I may not have seen all that Bangkok has to offer tourists but the two things I did see I can definitely recommend.
First, the weekend market.
If you’re ever lucky enough to be in town on a weekend, go check out this massive market. We went on a Sunday expecting the usual market packed with touristy trinkets and knock-off electronics. We were stunned to see small stalls selling awesome clothes, shoes, accessories, and jewelry that were not only nice but reasonably priced. These cool items would’ve been a lot more expensive in the states. I wanted to buy so many things, especially a sick wolf ring that I am still kicking myself for not getting. Ben and Alex gave in to temptation by purchasing a few hilariously fantastic animal shirts. We did eventually wander our way into the more expected, less hipster side of the market and the cheap Thai food area. Pad Thai and a Thai iced tea please and thank you.
The only warning I would give about the weekend market (other than the fact that you’ll want to spend all your money) is that it is a serious trek to get out there. We managed to haggle down a tuktuk to 150 baht (50 pp) to go from Khao San Road, but getting back had to settle for 200. I’m not surprised they wanted more. We must have driven half an hour to get there, to the point where it felt like we weren’t even in Bangkok proper anymore and were worried the driver would take us down an alleyway and rob us. It didn’t help we had the shoddiest tuktuk and a burly driver. We made it safe and sound though.
Second, Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace.
This is the number 1 recommended thing to do in Bangkok, and rightfully so. The complex is culturally and architecturally stunning. It is also not cheap at 500 baht, and one of those moments I had to tell myself “in the States US$15 for something like this is a bargain.”
Wat Phra Kaew, aka the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, is an Asian art history student’s dream. The Three Spires are ornate pieces of architecture done in different styles: a seven-tiered Thai roof, a Khmer-style stepped roof, and a gilded stupa. These are accompanied by a huge model of Angkor Wat. Then there’s the boht, or Ordination Hall, that holds the Emerald Buddha, who is actually made out of jade. The hall again is incredibly decorated, including the most impressive interior I’ve ever seen in a temple, from the wall murals to the collection of statues topped by the tiny green Buddha in his seasonal gold dress. Pictures were not allowed inside, but if you look closely at my shot of the entrance you can see him glowing. I sat there for a long time trying to memorize what it looked like. I was impressed. There are many other important pieces around the Wat that grabbed my attention, such as the yakshis (mythical giants standing guard by the entry), the buildings decorated with porcelain, and the mural of the Ramayana on the wall that surrounds the compound. The whole thing is beautiful and deserves a slow wander.
The second part of this attraction is the Grand Palace. The main building here, the Chakri Mahaprasat (Grand Palace Hall), is an interesting mixture of architecture: Western on the bottom, Eastern on the top. That’s about as interesting as it gets though; tourists can’t go inside, with the exception of a small ground floor weapons museum that was missable.
I took my time walking around the complex, completing my exploration in about 2 hours. This was partly because I had time to kill before my bus later that afternoon and partly because it was so damn hot and I was hungover. So the only warning I would give about the Grand Palace is to not go hungover. It’s sweltering in there and filled with tour groups. People constantly stopped in front of the large fans just to feel some moving air. If you have a big night out (or few), do yourself a favor and save it for the next day. But still make sure you go at some point. It’s a gorgeous complex.