Bangkok is a dynamic city where your senses will be overloaded and the hustling and bustle can sometimes feel overwhelming. Discovering this vast metropolis in just a few days would be impossible, but if you’re pressed for time and you don’t want to spend your time reading guidebooks check out this local guide. With off the beaten path, non-touristy things to do that the locals really love, you’ll discover the real Bangkok in no time.
MBK & Siam Centre
To any western travelers trying to escape chain stores and materialism, going to a mall may seem counterintuitive. But the reality is that Bangkok is considered the hottest city in the world because it does not cool down, even at night. This means that locals spend a lot of their time hanging out in large supermalls that genuinely do have everything you could want to make your day or night exciting, including escape rooms, bars, restaurants, cinemas, tiers and labyrinths of retail shopping, and even art exhibits (at Siam Centre) and a Muay Thai boxing arena at MBK. If you enjoy bargain shopping or haggling for knock-off designer products then I suggest stopping first at MBK.
Cycle around Bang Krachao Island
Bangkok is quite unrelentingly urban, to the point that it’s almost impossible to move around without hiring at least a Tuk-tuk. However, if you would like a bit of greenery without actually leaving the city limits, I suggest taking a day trip to Bangkok's Bang Krachao island, which is a man-made island in the middle of the Chao Praya River that runs through the city. While the island is technically large enough to support its own local neighborhood, it feels worlds away from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok city center. What’s even better is this is possibly the only place in the city where you can safely cycle around at a leisurely pace. Little bike paths that run alongside pretty canals connect the whole island. For only 70 baht you can rent a bike for the day and enjoy the highlights of Bang Krachao, including the famously delicious floating market.
Visit a night market
Speaking of markets, one thing every Bangkok local will assuredly do is visit the night markets which are plentiful, enormous and spread all across the town. The most well-known night market in Bangkok is the centrally located Patpong. But unless you want a convincingly fake handbag I would suggest visiting the more locally loved markets like Chang Chui Bangkok Plane Market. This market is my personal favourite because it blends art installations and exhibits into the hubbub, the most iconic feature being the giant discarded jet plane that sits right in the market’s heartland. Even if you don’t find anything you want to buy, the exotic foods, quirky stalls and unusual bric-a-brac make the experience of visiting the night market unexpectedly exhilarating.
Visit the airplane graveyard
Bangkok has some mysteries that don’t have a simple explanation, perhaps that is why it is so easy to love it. One example is the airplane graveyard where for only 300 baht you can roam freely and even climb all over the broken-down and abandoned planes. More bizarrely, the site used to be free of charge but a local family took up residence in one of the now-defunct airplane hangers on the property and have padlocked the gate, charging tourists for entry to the park. While the planes are covered with graffiti and bits of rusty metal, it nonetheless makes for a pretty excellent Instagram picture to sit at the top of the double-decker plane.
Watch Muay Thai Boxing
One of the most exciting things you can do in Bangkok is to witness firsthand a Muay Thai boxing match. While die-hard fans will tell you to go to Lumpinee stadium which is unsurpassed worldwide for more serious boxing matches with the best players if you’re like me and you don’t really know anything about the sport then I suggest going to Rajadamnern instead. More fun if only because you can bring food and drinks into the stadium and there are a host of interesting “additional entertainment shows” which are delightfully strange and surprising. For me the best part is that the locals go absolutely nuts for it and so it is hard not to get swept up in the experience.
Visit Ancient Siam
About 30 minutes outside of the city center is a complete reconstruction of what ancient Bangkok would have looked like and how it would have been laid out in a gloriously rendered park that can be explored on foot, by bike, golf cart, or through a booked tour in an air-conditioned van (the park is around 200 acres). The price of admittance to the park is 500 baht and is definitely worth it as this is a full day’s experience with many sites to explore and beautiful gardens and history to enjoy. The park was conceived in 1964, by Thai history lover Lek Viriyaphant who wanted to ensure that Bangkok locals could visualize their rich history with his “outdoor museum.” The park is fully equipped with restaurants and toilet facilitates.
Discover the Coffee Houses
While exploring my area I happened upon a coffee shop called Flow, down Song Prang Alley. I remember the shop took me off guard because it was styled a lot like a European or Australian café. It was completely empty save for me and the owners who were two Bangkok born, Melbourne raised Thai guys who had a passion for well-made coffee and ambiance. They told me their coffee shop was actually part of a burgeoning coffee culture that has taken Bangkok by storm, and suggested I try Roots, which is a very trendy and established coffee shop in Sukhumvit (Bangkok’s hipster neighbourhood). Whether you’re looking for an international workspace like me or just in need of a high-quality coffee fix, tapping into Bangkok’s coffee scene is a must for any off-the-beat tourist list.
Like MBK & Siam Centre, Terminal 21 is also a mall but what makes it special is that every floor is themed after international cities from around the world. This makes visiting the mall a bit like a trip to Disney’s Epcot, except there are no rides save the many towering and vertigo inducing escalators. Terminal 21 has six main floors themed on Tokyo, Paris, London, Istanbul, San Francisco and Rome. My local friend in the city insisted on specifically showing me the lavatories of each “country,” and after visiting each loo I can safely say they are worth the visit. The London loo is accessed through a tube train, while the Roman toilet feels like you’re headed for a Roman bath. Bathroms aside, the rest of the mall is equally exciting, with many international shops reflecting their respective representative cities.
Sri Maha Mariamman Temple
If you want to branch out from visiting the many Buddhist temples around Bangkok, I suggest going to Sri Maha Mariamman which is the city’s biggest Hindu temple. Many local Thai people who do not consider themselves to be Hindu still visit the temple regularly as they do not consider Hinduism to be separate to Buddhism. The temple is fascinating architecturally and historically, being established after India became a British colony in the 1800s when many Indians migrated to Thailand, which was never colonised. The temple has many interesting stalls nearby that sell incense and other specialised products.
Learn to cook like a Local
A cooking class is an enjoyable and tasty way to spend a few hours in Bangkok. It costs around 20 pounds for three hours and you get to learn how to make an appetizer, a main dish and a dessert , or if you are more partial to savoury foods, you can option for two appetizers and one main dish. I chose Silon Thai Cooking School for my experience, which was located down a very suspect alleyway but the food was incredible so it is worth the trek. A Thai cooking class is especially rewarding because there are little tricks that the traditional cook books can’t teach you and can only be learned in person, plus it is an excellent way to spend quality time with local Thais and enjoy the traditions of Thai culinary magic.
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