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THAILAND: BANGKOK
The Best Things to Do in Bangkok

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Bangkok

The Thai capital of Bangkok is one of the world’s most visited cities, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s a huge, sprawling city, constantly bustling, chaotic and exciting, serving up a frenetic assault on the senses from the moment you arrive.Towering modern skyscrapers can be found just a stone’s throw from ancient Chinese style shop houses, as well as enormous, modern mega-malls, delicious street food and the world’s largest open-air market. Factor in great nightlife, friendly locals and low prices, and you have got a city which many visitors keep coming back to. Here is a list of the absolute must-see attractions and activities for anyone planning a visit to this amazing city.

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The Grand Palace

If you haven’t been to the Grand Palace, then you haven’t really been to Bangkok. Bangkok’s most famous attraction is a sprawling compound of exquisitely ornate, gilded temple buildings surrounded by stunningly beautiful manicured gardens, lawns and courtyards.

Located right in the heart of Bangkok, the compound is also home to the Temple of The Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew), which is regarded as the most sacred Buddhist temple in all of Thailand, and a must-see during your visit to the city.

Centuries-old, the complex is still used by the Thai royal family for various ceremonies and state functions on occasion. Be sure to dress modestly, which means knees and shoulders to be covered for ladies, and no tank tops for men, and you must remove your shoes before entering any of the buildings. If you leave itching for more, Wat Pho is only a few minutes walk away and is home to the world’s largest reclining Buddha.

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Wat Pho

Located immediately south of the Grand Palace precinct, Wat Pho makes an excellent addition to your palace tour, provided your feet are up for more walking.

The temple was built by King Rama I and is the oldest in Bangkok. It has long been considered a place of healing, and was famous centuries ago for its pharmacy and as Thailand's first "university"–both established by King Rama III. You can get a Thai or foot massage at the traditional medical school on the premises, but the prices are significantly higher than what you will find at massage parlors elsewhere in the city.

Today Wat Pho is best known for the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, where you'll find a statue so big (45 meters long and 15 meters high), it cannot be viewed in its entirety but only appreciated in sections. The soles of the feet, inlaid with a myriad of precious stones, are particularly beautiful. Look also for the long earlobes signifying noble birth, and the lotus-bud configuration of the hand to symbolize purity and beauty.

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Shopping in Bangkok

No visit to Bangkok would be complete without a day or two spend browsing around the various malls and markets, whether you’re looking for souvenirs, clothes or electronics, you can find it here. For rock bottom prices on clothing (think $2 t-shirts and $3 shorts), head to the Platinum mall and Pratunam market which is directly behind it, and don’t be afraid to haggle; the vendors expect it.

For a bit of everything, try the famous MBK mall which has clothes, shoes, electronics, computers, plus a huge food court, and an entertainment complex on the top floor including a modern, hi-tech cinema and bowling alley. Siam Paragon is a cut above (with prices to match) but is an amazing experience, and Terminal 21 on Sukhumvit road has themed floors and a fabulous food court (which gets packed with locals daily).If you have time, take a day to visit Chatuchak Market which is mind-bogglingly huge (think 15,000 stalls over 35 acres) and sells almost anything you could possibly imagine.

The Riverfront Asiatique is a successful combination of 2 of Bangkok’s most popular shopping experiences: a night bazaar and a mall. You can find it 10 minutes downriver from the Saphan Taksin BTS Skytrain Station. Once a bustling international trade port, it has been transformed with over 1,500 boutiques and 40 restaurants housed inside a huge replica warehouse complex. 

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Try the Local Street Food

Bangkok is home to more than 11000 restaurants with almost every type of cuisine you could imagine, including the ubiquitous international chains. However, the best and most authentic Thai foods are to be found from the local street vendors, who usually serve food from a mobile cart and have a handful of small plastic chairs around them where customers can sit and eat.

Expect to pay around 40-50 baht for a bowl of noodle soup, or a dish with rice, or spring rolls, dumplings, the list is endless. You might be put off by the appearance of these places, or by the vendor not being able to speak English, but they thrive on their reputation and many have been there for years, if not decades, so the food is very safe and quite delicious.

Dishes that you can’t miss are fried pork with basil and chilli over rice (pad grapao moo), Thai style fried noodles (pad Thai), Thai style noodle soup (guai teow), northeastern style sausage (saigrok Isaan) and spicy papaya salad (som tam). These vendors are all over the city, look for one that’s busy with the locals and you can’t go wrong.

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Get a Thai Massage

Thais love a good massage, indeed there are hundreds of places across the city offering a range of different services. For the average massage studio, which you’ll see on almost every street in some areas, a one-hour Thai massage will set you back around 300 baht ($10) which is a bargain. Thai massage is more medicinal than relaxing, with the masseuse pushing and pulling you and sometimes even standing on you! But the experience is amazing and will leave you feeling like a million dollars (despite having only spent ten).

There are also more expensive, luxurious spas and studios, often located inside upmarket hotels and high-end malls, which will have prices more like what you are used to back home. Even the cheaper studios will offer a huge range of options including Swedish massage, various oil massages, hot rock therapy, foot massages etc. so don’t be afraid to ask if you want something specific. Beware of any massage studios with girls in bikinis standing outside, this will be a different type of massage entirely.

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Experience the Nightlife

Bangkok’s nightlife is legendary. For backpackers and people on a budget, Khao San Road is infamous for its laid back vibe, abundance of budget guesthouses, cheap booze, street food and shopping. There is a huge range of places to chill out there with a few drinks and people watch, with places to play pool, lounge around and watch movies, several hotels with swimming pools and plenty of restaurants serving more familiar western food including two Burger Kings and a McDonalds.

For a more grown-up night out, head over to Sukhumvit road which has a seemingly endless variety of sports bars, nightclubs, go-go bars and cocktail joints as well as numerous restaurants to help you soak up a bit of the alcohol. There are also some night markets where you can also grab a beer and a bite to eat whilst doing some late-night shopping.

If you fancy something a bit more upmarket, head over to Royal City Avenue – more commonly known as RCA – it is the epicentre of Bangkok's clubbing scene and it's an officially designated nightlife zone so you can be assured of a party 7 nights a week. Clubs are packed every night and, on weekends, they're rammed to full capacity. 

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Lumpini Park

Lumpini Park provides visitors with a green oasis amid the traffic and chaos of Bangkok. Hang out on one of several lawn areas, enjoy the shade of a Chinese pagoda, or take a boat out on the lake. Lumpini Park is a great place to spend an afternoon enjoying the contrast of the tranquil park with the skyscrapers rising all around it.

Lumpini Park is one of the largest green spaces in central Bangkok. Founded in the 1920s, this inner-city park spans over 500,000 sq m and is home to various flora and fauna. Over the years, it's become a popular gathering spot for Bangkok residents, who would gather for a round of jogging, light workouts, aerobics, and leisurely activities throughout the day.

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Take a River Cruise

The Chao Phraya River is Bangkok's heartline. Known as the "river of kings," this major waterway will allow you to discover some of the city's most stunning temples and monuments from a completely new angle.

In the evening, you can jump on a dinner cruise to see the lit-up city skyline as you sail along the Grand Palace and Wat Arun and under the Rama VIII Bridge.

During the day, take advantage of Bangkok's many ferries and express boats, which depart from Sathorn Pier and will stop right at the ports of major tourist attractions, including Wat Arun and Ratchawongse. Local canal boats (khlong Saen Saep) are used by the locals to commute to work and are a great way to see the real Bangkok, as the boats zigzag through small canals and behind residential buildings.

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Shop at a Foating Market

For an even more interesting market experience, you can arrange a tour to Damnoen Saduak, a famous floating market located in Ratchaburi (about 1.5 hours outside Bangkok). The popularity of floating markets once earned Bangkok the nickname "Venice of the East."

Keep in mind that floating markets are now highly touristic enterprises, so don't expect an exclusive morning of shopping by boat–but you will be able to buy fresh and delicious foods and interact with locals in an authentic way.

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Take a short trip

Bangkok also serves as a gateway to many other parts of Thailand. From here, you can hop on a short flight to Phuket, Chiang Mai, Koh Samui, and other popular destinations. You can also board a train or hop on a bus for little money, and visit national treasures such as Ayutthaya, Lopburi, Kanchanaburi and many other gems around the country.

Where to stay in Bangkok

Bangkok is a big city with many areas where visitors can stay and still have good access to sightseeing, shopping, and dining. Many of the top-end hotels are in the historic Riverside area. Not far away, budget-minded travelers and backpackers often frequent the Khao San Road area, which lies in close proximity to some of the major sites, including the Grand Palace, Wat Phra, Wat Pho, and museums.

Sukhumvit is a more modern area with good shopping and easy access to other parts of the city on the Skytrain. This is a good place to find mid-range hotels.

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