Bangkok in brief

Planning a trip to Bangkok, Thailand

The glittering, chaotic capital of Thailand is a sprawling metropolis scattered with ornate wats (temples) and golden Buddhas. It is also the great turnstile city of Indochina—everyone traveling through Southeast Asia passes through here—and one of the continent's most rewarding and inexpensive cities. From $1 meals to $15 hotel rooms to $12 massages, the prices in Bangkok can't be beat.

Top Bangkok experiences
• Visit the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo, home to the Emerald Buddha
• Stay in a world-class, five-star hotel for less than $170
• Wander the Wat Pho temple complex , home to a 150-foot Reclining Buddha
• Indulge in a full body massage for $12
• Tour the amazing mansion of silk magnate Jim Thompson
• See the wonders of Southeast Asia in the National Museum
• Enjoy a Thai feast at Cabbages and Condoms
• Get lost looking for Buddhas in the back streets
• Take a private longtail boat tour of the khlong (canals) for less than $10
• Shop the street markets, bazaars, and silk houses

Ride a long boat through the khlong (canals) that thread through the city. Wander the residential neighborhood of northern Banglamphu where folks still live in wooden houses and play out their lives in courtyards and narrow alleys.

Head to Wat Po for an hour-long, full-body Thai massage.

Go shopping for traditional crafts. Browse the markets. Visit temples. Cruise the river on the public ferries.

Bangkok hides a thousand delights; you just have to take the time to discover them.

What to see in Bangkok

Most of the city's elaborate temples and Buddhas are free; the two most famous charge modest admission.

Wat Phra Kaeo, in the glorious Grand Palace, is a complex of pinnacled golden stupas, 20-foot demon statues, and elaborately painted temples surrounding the bot of the 500-year-old Emerald Buddha, the most venerated in all of Thailand (, adm).

The 20-acre temple compound of Wat Pho is home to, among other things, the 150-foot-long Reclining Buddha and Thailand's most renowned massage school, where full-body massages cost just 360 THB ($12)—half an hour costs 220 THB/$7 ( [Hint: Arrive early and get your name on the massage list, as the wait can last hours, then tour the complex while you wait.] Would-be Thai masseuses and masseurs flock from all over the country—indeed, the world—to be trained in the fine art of Thai massage at this renowned school. In fact, for 8500 TBH ($283), you can even take a five-day massage course and earn your own certificate (specialized and advanced courses are available as well).

Private tours of the city's khlong (canals) in a longtail boat go for under $10; bargain at the piers at Tha Chang Wang Luang, the Oriental Hotel, and River City. Don't expect more than a driver on these; maybe he'll tap you on the shoulder to point at a temple on the riverbanks, but that' usually the extent of the "guiding" If you want an actual tour guide to tell you what you're passing and seeing, book a private canal tour with

Bangkok experiences

Bangkok's real name
They don't call it "Bangkok" in Thai. The official Thai name is Krung Thep. Actually, that's not quite accurate. Krung Thep is just the shortened, nickname version. Bangkok's full name is (deep breath):

Krung Thep Maha Nakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Ayutthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udom Ratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Phiman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanu Kamprasit.

This translates, roughly, as "The city of angels, the great city, the eternal jewel city, the impregnable city of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukam."

Perhaps this is why we call it simply Bangkok.
Bangkok's low prices and gorgeous crafts make it a shopping paradise. Street markets abound; that in the touristy Patpong red light district is best for quickie souvenirs.

But for the best quality on value-priced goods, sharpen your bargaining skills for the government-run Narai Phand, an old-fashioned bazaar in a modern, multi-level building featuring silks, fashion label knock-offs, lacquered masks, hand-painted china, carved wood, and musical instruments from villages across Thailand (127 Ratcha Dampi, tel. +66-2-252-4670,

Splurge on the finest silks at one of the factory outlets (or any of the dozens of retail outlets) of the famed Jim Thompson company: 153 Sukhumvit Soi 93, +66-2-332-6530; or 149/4-6 Surawong Road, +66-2-235-8930 (

Don't miss a tour of Thompson's house, a sumptuous east-meets-west manse belonging to the American architect, spy, and adventurer who revived Thailand's ancient silk industry before mysteriously disappearing in Malaysia in 1967 (Soi Kasemsan 2, Rama 1 Road, tel. +66-2-216-736,, adm).

Where to stay in Bangkok

Budget Thai chain Sawasdee ( has eight friendly hotels in Bangkok, most in the backpacker enclave around Khao San Road, where you can get a reasonably clean, cramped, and utterly dull double room from just 450 THB ($15). The rooms may be tiny and bland, but the public spaces usually have a nice vibe.

My favorites: the Sawasdee Bangkok Inn, on a soi (alley) off Khao San Road, with the rooms ranged along several stories of cool, colonial-style open corridors ringing an inner courtyard scattered with tables; and the Sawasdee Smile Inn, which has a nice breakfast terrace overlooking the street.

Also peruse the prices at booking engines,,, and, which can put you into famous five-star riverside properties for a relative pittance, including the Lebua State Tower in the Silom district (from 4,230 THB/$141).

Even rooms at a super-chic temple of luxury like the Shangri-La Hotel Bangkok start at only 6,944 THB ($230) a night. The Peninsula ($228) offers sumptuous rooms with views over Chao Phraya River to the Business District just over Taksin Bridge, while at the storied and elegant The Sukothai rooms are start at 8,121 THB ($270)—again, if you book online (rack rates anywhere are going to be much higher).

Not that you have to go posh. Recently, was offering 24 hotels in the $9–$15 range (and another 38 for $20 or less).

Where to dine in Bangkok

Full meals, including a bottle of Pepsi and spicy roasted chicken over plump rice, run as low as 85¢ in the simple down-home restaurants surrounding the city's daily markets. These are patronized by local folks, where little wooden tables are set on cracked tile floors under whirling ceiling fans, and a chef stationed at the front window—wielding smiles and a meat cleaver—offers just two or three versions of roasted chicken in a spicy sauce piled high over plump rice.

Dishes rarely run more than $3 to $5 even at fancier restaurants—ones with full menus and English-speaking waiters—such as the elegant Mango Tree (37 Soi Tantawan, off Suriwong; tel. +66-(0)2-236-2820; or in the fabulous gardens of Cabbages & Condoms (10 Sukhumvit Soi 12; tel. +66-2-229-4610;

Tourist info:

Tours Under $995 G Adventures

Related Articles
Outside Resources

This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in April 2011.
All information was accurate at the time.

about | contact | faq

Copyright © 1998–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.