1: The Grand Palace
In the Phra Nakhon District of Bangkok, a gentle walk from Khao San Road, you’ll find Bangkok’s most famous landmark: The Grand Palace. It’ll be clearly marked on your map, right at the edge of the Chao Phraya River, and any taxi driver will know how to get you there. However, what most people think of as the Grand Palace, is actually Wat Phra Kaew, or The Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The Palace, and the Wat (Temple) are located in the same complex and the entry ticket, 500 Baht for foreigners and Free for Thais, gives access to both areas.
Despite what the loitering Tuk-Tuk Drivers and Tourist Guides tell you, this complex is never closed to the public. It is open daily, but on normal days the latest time for entry is around 3pm in the afternoon. It is a Temple, so you’ll need to dress appropriately. The general rule is no bare shoulders and legs fully covered down to the ankles. But, if you’ve arrived wearing shorts, don’t worry because just inside the main gates they’ll happily provide you with a sarong, or a pair of long pants, for a reasonable fee. It’s a huge complex with much to see, so allow yourself a few hours to enjoy this place. It will be busy, but take your time to enjoy it. Don’t be afraid to enter the Temple, after removing your shoes of course, and the locals will be happy to guide you in the lighting of candles, the burning of incense sticks and the placement of ceremonial flowers. The entry price includes a small guidebook that will explain the basics of what you need to know about each room and structure, and small information plaques will fill in the blanks. If only have time to visit one site in Bangkok, then this is the one to head for.
2: Wat Saket
A fifteen minute walk from The Grand Palace and Khao San Road, Wat Saket is better known to tourists as Golden Mount. Just look upwards and you’ll see a huge hill crowned by a golden chedi, that‘s the top of Golden Mount. The hill isn’t a natural feature, it’s made entirely by man, but the guidebooks will give you all of the history you’ll need. Once again, it’s a temple, so you’ll need to dress appropriately. Grab a bottle of cold water, climb the steps towards the summit, ring the multitude of bells as you go and feel free to chat with any monks that you meet. I love this place, it’s always a lot quieter than Wat Phra Kaew, the views from the summit are stunning and the monks are some of the friendliest that you’ll ever meet. Don’t be afraid of them, they genuinely appreciate your interest and the opportunity to practice their English.
At the base of the golden chedi, the tall round pillar that is said to contain a relic of Lord Buddha, feel free to kneel down and pray. It really doesn’t matter what religion you follow, or if like me you have no religion at all, it’s just something that you’ve probably never done before, but something that might stay with you forever. Many tourists are nervous, but providing you’re respectful of your surroundings, people will be on hand to guide you.
3: Chat u Chak Weekend Market
If you’re in Bangkok on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, then a trip to Chat u Chak Weekend Market is an absolute must. Chat u Chak is often spelled Jat u JaK, even on the official signs, but that’s just the start of the confusion. This is the worlds largest permanent market and as such, should be highly placed on everyone’s bucket list. A few short years ago, you’d come to Chat u Chak Market and Thai’s would outnumber Westerners 100 to 1, but Chat u Chak is now firmly on the tourist-trail and the numbers have certainly evened out. As a result, the authorities have cleaned the place up, the fake Rolex watches and caged animals have gone and the experience is all the better for it.
To get there, you simply take the BTS to Mo Chit Station and then follow the flow of people across the walkway and down the stairs. It’s hot, it’s crowded and it’s amazingly random, but it’s an experience that no tourist should miss.
The market is divided into two main sections, the inner and outer triangles on the map. These triangles are separated by an open Walking Street: Kamphaengphet Road. Start by walking left or right, it really doesn’t matter which direction you choose, and just keep on browsing until you return to your original starting point. Along the way you’ll find kiosks selling everything that anybody could ever possibly need, and all at reasonable prices. Along this walking street you’ll also find the food vendors and beer bars. Street food of every variety is cooked to order in front of you and if you need to rest your weary feet before attacking the inner triangle, then grab a stool and a cold beer or soda at any of the busy bars.
The inner triangle is a warren of tight alleys, hot sweaty and crowded. At busy times, which is just about anytime, the masses of people around you will dictate which direction you travel in. If you see anything that you’d like to buy, then buy it when you see it. Don’t make the mistake of making a mental note to return, because although every kiosk has an address written above the store, you’ll probably never find it again. You have the usual array of mass-produced goods; tee shirts, shoes, bags, crockery, army surplus, jeans, jewellery, phone accessories, trinkets etc., but you’ll also find stalls selling artistic one-off products that are generally reasonably priced and Thai artefacts that are generally not. The things that pique your interest may be genuine, but this is Thailand, so buyer beware.
As the sun sets, the inner market begins to close down and the younger trendy Thai crowd migrate to the outer triangle at areas 3 through 6 on the map. This area is fashion heaven, but as a Westerner, if you’re anything larger than ’Average’ in size, then you might struggle to find anything suited to your frame. The exodus towards this trendy fashion street is usually my cue to leave the market, but if you’ve bought anything that you’d like to ship back to your home, then there are several outlets, DHL etc., who’ll help you with door-to-door shipping.
Chat u Chak Weekend Market can sometimes feel like a good work-out, but the investment of energy is worth it. It’s an experience that you’ll never forget and all future markets will seem tame by comparison. Well, almost all other markets.
4: Chat u Chak Green Weekend Night Market
Three years ago, this weekend market migrated from Lad Phrao to it’s new location behind Chat u Chak Park. Back then it was Bangkok’s best kept secret and my favourite place in Thailand. However, in the last twelve months things have changed quite dramatically. Young fashionable Thai’s have discovered this place and taken it to their hearts. It is without doubt the coolest market in all of Asia, perhaps the world, and while you’ll probably still be the only Westerner here, you’ll certainly never feel lonely.
To find Chat u Chak Green, come out of Chat u Chak Market, keep the market perimeter to your left and Chat u Chak Park to your right, and just keep walking down the road. The entrance to Chat u Chak Green Market will open up on your left, so just take a deep breath, take your partners hand in a firm grip, wander inside and enjoy the eclectic experience.
The market is divided into two distinctive parts, permanent stores at the rear and pop-up stalls to your right. I always start with the pop-ups, and if I need anything for the SuperCub C90; whitewall tyres, pimped-out 72 spoke rims or a replacement indicator cover, then this is where I‘ll find it. It’s part trendy Auto-Jumble, part Hollywood Memorabilia and part 70’s Kitsch. Everything you never really needed is here; movie props, old advertising signs the size of your house, iconic posters, vinyl records, 1920’s barbers chairs, vintage clothes and giant WWII search lights. If Chat u Chak Green doesn’t have what you were never looking for, then you’re probably walking around with your eyes closed. This is a ’Holy Shit’ kind of market, a place where you actually need nothing but want to buy everything. But, don’t expect to grab yourself the bargain of the century here. Sure, the clothes and trinkets are reasonably priced, but when it comes to genuine collectables, the Thai’s understand not only the price, but also the true value of everything. Chat u Chak Green Market isn’t cheap, but that’s not the reason that you’re going there.
After browsing the pop-ups, follow the sound of music and move towards the rear of the market. Here you’ll find trendy clothes, modern one-offs and genuine vintage, and a wide range of music bars and eateries. This place is more than alive, it’s positively buzzing with energy. And the people here, well, they’re just visually beautiful, it’s as if they‘ve been sprinkled with handsome-dust and released into the night. They must have Beauty Police on the entrance, and I somehow manage to sneak passed them without being noticed. This must be the liveliest open-air venue in Thailand. For Bangkok’s trendy hipsters it’s the place to be seen, and despite that, I absolutely love it. Do yourself a favour, sit down in a converted oil drum chair and listening to the live music. Grab yourself a cold beer and a genuine bowl of Pad Thai, and just watch the world walk by you.
5: Baiyoke Tower II
In the Ratchathewi district of Bangkok, close to Platinum Mall, you’ll find Thailand‘s tallest building. At 1,000 feet tall and with 85 floors, Baiyoke Tower II provides the most amazing viewing platform for Bangkok. It’ll cost 500 Baht to visit the rotating observation deck, but if you enjoy watching sunsets over amazing cityscapes, then this is certainly the place to do it.
.... Bangkok is a city of 14 million people, one of the most visited capital cities in the world, it has the richest of cultures and I’ve only mentioned five different attractions. Of course, there’s so much more to see and do here, but I’ve only listed the essentials. Provided you arrive here with an open outlook, then you can’t fail to enjoy yourself and create memories that will stay with you for life.