Exploring Bangkok, the Capital City
Welcome to our 4 day tour of Bangkok, Thailand. We hope you enjoy traveling with us and are inspired to take your own trip. This trip was part of our seven month journey around the world which began in Flores, Guatemala. See a summary of the destinations we traveled to over our seven months here: link.
We had arranged a ferry + bus transfer from Koh Tao to Bankgok with Lomprayah, the local ferry operator. The ticket cost $1,100 THB or about $35 USD as of the date of this article. After the 10 hour journey we were ready to start our tour of Bangkok.
Why Travel to Bangkok, Thailand ?
Bangkok is eclectic city full of countless temples, praiseworthy architecture, unique culture, and is a foodie’s paradise. You can visit centuries old ruins, tour well maintained temples and experience the conservative morals of the Thai people, and in the same day party in the city’s redlight district with lady boys. There is a lot to take in making Bangkok a worthy travel destination. Bangkok is also the ultimate spot for backpackers as you can find cheap accommodation, cheap food, and heaps of activities, all reasonably priced.
How Long to Stay in Bangkok, Thailand ?
Bangkok is a huge city with a lot of ground we didn’t cover and we are far from experts. However, we would recommend spending at least 3-4 days in Bangkok. One day for temple hopping, one day for a day trip to Ayutthaya and Bang Pa-In Palace, and one day for a day trip to an elephant sanctuary. Having these day trips and an extra day will allow you to experience more of the city by night and fit in more activities during the day when you return from your day trip. If you only have one day, we’d recommend temple hopping, as the Grand Palace is truly a place not to miss.
Thailand 101: Make sure you visit an Elephant Sanctuary where you DON’T ride the elephants and where they DON'T perform tricks.
Top Things to Do in Bangkok, Thailand
1) Visit the Grand Palace
The Grand Palace is the most famous landmark in Bangkok and is a must see while in the city. The palace was built in 1782 and was the home of the Thai King for 150 years.
Make sure to visit and enjoy the intricate detail of the statues, stupas, temples, and landscaping brushed in gold, emerald, and alabaster.
Included within the precincts of Grand Palace is Wat Phra Kaew more commonly known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. Construction of the temple began in 1783 under the orders of Rama I. Since then each successive king has been involved with adding and/or restoring the temple. The temple is regarded as the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand and is the national shrine for the monarchy and the state.
Temples 101: You will need to take your shoes off in most temples you enter. Shoulders must be covered and no exposed knees. Most temples will have sarong's either for free or for hire. Save money and always carry one with you as you travel around Thailand.
2) Visit Elephant Haven
2.5 hours from Bangkok city center
My favorite animal is the elephant. I love them! So, even though it is hours away from Bangkok, this day trip made our list as the top thing to do when in Bangkok. The city is known as a good starting point to access many elephant sanctuaries. If you want to visit an ethical elephant sanctuary where you do not ride and the elephants are not forced to perform, then Elephant Haven is your place. At Elephant Haven they take care of six female elephants.
Upon arrival, you get to feed tree leaves to the elephants while you get acquainted with them.
Afterwards, we began preparing their lunch which consisted of rice balls and cut up watermelons which we fed them shortly after. With how much they eat we see why these are four ton (8,000 pound) animals. We really enjoyed feeding these graceful creatures.
The amazing day doesn’t stop there. We then walked through the forest with the elephants side-by-side. Not on top of them!
This was then followed by a mud bath and then a cool dip in the lake.
This was one of the best days of my life ever. To see humans show such compassion and love for them makes me hopeful.
Thailand 101: When going to Elephant Haven it is important to keep Thai tradition in mind. Proper attire is necessary (i.e. no crop tops). During the lake swim with elephants, women are required to wear a tank top or shirt and shorts or pants (not a bikini).
3) Visit Wat Phra Chetuphon (Wat Pho)
Short walk from the Grand Palace
This temple complex is commonly known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. If you only have time or only desire to see a couple temples, you cannot skip this one.
The most significant Buddha statue, and as you can see the reason for the nickname, is this 46-meter (151-foot) long reclining Buddha statue.
4) Visit Ratchawararam Ratchaworamahawihan (Wat Arun) Temple of Dawn
Short walk and ferry ride from the Grand Palace
On the west bank of the Chao Phraya River lies this stunning landmark temple. This temple has existed since at least the seventeenth century with the signature spire being built in the early nineteenth century under the reigns of Rama II and Rama III.
5) Visit Phu Khao Thong (Wat Saket or The Golden Mount Thailand)
30 minute walk from the Grand Palace or 10 minute drive (assuming no traffic – when in Bangkok expect a lot of traffic)
Located in the center of Old Town Bangkok is this great temple, built on a manmade 80-meter (262-foot) hill. You must climb around 300 steps to get to the top of Wat Saket, but fret not, the path is well-paved and easy to climb.
6) Take a day trip to Ayutthaya
1.25 hour drive North of Bangkok
The history of Ayutthaya dates back to 1351 where it was proclaimed the capital of Siam (former name of Thailand). In 1767, the Burmese army destroyed the city and the ruins of this ancient city still stand today. A trip to visit this UNESCO World Heritage site is highly recommended during your visit to Bangkok as there are several temples that are well worth it.
Here are a few of the temples Kurt visited on his solo trip to Thailand (and day trip to Ayutthaya) several years ago.
Wat Phra Mahathat
The most famous attraction at Wat Phra Mahathat is this sandstone Buddha head trapped in a Banyan tree.
This was Kurt’s favorite as the temple complex was well preserved and had several towering structures.
Famous for the giant reclining Buddha at 42 meters long and 8 meters high.
Kurt visited Ayutthaya by hiring a private driver for the day (which was relatively inexpensive). As part of his day, he also included a visit to Bang Pa-In Royal Palace which was only 30 minutes for Ayutthaya which we also highly recommend.
7) Visit a bar in the sky
A great way to spend an evening in Bangkok is to hit up one of the many rooftop bars. This is a great way to see the stunning skyline at night and enjoy a drink in a luxurious setting. See this article detailing the many options available here.
8) Feast at a floating market
Less than 20 minutes from downtown Bangkok
Join the chaos with hundreds of people as hoards of boats and a plethora of food await to unload their food to the hungry bystanders. The boats carry food and fruits to feed everyone, enough for everyone to leave satisfied. It is best to come early though as things do tend to sell out.
Khlong Lat Mayom and Thaling Chan are two of the most popular, and both are close to one another.
Damnoen Saduk is the most well-known floating market, however, it is one hour and 30 minutes away from downtown Bangkok and of course one of the most touristy and busy.
9) Bang Pa-In Royal Palace
One hour north of Bangkok
Bang Pa-In Royal Palace also known as the Summer Palace, is well worth a stop-over on your way to Ayutthaya. This palace complex was formerly used by Thai Kings and is known for well manicured grounds/landscaping colorful architecture.
10) Khao San Road
This backpacker haven is known for the cheapest prices in the city, bright lights, nightlife, street food, and restaurants on every corner.
11) Visit the mega malls of Bangkok
The amount of shopping in Bangkok is unfathomable. There is seemingly a giant mega mall on every corner. There is even a list of the 45 best shopping malls in Bangkok at this link here.
It really is an experience walking through these malls and seeing what there is to offer and be amazed at the sheer size and volume of stores. One mega mall we visited was the MBC center which offers bargain shopping stores, countless restaurants, massage services, and bargain handicrafts. The top floor even had a movie theater and karaoke lounge.
Another mall we visited had a giant grocery store on the 30th floor, had a luxury car dealer inside, and had a large theater at top. These things are giant and unique.
12) Visit the mega markets of Thailand
We thought the volume of malls was astounding. Then we experienced the night markets. Same as the malls it seems like there is a night market on every corner that goes for miles and winds through the streets and deep into the alleys. I have to believe that most of these people don’t even sell one item per night just because there is too much competition. Visiting these markets is an experience in itself and you may just find the bargain you are looking for.
One market we visited called the neon market had a great selection of food and your typical street vendors hawking clothing and souvenirs. Although it seems like it has been permanently closed down since our visit.
13) Get a massage
If you don’t get yourself a massage while you are anywhere in Thailand, you are doing yourself a disservice. At less than $10USD/hour you’ll find some great bargain options that are still high quality.
14) Take a Riverboat Cruise
You can take a boat tour which will give you the background and history of the area or can take your own self guided tour. We chose to take the local boat to get to one of our destinations and enjoyed the views along the way. It is a nice way to travel the famous Riverside area of Bangkok and marvel at the historical monuments, temples and architecture. FYI – there is a stop near the Grand Palace so you can use the river to get to the main temple district.
Where to Stay in Bangkok, Thailand
Patumwan House is located in the heart of Bangkok city and close to all the shopping centers. MBK Center and the Grand Palace are both under 20 minutes walk away.The hotel itself wasn’t anything extraordinary, but location was key to walking around to the nearest malls and attractions.
Where to Eat in Bangkok, Thailand
Chaba Thai Food (MBK Center)
At the shopping mall there is a whole floor (Fifth Food Avenue) of the mall dedicated to a food hall. International cuisines at the Fifth Food Avenue include Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Italian, Arabic, Vietnamese, Hainanese and of course Thai food. There are plenty of vegan options throughout the food court.
Bangkok 101: Go to Fifth Food Avenue where tourists receive a free “welcome drink” of Thai Iced Tea between 11:00 am - 8:00 pm.
Khao San Roa
The streets of Khao San are jam-packed with bars, restaurants and backpacker hostels. It is an absolute foodies dream. You can find any type of food to appease your palette. There are many options for vegans.
Other Recommendations of Things to Do
These are all adventures that we unfortunately didn’t have time to do on our own but would have considered if we had more time:
- Chatuchak Weekend Market (less than 15 minutes drive from downtown) – Explore 35 acres covered with retail shops and food vendors. From local handicrafts to fresh fried scorpions, the market carries an array of items for sale. The Chatuchak Market is one of the largest weekend markets in the world. As always, be wary of overpriced goods, haggling is a must.
- Soi Cowboy (15 minutes drive from downtown) – This red light like district is lit up by the flashing neon lights of the abundant go-go bars making it quite the party spot. This seems like it would be very interesting/different experience.
Questions For You
- Which temple was your favorite?
- Have you been to Bangkok before and if so what was your favorite thing about it?