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Your guide to Southeast Asia's most exciting city
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July 7, 2022 | View OnlineSign Up

“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.

| FUN FACTS

That’s a mouthful

While the rest of the world knows the Thai capital as Bangkok, its local name is significantly different…and is far longer.


Its real and full name is “Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayutthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Phiman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit”


This translates roughly to “The city of angels, the great city, the residence of the Emerald Buddha, the impregnable city (of Ayutthaya) of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarn.”


I think you can skip this one in the Thai phrases book.

| KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

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Save a buck — avoid the Tuk-Tuk (or don’t)

As strange as it may seem, tuk-tuks in Bangkok are generally more expensive than a metered taxi or ride-hailing service. The little covered trikes are constantly darting around the main tourist haunts in the city, and visitors usually view them as a bucket-list item on a Thailand itinerary. And they definitely should be! They’re awesome and a novel way to get around the city.


But once you’ve had your fill, if you’re trying to hold onto your money, a taxi or Grab (Southeast Asia’s answer to Uber) will serve you better.

AC is a luxury

Chilling in the mall might not be the Thailand trip you had in mind, but after a few days in the sweltering heat, the freezing cold AC of these mega shopping centers (or the local 711) will start to feel like desert oases. You’ll soon find that the malls are as much of a cultural experience as anything else you do. They’re the local hangout.


When you don’t have the shelter of the malls, make sure to keep hydrated. You’ll likely have a perma-sweat dripping down your brow as the average temperatures linger in the high nineties. Light clothing is a must, and please don’t forget your sunblock—every damn day.

Scan for scams

As with any major tourist city, scams can be a regular occurrence. Most of the time, it’s simply a matter of getting charged the tourist price for a souvenir. But some are a bit more predictable.

If you choose to hail one of Bangkok’s many taxis instead of using the Grab app, ask your driver to use the meter. Taxis are required by law to use the meter, but many will first try to charge tourists an inflated flat rate. If your driver refuses, politely decline the ride and exit the vehicle.

One of the city’s most common scams can be found right outside major attractions like the Grand Palace. A friendly tuk-tuk driver will inform you that, unfortunately, the attraction is closed for a local holiday. But don’t worry — he knows of an even better temple to go see and is willing to take you there. Just say no thanks and move on. These tuk-tuk drivers receive payment for “making a quick stop” and bringing tourists to worthless gem shops or suit stores, where they're pressured to buy something.


If your attraction really is closed, you can find out for yourself at the entrance or check online.

In most situations, you’ll find Thai people to be as nice as advertised. But just remember, no one is that nice.

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| THINGS TO DO

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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.


If that whets your appetite for temples, this temple walking tour hits all the hightlights above, plus Wat Pho’s famous giant reclining Buddha.

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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.

| WHERE TO STAY

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All the luxury, none of the guilt

The joy of Southeast Asia, when visiting from places like the US or Europe, is often seeing just how far your money can go. It’s not unusual to find a five-star hotel at a price comparable to a small-town Hampton Inn in the US. Bangkok is certainly no exception to this rule, offering high-end dwellings to cheap hostels costing just a few bucks a night.


Here’s our pick of the bunch.

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Our Top Pick: The Siam Hotel Bangkok

Bangkok, Thailand
$$$ | See inside

The Siam is breathtaking from the get-go. A uniquely luxurious property like this would cost an arm and a leg if dropped into Manhattan. The building itself is sleek, and the rooms have everything you could want, but it’s the service and amenities that set the Siam apart.


Rooms come with butler service, a smartphone, breakfast, and use of the hotel riverboat. On-site amenities include a gym with Muay Thai classes, a movie theater, sunset dinner cruises, and, remarkably, the opportunity to receive a traditional sak yant tattoo. Rooms go as low as $350.

Book Your Stay

Other Top Picks

| WHERE TO EAT

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Produce over everything

Picking a favorite Thai dish is akin to picking a favorite child. The culinary tradition in Bangkok and the country as a whole is utterly sensational. Humble street food in Thailand has changed many a westerner’s life (culinary speaking), and there are few places where it’s held with the same regard as the up-scale eateries associated with fine dining.


Our best advice: Hit up a few night markets with a list of must-try dishes. Go back the next night and try a different dish or a different version of the same one. Some dishes to look out for include: gaeng keow wan (green curry); pad kra pow, a beloved stir-fried dish; and of course, some of Thailand's famous mango sticky rice for dessert.

Our Top Pick: Jai Fai

Bangkok, Thailand
Menu

Nowhere highlights the wonders of Thai street food like Jai Fai. The tiny streetside restaurant is named for its cook, a 74-year-old, goggle-wearing wokmaster, whose simple Thai dishes have earned her a Michelin star four years running and several Netflix appearances.


The star of the show is certainly the iconic crab omelet, but the rest of the menu is just as appetizing, including her Pad See Ew and Thai drunken noodles. Unfortunately, because the restaurant has been featured in multiple cooking shows, its popularity has soared. Be prepared to wait or try and get a reservation. 

Grab a seat

The Best of the Rest

| WHAT ELSE IS HAPPENING IN BANGKOK

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