When you think of Thailand, the first city that comes to mind is probably Bangkok. This could be because of movies, music, or simply because there are a lot of great things to do in Bangkok. Our first night in Bangkok was literally a 4 hour nap before we flew to Koh Samui en route to Koh Phangan, but my first observation was that the airport is big but easy to navigate through. If there is one thing Thailand does right, it is tourism. There are English speaking people at the airport, on flights, at restaurants, hotels, and excursions, which makes getting around and planning your trip very easy!
We returned back to Bangkok at the end of our trip for 2 nights to see the city and its sights! We were told by a few people to “get out of Bangkok as quickly as possible,” but since this is a huge major city, we wanted to check things out for ourselves. Bangkok was not on the top of my list of favorite places in Thailand, for many reasons, but the city does have a lot to offer, including a lot of things we did not get to do! Here are some great things I recommend, both things we did and things we wanted to do but didn’t get around to.
1. Get a Massage
I purposely put this item first, because I could have a massage every single day if I could! This is a must do anywhere you go in Thailand, but we found the massages in Bangkok to be some of the cheapest. If you are simply looking for a regular, no “extras” massage, try to stay away from “soapy massages.” A common misconception is that all massage parlors offer “happy endings” which is false. There are many of professional massages places that offer all kinds of massages, sans the “something extra.” We literally paid $7-$10 for each massage. That is insane!
Where to get massage
In Bangkok, our hotel was off of Thanon Surawong Road and we got 2 massages in 2 days, for a total of about $36 including tip. That was for two of us! Our first massage was at huge place across from our hotel with dozens of therapists. We walked by and there were about 5 of them outside soliciting business.
Tiago got a foot massage on the main floor, where there were about 20 chairs for massage. I got a Thai massage, where I was led upstairs with about 20 or so private beds, separated by a curtain for Thai or oil massage. I know what you are thinking, and I was kinda freaked out myself, but it was fine! The man, or boy for that matter, gave me the outfit to put on, which I ended up having him help me with. The pants could have fit a 300lb woman!
Thai massage is much different than what you might be used to. Instead of using oil on your naked skin, they actually do most of the work over clothing using friction, and pressure from their whole body. They might press their forearm into your back or leg, or they might hold you with their hands, and push on you with their foot. It also can involve quite a bit of stretching and bending too. It is intense, but super beneficial! Go get one right away!
2. Red Light District
Judgement free zone here right? Our hotel was right across the street from the Patpong Market, which is a fairly small market, surrounded by strip clubs, prostitutes and sex shows aka one of the red light districts. While you shop around for souvenirs, you will get harassed by promoters selling a “ping pong” show. We had done our research, and decided against it, but we were pretty close to almost going to a show. I’m going to put this as politely as I can. A ping pong show is when a female performer picks up a ping pong ball using her pelvic muscles and is able to force it out as a projectile. They do this with all kinds of objects, and apparently have great accuracy! From what we heard, it is actually a pretty funny and entertaining show, however, there is a catch.
Beware of Scams!
This is another way Thais will try to scam you. If you decide to go to a show, be sure to explicitly tell them what you are willing to pay. They might say “$30 for each of you which includes a 30 min show and a beer each.” What they really mean is a beer for each performer, not you. Or they will drop you off, and when the show is over, your tuk tuk driver is “running late” and you need to pay more to stay longer. So if you decide to go, be sure to be very clear on the terms with the promoter.
There are two other Red Light districts called Soi Cowboy and Nana Plaza, which we did not go to, but I do know many people who had a lot of fun on Soi Cowboy! Something we learned from people we met, is that many people (men) get robbed at these places. We heard a story of a guy that was with two girls, one performing what he paid for, while the other took his money from his pocket. We certainly did not participate, but we know many people come here for this. I just suggest that you always be aware of your wallet and belongings, be safe, and smart….or as smart as you can be!
3. Visit the Temples
Despite the dirt and grime of Bangkok, visiting the temples here is a must! You will find some huge, beautiful old temples that are some of the most sacred in the world! We got to see a lot, simply by taking a very cheap water taxi from one to the other.
Grand Palace and The Temple of the Emerald Buddha
We did not make it to the Grand Palace, mostly because since this is the most sacred sites in Thailand, you must dress even more so than you would at other temples. Because this was the hottest day for us, roughly 95F, there was no way we were wearing pants and shoes. We had a hard enough time staying hydrated that day. They ask that men wear pants and a shirt with sleeves, women need to be wear clothing that covers shoulders to the knees, and everyone must wear shoes or socks (no bare feet or sandals). If you are not dressed appropriately, you will be provided clothing or turned away. I would love to come back to see this in a slightly cooler month, dressed appropriately. You can take the water taxi to see this spot with an admission of about $13 USD.
Golden Buddha/Phra Phuttha Maha Suwana Patimakon
This temple was fairly close to our hotel, so we stopped here before getting on the water taxi. This place was unbelievable! They charge 40 baht or a little over $1 to see the golden Buddha, as well as 200 baht (about $6) to enter the museum. This place holds the world’s largest golden statue, weighing over 5.5 tons! Somehow we missed the museum, but they had a really nice gift shop.
Reclining Buddha/Wat Pho
We happened to be in Thailand during the hot season, which is not the busiest month for visitors, and was great for us. We took the water taxi to the stop near by, and it was a short walk over to the temple. To enter, it was 100 baht and you got a free water each. Inside, you will find many different beautiful shrines, buddhas and sites to see, but the main attraction is the giant Reclining Buddha, which is about 49 ft high and 150 ft long!
These temples are great, because even if you forgot to dress appropriately, they will give you scarfs to wrap yourself in while you pay your respects. I saw this outside of Phra Ubosot, which is the most sacred building in the complex as well as the ordination hall where the Buddhist rituals take place. Fun fact, it was a this temple where the traditional Thai Massage was developed!
Temple of the Dawn/Wat Arun
This place was really unique, because it was covered in ornate porcelain. Unfortunately they were restoring some of it while we were there, and there was a lot of scaffolding, but we could still walk around and admire the beauty of this place. This temple has a 50 baht entry fee and can be accessed by the water taxi. To cross the river on the water taxi, it is only 10 baht!
4. Have a Drink at a Rooftop Bar
Visiting a rooftop bar in Bangkok is a sure way to have an amazing view of the city. Unfortunately for us, we did not go. Since we were backpacking the country, my husband did not pack any sort of pants to wear, which is required to enter all of these bars. Even if you wear a nice polo, docker shorts, and boat shoes, you will still be turned away.
They have a very strict dress code to dress “smart” which requires men to wear pants and shoes, no sandals or flip flops. Ladies must be dressed nice and can wear sandals, just no flip flops. My shoe choices were sneakers, which would not go well with my dress, or flip flops. We also learned that the cocktails are pricey, similar to Manhattan, so we were ok with passing on this, especially at the end of our trip. Too hot for pants anyways!
The must see Rooftop bars are Vertigo and Moon bar at Banyan Tree Hotel, Park Society at the Sofitel, Sky Bar at Lebua State Tower and Octave Rooftop Bar at the Marriott.
5. Haggle and Bring Home Great Souvenirs at the best Markets
The markets are awesome in Bangkok, I won’t disagree with that! Here you can buy food, cooking utensils, clothing, souvenirs, artwork, jewelry, and more! The best part is the haggling! Don’t be shy! They expect it, so don’t get ripped off and pay what they say first.
This market was right near our hotel, and we had fun haggling with the vendors. They automatically will tell you a higher price, which many people will still pay. Then you should let them know that is too much for you, and they will give you the calculator to name your price. You enter it in, and they will of course give a counter offer. You can take it or keep going with the haggling. When buying some bracelets, we gave our price, he counter offered, we walked away, and he grabbed my husband’s arm and let us pay our price. WIN!
Chatuchak Weekend Market
This place is INSANE. I would suggest giving yourself all day to explore, because it is so big, and you can easily get lost! Anything you want, you can get here, however they did not seem so keen on haggling here. I would often say something like, “If I buy 3, will you give me a deal?” That worked half the time! We arrived too late, after miscalculating how long all the temples would take, so we only had an hour. The good thing was that it had cleared out a bit, so it wasn’t such a zoo. We were warned about pickpocketers here, because it gets so crowded, making pickpocketing much easier.
We did not get to experience the floating markets, but from what we have heard, they are a must do in Bangkok! You rent a longtail boat, which will take you along the waterway, stopping at each vendor to shop! No need to lug around bags, they stay right in the boat with you.
6. Eat at one of the World’s Best Restaurants
Issaya Siamese Club
This place was recommended to us by someone on UpWork believe it or not, and a friend of mine is planning to go here on her honeymoon. This restaurant is tucked away on a side road, and can be hard to find, which makes it so exclusive! It has been named one of the top 50 restaurants in the world, which is known for their modern Thai food!
Namsaah Bottling Trust
On our last night, we decided to “splurge” on a more expensive meal here, and it was wonderful. It is in an old pink house, which has some awesome ambiance! This is located in the Silom area, where we stayed. They have soft up lighting and each room has a different look and feel to it. I loved the room with the large feather like chandeliers, which was pretty cool. Their food would be considered gastropub/Thai fusion, with a menu created by the same chef as Issaya (fun fact I just learned while researching as I wrote!)
- Bangkok is home to several other world famous restaurants. This is a cosmopolitan city, which attracts many visitors and business people, so the restaurant scene is on point! We did not experience much, except for Namsaah and some cheap street food in our short stay here, but if you have the time, check out one of the nice places here!
7. Khao San Road
As described in the movie and book, “The Beach,” this area is called a backpackers paradise! We only got to see it at night, and it was pretty crazy, but it also has some pretty hipster restaurants, coffee shops, tourism agencies, tattoo shops and more. When we went, we only paid for one drink at a bar, and the rest was purchased at 7-eleven as we walked around. Each bar had a loud, live DJ or band, filled with people that spilled into the streets. Street vendors sell the oh so famously stinky Durian fruit, ping pong shows, fried insects and scorpion, and laughing gas! Lots of fun people watching here!
This girl LOVED this song! She saw me filming and decided to put on a little show for me! haha!
8. Sky Train
The Sky Train is an awesome way to see the city, in addition to the water taxi. This is a brand new, high speed monorail type train that can take you to many of the major parts of the city for a very low price. We took this from the water taxi to the Chatuchak Market for about $1.25 each one way, and back to the Silom area where we were staying. Tuk tuks are fun, but they can certainly rip you off, taxis can be expensive, and Uber is pretty cheap here, but the sky train is a great way to avoid traffic and get some place quickly!
Bangkok in a Nutshell
I did just list all the fun things to do in Bangkok, but I’m not going to keep any secrets here. Bangkok was not my favorite place we visited in Thailand. For starters, I was really looking forward to going home after a long trip, but I also found it to be a dirty city. Dirty can mean a lot of things, and Bangkok was all of them. The city is full of pollution, trash, and rats…GIANT RATS! It is also full of prostitution, human trafficking, sex shows, strip clubs, and I’m sure many under age sex workers. Hey, to some people, this might be an absolute blast! No judgement here. But the thing to keep in mind, is that many of these people might have been forced into this line of work, beyond their own will.
We also could have been victims of scam, had we not done our research. We were also almost victims of more scams, but we learned the hard way. Always be sure to be fully explicit in what you tell a tuk tuk driver. “Take me to the water taxi” should have been “take me to the XYZ water taxi on ABC road.” We made this mistake and were led to a taxi tour that would have cost us $45 each, versus literally a couple dollars. My next post on Thailand will be about the lessons we have learned, so stay tuned!
All in all, should you visit Bangkok? YES! There is a lot of history and culture here, but be prepared to see things that you are not used to seeing where you come from. There are some great parks to visit as well as temples, museums, world class restaurants, and markets which are SO worth the visit, even if it is only for a few days.
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