If you plan on traveling through Thailand, chances are you’re going to fly through Bangkok at some point. During my solo travels in Southeast Asia, I noticed that many other travelers spoke of Bangkok as a stopover on their way to the southern Thai islands or up north to Chiang Mai. I kept hearing “during my layover in Bangkok” or “my one night in Bangkok” as if it wasn’t a place you’d stop to really get to know. Heck, even Nomadic Matt said he couldn’t wait to get out of the city on his first visit because it was dirty and it smelled!
Well, I am here to say: Bangkok is dirty. It does smell. It’s also crazy and loud. But these are the exact things that help to make it such an incredibly interesting and amazing place! I urge you to give this city more of a chance than just a few hours or a half-day during a layover to your next destination. It is a city with so many quirks, charms, surprises, and rich culture, and it is so very worth spending the extra time here. Without further ado, here are the 6 reasons why Bangkok is much more than just a layover city. If you’re anything like me, number one will be reason enough!
1. The Mouthwatering Street Food
Thai food is an internationally regarded cuisine, and if you want to experience some seriously authentic Thai, you’ve got to go to where it all began; the streets. Navigate to Soi Samran Rat and Maha Chai Road where you will find virtually all locals sitting down at small plastic tables and chairs enjoying local street-food specialties. I will be honest and say I am not sure exactly what I ate as the “menu” had little to no English on it, but it was insanely good. For an out of this world gastronomic experience where you can sample everything from crispy pork belly to 10-hour-slow-roasted fall-off-the-bone pork leg, to dumplings, oyster pancakes, and coconut milk soup, make your way to Bangkok’s Chinatown. You can spend hours indulging in the many incredible street dishes found in this special part of the city (I certainly did).
2. The Hectic Local Markets
Many people talk about the famous Chatuchak Weekend Market, but I opted for a more local experience. Across the river from the city center is Wang Lang Market. This market was packed with street food, clothing, and produce vendors, and there were so many street-treats that I took a few laps around to check out the offerings before I bought 10 different foods to try. (I just kept eating and eating.) There’s also a clothing, shoes, and accessories shopping section that can be found in the center of the market. It’s extremely easy to get to Wang Lang Market by taking the Chao Phraya Express Boat from the Tha Maharaj stop straight across the river. It takes about 3 minutes to cross the river and costs 3 baht (equivalent to 10 US cents).
My favorite market in Bangkok however, is Sempang Lane Market, which I stumbled upon accidentally while wandering around. You will find this seemingly never-ending market along the exceptionally narrow Soi Wanit 1, home to thousands of vendors selling everything from watches, jewelry, sunglasses and other accessories, faux flowers, real flowers, kitchen items, electronics, fruit shaped pillows, actual fruit…you’ll basically find just about anything at this market – most of which is sold wholesale. So if you’re looking to buy 10 or more of the same item as gifts to bring home (at insanely cheap prices), this is most certainly a market to check out!
3. The Amazing Views From the Rooftop Bars
Bangkok is a city of 8 million, with city limits sprawling an impressive 1,600 square kilometers (or 606 miles). It’s a city so vast, that you’d be missing out if you didn’t see it from above! Luckily Bangkok is crawling with some really amazing rooftop bars. I am not one to typically recommend a place that is clearly made for tourists, but the view from River Vibe Restaurant & Bar is just too good! I recommend stopping by in the late afternoon while it’s still quiet to grab a Chang, sit back and admire the incredible city views. It’s only a few floors up, but is able to give you a whole different perspective of the city.
You may have heard of a rooftop bar named Skybar, but I would highly recommend skipping it. I repeat, SKIP SKYBAR! I understand the draw, as we’re all a sucker for famous as-seen-in-the-movies destinations (an iconic scene from The Hangover Part 2 was filmed here), but it is incredibly overcrowded, chalk full of tourists trying to get the “perfect shot”, and you’re only allowed to take photos or stand in a designated area. The staff will actually ask you to move or put your camera away! Meanwhile down on the 52nd floor at Breeze, just 11 levels below Skybar, the views are just as, if not more impressive and I can promise you that it’s going to be a lot less crowded, with much friendlier staff that won’t dictate where you can and can’t stand!
4. The Ease of Public Transportation
As much fun as taking a tuk-tuk around the city can be, I really enjoyed getting to know the city via public transportation. First of all, it’s incredibly cheap to ride, second, you get a better idea of the lay of the land, and third, both the Skytrain and the Chao Phraya Express offer amazing views of the city from a different perspective. The Skytrain is an elevated tram system so you can get a view of the city from above, and the Chao Phraya Express is a ferry system so you get a view of the city from the river. You can purchase a single day unlimited ride Skytrain pass for $3.50 USD or pay per ride (about 40 US cents). A ferry ride costs between 10-50 US cents depending on your destination. The employees for the Skytrain and the ferry were both very helpful and it was all very easy to navigate!
5. The Impressive Temples
According to the Thai Office of National Buddhism, there is said to be upwards of 40,000 Buddhist temples in Thailand. As you can imagine since Bangkok is Thailand’s biggest city, there are temples everywhere! As you cruise down the Chao Phraya, you will notice temples and ornate architectural buildings basically lining the river’s edge, most notably Wat Arun and it’s iconic spire. Tourists tend to flock to The Grand Palace to view the very famous Emerald Buddha at Wat Phra Kaew. However, Similar to the reason why I skipped Skybar, I skipped The Grand Palace, as it was overpriced and overcrowded which to me took away from the experience. Just around the corner you will find Wat Pho, a Buddhist temple complex home to The Reclining Buddha and many other beautiful temples. If you go after 6pm not only is it free, but it’s also a lot less crowded!
6. The Craziness of Khao San Road
Look, it’s super touristy. We’ve seen it on The Hangover Part 2 and The Beach, and have heard about it countless times through the mouths of young party-going backpackers, but this is a place you’ve really got to see to believe. Between the bright neon signs, promoters trying to get you into their bars, intoxicated backpackers flailing around to the beat of the electronic music – Khao San Road is nuts. If you’re looking for a party, this is definitely the place to go, but even if you’re not (like me) it’s fun to go even for a short time just to experience it all! I’d recommend going with someone, as it can be a little overwhelming. I was traveling solo, but met some fellow adventurers to join me, and we had a blast. Don’t spend too much time here, don’t stay in a hostel here, just go one night and experience it!
Have you ever been to Bangkok? Please share your experience in this crazy city in the comments below!