There is only one way to describe Bangkok – chaotic.
In its full form it is an absolute tangle of people, tuk-tuks, and the ever-constant sound of streets filled to the brim with music and locals selling anything and everything. There is not a single place in Bangkok where you can escape the rush and chatter of the city. In saying that, Bangkok is definitely not for the faint-hearted – in order to say you conquered Thailand’s capital is to go in with a strong heart and a willingness to open your mind to all of its levels of crazy. And trust me, it’s worth it.
In this article you will find a beginner’s guide to coming out of Bangkok triumphant – you may feel tired, you may feel overwhelmed, but in the end it will be one of the most rambunctious experiences of your life. From eating coconut slime cakes (at least that’s what I christened them), to riding a rainbow boat through a couple of floating markets, there is something in Bangkok for everybody. You just have to be willing to open your mind and give yourself up to the colourful city (not literally). Below are a few highlights during my 72 hour stay in the heart of Bangkok, Thailand, and are musts for any traveller passing through.
WANDER THE SEVEN-FLOOR SHOPPING HAVEN – SIAM PARAGON & SIAM CENTRE
It is not uncommon to hear fellow travellers tell you that Bangkok is the place to be if you want to shop, and the Paragon / Centre are the reasons why. In the city’s centre you will find an absolutely mind-blowingly large shopping mall – seven floors tall and so much space on each level that it could take you a few hours to navigate each one, this is the number one place in Bangkok if you want to spend a day or two shopping your little heart out and eating until your stomach is full with Thai goodies.
The ‘food court’ is much more like a market place, with an innumerable amount of stalls and shops set up with countless variety of snacks and meals. From squid on a stick to chocolate-filled donuts, you will be guaranteed to leave the place with a satisfied stomach. Seriously though, just this level of the Centre alone was enough to make me fall in love with Bangkok. Be sure to arrive just before or after peak times however, as it is almost impossible to find seats, which can be frustrating when you’re planning on not eating on the go. It’s definitely worth it to go at night though, as the place lights up and the water features outside in the main court are spectacular to watch (#photo opportunity)
Oh, and there’s also a sea-life aquarium on the bottom floor, because, well, why not?
CRUISE THE CHAO PHRAYA RIVER ON A FUNKY RAINBOW BOAT
This is definitely one of the few activities in Bangkok that could be considered ‘relaxing’. If you want to chill out a bit and view the city from the water, this is definitely the way to do it. You don’t necessarily need to book in advance, as there are plenty of docks along the river’s edge that are generally used for the tourist boat rides. Find one, ask for a boat, and they will pop you on one and send you off with your Thai guide and driver.
The best thing about these cruises are the floating markets that you can stop at along the way – there are plenty of these special pockets of authentic Thai life that are set up on the sides of the river and off all its little canals, so you are bound to find something to your fancy. The locals sell many hand-made, original odds and ends (more so than you will find anywhere else) that are perfect to take home as an authentic Thai souvenir.
If you want a quick snack as well, pick up something from the markets to try something utterly unique. There are all sorts of weird and wacky things being prepared so don’t be scared to try something new. I had the pleasure of experiencing coconut slime cakes (pictured below) which was simply delicious, despite the funky texture.
MARVEL AT THE ARCHITECTURE AND DETAIL OF BANGKOK’S FAMOUS ‘GRAND PALACE’
You can’t visit Thailand’s capital without being the typical tourist and visiting the Grand Palace of Bangkok – a hugely intricate outdoor temple that used to house the royalty of Thailand. It hasn’t been used by the royal family in centuries, as it is rather jam-packed full of people, but it is not hard to imagine the Kings of Thailand living it up in the overly-decorative temple. Located in the heart of Bangkok, surrounded by bustling streets filled with market stalls and tuk-tuks, you really experience the full extent of the Thai culture without going overboard.
Be mindful of the time you choose to go however – it is exceptionally busy during the middle of the day, so if you’re claustrophobic or not a heat-lover, it may be best to visit either when it opens or close to closing times. Also make sure you pack water. Guaranteed you will need it.
DEVIATE THROUGH THE VAST CHATUCHAK MARKET, AND TRY NOT TO GET LOST
You will never have experienced a market like this one before. It puts every other market I’ve ever visited to shame – this place is an absolute haven for those wanting to shop for bargains and eat utterly delicious Thai street food. This is a market perfect for shopping for cheap knock-offs, as it has everything and anything for substantially cheaper than anywhere else. Be mindful though, if it’s cheap, it’s more than likely fake. But hey, it looks good, and if it’s only costing you $5 AUD, then why not?
If fake luxuries aren’t really your style, at least you can try countless authentic Thai street food goodies – it’s all delicious and my only regret is that I didn’t eat more. There’s food stalls on every corner, so be brave and try whatever is the next thing you walk past.
This market is absolutely massive, so be mindful of where you’ve walked and how to get back to where you started – the twists and turns can be off-putting, but stay alert and it’s generally pretty easy to find your place. Just enjoy it! You’re bound to find something interesting happening.
LEARN ABOUT THE MYSTERY OF JIM THOMPSON BY VISITING HIS HISTORIC HOME
This one is for all of the history-buffs or those who love a good mystery to solve. The Jim Thompson house is located in the busy streets of Bangkok, which is quite hard to believe as it is surrounded by the calm tranquillity of Thompson’s gardens, making you forget for a little while that you are in one of the busiest cities in the world. You are guided by a Thai local through the house, which is fascinating as you learn how the climate affected the architecture, and you can stroll through the gardens which encompass the place.
The most interesting thing about this tour though is the mystery that comes with it – Jim Thompson disappeared untimely, leaving his property exactly as he left it. No one knows where or how he disappeared, which makes it all the more exciting. If you’re lucky though, the guides may let you in on a conspiracy or two. You’ll also get the opportunity to learn about the Thai silk industry, something that was very important to the economy a few decades back. All in all, it’s a pretty interesting place, and gives you a different view of the city and how it came to be.
So there you have it, the most exciting, interesting, and number one places to visit to get the full idea of what Bangkok has to offer. This is just few of many activities you can undertake in Thailand’s capital, as there is no shortage of things to do or things to see, but this list (I hope) will give you an idea of where to start.
Have fun exploring this crazy city!