Bangkok: 8 recommendations for the ideal city break
Bangkok: 8 recommendations for the ideal city break
The Thai capital is back on the map for Saudi travellers and this is our definitive itinerary for first-timers
Bangkok, the self-proclaimed 'City of Life' admittedly feels more like the city of chaos for first-timers – the scrum of tuk-tuks, multicoloured taxis, foot traffic, hawker carts, and neon signs is a little overwhelming at first.
But therein lies its appeal.
Loud and down to earth, the Thai capital is like a friend whose doors are always open for you. And there’s something for every budget, every taste, and every palate. Trendy cafés and boutique hotels echo the city's creative community, the art and culture scenes are highly underrated, and countless off- grid gems beckon – but first, the eight essentials of your first trip.
The busy city has everything, from serene temples and frenetic floating markets to Michelin-starred street food vendors and a UNESCO-recognised dance.
With recently reestablished flights between Saudi and Thailand, there's never been a better time to visit.
Sample the city’s world-famous street food
If there's one aspect of Thailand that will ring familiar among newcomers, it's the flavourful staples of Thai cuisine – who wouldn't list mango sticky rice on their list of favourite desserts? On Maha Chai Road in the historic neighbourhood of Samran Rat, the air isn't just thick with humidity. The scent of local spices, fragrant herbs, and charred meat lingers as it's home to two iconic food joints: Jay Fai and Thipsamai. The former earned a Michelin star in 2018 for its legendary wok dishes such as crab omelette and pad kee mao. The latter has been serving pad thai since 1966, perfecting its recipe along the way.
Take in the majesty of a Buddhist temple
The list of fascinating temples across Bangkok is vast, but you'll want to start with Wat Pho. Spread across 80,000 square metres, it's significant for a number of reasons: not only does it house the city’s largest reclining Buddha, but also the biggest collection of Buddha images in all of Thailand. Wat Pho is also considered the country's first public education centre – in fact, there's still a Thai massage school onsite. Wat Arun, meanwhile, is famed for its architecture and also belongs on your itinerary. Its 104-metre-high prang, or Khmer-style spire, was meticulously crafted using found pieces of porcelain back in 1851, and glistens in the sunlight to this day.
Walk through a former royal residence
A sprawling complex of cultural and architectural treasures, The Grand Palace was once home to Thailand's royal family. Today, it's used only for ceremonial purposes, and several sections are open to the public. Chakri Maha Prasat Throne Hall, for example, features a unique blend of traditional Thai and 19th-century European architecture styles. Aim to visit on a weekday to view a collection of ancient weapons displayed in the arcades along the building's front. Wat Phra Kaew is another must-visit site on the premises. Known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, it's the country's most sacred Buddhist temple and named after the figurine of the meditating Buddha that was crafted using a single piece of jade.
Browse a night market’s budget-friendly wares
Kitschy souvenirs, designer knockoffs, cheap T-shirts, herbal concoctions –haggling and impulse buying at the night markets of Bangkok is a sport of its own. Chatuchak Market takes place on weekends, bringing with it a staggering 15,000 stalls. ChangChui Creative Park, meanwhile, features everything from artsy stores and graffiti murals to street food stalls and an onsite cinema. And interestingly, all the action in this 290,000-square- foot marketplace happens around a decommissioned plane. And if you're curious about those Insta-famous scenes of people shopping inches away from a train track, add Maeklong Railway Market to your travel plans. (Just plan ahead to find an optimal spot for capturing the moving train.)
Soak up the charm of an authentic floating market
Another star attraction, the city's floating markets serve a true slice of local life. They're lively, they're colourful, they're chaotic. And for first-timers, the novelty of buying noodles or coconut ice cream from a passing boat is just plain fun. James Bond fans, head to Damnoen Saduak as 1974 spy film The Man with the Golden Gun was partially filmed in this floating market. Both Amphawa and Taling Chan are also authentic in their offerings. Alternatively, you can catch a glimpse of how Bangkok's canal communities live by booking a guided visit to Baan Silapin. A traditional puppetry show takes place at this 200-year-old house on stilts six days a week.
Trawl the city's (many) mega-malls
Opportunities to spend your cash don't end at Bangkok's countless markets; its mega-malls only add to the excitement of shopping in this metropolis. And depending on where you go, they span both designer and homegrown brands, highly curated concept stores, fine-dining restaurants, plush cinemas, and more. Luxury seekers can indulge in retail therapy at the likes of Siam Paragon, Central Embassy, and ICONSIAM (home to an Hermès outpost that's dubbed the largest boutique in Thailand). Eight Thonglor is better suited to those interested in browsing niche labels in a smaller, less frenzied environment. Located in the trendy Sukhumvit area, this is the place to go for stylish eyewear, clean fragrances, and vintage finds.
Hop aboard the Chao Phraya Tourist Boat
Emptying into the Gulf of Thailand, the storied Chao Phraya River flows along everything from gilded palaces to humble bungalows, and makes up a vital part of the country's economy and cultural tapestry. It's no wonder, then, that a ride on the Chao Phraya Tourist Boat comes highly recommended. The hop-on, hop-off boat service departs every 30 minutes from 11 piers, with its route extending to alfresco leisure destination Asiatique every evening. Not only does it promise striking riverside views of Wat Arun, but it also offers easy access to the spectacle of blossoms that is Pak Khlong Talat, a flower market that operates around the clock.
Catch a UNESCO-recognised dance performance
Originally a movie theatre, Sala Chalermkrung Royal Theatre is now the address of an unmissable performance – Khon. Inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2018, this performing art combines musical, vocal, literary, dance, ritual, and handicraft elements. As graceful as it is dramatic, Khon depicts the glory of Rama, the hero and incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu, who brings order and justice to the world. A whopping 100 dancers and singers clad in colourful costumes and masks come together – accompanied by a traditional piphat orchestra – to treat audiences to this truly authentic cultural experience in Bangkok.