16 of the best things to see and do in Bangkok, for first-timers

There are a million things to see and do in the busy, bustling, wonderful city of Bangkok. I have visited twice and ticked plenty of things of my list, but there is still so much to do! It can be a little overwhelming, so I have made a list of my favourites – rounded up after a trip there as a single female traveller in April 2015, and a trip with my boyfriend in January 2016.

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1 – Eat street food
You will no doubt have heard about the incredible, freshly cooked street food which is abundant all over Thailand, and highly concentrated in Bangkok. Most is good, some is awful, lots are excellent. It’s a little pot luck! Our particular favourite (the most fresh and delicious) was under the bridge at Siam station, and, in our opinion, served by a Thai Justin Beiber look-a-like (above). Many street food stalls have benches set up with condiments, for you to pull up a pew while they make salads, pad Thai, omelettes, soups and the like, in front of you.

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2 – Take a water taxi
Bangkok traffic is crazy. The easiest, and cheapest, way to get around is by water boat taxi along the Chao Praya river, which snakes it’s way through the city. There are plenty of public piers (pick up a map from one of the big ones near the Grand Palace, or from your hotel), and you can hop on and of for the equivalent of around 10 pence sterling per trip. All kinds of people take the water boat taxis, and it’s a great chance to people watch and to see the riverbank sights.

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3 – Ride in tuk tuks
Having said ‘avoid the traffic’, there’s no way you can come to Bangkok and not take a few tuk tuks. Still a cheap way of getting around, but do make sure you agree a price before getting in since the drivers are wise to tourists poor knowledge of local prices. An average trip should be no more than a couple of pounds, sterling equivalent. I have taken plenty of tuk tuk trips as a solo female traveller, and although you should always be self aware, I always felt safe travelling on public transport around Bangkok.

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4 – Visit the Grand Palace
No visit for a first-timer to Bangkok would be complete without a trip to the Grand Palace. It was built in 1752 and was the home of the King of Thailand for 150 years. There are guides available at the gates, who, for a reasonable amount, will give you a tour. Go early in the day, as it will only get busier. And check opening hours as they do vary day-to-day and throughout the year. It costs around £10 to visit the Grand Palace. You must wear clothing that covers your ankles and shoulders (nothing revealing) and also, wear trainers, not sandals. Expect lots of tourists with selfie sticks to get in your way. But among all the hubbub, there are some truly spectacular sights that are not to be missed. The manicured trees and gardens at the front of the palace, are a highlight.

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The reclining Buddha at Wat Pho

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5 – Visit Wat Pho
The Thai people are rather fond of Buddha imagery, and temples to house them – although Bali must win on temple to person ratio. The temples of Wat Pho house Thailand’s largest reclining Buddha, (top above) which is an awesome sight to behold. It’s feet alone, which are decorated with pearls, are bigger than most London one bed flats. There are also rows of smaller, golden Buddhas, which provide brilliant photo opportunities. Not as big or as busy as the Grand Palace, Wat Pho was my favourite to visit, of the two.

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6 – Shop at the malls
The malls in Bangkok are big and brash. The ones I have most frequented are MBK mall, and Platinum fashion mall (above, opposite the Amari Watergate hotel). Platinum offers numerous floors of street market priced fashion, along narrow corridors of small shops. If you can be bothered to barter and rummage, you could leave with a case of fashionable treasures. I would guess that a lot of fashion buyers visit here for inspiration trips. MBK mall is bigger and more akin to a UK mall, but still, with very affordable prices. There is a ‘designer’ end, and a ‘fake’ end. The ‘designer’ tag, just means fake goods made better, i.e. leather handbags instead of plastic.

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Food stalls at Chatuchak market

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A road in-between the market stalls at Chatuchak

7 – Visit Chatuchak market
If you are looking for a real bargain, head to Chatuchak weekend market, accessible via the train. We took it from Saphan Taksin BTS train station. Chatuchak is the biggest open air market in South East Asia. It is a warren of market stalls, broken up in to areas: fashion, homewares, pottery, etc. Take small change and visit early in the day, as this place gets hotter than an oven. Make sure to visit the exciting food area, and remember to drink plenty of water. Stallholders are willing to barter, and if it’s more than you want to pay, walk away – they will soon call you back. Saying that, if you really like something and it’s a fair price, buy it there and then. I guarantee you won’t find the stall again!

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The sun sets behind Wat Arun

8 – Take a sunset cruise
One of the most beautiful sights in Bangkok is the sun setting over Wat Arun temple, on the Chao Praya river. We took a sunset cruise from the Peninsula hotel, but there are many companies running similar trips. The glittering gold of the temples and the slow pace of river life in a crazy busy city, is beautiful.

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The waterside restaurant at The Peninsula, Bangkok

9 – Stay at a nice hotel
Living costs in Thailand, compared to the UK, are much less. The pound is very strong against the baht, so you will find that your money goes a long way. This also applies to hotels, so you will find you can probably afford to stay in a four or five star hotel with relative ease – if you fancy a treat. Likewise, if you want to save some money, you can stay in a very nice two or three star, or even a resort (between a hostel and hotel, in Thailand), for a very small amount. While visiting Bangkok, I have stayed at The Peninsula, the Amari Watergate (review coming soon) and Amari Residences. Check out my reviews, as they all have various benefits, but all provided a luxurious haven.

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The rooftop pool at Amari Residences

10 – Swim in a rooftop infinity pool
All of the above mentioned hotels I stayed in, had incredible swimming pools. The Peninsula‘s was right up to the bank of the Chao Praya river, the Amari Watergate‘s on the 8th floor with a fantastic city view, and Amari Residence‘s was on the rooftop and was an infinity pool, just made for lazing around in. All of these have made me realise that when in Bangkok, it is wise to book a hotel with a totally radical pool – you’ll appreciate the peace and beauty even more when you’ve spent a few days trekking round the sights in the back of a tuk tuk…

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Me at Long Table bar and restaurant with my friend, Kammi

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Tasty food at Long Table restaurant

11 – Drink, eat and dance at rooftop bars and restaurants
Rooftops are not only for pools, but they make for some of the best bars and restaurants in Bangkok, too. I’ve visited Long Table restaurant, and Above Eleven bar in Sukhumvit, and also, the really fun nightclub, Levels. Long Table had some of the lost delicious food I have tasted in all my travels around Thailand so far, and some of the best views. Also, they do a great cocktail happy hour. If you are looking for a good night out, head for Sukhumvit are, Soi 11 – there’s lots of great choice.

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12 – Go crazy in Koh San Road
This one is up for debate. The original ‘backpackers’ road is full of cheap bars selling strong buckets of alcohol. I went once on my own and tutted at the KFC, scorpions on sticks and ping pong show invites (void of all culture)…. Then I went a second time, embraced the buckets, and had a brilliantly fun time – what I can remember of it. Koh San Road is what it is – comparable to a Thai Benidorm. So, if that’s your bag, go for it, if not, then maybe stay away.

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13 – Walk through Soi Cowboy, Sukhumvit
Another controversial ‘sight’, is the neon sign-filled street, Soi Cowboy. Basically, a street full of pole dancing clubs and go-go bars, fronted by regular bars. If nothing else, go for a wander, buy a cheap drink and people watch. Personally, I love the neon signs!

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Cocktails at the Sky Bar

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14 – Admire Bangkok at sunset from the Sky Bar at the Lebua Tower
The Sky Bar, made famous in the second Hangover film, is probably the best place to see the sun set over the whole city, while sipping a cocktail. The cocktail menu up here is more akin to London prices, but they have made an effort with exotic ingredients, and presentation – mine came in a box! There are two outside bar areas, and a restaurant. We went to the smaller bar area first, thinking that was the only one…. Luckily, my nosy nature meant we found the other large scale one before leaving! The security guards there will keep you moving on the steps, but ask them to take your picture and they will ace it. Ours directed us to get the best shot, taking near 20 photos!

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Fun at Asiatique!

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15 – Visit Asiatique
We took a visit to Asiatique after our sunset cruise – and a few glasses of Prosecco… It is a large market place, but built to western standards, with undercover shops, a selection of cool bars and restaurants, and a huge Ferris wheel. There are also things like Muay Thai boxing, virtual cinema experiences and theatre. This place would be brilliant for families and the late opening makes for a fun night out. We took a free boat from our hotel, The Peninsula, but you can also take a free shuttle boat from Saphan Taskin rail station.

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Delicious Thai food…

16 – Take a cookery class
Thailand is all about the food. So, what better way to get involved than to take a cookery class? There are plenty to choose from, all over Thailand. We actually haven’t taken on in Bangkok, yet, but my sister (FashCatherine contributor) visited the Silom Cooking School in the Sukhumvit area, and would highly recommend it!

Things I still want to do in Bangkok…

1. Take a Khlong riverboat tour round canals

2. Take a day trip to the old city

3. Explore more of the local areas e.g. China Town

4. Go on a cycling tour – some places even team up cooking classes with cycling tours.

If you have any other suggestions, I would love to hear them! Please leave comments, below.

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1 Comment

  1. Sophie Watkins
    June 12, 2016 / 8:21 pm

    I can’t wait to explore Bangkok after reading this. I have just booked a waterfront hotel so that I can enjoy a river cruise and visit Asiatique at night.

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