City of Royal Palaces
Incredible Thailand, and the astonishing capital city, Bangkok. To this date the fourth time here, and certainly looking for more to come in the future. Since 2011 when we first came here on what was the very first trip ever this far away, to now and the other times in between it still did not change anything in my opinion towards it. I simply love this place, more than ever. And not just the city, but this country itself, ranking among my top favourite 5 from the many I have been in the world, and that’s already over 100!.
It is such a gigantic city, with so many places to visit, ancient, historic and modern; so many temples, and so, so welcoming and charming, it feels the time is never enough, always short to do as much as you would like. Of course one of the reasons would be moving around the different areas and sights where you do require quite a long time.
The first impression a visitor takes, could not be better. Most of the international arrivals are in the spectacular Suvarnabhumi Airport. It is quite obvious why it has won so many prizes and awards for being one of the best in the world; it’s great architecture, easiness, environmental friendly and many more. So straightforward and quick to clear immigration, and so super fast to get to the heart of the city by the well connected railway links.
Your second impression is already on the streets. A myth proven to be false, the ones they say the city is one of the most polluted in the world. Don’t worry, it is not more polluted than London, Paris or Madrid can be; in fact; it has cleaner air than these 3 European capitals, but somehow whenever the news talk about other places outside the Western World, they make it sound as chaotic. It’s not only about that, notice the obsessive cleaning mentality of Thai people, it’s simply a pleasure to walk anywhere and enjoy such clean streets. The only downside fact are the smells every now and then. It comes from the canalisation which is not as deep as generally should, hence the more superficial the more the smell.
The city has well kept its history and traditions side by side with the jungle of concrete raising from every possible space. Construction non-stop 24 hours a day, with skyscrapers higher and higher. You will never be able to appreciate such extent of the city until you view it from above. Nowadays, the sky is the limit… if any.
Talking about safety, the only concern you should be warned of is the traffic. Be really careful when crossing the roads, it can be quite challenging, and there are very few street lights at the zebra crossings. Motorbikes and the thousands of tuk tuk are 24 hours non stop in a city that never sleeps. What you will notice are the many overhead crossings the city is investing in, specially in the area of Sukhumvit, where even the Sky Train passages are all elevated and extended to interconnect with the many malls and side streets. It is incredible the large amount of sections you can now walk all over the streets and roads. But other than this, there is no reason why anyone could feel insecure at all. I always carry a large camera and a phone with me, nothing unusual like other thousands of tourists and local Thai people. Robberies can happen of course, like anywhere else in the world.
With regards to food, welcome to paradise. And do never be picky or having double thoughts in getting street food. This is done on the wok, therefore bacteria, if any, especially from the fresh vegetables washed in water, is killed. Pad Thai is the Thai dish by excellence, found anywhere; but they do great curries, fish, rice dishes. There is really nothing as enjoyable as that, eating street food, which is having a specific name, eathai. Under this field you can also find pandan chicken (boneless marinated chicken and rolled in pandan leaves), delicious geng gari gai (chicken in yellow curry sauce); calamari (fried in a wok and seasoned in ginger and green peppercorn sauce); songkhla curry (slow-cooked beef in red curry sauce); green chicken curry, another of the Thai dishes by excellence, and plenty more. They do love spicy food so be careful, this can be seriously hot, check before you order and try to communicate and ask even if you do not understand each others.
And now to one of the specialties of Thailand: massages. Foot or body massages. These are world renown for the incredible quality they perform, and the great price. Forget about getting something near similar in Europe or elsewhere not in Southeast Asia to the level of quality. It is very easy to spot the massage places. There will be lots of comfy sofas for foot massage on the entrance right by the street, with big windows or fully opened to the street, while the body massage cabins use to be upstairs. For areas like Khao San Road, you will have to wait for the next place to become empty, they are really busy constantly.
If, while you are having the massage, they try to insinuate to go upstairs or even by telling you directly and straight away if you want a happy ending, then you know what this is all about. Definitely something I would never consider, but you are warned, don’t be surprised this happen. Simply say no and that’s all, no problem.
I have never tried the full body massage. Everyone tells me it’s very painful, but you end up like having a new body. I am in any case, obsessed with the foot ones. They are so great, and specially after an intense day of sightseeing, that you feel as being able to run a marathon afterwards. They are 1 hour long. Generally they do 20 minutes one feet, 20 the other, then they massage the legs, and for the last 10 minutes they ask you to sit in the small chair where you were having your feet lying, and they will massage your back, neck and head. And all for like 200/250 Baht. Honestly, have as many as you can, you will miss it so much once you are back from your holidays.
Now that we’ve covered the main facts, there is one more worth to mention here: shopping. Thai people simply love it, and they do have gigantic shopping malls everywhere. Rama I Street, between National Stadium, Siam and Chit Lom station of the Sky Train has some of the largest malls in the world, all interconnected each others by passages and in turn, direct access to the Sky Train. You can easily lose track of the time and sense of orientation since there is no need to step outside of the street for many kilometres in passages.
For more information about the city check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Thailand’s currency is Baht (THB). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Bangkok
- Thonburi District The west bank of the Chao Phraya River, a much quieter neighbourhood than the rest of Bangkok, mostly residential.
-Wat Arun A large prang (tall tower spire richly carved), beautifully decorated with blue and white ceramics. It is easily visited using the ferry from Tha Tien pier that crosses to the other side. It’s the only of the major sights located on this side of the river, and if time is your constrain, you can skip it as you will get to see it from the river. Open from 07.30am to 17.30pm. 50 Baht entrance fee.
- Rattanakosin District The Old Town/City Centre. Coming from elsewhere in the city you can take the Sky Train to Saphan Taksin station and transfer onto the express boat. A single trip from Saphan Taksin to Tha Chang pier (for the Grand Palace) takes about 30 minutes and costs only 13 baht. Other notable stops include Tha Tien (for Wat Pho), Phra Athit (for Khao San Road) and Thewet (for Dusit). It is best to take the orange flag boats, as yellow flag ones do not call at the intermediate piers except for Tha Tien. Within Rattanakosin you will see most of the main sights the city has to offer.
-Wat Pho This is where the famous giant of Reclining Buddha statue is, among the superb complex of buildings around, listed by the UNESCO as a Memory of the World site. Located just south from the Grand Palace walls, few meters away from the Tha Tien pier. 50 Baht to enter, open from 08.00am until 18.30pm.
-Grand Palace Not just a palace, but a massive complex of structures, courts and temples and many museums listed by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. This is without any doubt, the sight number one in Bangkok and the one that will take you almost an entire day to complete visit. Located just opposite the Wat Pho. Open from 08.30am until 15.30pm, 500 Baht to enter. Please do remember you need to cover your legs if you are wearing shorts, and if in flip flops, then bring with you shocks as it is not allowed to walk bare feet.
-Wat Phra Kaew The Temple of the Emerald Buddha, the most sacred temple in the entire of Thailand. It’s by the northeast corner of the whole complex, and without doubt, the iconic image of the city.
-Phra Maha Monthien The Middle Hall complex is the most prominent of the palace, where the most important residential and state buildings are located, among these 3 Throne halls.
-Phra Thinang Chakri Maha Prasat Easy to spot, the large building in a blend of traditional Thai and 19th century European styles, home to the main Throne hall.
-Saranrom Park Just by the southeast corner of the Gran Palace walls, and northeast corner of Wat Pho.
-Wat Ratchapradit Another temple along the north side of Saranrom Park. 20 Baht to enter.
-Pi Kun Bridge Crossing the canal from the east side of Wat Ratchapradit and linking to the stunning Wat Ratchabophit.
-Wat Ratchabophit Built in 1869 during the reign of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V). Notice the architecture style of the buildings inside is an inspiration from Italian, country Rama V visited on his trip to Europe.
-Wat Suthat and the Giant Swing At the eastern side of Rattanakosin district, a block east and one north from Wat Ratchabophit. An incredible temple and as the word say, a giant swing dating from 1784 and used for religious purposes. 20 Baht entrance fee. The current swing is a restoration of the original.
-Loha Prasat Also known in the maps as Wat Ratchanadda, located along Maha Chai Road next to the Saen Saep canal boat terminus, east of Democracy Monument Roundabout along Ratchadamnoen Klang Road. Nicknamed as The metal castle because the whole of the structure is made in metal, not timber. It’s another of the important sights not to miss. Free entrance.
-Wat Saket and the Golden Mount Built at an artificial hill, it offers great views over the city. The vegetation, little waterfall and steps are carefully placed and decorated. Located right across the Saen Saep canal opposite the Loha Pasat.
- Khao San District Just north from the Old Town district, Rattanakosin. While not specially an area you you to find historical buildings and sights, it is certainly one of the major places for going out and party, day and night.
-Khao San Road The main street in the district, west from Democracy Monument Roundabout, off Ratchadamnoen Klang Road. It gets extremely busy at night and you can find everything from cloths, souvenirs, coffees, pubs, massages, etc.
-Wat Intharawihan Located at 114 Wisut Kasat Road. From the western terminus of Khao San Road, you can walk 1 km north along Samsen Road, then turn right at Samsen Soi 10 after the Wisut Kasat Road junction (Rama VIII Bridge). Open from 08.30am to 20.00pm. Free entrance.
- Siam Square District The major transport hub in the city, home to the main railway station and various lines of metro, Sky Train and canal boats. At the northern boundary is Rama I and at the south Rama IV Roads. Huge shopping district and major centre for hotels of any kind along wide boulevards and avenues getting quickly filled with shiny skyscrapers everywhere. From the Golden Mount Temple you can actually take the river boat from Panfa Leelard pier to Sapan Huan Chang pier right in the heart of Siam and all the shopping malls, the price depends on distance and varies from 8 to 20 Baht. The main BTS Sky Train stations are Siam, National Stadium or Chit Lom.
-Hualamphong Train Station Along the western edge of the district, the main railway station of Thailand with connections all over the country and beyond into Laos and Myanmar. It’s from here where the trains to Ayutthaya and into Vientiane in Laos depart among other destinations, and so for Don Mueang Airport.
-Rama I Road The major thoroughfare in the district, cutting it from west to east and containing most of the huge shopping malls in Thailand. Above the road is the BTS Sky Train on two levels as both Silom and Sukhumvit Lines interconnect.
-Siam Discovery Mall Right by the Intersection Skywalk of Rama I with Phayathai Road, in the lower floors of a tower.
-MBK Centre Mall One of the most famous in the city for countless fakes of great brands at extra low prices.
-Siam Center Mall It was in 1973 the first mall built in Bangkok, now completely redesigned.
-Siam Paragon Mall One of the largest in the whole of Thailand, with direct access via wkywalks to the BTS Siam station.
-Wat Pathum Wanaram Built in 1857 at the time there were only rice fields in the area. Now sandwiched in between Siam Paragon and Central World Plaza malls.
-Central World Plaza At the corner of Rama I with Thanon Ratchadamri Street, nested between towers. One of the largest in the world (as of 2019, the 11th position).
-Magnolias Ratchadamri Tower One of the many latest additions to the skyline. This superb spiral-shaped as a petal tower contains residences and the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. Located also on Thanon Ratchadamri Street across Rama I from Central World Plaza.
-Baiyoke II Tower Although not directly in the Siam Square District, but in Pratunam, being the only sight worth to mention in that area, is best to keep it here due to the short distance to the Central World Plaza. It’s merely a block away from Ratchaprarop commuter train station. Nowadays the 2nd tallest tower, it does have the best observation deck in the whole of Bangkok, where you will see the city in 360 degrees. It is an outdoor revolving platform!.
-Lumphini Park Farther south in the district, with the southern side along Rama IV Road. One of the largest parks in the city, nested between towers at all sides. Landscaped gardens, lakes, fountains and monuments embellish the place.
- Silom District At the south of Rama IV Road that splits it with Siam Square District. Very modern, the financial heart of Thailand during the day, with countless towers, hotels and residences; and a non-stop party at night at the countless discos, bars and entertainment places. The BTS Sky Train crosses the entire district, and actually offering the best views from above the street.
-Silom Road and Sathon Tai Roads Both the main thoroughfares starting by the Lumphini Park and heading west parallel to each other.
-Banyan Tree Tower One of the tallest, almost by the beginning of Sathan Tai Road near the Lumphini Park side. In order to enter its sky bar and restaurant there is some dress-code in place.
-King Power MahaNakhon Building By Chong Nonsi BTS Sky Train station, where the train curves from Silom Road onto Sathorn Tai. One of the tallest skyscrapers in Southeast Asia, and a new window of Bangkok. An spectacular pixelated-like glass tower reaching 78 floors. The amazing views from the rooftop platform are hardly beaten, especially when coming before the sunset to enjoy both day and night views. Here for information and tickets.
-Robot Building Two blocks away from the Empire Tower and by the same side of the road. One of the fanciest buildings in the world, designed to resemble a giant robot. Was designed in 1980 by Sumet Jumsai in a way meant to reflect the computerization of banking.
- Sukhumvit District At the east of the city, farther east after Silom Square. Starts as the continuation of Rama I Road, and it is accessed by the BTS Sky Train Sukhumvit Line, the same that crosses Siam Square area. Plenty of major hotels along the main street, and also a major area for clubbing and party.
- Mae Klong Railway Market Although quite far outside to the west of the city, it is very worth to see if you have the time to spend, as otherwise count that at least it will take you half of the day for coming here and see. This is the world famous market over the railway tracks when a train passes by all vendors quickly clear the path and the open it in matter of seconds. But other than this fact, it is awesome to see the vast amount of vendors and the great street food. The best way to reach it is via direct bus from either the Mo Chit or the Southern Bus Terminal (Sai Thai Mai bus station) in Bangkok, taking approximately 90 minutes.
- Amphawa Floating Market Also far away to the west of the city, yet not far from the Mae Klong Railway Market. This is the most traditional and world famous, with plenty of barges navigating the canal of the Mae Klong river.
Suvarnabhumi is quite an spectacular international airport. It’s architecture has won many prices for easiness and design, and keeps expanding with new terminals being added. It was well planned in advance with plenty of room for expansion in terminals and runways. The fastest way into the city is the train, where you have two options one being the Express (more expensive) and the City Line (cheaper and taking only few minutes longer), running between 06.00am until 24.00 at frequencies of every 10 minutes at peak hours, 15 minutes thereafter. You can get off at Makkasan, Ratchaprarop or Phaya Thai stations, with the journey costing 45 Baht. Any of these stations do have interconnection with the metro and BTS Sky Train where you can continue to your final destination.
The second international airport, Don Mueang, was Bangkok’s main until the opening of the new one. Nowadays entirely revamped and enlarged, it is mostly used by low-cost carriers. It is also linked to the city centre by bus and trains, in this case with the Hua Lamphong Railway Terminus. Any train heading to the city is valid, but can be the case to be in old uncomfortable wooden carriages, or the air-conditioned EMU. It does not matter really much, the journey time is short.
Within the city there are two mass transit systems. The BTS (Sky Train) and MRT (metro). While you can pay individually your ride, you can also get rechargeable stored-value cards (from 100 Baht, with a 30 Baht refundable deposit and a 30 Baht non-refundable as the fee for the card cost). It will save you time and money when planning on doing several journeys. Then if staying for longer in the city, consider to get a ride all you like tourist pass, or multiple ride passes. You can get everything at the vending machines at the stations, or the person dealing at the cashiers.
Please note that the Metro tickets are not interchangeable with the Sky Train, so you need to get a separate ticket for it. Rides start from 16 Baht, it all depends of on the distance you are travelling.
The next great options are the river boats, either along the Chao Phraya River of the Saen Saep Canal; these are one of the fastest way to move through the busy city, especially on the Saen Saep as it cuts from west to east in no time. Inexpensive and very frequent.
Buses are very confusing in the sense of figuring out their route. Even at the bus stops you will find no information. Try to ask anyone or at your hotel what is the best way and once you find out the numbers and the destinations, it is a great way to move around for almost no money. Notice also that there are air-con buses and non air-con buses, prices differ on this too.
Riding a tuk tuk? There is no Bangkok, or Thailand in general without getting a tuk tuk (or many). You need to negotiate the fare before you step in one, and if the driver persists in not lowering their “highly tourist quote”, move onto the next driver. There are hundreds passing all the time so you will never have any trouble finding one, and finding a honest driver with a decent fare quotation. In most of the occasions, the fact of going from one driver to another will work in your favour, the previous driver will lower the price without juggling.
Taxis work with taximeters, then there is no reason why you would be cheated. Make sure the driver sets the taximeter on, and if he tells you it does not work or whatever other reason, just simply get out and take another. Otherwise, you can negotiate a fare you consider fair in advance, that can always work good too.
One of the biggest cities in the planet, and so one of the most popular either as a business hub in Southeast Asia and massive tourism. Considering the facts, there are simply plenty of hotels for the likes of everyone. From the very big chains, top luxurious, to local chains and more modest ones. Bangkok can be expensive, but with enough time booking in advance, you can get incredibly great deals at the top of the notch properties. You should not have any trouble in finding a good 4 and 5 star property for a fraction of what you would normally pay elsewhere especially in Europe. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo or Ebookers.
In the most recent trip we stayed meters away from the first hotel I’ve ever been in this city. The same location, Sukhumvit Soi 18 which by know after all these times in Bangkok, is still one of the best in terms of transport, restaurants, shopping and nightlife. Easy to move anywhere, even to reach the train to the airport at Makkasan station, less than 20 minutes walking distance. Quiet while in the middle of a thriving party area not far away. This time, while not the Rembrandt Hotel, we were at the Park Plaza. it turned to be really great and enjoyable place. A very new property (it was not even built when we first stayed next door). Friendly and welcoming staff, large beautiful room where everything was spotless; super comfortable and quiet. A great breakfast and a nice swimming pool at its terrace, although not big, it was better than what we could expect considering the medium to small size of the property itself. Absolutely recommended to everyone.
In 2016 while transiting via Bangkok in order to reach Myanmar, we stayed at the Amari Watergate at 847 Petchburi Road, near the Baiyoke II Tower in the district of Pratunam, north of Siam. A very large property with a beautiful swimming pool on the higher levels offering great views of the city. This was a fantastic deal, only a pity we were here just for a day. Very comfortable, large room on quite high floor and very convenient in the location.
Back in 2013 when we made Bangkok our arrival point for continuing on a wider trip through most of Southeast Asia, we needed something basic as we were meant to only spend a day and a night before departing towards Ayutthaya and then continue into Laos. We managed a great deal at the H-Residence, in 48 Soi Sathorn 11 (Junction 4), South Sathorn Road. It was just perfect! Could not be any quieter than this, very laid back, cosy and small; super friendly and caring staff, comfortable and superbly clean bedroom, and a nice breakfast included. Should you wish to check availability and location for this hotel, make sure you locate the right spot in Google maps for example. The BTS Sky Ttrain Chong Nonsi is just few meters away, therefore you should not have any problem when moving to/from the hotel. Also remember of the hundreds of tuk tuks you will find passing on every street, even by the front of the hotel.
As for the first time ever to Bangkok in 2011, we stayed at The Rembrandt. A very huge property in the heart of Sukhumvit. If coming via the Sky Train Asoke station, take the Exchange Tower exit; once on street level, walk away from the BTS station and make a right on Sukhumvit Soi 18 (first soi you should encounter), Rembrandt Hotel is approximately 200 meters on the left. And if coming via Subway (MRT Sukhumvit Station), take the BTS (Asoke) link exit and follow as per directions above. The hotel room was massive, the breakfast could not be any better, countless food choice, all super clean and tidy, and the staff were very polite and helpful. Location could not be better too, next to the subway and Sky Train, and the main avenue of Sukhumvit were many buses can be taken to everywhere in the city including the main train station.