Your Bangkok holiday
Krung Thep, or city of angels as the Thai people know it, was once a small trading community on the banks of the Chao Phraya River. Bangkok's history really began in 1767. After the invading Burmese destroyed the former capital at Ayutthaya, King Taksin moved the capital to the west bank of the Chao Phraya, across the water from modern Bangkok.
The site was prone to erosion, so when King Rama I took over in 1782 he crossed the river and brought the nascent capital with him. It was during his reign that many of the city's most famous attractions, like the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew, were built.
As the city's importance as a trading centre grew, so did its boundaries. Large-scale immigration led to the development of Indian (Pahurat) and Chinese (Yaowarat) quarters. As it is the duty of the Thai kings to promote Buddhism in their land, temples like Wat Pho and Wat Arun became progressively more spectacular.
Bangkok experienced great modernisation at the turn of the 20th century, when the foundations were laid for the metropolis you see today. Roads and railways were built and Thonburi on the western bank was swallowed up by the expanding city. The spiritual as well as official capital of the country, Bangkok has been the epicentre of Thailand's turbulent history of the last 40 years. Student demonstrations have brought down governments, military coups have claimed power on the city streets and the Asian economic meltdown almost brought the city to a standstill. But the city remains, with its unique spirit intact.
A brilliant jewel in the crown of South East Asia, Bangkok holidays open up a world of possibilities. Take a flight to Bangkok to discover this vital, cosmopolitan metropolis, where the city skyline continues to grow with towering skyscrapers while resplendent temples remind you of Thailand's illustrious history.
Race through the crowded streets on a tuk tuk, haggle in one of the numerous street markets, and pull up a chair at a street-side noodle bar. If it all gets too much, just kick back and relax in one of Bangkok's hotels.
Best time to take a vacation to Bangkok
The best time to visit Bangkok is between November and February, the driest and coolest period of the year. During the day, temperatures are often around 30ºC and often drop to the low 20s after sunset. The low season is the hottest time between the months of March and April. If you plan to visit during the wet season, between May and October, be prepared for daily heavy downpours. Travellers planning to go abroad to Bangkok during the high season, between the months of January or February, will be able to enjoy the Chinese New Year Festival.
Insider tips for Bangkok travel
- For those looking for the best cuisine in Bangkok, Sukhumvit district offers a wealth of ethnic options fusion choices.
- Local food carts in Bangkok offer Thailand's national dish, pad Thai, consisting of rice noodles, red chili pepper, eggs, and fish sauce.
- For those looking for something unique, try the food carts on Khao San Road for deep-fried insects topped with soy sauce.
- Dinner cruises and tours departing from the River City pier are another great way to enjoy the best of Bangkok, including cultural performances.
- The city of Bangkok is particularly well known for its vibrant nightlife. Informal roadside bars located in Sukhumvit often stay open all night.
Haggle with the locals
There is no such thing as “recommended retail price” at Chatuchak, one of the world's biggest markets. Boasting more than 15,000 stalls, “JJ”, as Thais call it, welcomes around 200,000 people each Saturday and Sunday.
Tourists and locals flock to buy anything from fake football shirts, to vintage clothing, to live animals. Bargaining is a way of life here, so be prepared to haggle for all you are worth.
Explore the khlongs of the “Venice of the east”
Khlongs, or canals, were once the arteries that kept Bangkok moving. Many have been filled in and converted into roads, but you can still get an idea of the city's watery past by flagging down one of the long, narrow express boats which scythe through the waterways.
Temples and Italianate bridges dot the way and make sure to stop off at the Damnoen Saduak floating market.
People watch at Lumphini Park
Just as the sun rises an army of keep fit fanatics descends on central Bangkok's biggest green space to get their exercise fix before the heat makes doing anything active impossible. Find a nice spot by one of the lakes to watch the members of the Chinese community going through their tai chi repertoire.
Bet some baht on Muay Thai
Bangkok's biggest spectator support is a kind of no-holds-barred boxing, in which knees and elbows are just as legitimate as fists. Fans flock to Ratchadamnoen and Lumpini Stadiums to watch their idols and place bets with the frantic bookmakers.
Experience life behind bars
The strong of stomach can get an idea of the Thai penal system at the Bangkok Corrections Museum on Maha Chai road. Home of the notorious Bang Kwang Central Prison, famously known as the “Bangkok Hilton”, Thailand has a reputation for no-nonsense punishment.
The museum is housed in the guard towers and few remaining cells of a former prison and encompasses instruments of torture and depictions of prisoners' deaths. If that's not enough for you, guided tours with a former guard are available.
Top Bangkok attractions
The Grand Palace
The gold-tipped roofs and spires of the Grand Palace symbolise Thailand more than any other image. As the sprawling home of the king and his royal court, this complex of buildings was the centre of government for 150 years. Although the monarchy moved out at in the early 20th century, Thai cultural identity is still inextricably linked to the palace. The main draw is Wat Phra Kaew, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The rotund deity is made of jasper and his uniform of gold finery changes with the seasons.
Standing adjacent to the Grand Palace is Wat Pho, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. Gold-plated and with feet made of mother of pearl, the image is hard to miss at an incredible 46 metres long and 15 metres high. And if too much sightseeing has tired you out, take advantage of the fact that you are in the traditional home of Thai massage.
Kicked out of Ko Rattanakosin to make way for the Grand Palace, Chinese merchants moved east to set up their own chaotic world of commerce in the late 18th century. A den of snaking alleys and backstreets, Chinatown is packed to the brim with gold shops and street food stalls.
A haven from the madness comes in the form of Wat Traimit, the Temple of the Golden Buddha which houses a three metre-high Buddha made of 5.5 tonnes of solid gold.
You would be hard-pressed to find a more eccentric place than Erawan Museum in Samut Prakan. Housed inside a giant three-headed elephant statue, it was the idea of millionaire businessman Lek Viriyapant.
His collection of Asian antiques can be found within the belly of the 29 metre-high beast and in the plinth on which it stands. Each of the three levels of the conceptual museum represents a different part of Buddhist cosmology.
The Ancient City attempts the ambitious task of cramming the whole of Thailand into 320 acres in Samut Prakan. Wander among scaled-down models of the country's most famous buildings as you make a tour of Thailand in miniature. The idea is to preserve the essence of the country and many of the monuments no longer exist in their original form.
Tip * Booking your Tours, Transfers & Airport Parking before you go will save your money & time and ensure a stress free start to your holiday
There are many popular destinations in to enjoy in Bangkok:
- For a bird's eye view of the island of Rattanakosin, be sure to visit the temple Wat Ratchanaddaram, and climb the tower.
- Visitors can catch sight of the largest Reclining Buddha in the world at Wat Pho. Toss coins into the pots near the Buddha for luck.
- Visit Siam Square for what many consider to be some of the best shopping in the city. The shops here are even air conditioned.
- Cool off from the warm afternoon temperatures, and see the largest aquarium in the local region at Siam Ocean World.
- For those who wish to soak up the local culture, a visit to Jim Thompson's house is in order. The house features stunning Thai-style architecture.
- If you are interested in enjoying a multicourse international dinner while reclining on futons, Bed Supperclub is a great choice.
- Take the elevator to the 63rd floor at the golden-domed State Tower to dine at the tallest rooftop bar and restaurant in the world.
- Relax for the afternoon, and make your way over to Santichaiprakarn Park on Chao Phraya River to watch the locals juggling and performing other tricks.
- Phra Sumen Fort dates back to the 18th century and offers a beautiful view of the Rama VIII cable bridge.
- If you want to see one of the popular animal farms or zoos in Bangkok, be sure to pay a visit to the Queen Saovabha Institute Snake Farm.
Where to stay in Bangkok
Few buildings in the city can rival the view from the Chatrium Suites hotel. From the 5-star luxury of your room, you can take in the splendour of the Chao Phraya River and pick out famous landmarks on the cityscape. Perched on the bank of the river on Charoenkrung Road, the hotel combines the best of Thai design with all the amenities you would expect from a top-rated establishment.
An oasis of calm in the hustle and bustle of Bangkok, the Shangri-La hotel is the perfect refuge for the tired traveller. Strolling through the lush gardens or spending time in the spa, it is easy to forget you are in the middle of a huge metropolis. The design ranges from traditional teak pavilions for riverside dining, to modern state-of-the-art bedrooms and suites with no detail spared in the pursuit of comfort.
Experience the vibrancy of modern Bangkok at the fashionable Ds67 Suites hotel. Situated on Sukhumvit Road, within easy reach of all the bars, clubs and shops the area has to offer, each of the 27 rooms is uniquely decorated in one of four themes, designed to show all aspects of the exciting city.
If you want to treat yourself to panoramic city views and five-star comfort, check in to Lebua at State Tower. This all-suite hotel on Silom Road is in the second-tallest building in the city. From the Tower Club Lounge on the 59th and top floor you can enjoy a cocktail while taking in the spectacular view of the city sprawling out below. There is a pool on the roof as well, if you fancy a swim at altitude.
How to move around in Bangkok
Bangkok by Taxi
A rickshaw with an engine, the tuk tuk is everywhere you look in Bangkok. Noisy, open-sided and possessing just three wheels, the tuk tuk is a method of transportation to be tried at least once. Prices must be haggled so make sure you've come to an agreement before setting off towards your destination.
If you are after a more comfortable ride, a conventional taxi could be a better bet. The chances are the cost will be the same, unless your bargaining skills are outstanding. Remember to look out for cars bearing a “taxi meter” sign. With no meter you will be reliant on haggling again.
Two public train networks, the Skytrain (BTS) and the underground system (MRT) serve Bangkok. Skytrain serves almost all of the main tourist areas with just two lines, although it will not take you to the airport. Tickets are cheap and announcements are in English. Less frequented by tourists, the MRT is similarly cheap with 18 stations but plans for expansion.
Long, narrow and fast, river taxis speed up and down the Chao Phraya river all day long. With fares ranging from 5 to 10 baht depending on your destination, they are a cheap option and often faster than a taxi. Be prepared to leap on and off when you have to; drivers do not like to stop for long and there is usually a mad dash each time a boat reaches a pier.
If you want to get around under your own steam, why not check out our Bangkok car hire offers.
At first glance, Raan Jay Fai (327 Mahachai Road) seems like any other noodle bar jostling for space on Malachai Road – small and noisy with simple, functional furniture spilling out onto the street. Then you see the queue snaking out of the shop, even at the opening time of 4p.m., and you realise this place is different. People come from all corners of Bangkok for one dish and one dish alone, pad khee mao, or drunken noodles. At four times the cost of the same plate in any other noodle bar in the city, the noodles have to be something special to keep the punters coming back. And they are. Spicy Thai basil adds the finishing touch to a steaming dish of huge prawns, broad rice noodles and a cornucopia of vegetables.
Cheap prices and simple décor hide the fact that Krua Apsorn (503 – 505 Samsen Road) is a culinary treasure. The place has been a favourite amongst royalty for years. Maybe it has something to do with the experienced chef who has worked for the blue-blooded in the past. Here he serves up simple Thai dishes, with curries a speciality. The yellow curry, or gaeng luang lai bua is the star attraction.
The biggest danger when eating at The Deck (36-38 Soi Pratoo Nok Yoong) is that you are so distracted by the view you let your food go cold. Perched on the bank of the Chao Phraya River, diners are spoilt by a perfect view of Wat Arun, the Temple of the Dawn, just across the water. When you finally drag your eyes back to the menu you will not be disappointed. A great range of traditional Thai dishes is complimented by some French bistro specials.
Health & Safety
Vaccinations and Hygiene
There is no risk of malaria in Thailand’s major cities. The same cannot be said of more rural and forested areas, so make sure to consult your doctor on suitable medication if you plan to venture outside of the capital.
There are no compulsory vaccinations for travel to Bangkok although boosters for those included in the vaccination schedule are recommended, including tetanus, polio and diphtheria; Measles; Hepatitis A and B; Typhoid; Rabies and Japanese Encephalitis. Dengue fever is present in Thailand, with highest risk in rainy season (May to November).
Travellers are advised to drink bottled water.
The standard of healthcare is excellent although it is advisable to take out Repatriation Insurance before travelling. In case of emergencies, dial 191.
Thailand is in an earthquake zone. In the event of a natural disaster, contact relatives as soon as possible.
While not a big issue in Bangkok, petty crime does exist. If you need assistance you can dial the tourist police at 1155. Here are some tips to keep in mind to stay safe. Photocopy all official documents and keep the photocopies with you, leaving the originals in your hotel safe. Avoid walking alone or in dimly lit areas at night. When taking a taxi, make sure the driver's licence is on display.
Travellers should bear in mind that entrance to temples can be subject to a conservative dress code. Flip-flops and shorts are both no-nos and women should cover their shoulders when entering sacred places.
Bangkok Holiday Packages
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