I love Bangkok. While many travelers decide to skip this bustling, chaotic city, or spend only a day or two before bolting south to Thailand’s beautiful beaches or north to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai, I like to stay a while. Why? Because it is awesome, and no matter how many times I visit, there are still so many things I want to see and do there. The following is a list of experiences that I think everyone should put on their Bangkok bucket list. I haven’t even done them all yet, and I’m looking forward to my next chance! What else would you put on this list?
Get Lost in Chatuchak Weekend Market
(Photo: Pamela MacNaughtan)
If you love to shop, then plan to spend a few hours getting lost in Chatuchak Market. This shopping mecca sells pretty much everything you could ever want, and plenty you didn’t even know you needed. Be aware that Chatuchak is a massive maze of stalls, so you may want to avoid splitting up, unless you’re with someone who knows the market well. I’ve been utterly lost in this market before.
Snap Up Vintage Finds in Rod Fai Market
You never know what you’ll find among the stalls of Rod Fai Market, which now has two locations to choose from. (Photo: Data Ng)
Rod Fai Market, or Train Market, is a Bangkok institution: a sprawling night bazaar known for its wide array of one-off oddities and vintage items. But there’s a catch: In 2013 it was booted from its original location by train tracks near Chatuchak Market (because of Skytrain expansion) and it’s now out in the suburban area of Srinakarin. It’s also only open on the weekends from 5 p.m. to midnight. The good news is that earlier this year, a more centrally located second location opened near downtown, and you don’t need a taxi to get to this one. I can’t wait to explore this market, then snap way too many photos and buy some cool vintage goodies.
Dine in the Dark at DID
When I first heard of Dine in the Dark, I was intrigued. It’s exactly what it sounds like: You dine, in the dark! In addition to the excitement of eating a surprise four-course meal in pitch blackness, the evening is remarkable because the waiters and waitresses are visually impaired, and a portion of the proceeds goes to a charity that supports the blind.
Test Your Nerves at the Songkran Niyomsane Forensic Medicine Museum
Does it sound weird? Yes. Does it sound creepy? Yes! But despite everything I’ve heard about this medical museum’s display of fetuses in formaldehyde and other gruesome things, I’m intrigued. Even if it means freaking myself out.
Cruise Along the Chao Phraya River
Ferry up and down the Chao Phraya for great views and easy access to markets and wats. (Photo: Pamela MacNaughtan)
It took me four trips to Thailand before I decided to take advantage of the Chao Phraya River, and man, I felt silly for not cruising it sooner. Buying a tourist pass is worth it if you plan to spend a day taking the ferries up and down the river, stopping to visit wats, markets, and Chinatown. Way better then taking a tuk tuk through the city!
Hang with Beyoncé at the Calypso Ladyboy Cabaret
A night at the Calypso is a cheesy good time. (Photo: Pamela MacNaughtan)
I’m a geek for cabaret, and Calypso is the place to see it in Bangkok. The ladyboy theater has been running for 25 years — an impressive celebration of transgender performance — and is packed with singing, dancing, comedy, and of course impersonators. On any given night you might meet Beyoncé, Elvis, Marilyn, or Lady Gaga. It’s a show, it’s dinner theater, it’s a campy cultural experience. What more could you want?
Dine at Cabbages & Condoms
Every meal comes with a condom at the public-health-focused restaurant Cabbages & Condoms, where the motto is “Our food is guaranteed not to cause pregnancy.” (Photo: Pamela MacNaughtan)
The name makes it sound like just another quirky restaurant (like T-Bowl in Penang, where you sit on toilet bowls while you eat), but Cabbages & Condoms has a serious mission. Funds from your meal of tasty traditional Thai dishes are used to support family-planning education and health-outreach programs run by the Population and Community Development Association (PDA).
Eat Shwarma. Eat Shwarma. Eat Shwarma.
I see this man every time I go to Bangkok. Seriously. Every time. (Photo: Pamela MacNaughtan)
If you’re in Bangkok, you need to eat shwarma. I am obsessed with it. In fact, if you ask my friends in Bangkok what I do as soon as I get there, they will probably tell you I go see my shwarma guy.
Yes. I have a shwarma guy! If you’re going to Bangkok, try him out: You can find him in Nana, soi 3.
Relax in Lumphini Park
Bangkok is hectic and crowded — that’s why you’ll need an afternoon at Lumphini Park. This lush oasis in the middle of the city is a great place to go for a picnic, take a jog, do some yoga, or collect your thoughts. I highly recommend trying the various vintage exercise stations posted throughout the park.
Visit the Grand Palace and Other Awesome Wats
The Grand Palace is gorgeous but it’s not the only wat in town. (Photo: Pamela MacNaughtan)
Although the Grand Palace is a must-see, it is also a one-time-only type of site. There are several wats that should be visited during your trip in Bangkok. I highly recommend visiting Wat Arun around sunset, as well as Wat Pho, Wat Ratchanatdaram, and the Golden Mount (Wat Saket).
Dive into Chinatown
(Photo: Pamela MacNaughtan)
A visit to Chinatown is a must in pretty much every city that has a Chinatown, but especially in Bangkok. This one has a labyrinth of souvenir streets, which are even more crowded than you’d expect. Just when you think another person could not possibly walk past, a scooter zooms by. It’s a crazy hot mess and totally worth it. Be sure to protect your money and valuables, and come back after dark to eat at the Night Market!
Try Yadong. Carefully.
Yadong is a Thai rice whiskey that will probably corrode your stomach. It’s strong (think moonshine) and can be found at street stalls and, lately, trendy bars like Tep, which are reviving and upgrading the traditional drink. Tip: Be conservative. This stuff packs a massive punch, and you can get quite sick if you drink too much.
Eat at Thip Samai Noodle Shop a.k.a The Best Pad Thai in Bangkok
(Photo: Pamela MacNaughtan)
I was taken to this gem of a place on my last trip to Bangkok, and OMG! The Pad Thai is to die for, and an absolute must; especially late at night. Dishes cost about 60THB (roughly $1.75). Thip Samai is Mahachi Road between the Golden Mount and the Giant Swing. Oh, and it’s open until 3 a.m. You. Are. Welcome.
Survey the City from Sirocco
While Sirocco is mostly known as the highest al fresco restaurant in the world, it’s also won several awards for its food. So if you have the chance, it’s worth splurging on dinner here. However, if you just want to check out the view, you can buy one cocktail and get the same vista. I also suggest checking out the view from Vertigo and Moon Bar at Banyan Tree Bangkok.