Bangkok is a city of contrasts. The capital of Thailand has embraced modern developments with a first-rate public transport system, air-conditioned mega malls and luxury hotels. But the old Bangkok is ever present. Between the gleaming office towers, you can spot the spires of the Grand Palace. Historic temples are around every corner, and small wooden boats still meander through the city’s ancient canals.
Bangkok is the economic hub of Southeast Asia. It’s home to the Stock Exchange of Thailand, as well as the headquarters of the nation’s commercial banks and financial institutions. The largest sector of the city’s economy is wholesale and retail trade. Tourism also contributes significantly to the economy.
Getting to and from the airport
Suvarnabhumi Airport, also known as Bangkok International Airport, is located in Racha Thewa, about 16 miles (25 km) east of downtown Bangkok. The Airport Rail Link provides transport to Phaya Thai station in central Bangkok. Travel time is 30 minutes with six stops along the way. Trains leave every 15 minutes and a one-way trip costs 45 Thai Baht (US$1.38 using the exchange rate US$1 to 32.54 THB). Taxis are available on the first floor of the passenger terminal at gates 4 and 7. The fare to central Bangkok is about 600 THB (US$18.40)
Getting around Bangkok
Bangkok is notorious for traffic jams that never seem to end, but a well-linked public transport system makes it easy to navigate this bustling city. The BTS Skytrain and Mass Rapid Transit Network run throughout the city, connecting you to entertainment areas, the central business district and tourist sites. BTS and MRT trains run about every five minutes. Single journey tickets start at 15 THB (US$0.46) and go up to 45 THB (US$1.38) depending on the length of your trip. Daily service is from 6 a.m. to midnight.
Taxis are quite cheap, and it’s never a hassle to find one—they’re painted in bright hues and on virtually every corner. Fares start at 35 THB (US$1.08) and increase on a metered system. If you’re traveling a few miles, expect to pay around 50 THB (US$1.54).
River ferries along Bangkok’s many canals are a scenic option to get to your destination. The Chao Phraya Express Boat Co. operates the main ferry service along the Chao Phraya River. Fares range from 10 THB (US$0.31) to 34 THB (US$1.04) depending on distance traveled. The central pier is connected to the Saphan Taksin BTS station.
Where to stay
For luxury and upscale accommodation, try Anantara Bangkok Riverside Resort & Spa (257/1-3 Charoen Nakorn Road, Bangkok 10600; Ph: +66-2-476-0022), Shangri-La Hotel Bangkok (89 Soi Wat Suan Plu, New Road, Bangkok 10500), Ph: +66-2-236-7777), Radisson Blu Plaza Bangkok (489 Sukhumvit Road, Bangkok 10110; Ph: +66-2-302-3333), Millennium Hilton Bangkok (123 Charoennakorn Road, Bangkok 10600; Ph: +66-2-442-2000) or Courtyard Bangkok (155/1 Soi Mahadlekluang 1 Rajdamri Road, Bangkok 10330; Ph: +66-2-690-1888).
Midscale options include Park Plaza Sukhumvit Bangkok (Asoke Bts, Sukhumvit Mrt Station, Bangkok 10110; Ph: +66-2-263-5000), Novotel Bangkok Platinum (220 Petchaburi Road, Bangkok 10400; Ph: +66-2-160-7100), Ramada Hotel & Suited Bangkok (22 Sukhumvit Soi 12, Klongtoey, Bangkok 10110; Ph: +66 2-664-7000) and Swissotelle Concorde Bangkok (204 Ratchadapisek Road, Bangkok 10320; Ph: 66-2694-2222).
Things to see and do
Don’t leave Bangkok without a visit to at least one or two of Bangkok’s distinctive Buddhist temples—known in Thai as “wats.” There are hundreds of wats within the city limits; some small and hidden, others grand and overwhelming. Be sure to dress appropriately on your visits; short pants or skirts and sleeveless shirts aren’t allowed.
The most popular temples among tourists for their size and grandeur are Wat Pho, Wat Arun and Wat Phra Kaew. Wat Pho is referred to as “The Temple of the Reclining Buddha” due to the 15-meter high, 43-meter long image of Buddha passing into Nirvana that’s stationed prominently within its walls. The figure is finished in gold leaf and inlaid with intricate mother-of-pearl ornaments. The entrance fee is 100 THB (US$3.07), and the temple is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Wat Arun or “The Temple of Dawn” sits on the banks of the Chao Phra River. The temple’s most dominant feature is an 82-meter high prang (Khmer style tower) covered with ornate floral mosaics. Go at sunset when the silhouette of the tower creates a striking image against the glow of the sky. Admission is 20 THB (US$0.61), and daily hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Wat Phra Kaew, known as “The Temple of the Emerald Buddha” is located within the grounds of The Grand Palace, the former residence of the Thai monarch. It’s hard to take in the soaring architecture and glittering colors of this sacred compound all at once. The Emerald Buddha, for which the temple is named, sits in the magnificent central shrine. It stands just 66 centimeters tall and is carved out of a single piece of jade. The entrance fee to the palace grounds is 500 THB (US$15.33). It’s open from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Once you’ve had your fill of temples, continue your explorations at The Museum of Contemporary Art. This world-class art gallery contains over 800 pieces that showcase the development of Thai art since the first introduction of modern Western concepts. The airy, minimalist building is a work of art in its own right. The gallery is open Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is 180 THB (US$5.52).
Bangkok certainly delivers for visitors looking to shop. From massive malls to buzzing street markets, Bangkok has it all. Head to Central World Plaza, for a modern, air-conditioned shopping experience. If you’re eager to negotiate for a good bargain, make your way to Chatuchak Market. You’ll find a mix of sneakers, silks, jewelry, handmade crafts and much, much more. It’s open Saturday and Sunday from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Where to eat
Food alone draws many visitors to Bangkok. From street vendors to five-star establishments, the city is overflowing with dining options. Try to sample as much as you can; your taste buds will thank you.
Nahm impresses discerning palates thanks to a Michelin-starred chef who’s constantly dreaming up innovative additions to the menu. It recently landed a spot on 2014’s prestigious World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. The focus here is on premium ingredients and traditional recipes. Choose the set-menu option for a perfect combination of dishes and flavors. Find it at the Metropolitan by COMO hotel (27 South Sathorn Road, Tungmahamek Sathorn, Bangkok 10120; Ph: +66-2-625-3388).
A hidden gem in the Thewet area, Steve Café prospers despite having no glaring signage and a location that’s off the beaten path. The relaxed atmosphere, riverside views and home-cooked meals, made to order, keep diners coming back again and again. The pad thai with fresh prawns and the spicy beef curry are both excellent choices. It’s at 68 Sri Ayudhaya Road, Soi Sri Ayudhaya 21 (Devet), Vachiraphayabaan, Dusit, Bangkok 10300; Ph: +66-2-281-0915.
You’re sure to spot food stalls on any stroll around town, but the carts found in the Thonglor Night Market (at Thong Lo BTS station) have a reputation for serving up local favorites just right. You’ll find cheap prices and wide selections of fruit smoothies, noodle dishes, grilled meats, curries and more. There are plastic stools and metal tables set up all over the market for diners to enjoy their feasts.
If you’re craving a break from Thai food, try Elements. The restaurant serves contemporary European cuisine and provides superb views of downtown Bangkok. Go on Friday evening for their weekly “Food, Family and Friends” event. You’ll enjoy unlimited wine, beer and soft drinks and the a la carte menu is all you can eat. It’s priced at 2,500 THB (US$77) per person. Find it at the Okura Prestige Hotel (Park Ventures Ecoplex, 57 Wireless Road, Lumpini, Pathumwan, Bangkok 10330; Ph: +66-2-687-9000).