Bangkok. If you’ve ever heard anyone talk about it, they either love it, or they hate it. It’s big, it’s loud, it’s crazy. But if you dig deep, it’s beautiful, wonderful and can be quite magical. This capital city has plenty to keep you busy, whether you are a temple freak like us, looking for some shopping, great eats, or just to explore the city.
We only had a few days to explore the Venice of the East. Laugh now, if you have never been here, but it really is like it’s Italian counterpart. We still managed to pack in some great sights. If you really want to see all the musts, we would suggest staying in Bangkok for a good 4-5 days, and get ready to go, go, go.
Bangkok is a pretty big city, but it has a well-run public transport system. Your options are endless, so be ready to ride the subway, the sky train, taxis and tuk-tuks. If you love boats like we do, you won’t be disappointed either. See, we told you it’s like Venice!
Did we mention we’re temple freaks? If you’re like us, then Bangkok will not disappoint! If there are over 30,000 temples in Thailand, so you can only imagine how many of them are in the capital. Even if some may be small and tucked away in alleys or soi, there are plenty of big ones that will surely impress anyone. Here are the most impressive ones we found.
If we have one pro tip for visiting these temples to avoid the large tour groups, it’s to go either at opening, or close to closing time. We preferred the latter as the light is better for photography, it’s a “little cooler”, and you can catch a pretty wicked sunset.
Also known as the Temple of the Dawn, Wat Arun was a very impressive sight to be seen. It is unlike so many of the temples that we’ve experienced in Asia. It stands out thanks to its many white Buddha carvings, exquisitely painted in beautiful pastels. It has the iconic stupa, pyramidal shape that we have come to see everywhere in Northern Thailand.
As you are coming up the Chao Phraya river, Wat Arun will catch your eye from miles away. If you head there near dusk, you will be able to catch a great sunset right behind it.
We really loved this place, it has a certain je ne sais quoi about it, at least for us!
Opening hours: 8:30AM – 5:30PM
Ticket prices: 100 Baht (roughly $3USD)
Getting here: The best and easiest way to get to Wat Arun is to grab one of the water taxis going down the Chao Phraya river. The boat stops at the pier directly in front of the temple.
The Grand Palace
Bangkok’s must see attraction, the Grand Palace was built in the 18th century, and for 150 years was the home of the King of Thailand. Today, it is the spiritual heart of Bangkok. Unfortunately, we were not able to visit the Grand Palace, but that just gives us one more reason to come back to Bangkok another time!
Opening hours: 8:30AM – 3:30PM
Ticket prices: 500 baht ($16USD)
Getting here: From Wat Arun, you can jump onto the ferry that crosses the Chao Phraya river. One stop away, this short boat ride will only cost you 9 baht per person.
Wat Pho, boasts the largest reclining buddha at 46 metres long and it measures 15 metres in height, quite impressive if you ask us! At its conception, it was the first centre for public education in Thailand. To this day, it is still the home of a school of Thai medicine, as well as a training centre for Thai massage, where you can still enjoy this ancient practice at a very reasonable price. It is one of the largest and oldest wats (Thai Buddhist temples) in Bangkok.
Apart from the large reclining buddha, Wat Pho is also home to over 90 stupas (a mound like structure containing relics or remains of Buddhist monks) which serve as places of meditation. They vary in size and colours, but they are all magnificent to gaze upon.
Opening hours: 8AM – 5PM
Ticket prices: 100 Baht (roughly $3USD)
Getting here: From the Grand Palace, walking to Wat Pho will take you less than 10 minutes.
Also known as the Temple of the Golden Mount, this Bangkok landmark is unique in its own way. Located on the top of an 80 metre “mountain”, Wat Saket was once the highest point in all of Bangkok. Today, this golden temple is still a great place to visit to get a 360 degree view of Bangkok.
On the way to the top, up 300 steps, are many resting areas which are ornamented with a multitube of bells and gongs. As we visited it during Songkran, many locals were visiting it as a part of the traditional merit making practices that are performed during this holiday.
There’s a little shop in the wat that sells all sorts of refreshments. So, on a hot day, which are often in Bangkok, treat yourself to a cold ice cream once you reach the top!
Opening hours:9AM – 7PM
Ticket prices: 50 baht ($1.50USD)
Getting here: From Wat Pho, Wat Saket is a 30-minute walk, if you are up for it. Otherwise you can jump on bus 2, though somehow, this takes more time than walking. If you don’t mind paying a little more, you could also always jump into a taxi or tuk-tuk.
Getting Around on the Rivers
As we cruised down the Chao Phraya river, Bangkok’s main naval artery, we thought how it reminded us very much of Venice. Not 2 minutes later, in a new developing area on the river, was the bold statement, Bangkok: the Venice of the East!
One thing that we love about many cities (Venice, Bangkok and Brisbane to name a few we have recently visited) is when you can get around by ferry. This is certainly the case in Bangkok, and was a nice surprise. Although the waterways are quite polluted, they are also the living centres of the city. As we rode down one of the smaller rivers, we could see Thai families sitting on the edge of the river, preparing meals, eating together, or washing their dishes or clothes. These boat rides are a great way to see how every day life takes place in Bangkok.
From water taxis, to longboats, to river cruises, Bangkok has you covered if sailing down the river is your thing, whether for transportation, or for leisure. It is the main mode of transportation for the locals of Bangkok, and is quite affordable.
Check out this great reference if you plan on making your way anywhere via the river.
Opening hours:6AM – 7:30PM
Ticket prices: 10-15 baht ($0.50USD)
Patpong Night Market
If you are on the look out for some souvenirs, clothes, watches, or jewelry, the Patpong market is the place for you. This market has anything you need, shopping wise.
People often associate Asian shopping with fake Chanel bags and knock off Rolexes. While you can and will certainly be able to find those here, they do have some rather nice and quality local products as well.
Pro tip for you: like most anywhere in Thailand, bargain, bargain, bargain! The first price you are given by any vendor at the market will always be more than what the item is worth. Be respectful in your negotiations, if someone tries to sell you a watch for $100USD, don’t be insulting and offer him $30… Yes, they are trying to get as much as they can from tourists, and you can and should try to get a lower price, but they are most likely living a tougher situation than you, and trying to rob them is not the answer. The best bargains leave both parties happy with the price they agreed on.
Opening hours: 5PM – 1AM
Again, we were unfortunately not able to head to any of the floating markets in Bangkok, having only spent a few nights in this city. We do hear though that, given enough time to fit into your schedule, these are must-sees while in town, even if they are all kind off far away from the centre of Bangkok. None-the-less, here are the go to floating markets. Check at least one out!
- Damnoen Saduak Floating Market – Thailand’s best known and most touristy floating market. They mainly sell food and fruits. Just know it’s far (100 km outside Bangkok) and swarming with tourists, so it doesn’t feel “real” anymore. Make sure you get there early!
- Amphawa Floating Market – The second most famous market, and another touristy one. This one is slightly closer at 90km out of the city. Cute, fun and lined with little wooden houses, you can find anything from souvenirs to snacks ans sweets. Just make sure you get there early and leave around noon, before the other tourists show up.
- Talin Chan Floating Market – At 12km from the city centre, this is the most accessible market. It’s much smaller, but still has everything you’re looking for in a floating market. It’s also attached to a local market, so you can keep exploring.
- Khlong Lat Mayom Floating Market – Much smaller than the other markets, and mainly for locals, this is as authentic as they get. Although the main market itself is on solid ground, with only a few boats, here’s your chance to sample all kinds of fun sweets and fruits. It’s located just near Taling Chan Floating Market, so you can explore both in the same morning.
- Bang Nam Pheung Floating Market – The smallest of them all (with only a handful of boats), this market is situated near the city, in an area called “The Lung of Bangkok”. Even if it’s close, it’s still a bit of a trek to get to. It’s surrounded by trees and a mangrove which offer you some shade.
For more information on these markets, check out this great guide.
Pak Khlong Talat Flower Market
Ah, the flower market. This is where to go if you are looking for some beautiful flowers or just see hustle and bustle of local Thai businesses. It is the biggest flower market in Bangkok, and the cheapest place to find them. You can get anything you are looking for, from roses and orchids, to lilies and classic forget-me nots, and here you will find the best prices. Walk through this wonderful garden market and take in the smells and the sights, you won’t regret it.
Opening hours: Amazingly, this place is open 24 hours, but the best time to visit is just pre-dawn, when the vendors receive their flower deliveries. We won’t hold it against you if you decide to sleep in though, we sure did! We ended up going the day before Songkran, and it was still buzzing, well after 5pm.
Getting here:The flower market is right near Wat Pho, so if you are not already in the area taking in some epic temples, just jump on the ferry on the Chao Phraya river and get off at the Yodpiman stop.
Where to stay
When it comes to accommodations in Bangkok, there are plenty of offers, from budget-friendly to high-budget.
We were so happy to stay at Cloud on Saladaeng, especially since we were there for Songkran. Close enough to the action on Silom road and Lumpini park, but nestled away on a little street, so the party was never a bother. The helpful and friendly staff always made sure we knew what was going on so we didn’t miss a beat.
This beautifully designed hostel opened 3 months ago. Inspired by the Chinese family who used to live there, they have kept some of the charm of the old building, like the gate at the entrance and the dragon columns. You can really see the attention to detail that went into the design of this space. From the communal kitchen where breakfast was served every morning, to the living room where people would play on the game console, to the tables and mats set up in the hallways. Everything to get people talking to each other.
Ready to host travellers with a range of budgets, they have dorm rooms, private rooms with shared bathrooms and deluxe rooms with an ensuite. The rooms may not be big, but they are perfectly-sized and well thought out for the amount of people that they hold. We had a private room and it was cozy enough for us with plenty of room for our 2 backpacks. And don’t get us started on the bed! After spending countless nights on mattresses as hard as rocks, this bed was literally like sleeping on a cloud!
We loved this hostel so much. More hostels should actually follow some of the basic things Cloud on Saladaeng does to go above and beyond. Little things that add up to make a huge difference. From the free snacks available all the time, along with free drinking water and coffee, the kitchen and fridge that were open to our use, the showers that were equipped with shampoo and body wash, no detail was left unnoticed. Especially since most of these little things were good for the environment, we were hooked.
We could not recommend Cloud on Saladaeng any more! During Songkran or not, it’s well-situated, cozy, friendly and overall awesome! Like being on cloud 9 for a few days in the hustle and bustle of the Kingdom’s capital.
Where to Eat
Breakfast: The Good One hostel. We went to this lovely hostel for breakfast each morning we weren’t at Cloud. And couldn’t have been happier. The coffee was great, the food delicious, and best of all, for budget travellers like us, the price was right.
Lunch: Yai Yaa Kitchen. Our first afternoon in Bangkok was spent walking around and exploring, so once we built up a hunger, we stopped at this cozy little lunch spot on Silom Road. They had plenty of vegetarian options, which is a key for us, and again, the prices were very reasonable.
Supper: Taling Pling. We were treated for supper when we visited some friends from Montreal who were just starting their honeymoon. Nothing beats a big potluck style supper, and that’s what we had here. The variety was great. Again, there were quite a few vegetarian options, and everything left our mouths watering. While a tad more on the expensive side, if you are looking to treat yourself for an evening, Taling Pling won’t disappoint!
Quick eats: Holy Cheese! I mean, holy! When we travel to different countries, we love eating and discovering their local cuisine, but sometimes you miss some good old comfort food from back home. This eatery was just that. Nestled on the 4th floor of a mall near Lumphini park, the decadent use of cheese in the pulled pork sandwich that Derek had, mixed with the cheesy fries that we shared, was just the comfort we were looking for!
Street food/markets: Around any corner, you
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