Known as the Great City of Angels, Bangkok—Thailand’s capital—has long been one of the planet’s most desirable vacation destinations. Travelers dream of Bangkok’s frenetic urban energy, opulent palaces, dizzying markets, and, of course, who can forget about the incredible food? But all of this is further amplified by the warm hospitality of its people. After all, Thailand has been nicknamed the Land of Smiles.
You’ll find yourself smiling, too, as soon as you step foot on this storied imperial capital. And to get you primed for the Thai adventure of a lifetime, check out our comprehensive guide to the great city of Bangkok.
Currency: Thai Baht (or THB) is the currency of Thailand. And right now, the exchange rate is favorable for the US dollar. If you want to be prepared for your trip, you can ask your home bank if they carry Thai bahts. But if not, you can always take money out of the ATM when you arrive in Bangkok. Most recommend withdrawing local currencies at ATMs within the major banks of that destination to get the best exchange rate.
Languages: Thai, but some English is widely spoken, especially in hotels as well as at major travel attractions.
Phrases to know: In Thai, to show respect add either khap (if you’re male) or ka (if you’re female) to the end of most statements. Thai is written out in its unique alphabet. The phrases below are spelled out phonetically so you can sound out the words as you see it.
Hello—sawasdee (pronounced sah-wah-dee)
Thank you—khob khun (pronounced cob-coon)
Yes—Chai (pronounced chai)
No—Mai (pronounced may)
Spicy—P̄hĕd (pronounced pet)
Best ways to get around: With over 605 square miles bisected by Chao Phraya River, Bangkok is quite big. Taking taxis will allow you to reach its many neighborhoods more easily, but traffic can impact mobility. The alternative is taking the BTS Skytrain, which connects many of Bangkok’s most important districts. You can also try a very local mode of transport (and one of the top things to do in Bangkok): the tuk-tuk, a motorized rickshaw.
When to travel to Bangkok
For trips to any part of Southeast Asia, weather plays a big role, especially if you’re not used to tropical heat. And it’s no different when you visit Bangkok (and Thailand in general). Some months can be unbearably hot and humid; while others can be washed out by heavy, seasonal rain. The best things to do in Bangkok change depending on what the weather is like.
Go in the winter for milder weather. From late November to the end of February, temperatures in Bangkok will be at their coolest. (But don’t be surprised if the temperature still gets up to the 90s… you’re in the tropics!) Although this is Bangkok’s peak travel season, it’s also the driest months of the year, allowing everyone to enjoy being outside. In fact, the city celebrates the season by staging the beautiful (and free) Concert in the Park series in Lumpini Park. It’s a weekly concert event organized by the Bangkok Symphony Orchestra and it’s a great activity for visitors to get a feel for how locals enjoy a weekend afternoon.
Go in March to October for fewer crowds. The remainder of the year will feature a mix of intense humid heat and, starting in May, rain. Don’t expect temperature to dip below 90 degrees Fahrenheit, especially in March and April—the hottest months of the year. If heat doesn’t faze you, April’s a great time to visit. That’s when Thailand celebrates Songkran, the Buddhist New Year, which falls on April 13. This is a national holiday in Thailand, and it’s celebrated over three days. Most Bangkok attractions remain open, but we wouldn’t recommend hitting the museums or palaces during Songkran. Instead, take to the streets to experience the city’s playful energy and vibrance. You might even join locals in water fights as a sign of cleansing. It’s both a Bangkok must-see and must-do!
What to do in Bangkok while on tour
Bangkok is truly a city of contrasts. Things to do in Bangkok can vary depending on your personal interests and style. The lush tranquility of Lumpini Park is as much a Bangkok attraction as the dazzling beauty of the Royal Grand Palace. And it’s when you combine these contrasting places in Bangkok that you truly get to know why the Thai capital has become one of the world’s most beloved cities. Here are a handful of the top things to do in Bangkok.
- Marvel at the opulence of the Royal Grand Palace. On our Thailand: The Golden Kingdom tour, your Bangkok adventure begins with a guided visit to the Royal Grand Palace, a sprawling complex built in 1782 for the king of Siam. And you can really tell that no expense was spared to create the most immaculate palace anyone could imagine. Temples are covered in glistening gold, there are colorful statues everywhere, and opulent decorative carvings show off Thai craftsmanship. But it’s also where administrative buildings are located so there are about 100 different buildings spread across the entire complex. One of Bangkok’s hidden gems, The Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles, is here, too, but most travelers skip it. It might be worth a visit if you’re interested in seeing ornate royal gowns made of silk as well as exhibits on batik. Today, the Grand Palace remains the cultural heart of Thailand and is one of the most important Bangkok attractions.
Pay respects to temples dedicated to Buddha. Bangkok has two major temples where you can see incredible Buddha sculptures. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew) is part of the Grand Palace grounds. The gold-cloaked meditating Buddha (made of jade) is considered the most sacred Buddhist site in all of Thailand.
Directly south of the Grand Palace is Wat Pho, or the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. The original build out of this temple dates to the 16th century, making it one of the oldest temples in Bangkok. But what really draws travelers here when they visit Bangkok is the 150-foot-long, 50-foot-tall statue of the Buddha reclining on his side. It’s one of the largest Buddha statues in Thailand.
These temples are a visual feast. Take it from traveler Katherine: “I was unprepared for the overwhelming beauty of the temples in Bangkok!”
- Experience the hustle and bustle of a Thai market. Our Thailand Adventure Tour includes a lively trip to the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, which you get to experience on a wooden long-tail boat. These markets are unique because vendors and shoppers are on their own boats. So instead of walking from shop to shop, you’ll sail along, jockeying for space as sellers and shoppers haggle for the best produce, food, and other local specialties. If you want to soak in the local energy, pull up to a flower market—it’s considered one of the best places in Bangkok to get a glimpse of Thai life. Our tour directors will also show off the marvel that is Maeklong Railway Market, which is organized on an active train line. This means stall owners have to be quick to break down and rebuild their shops every time a train comes!
Visiting markets was one of traveler Peter’s favorite parts of his trip to the city. Bangkok is, “a vibrant westernized city, but the itinerary offers an opportunity to experience some of its more traditional markets,” he said.
- Discover Bangkok’s atmospheric canals. One of Bangkok’s nicknames is “Venice of the East,” thanks to the 1682 colorful canals (or khlongs in Thai) that snake around the city. They've been there since the 18th century, but a lot of the canals that were formerly in the central neighborhoods of the city have been filled. There are still plenty to sail around on, and all of our Bangkok tours include boarding a speedboat so that you don’t miss the chance to see, and sail on, these historic waterways.
Visit Bangkok on tour
What to do in Bangkok during free time
We fill our guided tours with the top things to do in Bangkok, but free time is perfect for finding activities that will complement scheduled excursions. A city as big and bustling as Bangkok offers plenty more to do. Here are a few more of our favorites.
- Enjoy a relaxing day around Lumpini Park. Bangkok’s 142-acre park is the perfect escape from the energy and buzz of a capital city. It was first established in the 1920s and remains the largest park in the city. What makes it one of the best places to visit in Bangkok is the variety of discoveries that awaits. You may spot musicians, cross paths with giant monitor lizards, rent a rowboat on the man-made lake, or take the opportunity to exercise with locals. Of course, you’re welcome to just take a tranquil stroll around the park and catch your breath from all the exciting sightseeing.
- Shop til you drop in super malls. Shopping in Bangkok’s massive malls is almost a national pastime. The halls buzz during the weekends, when locals while away the day shopping and eating in food courts and restaurants. Malls like Siam Paragon, Terminal 21, and Discovery feel like retail theme parks in their size and variety. If you’re not in the mood to shop, malls are still fun places to people-watch while taking a break from the heat.
- Take a dinner cruise on the Chao Phraya River. A special way to enjoy an evening out in Bangkok is to take a dinner cruise on the Chao Phraya River. It’s known as the River of Kings, and when you’re sailing along marveling at the city’s top attractions all lit up at night, you will certainly feel like royalty. There are a lot of boat operators to choose from, some cruises will even add live music, but all of them will serve classic Thai dishes for a night to remember.
Related article: 12 hidden gems to discover in Thailand
What to eat and drink in Bangkok
Thai food varies by region. Some parts of the country use more spice or more acid while other regions of Thailand might lean on the sweeter side of the flavor spectrum. As the capital city, Bangkok restaurants dish out all of them. Here are a handful to keep an eye on.
- Pad Thai. There might not be a more iconic Thai noodle dish than the slightly sweet, sometimes-spicy bowl of stir-fried Pad Thai. Thin, flat rice noodles are tossed with tamarind sauce, fish sauce, and a variety of vegetables and protein (including scrambled egg) to create a rich, satisfying dish beloved all over the world. In Bangkok, you can enjoy an order of Pad Thai in a nice sit-down restaurant or dig into a more casual version whipped up at a street food cart.
- Tom Yum (hot and sour) soup. This spicy, sour, and aromatic soup combines some of Thai food’s most typical ingredients, like lemongrass, fish sauce, and galangal. You can try it with chicken or seafood (with shrimp is a popular version) or leave it veggie-friendly. No matter which you choose, it’s a flavorful, warming soup that captures the many flavors of Thailand.
- Som tam. Thailand’s most famous salad is built around shredded papaya, which serves as a tangy base. Fish sauce, palm sugar, lime juice, and chopped chilies add a unique depth of flavor. And for even more umami and crunch, locals toss in tomatoes, shredded carrots, roasted peanuts, and tiny dried shrimp. While the papaya salad may have had its Thai beginnings in the northeast, different regions have added their own twist on the dish, mixing in green mangoes or crab meat.
- Thai curry. Curry lovers will love Bangkok. Most restaurants prepare a handful of versions depending on featured ingredients and spice level. Shallots, garlic, coriander, lemongrass, and coconut milk feature prominently in any curry, but you can normally add your preferred protein—from tofu to beef or pork. A yellow curry will have potatoes and turmeric while red curries are spiked with crushed red chilies. Green curries include green chilies from central Thailand and can often be the spiciest of the Thai curries. So be cautious with this one if you usually stay away from spicy food.
- Mango sticky rice. Like the ubiquitous pad thai, you can get mango sticky rice everywhere; whether you’ve splurged for a Michelin-star restaurant or you’re just walking around getting to know the street food scene. It’s a simple combination of sticky rice soaked in coconut milk and slices of the sweetest mango in Thailand. The beloved mango sticky rice is truly the perfect way to end every meal. No visit to Bangkok will be complete without it.
- Beer. A cold glass of medium-bodied beer is the best way to quench your thirst after taking a bite of a spicy Thai dish. Singha is one of the best-known local beer brands. You’ve probably already seen it in your local Thai restaurants at home. Chang, another Thai beer with a following, is also a great option—it’s a golden, lager-style brew.
- Thai iced tea. Thai iced tea is iconic for its orange color. Locals mix black tea with sweetened condensed milk to create its electric color. Beware: A lot of sugar is added to the mix, so this is much sweeter than your typical iced tea, but it’s a tasty introduction to one of the country’s most popular treats.
- Cocktails. Bangkok has some of Asia’s most creative cocktail bars. The best thing about them is that their cocktail recipes include ingredients you often find in Thai cooking. Some bars might be taking classic drinks (like negronis and old fashioneds) and giving them a local twist by adding flavors like pandan, coconut, and lemongrass. Chinatown is home to a few great bars and could make for a wonderful night out. Check out TEP and Teens of Thailand for a couple of tasty nightcaps.
What to pack for Bangkok
Like on any other trip, you’ll want to be prepared for unpredictable weather when you visit Bangkok. Here are the essentials to toss in your suitcase.
Sun protection. Whether we’re talking big floppy hats or your favorite SPF lotions, you need to be ready for bright sunny days in Bangkok. Don’t forget a pair of chic sunglasses, too! And because Southeast Asia can be very humid, it’s a good idea to bring a fan to help cool you down.
Light layers. Most days of the year, Bangkok’s average daytime temperature hovers around 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Breezy clothing like sundresses, linen pieces, polo shirts, and easy shorts should be the foundation of your vacation wardrobe. That said, it’s a good idea to have a light sweater or jacket with you—temps might drop down at night and most indoor places in Bangkok will be air-conditioned. When visiting temples, remember that your clothes should cover most of your body. That means full pants and shirts with sleeves for men. And for women, dresses or skirts that go beyond the knee and tops that cover the shoulders. Nothing too tight.
Rain protection. If your trip to Bangkok is during the rainy season, take an umbrella everywhere you go. It might be clear during the day, but you never know when a tropical storm might come down—even if it’s just for 20 minutes. Similarly, light waterproof jackets and shoes will keep you comfortable.
Comfortable walking shoes. You always want to have your favorite, comfiest walking shoes with you wherever you travel. Whether you’re just strolling around the Grand Palace or boarding the boats that will whisk you to the floating markets, you want your most comfortable footwear with you.
Best souvenirs to buy in Bangkok
If you want to commemorate your trip to Bangkok with a unique souvenir, or if you’re hoping bring something back for loved ones at home, here are a few ideas to spend your baht on.
- Silk. Every market and mall in Bangkok features numerous shops selling this soft delicate fabric. Some might be selling simple scarves; while others are locally hand making elaborate outfits, stylish purses, and even home decor items from this super soft textile. Jim Thompson, an American businessman who lived in Bangkok for many years in the 1940s until the 1960s, is often credited with reviving and popularizing the use of silk in Thailand, and there are colorful boutiques bearing his name all over Bangkok.
- Decorative wood carvings. Grab this artisan craft as a gift or take one home for yourself. Handmade from teak, these carvings pop up all over Bangkok’s many markets. You can pick up small whimsical pieces of a carved elephant or a more practical salad bowl, for instance. Or splurge on elaborate carvings that could eventually become the feature piece of your living room, such as a stunning coffee table etched with eye-catching details.
- Kitchen and dining items. If you’ve fallen in love with Thai food during your trip, what better way to celebrate that than by learning to cook Thai food when you return home? You can purchase beautifully designed kitchen tools and dining items in many of Bangkok’s amazing markets. Pick up a mortar and pestle for grinding up chilies to put in your curry. Track down some prepared spice mixes full of herbs and ingredients that might be difficult to find out of Thailand. Or snag a few bamboo place mats for your dining table. It’ll be the perfect way to add some Thai flare to your next Thai-inspired dinner party.