At first glance, Bangkok can overwhelm. It's a city spilling with the bright colours of tacky tuk-tuks, saffron-robed monks and street vendors’ wares. The noise is exuberant, the smells are fragrant and the chaos infectious. It can seem a long way from the spiritual peace that the Thais like to claim as their own.
Delve a little deeper and Thailand's capital city will show you her other, calmer side; a weeping fig in a garden, casting shade from the sun; a monk sitting cross-legged in contemplation; the curl of incense from a temple door. Bangkok has been immersed in Buddhist tradition for centuries, and the trappings of modern society can't distract you from its quest for inner peace, for long.
But this is also a city full to bursting with showy sights that insist on being seen. None more so than the Grand Palace, home to the shimmering golden spires of the Wat Phra Kaew - Temple of the Emerald Buddha. It's also here, in Rattanakosin Island, the historic centre of Bangkok, that the similarly magnificent temples of Wat Arun and Wat Pho are to be found. For the 10 million inhabitants of the 'City of Angels' (as the local name 'Krung Thep' means), the Grand Palace is more than a tourist attraction – it is also the spiritual heart of the city.
The parks of Bangkok are also coloured by the quest for 'higher planes'. See the green splendour of the Lumphini Park, and you'll be very tempted to enrol in a tai chi or yoga class under the sun, or to jog around its pretty lakes. But once you have ridden those spiritual highs, you may want to descend to the material world – and in Bangkok that comes in the form of the cosmopolitan buzz of Khao San Road. A backpacker's paradise, it is home to a noisy profusion of stalls, bars and (allegedly) fabulous merchandise at exceptionally low prices.
Travelling around Bangkok is best done – for fun – in the ever-present tuk-tuks. But for efficiency and comfort, the Thais have excelled themselves in terms of their public transport systems. The Skytrain whisks you over and above Bangkok's swarming crowds, while the MRT underground system will speed you beneath its streets. And don't forget to explore the Chao Phraya river. Boats can quickly take you to many of the city's best locations. And one of the most interesting of those is the quiet river island of Ko Kret. This is home to the Mon people, an ancient culture distinct from the Thai culture. One that has somehow managed to evade Bangkok's endless tussle between bustle and calm.
Shopping, Temples and Culture
A city-within-the-city, this palace is a fabulous concoction of temples, halls, pagodas and royal residences that took two centuries to build.
Wat Pho is the largest and oldest of Thailand's many temple complexes, with over 1,000 Buddha images – but it's just one that draws all the attention.
A temple that climbs towards the seven heavens – and which glows at dawn, and smoulders at dusk.
A visit to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha will take you to one of the most beautiful, and deeply revered, sanctuaries of this deeply Buddhist natio
With cheap hotels, diverse food, and cut-price clothing to bring in the back-packers, this street also offers fun, noise and eclectic cultural mix.
Young or old, to keep fit or kick your heels, if you want to breathe easy in Bangkok, you come to Lumphini Park.
Discover the rich history, fascinating architecture, and iconic buildings of Ayutthaya, an ancient royal capital. Visit the former royal residence at Bang Pa-In Palace, marvel at the Wat Mahathat and Wat Na Phra Men temples, and cruise the waters of Chao Phraya River while enjoying a delicious lunch.
Feast your senses on the sights, sounds, and tastes of Thailand. Savor a delectable Thai dinner and a renowned theatrical production of otherworldly proportions telling Thailand's legendary heritage.
Spend a day exploring historic sites throughout the Mueang region as you learn about WWII and POW labor camps. Travel by road, river, and railway as you visit a prisoner cemetery, examine exhibits at the JEATH Museum, and see the span made famous by Bridge on the River Kwai.
Hop aboard a tuk tuk, an automatic rickshaw, and enjoy rides between some of Bangkok's top attractions. The elegantly simple Tuk Tuk Hop app allows you to book a tuk tuk at numerous locations across town, meaning that you don't have to worry about transportation between the top spots in the city.
Take an unforgettable boat tour on a peaceful canal that weaves through Thailand's picturesque countryside. Experience the lifestyle of locals who live and work on these interconnected waterways, and take in the daily bustle at Damnoen Saduak, popular floating market selling colorful handicrafts and fresh produce.
Discover the Royal Grand Palace, an astonishing 60-acre (25-ha) Bangkok landmark that features spectacular Thai architecture. Tour the complex's temples and pagodas, including magnificent Wat Phra Kaew—the Temple of the Emerald Buddha.
Exploring off-the-beaten-path Thailand
Getting Sak Yants in Thailand
Practicing responsible animal tourism at Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai