First-time visitors to Bangkok tend to fall into two distinct camps; those that instantly love the city and those who hate it. Bangkok certainly has its faults, but it also has a charm and vibrancy that can be compelling. The Thai capital can be overwhelming when you first arrive, but a little bit of planning, patience and understanding will help you get the most out of the city locals call Krung Thep.
Where to stay in Bangkok
There is no shortage of options for where to stay in Bangkok and there are pros and cons to the different areas of the city. Staying close to a metro or Skytrain station will make things easier for getting around Bangkok so do take that into consideration when deciding where to stay. The Old City district of Rattanakosin is home to some of the most charming places to stay in the Thai capital with some fabulous food options close at hand. The same is true of nearby Chinatown which is now more convenient than ever with the opening of the MRT metro stations at Wat Mangkon and Sam Yot.
Sukhumvit is one of the most popular areas for international visitors with a big selection of hotels across all price ranges and convenient access to the Skytrain and Metro. Staying in the Silom or Sathorn area is another option with some excellent hotels and good transport links.
What to see and do in Bangkok
Any list of the top things to see and do in Bangkok will be down to individual opinion so take a look at some of the trips on this page to see what might interest you. Don’t underestimate the heat and the effects of a long flight if you are staying in Bangkok at the start of your holiday. Take it easy and don’t be too ambitious in what you can cram in during a short stay. A trip to the Floating Market at Damnoen Saduak, for instance, will take up most of the day.
You can see my suggestions for the top 10 things to see and do in Bangkok here »
On many people’s must-do list when visiting Bangkok for the first time, the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo (Temple of the Emerald Buddha). Opposite the Grand Palace complex, Wat Pho is home to the magnificent Reclining Buddha. As well as being the oldest temple in Bangkok, Wat Pho is the place to go for a traditional Thai massage. Although you can take the metro to or from the Grand Palace area, taking the boat along the Chao Phraya River is still a wonderful way to travel to this historic quarter of the city.
If you’re visiting Old Bangkok and the Grand Palace area, make the short ferry trip across the river to Wat Arun. For an oasis of calm in downtown Bangkok, be sure to check out Jim Thompson’s House and catch an insight into a bygone era and a traditional Thai lifestyle.
Pay a visit to a floating market. There are a number of these in and around the Thai capital, but the biggest and best known floating market lies just outside Bangkok at Damnoen Saduak.
Food and drink in Bangkok
Food is at the heart of Thai culture and taking a guided food tour is a great way to learn more about local life and try dishes you might not necessarily try otherwise. One of the many joys of Bangkok is that you can begin your day by eating street food and finish the evening at a high-end rooftop restaurant like Vertigo or Lebua. And speaking of street food, check out Gary Butler’s excellent YouTube channel, The Roaming Cook, which is packed with ideas for where to eat in Bangkok and what dishes to try.
Despite the modernity of Bangkok’s transport system, the Chao Phraya River remains the main artery of the Thai capital. A working river that ferries commuters, freight traffic and tourists, the Chao Phraya also hosts a number of sightseeing cruises during the day and dinner cruises in the evening. There are a number to choose from with the converted rice barge used by Manohra Cruise providing a more intimate dining experience.
For dining with a difference, visit Cabbages and Condoms Restaurant. Not only is the food good, but profits go towards a very worthwhile cause. It’s also the only time you’re likely to be handed packets of condoms in place of the traditional after-dinner mints!
Best time to visit Bangkok
When is the best time to visit Bangkok? The standard answer given by most guidebooks is the cool season from November-February when the temperature and the humidity levels are more comfortable compared to other times of the year. Although November-February is certainly a good time to visit, there are distinct advantages to visiting outside of the cool season (including lower price accommodation and less crowded sightseeing).
The table below gives a breakdown of average temperatures and rainfall in Bangkok, but visitors should be aware that at times the temperature can reach as high as 40-41°C at the peak of the hot season in April-May and 37-38°C the rest of the year. It’s hot and humid year round in Bangkok, but the humidity levels are at their highest from April-June. Even during the rainy season from May-October, visitors can expect to see plenty of sunshine so don’t be put off by visiting during this time. When the rain comes down it can be torrential and there can sometimes be flash-floods, but the downpours are often short and sharp.
How to get to Bangkok
If you’re flying in or out of Bangkok, please note there are two airports. The main international airport is Bangkok Suvarnabhumi (BKK) located in Samut Prakan province to the east of the city. The other is Bangkok Don Mueang (DMK) in the northern outskirts of the city.
Long distance trains currently run in and out of Bangkok Hua Lamphong, but that is set to change with the opening of Bangkok Bang Sue Grand Station (aka Krung Thep Aphiwat Central Terminal).
Transport in Bangkok
The BTS Skytrain and MRT metro are two of the best ways to get around Bangkok. The trains and stations are clean and modern and enable you to travel in in air-conditioned comfort. The BTS and MRT routes don’t cover all of Bangkok, but they are convenient for many of the city’s most popular tourist attractions. However, they do get busy and are not always suitable for travellers carrying large bags, especially during rush hour.
Licensed taxis (known as taxi-meters) are everywhere in the city and easy enough to flag down. The drivers are supposed to turn on their meters without you needing to ask, but in some tourist areas the driver may be reluctant to do so and quote you a fixed fare instead.
Depending on where you are staying in Bangkok, the Chao Phraya River boats can be a handy way to reach areas like the Grand Palace and there is also the option of the canal boat taxis which cover other areas of the city.