Top Bangkok Hotels
As 90% of the population are Buddhist, temples or wats in Bangkok are bigger and grander than in other places and are to be found virtually everywhere - be sure to be selective as it's easy to get "templed out" in this city!
Situated near the Chao Phraya is Wat Arun or Temple of Dawn, which is reputed to be one of the tallest religious structures in the country. The steps leading to the temple are rather steep and can be a little off-putting to those suffering from vertigo; however those who persevere will be rewarded with great views of the Bangkok skyline. What makes this temple interesting is the ceramic tile ornaments made from Chinese crockery which adorn the temple walls - take the ferry from Tha Tian.
Wat Po houses the longest reclining Buddha in the world, covered with gold leaf with feet intricately inlaid with mother of pearl. A quick stop temple visit, ideal for those with little time.
Wat Phra Kaeo, better known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha is located in the Chapel Royal at the Grand Palace - where the country's most sacred Emerald Buddha image resides. Believed to bestow good fortune on the kingdom, the 30 inch image is displayed high on a block, protected by a nine-tiered umbrella with crystal balls representing the sun and the moon. The small stature of such a revered object surprises many visitors. The Thai king visits the Grand Palace three times a year to preside over the changing of the Emerald Buddha's robes.
Note: As a sign of respect to Thai culture and religion:
Proper attire is a must at all temples
Never point the bottom of the feet towards an image of Buddha
Take off shoes before entering a temple
Thai monks observe strict chastity and will not allow women (not even their mothers) to touch them.
Photographs of temples, monks, images (except for the Emerald Buddha) and all Buddha ceremonies may be taken. Most of the temples close at about 3.30 pm so plan your visits in the early part of the day to avoid disappointment.
The Grand Palace was the first major architectural complex built in Bangkok and visitors never fail to be impressed by the dazzling collection of ornately adorned buildings and the intricate attention to detail.
Distinctive buildings inside the compound include the Prasad Phra Tepidon or Royal Pantheon, which holds the statues of the first eight Chakri kings and the Library which contains the Tripataka or holy Buddhist scriptures. The tallest structure is the Phra Si Rattana Jedi or shrine, covered with gold tiles.
Northwest of the compound is the Grand Palace Museum, which contains a collection of beautiful Buddha images made of crystal, silver, ivory and gold.
If you are going to venture to the Grand Palace and have the time, then Vimanmek Teak Mansion, a wonderful golden teak building, is worth a visit - free entrance is included in the ticket for the Grand Palace. Leave plenty of time if planning to see both attractions.
It's always good to stop at the Royal Barge Museum after visiting Wat Po and Wat Arun to glimpse the most important vessels in the 51-barge royal fleet, which undertake grand royal processions on special occasions every year. You will also see the oldest and most beautiful barge with the graceful, bird-like head and a long beak called Suphannahongse. The most striking point about this royal boat is that it was built during the reign of Rama I from a single piece of teak 45 yards long.
Note: The king of Thailand is highly revered amongst the majority of the population in order not to make enemies in this country, always show due consideration and respect to the monarchy.
The National Museum (Wednesday to Sunday 9 am- 4 pm) is reputed to be the largest in Southeast Asia and displays a wide range of artifacts. The collection will take you on a journey into Thailand's historical past and includes huge, gilded royal funeral chariots, weapons used in elephant warfare, puppets, Thai textiles and images of Thai and Hindu gods.
Thailand can be a shoppers paradise. Prices of handicrafts, textiles, gems, jewellery, art and antiques sometimes rival those in Hong Kong and Singapore. There are a few well-known department stores like Central Department Store, Sogo, Robinsons and Yaohan, although many visitors find that electronic products, brand name clothes and handbags are cheaper in other parts of Asia.
Prices are usually fixed in department stores; elsewhere bartering is the norm and you can obtain a final figure up to thirty percent lower than the original price depending on your bargaining skills and the shopkeeper's mood.
The famous entertainment district of Patpong, is a lively night market where youre sandwiched between girlie bar show touts and fake watch vendors. Apart from pirated goodies like brand name shirts, shoes, handbags, VCD and DVDs, there are plenty of bars to choose from as well. The shop vendors can get quite aggressive and pushy so always bargain with a smile. An interesting night spot and shouldnt be missed.
The best place to shop is at the Chatuchak Weekend Wholesale Market. This is a shoppers dream come true where everything from cheap souvenirs, clothes, handicrafts to antique reproductions and even exotic animals can be found here. The maze of narrow alley ways is not for the claustrophobic as a minimum of space is reserved for walkways and wallets and purses should be closely guarded. A good sense of navigation would also help as its not easy to look for a shop again if youve given up on a purchase. Bring cash only and be prepared to literally shop till you drop. Open from 9am-6pm and easily accessible by Sky Train exit at Mo Chit Station.
Other wholesale markets include the garment market in Pratunam and Sum Pang in Chinatown. You can find all sorts of T-shirts, clothes and accessories at very affordable price but dont expect to find any high fashionable items here.
Opened in 2003, the Suan Lum Night Bazaar on wireless road is Bangkoks latest addition to the night market scene. The choices here are endless and although prices are slightly higher the experience is much more comfortable than the weekend Chatuchak market. Most stalls are opened from 6pm and some stay open till 10 pm while al fresco cafes are around till past 11 pm.
Khao San Road offers everything to suit all budgets from internet cafes, stalls selling second hand goods, jewellery and tie-dye to cosy boutiques and travel agencies offering competitively priced air-tickets. Restaurants spill out onto the streets creating a very laid back atmosphere. Formerly devoted solely to the student/backpacker market, in recent years, this area has changed much of its image to accommodate many different tastes and budgets.
Another favorite stop is Mah Boon Krong, a local shopping mall with floors upon floors of shops and eateries where you can eat and shop in air condition comfort. For something hip and trendy, Siam Square has many amateur clothing shops that carry their own design. Within walking distance from Siam Square is the Siam Discovery Center here you will find plenty of familiar upscale boutique stores.
The World Trade Center is a grand shopping complex but its not very exciting. There are quite a few sports, souvenir and factory outlets shops that cater mostly to tourists. Prices are usually fixed but you can still end up with some good bargains if sales are on. Many locals come here for the ice skating ring and video arcade games.
If youre looking for some upscale shopping head to the Emporium Mall at Sukhumvit or Central Chitlom Department store along Ploenchit Road.
Warning: Some unlicensed shops sell fake brand name electronic goods.
Cheap internet access is common in the many tourist areas and more and more places are offering high speed connection. It's extremely easy to surf the net in Bangkok and you can even find trendy and comfortable Internet cafes as well.
Thai boxing may not be everybody's favourite but it has a certain uniqueness. There are two boxing stadiums in Bangkok: Lumpini and Ratchadamneon. Schedules vary and it is always best to check with the Tourism Authority of Thailand for the latest schedule.
Before each fight, a dance is performed by the boxers to the accompaniment of loud Thai music to pay homage to their respective teachers. Ten bouts are always fought, each comprising five three minute action packed rounds. This is definitely not for the faint hearted as fights are often fast paced and quite violent, with the boxers kicking and punching their opponents, often into a bloody pulp. Not a family night out, although check with the Tourism Authority of Thailand as the much tamer junior boxing is held at certain times.
Celebrating Kings Birthday
Situated between Chareon Krung and the river, Chinatown or Yaowarat used to be Thailand's centre point for business when Chinese immigrants flocked to Bangkok during the Ratanakosin period.
Today Chinatown remains bustling but is also very noisy and amidst the crowd and heat, you may feel slightly disoriented. Take a walk to San ChaoKao or the Old Shrine, passing spice shops with sticks of cinnamon and other herbs, the odd Chinese lantern shop and the beautiful old colonial-style school. Drop by Pak Klong Talad, the colorful and vibrant flower wholesale market that stays open till past midnight.
Although a little bit dirty, the Phutalet Market or Talad Mai with its distinct European feel, is rich with the scents of seafood, Chinese foodstuff and pastries.
Before leaving Chinatown, go to Chareon Krung Road for a slice of old China. Items such as paper funeral clothes, huge incense sticks, shrines and paper money are sold here in various shops.
Located across from the National Stadium, Jim Thompson's house comprises six Ayutthayan teak houses, creating an archetypal Thai-style home. Built after World War II, the house belonged to an American intelligence officer who made his fortune by introducing exotic Thai silk to the Western world. The house elicits as much interest as the man himself, as Thompson mysteriously disappeared in the 1960's in the Malaysian jungles while on an afternoon walk. His collection includes clothes, evening gowns, neckties and handbags made from Thai silk be aware that prices here are as high as international brand named goods.
Many tourists also visit to view Thompson's old collection of Asian artifacts including both Thai and Khmer art and his distinctive Chinese collection from the Ming Dynasty.
Reptile lovers should not miss the immensely popular snake farm at the Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute. An actual working institute, daily milking/feeding takes place highly informative if snakes are your thing.
Nightlife and Eating Out
When it comes to dining in Bangkok, the choices are endless. Thai restaurants are at every turn and corner and while the street hawkers are by far the most authentic in flavor there are many modern and pleasant restaurants venues of choice.
The Cabbages and Condoms on Sukhumvit Soi 12 has made a name for itself not only in the restaurant business but in creating birth control awareness within rural Thai communities that condoms are just as healthy and easily available as cabbages. The restaurant is set in a garden and has a good menu with a decent spread of cuisine from other Thai provinces.
Baan Khanitha on Soi Ruam Rudi and Sukhumvit Soi 23 is another all time favorite. The restaurant is an elegant 2 storey bungalow house with beautiful Thai dÃ©cor. Even the cutlery and dishware used are fine quality celadon. Prices are steep but the food and ambiance is excellent.
A more affordable choice and just as good is Thanying Restaurant located between Silom Soi 17 and 19. The food is slightly sweet and spicy but you can ask to tone it down a little. If youre not sure what to order, try the set Royal Thai Cuisine where you can sample a few signature Thai specialties.
Dine by the Chao Phraya River at Supatra River House located next to the temple of Wat Ratkhang. The best way to get there is hop onto the inexpensive local taxi boats from Sathorn Pier at Saphan Taksin sky train station and stop at Tha Chang pier.
Within walking distance from the Surasak sky train station is the Blue Elephant. The restaurant is fancy and quite pricey but food is very good and they also offer Thai cooking lessons.
A popular choice even with the locals is Annas CafÃ© located along Sala Daeng and another outlet near the Nana sky train station at Pacific Place. The contemporary chic setting is very welcoming but most of all the food is delicious and very affordable.
If you want to take a break from Thai food try the casual and homely ambiance at Crepes and Co. (located on Sukhumvit Soi 12). They have a mix of Italian and Moroccan dishes and specialize in French savory and dessert crepes.
The Bed Supper Club restaurant cum bar on Sukhumvit Soi 11 is very unique and a funky venue for all visitors. The oval shape architecture resembles a space ship and inside rows of beds with crisp white linen and comfy pillows line the sides and loft upstairs. This takes room service and eating on the bed a whole new level and many find the picnic style of eating quite amusing. People come for the hip ambiance and while the food is good there is hardly a choice as menus are set. On some weekends there is a surprise menu where you dont even know what youre going to get. There is a smart casual dress code and advance reservation helps to guarantee a bed (teenagers and children are not allowed).
Some hotels have pretty good dining outlets, like the Normandie French Restaurant at the Oriental. The entire experience is well worth the price tag, the food is very refined, ambiance is intimate and the white glove service is flawless. Other more affordable French choices include Le Bouchon in Patpong (next to the Pink Panther go-go bar) is less fancy with a casual typical French brasserie style. The restaurant is dim and small but people dont mind to wait for a table or crouch at the bar for a meal.
The Sukhothais Sunday buffet brunch is often packed and although somewhat pricey you can enjoy endless servicing of oysters, pan fried fois gras, lobster bisque and the hotels well known chocolate truffles. The upbeat and modern setting of the New York Steak House at the JW Marriott and the elegant Angelinis Italian restaurant at the Shangri-la are also high recommended.
The best place to sample some of Bangkoks favorite restaurants under one roof is at The Loft in Central Chitlom department store. The concept is a trendy food court where stalls are from well known Italian, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Indian and Chinese restaurants.
If you crave for pastas and pizzas head over to the homely Giannes at Soi Tonson along Ploenchit Road or The Calderazzo on Lang Suan Road is also a very good and affordable option.
Chinatown is well known for shark fin and birds nest soup. Most of the restaurants are very simple and basic but food is cheap and good.
Pick up a copy of the highly informative Bangkok Metro Magazine from any bookshop for information on what's on and where to eat.
For many years, Bangkok has been regarded as a "Men's Paradise," though the Thai government, tired of the country's image as a destination for adult entertainment, is taking steps to monitor this aspect. License plates proclaiming "HIV Free" are now hung outside bars in Patpong, Bangkok's glittering red light district located in the Silom area.
Thai law decrees that those actively involved in the adult entertainment trade must undertake a HIV test. Doctors are supposed to issue HIV-free certificates to those tested negative. Most foreign men are unaware that this law exists and many find the girls dancing in the bars a little too tempting.
Dozens of girlie bars and bars with hostesses are to be found at Nana Entertainment Plaza, Soi Cowboy and Patpong. Live shows at various bars inside Patpong give new meaning to the word erotic!
Warning: Lady-boys are extremely prevalent in Thailand, so be aware that not all 'ladies' are as they might appear at first glance!
Thai law does not allow anyone to dance naked in public - shows usually feature girls wearing skimpy outfits but nothing less than a bikini. Doors are flung wide open to attract customers who want to venture in for a beer and to watch the show, which usually comprises a bevy of bikini clad women affecting bored expressions dancing around poles not quite the stuff that Bond movies are made of!
Touts hanging around outside can be seen showing menus for adult shows located on the upper floors.
Warning: Always ask if you need to pay a cover charge for entertainment on the upper floors. If the touts say no, then order your drink and pay immediately before the waiting staff come back and try to sting you with huge bills.
Note: Policies on after-hours guests vary from hotel to hotel and visitors should be aware that although some hotels turn a blind eye, others may not.
Bangkok may have a reputation for go-go bars but it has its fair share of sophisticated and decent venues to hang out as well. The Ministry of Sound disco on Sukhumvit Soi 12 is a well known hot spot that has a good blend of house music. Weekdays are pretty quiet but the party crowds stream in over the weekends. Concept CM2 at the Novotel Siam Square plays the all familiar hits tunes from hip hop to R & B. There is a section with pool tables and if you get hungry there are little noodle stalls set up in the disco! The Q Bar on Sukhumvit Soi 11 is small but very popular with swinging expats who live in Bangkok which is why the place is often packed all week.
If you prefer a less invigorating night soothing Jazz bands can be found at the Diplomat Bar in the Conrad Hotel or Bamboo Bar at the Oriental Bangkok. If youre not afraid of heights then soar up to the top of the world at Sirocco's, a restaurant cum bar on the 64th floor of the State Tower building at the end of Silom Road. The fusion inspired food is so-so and the bar is somewhat small but the ambiance and view is sensational. The Vertigo restaurant and bar on the 61st floor of the Banyan Tree is also best enjoyed for its views as well.
Located some 70 miles north of Bangkok is the popular Damnern Saduak Floating Market. Having lost little of its appeal, visitors will often sacrifice a day trip to Ratchaburi Province, just to see Thai women in their dark blue peasant's shirts and colourful sarong paddling through the khlong (canal) with fruits, spices, flowers, sweets and vegetables to trade. If on a limited schedule, this may be worth a miss due to the distance and the fact that the market is not perhaps as large as might be expected.
Another full day trip, which could really be converted into an overnight stay, is a journey to Kanchanaburi to see the notorious River Kwai Bridge and Death Railway. For those wishing to venture to this province, the most picturesque way to get there is to take a train departing from Hualamphong Train Station.
Kanchanaburi town itself is a little disappointing and visitors may be taken aback by the profusion of souvenir shops which would appear to have sprung up since the 50th anniversary celebrations for VJ Day; however World War II buffs should not miss the JEATH War Museum - a very moving experience, this museum offers a wonderful insight into the past.
Visitors may wish to stop off on the way to Kanchanaburi at the world's tallest Buddhist Stupa Phra Pathom Chedi located not too far from the snake farm in Nakhon Pathom. Originally dating back to 300 BC, the chedi was raised to 420 feet by King Mongkut in 1860. Visitors usually buy incense sticks, a candle and a lotus bud then make a wish.
Ayutthaya, the former capital of Thailand, is situated some 40 miles from Bangkok. Visitors on an extended stay may wish to consider journeying out to see the ruins. Ayutthaya is filled with remnants of beautiful old architecture including magnificent temples and palaces scattered in amongst the newer buildings. Wonderful Chedi can be explored and climbed for a panoramic view of the town. A leisurely and scenic way to arrive at Ayutthaya is to take one of the many river cruises on offer.
It is worth popping by the much-visited Rose Garden located some 20 miles from Bangkok. A potted selection of everything considered typical of Thai culture - folk dancing, staged Thai boxing (which is all very tame compared to the real thing), cockfighting, sword fighting, a wedding and a monk's ordination ceremony followed by a demonstration of elephants at work and the opportunity to ride one of these magnificent animals awaits. The extensive gardens also make for a pleasant respite from the city.
Note: Most hotels in Bangkok have joint-ventures with local travel agencies for booking tours. Language difficulties should present little or no barrier as multi-lingual tour guides are available.
Getting from A to B
Visitors are recommended to take the Chao Phraya Express Boat System, the Bangkok Sky Train or metered taxis, all of which are quite reasonably priced.
By law, taxi drivers are required to use meters and there is a standard minimum charge. Be aware that some taxi drivers deliberately forget to push the meter button and come up with exorbitant prices or else try to bargain to negotiate a better fare.
Drivers are allowed to add a nominal extra charge to got to the airport check for prices in the cab - and passengers are expected to pay for tolls, so take lots of change.
Tuk-Tuks or open-air motor tricycles offer hair-raising rides through the city although great fun, in heavy traffic passengers often alight feeling grimy and half-choked. These are not installed with meters, so negotiate the price before hopping in.
Warning: Since the introduction of metered taxis, the tuk-tuk trade has plummeted, as it is often cheaper to get an air-conditioned taxi. Some drivers even have deals where they try to take tourists via shopping malls in order to get free petrol.
Bangkok Sky Train opened in 1999 although hardly comprehensive at this time, this elevated train does service many major tourist destinations. Special Farecards can be purchased if you intend to make multiple journeys. The more comprehensive underground train system will be ready by August 2004.
Piers for the Chao Phraya Express Boat System are dotted along the Chao Praya River and schedules giving the various boat departure times and destination areas are written in English. Boats regularly criss-cross the river offering an alternative to rush hour traffic on the roads. The last boat leaves at 6 pm and tickets are purchased on-board.
Longtail boats run a scheduled service from many of the piers, and water taxis are available at specified jetties to explore the minor network of khlongs.
Being predominantly Buddhist, many Thai festivals involve religious observance, which in many cases are combined with a lot of fun.
Originally heralding the start of the traditional Thai New Year, Songkhran, more commonly known as the water festival, takes place during April each year. It is a family-oriented event where water is poured over the hands of elders as a sign of respect and Buddha icons are bathed in preparation for the new year ahead. Out on the streets, it's a different matter - water-phobic visitors should not venture outdoors as roads are literally drenched, spirits are high and there is no escape from a dousing with water from buckets and hoses great fun!
Held in November, the much loved and anticipated Loy Krathong or light festival is the reinstatement of an old celebration and takes place to rid the people of their sins. Literally meaning floating "leaf cup," many wear traditional dress and float leaf shaped cups containing candles and coins down the Chao Praya River and multitude of khlongs. An enchanting time for any visitor to witness this magical display.
Chinese New Year is celebrated in January/February each year according to the lunar calendar. Although not as widely celebrated as in other parts of Asia, if you happen to find yourself in Bangkok at this time, pop down to Chinatown to view the deafening release of firecrackers.
The King's Birthday is celebrated with much gusto and is a public holiday on 5 December each year. The Ratchadamnoen Klang is festooned with lights and decorations, as are many business and residential properties creating an altogether festive atmosphere. Reverence for the king is extremely moving, with speeches, firework displays and a glimpse of the royal barges in their true splendour outside the Grand Palace - leaving visitors feeling altogether honoured to have been in Bangkok at this time.