Most visitors to Bangkok begin their sightseeing with visits to the ‘big three’ – Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Pho and Wat Arun. The advantage of this is that they’re all very close together and they’re also some of the best examples of ancient Thai architecture in the city. As you start to explore further afield, you’ll discover more temples, some of which you can explore for free. One offers great panoramic views of the old city and is also on the road towards Siam Square and the surrounding district of Pratunam. Here, you’ll find Asia’s biggest shopping mall, a colourful Hindu shrine, the intricately decorated home of a missing entrepreneur and quite possibly the best cafe you’ll ever visit. So, without further ado, let me introduce you to my Bangkok top 10 of tourist sights.
The following Bangkok top 10 attractions are all either close to Banglamphu or close to Pratunam. You can walk between the two, but it takes just over an hour along busy roads, so you might prefer to jump in a metered cab. I’ve also put together some tips on visiting Bangkok.
BANGKOK TOP 10 #1: Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew
The Grand Palace grounds are surrounded by solid white walls. The main entrance is on the north side. Make sure you’re dressed appropriately or you won’t be allowed in. It costs 500 baht, which is quite steep for a Thai attraction, but the embellished temples, gold-plated mythical beings and eponymous emerald Buddha are unmissable. Give yourself about two hours and take plenty of water as there are very few places to buy any inside the walls. It closes at 3:30 so it’s best to do this early in the day.
BANGKOK TOP 10 #2: Wat Pho
Wat Pho is home to the reclining Buddha that features at the start of the movie The Beach. It’s 15 m high and 46 m long, and modelled in plaster with a layer of gold leaf. As the temple that houses it is not much bigger than the Buddha itself, you’ll need to fight the crowds to get into each alcove viewing spot. The feet of Buddha are intricately adorned in mother of pearl, but restoration is taking place until November 2015. As you walk along behind the Buddha, you can buy small coins for 20 baht and add one to each of many pots lining the far wall. Wat Pho also houses the largest collection of Buddha images in the country, many of which line the inner walls of buildings throughout the site. Entrance costs 100 baht.
BANGKOK TOP 10 #3: Wat Arun
Wat Arun is a short ferry ride across the river from Tha Tien. It’s a 5-minute stroll from Wat Pho past a few market stalls and through a covered passageway. The ferry costs 3 baht each way and it’s worth taking it for a different perspective on the city, even if you don’t intend to go inside Wat Arun. At 50 baht, Wat Arun is a bargain, although at the time of writing, extensive scaffolding made it less so. Decorated in Chinese porcelain, the 82-m high Khmer-style tower can be seen from outside the gates, but the joy of visiting is being able to climb its steps to look down over the intricate rooftops.
BANGKOK TOP 10 #4: Wat Ratchabophit
Among the best of the less well known wats is Wat Ratchabophit. Just a couple of blocks away from the Grand Palace on Atsadang Road, this smaller-scale but equally beautiful wat is free to enter and devoid of tourists. The entrances are guarded by watchmen figures carved into the doorways and there are numerous elephant sculptures inside the courtyard.
BANGKOK TOP 10 #5: Sanam Luang
Sanam Luang is a large open space in front of Wat Phra Kaew. It is frequently used for special regal events, such as the Queen’s birthday, cremations of royal family members, and other royal ceremonies. When there’s no event on, Sanam Luang is popular with kite flyers. It’s also a good place to catch a break from the heaving city streets and enjoy views of the rooftops of Wat Phra Kaew peeking out above the Grand Palace walls.
BANGKOK TOP 10 #6: Khao San Road
Khao San Road is so well known across the backpacker scene that to visit Bangkok and not take a look would be sinful. This small stretch of road has so much going on you could spend days here and not discover everything. The street is lined with bucket-selling bars, budget hostels and tattoo parlours. Spilling onto the pavements are stalls selling everything from fisherman’s trousers, sunglasses and flip flops to henna, fake student IDs and fried scorpions. This is also a good place to search for tours and onward transport, although you’ll probably get a better deal if you head to the train or bus station and cut out the middle man. Khao San Road also plays host to a massive water fight during Songkran Festival, which celebrates the Thai new year.
BANGKOK TOP 10 #7: Golden Mount Temple
Golden Mount Temple, the more popular name given to Wat Saket, is a temple on a small hill to the east of the Grand Palace and Khao San Road. The main attraction is not the temple itself, but panoramic views of the old city. Entrance is a measly 20 baht, for which you get to climb steps through a misty forest filled with small shrines, ring prayer bells, and explore the temple and rooftop. There’s even a notice of free wifi, but it’s temperamental.
BANGKOK TOP 10 #8: Jim Thompson’s House
This house is a much more recent addition to Bangkok’s architecture than most of its top attractions. Put together in the 1950s and 60s, it’s a mishmash of different pieces of Thai structure collected from all over the country by the American entrepreneur James H W Thompson. During his time in Thailand, Thompson made a significant contribution to the Thai silk industry, for which he received the decoration of ‘Order of the White Elephant’. Mysteriously, he disappeared while trekking with friends in the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia. You can take a guided tour of the interior of the house, which contains Thai features with western influence. There’s also a restaurant and a gift shop.
BANGKOK TOP 10 #9: Siam Square Shopping Mall and the Erawan Shrine
If you’ve made it to Jim’s house, you’re almost at Siam Square. This part of town is a huge shopping district, where malls are interconnected by sky bridges. Here, you’ll find popular stores from western society and even if you’re not looking to shop, the reliable air con can provide a moment of welcome relief. About a kilometre east of Siam Square is the Hindu Erawan Shrine – a colourful and pungent place where candles are lit, incense is burned, prayers are said and local dance troupes often perform.
BANGKOK TOP 10 #10: Caturday Cafe
Last, but definitely not least, is a cafe with a twist. Caturday Cat Cafe is just around the corner from Siam Square and provides the chance to escape Bankok’s busy streets for a large dose of creature comforts.
You’d probably need two days to fit all of this in, but with an early start and the use of public transport, you could squash most of it into a day. On first impressions, Bangkok can appear to be a noisy, hectic metropolis with not a lot going for it, but as you meet its residents and explore its history, it can’t fail to win you over.