Ask Getaway: Street Culture and Royal History Collide in Bangkok

Photo Courtesy: | The Grand Palace of Bangkok , Thailand

Bangkok is one of the most popular cities to visit in the world, welcoming more than 22.78 million travelers each year. It’s easy to see why travelers have fallen in love with Thailand’s historic capital. Bangkok has friendly locals, glistening landmarks, and a world-famous food scene.

While you may sink some serious time and money into getting to Thailand, once there, American and European travelers will find that the cost of accommodations, food, and sightseeing take a minimal toll on your pocketbook. The affordability of the city, combined with the long travel time, makes this a perfect destination for a trip that is at least a week long. And we have plenty of ideas for how you should spend your time!

Before You Go

For many, Bangkok will feel like an exotic destination. Prepare yourself for the sights, sounds, and flavors of this city by viewing a few documentaries first (we recommend enjoying these films with curry or some Thai-iced tea for a more immersive experience).

DW Documentary’s Welcome to Bangkok, Thailand gives the world a taste of the city’s best tourist-oriented destinations. The film covers transportation, attractions, boat rides, parks and bars. It’s a great way to gain insight into the country’s culture. Bangkok is legendary for its food carts and market, so it’s no surprise that a story exists on the restaurant scene. Netflix’s Street Food (2019) shares the heartwarming story of chef Jay Fai in its premiere episode. The street food chef is known for rocking goggles and bright red lipstick while cooking crab omelets, which have earned her Michelin stars.

Photo Courtesy: Christoph Sator/Picture Alliance via Getty Images

Getting There: Flights & Accommodations

If North America is your starting point for travel, expect to make at least one stop on your way to Bangkok, likely through East Asia. The average flight time from LAX to Bangkok is 18 hours and 30 minutes. Seoul and Tokyo are common connections (and a pit stop in either of those cities could make the long flight all the more worthwhile). Some airlines offer free stopover flights to the cities that host their main hub, along with various other incentives such as discounts on meals and hotels, in an effort to boost local tourism. To take advantage of an offer like this, you could book through Singapore Air or Air China. European travelers can find non-stop flights from several cities, including London, Paris, Frankfurt, and Amsterdam.

The flight to Bangkok will undoubtedly be the biggest budget item for your trip. It’s always a good idea to set a price tracker on a site like Hopper or Google Flights, which will not only help you find good deals, but will also help you to familiarize yourself with the route options available to you.

Photo Courtesy: Getty Images/Dukas/Universal Images | Thailand, Bangkok City, Siam Square area, skyline, downtown.

When you get to Bangkok, you’ll find that there are accommodation options to suit any taste or budget. The sky’s the limit, literally, for luxury hotel experiences in Bangkok (which still won’t cost you much more than $150/night). Consider booking a few nights at the Baiyoke Sky Hotel, and taking in the views of Bangkok from the 88th floor. For a budget option, the CHERN hostel will remind you of an upscale, minimalist hotel but with a price-tag of about $35 (of course, it’s always a good idea to check exchange rates at the time of your travel).

Bedazzled in gold and dramatic designs, the Grand Palace is a must-see attraction in Bangkok. Since 1782 the Kings of Siam have called this royal fortress home, and until 1925 it was also the site of the royal government. Made up of buildings, gardens and courtyards, the palace is a spectacular sight full of jewels and color. Take a walk through the beautiful palace and temples, and marvel at the intricate statues.

Photo Courtesy: Nehal Patel/Unsplash

Next, we recommend visiting Wat Phra Chetuphon or Wat Pho, which sits south of the Grand Palace. This fabulous temple is famous for its giant reclining Buddha statue. Considered a first-class royal temple, Wat Pho became King Rama I’s go-to retreat — his ashes are actually enshrined there. Fun fact: The temple is also known as the birthplace of traditional Thai massages.

At some point you might want to take a break from architecture and check out life at a floating market. This is the best way to see the traditional style of selling and buying goods. Before the development of roads, water transportation was the main way to get around. The Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is the most well-known market, usually packed with vendors, selling everything from Thailand’s tastiest mango sticky rice (khao lam) to grilled fish (pla pao). But we recommend visiting the Bang Krachao Market, which isn’t technically a floating market at all, but is rather built around several canals in the middle of a literal urban jungle.

Get Some Tasty Thai Dishes in Your Belly

A trip to Bangkok wouldn’t be complete without dining on some traditional Thai dishes, so feast your eyes and stomach! If you want to treat yourself to a fine-dining meal that may be out of reach for you back at home, you can enjoy an 8-course set menu from Michelin-starred Sra Bua by Kiin Kiin, which specializes in modern takes on traditional cuisine, all for less than $100. This might be your chance at a once in a lifetime culinary experience.

You don’t need to seek out a fancy restaurant to enjoy incredible Thai cuisine. The street-food scene in Bangkok is vibrant, with over 500,000 street vendors in the city. While some may be wary of street food, eating from these vendors doesn’t carry any greater risk than eating in any other restaurant, especially if you are thoughtful in selecting your vendor. Look for street carts where you can watch the food being prepared, and don’t let a little wait deter you— a long line of locals is a very good sign. We just recommend that you steer clear of shark fin soup for health and environmental reasons.

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Upon Your Return: Valuable Organizations to Support

You’ve explored Thailand’s most famous attractions, tasted traditional food, and found some special souvenirs. To stay connected to Bangkok’s culture and its people, there are a couple of good causes that are worth mentioning and supporting. For instance, Bangkok Community Help raises funds to provide food, water, and other essentials to at-risk communities and construction-worker camps.

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You can also help charities, like the Gift of Happiness Foundation, which serves children in Bangkok’s poor neighborhoods. Its website states, “Please donate cash to help us survive so we can continue serving people in need when the crisis is over. STAY SAFE.”

We hope you find some way to bridge the distance between yourself and Thailand when you get home. Maybe the best way to do that is to start planning your return trip.