Partying in Bangkok? Been there done that! Going crazy on the Khao San road – Checked. Go Go bars, finished. Looking for offbeat things to do in Bangkok? You have to realize, it’s got to be more than clubs and bars. Bangkok is rich with distinct Thai culture – that comes alive in its beautiful temples, old cities, local markets, waterways and much more. Come let us explore Bangkok like a local, off the beaten track.
Let us very clearly place them with your ‘purpose of visit’ –
Special things to do in Bangkok
Wat Arun at Night
You can skip it during the day, conveniently. Don’t bother about it, because evening is when Wat Arun or the Temple of Sun comes alive, almost literally! Reach there at about 1600 hours, so you can visit the insides and take close shots of the intricate work done on it. You won’t be able to do it once it closes at 1730, hence be sure to reach on time.
Its 1730 now and the main gates are shut, and this is just the beginning of this most special experience! Wait patiently for the lights to come up on Wat Arun and this is when the magic hits you. The transition of its being, through a clear day sky to dusk, and then to night is something that cannot be explained in words, so here are some pictures for your reference.
However great a photographer you are, nothing matches the naked eye and so, do put that camera down and soak in every second of the beauty that falls upon you from that Majestic temple in front of you! You shall never forget it, I promise you!
With your eyes tucked on the main temple, take a walk by the sides and towards the back and you shall discover some interesting structures, full of beautiful art.
All in all, this is one of the most special offbeat experience, you can have in Bangkok
Fun things to do in Bangkok
Riding a Tuk tuk through the old city
Tuk Tuks are the heart beat of the old city of Bangkok. Running from the Grand palace to Wat Pho, to Chinatown, to flower market – wherever you want to go, just tell the Tuk Tuk guy. Other than the ease of getting everywhere in the scorching heat and humidity of Bangkok, you ride like a Queen with the legroom of a Limousine!
They can get you through the narrow lanes, sweeping through the traffic. Don’t forget to bargain – hard! Be shameless in bargaining, only that shall really help as suggested prices are more than doubled.
No wonder, so many local tour operators arrange for all day Tuk Tuk tours around old Bangkok. From the large aggregators like Viator to small local operators – you can search through the internet and make your own choice. To me, I like Tuk Tuk Hop the best – for the ease of booking and operation through the day! Such an innovative way of re-introducing the entire hop-on hop-off concept! Just perfect for crowded old city parts like this.
Explore China Town
To be in a South East Asian country and not find a China Town? Sounds kind of unfair! One of the oldest districts in Bangkok (established 1780s), and one of the biggest Chinatowns in the world, you can see the traces of time here.
Arrive in style on a Tuk Tuk and start with the China Gate. You are on the main street called Yaowarat, when at the China gate, as it is situated just at the beginning of it. Yaowarat shall take you into all the bylanes you need to discover in China Town – all branching out from here.
In a nutshell, daytime is for shopping and night is for eating here.
Apart from being a big center for Gold shopping, China town is a treasure trove for that street market enthusiast inside you. Leave them malls alone, head to China town for all the fun! From the bylanes of Thanon Ratchawong where you can find anything from fake lashes to hairwigs to body jewelry like belly-button rings at Sampeng Grand Plaza – just have fun exploring, even if you don’t need any of these. Great photo ops except almost all the shopkeepers in Sampeng lane would tell you take ‘No Photo’! However the variety in Sampeng lane is amazing and should not be missed.
Starting 5:30 in the evening, everything else closes down to make way for one of the biggest food streets in the world. The Chinatown food street comes alive at the same Yaowarat road and food options are unlimited, intriguing and surely not to be missed. From every variety of pork skin to seafood, to flat noodles served in a hundred different combinations, you shall find it all here. Snacking has no end, from Oyster Omelets to barbecued bananas to home-made ice-creams and local delicacies which will leave you smiling from the inside, food is all that exists on the main street of China Town after dusk.
Do not shy away from eating on the street if you are a vegetarian, most people will happily give you a vegetarian version of a Thai delicacy, if available. We were vegetarians and ate our hearts content – from Pad Thai to Ice Creams with Gingko nuts – awesome flavors and very friendly people, I had nothing more to ask for – China Town atmosphere is the biggest bonus!
For the more adventurous eaters, Talat Kao is the place – where you shall find all kinds of Chinese delicacies – think shark fins and sea cucumbers… you get the drift.
Talking of fun things, we won’t talk of the rich heritage that Chinatown is replete with. Let’s save it for another time.
Best kept secrets in Bangkok
Flower Market Bangkok
Or as they call it in Thailand ‘Pak Klong Talat’, leave the main road stalls and get into the skin of it by getting inside the narrow lanes of this market. Why to go to a flower market when you can see one in your own city most probably – because these are one of the best places to experience the local life. Plus obviously the flowers differ from your own city or country.
Each flower market has its own indigenous specialties, their own distinct way of arranging the flowers. We saw some interesting ones made for temple offerings, body decorations and the special leaf vases they make to gift the flowers in – all worth it!
Ignore the rude locals and pay attention to the sweeter ones – you shall find both kinds in this market, and also otherwise generally in Bangkok. Either the locals are very sweet or too rude to your face – too much of tourism can do this I guess.
Spice market Bangkok
This one is a real gem, not to undermine the beauty of the flower market. However, because you have to actually cross a couple lanes after the flower market exit and really go off-beat to find this one – there is no specific name to the street. Go be truly adventurous and find this one out. Though not so big, this market was full of interesting discoveries. From ready recipes of Tom Yum Spices neatly packed to loose selling cooling herbs like Roselle (both of which we bought!), we spent almost 45 minutes at one single shop here.
Just keep your eyes wide open and heart wide curious and this little market won’t disappoint you. From natural sweetners like Stevia to head-scratching recipes for your brain – this made for one afternoon well spent!
Bonus – How to commute like a local in Bangkok
To get to all these beautiful places, you need to know how to truly travel like a local in Bangkok. You don’t want to get stuck in the most infamous Bangkok traffic, that too in the old city where the room to manipulate further goes down. Here are a few quick tips on how to do it smartly.
The best way to get to the old city is by the waterways (unless of course you are staying in the old city itself!). Bangkok is well connected throughout with BTS and MRT – find out the station nearest to where you are staying. You can either take a taxi or a Lapchan (motorbike taxi) to your station – both cost almost the same. Use Lapchans for faster commute and more friendly drivers.
Find out the connection from your station to Saphan Taksin which is the BTS station for the Central Pier – called Sathorn Pier. Get down from the station towards the Sathorn Pier exit and lo! Now you can cruise through (by boat, tuk tuk or walking) to every attraction given above in this list.
Rather than going on the official website, take a look at this page for a more comprehensive and easily understandable view of how it works.
So, next time you are in Thailand – dont forget to go offbeat in Bangkok!