14 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Bangkok
Bangkok is everything you'd expect from the capital of Thailand: it's noisy, crowded, colorful, exciting, infuriating, and smile-inducing. There are temples, ancient sites, and other attractions to be visited, as well as modern shopping malls that have a kitschy yet high-end ambience. Bangkok can be overwhelming, but it's also a fascinating city that represents Southeast Asia's tension between the developed and developing worlds.
Bangkok also serves as a gateway to many other parts of Thailand. From here, you can hop a short flight to Phuket, Chiang Mai, Koh Samui, and other popular destinations. You can also board a train or hop on a bus for little money, and visit national treasures such as Ayutthaya, Lopburi, and many other gems around the country.
Discover the best things to do in this bustling city with our list of the top attractions in Bangkok.
See also: Where to Stay in Bangkok
1. Grand Palace
If you only visit one major historical tourist attraction in Bangkok, this should be the one. The royal compound lives up to its name, with spectacular structures that would put the most decadent modern monarchs to shame. It's also the home of Wat Phra Kaeo, which houses the Jade (or Emerald) Buddha.
Built in 1782, the grand palace was the royal residence for generations and is still used for important ceremonies and accommodating heads of state. Dress modestly when visiting the Grand Palace, which basically means covering your arms and legs and avoiding any sloppy attire.
To avoid any hassle and to make the most of your visit, take the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew Tour. This is a half-day sightseeing tour, either morning or afternoon, with pickup from your hotel and a local guide to put what you are seeing in context. Without a guide, it's easy to miss important features or not fully understand the relevance of what you are seeing, and the hotel pickup makes the whole experience that much simpler.
Location: Na Phra Lan Road, Phra Borom Maha Ratchawang, Phra Nakhon
2. Wat Pho
Located immediately south of the Grand Palace precinct, Wat Pho makes an excellent addition to your palace tour, provided your feet are up for more walking.
The temple was built by King Rama I and is the oldest in Bangkok. It has long been considered a place of healing, and was famous centuries ago for its pharmacy and as Thailand's first "university"—both established by King Rama III. You can get a Thai or foot massage at the traditional medical school on the premises, but the prices are significantly higher than what you will find at massage parlors elsewhere in the city.
Today Wat Pho is best known for the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, where you'll find a statue so big (45 meters long and 15 meters high), it cannot be viewed in its entirety but only appreciated in sections. The soles of the feet, inlaid with a myriad of precious stones, are particularly beautiful. Look also for the long earlobes signifying noble birth, and the lotus-bud configuration of the hand to symbolize purity and beauty.
Address: 2 Sanamchai Road, Grand Palace Subdistrict, Pranakorn District
3. Wat Arun
Wat Arun is something of a triumphant complex, dating back to the time of ancient battles between the former Siam and Burma. Having fallen to the Burmese, Ayutthaya was reduced to rubble and ashes, but General Taksin and the remaining survivors vowed to march "until the sun rose again" and to build a temple here. Wat Arun, the Temple of the Dawn, was that temple. It is where the new king later built his royal palace and a private chapel.
If you climb to the top of the prang just before sunset, you will be rewarded with an unforgettable view as the sun sinks over the Chao Praya River. Even if you don't plan on doing any climbing, sunset is really the time to take in this place in all its glory.
Address: Arun Amarin Road, Bangkok
4. Wat Traimit, Temple of the Golden Buddha
Sheer luck (or lack thereof) makes this attraction special. During the 1950s, the East Asiatic Company purchased the land around the temple.
A condition of the sale was the removal of a plaster statue of Buddha, but the statue proved too heavy for the crane being used. The cable parted and the figure was dropped, being left overnight where it fell. It happened to be in the rainy season, and when next morning some monks walked past, they noticed a glint of gold shining through the plaster. The coating was removed, revealing a 3.5-meter Buddha cast from 5.5 tons of solid gold.
All attempts to trace the origin of this priceless statue have so far failed, but it is assumed to date from the Sukhothai period, when marauding invaders threatened the country and its treasures, and it became common practice to conceal valuable Buddha figures beneath a coating of plaster. No one knows how it came to Bangkok, but here it stands, available for the admiration of visitors from all over the world.
5. Wat Suthat
Wat Suthat, adjacent to the Great Swing, is one of the oldest and most beautiful of Bangkok's Buddhist temples. Three kings had a hand in its construction: it was begun soon after the coronation of Rama I (founder of the Chakri dynasty) in 1782, continued by Rama II, and completed 10 years later by Rama III.
Apart from its delightful architecture, the temple boasts some exceptionally interesting wall paintings. Wat Suthat is less popular than some of the other temple complexes in the city, so you'll enjoy a more peaceful and intimate experience here.
Address: Bamrung Muang Road, Sao Chingcha, Phra Nakhon
6. Giant Swing
In the center of the busy square in front of Wat Suthat stands one of Bangkok's most eye-catching sights: the 27-meter-high teak frame of the so-called Giant Swing. Built in the 1700s to be used as part of traditional Brahmin (Hinduist) ceremonies, the swing was later damaged by lightning and became just decorative.
This used to be the focus of a religious ceremony held every year in December after the rice harvest. Teams of three took turns to balance on a dangerously narrow board and be swung 25 meters or more off the ground "up to Heaven," at which point they would attempt to catch a bag of silver coins in their teeth. King Rama VII banned the contest in 1932, following a number of fatal accidents.
7. National Museum & Wang Na Palace
History buffs will want to devote at least half a sightseeing day to the national museum. Until the mid-1970s, this was Thailand's only museum, which explains why its collection is so big and diverse.
Fortunately, just about every exhibit is labeled in Thai and English and guided tours are also offered in English, so you won't miss out on any of the country's fascinating ancient and contemporary history.
King Rama I's Wang Na Palace, located within the grounds of the museum, remains essentially as it was, and stands as a testament to Thai history. Visitors can see regalia, religious and ceremonial artifacts, ceramics, games, weaponry, musical instruments, and the Viceroy's throne, as well as an impressive collection of Buddha figures arranged according to period.
Address: Na Phra That Road, Bangkok
8. Chatuchak Market
Bangkok's sprawling semi-outdoor weekend market is the largest in the world. Shoppers can find everything from jewelry and religious icons to pet supplies, paper lamps, and delicious street food here. Chatuchak Market is home to over 15,000 stalls offering just about anything you can dream up—even better, any souvenir you might want is probably available here at a much cheaper price than anywhere else in Bangkok.
This is a great place to mingle with locals and immerse yourself in everyday Thai life, so arrive early and clear your schedule for the rest of the day if you want to do this place justice.
The market is adjacent to the Kamphaengpecth Station (MRT), about a five-minute walk from Mochit Skytrain (BTS) Station and Suan Chatuchak (Chatuchak Park) Station (MRT)
Official site: http://www.chatuchak.org/
9. Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
For an even more interesting market experience, you can arrange a tour to Damnoen Saduak, a famous floating market located in Ratchaburi (about 1.5 hours outside Bangkok). The popularity of floating markets once earned Bangkok the nickname "Venice of the East."
Keep in mind that floating markets are now highly touristic enterprises, so don't expect an exclusive morning of shopping by boat—but you will be able to buy fresh and delicious foods and interact with locals in an authentic way.
The best way to reach the market is to join a tour such as the Floating Markets Cruise Day Trip from Bangkok, which takes about six hours and includes pickup right from your hotel and transport in an air-conditioned coach.
10. Khao San Road
This is Bangkok's infamous backpacker district, a neighborhood jam-packed with guesthouses, food vendors, clothing stalls, and travelers from every corner of the globe. You'll need to tap into your patience when hanging out here, because while it is colorful and exciting in its own way, the crowds and scents and blaring music can test even the calmest soul.
All that said, Khao San Road is also a great place to pick up a few pairs of baggy fisherman pants, the perennial staple of every backpacker's wardrobe when trekking through Thailand; browse the treasures in a used bookstore; and dig into some delicious Indian food from a neighborhood restaurant.
11. Jim Thompson House
The historic home of a "self-made American entrepreneur" who disappeared while traveling in Malaysia now stands as a relic of an older time in Bangkok. Jim Thompson settled in Thailand after spending time there as a serviceman around the end of WWII and quickly became a well-known name in the Thai silk industry.
Thompson was awarded the Order of the White Elephant, an important honor given to foreigners who have made significant contributions to Thailand. Thompson's home has been turned into a museum offering insights into his life and business, as well as the history of the city and the Thai silk industry.
Address: 6 Soi Kasemsan 2, Rama 1 Road, Bangkok
12. Lumpini Park Editor's Pick
Lumpini Park provides visitors with a green oasis amid the traffic and chaos of Bangkok. Hang out on one of several lawn areas, enjoy the shade of a Chinese pagoda, or take a boat out on the lake. Lumpini Park is a great place to spend an afternoon enjoying the contrast of the tranquil park with the skyscrapers rising all around it.
Note that the park has been the site of anti-government protests that have occasionally turned violent in the past, so be sure to check on the current political situation before visiting. Keep an eye out for the massive Asian water monitors as well—they can often be found taking a stroll around the lake.
Location: Rama IV Road, between Ratchadamri and Witthayu (Wireless) roads
13. Terminal 21
Don't let the airport-like name fool you—this shopping mall is one of the best destinations in Bangkok to find a mix of local and international brands, as well as plenty of unique buys.
Terminal 21 is unique in more ways than one—even by Thailand's shopping standards. Every floor of the mall has been themed to a different international city. Enter at the level of the BTS station and you'll be in Paris; go up a floor and it's Tokyo; another floor and you're staring at the iconic red phone booths of London. The Caribbean, San Francisco, and Istanbul also figure into the design theme.
Other malls of note include the high-end Siam Paragon, and adjacent Siam Discovery, which has more moderately priced chains, fun cafés, and the super luxurious Virgin Active Siam Discovery, self-dubbed "the largest gym in Southeast Asia"—here, visitors can rock climb, try anti-gravity yoga, or visit the unique "Sleep Pod" rooms for the ultimate in relaxation.
14. Street Food Stalls
To really experience Bangkok, you have to try the local cuisine. You haven't really "done" the city without chowing down on grilled meats and fish, spicy noodles, fresh fruit, and curries. If you think you know Thai food, you're in for a surprise—whatever you've tried before is nothing like the dishes you'll find here.
You'll have no trouble at all finding vendors to tempt you with treats all around Bangkok and help you live through a quintessential Thailand experience, tucking into a delicious (if mysterious) meal, surrounded by the chaos and heat of the city.
Surprisingly, some of the best street food in Bangkok is on Khao San Road —both in the little stalls lining up the street and in the small shacks and restaurants just off the main road selling pad Thai, pad see ew, and mango sticky rice.
Where to Stay in Bangkok for Sightseeing
Bangkok is a big city with many areas where visitors can stay and still have good access to sightseeing, shopping, and dining. Many of the top-end hotels are in the historic Riverside area. Not far away, budget-minded travelers and backpackers often frequent the Khao San Road area, which lies in close proximity to some of the major sites, including the Grand Palace, Wat Phra, Wat Pho, and museums.
Sukhumvit is a more modern area with good shopping and easy access to other parts of the city on the Skytrain. This is a good place to find mid-range hotels. Below are some popular hotels in these key areas:
- Luxury Hotels: One of the best hotels in Bangkok is the ultra-posh Mandarin Oriental in Riverside, with a great location, beautiful pools, and several restaurants, including the Riverside Terrace overlooking the Chao Phraya River. Still luxurious but more affordable is the SO Sofitel Bangkok, with great rooms and amenities in a decent location. For luxury accommodation in Sukhumvit, the popular boutique hotel, Ariyasomvilla, is a good choice with a variety of room styles, all tastefully decorated. This is a modern hotel with old-world charm in a tranquil setting with a lovely pool and grounds.
- Mid-Range Hotels: A more reasonably priced option in Riverside is the Chatrium Hotel Riverside, overlooking the river. This hotel has a beautiful infinity pool and several restaurants. The Park Plaza Bangkok Soi 18 is a modern hotel in Sukhumvit, known for being good value. Also popular is the Glow Pratunam, with a convenient location and decent prices. All of these hotels have pools.
- Budget Hotels: For location, it's hard to beat the Adamaz House, just a short walk off Khao San Road and close to some of the city's most important attractions. The hotel has basic but clean rooms. The Phranakorn-Nornlen is a very popular budget to mid-range hotel with a good location and a bed-and-breakfast feel. Located in Sukhumvit is the Smart Suites, with budget prices and quality rooms.
Tips and Tours: How to Make the Most of Your Visit to Bangkok
- Consider a Tour: To spare yourself the trouble of bargaining for everything and trying to find a taxi that will actually take you where you want to go, a guided tour might be the most practical option. It will save you both time and aggravation—and you'll also get the benefit of having a knowledgeable guide along for the adventure. To see the most famous temples, including the reclining Buddha at Wat Pho, take a Private Guided Temples Tour.
- Venture outside Bangkok: Some of the area's most interesting sites and experiences are found just a short distance outside Bangkok. Ride through the jungle, take an ox and cart trip through a rice field, and look for wildlife on a Khao Yai National Park and Elephant Ride Day Trip from Bangkok. Or take a tour to the ancient capital of Siam—river cruise included—to see the Ayutthaya Temples and sites along the Chao Phraya River on the Ayutthaya Temples and River Cruise Tour. This is one of the most popular day trips from Bangkok, with hotel pickup and drop off.
- Be Prepared to Bargain: This applies as much to taxi rides as market shopping. Taxi drivers in Bangkok are notorious for overcharging, so agree on a price before getting in. You can also insist that they use their meter, but then watch it carefully to make sure it's not jumping around, as some have been rigged to run faster than they should.
- Take Advantage of Public Transportation: Even with an honest cabbie, rides can get expensive in Bangkok's traffic. Bangkok has a good public transportation system, with both above-ground and underground trains covering a good portion of the city. Buses can take a while because of traffic jams, but trains provide a quick, easy, and cheap way to get around. The system is user-friendly, very affordable, and takes little time to figure out, so take advantage of it while you're in town.
- Watch Out for Scams: As mentioned above, taxi drivers often try to overcharge or insist that their meters don't work. Use your judgment and walk away from anyone who doesn't seem trustworthy. Another scam to watch out for involves a driver or supposed tour guide who agrees to take you one place and starts making stops along the way, usually at a gem store or a tailor. Drivers get a commission when they bring in tourists, but these places are often overpriced and not worth visiting. Insist that the driver takes you to your original destination, or tell them you're leaving. This will usually get things back on track, but if it doesn't, you'll find another cab quickly enough.
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Bangkok & Beyond: No visit to Bangkok is complete without a proper tour of the Grand Palace, the former residence of kings and now a massive museum. For tips on what to see inside the palace, take a look at our article, Exploring Bangkok's Grand Palace: A Visitor's Guide. Ready to explore outside Bangkok? Find out how to get to popular Ayutthaya in our article, From Bangkok to Ayutthaya: Best Ways to Get There.