A reader recently requested my suggestions for things a first time visitor during a short visit to Bangkok should do and see. Since I’m up to #6 on my list of the Top Ten Bangkok Experiences, that seemed like a duplicate effort at first. But if you’ve been reading those posts, they tend to treat an entire day’s worth of activities as a singular experience, which, by the time I’m done posting all ten will make for at least a two week visit. No problemo. A shorter list is required. You may not believe it but I can be concise when forced to. Briefly.
Coming up with a list of things worthy of a first time visitor’s attention is not difficult. Limiting it to ten is. Especially when, as requested, some could be considered off the beaten path. Not that I’d have a problem suggesting a few of the more unusual sites, but there are still several more popular and traditional ones that – I feel – a first time visitor needs to experience to get a full taste of what Bangkok has to offer. For example, not visiting the Grand Palace would be almost criminal. But then I tend to enjoy the company of criminals, so the Grand Palace didn’t make it to my short list. Some of the other popular places almost everyone includes on their Top Ten list for Bangkok, however, did.
The city’s naughty nightlife – whether you participate or just watch – is obviously a must-do, must-see, especially for gay travellers. But every Thai you run across will do his or her damnedest to ensure you have that experience – like you’d need your arm to be twisted – so I’m not including Soi Twilight or a happy ending massage on my list either. I suspect just ‘cuz it isn’t listed here won’t mean hours indulging won’t be spent anyway. When you come up for air, however, you might consider some of these other suggestions:
1: Make Merit At Wat Pho.
Wat Pho’s Reclining Buddha is one of the country’s most iconic symbols. And since you have to see at least one wat during a visit to Bangkok, this then is the one to visit. Many touri attempt to combine a visit to Wat Pho with a visit to the adjacent Grand Palace: Don’t. It’s too much for one day. Devote that time instead to getting the full experienced offered at Wat Pho. And if you are smart, that will include indulging in the city’s most authentic Thai massage.
2: Take A Cruise On The River Of Kings.
The Chao Phraya Express Boats undoubtedly offer the most bang for your touri buck. Meant as a form of transportation, they are a tourist activity in their own right. The river boats are the best way to get to the Grand Palace and Wat Pho, offering a scenic ride as you motor past Buddhist temples, historical buildings, and riverside life. Or just hop on one with no destination in mind and enjoy the ride.
3: Climb Into An Elephant’s Ass At The Erawan Museum.
If I were listing Bangkok’s Top Ten Things To Do in order, the Erawan Museum would be in contention for the #1 spot. Completely over the top, it’s Bangkok’s answer to the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. Others may head for Jim Thompson’s House of Silk Shop, you should check out this museum topped with a 250 ton three headed elephant instead.
4: Find Religion At Bangkok’s Penis Shrine.
Located on the grounds of the Swissotel Nai Lert Park Hotel close to the Pratunam Market, Bangkok’s Chao Mae Tuptim shrine is one of its most unique religious displays. The locals use it as a fertility shrine, touri visit to get their photo taken amidst a few hundred cocks of very size, shape, and color. Which you can also do on Soi Twilight, but this is cheaper.
5: Lay Down With The Fleas At The Ratchada Night Market.
There are almost as many street and night markets in Bangkok as there are 7/11s. All have there fans, all have something unique to offer, not all are actually worth shopping at. Especially if you are not into shopping. But the Ratchada Night Market, a trendy and hip flea market for the younger crowd, offers so much more. Located by the Ladprao MRT Station, and only held on Saturday nights, it offers Bangkok’s largest collection of old, retro, and antique products for sale. It’s also a meeting point for classic car and motorcycle enthusiasts. Younger visitors are thrilled by the kitschy ‘antiques’; older visitors will keep saying, “Hey! I had one of those!”
6: Shop ‘Til You Drop At MBK.
Even non-shopaholics love this place. It is not Bangkok’s newest, largest, or classiest shopping mall, but it is its most popular one. And it fills everyone’s needs. You can barter for your merchandise, or not. Shop, or eat, see a movie, or just people watch. If you are showing visitors the town, I suggest doing MBK early in the trip. Because they will want to make a return visit before heading home. Everyone always does.
7: Commune With Thais Even More Ferocious Than Pissed Off Ladyboys.
One of the best things to do to see how the locals in Bangkok have fun is to attend a Muay Thai night at the Lumpinee Boxing Stadium. Even if you are not into watching two men beat each other senseless, the pageantry alone is worth your time. As is watching the crowds betting as only Asians can. The hot bodies draped in sweaty, body-hugging shorts ain’t a bad thrill either.
8: Get High At Baiyoke Sky Tower.
You gotta visit at least one tourist trap in Bangkok so that you have something to complain about, and the observation deck at Baiyoke Sky Tower is a good one to waste an hour and your money at. The rotating observation deck on the 77th floor offers unparalleled views of the city. Plus it gives you an excuse to not spend even more baht for a lesser view at the Sky Bar at Lebua State Tower.
9: Forget Six Flags, The World’s Scariest Ride Is In Bangkok.
Almost everyone agrees you haven’t done Bangkok if you haven’t taken a ride in a tuk tuk. And all of those same people will agree one of the stupidest things you can do in Bangkok is to ride in a tuk tuk. For getting from Point A to Point B, they suck. Especially since the driver will also want to stop at Point C to separate you from some of your cash. Unless you are staying at a total dump, there are always a pool of tuk tuk drivers hanging out at the front of your hotel. Knowing you are a newbie to Thailand they will greet you every time you step outside by screaming, “Tuk Tuk!” just in case you don’t know what those half motorcycle half horse cart contraptions are. Pick the driver that looks the least drunk, offer him 100 baht to take you around the block, and then keep yelling, “Faster! Faster!” as he weaves through traffic and pedestrians alike. You’ll have then had you tuk tuk experience and out-crazied a tuk tuk driver in one fell swoop. And the other drivers will avoid you for the rest of your stay.
10: Swim With The Sharks At Khaosan Road.
Khaosan Road is Bangkok’s backpacker’s ghetto and is home to more unusual wildlife than you’ll ever find at Bangkok’s zoo. Though the denizens are not quite as tame. The Big Mango is known as a city of contrasts and Khaosan provides a glimpse into a world that will make the rest of the town seem downright normal. Plus it’s a fun place to hang out. You’ll also find the city’s coolest fish massage spa on Khaosan. Go in the late afternoon for the euro-trash hippie wannabe experience, stay into the late night getting blasted at the street’s clubs and pubs. Remembering your visit to Khaosan through the hazy murk of a world-class hangover is the only way to go.
(You can find more information about each of these activities using the search box at the bottom of this page.)
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