What to See and Do in Bangkok

by  Melissa Klurman | Jan 16, 2020
Bangkok, Thailand
Bangkok, Thailand / Witthaya Prasongsin/iStock

As the world's most visited city, Bangkok has a reputation for being a frenetic urban center full of activity, a somewhat raucous backpacker paradise, and a bustling business destination. While this is all true, it's also a city of vast cultural highlights, mesmerizing golden temples, and awe-inspiring art. Here, you'll find unique food, culture, and architecture everywhere you look. Spend time on the Chao Phraya River and its winding tributaries, sample street food, attend a night market, have a cocktail at a rooftop bar, and enjoy all the multitudes of this fascinating destination. Here's everything to see, do, and explore when in Bangkok. 

Grand Palace 

Grand Palace / Sergey Lisitsyn/iStock

One of the city’s most famous landmarks, Grand Palace has been the home of Thailand’s royal family for 150 years. Today, the building is now part-museum, part-royal office building. Located within the complex is Wat Phra Kaew (the Temple of the Emerald Buddha) — the most important Buddhist temple in Thailand. Carved from a single block of emerald, the eponymous statue dates from the 15th century and may only be touched by the king.

Wat Arun

Wat Arun / davidionut/iStock

You can spot the golden spires of the “Temple of Dawn” glowing amid Bangkok’s modern skyscrapers; that’s by design, it’s not just the architecture that catches the eye, the inlay of shells and porcelain reflect the sunrise and sunset. If you're looking for the best photo opp of the magnificent structure, consider taking a dinner cruise or "khlong" (longboat) on the Chao Phraya River.

Wat Pho

Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho / f9photos/iStock

At 150 feet long, the Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho is one of the largest buddhas in the world. While it is an impressive site, be sure to leave extra time to relax in the landscaped gardens surrounding the temple. You can also get an incredible Thai massage here: the complex is home to the best massage school in the country. 

Jim Thompson House

Jim Thompson House / urf/iStock

Some call him the “Thai silk king,” others refer to him as an American businessman, and yet another group insists Jim Thompson was a secret operative with the CIA in the early 1960s. Whatever you believe, it’s true that the American-born intelligence officer (who was based in Thailand during WWII and settled in Bangkok) transformed the silk industry  by introducing handmade Thai silk to fashion houses around the world. Visit the house that Thompson assembled from six once-derelict Thai teak houses in 1959. Today, the home is filled with vintage Thai art and crafts and is beautifully preserved. Tour guides will tell you how Thompson reinvigorated the silk trade. You'll also learn about his mysterious disappearance in 1967, which has captivated conspiracy theorists for decades. If you love accessories, be sure to pick up a silk scarf or two before you leave.   

Where to Stay in Bangkok

The Anantara Riverside - guest room / Courtesy of the property

Anantara Riverside: The Anantara Riverside pulls off the seemingly impossible: an urban city stay that feels like a remote resort vacation. Set within 11 lush acres of palm trees and greenery fronting the Chao Phraya River, the property offers a massive outdoor pool with lounge chairs and an al fresco bar for tropical drinks that offer pristine river views. Indoors, elegant rooms have a contemporary Thai aesthetic and feature balconies, marble bathrooms with deep soaking tubs and rain showers, plus modern amenities like free wifi. The complimentary breakfast spills over from refrigerated offerings indoors, to action stations with Thai specialties covering the patio. It's worth a stay just to experience it. Rates from $127 per night, depending on the season. 

Hyatt Place Bangkok Sukhumvit: For luxe American comforts at low Thai prices, head to this well-situated property in the Sukhumvit neighborhood; it's a short walk from the Emporium shopping mall. Rooms are equipped with a flat-screen HDTV and high-speed wifi, as well as luxury bedding, towels, and toiletries. Don't miss the rooftop bar and lounge, which offers sweeping city views. Rates from $82 per night (includes breakfast), depending on the season. 

Hyatt Place Bangkok Sukhumvit / Courtesy of the property

Mercure Bangkok Makkasan: A short walk from Makkasan Station, the city’s largest transit station (MRT), this property offers easy access to Terminal 21, Platinum Fashion Mall, the Grand Palace, Wat Arun, Wat Pho, Chatuchak Market (weekends only), and the airport. The Mercure’s sleek, modern rooms are outfitted with Smart TVs, free wifi, and city center views. The main draw here is the rooftop pool, which offers panoramic city views. The property also has several bars and restaurants as well as a gym and meeting rooms. Rates from $53 per night, depending on the season.

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