A visit to Bangkok's Grand Palace is at the top of every visitors 'must-see' list. Built in 1782 by King Rama I who established Bangkok as Thailand's new capital, the Grand Palace became the Royal seat for 150 years.
The striking buildings within the palace complex reflect the spirit of each successive monarch and the era in which they ruled. While Thailand's current (and longest-reigning) monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej has never lived in the Grand Palace, the complex is still used to mark ceremonial and auspicious happenings. Deep within the Palace grounds you'll find Thailand's most sacred sight - Phra Kaew Morakot (the Emerald Buddha) contained within a beautiful temple (Wat Phra Kaeo). This highly revered Buddha sculpture is carved from a single block of jade and dates from the 15th century AD.
To make the most of your visit it is worthwhile hiring a guide who will help broaden your understanding of the Grand Palace and its colorful history.
The Temple of the Dawn - or Wat Arun - towers 260 ft (79 m) above the Chao Phraya river. With fabulous views of the rising and setting sun and of the city's main attractions, the temple is one of Bangkok's most visited sights after the Grand Palace.
Named by Bangkok's founder King Thaksin to signify the rise of the new kingdom (after Ayutthaya was destroyed), the Temple of the Dawn was originally much shorter until its expansion during King Rama III's rule (1824 - 1851). Local people donated the ceramic pieces that make up the temple's unique exterior decoration.
It is possible to climb the temple for views across the river to the Grand Palace and beyond but its narrow steps are not for the faint hearted.
The Chao Phraya River (or Mae Nam Chao Phraya) runs north to south through Thailand, whose most notable and densely populated cities lie along the river's main tributary.
In Bangkok, the Chao Phraya is a major transportation artery. A vast network of ferries and water taxis, known as long tails, ferry locals and tourists up and down the river, connecting with the city's main sights. For many, these boats are the preferred way of getting around Bangkok, whose streets are often choked with traffic.
Several boat lines compete for business on the river and its canals and you’ll find variations in price and distance traveled. If you start at Tha Sathon (accessible via sky train at Saphan Taksi), you'll chug sedately past (or be able to disembark at) Chinatown, Wat Arun, Wichai Prasit Fort and the Grand Palace. There’s no denying it - the Chao Phraya is a murky and sometimes smelly river, but even a short boat trip along it gives you a fresh perspective on the city.
Chinatown - or Yaowarat - is a vibrant area, packed with shops, markets, restaurants and hotels, mostly concentrated along Thanon Yaowarat (Yaowarat Street). Markedly different from the rest of Bangkok, Chinatown is relatively untouched by modern development and has the highest concentration of gold shops in the city. There is also a smaller network of roads and alleys, which reveal markets crammed with anything from hair slides to cutlery.
Having been settled in the area since the 1700s, Bangkok's large Chinese community has a unique and fascinating history. You can now get a sense of that at the relatively new Yaowarat Chinatown Heritage Centre in Wat Trai Mit Witthayaram. The center details the evolution of Chinatown and its people, from their earliest migration from China to the present day.
Located at the end of Chinatown's Yaowarat Road, near Hua Lampong Station, Wat Traimit is home to the world's largest gold-seated Buddha. Measuring in at three meters tall and weighing over five tons, the Golden Buddha makes Wat Traimit a prominent stop on Bangkok’s temple trail.
This impressive statue attracts floods of visitors who come to marvel at its impressive size and gleaming golden surface, but was once hidden from invading armies by a covering of plaster. Pieces of the plaster that once formed its disguise can now be found on display in a case within the temple.
In a city and country known for its colorful markets, none stands quite so vivid as Bangkok’s Pak Khlong Talat Flower Market. The largest floral market in the Thai capital -- both retail and wholesale -- sits on the banks of the river just south of Wat Pho.
Open 24 hours a day, the market starts each day primarily as a vegetable and fruit market before giving way to the flowers. As you wander through, you’ll see flowers from around the world, piled high in stall after stall -- delicate orchids, bunches of colorful carnations, fragrant roses, lilies and forget-me-nots.
Deep within the Grand Palace grounds you’ll find Thailand’s most sacred sight - the Emerald Buddha (Phra Kaew Morakot) contained within the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew or Wat Phra Keow). This temple is regarded as the most sacred Buddhist temple in the country and is an essential palladium of Thai society.
Within its walls is the highly revered Buddha sculpture, carved from a single block of jade and dates from the 14th century AD. Believed to have been crafted in Sri Lanka, the Emerald Buddha was transported and revered throughout Southeast Asia before being brought back to Thailand from Laos in 1552. It has sat in its present shrine within the Grand Palace walls since 1784 and remains an important symbol of the Thai nation.
The Golden Mount - or Wat Saket - was constructed by King Rama I shortly after the founding of Bangkok. Built just outside the original city walls and intended as a burial site, the mount has many thousands of bodies interned here - most of them dating from Rama II's rule when plague swept through the city.
Built on swampy ground, the hill was rebuilt by Rama III who added a chedi (stupa) which promptly collapsed due to the shifting foundations. Rama V built the golden chedi we see today on the rubble of the previous chedi. The golden chedi is rumored to contain some of Buddha's remains – including his teeth. Concrete walls were constructed during World War II to ensure the structure remains stable. The Golden Mount looks its best at night when it glows gold against the dark sky. It is worth visiting in the daytime too for fantastic views across the city.
A major destination among travelers in Bangkok, The Marble Palace is aptly named for its design, which is entirely made from Italian marble. Completed in 1911, the temple is the home of the golden Buddhist statue called Phra Buddhajinaraja and is still a live shrine, often filled with patrons who make offerings or light candles inside.
Buried beneath the statue is said to be the ashes of King Chulalongkorn and outside the main shrine in the gallery are more than 50 statues of Buddha depicted by several different cultures and variations of Buddhism in the region.
Located near to the Dusit Palace, the spacious complex on Si Ayudhya Road is built on the site of an older temple and was once used as the headquarters of Thai troops fighting against the Laotian army.
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Budget travelers the world over go to Khao San Road to eat delicious, cheap street food, stay in budget digs, shop at the souvenir stalls and hang out in its open-air bars. So legendary is this Thai street, it even has its own website!
Only 20 minutes walk to the Grand Palace, Khao San Road started on its current incarnation in the early 80s, when Thailand fully embraced tourism. What began as a few budget travelers renting rooms in local houses, bloomed into a fully fledged backpacker mecca. As well as being an attraction in itself these days, Khan San Road is a good place to arrange ongoing travel within Thailand or its neighboring countries. Khao San Road is still as popular as ever and, love it or hate it, its irrepressible energy is infectious and hard to deny.
Phahurat Market is located in the Little India area of Bangkok in the Phra Nakhon district of the city, which has a large Sikh community. Just a stone’s throw from Chinatown, visiting the market and its surrounding areas means a discovery of smells, sights, sounds, and tastes—a true feast for the senses.
The market is so named due to the main road that connects it, where stall and shop owners sell all manner of Indian-style clothing, jewelry, and food amid a labyrinth of narrow alleyways. These crowded lanes are mainly filled with swaths of fabrics, as well as ready-to-wear items of clothing. The area also extends along Chakrawat Road and further along Sampeng Lane, where neighboring restaurants offer a range of Indian cuisine to choose from.
The Phahurat Market is a popular and often crowded place, where visitors can wander around and soak up the atmosphere, stopping to haggle for some fine silks or to nibble on a delicious Indian snack from a street cart.
Held in the Asia Hotel in Bangkok, the Calypso Cabaret is certainly a show with a twist, using traditional cabaret to parade Thailand’s famous transsexual culture. It’s filled with lots of great costumes, dancing and singing, and performers accommodate all nationalities, singing songs and acting in Japanese, English, Korean and Chinese.
Each show contains several fascinating acts, including that of Carmen Miranda, who rides ostriches on the stage while dancing in the bright lights, a very convincing Marilyn Monroe impersonator and the comedic styling of Geisha, who performs in Japanese, but is hilarious in any language.
The controversial nature of the event make perhaps do not make it ideal for family outings, but these highly professional shows bring lots of memorable moments, including from Korean songs of the Wondergirls and the fantastic and overwhelming finale—which we will not give away here.
Wat Suthat is one of the oldest and most revered temples in Bangkok. It is one of just six temples in Thailand classified as the “highest grade of the first class royal temples.” It houses an eight-meter tall bronze Buddha statue seated in the Mara position, as well as some intricate wall murals that depict the life of the Buddha.
However, Wat Suthat is perhaps best known for the giant red swing (or Sao Ching Chaa) that sits in front of it. The huge 20-meter-tall swing, which is made from teak wood, was built at the end of the 18th century when it was used as part of an annual religious ceremony. Inside the temple, magnificent wall murals portray the stories of the Buddha, while others depict scenes of daily life in the Rattanakosin era. Along with those found in Bangkok’s Grand Palace, these murals are considered some of the best and most extensive in the whole of Thailand.
A top destination for visitors in Bangkok, the Jim Thompson House is a museum dedicate to the 20th century American businessman Jim Thompson, who almost single handedly reinvented the Thai silk trade. Housed in the former home of Mr. Thompson, the museum contains art he obtained while traveling in the region as well as very informative demonstrations showing the entire process of making silk, from how the silkworms are raised through to the production process.
The house is made up of six traditional Thai-style homes that were purchased one by one and formed into an elaborate mansion-like complex that includes a drawing room, painting pavilion, library, study and silk pavilion. Certainly a fan-favorite, the gift shop contains loads of great silk products as well as books and paintings showcasing the life of Jim Thompson.
Wat Kalayanamit is an elaborate Bangkok temple that sits on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River. It’s located near the mouth of the Bangkok Yai Canal, although any time spent on this part of the river means you’re unlikely to miss it; the temple’s giant ochre-roofed viharn tends to stand out and demand attention.
While Kalayanamit’s viharn can be said to be traditionally Thai in architectural style, the temple’s other buildings and pavilions have a distinct Chinese influence. This is because Wat Kalayanamit was built in the first half of the 19th century when China was seen as the ideal counterbalance to the growing European influences in southeast Asia. As such, Chinese architecture, sculptures, and other decorative artefacts became increasingly popular. Inside the huge viharn, an equally huge Buddha statue almost fills the entire prayer hall, while the walls are painted with scenes from the time of the temple's construction.
A weekend visit to Chatuchak Market is an absolute must-do. The snack stalls at the market's entrance selling deep fried insects give you a taste (quite literally if you are game!) of the unique Thai treats that await you within.
Only open on the weekend, Chatuchak is Bangkok's largest and most fun weekend market. You'll need a full day here to navigate the entire place, which bursts with stalls selling everything from reptiles, puppies, exotic food and souvenirs, to fake designer clothes and real designer furniture. Browsing at the market is a fantastic cultural experience but can be hot and exhausting. Start your day early and take advantage of the many bars and cafes within the market that are perfectly set up for people watching over a cold beverage. Western food is available but it pays to be adventurous and try a bargain local lunch at one of the many food stalls.
Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum is a good time anywhere, but where it is always fun to see the likeness of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, the Bangkok branch also includes sculptures in the shape of some regional favorites.
Meet Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the Dalai Lama and Chairman Mao Zedong, among several other current and historical political figures, or if you are an arts and science buff, Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso and even the father of modern art in Thailand, Silpa Bhirasri, are on display. Among the museums large cache of wax pop stars, take your photo with Michael Jackson, Madonna, Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber or shake hands with sports icons Muhammad Ali, Yao Ming or Serena Williams. Madame Tussaud’s in Bangkok is located on the 6th floor of the recently refurbished Siam Discovery in the heart of town.
Home to the four-faced golden statue of Brahma called Phra Phrom, the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok is one of the top religious destinations in the country. The place of frequent traditional Thai performances and worship, the 20th century shrine was originally built in order to cleanse the area of any bad karma and bring luck to the hotel that commissioned it, but stands today as a monument on its own merits.
The shrine is decorated with seemingly hundreds of floral garlands or fruits and even meats, and pilgrims and followers will light incense on the steps leading up to the shrine or donate money, paying their respects to Brahma around the clock.
Located on Thanon Rama and Thanon Ratchadamn to the north of the Four Seasons Hotel, the shrine also has an interesting history. In 2006, a man was beaten to death by bystanders after he desecrated the statue with a hammer early one morning, leaving most of it in ruins.
This politically significant monument located in the heart of Bangkok commemorates the nation’s transition to a constitutional monarchy. Some 75 cannonballs surround the base of the statue, which measures exactly 24 meters tall—a number that is particularly significant, since the new constitution was signed on June 24. And while relief work along the bottom or the monument depicts military, citizens and law enforcement responsible for birthing the current state, locals say the Democracy Monument continues to be a gathering place for demonstrations and for calls to action in times of political unrest or during threat of dictatorship.
This urban oasis in the heart of bustling Bangkok offers travelers and locals a 142-acre escape from the chaos of the city. Towering trees, well-designed playgrounds and an artificial lake where visitors can rent boats and float in peace are part of the draw to popular Lumpini Park. Runners follow worn paths that wind through the grounds and cyclists loop through the park between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. daily. Lumpini Park is the perfect place to relax, unwind and recover before heading back into the street of Bangkok.
This bustling local gem is the largest fresh food market in Bangkok, with stalls selling produce straight from rural farms, raw meat and seafood direct from the nearby fishing port. Khlong Toey is particularly crowded in early mornings, when locals arrive in search of the best fare but despite long lines the vibe is still pretty relaxed.
While travelers can find random items like batteries and electronics, the real draw here is food. Come prepared to sample fruits and vegetables straight from market shelves, or to tuck into steaming hot plates of green curry at one of the mom and pop breakfast and lunch stalls.
SEA LIFE Bangkok Ocean World, formerly called Siam Ocean World, is one of Southeast Asia’s biggest aquariums, encompassing 110,000 square feet (10,200 square meters) of exhibit space and over a million gallons (5 million liters) of tanks. The aquarium is divided into several themed areas, including the innovative Shark Walk, where instead of passing through an acrylic tunnel, visitors walk above a tank where five species of sharks swim.
Popular aquatic residents include a colony of African penguins at Rocky Shore, an array of colorful and often bizarre seahorses at Seahorse Kingdom, short clawed otters in the Tropical Rainforest and a host of mesmerizing jellies. For an additional fee, guests can participate in feeding boat rides, behind-the-scenes tours, 4D cinema screenings and shark tank dives.
The Taling Chan Floating Market is one of Bangkok’s top destination spots with a network of vendors selling fresh produce, meats and fish from boats on the canal Khlong Chak Phra. It is only open during the day on the weekends and is popular with both local residents and visitors who come take part in the age-old tradition of the floating markets.
Shoppers who attend the market, which was opened in front of Taling Chan District Office during the 1980’s to commemorate the 60th birthday of King Bhumibol, can enjoy the sounds of traditional music during the mornings to kick off the day as well as even pick up several non-food items including plants, flowers and the odd Thai souvenir very cheaply.
Getting to the market takes a good hour and a half from the main areas of Bangkok and can either be reached by boat or more efficiently by taxi.
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