Best things to do in Bangkok, Thailand
Bangkok is often mentioned, but it is definitely not boring. It’s a barrage of honking motorbikes, burning coals from a grill strewn with satés, tuk-tuk drivers waving you in, and the endless sweat pouring down your brow. This is a typical day in Bangkok, and yes, it’s well worth the famously long flight.
Krung Thep Maha Nakhon, also known as Bangkok, has been Thailand’s capital since 1782. Today it’s an eclectic mix of backpackers, working expats, retirees and friendly locals and is one of the greatest cosmopolitan cities in the world. It covers the gamut of dining on plastic stools, white linen tablecloths, and sleek rooftop bars (yup, even the dress code and $20 cocktails).
But the heart of Bangkok is still the Chao Phraya River. It meanders through the city like the prehistoric monitor lizards paddling through its murky waters. On both sides are some of the city’s glitzy malls and premier hotels, from the brand new Capella to the legendary Mandarin Oriental (which was a hotel when Thailand was called Siam).
In the years before the pandemic, Thailand was one of the most popular travel destinations. In 2019, Bangkok welcomed nearly 26 million tourists with a hearty “Sawadeeka!” and a pint of Singha. Now that the country is fully open to foreign travelers again, you can see the sights without the photo-bombing selfie sticks and claustrophobic crowds. Here’s what to do in Bangkok.
Slurp up some street food
Do you see a long line? A sea of knees crowding plastic stools? Eat there, trust us. Bangkok is one of the best street food capitals, no doubt about it, and the seemingly endless options are overwhelming.
If you only have time for one (but don’t make that mistake – make time for many), head to Bangkok Queen’s Street Food, Jay Fai. You will stand in line with many other tourists for over an hour and pay a lot more money than any other street food, but listen to me – it’s worth it. Their signature crab omelet is packed with huge chunks of crab and that slightly smoky, perfectly seared flavor that only a piping-hot wok and skillful hands can deliver.
Skip the Pad Thai at the Super Famous Thipsamai next door. They have massively expanded their street stall into a full blown restaurant and unfortunately the quality isn’t there anymore. Instead, go with a green curry that might as well have been stirred by gods themselves. In a small alleyway in Chinatown you will see a sign for Jek Pui Rice Curry. Arrive around 4 or 5pm to secure a bowl (they run out quickly).
When you need a massive chili hit, Phed Mark is the spot. Started by a group of friends arguing about the best Pad Kra Prao in town, they decided to make their own with all the elements they love. Near Ekkamai BTS station, this humble counter serves pad kra prao with beef and pork to suit your spice threshold (don’t be a hero, go for medium).
Continue to Chinatown
This is where the cool kids hang out. Soi Nana is home to seven tiny, hidden bars, most notably gin-centric Teens of Thailand, creating some of the city’s most unique cocktails and Instagram-worthy dining (Wallflowers is pretty dreamy). And on the outskirts of Chinatown, the gang makes some of the city’s tastiest curries at high-society back-alley hangout Charmgang.
The neighborhood is a convenient, centrally located place to spend the night as well. Like many things in Thailand The Mustang Blue Hotel was made for “the gram”. The downstairs cafe is often way too crowded with people taking photos of their cakes piled high, but the upstairs is full of reclaimed retro spaces. Also back on Soi Nana, above the popular Chinese home cooking restaurant ba hao, are some stylish Airbnbs for rent. If you love nightlife, this is one of the best places in town to base yourself.
Board a boat
Hopping on a river boat is one of the best ways to see Bangkok. Manohra Cruises departs as the sun sets and the temple lights twinkle. Manohra Cruises is one of the fancier options and the best bang for your buck (unless you want one of those huge, EDM-shuddering boats for the crowds). Indulge in fantastic Thai dishes as Wat Arun floats by.
If cruising is your thing, the Loy Pela is an exceptional experience. This former rice barge has been converted into a four-bedroom riverboat with marble bathrooms and all-inclusive service (yup, alcohol too). There are three overnight cruises to choose from, allowing you to visit famous landmarks with a private guide along the river.
Sip a few beers and schnapps
Thailand’s craft beer scene has expanded well beyond Singha. Take a car to Koh Kret island to enjoy local beers from Chitbeer. If you don’t feel like hiking, try Hair Of The Dog or MASH.
If cocktails are more your mood, Bangkok has four bars List of the 50 best bars in Asia. A fun night and a rough morning are pretty much guaranteed at Tiki-Style tropical city and elegant Vesper bar. Try it for a more relaxed evening BKK social clubranked the best bar in Bangkok, or bamboo poleserves smooth martinis and even smoother jazz.
Stroll through the temples
There are tens of thousands of temples in Thailand, and in Bangkok they are often the most peaceful places to spend a late afternoon.
Remember to cover your shoulders and knees and remove your shoes before entering any of these Buddhist sites. Although there are too many choices, prioritize Wat Arun, Wat Pho and Wat Phra Kaew, also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.
Where to stay in Bangkok
Bangkok’s hotel scene is having a moment. In recent years, big names like The Four Seasons and Kimpton have emerged from this concrete jungle. But none expected more than Capella Bangkok. As the only riverfront hotel with villas and individual plunge pools, it doesn’t feel like a big city hotel; in fact, it’s insanely peaceful. All clad in marble, natural tones, and a luxe spa make it hard to beat.
Down the river is the oldest hotel in Thailand. What was once The Oriental was bought by Mandarin Oriental and impeccably renovated in 2019, just before the pandemic. It’s sleek and chic, with thoughtful Thai accents. The best part? The service at Mandarin Oriental can’t be beat. Don’t ask me how, but the waiters know your coffee order before you even ask.
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