From majestic palaces, to open-air markets and elephant rides, Bangkok offers a myriad of ways for visitors to experience Thailand’s unique culture.
As the capital of Thailand, Bangkok serves as the country’s cultural, spiritual and culinary center. With more than 10 million inhabitants, it’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the city has to offer. Our suggestion is to sample the best of Bangkok by visiting a few of the popular historic and cultural attractions, shopping at outdoor markets, eating tons of great Thai food and experiencing a traditional Thai massage (or many if you please).
Before exploring, check-in to Bangkok’s Riva Surya, a charming boutique hotel located on the Chao Phraya River, near the city’s historic center. Key attractions, such as the Grand Palace and Wat Pho are nearby, and colorful Khao San Road is within walking distance. The hotel is conveniently located next to the Phra Arthit Pier, so you can hop on the Chao Phraya express boats for more sightseeing adventures. Later, relax by the riverside swimming pool and enjoy a meal at the hotel’s signature restaurant, babble & rum, which offers fresh, market-inspired dishes. The bountiful breakfast buffet is another reason to stay at the Riva Surya. You can sit outside with a peaceful view of the river and enjoy a made-to-order omelet, steamed buns with cream, tropical fresh fruits and much more. The rooms at Riva Surya are both stylish and comfortable, featuring a heavenly king-size bed with crisp, silky linens and modern amenities. One unique design element is the exterior bathroom wall, made from two large panels of glass that sandwich a beautiful silk panel. This lovely hotel is a welcoming sanctuary after a long day of sightseeing.
The top tourist attraction in Bangkok is the Grand Palace, a magnificent complex built in 1782 (after King Rama I ascended to the throne) to house the royal residences, throne halls, government offices and the sacred Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), regarded as the most important Buddhist temple in Thailand. It contains the highly treasured Emerald Buddha from the 14th century, carved from a single block of jade. The exterior of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha is stunning – intricate details and designs are filled with colored glass, outlined with melted gold that sparkle in the sun like a majestic jewel box. This is Thai opulence at its best. Visitors must follow a modest dress code before being allowed to enter this sacred site. Ladies must keep knees and shoulders covered with long pants or skirts. Arrive early before the palace opens to avoid the heat and crowds.
Another iconic destination is Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha), which features an enormous reclining Buddha (more than 60 meters long) and was home to the first Thai massage school in the kingdom in 1955. During the reign of King Rama I, it was regarded as the most important royal monastery. Some of the king’s ashes are kept under the principal Buddha’s pedestal in the main chapel. Today, the Wat Pho Thai Traditional Medical and Massage School offers four courses of Thai medicine: pharmacy, medical practice, midwife nurse and massage. Getting a traditional Thai massage in Thailand is a must! One hour at the famous temple is only 420 baht (about $13). Believe it or not, less expensive massages can be found along Khao San Road or you can opt for a more luxurious one at a hotel or spa.
Outdoor markets are plentiful in Bangkok, where you can find fresh produce, flowers, specialty items and delicious street food. A few stand-outs include: Maelong Railway Market (Talad Rom Hub), Pak Klong Talad (Flower Market) and the ever-popular Floating Market in Damnoen Saduak. (Get an early start for this market, as it’s only open in the mornings and is located about 100 km south of Bangkok.) You can arrive by car, but it’s way more fun to cruise the klongs (canals) in a long-tail boat and enjoy a relaxing ride as you get a glimpse of everyday life along the banks of the river. Once you arrive at the Floating Market, you can access the individual boats selling their wares from the surrounding walkways. Be sure and try mango and sweet sticky rice, an authentic Thai dessert (Khao Neeo Mamuang), which can be found in just about any market.
Sampran Riverside (aka the Rose Garden) is a popular tourist attraction dedicated to preserving Thailand’s natural and cultural heritage. Visitors can participate in traditional crafts and learn about the Thai way of life throughout several stations in the Thai Village Cultural Centre. Each morning guests can participate in several arts and crafts workshops,
such as traditional weaving, pottery, rice farming, bamboo dancing, Thai martial arts, garland making, umbrella painting, and much more. The 70-acre riverside property also houses a 4-star hotel, spa, restaurants, and an organic farm. Sign-up for a cooking class and make delicious Thai cuisine using ingredients from the farm, or enjoy refined Thai dishes at the Inn Chan restaurant with a scenic view of Ta Chine River.
Afterwards, you can watch the Thai Village Show followed by a brief elephant demonstration outside the theatre, and even ride one if you like. Visit the gift shop before you leave and take some roses with you, in the form of an intoxicating rose body scrub.
Bangkok’s historic Chinatown (Yaowarat) is one of the oldest Chinese communities in Thailand, where vendors have been selling all types of good for the past 200 years. Yaowarat is packed with shops and vendors in a maze of small alleyways, selling food, textiles, garments and souvenirs. The vibrant street scene and foodie heaven attracts both locals and visitors alike. Many come to buy or trade gold or visit the Chinese temples.
This place is buzzing with activity, day or night, with crowds of people dodging delivery carts and vespas, and food is everywhere! Street food vendors selling noodles soups, dim sum, chestnuts, ginkgo, fresh fruits and vegetables and much more. Alfresco dining takes on a whole new meaning at crowded communal tables, but you’ll be focusing on the tasty food, so rubbing elbows with your neighbor is no big deal. To feel less overwhelmed, take a tour of Chinatown and learn about its history, while discovering hidden treasures.
Before you leave the glorious kingdom of Thailand, enjoy one more heavenly massage and one more serving of mango and sticky rice at Rarin Jinda Spa at Grand Centre Point Hotel — a sweet and healthy indulgence that is highly recommended.