Like its Asian brethren Tokyo, Shanghai, and Singapore, Bangkok is a glitzy metropolis that looks like something out of Blade Runner. Walking even a short distance on any street, your senses will be overwhelmed by a wave of sights, sounds, and smells you’ve never experienced before.
From freshly wok-fried pad thai to the scent of incense emanating from a roadside shrine, a whole new world is at your fingertips in Bangkok. But with this overwhelming cacophony of experiences coming at you from every direction, what should you spend your time seeing? Even if you’re hiring a car in Bangkok, there’s only so much you can do!
The Spiritual and Historical
Bangkok has a history dating back more than 500 years, but it was only recently (if 1782 can be considered recently) that it became the country’s capital. Prior to this, the ancient capitals of Sukhothai, Ayutthaya, and Kampaeng Pet served as the country’s home of governance.
The city is filled with historic sites, many of them intertwined with Buddhism.
The Grand Palace
The Grand Palace is a sprawling 200,000-square-metre complex of temples and royal residences from both the past and the present. Here, you can marvel at the intricate carving and sculptures throughout the palace’s spacious areas.
A note on the dress code: both men and women are expected to wear full-length skirts or pants with no holes of any kind, and shoulders must be covered. Appropriate clothing is available to rent, if need be. All temples in Thailand adhere to a modest dress code, though not as strict as the palace, and travellers should plan accordingly.
This stunning reclining Buddha statue meant to represent the Buddha having attained his ultimate state of nirvana measures forty-six metres long and is housed inside a stunningly beautiful temple. If you need a bit of luck in your life, feel free to purchase some coins at the entrance and drop one into each of the 108 offering bowls that line that wall–tradition says it will bring you good luck as an offering of merit.
Jim Thompson House
Highly recommended by locals in the know, the Jim Thompson House is a stunning example of Thai teak home architectural design at its finest. Thompson, who was stationed in Thailand by the US military at the end of WWII, fell in love with the country and moved there.
He began a silk trading company that grew quickly when the company’s silks were featured in the legendary Rodgers and Hammerstein Musical The King and I. From then on, Tompson’s empire only grew. Today, visitors can see his extraordinary teakwood mansion and learn about the history of his contributions to the Thai silk industry.
In addition to its cultural and historical sites, visiting Bangkok means exploring some very colourful neighbourhoods, each with its own style and charm. In each of these places, it’s definitely worth taking a walk to see what’s around the next corner.
The hip district of Bangkok, this is where you will find the vast majority of foreigners and well-off Thai citizens. With glitzy high-rise condos, luxury hotels, blazing gigantic video boards that would give NYC’s Times Square a run for its money, and some of the best food available in Southeast Asia, Sukhumvit is a fantastic district to check out for a night on the town.
The old quarter of Bangkok has a rustic charm to it, and this is one of the last places where you can see it on full display. Most of the architecture you see here dates back to the 1930s.
You’ll find many popular tourist sites, such as the Golden Buddha and a different reclining Buddha from the one mentioned above. It should be noted that there is very little public transit in this area, so walking and tuk tuks are the name of the game.
The other foreigner-heavy district of Bangkok, located between Sukhumvit and the old city, is the Silom/Lumphini district. You can enjoy the views of embassy row, with its stunning mansions dotting the streets, and savour the legendary Lumphini park, the Central Park of Bangkok.
Don’t be surprised if you see a two-metre-long monitor lizard crawl out of one of the many ponds and lakes that dot the park. They’re mostly harmless, though you might find them munching on a carp they managed to catch!
An ancient city that has become an incredible blend of the past and present, Bangkok is unlike any city on earth. With the list above and a little forethought, you can be sure you leave satisfied!