If you’re heading to Thailand, don’t just scoot through Bangkok and your way out to the islands or up to the jungle. This city is full of gems to enjoy, from temples to street food, kick-boxing to breathtaking rooftop bars.
Here are my picks for 10 things to get amongst in Bangkok:
There are several amazing rooftop bars high in the sky above Bangkok where dress codes apply and a cocktail costs as much as a pedicure (well, a street pedicure). But for the hipster side of Bangkok, put your glad rags on and head out to Sky Bar on the 63rd floor of the Lebua at State Tower.
Book dinner at Sirocco to watch the sun set and the stars fall around you with breathtaking views of Bangkok and the Chao Phraya river. Sky Bar is open from 6pm -1am with live jazz music.
Chatuchak Weekend Market
Shoppers will be gone for the day to this, this biggest outdoor market on earth. With over 9,000 stalls in 27 sections selling everything from clothes and shoes to jewellery, art, knick knacks, knock offs, genuine antiques and even pets, it’s a veritable maze of same same alleys. Pick up a map when you arrive as you’ll be all turned around and will lose your friends unless you designate a meeting point. The aim of game is to barter, but keep it friendly and have fun with the vendors. Remember, they need to make a living too!
Take the BTS to Mo Chit Station, Saturday and Sunday – and bring cash and a water bottle. You’ll be in for the long haul!
Take a klong tour
Bangkok’s waterways are home to many families who live in houses on stilts lining the Chao Phraya River. A long-tail boat tour through the “klongs” is a fascinating insight into how the locals live. Look out for seamstresses sitting on their verandas with sewing machines and grandparents minding toddlers as the parents are at work. You’ll wonder how the power lines don’t fall into the river, and pass floating kitchens and mobile shops as vendors work the river.
Take a cooking class
There is nothing as cool as learning to cook ethnic cuisine than in the country of ethnicity! In Thailand cooking classes about where you can learn from a professional Thai cook about flavours, ingredients and techniques. Try Baipai Thai Cooking School. They will pick you up from your hotel and take you to visit the market to taste and buy your ingredients, then onto their school set in a beautiful house with surrounding garden filled with herbs. You will taste and learn and end up eating your creation and go home satisfied on so many levels.
Less crowded than Wat Phra Kaew, Wat (meaning temple) Pho is one of Bangkok’s largest temples and home to the largest reclining Buddha (46 metres long) and the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand. It’s been built on the site of another temple which was destroyed by the Burmese in 1767. Pieces of that Buddha are inlaid into this one. Wat Pho is also the national headquarters for the teaching and preservation of traditional Thai medicine, including Thai massage, with two massage pavilions on site.
The dazzling official residence of the kings of Siam from 1782 until 1925 is still used for royal ceremonies and events on the banks of the Chao Phraya River today. It’s been expanded over 200 years with the addition of new pavilions, halls and buildings and is now 218,000 sq m, divided into several courts. It also houses Wat Phra Kaew, the temple of the Emerald Buddha that dates back to the 14th Century and whose robes are changed with the seasons.
Best Spa Treatment
Thailand recently won an award for the Best Spas in the World, so while you’re in Bangkok you should partake. You’ll find cheap and cheerful massage, facials and pedicures everywhere, but for the ultimate pampering, head to one of the hotels or a day spa. Divana Spa is currently a finalist in the World Luxury Spa Awards for 2014 after winning it in 2013. It’s more spendy than most by Thai standards, but a 70 minute facial is under NZ$60 and an hour and half East/West massage is around NZ$75.
Bangkok Songkran Festival
Join the biggest water fight in the world in mid-April! Songkran is a celebration of Thai New Year and the water fight is about washing away any bad luck so good luck can come for the coming year. Traditionally it’s a time for washing Buddhas and your house. Businesses are shut for the week and families celebrate together. But on the streets it’s quite a different matter. Bring your water pistols and put cameras and phones into waterproof bags to join the fun. If you don’t want to get wet then you need to avoid Bangkok’s busy streets from April 13-15, 2014 as it’s hoses, buckets and water bombs everywhere!
Street Food at Sukhumvit Soi 38
Come to Soi 38 after 6pm when street vendors are dishing up affordable and great tasting street food while the other half hob nob at surrounding restaurants and bars. You’ll find everything from sticky rice to pad Thai and enjoy dining on the wobbly furniture along the street.
Take the BTS to Thong Lor and let your nose guide you as you walk past the restaurants lining Sukhumvit Road. Most menus are in English but the street is popular with locals and tourists alike.
Muay Thai Kick-Boxing
If kick-boxing is your thing, then the new Lumpinee Boxing Stadium is where you need to go. This 5000 seat stadium is brand new, so get amongst the music and cheering as the “warriors” face off. Matches are held Tuesday, Friday and Saturday nights. Expect to pay around $75 for ringside seats and you can buy them at the stadium or from your hotel. Don’t buy from the touts!
The new Lumpinee has moved out of the central city, so for something closer, you could try Rajadamnern Stadium (also spelt Ratchadamneorn). Built in the 1940s, this also attracts great crowds. Check what fights are on, as you may end up with the lightweight young age group – and let’s face it, watching teenagers fight is not what you came here for! Rajadamnern hold matches Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday.
Read my post about shopping at Bangkok’s best markets here (including enormous Chatuchak)>>