Bangkok Destination Guide
Parts of Thailand's capital are ablaze with neon at night, roar with traffic by day, and amid the ramshackle chaos, there's always something colourful to draw your eye. From gold-spired Buddhist temples and monks' robes to flowers in a hidden market and the T-shirts of touts. It's a vast, tropical, assault on the senses and home to 11 million. Pack your curiosity, fortitude and sense of adventure. Bangkok is ready for you – are you ready to see what it's made of?
Given its sprawl across 50 districts, there are literally endless things to do in Bangkok but most of its top sights are in the Old City in Rattanakosin. This is a densely-packed area between downtown and the river, home to the Grand Palace, including Wat Phra Kaew – the most sacred temple in Thailand. Wat Pho, a huge reclining Buddha statue, is also one of the most-visited features of the area. Adjacent to Rattanakosin is the famous Khao San Road – a budget traveller's Mecca – and next to that is the leafy, European-style area sporting the look-worthy Dusit Palace.
You're going to get the real Thai deal here. From ubiquitous street food stalls selling their own concoctions, to upmarket restaurants selling national dishes to a foreign audience. Get ready for sweet, sour and spicy like you may not have experienced before. Beware, a street stall vendor saying 'satay' is asking if you want hot sauce, not peanut sauce. Get Chinese food in Yaowarat and go to Soi Phadung Dao for seafood. For a drink with a view, try the rooftop bars Vertigo and Sirocco in the (night time) party district, Silom. Silom is a chameleon: it's the financial centre by day.
International chains, tiny boutique houses and a multitude of mid-range options comprise Bangkok hotels. Luxury hotels tend to condense around the Ploenchit-Chidlom and Sukhumvit districts, if you want to shop consider staying in Siam, and to be close to Old City sites, find a riverside property. The amplified nightlife in Khao San and Silom has prompted a range of accommodation options in these areas. Depending on where you stay, air-conditioning may be an optional extra – it's worth it. High season runs October to April so bargains are up for grabs May to September.
Tailor-made clothes, gemstones, gold and antiques are all among the bounty Bangkok shopping can reveal. A times, the whole city can feel like a market but the king of them all is Chatuchak Weekend Market in Phahonyothin; this is the largest in south-east Asia, comprising about 8,000 stalls. It's got everything. The weekend Taling Chan Floating Market is almost a cultural relic, blending rural and canalside life out in Thonburi. For a tangible antique, wander Solim and if you want the 'bright lights' shopping experience, Siam Square is for you.
Bangkok like a Local
Locals don't rush. They're not trying to condense so much into their time. They know some of the best street food zones are in Bang Rak, Chinatown and Ratchawat. If they are one of Bangkok's beautiful people, with a love of big-name DJs, they'll be dancing, drinking and dining at Bed Supperclub on Sukhumvit Road. If they want to drink in sky-high city views, along with top wines or cocktails, they'll be doing so at Red Sky, on the 55th-floor of the Centara Grand Hotel. You can't see it all; just do what you can, in style. Whether that's bohemian or chic, Bangkok awaits.