A sprawling metropolis that is home to over 10 million people, Bangkok is a city of contrasts where new meets old, and spirituality and hedonism co-exist. The capital of Thailand since 1767, it is famous for its gilded temples and steel skyscrapers that sit beside jungle parks, colorful street markets and massage parlors on every corner.
It is a fascinating entry point to explore everything Thailand has to offer, and though most travelers quickly pass through the capital on their way to the islands around Phuket or the mountains of Chiang Mai, there’s plenty to see and do during an extended stay in Bangkok. From floating markets and ancient ruins to a thriving contemporary art scene and luxurious hotels with unparalleled service, here’s what you can’t miss on your trip to the City of Angels.
Soak in the city’s art and culture
Inspired by the antique markets of Europe, River City Bangkok helped spearhead a new creative district in the city when it first opened in 1985. Strategically located along the Chao Praya River, it was born to showcase for artifacts sourced across southeast Asia in a prime location in the city. Today, this “cultured lifestyle center” hosts international exhibitions, documentary screenings, design boutiques and auctions across its four floors.
Art lovers and creatives should spend some time exploring the art galleries at River City Bangkok before heading across the street to Charoen 43, an up-and-coming community hub located along Thailand’s oldest road. Stroll down the alley of shophouses and peek into its many artisan studios and coffeeshops like Mala BKK, a floral design workshop that stocks natural wine, and Madi, a lifestyle café with an exhibition space upstairs. Charoen 43 also hosts events during Bangkok’s Design Week. Other art events to mark in your calendar are the Bangkok Art Biennale and Awakening Light Festival.
Eat and drink with the locals
Thai cuisine is widely exported beyond its borders, and universally loved for its sweet, sour and spicy flavors. From nutty pad thai with tamarind tangy tom yum soup with kaffir lime leaves, Thailand’s popular dishes are both comforting and delectable — whether they are prepared right on the street or served in a bistro downtown.
Tucked away down an alley along the riverfront, Baan Rim Naam is a discrete bohemian hangout where you can enjoy coconut curries and refreshing drinks seated on cushions in an open-air house. Nearby in Chinatown, Tep Bar is one of the world’s 50 best bars and a popular place for craft cocktails infused with Thai herbs and spices drinks paired with creative tapas. Live music is a favorite way to spend time after-hours in the capital: Buddha & Pals, a quirky cafe and venue on the edge of the Old Town, has shabby-chic decor and a vibrant program with local and international jazz musicians every night of the week.
Get a massage… in a temple
The Grand Palace and Wat Pho, also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, are two of the most popular attractions in Bangkok’s Old Town thanks to their opulent pagodas and sacred relics. After your visit to the impressive 46-meter gilded statue of the Buddha, linger a while longer to enjoy your own moment of relaxation at the Wat Po Traditional Medical and Massage School.
Established in 1955, this legendary massage center has trained some of the leading Thai masseurs not only in the city, but in the world. Thailand has been a wellness destination for centuries and uses holistic medicine and physical manipulation to treat a range of physical, mental and spiritual ailments. The massage pavilion inside Wat Po temple offers traditional Thai massages, foot massages and oil massages which last 1-2 hours. Those interested in learning more about Thai medicine can even sign up for workshops and professional courses that cover everything from reflexology and energy lines to herbal medicine and aromatic oils.
Step inside Bangkok’s heritage homes
Countless travelers have passed through Bangkok and left their mark on the city’s food, cultural traditions and architecture over time. One of its notable 20th century residents was Jim Thompson, an American businessman and designer who helped revitalize the Thai silk industry in the 1950s and 60s. An avid collector of Southeast Asian art, he built a traditional teak wood home to live in and house his extensive collection of furnishings and decor collected throughout his travels in the region. Surrounded by lofty palms and lush bamboo, the Jim Thompson House Museum is a veritable oasis in the bustling city and open daily for visits. Peruse luxurious silk fashions at the shop, or dine at the on-site restaurant overlooking a koi pond.
The 19th century So Heng Tai Mansion is another architectural marvel in the city. Located in the gritty Talat Noi neighborhood, the mansion was built by a wealthy businessman from China and is one of the last remaining Hokkien-style residences in Bangkok. The So Heng Tai Mansion remains a family-owned property and Poosak Posayachinda, now its 8th generation owner, has sought to make the heritage home a self-sustaining enterprise by uniting his business sense with his passion for the sea. He built a 4-meter-deep swimming pool in the central courtyard and opened a diving center so students can study and practice underwater safety in the heart of Bangkok. The mansion also has a restaurant where visitors can sip cool beverages beneath vibrant frescoes and listen to Poosak’s stories of the property’s celebrated past.
Wake up in Bangkok’s most legendary hotel
One of the world’s great luxury hotels, the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok needs little introduction. Nearly 150 years old, the Mandarin Oriental combines old world glamour with luxurious amenities and the effusive hospitality that has made Thailand famous around the world. The hotel is set upon the Chao Praya River and its elegant rooms and suites feature an alluring mix of traditional Thai and colonial-inspired designs with modern touches, private balconies, and marble bathrooms. The Mandarin Oriental is a world unto itself, with the city’s oldest spa and jazz bar, and a bevy of drinking and dining options to delight all palates.
Guests can linger over afternoon tea served in the elegant Author’s Lounge, which hosted illustrious guests like Joseph Conrad and Audrey Hepburn over the decades, and dine at the 2-Michelin starred Le Normandie by Alain Roux, acclaimed for interpreting French haute cuisine through contemporary dishes. After dinner, guests and locals mingle at the iconic Bamboo Bar for late night blues and jazz in this mainstay which first opened in 1953.
Though the hotel exudes a deep reverence for its celebrated history, it continues to innovate on tradition with brand new offers like its Cannabis Relax and Restore Treatment which uses CBD oil and cannabis leaves for tension relief and relaxation. Follow your treatment with cannabis-inspired snacks served in the comfort of your suite — guests can even enjoy vegan treats for the ultimate detox.
Try street food at a floating market
Thailand is known for its delectable street food and Bangkok is home to hundreds of colorful markets and food stalls. From the neon lights of Chinatown to the sprawling maze of Chatuchak Weekend Market, you can’t miss strolling through these markets and sampling local delicacies while you’re in the city. But for something even more intriguing, head to Bangkok’s canals to see its floating markets for a picturesque array of seasonal fruits and vegetables neatly arranged on wooden boats.
Located just 10km from the city, Klong Lat Mayom is one of the prettiest floating markets where you can taste delicacies like crab omelette, boat noodles and mango sticky rice. You can also hop on a traditional “longtail” boat for a ride through the canals, giving you a glimpse of riverside homes, lush vegetation and local fauna before you sit down for a casual lunch at one of the many stands in the market. I booked a market tour with Pook through Airbnb Experiences and had a great day tasting local foods, visiting a temple and touring an orchid farm along the way.
Visit Thailand’s ancient capital
Founded in 1350, the historic city of Ayutthaya was the second capital of Thailand and is an impressive archeological park that gives you an idea of the splendor of the ancient Siamese Kingdom. Strategically located on an island surrounded by three rivers, Ayutthaya flourished between the 14th-18th centuries. At its height, it was one of the world’s largest urban centers, attracting global commerce and diplomacy to Thailand. When the city was destroyed by the Burmese army in 1767, the capital of Thailand moved briefly to Thonburi before being established in Bangkok in 1782. Today, visitors can walk around Ayutthaya’s Historical Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to admire monumental temple ruins and ancient royal residences built in a mix of styles borrowed from Angkor, China, Persia and Europe. Don’t miss visiting Wat Mahathat for one of Thailand’s most iconic scenes: a stone Buddha set within the roots of a tree.
Find your calm at Capella Bangkok
Sleek, sophisticated, and sexy, Capella Bangkok opened during the pandemic though it is already establishing itself as one of the most coveted hotels in the city. A tranquil oasis overlooking the Chao Praya River, its clean lines and reflecting pools will make you feel far away from the bustle of the city. The property boasts 101 river-facing rooms and suites, including a handful of villas with plunge pools and private entrances for intimate sojourns or extended stays. Spanning 595 sqm, the Presidential Villa is the ultimate hideaway with two-bedrooms, spacious living and dining rooms, private garden and panoramic river views.
Capella Bangkok’s allure is understated, and a muted color palette and natural furnishings lend this a hip, urban resort with a timeless feel. Be sure to book some time at Auriga, the hotel’s soothing spa which features an array of treatments that range from the ancient Tok Sen (wooden mallet massage) to Qi rituals and a regenerating Hom Mali rice scrub with yogurt and almond oil. Afterwards, head to Stella, an opulent jazz and cocktail bar for happy hour and live music before dining at the Michelin-starred Côte by Mauro Colagreco which tantalizes with a menu inspired by the French and the Italian Riviera. The menu is fresh and surprising, with dishes like eggplant purée topped with mulberry powder, and rosemary ice cream served with coconut foam, white chocolate, and raspberries.