Buzzing Chinatown is packed with restaurants, street stalls, centuries-old markets, gold vendors, and some of Bangkok’s best street food. Combine a trip with a visit to Wat Traimit and the Golden Buddha. Tip: Find the “thieves” market and the Sikh temple and climb to the top for fantastic late afternoon views over the district and Chao Phraya river.
Bangkok’s largest and oldest wat (Buddhist temple) is home to the famous Reclining Buddha, the supine 46m long and 49-feet-high (15-meter-high) gold leaf-covered Buddha image with mother-of-pearl inlaid feet. Tip: Get a massage at the adjoining training center for Thai massage. Th Sanam Chai; tel. 66 (0) 2225 9595; fee. www.watpho.com
Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace
The revered Emerald Buddha. A 26-inch-high (66-centimeter-high) image actually carved from solid jade, is housed within the now disused royal palace. Traditional Thai architecture at its finest. Tip: The dress code, banning bare shoulders, sandals, and shorts or short skirts, is strictly enforced. Don’t believe the unscrupulous gem hawkers who will tell you that the palace is shut. Th Na Phra Lan; tel. 66 (0) 2222 8181 or 2623 5500; fee. www.palaces.thai.net
“If you’re here on the weekend it’s a must, but prepare to be exhausted.”—Mason Florence, founder and publisher, Bangkok 101 magazine. With 15,000 stalls and stores, the Weekend Market (known locally as “JJ”) is a vast, sauna-like retail extravaganza. Open weekends only. Tip: Buy the Nancy Chandler’s Map of Bangkok (www.nancychandler.net) before you go. It gets hot and crowded, so stop for regular meals and drinks to stay (relatively) cool.
Tuk Tuk Trip
The archetypal Bangkok journey is by the loud, three-wheel tuk tuk (motorized taxi cycles), available anywhere tourists go. Tip: Some tuk tuk drivers try to earn commissions by taking you to gem stores and tailoring shops, usually for next to no fare. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
“Just a waist-high rail between you and the rest of Bangkok; you can’t do this anywhere else.”—Mason Florence. Bangkok’s unique, open-air rooftop bars, Moon Bar at Vertigo and Sirocco, combine stunning city views with the feel of a classy restaurant-cum-cocktail lounge. Tip: Views are usually better than the food. If it’s raining, go somewhere else (with a roof). Moon Bar, Banyan Tree Hotel, Th Sathon Tai. www.banyantree.com. Sirocco, State Tower, 1055 Th Silom. www.thedomebkk.com
“Come at dawn to see the tai chi, or late afternoon with a bottle of wine; great escape.”—Stuart McDonald, founder, independent travel site Travelfish (www.travelfish.org). An oasis of green calm in the concrete jungle; great people watching. Tip: Best visited at dawn and dusk, when you can watch the tai chi, aerobics, joggers.
Jim Thompson’s House Museum
“It’s on every tourist’s itinerary, but still well worth visiting.”—Austin Bush, author, Lonely Planet Bangkok. Jim Thompson, the American credited with reviving traditional silk weaving in Thailand, erected and adapted these six wooden homes in 1959. Tip: Check out the adjoining Jim Thompson Center for the Arts—above the silk shop. 6 Soi Kasemsan 2, Th Rama I; tel. 66 (0) 2216 7368; fee. www.jimthompsonhouse.com
Kickboxing is the quintessential Bangkok spectator sport, and multiple bouts are held at one of two stadiums most evenings of the week. Tip: To bet on the fights get second- or third-class seats. Lumpini Stadium, Th Rama IV near Suan Lum Night Bazaar; tel. 66 (0)2252 8765; Ratchadamnoen Stadium, Th Ratchadamnoen Nok; tel. 66 (0) 2281 4205; fee.
“For a few dollars you get a better massage than you’d get for hundreds at home.”—Mason Florence. Bangkok has literally hundreds of spas, ranging from basic massage to days-long treatments. Tip: “Ask for a proper Thai massage and avoid the places with scantily clad young women out front; instead look for strong-looking, older Thai women.”—Mason Florence.
“Only an hour from central Bangkok, but it feels like being upcountry.”—Austin Bush. Combine a boat trip (by local boat combo or tourist longtail) up the Chao Phraya River with a couple of hours on this historic, somnolent, and refreshingly quiet river island of potters and masseuses. Tip: Restaurants here are famed for unusual sweets and snacks.