Bangkok

One of the main gateways to S E Asia, Bangkok is an incredibly popular starting point for backpackers travelling through this part of the world.

In 2013 it was the third most visited city anywhere on the globe. With it’s rich history, beautiful landmarks, friendly locals and extensive public transport networks its easy to see why so many tourists flock to Bangkok before heading off to explore other parts of Thailand or neighbouring countries.

Getting Around

Public Transport
BTS Running regularly from 6am to midnight, one of the easiest ways to travel around Bangkok is by using the BTS Skytrain. The Skytrain is an excellent way to travel around Bangkok because it is cheap, efficient and more importantly, fully air conditioned and very reliable. You can purchase a ticket from one of the many electronic ticket machines at any BTS station as long as you have the correct change.  If you’re not sure ask at the change counter and they will point you in the right direction. If you’ve used a mass transport system before like the London Underground you will find using the Skytrain very straightforward. Fares are based on the number of stops (or stations) you will pass and start at 15฿ with a highest fare of 52฿ for a one-way journey. MRT The MRT operates trains through an underground network that serves 18 stations and stretches for 20km. The MRT links with the airport rail link and the BTS Skytrain at Sukhumvit and Silom stations.

As with the Skytrain, the MRT runs from 6am – midnight and you can purchase tickets from electronic ticket machines found at all stations.

Buses Buses are another option to travel around Bangkok and are cheap although not always straightforward to use. Many are air conditioned which is very welcome after battling the heat and humidity of Bangkok. Buses are run by the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority They are run by the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority, whose website has detailed information on bus routes. Fares for ordinary fan cooled buses start at 7฿ or 8฿. Air-con bus fares usually start at 10฿ and increase depending on how far your going.

Walking
The sheer size and humidity of Bangkok means its not the easiest of places to traverse on foot. However once you reach the general area you want to be in there are usually decent pavements and walkways for pedestrians particularly in popular tourist areas for example near the Grand Palace. Combine walking with public transport for a cost effective and environmentally friendly way to get around.
Taxi
There are a never ending supply of taxi’s in Bangkok so you should never struggle to find one.

Always on the meter!

Taxi drivers in Bangkok are supposed to use the meter to charge fares and as long as they do travelling by taxi can be a cost effective but hassle free way of getting around one of the largest cities in Asia. Bangkok has some of the best value cabs on earth with nearly all having air conditioning and working seatbelts. But some taxi drivers can see tourists coming and will only offer a high flat rate rather than turn on the meter. Simply say meter or nothing and if they don’t accept move on to the next one – there are more than enough cabs around! If you go on a flat fee it will almost always be considerably more than it would have been on the meter. In areas with a very high concentration of travellers like Koh San Road, you may find it difficult to get a taxi who will take you on the meter. Just walk 10 minutes away where there are less tourists and you should be able to find one on the meter almost immediately.

Tuk Tuk
Although a fun way to see Bangkok, travelling by tuk tuk isn’t always as cost effective as you might think and can often be more expensive than a metered taxi. Going by tuk tuk is certainly more of an experience than a practical way to see Bangkok! Pre arrange your fare as well as the route. Insist before the journey that you don’t want to make any stops or you may find yourself being taken to a variety of shops where of course the driver receives a commission on anything you buy.

Not to miss

Below our some of our favourite ‘not to miss’ places in Bangkok. Also a must see is at least one of the stunning Buddhist temples in Bangkok, scroll down to our Sights, Attractions & Temples section to find out more.

The Grand Palace
One of the most spectacular sights in Bangkok is the Grand Palace, arguably the city’s most famous landmark. Built in 1782, for 150 years the Palace was the home of the Thai King, the Royal court and the administrative seat of government. Although no longer home to the Thai Royal family, the complex remains the spiritual heart of the Thai Kingdom. Visitors flock to the Palace to gaze at its beautiful architecture and incredibly intricate detail. Inside the Palace complex are several impressive buildings including Wat Phra Kaew (The Temple of the Emerald Buddha) which displays the very famous yet small Emerald Buddha which is believed to date back to the 14th century. The palace complex is made up of an Outer and Inner court. The Inner court is where the King’s daughters once lived and even though no royalty reside here now, it is still completely closed of to the public. The Outer Court, used to house government departments such as the army and the treasury. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha is located in one corner of this outer court. If you like architecture then enjoy comparing the different styles of building within the Palace complex.  There is an obvious contrast between the very Thai influenced Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the more European inspired design of the Grand Palace – it’s roof being the main exception.

Strict dress code applies

The Grand Palace with The Temple of the Emerald Buddha is one of  Thailand’s most sacred sites and as such visitors must be properly dressed before being allowed entry to the temple. Men must wear long trousers (pants) and a shirt with sleeves / t-shirt. Women must also be modestly dressed. So cover up legs and shoulders and avoid wearing anything see-through! If you do show up improperly dressed, you can still enter the Grand Palace but you will have to queue up at a booth near the entrance to borrow clothes to cover you up properly. If you turn up in acceptable dress it will save you a lot of time and hassle.

Wat Arun - The Temple of Dawn
One of the most striking temples in Bangkok is Wat Arun – also known as the Temple of Dawn which sits quietly on the Chao Phraya River. The main temple is surrounded by four smaller temples with the largest being built in typical Khmer style architecture. This spectacular site is easily reached via a ferry to the Maharaj Pier. It can be a challenge to reach the balcony due to the steep ascent, however if you do make it, it really does enhance what it already an incredibly beautiful experience. Whilst the temple has an all-round beauty, it is even more stunning at either dawn or sunset which offers some amazing vistas, characterised by the hues of light and colour as the sun sets or rises. In fact, dawn and sunset are excellent times of the day to visit temples because not only are you rewarded with an enhanced viewing experience, you also avoid the stifling heat and crowds!
Chatuchak Weekend Market
Shop ’till you drop’ at the 35 acre Chatuchak market, home to more than 8,000 market stalls. Even if you’re not a ‘shopaholic’ this place is worth checking out purely to take in its sheer size and diversity. When visiting Chatuchak for the first time, getting around it may seem like an impossible task but worry not, there is a system to help you navigate your way through the market. One main walkway encircles the entire market and then branches off into a series of numbered alleyways named Soi 1, Soi 2 etc. These alleys are grouped into sections, with 27 sections in total. Another way to find your way around Chatuchak is to locate points of reference as you go along. The BTS and MRT stations as well as banks and numbered entrance gates are good points of reference, as you will come across them as you turn corners. You will find stacks of bargains here but be aware of fakes.

How to Get to Chatuchak

Catch the Sky train (BTS) to Mo Chit station, take exit no. 1 and follow the crowd until you see rows stalls selling clothes. Turn right while continuing to follow the crowd and you will see a small entrance that leads into the clothing section of the market. Another option is to take the subway (MRT) to Chatuchak Park station (exit no.1), then follow the crowd until you arrive at the small market entrance that. For the plant and flower section, get off at Kampheng Phet MRT station (exit no. 1). The weekend market is open on Saturdays and Sundays, 09:00 – 18:00, and Fridays 18:00 – 24:00. Plant sections are also open on Wednesdays and Thursdays, from 07:00 – 18:00.

Koh San Road
A vibrant and lively street, this area of Bangkok is synonymous with backpackers and is a great place to meet like minded travellers. Find our more on our blog post about Koh San Road.

Sights, Attractions & Temples

One of the best ways to get a taster of this historically rich country is by exploring some of Bangkok’s breath taking temples, where you can take a step back in time and immerse yourself in the ambient and historical surroundings.

The Temple of the Emerald Buddha

One of the most popular and beautiful temples in Bangkok is the Temple of The Emerald Buddha on the grounds of the Grand Palace. A breath taking jade carving of the Emerald Buddha is one of the many spectacular features of this temple, however the temple is adorned with paintings and is characterised by stunning gold leaf. Indeed, at every twist and turn, this wonderful site of historical importance will leave you mesmerised.

Siam Square

If you love shopping you will be in consumer heaven at Siam Square – Bangkok’s super sized shopping district. Home to the Siam Center, Siam Discovery and the whopping 10 floor Siam Paragon malls. Even if you’re not a fan of shopping its still an interesting place to visit especially to see Thai fashion and youth culture on display. Although not technically part of Siam Square, just around the corner you will find the MBK Center – a must visit for bargain hunters this mall has everything from suitcases to jewellery, dried fruit to souvenirs and retro gaming equipment, all spread across 2500 stalls! It’s full of fakes but you can also find some really unique items, particularly t-shirts with a huge range of different prints.

Wat Pho

Wat Pho also known as the Temple of The Reclining Buddha or Wat Phra Chetuphon is located behind the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and about a 10 minute walk from the Grand Palace. This temple is famed for its incredible giant reclining Buddha that measures 46 metres long and is covered in gold leaf. The Buddha’s feet are 5 metres long and beautifully decorated in exquisite mother-of-pearl. As the Buddha is a revered image, all visitors must wear appropriate clothing to enter which means no exposed shoulders of skin above the knee. If you are wearing clothing that isn’t suitable Wat Pho do provide gowns free of charge so you should still be able to enter. Although the giant Buddha is popular with tourists the rest of the Wat Pho temple complex is usually quieter than others in Bangkok. Wandering around the temple complex and it’s many decorative stupas tends to be more a relaxing experience than some of the cities other attractions.

Floating Market Damnoen Saduak

Damnoen Saduak is probably the most popular floating market in Thailand, great for photos, trying new food, and for giving you an insight into a bygone way of life. Its worth going early to avoid the heat and to catch the market at its liveliest. The market is over an hours drive outside of Bangkok in Ratchaburi. If you want to make things easy then arrange a tour to take you. Otherwise buses leave the Southern bus terminal in Bangkok regularly from 06.0o am onwards.

Wat Traimit (Golden Buddha)

Located at the end of Chinatown’s Yaowarat Road, near Hualampong Railway Station, Wat Traimit houses the world’s largest solid gold statue. The 5.5 ton gold Buddha measures nearly five metres in height. In the past, artisans crafted Buddha’s in gold and then covered them in stucco and plaster to disguise them from invading armies. The Buddha at Wat Traimit was discovered entirely by accident when it was mistakenly dropped as it was being moved, revealing under a casing of plaster, a stunning solid gold Sukhothai style Buddha. Open every day from 09.00 – 17.00. Visiting the golden Buddha itself is free and a mere 10 Baht to visit the accompanying museum.

Accommodation

Koh San Road is the place to go if you’re looking for budget accommodation and to meet like minded travellers. Sukhumvit is home to a huge range of accommodation options to small fairly budget friendly B&B’s to extravagant 5* hotels. Bangkok is one of the cheapest places in the world to enjoy 5* luxury. By no means suited to a backpacker budget, but if you did want to splash out, the price of luxury hotels here are still far less than there counterparts would be in western countries. Use Air B n B or couch surfer if you are looking for unique or perhaps even free accommodation in Bangkok.

We can recommend Sawasdee House for central, basic but clean accommodation around the corner from Koh San Road (but not on it, so you can still get a good nights sleep!)

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