“But it’s a backpacker city,” we hear you say. Sure, the frenetic Thai capital’s reputation as a backpacking Mecca was formed years before Dicaprio’s snake-blood-laced wander down Khaosan Road, while its exotic lure conjures rough and ready wanderlust of the highest order. But there’s far more hidden amongst the Southeast Asian heat than cheap drinks and five-buck hostels.
Bangkok’s streets are arguably the greatest culinary destination on the planet, its temples are second to none, and it’s home to a wealth of luxurious hotels and spas capable of satisfying the pickiest of high-end travelers.
But the true joy of Bangkok lies in its contradictions. Sparkling mega-malls sit shoulder-to-shoulder with quaint centuries-old markets and picturesque canals, while the endless barrage of clubs and bars sit opposite ancient Buddhist shrines.
No city rewards the adventurer more.
Welcome to Bangkok.
5 things you can’t miss in Bangkok
Go temple hunting
Despite being a modern city, it’s impossible to ignore Bangkok’s fascinating history. The chaos of the bustling urban sprawl is punctuated by vibrant temples (or Wats), including some of the oldest in Thailand. The assortment of religious sites appeals to even the less culturally inclined, as everyone can appreciate their beauty.
Most visitors will find themselves at Bangkok’s famous Grand Palace. It’s within these magnificent grounds that you can visit Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), one of Thailand’s most important and most sacred temples.
One of the city’s most incredible temples is Wat Arun, located right on the Chao Phraya river. Its stunning central tower, or prang, is a dramatic piece of the Bangkok skyline and one of the most recognizable landmarks in Thailand. The Buddhist temple has been there for centuries and is the perfect place to glimpse into the religious lives of the locals. For an unbelievable sunset, head across the river and enjoy the tower’s reflection on the water.
Sail away with a bargain at a floating market
One of the most uniquely Asian activities you can find in Bangkok is a trip to one of its amazing floating markets. These picturesque hives of energy are exactly what they sound like — markets where vendors set up in gondola-like boats. Visitors can hop on their own water taxi and browse a wide variety of wares on show.
There are a number of different markets found within the canals of Bangkok. Some of the most popular spots are much further out from the city and will need to be a day trip, while others are easier to get to but less touristic.
The most popular is Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, which falls about an hour outside the city. It’s the oldest market in the region and the perfect place to experience everything they offer. It can get busy, which sometimes adds to the fun, but is also extremely touristy, so prices will be higher and you’ll find less of a local atmosphere. It’s still impressive and worth it for the food alone.
For a different option, try Amphawa Market. Although tourists are starting to head their way, Amphawa offers a different vibe. Seafood is the main attraction, and it’s also open later, meaning you can experience it after dark.
Hit up Khao San Road
If you’re a backpacker, there’s a good chance you’ll be staying here. For everyone else, Khao San Road is a must, just to soak up the atmosphere and maybe relive your younger days.
At its core, Khao San is a small street packed with bars, hostels, clubs, restaurants, and hawker stalls. Backpackers were drawn to its rock-bottom prices years ago, and vendors peddling cliched tourist experiences quickly followed.
A wander down the road is an all-out assault on the senses. Expect to be handed fried scorpion, ludicrous drink deals, and an all-around good time. The food is excellent too. There are also plenty of stores and stalls to barter for souvenirs before you head home. It might be your favorite place in the city; it might be your worst nightmare. Either way, you need to swing by. Who knows where the night will take you.
Participate in the world’s largest water fight
If you visit Bangkok in April, don’t be alarmed if you get hosed down by a water gun.
The water crossfire is how the Thai celebrate Songkran, otherwise known as Thai New Year. For a few days of the year, people take to the streets to soak strangers and friends with water. Buddhists believe that a sprinkle of water can wash away bad luck and sins but after many years, people have made the tradition a full on super-soaker event.
So make sure you wear waterproof shoes and maybe some goggles.
Catch a boxing match
What was once part of Thailand’s military training regime is now the country’s very popular national sport: Muay Thai.
The full contact sport is a sight to behold with elbows and shins even allowed in this version of boxing. The sport is so beloved by locals that Bangkok is overflowing with boxing arenas.
Also, be sure to arrive on time. The match rituals begin well before the first punch has been thrown. Before the match, you can experience Wai Khru, which is how fighters pay respect to their trainers. There is also Ram Muay which gives fighters the chance to get the crowd amped up by showing off their skills.