The overriding theme of life in Bangkok is high-energy any time of day or night. The traffic is legendary, the markets are jam-packed and city of eight million souls fairly teems with the general hustle and bustle. Nonetheless, Thailand’s capital is also a center of great culture, history and style, with peaceful temples, palaces and museums sprinkled among the high-rises, malls and traditional shophouses.
Bangkok is vast – more than twice the size of New York City – but it’s all tied together by the meandering Chao Phraya River and its canals. Many sights are easily accessed by water taxis, which are not so plentiful as they once were, but are still a great way to see the city. They pick up from designated points along the water.
Tourism is huge in Bangkok, so you can count on spending time queued up to see some of the more popular attractions. However there are plenty of other desirable destinations that are equally captivating, but with lines that are at least more manageable.
One of Bangkok’s most vibrant districts focuses on Chinese rather than Thai culture. The main streets of Charoen Krung Road and Yaowarat Road, and their myriad side streets, are filled with gold shops in heritage shophouse buildings, Chinese-Buddhist temples (check out the ornate Wat Mangkon Kamalawat), tasty seafood restaurants and streetside market stalls. It’s chaotic and often overcrowded, but the food and shopping options are endless and the energy is contagious. Access by Chao Phraya riverboat pier Ratchawong (N5).
Bangkok Flower Market
Colorful and fragrant, this is Bangkok’s largest wholesale/retail flower market – though it also sells fruit and vegetables along the main road and the many sois, or side streets, all the way down to the river’s edge. Locally known as Pak Khlong Talat, the market is open 24 hours a day, but the best time to experience it is at night, when the artificial lights make the hues shine with an other-worldly glow. Every imaginable type of flower is on sale, from rare orchids to hybrid roses and intricate floral bouquets. Access via Chao Phraya riverboat pier Memorial Bridge (N6).
Bangkok National Museum
While your first stop may be Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) or Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha), these are constantly packed with tourists. You might want to venture a bit farther to the north, where you’ll find the Bangkok National Museum, providing a comprehensive overview of Thai history, art and culture. One of Asia’s largest museums, it’s split into three sections filled with ancient artifacts, religious statues, antiques and gifts given to the Thai royal family over the years.Entry fee for non-citizens is 200 baht ($6). Access by Chao Phraya riverboat pier Tha Phra Athit/Banglamphu (N13).
To the north of the Grand Palace on Ratchawithi Road, the Dusit Palace was built at the turn of the 20th century to be the new residence of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V). Having just toured Europe, the king was impressed by its palaces, with their broad boulevards and large parklands. He ordered some of the Dusit Palace’s mansions and throne halls to reflect those European influences, like the Renaissance-style Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall. Probably the main attraction is Vimanmek Mansion, the largest teak house in the world, now a museum dedicated to Rama V, with porcelain, glassware, old photographs and memorabilia from that era. Tickets are 100 baht ($3) for the palace, while some other features, like the throne hall and Royal Elephant National Museum, are extra. Access via Chao Phraya riverboat pier Thewes (N15).
The new flagship mall of the Central Group is an architectural gem built on the site of the old British Embassy. Its dynamic, sinuous curves feature Thailand’s first Park Hyatt property in the upper floors, and at the base a six-floor cornucopia of designer stores, fine-dining restaurants, a 55,000-square-foot food hall and the city’s newest and most advanced cinema. Add green sky terraces, hosted artwork collections and performances by world-acclaimed visual artists and musicians, and you can see why this is Bangkok’s most happening locale right now. Access via Ploen Chit BTS Station.
The latest must-visit market in Bangkok, Asiatique benefits from a great riverside location and a combination of stalls and bricks-and-mortar boutiques housed in replica warehouses that hark back to this area’s history as an international cargo port owned by the East Asiatic Freight Company. There are more than 1,500 shops selling handicrafts, jewelry and more, plus dozens of restaurants. So take your time, stroll down the pleasant riverside boardwalk, take in the city skyline on the Ferris wheel, and watch one of the cabaret or puppet show performances. Access via Saphan Taksin BTS Station.
Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC)
Housed in a building reminiscent of New York’s Guggenheim Museum, the BACC is a contemporary arts facility with exhibition and performance spaces for events ranging across the artistic landscape, encompassing art, music, theatre, film and design. As well as a rolling calendar of exhibitions from both Thai and international artists, the center is also home to an art library, bookshops, restaurants and a café. Access via National Stadium BTS station.
Few countries are as immediately associated with hospitality as Thailand, and its capital Bangkok has a long list of hotels worth visiting. Between renovations and reflagging of existing properties and a number of major new arrivals during the remainder of this decade, there is plenty to watch out for on the hotel front.
The city’s oldest luxury hotel, Mandarin Oriental Bangkok, celebrated its 140th anniversary in 2016 by reopening its historic Author and Garden wings following a complete overhaul, adding a six-bedroom, 6,400-square-foot Grand Royal Suite in the process. At the same time, the hotel is looking to the future with a series of residences in the contemporary ICON Siam development across the Chao Phraya.
Meanwhile, Anantara Hotels rebranded the Four Seasons’ longstanding property opposite the Royal Bangkok Sports Club as Anantara Siam and renovated a portion of its rooms. Parent company Minor Hotels has also opened the Avani Riverside Bangkok. The first purpose-built Avani hotel, it rises 26 stories directly behind the Anantara Riverside Bangkok (that once was a Marriott hotel). The lobby is on floor 11, with a total of 248 rooms and suites, a rooftop bar and pool, and over 48,400 square feet of event space. minorhotels.com
Como Metropolitan Bangkok gave its 169 rooms in the Sathorn business district a refresh, adding rainforest showers, smart TVs and wireless music systems.
After years of delay, the much-anticipated Park Hyatt Bangkok opened last year around the corner from sibling Grand Hyatt Erawan on Ploenchit Road. Occupying the top 24 floors of the Central Embassy building, the city’s latest luxury hotel features 222 rooms and suites, and has already become an instant must-visit social, dining and entertainment venue for both the Thai elite and wealthy visitors.
Its signature drinking and dining hotspot is the Penthouse Bar & Grill on the uppermost 34th, 35th and 36th floors. Conceived as the fictional penthouse of a well-traveled British-Thai collector of fine art and vintage auto racing relics, you can relax with an aperitif in the atmospheric speakeasy, enjoy a fine meal in the international grill restaurant, or head for the rooftop bar to soak up the panoramic city views. Access via Ploen Chit BTS Station. park.hyatt.com
Hyatt has also added the Hyatt Place Bangkok Sukhumvit with 220 rooms and seven studio suites. The hotel features complimentary breakfast, a rooftop bar, a 19th floor outdoor swimming pool, a gym and four flexible rooms.
Now that its Park Hyatt and Hyatt Place debuts are out of the way, Hyatt can turn its attention to the next opening: The Hyatt Regency Bangkok Sukhumvit will have 300 rooms and suites and over 10,000 square feet of meeting and event space, along with two restaurants, a bar and spa and fitness center. It’s set to bow in the third quarter.
The Bangkok Edition
Inside architect Ole Scheeren’s pixelated MahaNakhon Tower, the Bangkok Edition will have 154 rooms, above which there will be private Ritz-Carlton Residences. Thailand’s first Dean & Deluca opened a few years ago on the ground floor of the MahaNakhon Cube retail center next door. editionhotels.com
Waldorf Astoria Bangkok
There isn’t much space on Ratchadamri Road, lined with hotels and residences facing the green expanse of the Royal Bangkok Sports Club. Nonetheless, Waldorf Astoria Bangkok is squeezing itself in between the Grand Hyatt Erawan and the Anantara Siam. Part of a 60-story, mixed-use high-rise, the hotel will occupy the first 16 floors and offer 170 rooms and suites, along with restaurants, bars, and a spa and fitness center with outdoor pool. Opening is listed for August.
Four Seasons Bangkok
at Chao Phraya River
Also projected to open in 2018 (though we would not be surprised if it gets pushed out) is Four Seasons Bangkok at Chao Phraya River. The riverside 300-plus-room hotel will be spread across a multi-level contemporary building that also includes 355 private residences.
Part of the same development and also listed for 2018 is the all-suite Capella Bangkok. It’s one of four openings for the group in the next two years; other upcoming destinations are Shanghai, Ubud and Riviera Maya, Mexico.
Rosewood Hotels plans a 2019 open for its Rosewood Bangkok. With a direct link to Ploenchit Skytrain station, the hotel will have 159 rooms, including ‘Pool Sky Villas’ with large terraces and private plunge pools. The 33rd floor will house an event space, while there will also be a Sense Spa, swimming pool, fitness center, and a number of restaurants and bars.
Looking further into the future, Spanish group Meliá Hotels announced its first Bangkok hotel for 2022. With 315 rooms, Meliá Bangkok will be part of a mixed-use development along with all the usual leisure, business and F&B facilities you’d expect.