Asia’s coolest hub, Bangkok is an irrepressible city beyond compare. Whether you’re following the sweet scent of incense into a temple or rummaging your way round the night markets, one thing’s for sure – you’re in for one helluva ride.
The City of Angels
It’s the opposites that attract in Bangkok. In Thailand’s capital, longtail boats float across the Mae Nam Chao Phyra River while Mazdas speed along 12-lane motorways. You’ll see Buddhist temples in the shadows of skyscrapers. And you’ll find hectic markets around the corner from one-in-one-out designer boutiques
The Grand Palace
Add the city’s diversity to its 602-square-kilometre size and it’s easy to see why sightseeing schedules are fully loaded in Bangkok. A visit to the Grand Palace tends to top most visitors’ itineraries. This 53-acre palace was once the home of the Thai king, and it’s landscaped with golden chapels, formal gardens and throne halls.
Chinatown is another must-see. This one-mile strip is lined with Thai temples, a cryptically named Thieves’ Market, and some of the best street food stands in the city.
Things to See and Do in Bangkok
An inland city, Bangkok doesn't have beaches, but Pattaya, 95 miles southeast, has a sprawling 3km stretch of snow-white sand that softly dissolves into tranquil turquoise waters. Backed by tropical greenery and a tree-lined promenade, this coast is popular for snorkelling and watersports and is laced with restaurants, bars and shops.
To tap into Bangkok’s selection of genuine designer label shops, make a beeline for Peninsula Plaza. There are 70 designer emporiums here and the names above the doors include Versace and Gucci. Some people say Bangkok is the place to snap up antiques, but it’s not a place for beginner buyers. If you know what you’re looking for, head to River City in the Thanon Silom area of the city.
Bangkok has an entire district dedicated to mall shopping. To the east of the city centre, Pratunam is easily accessed by the Skytrain. The Central World Shopping Centre has 8 floors of stores, ranging from Zara to Toys R Us. Siam Square is a grid of 12 shopping streets lined with independent fashion boutiques and brand-name stores like Quicksilver.
Markets underpin the shopping scene in Bangkok. They’re all over the city. The biggest takes place on weekends next to Chatuchak Park. More than 15,000 stalls colonise 27 acres of the city. Traders sell everything from trilbies to amulets. The sections between 2 and 4 resemble London’s Spitalfields and young Thai fashion designers have stalls here.
Bangkok does a good line in low-key nights out. Hit one of the city’s jazz bars to nurse something on the rocks while first-class jazz bands jam. There are a few in the Sukhumvit area. Alternatively, book tickets to the Siam Niramit show in the Ratchada Theatre. This 90-minute production rivals the West End when it comes to staging and costumes.
Thousands of people work the night shift in Bangkok. There are the bartenders in the Brit pubs, Auzzie bars and themed pubs on Sukhumvit Road. There are the mixologists in the city’s increasing number of rooftop bars, like Vertigo and Park Society, on Sathorn Road. Then there are the DJs that man the decks in the city’s super clubs on Royal City Avenue and Khao San Road.
Pad Thai is such a well-known Thai dish that it’s almost a cliché. But it’s on sale everywhere in Bangkok. Cooked over a searing hot wok, this noodle dish is finessed with tamarind juice, palm sugar, chillies, banana blossom, prawns and coriander leaves.
If you’re tired of running the gauntlet of spicy Thai foods, try a massaman curry. This dish is usually made with beef, coconut milk, and a store cupboard’s worth of spices. Its texture is shaken up with the likes of cashew nuts and peanuts.
Pla Kahpung Neung Manao
This is a speciality in the street food stands of Chinatown. When you order this dish you’ll get a whole seabass served to you on a platter with a lit flame underneath it. The fish will have been steamed in lime juice, chilli and garlic.
Kuay Jab Nam Sai
You can pick up a bowl of Kuay Jab Nam Sai for the equivalent of a couple of pounds at the street food stands in Chinatown. This dish is a peppery soup filled with rice noodles and lots of different types of pork, including crispy pork belly and liver.
Bua Loy Nam King
Pudding doesn’t get much of a look in on Bangkok menus. If you want something sweet, hunt down some Bua Loy Nam King. These sweet dumplings are filled with a cakey black sesame mixture and are served bobbing in a bowl of sweet ginger water.