There’s a lot more to Bangkok than the touristy Khao San Road. In search of the city’s culture and history, I explored Bangkok’s markets, temples and rivers — and I was surprised by the sheer number of things to see and do.
To foreign travelers, Bangkok may seem like a never-ending carnival — a chaotic party that spans across the entire metropolitan area. And while Khao San Road has earned more than a bit of fame, there’s a different side to the city that I’ve been lucky enough to discover.
My wife and I visited Thailand during a weeklong vacation that was mostly spent on a nearby island. We gave ourselves a few days to spend in Bangkok, and knew we wanted to make the most of our time — definitely hitting the most famous spots, but also finding activities that took us into the heart of Bangkok’s food, culture, and history. These were a few of our favorite experiences in the city:
Embark on a riverboat ride.
While traveling between Bangkok’s most beautiful temples and other sites, we got around via riverboat along the Chao Praya River. The breeze was a welcome antidote to the humid air everywhere else, and it was also nice to enjoy the unique view of the city while relaxing in a chair. With a limited time in the city, we found that the riverboat was the best way to orient ourselves while taking in the most iconic sites.
You should always be able to buy a day-long pass for riverboat rides. If you’re told that’s not the case because of a Thai holiday, then it’s a scam and you are likely at an undesignated kiosk.
Visit beautiful temples.
Wat Pho, also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, is the most awe-inspiring site reachable from the riverboat. The Buddha statue is 150 feet long, and it’s nearly impossible to capture the entirety of it with a camera, mainly because of the hall’s tight confines. You can give it your best shot, though — the majestic sight is certainly insta-worthy!
Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) was the most impressive religious building we explored in Bangkok. Trekking up and down the stairs from the temple’s towers can be a bit scary, but it’s definitely worth it to enjoy the full experience. I fondly remember sitting in front of those colorful pagodas, asking kind strangers to take photos of us in front of the beautiful structures.
Bangkok’s temples can fill up with people by noon, so be sure to arrive as early as you can to experience the magnificent structures as peacefully as possible.
Explore the Grand Palace.
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy and has a royal family. My wife and I decided to visit the Grand Palace to delve deeper into Thai culture. Although the massive complex of gilded buildings is an official residence for the royal family, tourists are allowed to visit the immaculate site, which is also accessible via riverboat. More than simply a collection of buildings, the Grand Palace boasts wonderful architecture, gilded paintings and fascinating history.
My wife and I wore shorts that day, so we were thankful that we could rent proper attire before entering. Not all places in Asia are so accommodating, so if you’ll be visiting spiritual and cultural sites, it’s best to respect local custom and dress in below-the-knee pants and tops that cover your shoulders.
Shop at the city’s markets.
Throughout many parts of the city, Bangkok features tons of world-class shopping, and that includes upscale fashion malls. However, that’s not really our style — navigating the city’s more traditional markets was much more fun. We made our way to Chinatown, where we discovered dozens of shops selling just about everything you could imagine. It’s also a wonderful place to sample street food. The food stalls teem with delicious flavors — find vendors with long lines and piping hot dishes and it’s surely safe to taste and enjoy the cuisine.
Another option is Chatuchak Weekend Market, which is the country’s largest, with over 15,000 booths and divided into 27 sections. Spend a minute taking it all in; the sheer scope of this place can overwhelm even the most seasoned shoppers. But it’s a great place to purchase souvenirs. Overall, I’d choose these two thriving hubs of activity over any shopping mall, and I can’t wait to go back!
Where to Stay:
Marriott Vacation Club at The Empire Place©