Let’s start with the obvious. Bangkok is a BIG city. Even though we locals don’t think about it much, the size of our capital overwhelms us whenever it comes to mind! I can’t imagine having to choose even SOME of the amazing things you could do in a limited time, let alone all of them… (although now I do because I had to put together this list!) So I’ve listed below what I think are the best things to do in Bangkok.
It’s rather easy to fall into tourist traps when visiting a new city. But the question is… which tourist spots can I skip? Which do I absolutely have to visit? Should I be saving time to do something else instead of getting stomped to death by other tourists?
In this list, I guarantee the perfect mix of touristy places you NEED to see and the slow travel-oriented places you should go to feel like a true local. Just a heads up, I’ve cut out most of the nightlife-style shopping streets you would see in most other list articles about Bangkok. Because the locals don’t ever go there, plus… shopping streets exist in every other country 😉
Ready? Let’s go!
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Visit Wat Phra Kaew and The Grand Palace
First is, of course, Wat Phra Kaew, known internationally as The Temple of the Emerald Buddha. Not only is it one of the most Instagram-worthy spots you’ll ever see in Asia, but it’s also the most sacred temple in Thailand. It’s home to the Emerald Buddha statue, believed to influence the country’s prosperity.
Serving as the current royal chapel, no monks live inside the temple. They’ll only be invited in when important religious ceremonies are held for the royal family. As long as you’re dressed properly, the grounds are all yours to explore and take as many photos as you’d like.
To put it simply, you’ll need long skirts or pants that cover your knees. No ripped jeans. No flip-flops (sandals okay). And no tank tops. Refer to my Free E-Book for the most thorough dress code.
Entrance Fee: 15 USD for foreigners
Hours: 8:30 AM – 3:30 PM
Address: The Grand Palace – Na Phra Lan Rd, Phra Borom Maha Ratchawang, Phra Nakhon, Bangkok 10200
See the Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho
Next on our local list of things to do in Bangkok is to see the Reclining Buddha, a 46 meters long and 15 meters high golden statue inside the sanctuary of Wat Pho. The sight alone is magnificent. If you’d like to get a little superstitious, you can also drop 108 coins into the monk bowls lined up around the statue for good luck.
You can also get the true UNESCO-listed traditional Thai massage here inside Wat Pho. Because guess what… Wat Pho was the FIRST medical school in the country, pioneering holistic Thai massage and still turning out the best masseurs every year.
Entrance Fee: 6 USD
Hours: 8:30 PM – 6:30 PM
Address: 2 Sanam Chai Rd, Phra Borom Maha Ratchawang, Phra Nakhon, Bangkok 10200
Get on a water taxi
Or should I say “water bus” since these boats hold so many people per ride? Forget the slow, fancy gondolas of Venice, these massive boats will take you along the Chao Phraya river at top speed while the car drivers hang out in one of the world’s worst traffic congestion. Want a feel of a Thai person’s typical commute to work? This is it, my friend.
Ticket Fee: 45 US cents per ride regardless of destination
Location: Piers are located about every 5-10 minutes walk along both sides of the Chaophraya River.
Visit Wat Arun
Known as the most stunning dinner view from across the river, Wat Arun is another must-visit. Because why only see it from across the river when you can see it up close?
Before Bangkok become the capital city of Thailand in 1782, the capital city was Thonburi, another city right across the Chao Phraya river. And Wat Arun was its royal chapel. The same Emerald Buddha statue that lives in Wat Phra Kaew today used to be inside Wat Arun as well!
Entrance Fee: 3 USD
Hours: 8:30 PM – 5:30 PM
Address: 158 Thanon Wang Doem, Wat Arun, Bangkok Yai, Bangkok 10600
Have dinner by the river
If you haven’t guessed, the first 4 items on this list are designed to go together in one itinerary 😉 It’s not mandatory, though!
Having dinner by the Chao Phraya river is a real mood when in Bangkok. You absolutely cannot miss out on this one. I highly recommend booking a table at Sala Rattanakosin (which is also a boutique hotel you could stay at, follow the link if you wish to wake up to the best river view every morning), since it’s directly across from Wat Arun and will give you the best view.
If you’re really interested in putting together a day out of these first 4 items, check out this Old Town Bangkok Itinerary I made. Hopefully, it can give you some inspiration!
Spend an afternoon inside Terminal 21
Have you heard of a travel-themed shopping mall before? Well… you’re about to.
That’s right! This isn’t an airport terminal. It’s a shopping mall, one with the best decorations in my opinion. Each floor is themed after a major destination city, and the escalators had airport direction signs on top.
Even the bathrooms are themed. And oh my, aren’t they BEAUTIFUL. My favorite one is the Istanbul-themed one on the 3rd floor.
Escape the heat of the city and spend an afternoon munching on snacks or shop for hand-made accessories here. You won’t be disappointed!
Address: 88 Soi Sukhumvit 19, Khlong Toei Nuea, Thawi Watthana, Bangkok 10110
Stroll along 3 blocks worth of shopping malls
You read that right. We have 3 blocks of downtown lined with almost nothing else but shopping malls. ELEVEN of them, to be exact.
This is probably one of the most “local-like” things you could possibly do… It’s a hot country. So, when the locals want to hang out, they escape the heat into malls!
Central World and Siam Center are my favorites. Central World is huge with all kinds of stores you can find. Siam Center is a bit small, but stylishly designed with a lot of interesting, off-the-beaten-path brands and some lovely coffee shops.
If you’re into high-designer brands, Central Embassy and Kaysorn Plaza are your go-to. If not, DO NOT go inside these two malls. They might just make you uncomfortable with how crisp and unrealistic everything feels, that’s my opinion.
Address: Central World – 4 4/1-4/2 Rama I Rd, Pathum Wan, Bangkok 10330
Address: Siam Center – 979 Rama I Rd, Pathum Wan, Bangkok 10330
Explore traditional desserts at The Old Siam
NOT part of the 3-block shopping district is The Old Siam Shopping Plaza. What’s so cool about another mall after having explored ELEVEN of them? Well… on the ground floor of The Old Siam is stall after stall of home-made traditional desserts from local vendors. I’d say no other place beats the variety here.
This mall is in the same area as Wat Pho and Wat Phra Kaew, if you’d like to integrate it into your Old Town day itinerary.
Address: 12 Tri Phet Rd, Wang Burapha Phirom, Phra Nakhon, Bangkok 10200
Watch Thai traditional dances at the Erawan Shrine
Across the intersection from Central World Shopping Mall is the highly revered Erawan Shrine. Locals come here to worship Brahma and wish for success. But there’s something else that I think visitors should see…
There are Thai traditional dance performances at pretty regular intervals every day. You won’t want to miss out on this!
However, make sure to be respectful while at the shrine. The reason there are dance performances is people come to ask Brahma for specific wishes, and when those wishes come true, they hire dancers to do a performance in order to release those debts. So make sure to keep your voice down and don’t go pointing at things.
Address: 494 Ratchadamri Rd, Lumphini, Pathum Wan, Bangkok 10330
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
Wondering why I haven’t mentioned the famous street food ONCE so far? That’s because I’m saving it for the right time. If you’re going to have authentic Thai street food and you have to choose between getting them on the streets versus on a canal, GO FOR THE CANAL OPTION.
Nestled in another city 1.5 hours from Bangkok, the Damnoen Saduak floating market screams “traditional lifestyle.” People commute around the market via canals, including merchants. Here, you can find all kinds of street food available on the streets of Bangkok, as well as fresh fruits and authentic boat noodles.
You can easily plan a morning or an afternoon to pay the floating market a visit.
Address: 51 Damnoen Saduak, Damnoen Saduak District, Ratchaburi 70130
Take a day trip (or two) to Ayutthaya
A little over an hour north of Bangkok is the ancient capital city of Ayutthaya, also known as the Ayutthaya Historical Park. Standing grand and prosperous as a Southeast Asian power from 1351-1767, the city is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
As the city of boat noodles, top-notch smoked river prawns, and 16 historical sites, what’s not to love about Ayutthaya? Check out a 2-day itinerary I made here, or check out the 1-day tour options below.
Can I also just say… if you have maybe 2-3 days and a budget to spare while exploring Bangkok, take a 40-minute flight up to Sukhothai, Thailand’s first ancient capital city. It’s not any less important than Ayutthaya, and a less touristy version. Highly recommend!
Sanctuary of Truth and snorkeling day tour
Thailand is just one of those places you’ll never run out of extremely ornate buildings to marvel at. The Sanctuary of Truth is another one I don’t think you should miss. Constructed ENTIRELY of wood, without even a single metal nail, you’ll witness the grandiose of traditional Thai woodwork here. The ornate carvings convey the concept of impermanence, which stands at the core of Buddhist teachings.
If you’ve seen the 3rd season’s opening of La Casa De Papel on Netflix, this building might be of particular interest to you!
Since the sanctuary is 2 hours from Bangkok, make a day trip out of it by pairing it with a Pattaya City or snorkeling tour off the eastern coast. Though, I’d personally say the sanctuary alone is worth the trip.
Entrance Fee: 15 USD
Hours: 8:00 AM – 6:00 PM
Address: 206/2 Moo 5, Pattaya-Naklua Rd, Bang Lamung District, Chon Buri 20150
Splurge on a fancy dinner at Sirocco Sky Bar
Dinner by the river, checked! What about dinner up in the sky?
If your answer to this question is “Hell yes!” then Sirocco Sky Bar is your best bet! Situated on the 63rd floor of one of the most prestigious luxury hotels in Bangkok, Sirocco promises a clear view of the night skyline and carefully curated fusion menus from prestigious Thai cuisine.
It’s also gotten some extra fame from The Hangover II if you were wondering why it looks a bit familiar…
King Power Mahanakhon Sky Walk
One of the newest buildings on the Bangkok skyline, King Power Mahanakhon is now the tallest in the country. Explore the Sky Deck, the highest outdoor 360 degrees observation deck, or seek your daily dose of thrill with the brand new SkyRides, a flying VR experience.
The highest sky bar is also here if you’d like to sip some champagne while watching Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Pho from afar. Yup, almost all of Bangkok is visible from up there!
Hours: 10:00 AM – 8:00 PM (Last admission 7:30 PM)
Address: 114 Narathiwas Road, Silom, Bangrak, Bangkok 10500
Stop by Chong Nonsri Sky Walk for IG-worthy shots
A block from King Power Mahanakhon is what I consider the most stunning pedestrian bridge in Thailand. As a testament to this, I’ve randomly seen a theater commercial at an AMC in LA that was shot here… and my brain went “Wait, that’s Bangkok…” It was quite a cognitive dissonance, if I may say!
Address: 98 N Sathon Rd, Silom, Bang Rak, Bangkok 10500
So many interesting places and activities. Thanks for the information. 😍
You’re very welcome! Thanks for reading as always 😉
Dee Rowe says
Thailand is on my travel bucket list. Really hope I make it there to put these suggestions into action!
Oooooh you’re going to have so much fun! 😀 Thank you for reading!
I’ve never even heard of this place, but now I want to go, lol!