Between shopping, eating and wat hopping, Bangkok can keep a person busy for weeks.
Although there’s plenty to do and discover in this bustling metropolis, the capital city of Thailand doesn’t always open itself up easily to tourists and many mistakenly dismiss it as a busy launching-off point for beach or mountain getaways. Plus, having so many options can be overwhelming.
It can help cull down to manageable list for starters. Here are eight must-see attractions when you travel here:
As Thailand is 95% Buddhist, there are of course hundreds of Bangkok temples – known in Thai as “wats.” For a look at how locals worship, head to any one of the glittering neighborhood wats, often located far down tiny sois and well out of the way of tourist traffic.
Some are actually in massive complexes filled with halls, schools and revered statues. The three big ones on the tourist trail – the Grand Palace, Wat Po and Wat Arun – should be a best of Bangkok stop on any first-timer’s itinerary, as they are genuinely impressive and loaded with historical significance.
The Grand Palace, Na Phra Lan Rd, Maharaj Pier next to Wat Phra Kaeo Temple Complex, Bangkok Thailand, +66 2 623 5500
Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha), 2 Sanamchai Road. Grand Palace Subdistrict, Pranakorn District, Bangkok 10200 Thailand, +66 2 225 9595
Wat Arun, 158 Thanon Wang Doem, Khwaeng Wat Arun, Khet Bangkok Yai, Krung Thep Maha Nakhon 10600, Thailand, +66 2 891 2185
2. Jatujak Weekend Market
Bangkok’s Jatujak (or Chatuchak) Weekend Market – JJ for short – is one of the biggest in Asia. Covering 35 acres, it has thousands of vendors and attracts as many as 200,000 shoppers on weekends. It’s the place to go for Thai handicrafts, artwork, clothing, household goods and even pets.
The downside? It’s hot. It’s crowded. And it’s easy to get lost amid the labyrinthine network of stalls. Yet that’s why some people love it. The rest of us avoid the madness by going early in the morning, before 9 a.m., or later in the day, at about 4 p.m.
Chatuchak Weekend Market, Kampaengphet 3 Road Khwaeng Lat Yao, Khet Chatuchak, Bangkok 10900 Thailand, +66 2 272 4813
3. Jim Thompson House
The legend of Jim Thompson is outlined in every Thailand guidebook, while the iconic brand’s products are in 13 shops around Bangkok and two factory outlets.
For the true experience, head for the historic Jim Thompson House and learn about the brand’s mysterious namesake, an American who gained worldwide recognition for rebuilding the Thai silk industry before disappearing in the Malaysian jungle in 1967.
The traditional Thai-style teak house, surrounded by plants and trees, is filled with Southeast Asian antiques that he acquired through his travels. But don’t let us convince you of its quality. Somerset Maugham, who dined with Thompson at this house in 1959, summed it up best: “You have not only beautiful things, but what is rare, you have arranged them with faultless taste.”
Jim Thompson House, 6 Soi Kasemsan 2, Rama 1 Rd, Bangkok 10110 Thailand, +66 2 216 7368
4. Ancient City
This is the only way to tour Thailand’s most significant historical sites in a day. About a 45-minute drive from the city, this Samut Prakan attraction features replicas of dozens of major Thai landmarks, from the Grand Palace in Bangkok to the contested Preah Vihear temple on the border with Cambodia.
Given Ancient City’s size, walking isn’t recommended. Better to rent a golf cart or a bike to cruise around the park.
Ancient City, 296/1 Sukhumvit Road, Bangpoo, Samut Prakan 10280, Thailand, +66 2 709 1644
5. Asiatique The Riverfront
Asiatique The Riverfront is a huge shopping and entertainment complex beside Bangkok’s Chao Phraya river. Inspired by the city’s days as a riverside trading post in the early 1900s, it resembles a traditional pier with rows of warehouses.
The restaurants and bars include a mixture of upscale bistro-style restaurants serving Thai, Japanese, French and Italian, as well as an Irish pub and a wine bar. There’s also an outdoor, covered food court. The best way to get there is to hop on the free shuttle boat that runs regularly from the BTS Thaksin pier.
Asiatique The Riverfront, 2194 Charoenkrung Road, Wat Phraya Krai, Bang Kho Laem, Bangkok 10120 Thailand, +66 2 108 4488
6. Siam Niramit
A well-designed stage production featuring more than 100 performers, Siam Niramit crams seven centuries of Thai culture into a fantastic 80-minute show that’s heavy on special effects.
Shows start daily at 8 p.m. and there’s an onsite restaurant offering a fairly standard Thai buffet dinner from 5:30 p.m. After the show, families can check out onsite attractions such as elephant rides, a recreation of a traditional Thai village and other cultural displays.
Siam Niramit, 19 Tiamruammit Road, Bangkok 10320 Thailand, +66 2 649 9222
7. Museum of Contemporary Art
For a look at Thailand’s modern art scene, you’ll need to head out of the downtown core to Bangkok’s new Museum of Contemporary Art.
A five-story space owned by a Thai telecommunications magnate who wanted to share his huge Thai modern art collection with the masses, MOCA offers a great introduction to those who want a primer on Thailand’s art scene.
Most of the country’s leading artists of the past 50 years are represented, as well as some lesser-known greats.
Museum of Contemporary Art, 499, Kamphaengphet 6th Road Lad Yao, Chatuchak, Bangkok 10900 Thailand, +66 2 016 5666
8. Museum of Floral Culture
This is one of Bangkok’s gorgeous surprises.
The creation of Thai floral artist Sakul Intakul, the museum is for flower and nature lovers and those with an interest in Thai flower culture. It features exhibits of important floral cultures from civilizations across Asia such as Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Laotian and Balinese/Indonesian.
It’s housed in a beautifully preserved, 100-year-old teak mansion with colonial architecture. Lush grounds have been transformed into an impeccably landscaped Thai-meets-Zen-style garden.
The Museum of Floral Culture, 315 Samsen Rd. Soi 28, Yaek Ongkarak 13, Dusit, Bangkok 10300 Thailand, +66 2 669 3633