If you’ve never been to the Thai capital before or need any excuse to go back, check out these unmissable Bangkok attractions.
Think of a popular city beloved by travellers everywhere, and we usually envision somewhere like London, New York or Tokyo. But in 2017, the world’s most popular destination, by a long shot, was Bangkok. It welcomed a staggering 20.5million visitors, while New York only reached 13 million.
Explore the list below to find out what makes the Thai capital so popular, as well as some of the best places to visit in Bangkok.
1. Desserts as Playful as They are Delicious
Thais don’t miss a chance to embrace joy — particularly when it comes to desserts. You can safely say the Thais have an insatiable sweet tooth, and in Bangkok in particular, there’s no shortage of fun desserts. Like luem gluen, a custard-like dish whose name literally translates to “I forgot I swallowed”. Chefs smoke the dish with incense to add complex flavour. When it comes to inventiveness marrying tradition, luem gluen counts as one of the best foods in Bangkok.
2. Neighbourhoods with Heart
Many tourists visit Wat Pho, snap a few pictures and leave. But this temple is just one site on the famed Rattanakosin Island. Once the heart of the Rattanakosin Kingdom in the 18th and 19th century, today the Old Town is a hub of historical and cultural sites, museums, cafés and shops. If you’re making a list of where to go in Bangkok, this area should be on it.
One highlight is Charm-Learn Studio, which offers a range of fun classes. Should you be planning your itinerary of things to do in Bangkok in three days and want to give your trip some structure, enroll in your choice of a range of workshops, from ceramics-making to photography, fabric-dyeing and painting.
The second place of particular interest is pure indulgence. Tonchabab Record Shop is a vinyl lover’s dream. The owner has been collecting records for over 30 years, so you can spend hours leafing through years of musical history.
3. Immersive Greenery in the Middle of Town
Picture Bangkok sightseeing and you’ll probably envision placid pagodas or markets humming with energy. What you might not know is that Bangkok also boasts a swathe of greenery just minutes from the business district. Bang Krachao is rightly known as the city’s green lung (it’s even shaped sort of like a lung, seen from above), which is why it’s often found on lists of Bangkok tourist attractions.
The small peninsula, located in a curve of the Chao Phraya river, feels like stepping through a portal out of the city. You’ll smell the sweet aroma of banana plantations and lush jungle, as you stroll through picturesque villages — all within sight of Bangkok’s skyscraper-filled skyline.
Tip: this area is so large that it’s worth renting a bicycle to explore. Luckily there are plenty of places in Bang Krachao where you can pick up wheels. The famed Bang Namphuen floating market is also nearby, so it’s worth combining these two activities.
4. Statues with Stories
Many people visit the grounds of the Grand Palace in Bangkok without exploring its famed royal chapel. You might know the temple complex of Wat Phra Kaew by another name: the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. This Buddha is one of the most famous relics in all of Thailand. While this statue sits quite small at 66 centimetres in height, it holds great ceremonial power. In fact, only high-ranking members of the royal family are allowed to touch it.
Three times a year, a royal respectfully dresses the figure in garments befitting the time of year. There’s a reason this effigy is treated with such reverence: it is said that the prosperity of Thailand depends on the Emerald Buddha. Do note that this sacred site strictly enforces its dress code, so wear modest clothing and trousers.
Three Other Sights to Catch at Wat Phra Kaew:
You might see people praying for the health of their loved ones in front of a smiling statue dubbed The Healer. This bronze piece shows the likeness of a famed hermit and medicine man, often surrounded by offerings such as lotus flowers, incense and fruit
As with many temples in Bangkok, you may also catch sight of Thais rubbing the smooth foreheads of the elephant statues here, an act thought to bring good luck
What is a model of Angkor Wat, one of the most sacred sites in Cambodia, doing on the grounds? It stems from a time when a Thai king wanted the entire structure transferred to Bangkok. Once he learned of the immensity of the task, he settled for a miniature — but still impressive — model
5. An “Eat Anywhere, Anytime” Culture
Many people ask where to eat in Bangkok. The short answer is: everywhere. Bangkok has embraced the ability to snack anywhere, anytime — from coconut stalls attached to motorbike sidecars, to floating markets and night markets. It may seem obvious, but no Bangkok visit is complete without a visit to Chatuchak, said to be the world’s largest weekend market.
6. Artistry in the Most Unexpected Places
Fine dining in Bangkok can easily incorporate fine art, too. Recognising that food can be art, Thais are proudly continuing a tradition of carving fruit into elaborate shapes (thought to have started by chefs for the country’s royal family). You can see this craftsmanship on display at the Sofitel So Bangkok, and even learn how to do it at the Bangkok Thai Cooking academy.
7. Temples in Bangkok with a Pop Culture Twist
Wat Pho and the Reclining Buddha in Bangkok are must-visit traditional sites for any first-time traveller. But if you’re a returning visitor, there are still some surprises. Case in point: Wat Pariwat, lovingly nicknamed the “David Beckham Temple”. While it looks old-school at first glance, this temple complex features carvings not just of deities, but of A-listers like Pikachu, Wonder Woman — even a bare-chested Barack Obama.
And yes, the eagle-eyed should be able to spot David Beckham in there. Legend has it the footballer occupies pride of place because the temple’s head monk was a huge fan of the megastar. Ask your hotel concierge about the best time to visit, as opening hours can vary.
8. A Photo Op at Every Corner
Chatuchak market might be the household name when it comes to shopping in Bangkok, but if you want to experience a more intriguing “working” bazaar, pop by Pratunam Market. This sprawling site is host to wholesale sellers, which means big ranges and low prices. It also means that many of the vendors treat their stall as an office, factory and eating spot. You’ll find people powering through a set of sewing over their machine, negotiating furiously with colleagues, swapping gossip or taking a well-deserved nap.
All of that makes for a fantastic place not just to haggle over a t-shirt or even a fancy-dress costume, but also to simply people-watch. And if the sights and sounds get too much, walk over a nearby footbridge. Here you will find a Bangkok shopping mall perfect for refreshing your wardrobe: Platinum Fashion Mall. Apart from a more organised air-conditioned layout (you can peruse men’s, children’s and women’s sections in turn), you can also tuck into a recharging snack at the food centre.
Tip: die-hard shopaholics should book into the Novotel Bangkok Platinum Pratunam, perched at the top of Platinum Fashion Mall and only a short walk from Pratunam Market. And if your children need a break they can enjoy the hotel’s children’s club, complete with a play area and video games.
9. A Love of Home Cooking
Every meal tastes better when you can share it with your nearest and dearest. Which is why Thais sensibly believe that eating alone brings bad fortune. Knowing that, it’s time to combine good luck and luscious flavours by heading to The Table By Chef Pam with your friends and family. The Thai-Aussie chef will serve you at her own house, blending Eastern and Western flavours to perfection. Pam has worked in a three-Michelin-star restaurant and hosted her own cooking show, so it’s no surprise that many are calling this one of the top restaurants in Bangkok.
Tip: this spot is deservedly popular, so reserve at least a month ahead (minimum six guests per reservation).