Top 10 Things To Do In Bangkok For First Time Visitors
By Zarut Suriyaarunroj, Edited by Holly Stark
Known for its vibrant street life, ornate shrines and animated markets, the capital of Thailand is an explosive modern metropolis, and an endlessly fascinating city for first time visitors to explore. There are plenty of things to do in Bangkok at night, during the day, with kids or alone. Each area of the city offers a different vibe and native Bangkokian, Zarut, is eager to explain the top local things to do for newcomers beyond Bangkok’s main attractions, from must try foods to must see spots. As a café hopper, spa enthusiast and avid shopper, Zarut has the top spots for getting to know the best of Bangkok. So if you’re new to the area, check out these tips from a local and enjoy the top things to do in Bangkok, Thailand.
From luxury department stores to wallet-friendly markets, Bangkok is a paradise for shopping. As a keen shopper, my perfect day in Bangkok will always involve shopping. You can find virtually anything among the city’s various vendors, stores and malls. For budget-conscious travellers looking for a twist on standard western brands, electronics and clothes, try MBK, one of Asia’s oldest shopping malls. For a more traditional shopping experience, relish in the vibrancy of Chinatown; find shoes at Balanna Plaza, gold at Yaowarat Road and spices and food at Balanna Plaza. For less frugal travellers, the 8-story mall Central World offers luxury brands as well as more affordable clothes and accessories. It’s open daily from 10am to 10pm and even has an ice rink!
Eat Authentic Thai Food
Thai Food also contributes to my ideal day and is without a doubt one of the top things to do in Bangkok alone, with friends or with children. Bangkok is abundant in places for dining out, at any time of the day, and new restaurants are constantly popping up. Whether it’s a Thai breakfast in historic Bankrak, a sit down red cashew curry and sticky mango rice meal, or a fast and delicious floating street food feast, the Thai food scene will leave your plate empty, stomach full and heart happy. Make sure to sample small portions, and don’t fill up all in one place as there’s so much to try. While you can find food here all day, Bangkok is a city that never sleeps and comes alive in the evening when people come out to eat. Sampling the city’s diverse food offering is the perfect introduction to Thai culture.
Wat Pho Buddha
The Wat Pho or “Temple of the Reclining Buddha,” is one of Thailand’s most attractive, oldest and largest wats (temples), home to more than 1,000 Buddha images and an iconic 46-metre long gold-plated Buddha image. The image, named Phra Phuttha Saiyat, was built during the reign of King Rama III in early 1800’s and depicts the Buddha in the last moments of life on earth, passing into final Nirvana after death. There are few photos of it since it is simply so huge. In order to fully appreciate its beauty, it must be experienced in person. The temple complex holds the title as the country’s earliest centre for public education, specialising in religion, literature, science and traditional Thai medicine and massage. The Wat Pho is in the old Rattanakosin area on the East bank of the Chao Phraya river, adjoining the Grand Palace on Thanon Chetuphon and is accessible via a Chao Phraya express river boat or a short walk from Tha Tien Pier. The temple complex is one of the best attractions in Bangkok and is open from 8:00 am til 6:30 pm daily, with a lunch break from noon until 1:00 pm. Admission is 100 Thai Baht per person.
Traditional Thai Massage works in accordance with the Ayurvedic principles of balancing one's energy. It is a great way to either unwind after a long day exploring or start your day feeling grounded and invigorated. The treatment focuses on pressure points, rhythmic compressions and manoeuvres, often starting with the feet and gradually moving upwards to the head. Through varying amounts of pressure applied to energy lines along the body, the massage can relieve deep muscle tension and relax and realign energies. Like Tai Chi and Yoga, Traditional Thai Massage is as much a moving meditation as it is a massage. As perhaps one of the more unusual things to do in Bangkok, it really is not to be missed. Asia Herb Association offer a complete, luxury spa experience without a crazy price tag. Choose from massages, body treatments, facials and more. Alternatively, enjoy your treatment at the birthplace of traditional Thai massage, Wat Pho. Massages are 420 Thai Bhat per hour. If you are keen to learn more, take a course here; a 5-day introduction or a 5-week professional Thai massage therapy course.
Due to the vast network of canals and waterways, Bangkok and its surrounding area was formerly known as the Venice of the East. Locals relied on canals for transportation and people began to sell things directly from their boats, assembling in certain areas to hold floating boat markets. Visiting a floating market has become one of the top things to do in Bangkok – and is loved by local Thais and tourists alike! If you love food and experiencing the colours and smells of a new country, you won’t be disappointed. Head to any of the canal markets in and around Bangkok, such as Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, Amphawa Floating Market, Taling Chan Floating Market and Khlong Lat Mayom Floating Market, and you’ll find a wealth of juicy, exotic fruits, sweet and savoury Thai snacks, and hot dishes made to order.
Like many locals, I spend my weekends café hopping, where I eat, drink, enjoy the vibe and get the perfect photo of signature drinks, latte art, savoury snacks, sweets and ice cream. Believed to be the most delicious and popular Thai drink, Cha Yen or Thai iced tea is a must try; an orange, milky, and tasty traditional tea that often wins over many tourists’ hearts. It is brewed with tea leaves and then mixed with condensed milk to add its milky and sweet flavour. Visit Cha Tra Mue which opened in 1945 starting out of Chinatown kiosk focusing on imported teas like Oolong and Green, before switching its main offering in favour of the classic Thai staple. Now, there are 18 kiosks citywide, including several stations and megamalls like Central World.
The Grand Palace
Construction of the Grand Palace began in 1782 and, after its completion, it served as a residence for the Royal Family until 1925. Now, it’s used for important religious and royal functions and is rarely closed. You’ll find yourself in awe of the architecture, artworks, carvings and detailed adornments around the place. It has a special place in my heart and makes me so proud to be Thai. The Grand Palace is a sacred place, therefore there is a strict dress code in place. This means skirts and trousers covering the knees and shirts covering the shoulders. The Chao Phraya Express Boat is a fun and easy way to get there, while enjoying great views of Bangkok and avoiding traffic. Catch the Chao Phraya Express Boat to either Tha Tien Pier on the Southern End of the Palace or to Tha Chang Pier on the Northern end of the Palace. Under ordinary circumstances, the Grand Palace is open daily from 8.30am until 3.30pm. The Grand Palace is a must for any first-time visitor.
Visit Chatuchak weekend market, one of the world’s largest weekend markets. Despite being named a weekend market, the market is open to locals and visitors on Saturdays and Sundays from 09:00am to 6:00pm, and Fridays from 6:00pm to midnight. Plant sections are also open on Wednesdays and Thursdays, from 07:00am to 6:00pm. The market covers 35 acres and is home to 8000 stalls, with vendors selling local crafts like antique wood carvings and chests, clay handicrafts, bespoke Buddhist amulets, hand-made decorated flowers and ceramic wares. Here you can easily spend a few hours, finding everything from vintage Levi’s jeans to pythons, as well as delicious, traditional Thai food and tea. Choose from herby noodle soup or Somtum papaya salad.
As the sun sets on Bangkok, the city transforms into one of the liveliest capitals in Southeast Asia. It’s a sensory overload for most; dazzling lights, an explosion of sound and dancing in the streets. If that’s not your thing, there are rooftop bars and tucked away pubs with a cosier, less electrifying vibe. Bangkok has a carefree atmosphere and is probably most known for its nightlife. Dance on the streets at Khao San Road, then finish your night with a delicious Pad Thai or Roti. Head to Sukhumvit for glamorous rooftop bars, like Octave, a laid-back lounge where you can have a fancy dinner and be amazed by a 360-degree view of Bangkok.
If you need a breath away from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok life, head to a sanctuary of trees, lakes, walkways, wildflowers, shrubs, monuments and people picnicking on the lawns, playing instruments, practicing tai chi and jogging. Lumphini Park offers a rare, green, open space within the city’s concrete jungle. Hire a paddle boat on the boating lake or take a wander and soak up the tranquillity that 142 acres of parkland has to offer away from the busy markets. The park is the oldest and largest of Bangkok's open spaces and was opened in the 1920s by King Rama VI. Access is free, but it’s best to go on a weekday for a quieter experience. The name "Lumpini" is taken from the birthplace of Buddha in the Rupendehi district of Nepal where he is said to have grown up and lived until the age of 29.