Bangkok-the best things to do
The Thai capital is an extraordinary place to explore, from markets and temples to delicious street food
Bangkok is a major world capital of 11 million people mingling among lofty skyscrapers, ornate temples, street stalls, hotels, malls, bars and shops.
It’s chaotic, creative, dynamic and intoxicating. No wonder it’s Thailand’s number-one destination. However, it can be overwhelming for a westerner dropped into the middle of it for a short stay.
Assisted by knowledgable local guides, Audley Travel has put together a number of imaginative tours that help make sense of this vast city.
One of its best introductions is Audley’s City Safari using the Skytrain service, the elevated rail system that criss-crosses Bangkok.
Bangkok is at its best when the sun sets, the neon signs spark up and the major temples are illuminated
You’ll take in all the major highlights with a private guide, including Chinatown, the Grand Palace, local markets, Khao San Road and also take a taxi boat to Tha Tien pier for a visit to Wat Pho, home of the Reclining Buddha.
Bangkok is populated with temples, or wats as they’re known – there are about 400 in the capital alone with many of the best crammed around the Grand Palace.
Wat Phra Kaew, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, is the most important in Thailand, enshrining one of its most revered Buddha statues, carved from jade.
The 18th-century Grand Palace itself is an imposing sight. A mile of walls enclosing a city of throne halls, royal chambers, servants’ quarters, ministries and a prison all waiting to be discovered.
In the afternoon, hail a tuk-tuk to Soi Ban Batra to see a handicraft family famed for the art of making monks’ alms bowls, before boarding a boat for a journey along the historical Saen Saeb klong . Thompson was a wealthy American textile entrepreneur whose passion for collecting left a legacy now rated as one of the finest collections of south-east Asian art in the world.
From Thompson’s home you can do a little collecting of your own at one of the five nearby mega retail malls. The city has some hugely diverse shopping options – there are some terrific markets (especially Chatuchak weekend market) or if you fancy having a suit run up swiftly to your measurements, numerous tailors will comply.
Bangkok is at its best when the sun sets, the neon signs spark up and the major temples are illuminated.
A guided night tour will reveal some of the most vibrant spots around Suan Plu, a busy area for bars and restaurants. The night starts with a stroll through the fresh market and a stroll through the back streets to a secret garden party.
From there, it’s off to Uncle John’s, a local institution and one of Bangkok’s must-eat spots. The evening ends with live music and a cocktail or two at Smalls, a rickety three-storey jazz club.
Another night tour begins in the heart of the city with cocktails at the stylish Park Society Bar before a tuk-tuk ride whisks you to another tasty culinary hot spot, Silom.
Here, restaurants, cafés and street stalls compete for your taste buds and you can take your choice. Suitably satiated your guide will take you by Skytrain to the river where a boat ferries you to the bustling Asiatique night market.
Sightseeing adventures: take a trip to Wat Chaiwattanaram Credit: Getty
A bicycle is a great option for getting around the capital, especially Bang Krao Jao, the city’s secret garden just across the river.
Only accessible by boat, this beautiful area of small villages, temples and tropical flora are the city’s green lungs.
A guide will accompany you on the ferry to a pick-up point for bicycles and show you around the maze of waterways and lush urban jungle to an incense factory and a temple.
There are a few key reasons to tear yourself away from the city’s delights and chief among them is Ayuthaya. Situated just north of the city it was the capital of Siam for more than 300 years, a huge island kingdom surrounded by rivers containing a million people. Then, in 1764, it was destroyed by Burmese invaders.
Today the vast ruined complex of prang, temples, monasteries and palaces is a Unesco World Heritage Site.
It’s perfect to explore by bike and once you’re on two wheels you can pedal off to Wat Yai Chai Mongkol and its towering chedi before biking through the ancient city’s walls to Wat Phra Mahathat, the symbolic heart of the old city where tree roots have dramatically wrapped themselves around a Buddha head.
Take a ride: get around the city in a tuk-tuk Credit: Getty
Make a circuit of the three royal palaces and Wat Chaiwattanaram across the river before the return to city life in Bangkok.
The capital is famous for its floating markets but the best actually exist some miles outside. Amphawa is home to several markets, one alongside the very train tracks that bring you to the area.
Depending on what time of the month you arrive you’ll either see Tha Kha, an authentic Thai floating market, or Ladplee Floating Market where traders sell fresh food, dry fish, flowers and local wares.
The trip then concludes with a paddleboat journey through the maze of klongs, cruising past plantations and Buddhist temples.
The Chao Praya River is the key artery of Bangkok and it splinters into a labyrinth of klongs which have brought it the title “The Venice of the East”. A longboat tour will give you a different perspective on the city.
It begins in Thonburi, a quiet swampy area right opposite the main metropolis, but dense with banana plantations and coconut trees where many of the houses are built on stilts over the water.
From here the boat wends its way up river a little way to the Royal Barges, a museum containing eight of the ornate royal boats, and the beautiful Temple of Dawn. Further north in Nonthaburi the skyscrapers give way to teak houses, noodle shops, fruit orchards and rice fields.
Here, you can walk through the colourful local markets and discover a riverside temple with an impressive reclining Buddha.