Bangkok, also known as the City of Angels and Venice of the East, will hit you like a ton of bricks. It’s hot, polluted, and chaotic, and it thrills with energy; there’s such a vast array of sightseeing, shopping, and eating possibilities that you’ll have little time to rest. When you do find a moment, pamper yourself with spa treatments, skyline-view bars, luxurious hotels, and excellent restaurants.
The city is a mesmerizing blend of old and new, East and West, and dizzying contradictions. Temples and red-light districts, languid canals and permanent gridlock, streetside vendors and chic upscale eateries, all make their home together, all at the same time. Bangkok rarely fails to make an impression, and yes, you might need to go spend a few days on the beach to recover from it all.
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Places to see
Although Bangkok is not known for jaw-dropping tourist attractions, it does have an endless supply of worthwhile pilgrimages. The Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew, and the Emerald Buddha are tops on every visitor’s itinerary, and lesser-known temples, such as Wat Benjamabophit, the golden stupa of Wat Sakhet, and Wat Suthat, are all worthy of a stop. Besides temples, there are plenty of other interesting niches and touring possibilities to fit just about every interest. If architecture is your forte, there is the Suan Pakkard Palace with its antique teak house collection, and the even more astounding Vimanmek Palace, which contains the world’s largest golden teak building. Bangkok’s Chinatown merits at least a day on every travel itinerary—be sure to check out the sprawling labyrinthine Flower and Thieves markets.
What to eat?
Thai food is unrivaled for spice, taste, and variation. From multicourse meals to small street vendors, the one constant here is fresh and delicious at every level. You can have superlative roast duck or wonton noodles on a street corner for lunch and then be dining on world-class chef creations in the Oriental or Shangri-La hotels for supper. It doesn’t have to be all spicy Thai either, as Bangkok is home to excellent French, Italian, and other world cuisines, and you need a few years just to make a dent in all the options that are available.
THE CANALS They don’t call it “Venice of the East” for nothing. Sure, boat tours are touristy, but the sights, from Khmer wats to bizarre riverside dwellings, are truly unique.
STREET FOOD Bangkok may have the best street food in the world. Don’t be afraid to try the weird stuff—it’s often fresher and better than the food you’d get at a hotel restaurant.
SHOPPING BARGAINS Forget Hong Kong and Singapore Bangkok has the same range of high-end designer goods at much lower prices.
SKY-HIGH SIPPING “Bar with a view” is taken to the extreme when you sip martinis in open-air spaces atop lofty towers.
TEMPLE-GAZING From the venerable Wat Po to the little wats that don’t make it into the guidebooks, Bangkok’s collection of temples is hard to top.