It’s an unfortunate truth that Bangkok is often considered a quick stop off point for the rest of Southeast Asia as opposed to it’s own travel destination. Travellers often fly into the city to start their adventure but abscond shortly after to the islands or the north. I beg you, extend your stay here a little longer. There are so many hidden gems in this often misunderstood metropolis.
Here are my top 5 suggestions for Bangkok that you can do in a day or less.
1. Cycle around Koh Kret – The Island of Potters on the Chao Phraya River
Bangkok and loud, fast and sometimes scary, but not this place. This island in the middle of the Chao Phraya river in Bangkok is your retreat from the hustle of the big city.
Koh Kret is home to a large concentration of the Mon ethnic group who are known for their pottery and alternative version of Buddhism which you can see around the island.
The easiest way to reach the island is by taxi then take the reasonably priced 3THB boat to the island, you can simply tell the driver that you want to go to Koh Kret (เกาะเกร็ด) which is in the Pak Kret district of Nontaburi, Bangkok. The taxi can take up to an hour depending on the traffic but it is absolutely worth the trip.
The area of Pak Kret is interesting in itself but stepping onto the island feels like you’ve completely left the city. It’s almost silent due to the absence of any cars.
When you get off the boat there will be a lady waiting with bicycles for rent and for just 40THB it’s a no-brainer.
It’s not a big island, you could easily cycle round a few times stopping off at different points along the way.
The best days to visit are Saturday and Sunday as all the market shops are open as well as the cafes. There isn’t an abundance of places to eat but you’ll come across a couple of nice places either overlooking the river or in the small market.
Along the cycle route you’ll see signs to the few points of interest. Head to the pottery shops. The prices are not displayed but are quite reasonable and it certainly helps if you speak a little Thai, they’ll love it.
If you want an evening break then you can stay in one of the very few lodging on the island. The cheapest one is Koh Kret Homestay where you can get a double room from 500THB which includes breakfast.
Quick tip: There are a few people on the side of the roads selling green jars, they contain something similar to Tiger Balm and pretty much cures any ailment especially colds, chesty coughs and sore muscles. It's super cheap and last for ages. Find the old lady on the side of the first road if you're cycling clockwise.
2. Motorbike to the Temple of Hell - Wat Phut Udom
OK, this is a weird one.
You’re going to need to hire a moped from one of the new motorbike rental places in Bangkok and head out in the morning. The temple is located on Lam Luk Ka Road in Pathumthani district and will take just under an hour of driving to arrive.
So, I knew the place was going to be weird but I definitely had several WTF moments, most of which were never cleared up as there was no tour guide or anyone around to give us any information on the monstrous statues in front of us.
The idea is that each sin that you commit on earth will be repaid with an appropriate punishment in the afterlife and this temple is to remind you of what waits beyond the grave. Maybe you can work some out for yourself.
3. Forget Khao San, Party Like the Thais - Tawanna Container in Bangkapi
So you’ve had a night on Khao San, fair enough, but do you want to see how Thais party?
Forget the buckets, this is even cheaper and far more fun.
Tawanna Container is a huge indoor bar area which is open 7 days a week and centred around a live music stage hosting several different cover bands with increasing levels of enthusiasm throughout the night.
If you’re heading there over the weekend, which is certainly recommended for the most intense experience, make sure you’re there early to secure your spot on the ground floor around the stage.
Tell the taxi that you’d like to go to Tawanna Bang Kapi (ตะวันนา บางกะปิ) and get the taxi to go down the side road and you’ll see lots of people walking towards the entrance at the back next to the car park.
This is not a place in which one buys individual drinks, if you’re going to drink like a Thai, then do it right but buying a bottle of whiskey. Sangsom (70cl ~ 350THB or 1l ~ 450b) plus mixers which are 50THB a bottle.
Each bar/section is full table service and in Thailand you generally don’t pour your own drinks, as soon as you’re running low there will be a waitress there to fill you up again.
It may seem pretty tame at first but as you get closer to midnight you’ll see that more and more people are on their feet going crazy and as you’re probably the only foreigners in the whole place you’ll have more and more people coming to your table to “chon gaew” or cheers your glass.
Don’t be shy, go make friends!
4. Drink Homemade Liqueurs on the Streets
Ya Dong (ยาดอง) is great. It’s a very strong, homemade alcohol with supposed medicinal properties to treat ailments such at fatigue and erectile dysfunction, but at the end of the day, it’s just alcohol with a bit of extra herb inside.
You can buy these by the shot at 5-10THB or you can buy a bottle that will be ladled from the pot on the front of the stall into a recycled bottle to either take home or drink right there, and honestly, just hang out there and share a few glasses with the stall owner. Be sure to try a few first to find the one you like, they vary in both taste and strength.
5. Take the Boat Down to Wang Lang Market
Wang Lang Market (ตลาดวังหลัง) is a great quick trip if you’re on a tight schedule. The best way to get there from Khao San Road or Saphan Taksin is by boat which I believe costs 15THB one way from both piers. Just ask the person on the ticket counters which boat you need and you’ll be ushered in the right direction.
It’s located conveniently one pier down from the famous Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn) so it’s a good spot to combine with this essential historical sight.
An abundance of food all over the place but if you’re unfamiliar with Thai food then you’re going to be in “point-to-order” mode as English something that isn’t on the menu.
You’ll also find clothes both vintage and new, electronics and gift stalls. Experiment with different alleyways to find the hidden depths of the market.
You won’t need to haggle here as prices are cheap enough and you won’t be overcharged for being a foreigner.
Wang Lang also has it’s own temple as well next to the river bank which is home to the second highest concentration of pigeons I’ve ever encountered in my life (first being Pushkar in Rajasthan, India). Buy a bag of bread for 10 or 20THB and give those pigeons a feast.