Cool things to do in Bangkok
Know Before You Go
A guide to Bangkok, Thailand by All-Ways Travel.
Cool things to do in Bangkok
Festivals All of Thailand’s major festivals are celebrated in Bangkok. New Year is celebrated three times. There’s the new year following the Gregorian calendar at January 1, celebrated with a huge fireworks display at Ratchaprasong intersection. Then there’s Chinese New Year in January or February, with grandiose and colourful Chinese lion and dragon processions in Yaowarat. Finally, the water festivities of Songkran celebrate the traditional Thai New Year in the middle of April. Khao San Road degenerates into a war zone as farangs and locals duke it out with super soakers. More respectable celebrations are held at Sanam Luang, where the revered Phra Phuttha Sihing image is displayed and bathed by devotees, and at the Wisut Kasat intersection, where a Miss Songkran beauty contest is held and accompanied by merit-making and entertainment. During the Royal Ploughing Ceremony in May, farmers believe that an ancient Brahman ritual, conducted at Sanam Luang, is able to forecast whether the coming growing season will be bountiful or not. The event dates back to the Sukhothai Kingdom and was re-introduced in 1960 by H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej. It is considered the official commencement of the rice-growing season (and the rainy season). Nowadays, the ceremony is conducted by Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn. Loi Krathong (ลอยกระทง), the Festival of Lights, usually takes place in November. Krathongs are floating rafts made from lotus flowers and banana leaves with a lighted candle and incense on top. On the night of the full moon, Thais send their krathong down a river, canal or pond, and the owner’s bad luck carries away along with it insuring a fresh start. Celebrations take place all over town with parades, concerts and beauty pageants. Loi Krathong coincides with the Lanna festival Yi Peng (ยี่เป็ง). At this festival, a multitude of Lanna-style paper lanterns are launched into the air. Lumphini Park is the best place to launch a krathong down the pond or to launch a paper lantern into the sky. The Trooping of the Colours in early December is an impressive annual event, held in the Royal Plaza near the equestrian statue of King Rama V in Dusit. Dressed in colourful uniforms, amid much pomp and ceremony, members of the elite Royal Guards swear allegiance to the King and march past members of the Royal Family. December 5 is Father’s Day, the King’s birthday, and Ratchadamri Road and the Grand Palace are elaborately decorated and illuminated. In the evening, hundreds of thousands of locals line the route from Sanam Luang to the Chitralada Palace to get a glimpse of the King when he is slowly chauffeur-driven past. Canals Until the late 19th century, Bangkok (just like Ayutthaya) was known as “Venice of the East”. Most people lived near or on the water and an intricate network of canals was the primary mode of transport for the city’s inhabitants. Most canals have since been paved over, but plenty of them remain and some still function as transport routes as of this day. The traditional canal-side way of life has almost vanished, but as Thonburi was largely undeveloped until the 20th century, there is still some authenticity to be found. Floating markets had completely disappeared by the 20th century, but have been reinstated for tourism purposes and are a fun visit. You can see the Chao Phraya River and the backwaters of the city by canal tour. Most of these boat trips start at the eastern bank of the Chao Phraya and then ply through the backwaters of Thonburi taking in Wat Arun, the Royal Barges National Museum, a floating market and some other minor attractions. More information about these canal tours can be found in the Thonburi article. At 1,000 baht or more, they are quite expensive. You can also negotiate a price with individual boat drivers. Damnoen Saduak is a floating market that often appears in tourist brochures of Bangkok, but in practice it is 109 km (68 mi) west of Bangkok and has to be visited by bus from the Southern Bus Terminal. Probably just as fun is to take the public express boat along the Chao Phraya River. You can get off anywhere between the Thewet and Sathorn (Taksin) piers as there are many things to see in all of these neighbourhoods. You can even take the express boat all the way north to Nonthaburi in the morning, enjoy the afternoon in this laid-back traditional urban town, and take the boat back around rush hour. Another option is to get on one of the free hotel shuttle boats at Sathorn (Taksin) pier and have a bite at one of the associated cafés. In the evenings, Asiatique has a free shuttle boat from Sathorn (Taksin) pier to the new shopping centre downriver. A good place to see beautiful sunsets over the river. Pampering Spas, traditionally, were towns where public baths, hospitals or hotels were built on top of mineral springs so that people could come and make use of the healing properties found in the water and its mud for medical purposes. These days, a spa doesn’t have to be a town built on natural thermal springs. It can be a place anywhere that anyone can go to, to relax in tranquil surroundings with a variety of treatment administered to recontour and rejuvenate the body and mind. Spas were unheard of until the 1990s, but now Bangkok is one of the highest ranking spa destinations in the world with an amazing array of treatments. All self-respecting luxury hotels in Bangkok have a spa that at least offers a traditional Thai massage. Prices are exorbitant, but they offer some of the best treatments in the city. Well-regarded spas at exceptionally high rates are given at the splurge hotels in Silom; particularly the spa at the Dusit Thani Hotel stands out. Independent spas offer much the same experience, but offer much more competitive rates. Figure around 1,000 baht/hr for most treatments. The ubiquitous little massage shops found on every street corner in town offer the best value for money, but the smallest range of services, with offerings usually limited to massage only. Particularly Khao San Road and Sukhumvit have plenty of these popular places. It is fairly easy to distinguish legitimate massage shops from more dubious places (where massaging is only a front for prostitution); the real deal will charge 250-400 baht for a typical two-hour massage and will often have a row of beefy farmers’ daughters in white coats working on customers’ feet in public view, while the other kind has wispy girls in evening dresses wearing too much make-up and saying “hello handsome” to every passing male. Muay Thai Muay Thai is both a combat sport and a means of self-defence. Contestants are allowed to use almost any part of the body for fighting: feet, elbows, legs, knees and shoulders. There are two venues in Bangkok to see this sport in action: Lumpinee Boxing Stadium in Silom and Ratchadamnoen Stadium in Rattanakosin. Sessions can take the whole evening and it’s not that bad if you come in slightly late as the more interesting fights tend to happen at the end. The playing of traditional music during the bouts is enjoyable as well. A downer is the steep 1,000-2,000 baht entry fee for foreigners. Thais chip in for 100 baht or less. If you want to see Muay Thai for free, go to the MBK Fight Night outside MBK Center near Siam Square. Fights take place every Wednesday evening (starts at 18:00, lasts until around 21:00). Another option is to walk to the end of Soi Rambuttri into an alley known as Trok Kasap (near Khao San Road). Foreigners are getting classes in Muay Thai out in the open there, and many tourists generally sit on a bench in front of it to look at the action. Besides looking, this is an excellent place to do some Muay Thai yourself. Cycling Cycling is inherently dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing, so you might want to think twice about hitting the road. But it is certainly a worthwhile experience if you know where to go. Bicycles can be rented for free in Rattanakosin, but cyclists are officially not allowed to leave the set route along the island. Even when following the route, it’s still not for the faint of heart. If renting your own bicycle, avoid the main roads and cycle through the vast system of small streets and alleys. You can cycle through the backstreets of Yaowarat, but you might want to think twice before making a turn. You can also experience life in Bangkok’s countryside by cycling through green paddy fields, orchid farms and lotus fields. Bang Kachao, in brochures often referred to as the “Bangkok Jungle”, is Bangkok’s last green frontier. It’s a semi-island across the river from Bangkok with few cars and buildings, and a great destination for cycling. Cyclists are treated as pedestrians, so you can use your bicycle to explore parks, temple complexes, markets and the more quiet residential areas in eastern Bangkok. In more crowded places you can cycle on the pavement. Exploring the town by bicycle has all the advantages of going by foot, combined with a much greater action radius and a cooling breeze. Cycling is the best way to discover the city up close, but as there are safety issues involved, you need some insider knowledge on where to cycle. Because of this, many tourists take a bicycle tour organised by an operator. Bangkok Biking, Baan Sri Kung 350/123, Soi 71, Rama III Rd, ☎ +66 2-285 3955. Bicycle tours in small groups to and through unseen parts of Bangkok. Mostly free of traffic. A fun excursion for the whole family. 950-2,400 baht.Co van Kessel, ☎ +66 2 639-7351. Many cycling tours through Bangkok, taking in Chinatown, the canals of Thonburi, the “Bangkok Jungle” and many other places in between. 950-1,950 baht.Follow Me Bicycle Tours, 126 Sathorn Tai Rd, ☎ +66 2 286-5891. Half-day bicycle tours through Bangkok’s residential streets. Included in the price is a fish spa and a barbecue meal after the tour. 1,000 baht.Grasshopper Adventures, 57 Ratchadamnoen Klang Rd (near the Democracy Monument, right around the corner from Khao San Rd), ☎ +66 2 280-0832, e-mail: email@example.com. Tours through the historic Rattanakosin district of Bangkok, to the outskirts of Bangkok and one that takes place at night. 1,000-1,600 baht.SpiceRoads, 45 Soi Pannee, Pridi Banomyong Soi 26, Sukhumvit Soi 71, ☎ +66 2 381-7490. Many one and multi-day cycling trips in and around Bangkok. There are trips to the Bangkok Jungle, Ko Kret, Yaowarat, and Thonburi. 2,950 baht.Theatre There are many theatre performances in Bangkok that depict traditional Thai culture and dance. Siam Niramit in Ratchadaphisek is a spectacular performance as more than 150 performers depict the historical and spiritual heritage of each region of Thailand. The first act depicts Siam as a crossroads of civilisations throughout history, the second act is about the role of karma in Thai culture, and the third act focuses on religion and the role of merit-making in Thai society. The Aksra Theatre in the King Power Complex Building in Pratunam holds spectacular shows that are a combination of Thai traditional puppet shows, orchestral performances and classical dances. The Joe Louis Theatre in the Asiatique is completely dedicated to the art of operating Hun Lakhon Lek puppets. One segment has the puppets interact with audience members, which is a fun activity with children. Both Aksra and Joe Louis feature stories taken from the Ramayana epic. Of a completely different nature are Bangkok’s famous transvestite shows. These cabarets generally take about two hours, and besides singing, dancing, glamour and costumes, there’s also has some comedy thrown in. The most famous of these is the Calypso Cabaret at Ratchathewi intersection with two sessions every evening at the Asia Hotel. An alternative is Mambo Cabaret, once in Sukhumvit but now at a new location far off the tourist path in Yan Nawa. Three shows are given each evening. Always book these shows a couple of days in advance as they are almost guaranteed to be sold out if you just show up. Entertainment Bangkok is a great place to go to the cinema. Compared to Western countries, the cost of a ticket is a complete bargain at around 120 baht. Most cinemas have world-class standards and show the latest Hollywood and Thai releases. They are up to par with the latest technological innovations in the film industry, so expect to wear 3D glasses for some of the latest Hollywood releases. You can also visit the IMAX Theatre in Siam Paragon. Thai films can be seen by foreigners as they are usually shown with English subtitles. For non-mainstream cinema, House RCA (in Royal City Avenue) and APEX (in Siam Square) offer art films with English subtitles. For other means of entertainment, Ratchadaphisek is a newly created entertainment paradise. Its bowling centres are of a superb standard with some of them resembling the interior of a nightclub. Dance while you play in style. Private karaoke lounges are usually connected to these bowling centres and are available at major hotels. There’s even an ice skating rink and a top-class go-kart track in this district. As Ratchadaphisek is mostly aimed at locals, you might want to go to similar venues in Siam Square or Sukhumvit. Horse races are held on Sundays at two alternate turf clubs: the Royal Turf Club of Thailand in Dusit and the Royal Bangkok Sports Club on Henri Dunant Road near Siam Square.
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