Bangkok is Thailand’s massive capital. Obviously you’ve heard of it so I won’t bother with a lengthy background, but suffice it to say the city is larger than large. Looking out from one of the [many] rooftop bars, you can literally see buildings in every direction with no end in sight. || I first visited Bangkok in 2012, at which time I covered all the obligatory tourist stuff. What I didn’t do that first time around was try street food; I was still an inexperienced traveler and stupidly scared of it. But I certainly made up for it this time, and must say street pad Thai in Bangkok probably ranks top 5 for best things ever eaten.
Things To Do In Bangkok That Are Only Moderately Touristy
Bangkok is overwhelming, both to visit and write about, so I am just going to select a few of my favorite things and go with that. Here are a few highlights that are slightly less touristy than say, Wat Po or Wat Arun…
Located down by the water, tucked into a dank underground mall-type area opening into the street at points precariously close to the main tourist thoroughfare, is Bangkok’s Amulet Market. Vendor after vendor, stuffed into small cement stalls, sells amulets of all designs, shapes and sizes off tables adorned with dusty red clothes. Some of the amulets are cheap and not special; mass-produced metal. Some are much more unique, varying in size and design with prices that reflect they must have some inherent value, although I have absolutely no idea what that value might be. I’m into beading so I spent hours rifling through the amulets alongside some intense men using magnifying glasses and scopes to really examine them. I’m not sure exactly what they were looking for as I am not the world’s foremost authority on amulets, but it seemed serious. I wish I had a photo of the market, but I was yelled at 5+ times for trying to take one so eventually I just gave up. Which [amu]LET me focus on browsing.
Who doesn’t want to check out old underwear? What about old sporting equipment? Musical instruments? I visited Nightingale Olympic and saw many items from back in the day (I would specify what day, but the details surrounding when this place shut down are a little hazy at best). This defunct department store, which is still open to the public for browsing, is very interesting. Everything inside is preserved in its original state from the building to the goods, and you can enter and browse around. Just don’t take any photos in there. You’ve been warned.
Khlong Toei Market
There are always so many markets, and Bangkok has no shortage. On our 2nd stop in the city we stayed in the Sukhumvit Road area, at which point I discovered a HUGE market after my morning run in Benchakiti Park. I spent hours here and was the only tourist in sight, as it’s more of a wet market than anything else. People might have looked at me weird as I sweatily wandered around 3 mornings in a row, and a lady seemed alarmed when I tried to buy 1kg of sticky rice, but it was cool.
The Nana area is associated with some of Thailand’s sex establishments, or the more publicly marketed ‘sex tourism for foreigners’ ones, in any case. The area is home to many bars with names proudly announcing their intention, and it is, of course, lined with “massage parlors” (the “no sex” signs we saw in some other cities conspicuously absent). We were the only foreign girls milling around the alleys at night, which wasn’t a surprise I guess. Shortly after visiting we read a book called Sex Slaves which details the sex industry in Asia and is frankly horrific, and in hindsight made me think twice about even the “legitimate” (read: accepted) establishments like those seen in Nana.
Sky bars abound in Bangkok! We visited Octave this time around, catching the sunset at happy hour. To be clear it’s pricey and definitely not a budget travel activity, but if you get 2-for-1 drinks and haven’t purchased food in days, well hey maybe you can afford it.
Khao San Road
THE quintessential backpacker street, Khao San Road is crazy. Vendors sell all the standard tee shirts, hippie pants and other such items by the truckload. By night, the street bustles as people pack into plastic stools outside cheap pad Thai vendors and raucous bars. We’re talking thousands upon thousands of backpackers. It’s cool to check out, but I would not suggest staying here unless you are into partying all night with thousands of intense/dirty/child backpackers. Spoiler Alert: We are not.
There are tons of malls and markets scattered all around the city. Shopping ranges from wildly upscale to super local, so you can find any and everything you need or want…or those you don’t.
The actual name is Pak Khlong Talat and it’s more busy (I’d say better, too) at night. It’s a market of flowers, which you have likely already figured out. Here’s my favorite photo.
So there you have it, just a very few things to do in the big and busy Bangkok!