Feverish and mystical, Bangkok is a city of contrasts. On the one hand, you'll find traditional floating markets, on the other, towering modern skyscrapers. There are several world-class luxury malls, yet also over 400 traditional temples. Gradually, folklore has made way for ultra-modernism in Bangkok, without the Thais ever losing their energy and never-ending smiles. In the midst of this urban jungle, studded with the odd pocket of lush greenery, such as the Lumphini Park, ancestral traditions live on. Like the mythical Songkran, the Buddhist New Year, during the course of which revellers cover themselves with water, or Makha Bucha and its dreamlike candlelit processions. Thailand’s capital is a careful balancing act and loves to mix things up, even in its museums. From the traditional charms of the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles, with the most beautiful pieces from the royal wardrobe, to the modernity of the Museum of Contemporary Art, showcasing the best of today’s artists. The choice is yours!
Sprawling Bangkok spreads its tentacles along the Chao Phraya. Hop on board a boat to enjoy your first impressions of this unique geography. As you move through the water, you can tick off some of the country’s most beautiful sites from your list: the Temple of Dawn with its shimmering pagoda 79 metres tall; the Grand Palace, housing Wat Phra Kaew, better known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and Wat Pho, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. When the sun sets, blessed are those who have decided to go on a dinner cruise, as the “River of Kings” literally lights up with the plethora of restaurants, stalls, buildings and bridges on its banks.
Vibrant Bangkok also knows how to relax and chill out, unveiling its treasures that need time to explore. They say that you can’t know the city until you have wandered through its markets. And there are plenty to choose from! There are the floating markets, with stalls balanced on sampans (like Taling Chan) or the ones that spread across a whole neighbourhood, each one with its own speciality. Pak Khlong Talat and its teeming streets for the flowers that set the pace for the Thai way of life, never forgetting to pay tribute at the altars found on street corners; Phahurat, or Little India, for silk, stunning fabrics and Thai patterns; Yaowarat, Bangkok’s Chinatown, for gold and jewellery; Silom, for its antiques (sculpted wood and tapestries) and precious stones, of which the country is one of the biggest exporters in the world. The Chatuchak weekend market, and the night markets, like Suan Lum, are also well worth a visit.
For a change of scenery, head to Sukhumvit, with its elegant streets and chic boutiques. To the east of the capital, this embassy district reflects Bangkok’s more grown-up side. This is where you’ll find the prestigious shopping centres Siam Paragon, the Central World Plaza and Terminal 21, as well as Western brands including Fendi, Rolex, Vuitton and Dior. To pick up some iconic Thai silk, there is only one choice: Jim Thompson House, or one of his other boutiques which are scattered throughout the city. This American architect and landscaper dedicated his life to developing Thailand's textile industry and elevated it to the ranks of the best silk in the world.
A magnetic destination, Bangkok is also packed with flavor, from sweet and sour to spicy, yet always delicious. Leading the way is the famous Blue Elephant restaurant, along with a few other gems that give the classics a new twist, such as Nahm and the Issaya Siamese Club. Thai cuisine is just like its capital: an impressive maelstrom of flavors, colors and smells.