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To me, arriving in Bangkok feels like slipping on a well-worn leather shoe. It’s so easy, familiar and friendly — yet exciting and full of surprises. No two days are ever the same.
That’s a good thing — but Bangkok’s familiarity has also become a problem. After exploring Bangkok like crazy during my first 10 days there more than three years ago, my subsequent visits were all about taking a break from travel and relaxing in a familiar place, as well as hanging out with whichever friends happened to be in the city and getting work done in places where I knew had good wifi. After my first visit, I never really picked up the sightseeing other than a few sporadic adventures now and then.
This time in Bangkok, though, I wanted to experience some new places. Here are a few of the new Bangkok experiences I enjoyed the most this time around:
This is pretty embarrassing — I visited Bangkok six times three years ago and never made it to this wonderful temple, which is now my favorite temple in Bangkok.
Wat Arun appears to be gray from a distance, but up close you see the brilliant colors. It’s also a slightly terrifying place to climb, but it’s well worth it. The grounds are nice for strolling around as well.
If you’re visiting Bangkok for the first time, you must visit Wat Arun. I’d recommend it heartily over the Grand Palace.
Is there a point to visiting Chinatown if you’re already in Asia anyway? If it’s Chinatown in Bangkok, absolutely!
This is one of the craziest shopping neighborhoods I’ve seen in the city that I consider to be the best shopping city in the world. After getting off the ferry, you’ll find yourself in mazes upon mazes of covered markets, selling everything from giant Hello Kitty dolls to various neon wigs. Men on motorbikes drive right through the aisles, making just walking through an adrenaline rush!
And the street food here is amazing. Head over to Yaowarat Street for the best gathering of vendors; be sure to wade through the covered mall across the street, too. I’ve had some fabulous xiao long bao (Shanghainese soup-filled dumplings) and some soup filled with various unidentified meats, as well as lots of fresh pomegranate juice.
Moon Rooftop Bar at the Banyan Tree
I’ve frequented a few casual rooftop bars in Bangkok, but I always planned to go somewhere swankier someday — and I finally had the opportunity to visit Moon on top of the Banyan Tree hotel. This bar reminded me a lot of Vegas establishments.
The Banyan Tree is one of the tallest buildings in Bangkok, and the views from the top are sensational.
I’ve barely experienced the luxury side of travel in Thailand, but I’ve seen enough of it to know that it’s exceptional. One place is Jim Thompson’s house — while not an expensive or luxury activity, it definitely has a luxury atmosphere when it comes to the staff. Luxury destinations in Thailand have a veritable army of staff members wearing gorgeous uniforms, with perfect accessories, they call you madam, and they cater to your every need with soft-spoken words and broad smiles. They anticipate your every need, and if you don’t need anything, they become invisible.
This luxury atmosphere is evident at the Banyan Tree. There is a staff member everywhere you turn, and we never wanted for anything.
After a round of cocktails at Moon, the Banyan Tree generously invited me to try the tasting menu at Saffron, their restaurant a few floors down.
The food was exquisite.
I’m used to eating on the street in Bangkok, and as much as I love street food, these versions of dishes felt far more refined. The duck salad and the tom yam goong soup somehow tasted so much more complex than the varieties I’ve eaten before. The Massaman curry was outstanding — smoother than anything I’ve ever tasted.
Every dish has a story at Saffron. I asked my waitress about rice and she waxed poetic about the different varieties of rice they offered, along with their geographic origins and health benefits!
Dessert — my favorite, sticky rice with mango — was inventive, served in the form of a sticky rice spring roll with coconut ice cream and sliced mango.
I loved this meal, and if you’re looking to splurge on a nice meal in Bangkok, Saffron is a fabulous place to do so.
Movies in Bangkok
On my first day in Bangkok, it was pouring — so I decided to go see Gravity. I went to see an afternoon showing at Scala Cinema in Siam Square for 100 baht — $3.11. On opening weekend! Talk about a bargain.
This was a casual theater, but Bangkok is also known for its luxury movie theaters, which are more expensive than Scala but far more cushy. I’d love to try one of the fancy places out when I get back to Bangkok. I need to see Catching Fire already!
Muay Thai at Lumphini Stadium
While I’ve never been a sports fan, I’ve always loved the cultural side of sporting events. There’s nothing like the atmosphere of a Red Sox game at Fenway Park, for example.
Lumphini Stadium is the world’s home for Muay Thai, or Thai boxing, and it has a crackling atmosphere. The roof was tin and looked like it was going to fall in. Ceiling fans dangled from above. Women walked around in short-shorts selling beer and popcorn. Gamblers in the back yelled and groaned throughout the night. The evening consisted of nine fights total and the main event was the seventh fight.
In fact, some of the earlier bouts were more interesting. The tiny fighters were barely 100 pounds and looked like teenagers, and each corner had a collection of supporters who jumped and cheered with every hit. One of them even had a woman who appeared to be his mother cheering behind him!
At the end, I even got to meet the winning fighter and pose for photos with him. All in all, a very fun and very local Thai experience. Lumphini Stadium will reportedly be closing soon, so make sure you get there soon!
Have you been to Bangkok? What’s your favorite offbeat thing to do?
Essential Info: To get to Wat Arun, take a Chao Phraya express boat to the Grand Palace and take the ferry across to the other side of the river. Admission is 50 baht ($1.50).
To get to Chinatown, take a Chao Phraya express boat to Ratchawong. Alternatively, take the MRT to Hualamphong and take a longish walk or a tuk-tuk.
To get to the Banyan Tree Bangkok, take the Skytrain to Surasak. Warning: Google Maps gave us the wrong location; but most drivers will know where it is.
To get to Scala Cinema, take the Skytrain to Siam or National Stadium. It’s on the side of MBK. Afternoon tickets cost us 100 baht ($3.11).
There are plans for Lumphini Stadium to close in the near future, so see a fight there while you can. To get there, take the MRT to Lumphini. Tickets are purchased in front. We bought ringside tickets for 2,000 baht ($62); also available are open seats further back for 1,500 baht ($47) and standing room only in the back with the gamblers for 1,000 baht ($31).
You can compare the best prices on hotels in Bangkok here.
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Many thanks to The Banyan Tree Bangkok for inviting me for drinks at Moon and dinner at Saffron. All opinions, as always, are my own.
40 thoughts on “New in Bangkok: This Time Around!”
I was just there a few days ago for only a few days – there’s so much to see. I went to Chinatown and had some amazing corn with coconut shavings – amazing! – and also indulged in the pomegranate juice 🙂 Next time will be Wat Arun and some Muay Thai!
Our favorite part of Bangkok is the street food. We got extremely ill after exploring the restaurants in China Town. Terrible memories!!! : /
Thank you for such great information! I’m currently in the planning stages of a long trip and Bangkok is definitely on the list! I was originally thinking Bali, but you and a few other travel bloggers have convinced me that Bangkok would suit me better. In fact, I’m planning on spending a good chunk of time there- I’m more of a slow traveler. If you have any suggestions for affordable places to stay for a month in Bangkok I’d appreciate it 🙂
I’m definitely putting Wat Arun on my list!! Getting SO excited to head over to SE Asia at last, and posts like this are just what I need!
Part of me really wants to go to Lumphini, too, but I’m pretty sure my boyfriend (who is a Muay Thai instructor here in the US) would never forgive me if I went without him!
Here’s what you do: go to see it, and bring a sign that says “Keep punching, [name]!” and pose with the winner holding it!
I think wat arun has started to close for 3 years for renovation or refurbishment, i think it is still good to visit its surrounding to admire the beautiful architecture:)
I LOVE Bangkok. My fav was doing a cooking course at May Kaidee’s restaurant (she’s awesome). So much delicious food….
I love Chattachak markets, its around 20 min from the Kho San area I’m sure you’ve been there Kate….less touristy and you can get completely lost once inside lol
Banyan tree is on my list for next time, rooftop bar looks class – I think I’d blend in nicely there with a rum & coke 🙂
Make it a Sangsom and Coke. That’s what I drank there. 🙂 Thai whiskey = rum.
And yes — Chatuchak Market is one of my favorite things to do in Bangkok!
Sangsom + ginger ale + squeeze of lime is best blend. Coke too sweet & overpowers the rum. Cheers.
This just came at the perfect time! I have been researching like crazy since we are going in January 🙂
What did you think of Gravity? I thought it was predictable…not a fan. I want to see Catching Fire, too!
I wouldn’t mind seeing a bit of Thai boxing, either #swoon
And now I have more of an idea what to do when I (hopefully) finally make it to Thailand next year!
I liked Gravity! Thought the dead kid bit was a bit contrived, but I watched the whole thing with my mouth dropped!
I’ve decided the next time I go somewhere I’ve been before, I should try to visit only the places I didn’t see the first time, except for maybe a few favorite places. This is especially worthwhile for country-by-country trips. Usually you only see a certain number of places, and if you had just seen an entire different set of places, you might have had just as good of a time. So I figure every country will be brand new if you visit a totally different 10 cities, and the same is true of just a city, if you visit 10 totally new restaurants, neighborhoods, or whatever. Anything can be brand new.
Interesting idea, SnarkyNomad. I’d love to go back to Italy, which I’ve visited extensively, and only travel around the South, which I haven’t done except for Capri.
I’ve been to Thailand, but never to Bangkok. I’ll finally be making it there this April, so I can’t wait!
April? As in during SONGKRAN?! It is an AMAZING time to visit Bangkok; please don’t miss it!
Cooking with local ingredients is my favorite thing to do in Bangkok e.g., go to the market in the morning and stock up for the day’s Thai cooking experiments. Going to the luxury movie theatres is fun too.
That’s a great idea, Kathryn!
Bangkok is just a couple of hours away, nonetheless I’ve yet to visit this fabulous city (a three hours’ transit at Suvarnabhumi Airport doesn’t count). Your post just rubs it in how much I need to go and explore it away!
On going to the cinema while travelling – yeah that’s my activity of choice too when the weather is not agreeable for outdoor jaunts. Nice!
I’ve been waiting for this post LOL! I’ve been to Bangkok twice but only just scratched the surface and never even made it the backpackers haunt!
The 1st time, I was overwhelmed by the heat, dust and people I met. The 2nd time, was after a month in Vietnam so all I wanted to do was hang out in luxury and eat sushi! Next year, I’m taking the family and taking it slowly with “classic” things to see. We’ll probably go to the cinema: so far I’ve been to the pictures in Germany, Spain, Rajasthan, Poland, and the Czech Republic. Always very amusing!
Your updated list makes me even more excited about moving to Bangkok in January than I already am! I know there are a ton of beautiful temples and more than enough to see in Bangkok, but I was wondering what your thoughts were on Ayutthaya and Lopburi? I’ve heard the ancient capital has a ton of gorgeous monuments and I think it would be incredible to see all of those cute monkeys running around Lopburi!
Do you have any other suggestions for short weekend trips that we could make during our stay in Bangkok?
Thank you for all these great tips already!
xxx Amanda – The Travallure
I actually haven’t been to Ayutthaya or Lopburi yet, Amanda. But my experience in Southeast Asia is that monkeys tend to be more mischievous (in a bad way) than cute!
I still can’t believe i missed China Town. I’m a shopper through and through, which is my biggest backpacking fail. ugh! neon wigs?! awesome.
So glad you mentioned the rooftop bar at the Banyan Tree – featured as one of my fave destinations in an upcoming book on Thailand. Views are totally worth it even if you’re on a budget – just spring for one drink and sip slowly!
Really nice to relive your rediscovery of BKK 🙂 I can’t believe how long it’s been since I was last there. It held a really special place in my own personal history so I can’t wait for the day to revisit and discover it all over again.
I always wanted to get to Chinatown, but had a friend that lived there and said it was not worth visiting.
Apparently you don’t agree! You had a good rec on Koh Chang so will check it out.
How do you get there from Khao San Road?
Easy — take an express boat from Pra Athit, near Khao San Road, to Ratchawong.
I’ve been to Thailand, but never to Bangkok. I’ll lastly be creating it there this nov, so I cannot wait!
Thanks for the info on Bangkok. I’ll be leaving for Thailand in two weeks’ time and I am to stay for four full days in Chiang Mai and two full days in BKK, in. I want to see Ayutthaya and the wats, do a little shopping, and watch a muay thai match but I don’t know if I can squeeze everything in two days… I might have underestimated time for BKK.
Hi Kate, I don’t understand how did Banyan tree invited you for drinks and food? Can you please explain?
A friend of mine does their PR. 🙂
My favorite Sangsom Drink was to mix it with tonic water. excellent taste but this is of course up to anybody
I went to the Lumphini stadium at the final day before they shut it down last month. I had never visited a Muay Thai fight so I was just curious about it, not so much for the sport it self (I don’t even know the rules) but rather for the atmosphere as you described it to be sensational and emotional with all the bargaining.
I already knew that they have different ticket prices for Farangs but I didn’t expect it was such a rip off. While the ordinary ticket for Thai people was 180 baht, they asked for 2,000 baht for the cheapest ticket for Farangs! The more expensive tickets go for 3,000 baht and more. These prices were not because it was the last night but this it’s always like that (Kate can confirm it) and I’m sure it won’t be different at the new location in Ram Intra Road.
I live in Bangkok and I’m used to pay more for certain entrance tickets, we all know it from the temples. But I have never experienced such a huge difference between locals and foreigners, I mean if it was twice or three times as expensive I could understand but more than ten times? I was just not willing to pay the 2,000 baht for a sport I’m not really interested in anyway so I went back to the MRT and had a couple of drinks and pool games in Asoke for like 500 baht.
hi kate! any reccomendations for a hostel in BKK for a solo female backpacker? looking for something more low-key as bangkok is my first stop in SE Asia. Thanks!
Wat Arun and the Moon Bar at the Banyan Tree are fantastic, good picks! Two of my picks would be Glow Nightclub in suk 23, top place if you like deep house and tech house music and lovely park called Queen Sirikit park.
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