Experience Thailand's vibrant capital Bangkok
Thailand's vibrant capital Bangkok is a city of incredible contrasts. Ultra modern skyscrapers are juxtaposed with traditional wooden houses; thriving floating markets and busy narrow streets are lined with stalls selling just about everything you could imagine, yet state-of-the-art shopping malls can be found all over the city; and grand old palaces and temples showcasing intricate designs of gold and multi-coloured mosaics sit alongside shiny glass-fronted luxury hotels along the snaking Chao Phraya River. Bangkok has done a lot to shake off its tawdry image and has become a cosmopolitan megalopolis with what some would describe as a 'village mentality' owing to the blend of old and new with it's charming, gentle and good natured inhabitants.
Any time spent in Bangkok can be time well spent with a wealth of attractions, sights and experiences around every corner and it's important to have some sort of a plan before stepping out as the frenetic city can be overwhelming, especially for those visiting for the first time. A good place to start is to decide on your method of getting around.
It's not the easiest city to enjoy on foot but luckily there are many modes of transport to help travellers explore every corner. Tuk-tuks are a fun, sometimes hair-raising, way of getting about and an experience that should be tried at least once. Taxis are plentiful and not too expensive but bare in mind that drivers don't tend to speak English so have your destination written down (ask your hotel for help with this). The super modern BTS Skytrain runs on 2 lines north to south in central Bangkok and is the fastest and most effective way of getting from a to b and with tickets starting at 15 Baht, it's also great value. Bangkok MRT is a second metro system running on two lines (different to the Skytrain) covering the north of the city and like the Skytrain is cheap and easily navigable.
To avoid the snarling traffic and fumes of the Bangkok roads, why not take to the waterways on one of the many different boating options. It's not only a great way to reach the main sights, but also provides a fascinating insight to human existence on the tangle of canals and rivers of the city - a major part of Bangkok life that has played out for centuries. Water taxis are cheap and readily available, and the Chao Phraya Express Boat ride along the Chao Phraya River is a great option if you're planning on visiting the Grand Palace, Wat Arun and the National Museum in the historic core of the city.
Templed out? Bangkok is a shopaholic's paradise with a lot of options depending on what you're after. For a truly authentic experience, try the bustling Chatuchak Weekend Market, the Maekhlong railway market where 8 trains pass through daily, the neon playground of Chinatown's Yaowarat Street, or the floating market of Damnoen Saduak just outside the city. If it's big name brands and designer labels that you're after then jump off at Siam metro station for a vast choice of shopping malls and outlets. Not only do they provide shelter from the sun but also an air-conditioned sanctuary from the steamy streets.
Wherever you go in Bangkok, great food is never far from your grasp and it is said that there are over 50,000 places to eat in the city! Bangkok has its fair share of fine-dining restaurants including those to be found in the luxury 5 star hotels around the city, as well as the Michelin star options such as Bo.Lan, R-Haan and Elements. That being said, the main place to find truly authentic fresh flavours is on the streets at the plethora of food stands and carts to be found in every market and street corner. In fact, it's possible to tour Bangkok just by eating your way round the sweet, the savoury and everything in between; getting to know the city bite by bite.
A day of sightseeing in Bangkok can be exhausting so why not rest those weary feet by heading to one of the many high-rise rooftop bars for incredible views across the city as the sun goes down, and have fun trying to retrace the day's activities by pinpointing those temple chedis lit up in the skyline from way up high, with a cocktail in hand.
At the end of the day, if you find you have any energy left then head over to the backpackers district of Khao San Road where the party goes on all night. There is a true festival vibe here with street performers, hawkers and mouth-watering food stalls amongst the bars, clubs and cabaret venues keeping travellers from all over the world entertained 24/7.
Bangkok often bookends a sojourn to one of Thailand's chilled out beach resorts on Koh Samui or Phuket owing to flight schedules and routes. If you're planning a Thai island getaway then consider reserving a couple of nights here for some fantastic cultural insights into one of the world's most exciting capitals.