Thailand is a visually compelling country even by the high standards of East Asia. A flight into its colourful capital, Bangkok, will reveal a city of contrasts, where ancient Buddhist temples sit side by side with modern skyscrapers, and pockets of tranquility coexist with the buzzing streetlife and bellowing traffic against all the odds. It is a crowded and exhilarating city to find yourself in, but also allows for respite and balance. In short, it’s one of the world’s most visited destinations for a reason.
The perfect introduction to Thailand’s spiritual culture can be found in Bangkok’s Buddhist wats (or temples). Each offers its own shrine to visit, but highlights include the golden Buddha at Wat Traimat, the huge reclining Buddha at Wat Pho, and the emerald Buddha at Wat Phra Kaew.
Bangkok attracts immigrants from all over Thailand, making it the ideal place to try all sorts of regional dishes from across the country. There are some great fine-dining restaurants, such as Nahm and Krua Apsorn, and hip little eateries like Bangrak Cafe, but the essence of Thai cuisine is found on its streets. You’ll find food carts and stalls all over the city, however, if seeking a lot of options or something specific, head to Yaowarat – Bangkok’s Chinatown, where you’ll find a staggering selection of Thai and Chinese street food – or the more sanatised but high quality MBK Food Island.
People and Traditions
The people of Bangkok are generally very friendly to outsiders, although it pays to be wary of scams in busy tourist areas. Note that while Western fashions are very popular, visiting any temple or palace will require adherence to strict dress codes. Usually this simply means clean and tidy attire that covers your arms and legs, but be sure to check beforehand.
Bangkok’s tropical urban climate keeps temperatures fairly consistent year-round, from lows of around 20ºC to highs of around 35ºC. Watch out for rainy season, however, which lasts from May till October, with September being by far the wettest month.
Good shopping areas include the commercial district around Siam Square and the modern Silom district for upmarket goods and fine-dining restaurants. Then there are the many markets, such as the Chatuchak Weekend Market and Nonthaburi Market in the north of the city, or Banglamphu
and the almost intimidatingly hip night market Talat Rot Fai, which are more central. Amid all this hustle and bustle lies an exuberant oasis of green in the middle of the city. The beautiful Lampini Park is perfect for winding down after a long day of shopping and sightseeing.
Bangkok has no shortage of nightlife options, but if dancing the night away is your reason for visiting, be sure to head south along the coast to Pattaya. Downtown is considered the nightlife centre, though bars and clubs can be found across the city. For a more scenic and relaxing coastal experience, however, consider taking a short flight to the stunning island of Phuket.
Adjacent to Wat Phra Kaew is one of Thailand’s most incredible buildings. The Grand Palace drips opulence from its golden spires and the former royal residence is still used for important ceremonies. Wang Na Palace is not as impressive visually, however, it was Thailand’s only museum up until the mid-70s and exhibits a huge collection of artifacts from throughout Thai history.
Thon Buri is the old capital of Bangkok on the western banks of the Chao Phraya River. Here you’ll experience the charm of old Bangkok, with old wooden townhouses and stilted shacks along the khlongs (canals). Not far from Thon Buri you’ll find the Khlong Lat Mayom, one of Bangkok’s floating markets and a must-see on weekends.