Bangkok is the capital and most populous city of Thailand. It is one of the world's top tourist destinations. Bangkok's multi-faceted sights, attractions and city life appeal to diverse groups of tourists. Royal palaces and temples as well as several museums constitute its major historical and cultural tourist attractions. Shopping and dining experiences offer a wide range of choices and prices. The city is also famous for its dynamic nightlife.
Arrival In Bangkok
I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time: I was going to Thailand at last! After boarding a plane at the airport of Düsseldorf in Germany I left for Bangkok, a city that lies strategically so well that it makes the exploration of Southeast Asia really convenient.
After a short stop in Dubai and a hazy sight of the magnificent tower of Burj Khalifa I landed on the other side of the globe in Bangkok, the city that would mean to me a lot in the following months.
Already upon arrival I was glad that I booked a hotel that is close to a metro station. Otherwise it would have been a hassle getting orientation in a new environment and chasing taxis while wearing a heavy backpack and sweating outside in the steamy air of Bangkok’s April weather. Thankfully I only needed to walk on foot from Phaya Thai station down the street and around two corners up into the Dream Town Pratunam Hotel, a decent and affordable two-star hotel and a perfect place from which to start my very first exploration of Thailand.
The metro in Bangkok is called MRT (Metropolitan Rapid Transit) - a comfortable and modern way of transport. The inside is always air-conditioned and you notice the difference when you enter the train from outside, especially in the months of April and May, the hottest period in Bangkok. The MRT operates above the ground, so it’s not really a subway train. You’ll see the overground structures everywhere in the modern part of the city. The MRT offers great views of the surroundings while on the go and Bangkok has lots of amazing places to offer.
MRT Skytrain structures in Bangkok
When coming from the Suvarnabhumi Airport in the east, you’ll most likely come via the Airport Rail Link, which conveniently connects the airport to the city centre. If you come from Donmueang International Airport in the north, there’s also a train connection going into the city centre.
It was straight-forward to explore the immediate vicinity of the hotel. Two streets further south I arrived at CentralWorld, the eleventh largest shopping center in the world. I would keep coming to this place several times, be it for shopping or just hanging out with my new friends.
Bangkok is a city of shopping malls. There’s one called Siam just one station further west of CentralWorld. Siam Center together with the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre just opposite Siam has a creative look and offers lots of creative spaces to visit and hang out at.
Inside Siam Shopping Mall
There’s skyscrapers everywhere in the central and eastern part of the city. That’s the modern part of Bangkok. However, there’s also the traditional part which lies in the west and alongside the Chao Phraya River. That’s where the royal palace, the backpacker sanctuary Khaosan Road and other amazing temples are situated. Those areas are not connected to the MRT transport, so taking taxis or tuk tuks to get there is a necessity.
Khaosan Road: a hub for backpackers in Bangkok
I remember when I decided to walk on foot to get to the western part of the city, which was an insane underestimation of the distances. The streets are long, the heat is intense, and it can become ever more difficult to catch an unoccupied taxi the deeper you venture into the western part, especially during peak times.
Traffic in Bangkok is huge and messy
Taxis & Tuk Tuks
Taxis are the best and cost-effective way to get around. Just make sure that the meter is on. Otherwise, if the driver doesn’t want to switch on the meter, find another one until you find a driver that does it. It’s a normal thing that drivers sometimes want a fixed price only, so it’s okay for you to reject it and look for another metered taxi.
Another and more exciting way to get around is using a tuk tuk, a motor rickshaw typical of Bangkok that can swiftly take you anywhere. Here you need to agree upon a price in advance, and they will be more expensive than a taxi. How much you should pay will depend on the distance you want to go, so do your research, as the tuk tuk driver will want more money from you than you actually need to pay - obviously! So you’ll need to decide whether their price is worth your money. Otherwise try to haggle with them - something they might not simply want to do, but hey!... haggling is about overcoming obstacles! You can always look for someone else if you don’t like the potential driver.
Typical tuk tuks on the streets of Bangkok
My first tuk tuk experience was on my own when getting from around my hotel to Victory Monument. I paid slightly higher than I probably should, but trying it out and experiencing the ride was worth the price. I used the tuk tuks many more times throughout my stay in Thailand and Cambodia and they’ve always been a great and fun experience.
Victory Monument is an Obelisk and war memorial in Ratchathewi District at the center of a traffic circle, around which there’s lots of stalls with food, clothing and accessories. It’s a great place to visit and do some shopping or just to be inspired. I’ve been there after dawn and the market was very much alive and full of people. You can also reach Victory Monument with the MRT.
As you can imagine, Bangkok is a city of amazing street food. You really MUST taste it! That’s the ultimate Bangkok experience. Otherwise, have you really even been there? There’s an opportunity to taste food everywhere. There’s always somewhere a small stall around, selling warm treats or fresh fruits that you can buy at insanely cheap prices. It’s really a no brainer. GO FOR IT!
The western part of the city that goes along the river is the more traditional and older part of Bangkok. Here you will find the actual landmarks for which the city is famous for. The obvious must-see is the Grand Palace, one of the most popular tourist attractions where royal events take place. Around the palace there’s lots of gorgeous temples and complexes, such as Chapel of Emerald Buddha.
Next to the southern wall of the Grand Palace there’s the temple of the Reclining Buddha (Wat Phra Chetuphon) with the famous giant figure of the religious founder.
In front of the Reclining Buddha statue
On the other side across the river there’s another jewel to be found - the Temple of Dawn (Wat Arun Ratchawararam), a monumental Buddhist temple with an iconic, ornately tiled central spire. To reach the temple you just take a boat that operates regularly. It will bring you to the other side and back at almost no cost.
A view over the river from Wat Arun
The Ordination Hall by Wat Arun
Away from the riverfront but still in the depths of the old town is the gorgeous Temple of the Golden Mount. You get to the temple at the top for a small fee by climbing the stairs lined with bells around the building while enjoying the beautiful view of the city in all directions. I’ve been to that temple twice, and found this to be a very magical place to visit. At the top the view of Bangkok is just stunning. You can clearly see the skyline of modern Bangkok filled with skyscrapers to the east, and the old city with the Grand Palace complex and the riverside to the west. You feel as if you’re embracing Bangkok entirely.
View from the Golden Mount temple
At the top of the Golden Mount temple
Back In City District
Further east in the modern part of the city there’s the Nana area which is known for its entertainment and red light district. Later during my stay in Bangkok I lived around that area with a friend for a month, so I walked those streets many times. You often get hold by women in Sukhumvit 4 Road who try to offer you services, but if you just continue walking and not let yourself be stopped, you can avoid any unnecessary encounters.
One station further west (Asok) you’ll find the Terminal 21 shopping mall. That center is a one floor one theme shopping mall. The concept is market streets of the world. It is decorated based on well-known streets in cities such as Rome, Paris, Tokyo, London, Istanbul. There’s a great food court at the top, and I used to dine there quite often and also meet up with friends there.
Inside Terminal 21, San Francisco floor
Another station further east (Phrom Phong) there’s the EmQuartier, a contemporary mall with international brands and fine dining. It looks more exclusive and expensive than Terminal 21, and has a great viewing balcony with lots of plants and greenery. I discovered this place quite late towards the end of my stay in Bangkok, so I get a bit melancholic when thinking about this place. It’s a nice spot to visit, especially due to the beautiful view of the city that you get from there.
In the southeast of Bangkok there’s a big park with lakes where you can relax and go jogging. There’s also outdoor fitness facilities that can be used by the locals for free. I’ve been to the Lumphini Park a few times to attend a language exchange meetup. That’s how I made friends after 5 days of spending in Bangkok. I’ve been in touch with them ever since. In Lumphini Park you’ll also encounter big lizards sunbathing motionlessly on the lawn. In general, it’s a great place to spend the hours outside.
My very first language meetup in Lumphini Park
When living in Bangkok you’ll notice very soon that there’s a solemn national anthem played every morning and evening at 8am and 6pm. Whatever you’re doing at the moment, you’re supposed to stop your activity, stand up and listen to the anthem for a few moments, regardless of whether you’re thai or non-thai. Even in Lumphini Park you will see joggers pausing for a moment until the anthem is finished. This kind of a daily ritual is a peculiarity that you will experience only in Thailand, but it’s very easy to get used to it.