THB ($1), but expect to pay at least double at tourist hubs like Koh San Road.
Don’t know what food to choose? One of the best ways to explore Bangkok’s food scene is on a food tour. You’ll get the chance to visit locally recommended places, learn about the dishes and make new friends along the way.
We highly recommend the Best Eats Food Tour by tuk tuk for 1,850 baht ($59.89). The price may be high for a backpacker budget but trust us, after receiving your last drink at the rooftop bar, you realise it was worth it! You get 7 delicious food and drink tastings in between exploring the city with a knowledgeable guide, all whilst in a tuk tuk!
If you’d prefer to do it by yourself, China Town is the place to go! There are hundreds of stalls serving out-of-this-world food. Just remember to not fill yourself up in the first place you try!
#2 Exploring Bangkok’s temples, history and culture
Something Bangkok certainly isn’t short of is spectacular sites and temples.
To make it easier to decide which temples are a need to visit, we shared our top picks that can easily be visited in one day:
- The Grand Palace – one of Bangkok’s most famous landmarks, you can easily see why. This palace complex celebrates the remarkable craftsmanship of the Thai people through the stunning intricacy and detail of the buildings. (Admission 500 baht)
- Wat Wat Phra Kaew – located within the grounds of the Grand Palace, it is also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The temple is regarded as one of the most sacred temples in Thailand.
- Wat Pho – the home of the famous Reclining Buddha standing 15m tall and 46m long! The whole statue is covered in gold leaf and can easily leave you speechless. (Admission 100 baht)
- Wat Arun – almost directly opposite Wat Pho, across the river, the temple’s central spire offers a breathtaking view of the city and the Chao Phraya River below. The stairs up are quite steep but the reward outweighs the effort! (Admission 50 baht)
Whilst visiting these temples make sure to dress conservatively. The outfit you wore on Khao San Road last night will not be acceptable, no matter how good you looked! Stick at least to shorts or skirts that cover your knees and tops that cover your shoulders.
#3 Party all night long on Khao San Road
By day Khao San Road can be mistaken for any other Walking Street in Thailand. Come nighttime, the street truly comes alive!
As the sun begins to set, the gentle hustle and bustle of street vendors selling Chang shirts and elephant pants is joined by live music and deep base from the bars and clubs that line the street.
Before you hit the bars, you can line your stomachs with some quick street food like Pad Thai, or be brave and try a dried scorpion. Bangkok really does have it all!
And once you’re full, take a seat at one of the streetside massage parlors and enjoy a 30 minute foot massage for just 100 baht! An added bonus, most of the time the staff will treat you to a Chang beer to get the party started.
As the night progresses, the road is replaced by a sea of people dancing, singing and having the time of their lives! The madness that frequents Khao San Road is what gives it the famous party reputation it’s known for throughout the world.
Top-Tip: When exploring Koh San Road, take the little side road in the middle of the street to Soi Rambuttri, the more relaxed version of Khao San. Running parallel to the famous street, you will find even more restaurants with live-bands and massage parlours.
#4 Dress to impress in a rooftop bar
Sitting in a rooftop bar overlooking the flickering lights of Bangkok seems to be a new phenomenon that’s swept the city. They’re a completely different world to the crazy bars down below on Khao San Road.
To enjoy a cocktail in most of Bangkok’s many rooftop bars you will need to dress to impress, so put on your fanciest clothes and indulge in luxury for the night! Just keep in mind a lot of these bars can make considerable dents in your wallet.
Head to Vertigo and Moon Bar to relax in one of the highest bars in the world, Red Sky Bar for happy hour between 4-6pm, Yao Rooftop Bar for a slice of China or Wanderlust for one of Bangkok’s cheapest rooftop bars.
#5 Take a bike tour around Bangkok
A bike tour is a great alternative if you’re fed up of walking around everywhere, and you get to do it with a local guide who can share all of the city’s secrets with you!
The agility of a bike means you get to explore the tight alleyways and hidden streets that are too often missed from a taxi window or seat of a tuk-tuk.
Bangkok offers lots of different bike tours, from temple tours to nighttime adventures. Klook offers a range of bike tours starting already from 510 baht ($16.3940).
#6 Shop until you drop at one of Bangkok’s many malls
Surprisingly, Bangkok’s shopping malls provide a great insight into a lot of the residents’ lives. These malls offer an air conditioned haven which many locals use to escape the heat, making them a hub of activity. The malls are more than just a place to shop, you can see movies, enjoy a meal in the food court, grab a drink at a bar or even go bowling!
For those looking for high-end designer brands then Siam Paragon’s 250+ shops are the place for you.
If you prefer cheaper copies rather than the real thing, the MBK Centre has everything from clothes, electronics, movies to computer software.
And even if you loathe shopping, Terminal 21 is still worth a visit due to its creative and just plain brilliant interior. The airport themed mall features famous regions around the world including Tokyo city and London’s Carnaby Street.
#7 Take a day trip to Kanchanaburi
A visit to the city of Kanchanaburi, north-west of Bangkok, is a sombre and educational experience that shouldn’t be missed.
The city’s history is intertwined with the devastation caused by World War II, retelling the story of the Death Railway through the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery and Jeath War Museum.
The Death Railway is a 415km long railroad connecting Bangkok and Rangoon in Myanmar. The Japanese used forced labour in the form of 180,000 South-East Asian civilians and 60,000 allied prisoners of war to construct the railway. Many of whom died due to mistreatment, starvation and accidents. The day can be very emotional but it’s important for us all to learn from history as not to repeat it.
You can visit Kanchanaburi independently, taking a 2.5 hour train costing 100 baht or join a guided tour such as the Kanchanaburi Day Tour by AK Travel on Klook for 12.2620 baht ($401,85).
#8 Climb Bangkok’s Ghost Tower
Something you might not have expected to be doing in the centre of Bangkok is climbing an abandoned 49 story skyscraper. It’s definitely one way to keep your travel stories interesting!
After Thailand was hit with a financial crisis in the 90s, Sathorn Unique Tower was abandoned and no more work has been done on it since. Instead it has attracted adventurous travellers who wish to climb to the top and explore the skeleton of the building which now boasts some amazing graffiti.
However, it’s definitely not for the faint hearted as firstly there A LOT of steps, but it’s also pretty dangerous. You really have to watch your step as there’s big holes in the floor, rusty nails, collapsing walls and some pretty big drops if you get too close to the edge!
As a heads up, you’ll be expected to pay an entrance fee of 200 baht to climb to the top.
On a similar vibe to the ghost building, the airplane graveyard features derelict plane bodies that have become both a business and home for three Thai families. The planes offer the opportunity to inspect a plane like you’ve never been able to before.
Being a family run business, they tend to make the rules up as they go. They decide on how long you can look around for and how much you’ll pay. Entrance fees tend to range from 200-800 baht and sometimes they don’t let you in at all! We would love to hear about your experience if you’ve visited here!
#9 Get lost in Chatuchak Weekend Market
First thing to know when you enter Chatuchak Weekend Market is that you’re probably going to get lost! It’s the largest market in Thailand and has over 15,000 stalls so we’d be majorly impressed if you didn’t. For those of us who don’t have great navigational skills, you can get a free map from an information kiosk to help you out.
Think of something you want to buy. Got it? You can probably find it at Chatuchak Market. It sells everything – jewelry, designer clothes, fake designer clothes, tech, food – the list just goes on and on! It’s a must visit whilst in Bangkok.
As the name suggests, the market is open on weekends; Friday 6pm-midnight, Saturday and Sunday 9am-6pm.
#10 Explore architecture and antiques at the Jim Thompson House Museum
Welcoming over 300,000 visitors a year, the Jim Thompson House attracts visitors wanting to admire exquisite antiques and find out more about the man who mysteriously disappeared in Malaysia.
Jim Thompson was an American Intelligence Agent who became famous for reviving the Thai Silk industry and is now known for the stunning 6 traditional Thai teak houses he built. All of which are laden with tapestries, sculptures and paintings that share the tales of Thailand’s history.
The friendly guides also do a great job of providing an insight into the history of the magical buildings. These tours are included in the 200 baht entrance.
#11 Get a glimpse of the city on a boat trip
More than just another mode of transport, a boat ride along the Chao Phraya River gives you a wonderful insight into the city’s daily activity occurring along the banks of the river.
The journey is fascinating as you watch residents making their daily commute to work, admire delicate temples and observe as glamorous hotels transition into wooden shacks.
You can choose to embark on a guided river cruise, where you can enjoy lunch as you learn about the sights you pass. Or if you’re on a budget, go it alone! For just 20 baht you can hop on a water taxi at central pier and ride all the way to the end with Google as your tour guide.
#12 Relax and refresh with a Thai massage
Did you even go to Thailand if you didn’t utilise the amazingly cheap Thai massages? It’s the perfect way to rejuvenate your body after a long flight or busy day sightseeing.
There’s a whole host of massages to pick from; aromatherapy and oil massages, facials, foot massages and reflexology. You won’t struggle to find a spa or salon offering one of these, but you’ll want to make sure it’s a high-quality place. To avoid any awkward interactions, we would avoid any offering ‘happy endings’!
Prices for an hour massage tend to range between 250-500 baht.
Did you know?
Bangkok isn’t actually the real name of this Capital City of Thailand. The official name is made up of 21 words and is the longest name of a city in the world!
Here we go:
“Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit.”
How To Get To Bangkok?
|Leaving from||Duration||Prices from||See details|
|Chiang Mai||1.5hrs-14.5 hrs||580 THB-850 THB ($19-$28)||Chiang Mai to Bangkok|
|Don Muang Airport||30mins-1.5hrs||5 THB-850 THB ($0.20-$28)||Don Muang Airport to Bangkok|
|Hua Lamphong Railway Station||5mins-1hr||10 THB-150 THB ($0.30-$4.90)||Hua Lamphong Railway Station to Bangkok|
|Koh Chang||2hrs-7hrs||330 THB-4,000 THB ($11-$131)||Koh Chang to Bangkok|
|Koh Lanta||4hrs-16hrs excl. transfer time||1,000 THB-1,460 THB ($33-$48)||Koh Lanta to Bangkok|
|Koh Lipe||6hrs-20hrs excl. transfer time||1,450 THB-1,600 THB ($48-$53)||Koh Lipe to Bangkok|
|Koh Phangan||3hrs-18.5hrs||965 THB-2,900 THB ($32-$96)||Koh Phangan to Bangkok|
|Koh Phi Phi||5hrs-19hrs excl. transfer time||1,430 THB-1,555 THB ($47-$51.50)||Koh Phi Phi to Bangkok|
|Koh Samui||1hr 15mins-18hrs||750 THB-2,900 THB ($24.50-$95)||Koh Samui to Bangkok|
|Koh Tao||4.5hrs-16.5hrs||1,150 THB-4,110 THB ($38-$135)||Koh Tao to Bangkok|
|Krabi||1hr 15mins-12.5hrs||760 THB-1,090 THB ($25-$36)||Krabi to Bangkok|
|Mae Sot||1hr 15mins-8hrs||470 THB-1,600 THB ($15.50-$53)||Mae Sot to Bangkok|
|Pattaya||2hrs-4hrs||40 THB-2,000 THB ($1.30-$66)||Pattaya to Bangkok|
|Phuket||1.5hrs-14.5hrs||700 THB-885 THB ($23-$29)||Phuket to Bangkok|
|Siem Reap||1hr 15mins-9.5hrs||600 THB-1,550 THB ($20-$51)||Siem Reap to Bangkok|
|Sukhothai||1.5hrs-6.5hrs||330 THB-1,500 THB ($11-$50)||Sukhothai to Bangkok|
|Surat Thani||1hr 10mins-10hrs||545 THB-725 THB ($18-$24)||Surat Thani to Bangkok|
|Suvarnabhumi Airport||30mins-1.5hrs||35 THB-420 THB ($1.20-$14)||Suvarnabhumi Airport to Bangkok|
|Vientiane||1hr 15mins-12hrs||1,250 THB-1,450 THB ($41-$48)||Vientiane to Bangkok|
My favourite places to stay in Bangkok
If you’re looking for a fun social atmosphere then Here Hostel is the place for you! Enjoy relaxing by the pool in the garden area or enjoying a drink with travelers from around the world. Why take the stairs when you can use the indoor slide to travel between floors, this place is full of fun, energy, and laughter. Located less than 1km from Khao San Road, this is the perfect hostel if you’re looking to have a great time in Bangkok!
Dorm rooms start at $16 per night
Located in the heart of downtown Bangkok, between Nana and Ploen Chit BTS stations, this hostel is the perfect location in the Sukhumvit area. The hostel offers a garden area, a rooftop terrace and an on-site kitchen for guests to cook their own food or take part in the daily cooking classes. There is also a restaurant and bar on-site if you’d prefer someone else cook for you, as well as buffet breakfast included each day. Extremely clean and very friendly staff are top priorities for this hostel.
Single bed in dorm rooms start at $15 per night
If you’re looking to be near the excitement of Khao San Road but still enjoy some peace and quiet, this guesthouse is absolutely perfect. A delicious breakfast is included in your stay and the restaurant is open 24/7 for your convenience. A lovely garden area to relax in the afternoons and very comfortable beds in rooms will make for a great stay. Just 300m to Khao San road, this guest house is walking distance to many sights including the Grand Palace and the Golden Mountain Temple.
Rooms start at $19 per night
Just 700m from Khao San road and sitting along the river is Mam’s House. The staff here will welcome you with open arms and help you in any way that they possibly can. The rooms are huge, the beds are comfortable and it’s extremely clean. There is a cafe on the ground floor of the hotel, street food along the riverbank and countless restaurants, bars and shops just steps away. Locally owned and operated by Mam, this hotel is all about customer service and making sure you have the best stay possible. Perfect location, great views and all the comforts you need!
Rooms start at $26 per night
Cozy, comfortable, and ideal location! This guest house is less than 1km from Khao San Road and offers all the comforts you need. It is within walking distance to numerous Temples, Wats and attractions throughout Old Town. On-site bar to enjoy a drink while taking in the sights from the terrace or a lovely garden area to enjoy to relax in if you need some quiet time. The staff is known to be exceptionally welcoming and happy to assist with all guest requests. Located in a quiet area so you will be sure to get a good night's rest after exploring the Capital City!
Rooms start at $40 per night
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