Set against a backdrop of intriguing temples and historical monuments, the riverside is where Bangkok’s roots lie. Today, it reflects an ever-changing scene around the clock, with long narrow boats carrying heavy loads upstream, water taxis transporting commuters, and tourists headed for sky-brushing bars, Asiatique, and glittering shrines. Here are the must-dos in Bangkok Old Town – all within walking distance or a short boat ride from Lilit Banglumphu. If you’re more interested in restaurants, scroll down to the second section right after the tourist attractions.
Wat Pho needs not much of an introduction – the large temple is well-known for its reclining Buddha. Forty-six metres long and 15 metres tall, the gold-leafed statue is a mythical sight. Its sheer size is overwhelming, and the Buddha’s five-metre-long feet are carved with holy signs and inlaid with mother-of-pearl.
While you’re bound to be amazed at the sacred sculpture in the ordination hall, it’s worth walking around the temple complex. Pyramidal, mosaic-adorned monk graves in the middle of the walkway are thought-provoking.
Other fascinating sights include long lines of gilded Buddha figures and golden corners of chapel roofs twinkling bright yellow in the sunlight. And should your back or muscles hurt, you can get a Thai massage at Wat Pho, rumoured to be the best in the kingdom.
Just a 10-minute walk distant awaits the pick of the crop, a must-do in Bangkok Old Town.
Also called the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, the Grand Palace or Wat Phra Kaew is Thailand’s most sacred Buddhist temple. While the Royal Family has moved to other residences, the 14 th -century-old Emerald Buddha continues to draw visitors, as does the golden stupa amid a sea of pyramidal buildings.
Several ceremonial events happen at the palace these days. A significant ritual in the Buddhist calendar is changing Buddha’s clothes with each new season by His Majesty The King of Thailand.
Exploring Bangkok, you’d not be forgiven for skipping Khao San Road. Made famous by Joe Cummings in the early 1980s, the author of Lonely Planet’s very first Thailand guide, Khao San Road has been the backpacker mecca of Asia since the middle of the 1990s. Aside from Cummings, two outdated Chinese-style hotels started what is a backpacker hub today.
You probably won’t meet people offering you snake blood like in the 2001 film The Beach starring Leonardo DiCaprio. But five-dollar hotels, fake language certificates, inexpensive jeans, and Pad Thai noodle dishes for a pittance are widely available on Khao San Road.
Being the centre of the Banana Pancake Trail that runs through Thailand and most other Asian countries, Khao San is the stuff of legend.
Treat your senses at Yodpiman Flower Market near the Memorial Bridge, which straddles the Chao Phraya River. Also called Pak Khlong Talad, Yodpiman is the kingdom’s largest flower and goods market. Besides flowers, fruits, and veggies, you can get Thai delicacies, spices, and tobacco chews around the clock.
Walking through a maze of stands selling marigolds, orchids, and other flowers, you’ll catch the scents of fresh red roses and sweet, fruity jasmine. Right next to the flower market’s entrance, there’s King Rama I San Shrine, erected when the market opened its doors on 1 January 1961 to honour Thailand’s first monarch of the Chakri Dynasty. Thai people consider flowers a way to keep King Rama I in their hearts.
If you don’t know what to do in Bangkok at night, visit the market at 3 am. This ungodly hour is when boats and trucks arrive with fresh flowers from provinces near Bangkok. The pier closest to Pak Khlong Talad is Yodpiman.
Set at the intersection of Thanon Rama V and Thanon Si Ayutthaya Bangkok, Wat Ben is also called Marble Temple, and rightly so. Made of imported Italian marble, the jaw-dropping temple is of royal significance – hence the official name Wat Benchamabophit Dusitvanaram, or The Monastery of the Fifth King near Dusit Palace. Inside, you can marvel at a golden Buddha statue, where King Rama V was ordained and became a monk for a short time.
Exploring Bangkok, you’ll also want to drop by Museum Siam. Designed in a neoclassical style with striking columns, bare walls, and hardwood planks, this museum transports you to a bygone age. Step inside, and a large, wooden staircase creaks in salutation merely by looking at it. Formerly the Ministry of Commerce, the museum digs up the monarchy’s cultural roots through its ‘Decoding Thainess’ exhibition, divided into 14 rooms on two levels.
The Thai Witthaya room recreates the ambience of four eras with long-forgotten classrooms, textbooks, and schools. Just as fascinating is the Thai Deekrot Room’s artwork showing the development of Thai characters, including the Garuda eagle, Thailand’s national emblem.
Want to see the temples but can’t be bothered to walk far? Just 160 metres from Lilit Banglumphu is Wat Bowonniwet, home to King Rama IX’s ashes. The royal temple sits in a cute little soi. Given its calm atmosphere, it’s an excellent place to gather your thoughts. A round-up of what to do in Bangkok, particularly the old town, wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the eateries.
Dotted around Old Town Bangkok are countless restaurants and must- dos in Rattanakosin. Here’s a list of our five favourites around Lilit Hotel Banglumphu.
Thai woman Khun Daeng made her debut at an open-close-move- meeting market. As her scrumptious Vietnamese noodles gained a following, she decided to open a restaurant close to Phra Arthit pier 12 years ago. Her Vietnamese-style noodle soup – a rich, meaty, pork- ball, quail-egg, shitake and onion broth – has remained popular to this day.
Situated next to Ta Tien pier, Eat Sight Story boasts delicious Thai fare and various cocktails, which go down exceptionally well, given Wat Arun’s outlook across the Chao Phraya River.
Food enthusiast and graphic designer Sittisak Sakornsin transformed a traditional Thai wooden house into Baan Nual, 300 metres from Lilit Banglumphu. One of the city’s first eateries, this low-key restaurant offers home-cooked food in a setting evocative of a bygone era – a must-see for people exploring Bangkok.
A ten-minute drive south from our hotel near the upmarket shopping mall ICONSIAM, Jua specialises in kushiyaki, poultry and non-poultry food grilled on skewers. The casual Japanese bites that Chef Adkins creates stray from the norm and emphasise worldwide influences.
Offering unbroken views of Wat Arun, the Chinese-porcelain and glass-covered temple towering 70 metres above the Chao Phraya River, Supanniga Eating Room serves genuine Thai cuisine. Steps from Tha Tien pier, Supanniga’s food is based on grandma recipes from Trat and Khon Kaen.
Pull out your credit cards and shop ‘til you drop before travelling to Thailand’s south, north, or east! You’re guaranteed to find some funky, stone-washed jeans or funny t- shirts to wear in Phuket, Koh Samui, Chiang Mai, or Rayong.
Steps away from the BTS Station National Stadium on the Silom Line, MBK is a shopping centre that suits all budgets. Open from 10 am to 10 pm – though most shops close at 9 pm – you can find pretty much anything here, from shoes and clothes to electronics, knock-off watches, and more. There’s also a food court on the sixth floor, where authentic Thai soups and noodle dishes are available for as little as 60 baht ($1.65), and tons of Japanese, Thai, Turkish, and Korean restaurants on the fifth floor.
Siam Paragon is for discerning travellers looking for Rolls-Royce, Rolex, and anything between. It sits in the heart of Bangkok and is linked to Siam Center at the BTS Station Siam. Aside from luxury brands and a department store, Siam Paragon boasts Thailand’s largest multiplex with 16 screens and 5,000 seats. Complete with a food court and supermarket, restaurants galore, plus a bowling alley and karaoke centre, this is one giant shopping haven you’ll want to visit.
Hitting giant shopping complexes that boast over 2,000 shops, restaurants, cafes, and department stores, you may spend hours exploring Bangkok indoors. Whether you’re visiting shops and game arcades or multiscreen cinemas, food courts and supermarkets – time flies in these colossal shopping complexes. Once dusk falls, one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods beckons with the best street food in Bangkok: Chinatown.
Look forward to exploring the city in the smallest of sois, side streets branching off main roads. While the scents of beef soups with herbs and spices prevail in Banglumphu, Chinatown’s thriving food scene includes tantalising aromas of guay jub soups with rolled-up white rice noodles, seafood, and shark fin soups.
Soi Nana is within walking distance of Yaowarat Road, the hub of Bangkok’s Chinatown. It links Mitrichit Road to Rama IV Road, building a bridge from modernism to the old culture of China. This super trendy side street is popular with Thai middle and high-class socialites. You can find cool cafes like Wallflowers Cafe in Soi Nana – Thai people love it for the cakes and other confectionaries – and Teens of Thailand, a cocktail bar.
Ba Hao is a kerbside food pick-up in Soi Nana, set in a renovated, 60- year-old shop house. Apart from the signature food to eat, you can sip promising cocktails like the Drunken Mistress, a gin- and litchi-based drink with star anise and plum. Other creative concoctions include rum or Ginseng herbal liquor shots.
To settle in before visiting glittering temples side by side with roadside kitchens and decades-old street food, you’re more than welcome to take it easy. Catch some rays at our pool and make new friends. Whether you’re an active traveller or the chillax type, you’re sure to meet friendly citizens in Banglumphu, a fraction of this urban sprawl.
The nearest neighbourhood from Banglumphu is Chinatown. While it’s retained China’s old-world charm with ancient temples and quirky architecture, it’s a vibrant, up-and-coming area with hip bars and authentic restaurants galore. Check it out when you’re in Thailand’s capital, and dive into this craziness of street food kitchens neck and neck with fancy cafes, chic hotels, and a memorable bar scene.
For info on how to get around Bangkok, read this Bookaway article.