Bangkok, Thailand’s exuberant capital, is one of the most bustling cities in Southeast Asia. It receives 22.7 million international visitors a year, and there is good reason for it.
Bangkok is known for its vibrant, bustling streets, gorgeously ornate temples, and aromatic street food sizzling on every corner at all times of the day.
But there’s more to the city than this.
In this guide, we’ll be answering the age-old question; what is Bangkok famous for, from its most iconic landmarks to its expansive history and the unique traditions and customs that are quintessentially Bangkok.
Let’s jump straight in.
What Is Bangkok Famous For?
1. Grand Palace
Where better place to start than with the official residence of the King of Thailand? With over 8 million visitors annually, The Grand Palace is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the entire country, and for good reason too.
Built in 1782 by King Rama 1, it is a sprawling complex of beautifully designed buildings right in the heart of downtown Bangkok featuring gorgeously manicured gardens, a gigantic main building, and several temples, including Wat Phra Kaew, home to one of the most revered statues of Buddha in Thai Buddhism, the Emerald Buddha.
The huge 54-acre complex is open year-round and visitors are strictly required to dress respectfully when entering. Sleeveless tops, shorts, sandals, and flip-flops are banned (even the intense tropical heat), but pants and sarongs can be borrowed at the entrance for a fee.
When visiting the Grand Palace, I’d always recommend booking a guided tour as the friendly, knowledgeable guides will provide you with a far deeper understanding of the rich history of the building and its significance within Thai culture.
2. Ornate Temples
It is estimated there are 400 temples in Bangkok, each of them oozing in serenity and quietness. The temples in the Land of Smiles are unlike anywhere else in the world, since Thailand follows is Theravada Buddhism, which is primarily followed in Southeast Asian countries such as Cambia, Myanmar, Laos and Sri Lanka.
Thailand has the second largest Buddhist population in the world, after China, with approximately 64 million people identifying as Buddhists, so a lot of money, effort, and attention to detail goes into the temples here.
When it comes to finding the best temples in the country, Bangkok is where you’ll find them. Perhaps the most famous is just a short 5-minute stroll away from the Grand Palace, sitting on the banks of the Chao Phraya River – Wat Pho, also known as Wat Phra Chetuphon. This is one of the oldest and most recognizable temples in the Thai capital.
Again, founded during the reign of King Rama I in the 18th century, the temple is famous for its incredibly huge reclining Buddha statue. It’s an incredible 150 feet in length and almost 50 feet high, making it one of the largest reclining Buddhas in the world.
Reclining Buddhas are significant as it represents the Buddha, calm and content, just before he passes into the afterlife. To make it even more special, this particular reclining Buddha is completely covered in gold leaf too.
Aside from the reclining Buddha, the Wat Pho temple complex also houses four giant colourful tiled chedis as well as various other halls and shrines for you to marvel at.
Top tip for when you visit Wat Pho: be careful of the tuk-tuk men telling you that it is closed today and to get in their tuk-tuk. Not only are they lying, but they’ll whisk you off to another nearby temple and also make you go into a suit shop or similar so that they can get a commission if you buy something.
Another beautiful temple in Bangkok worth exploring is Wat Arun, which is best visited at sunrise and sunset when the sun lights up its ornate ceramic detailing, changing the colors from vibrant hues to pastel shades.
Read more: What is Thailand Famous For?
3. Floating Markets
While the older generation of Thais may think that Bangkok has changed immensely over the past few decades, there remains a timeless aspect of the city that will always defy modernization, and that’s the old-school floating markets.
The canals and waterways of Thailand before motorized transport were one of the primary means of transportation and trade for locals because many villages and communities were founded along the water’s edge.
Naturally, these canals became a marketplace for buying and selling fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, rice, and other products grown in the region.
Over time, the concept of floating markets evolved and up popped various floating markets, especially with the rapid expansion of Bangkok itself.
Today, you can visit several floating markets in and around the city such as Taling Chan and Khlong Lat Mayom.
Damnoen Saduak is another famous floating market, though this is a good 100km southwest of Bangkok in the neighboring Ratchaburi province.
All of these floating markets cater to locals buying fresh produce as well as tourists selling all types of delicious street food, which leads us nicely to our next topic.
4. Street Food
You simply cannot visit Bangkok, or Thailand for that matter, and not sample some of the tantalizingly tasty street food dishes that can be found on most street corners. It’s an unwritten rule that any traveler to the country has to follow.
Not only is it an incredibly unique experience, but it’s an integral part of the country’s culture, with the majority of Thais choosing to eat out for meals instead of cooking indoors. Because of this demand, there are thought to be over 20,000 street food vendors in the city.
One of the best things about Thai street food is that it is super affordable, with most dishes in the 40 THB to 80 THB range ($1-$2), making it ideal for locals to fill their bellies for cheap, and for tourists to sample a variety of dishes.
From savoury to sweet, mild to spicy, to even Thai spicy (if you dare), you’ll be able to find a massive array of street food options to satisfy any taste.
Some of the most popular street food dishes in Bangkok include the classic Pad Thai (a sweet and savoury stir-fried noodle dish with chicken or prawns), Pad Krapow (spicy minced chicken or pork with holy basil), and Som Tam (super spicy green papaya salad), and also plenty of barbequed meat skewers.
If you’re feeling extra authentic, you can even get cups of deep-fried insects like cockroaches and crickets.
Related Reading: Where Is The Best Pad Thai in Bangkok?
5. The Nightlife at Khao San Road
If you’re unfamiliar with Khao San Road, it’s one of the most famous streets for nightlife in the entire city. Many years ago, this was where weary backpackers would come for cheap hostels, cheap alcohol, and a damn good time.
Today, it still has all of those things, but it has changed quite a bit since ‘the good old days’ that you hear many veteran travellers speak of. Think more Alexander Garland’s novel, ‘The Beach,’ as opposed to the Tik-Tok generation of backpackers you’ll find there today.
By day, Khao San Road is a busy street with plenty of bars and some restaurants that are gearing up for the night ahead.
By night, the street transforms into a boisterous, lively melting pot of individuals and groups from all corners of the world looking to mingle with like-minded backpackers and fellow travellers.
Illuminated by the neon lights of the bars and clubs that call the street home, you’ll almost certainly arrive back at your hotel or hostel with ringing ears. The noise levels of the street are genuinely off the charts and not for those with sensitive ears.
6. The Largest Weekend Market in the World: Chatuchak Weekend Market
If you are a fan of markets, then a trip to Chatuchak Weekend Market is simply unmissable. It is genuinely a sight to behold and is definitely one of the things Bangkok is famous for.
The weekend market is actually officially the world’s largest and most diverse, with over 15,000 stalls divided into 27 sections, attracting over 200,000 visitors every single weekend.
You’ll be able to find virtually anything at Chatuchak Market, including a huge variety of clothing, trainers, jewellery, antiques, ceramic pots and pans, plants, arts, crafts, and even home décor.
As well as the incredible amount of stalls and vendors for you to shop at, the market is also home to a huge street food section offering a range of freshly cooked-to-order Thai dishes, snacks and ice-cold, refreshing drinks.
There are also several small bars and restaurants serving up food and drinks on the outer edges of the market making for a perfect place to escape the midday sun and watch the market pass you by.
There’s nothing more iconic than the blue and yellow three-wheeled tuk-tuks you’ll find in Bangkok. With over 9,000 officially registered with the authorities, they are essentially a cultural symbol of the city and perfectly summarise the city’s fun and lively oriental atmosphere.
Powered by a motorbike engine, the tuk-tuk is a unique way to get around the city and comes in various designs, with each driver customizing their tuk-tuk to their tastes. One thing they pretty much all have though, is incredibly loud boy-racer-style exhausts.
Due to their compact size, the three-wheelers can easily weave through Bangkok’s congested traffic, making the most of the city’s alleys and narrow streets.
As is customary in the markets, bargaining on a price before you get in is also expected when it comes to tuk-tuks. Drivers have a reputation for ripping unsuspecting tourists off so be careful and knowledgeable about how much it should cost to get to your destination.
Remember to be realistic though, and that a tuk-tuk is a fun experience that you’ll probably pay a little bit of a premium over than say a regular taxi.
8. One of the Largest Chinatown’s In The World
This is going to be a mouthful, but outside of China itself, the Chinatown in Bangkok is the Chinatown of all Chinatowns. It is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, dating back to 1782 when Bangkok itself was founded as the country’s new capital.
Lit up by the bright neon lights, Chinatown is full of atmosphere, scents, and all-around good vibes. It is often referred to by locals as Yaowarat, and the main street of Chinatown is of the same name.
Throughout the entire area, you’ll notice a beautiful blend of Thai and Chinese architectural styles, with many buildings, temples, and shops looking distinctively Chinese.
You’ve got hundreds of shops selling gold and gold jewelry, and Yaowarat Road is famous for being a street food paradise.
Hundreds of vendors line the main street once the sun sets selling Thai-Chinese-influenced dishes, and if you’re in the area and want some late-night food, this is the place to come, with some vendors even serving dishes right up until the early morning hours.
9. World-Class Shopping Malls
Most people think Thailand is this Third World Country and are unaware of just how developed it is. If you enter one of Bangkok’s shopping malls, you’ll realize this is far from the truth.
According to a leading database of building information in Thailand, there are over 200 shopping malls in Bangkok, all catering to different types of shoppers.
Home to high-end luxury brands like Louis Vuitton, Dior, and Gucci, Siam Paragon is arguably the most famous and most luxurious, closely followed by the newly built Icon Siam, on the banks of the Chao Phraya River, which is famous for having an indoor floating market.
If you want something a little more authentic, MBK Center is up there with the best malls in the city, known for its eight floors of cheap clothing and affordable electronics.
Terminal 21 is another famous mall in Bangkok, known for its unique concept of recreating several world cities on each floor and also its unbelievable food court on the top floor.
Finally, wrapping up the list of famous malls in Bangkok is the insanely large CentralWorld. It’s so large in fact, that it is actually one of the largest in Southeast Asia and surely worth a visit.
10. Rooftop Bars
If eating insects and crazy clubs in Khao San Road isn’t your scene, then you can have a more sophisticated night on the town at one of Bangkok’s rooftop bars.
There are many rooftop bars in the city, all with incredible views overlooking the metropolis skyline. Most of the sky bars are located in luxury hotels and have a relaxing ambiance and equisite cocktail menus, so you can avoid the rowdy backpacker crowd.
One of the most famous rooftop bars in Bangkok is Octave, which is located on the 45th floor of the Bangkok Marriott Hotel in Sukhumvit. It’s famous for having regular DJs and live entertainment throughout the week, making it the most bustling sky bar to visit in the city.
Another iconic rooftop bar is Sky Bar at Lebua Bangkok, which is best known for its huge golden dome that sits atop this 63rd floor sky bar, making it one of the highest cocktail bars in the world.
11. Thai Massage
For more than 2,500 years, people have been coming to Bangkok for the famous Thai massage. The practice is a combination of Indian Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine, along with traditional Thai healing techniques.
It was believed to have started with a physician named Shivago Komarpaj, who adapted a form of meditative massage created by Jīvaka Komārabhacca – the personal physician of the Buddha.
The birthplace of Thai massage is Wat Pho, a famous temple in Bangkok, which still houses a renowned school teaching traditional Thai massage.
Thai massage is deeply embedded in Thai culture and spirituality. It was practiced by monks and healers, and it’s not just tourists who go to Bangkok for Thai massage, but locals too.
If you’ve never had a Thai massage before, it’s like a combination of sports yoga and massage, designed to improve circulation and rejuvenate your muscles.
Related Reading: Why Is Thailand Famous for Massages?
12. Sex Tourism
Bangkok has a dark secret that’s not so secret anymore. It’s common knowledge than Bangkok is known for sex tourism, and while prostitution is prohibited, it’s known to happen under the radar.
And while Thailand do not want to be labeled as a country for sex tourism, it’s also embedded in its history. During the Ayutthaya period, from 1351 – 1767, sex was used as part of trade and was legal. There were even state-run brothels.
Today, Bangkok’s Red Light District, located around Soi Cowboy, Soi Twilight, Patpong, and Nana Plaza, you will find strip clubs and bars, with workers waiting outside ready to entice you into their clubs.
We mentioned before that Bangkok is one of the most visited cities in the world, and one type of traveler it does attract is backpackers.
Bangkok, and Thailand in general, is one of the best places in the world to go backpacking in. Not only is it cheap, safe, and packed with incredible attractions, but it’s also a meeting point for backpackers who are traveling alone and want to find likeminded travel buddies.
If you stay at a hostel in Khao San Road, it would be more difficult not to meet other travelers than it would be to find them.
Most young solo travelers who are backpacking in Thailand for the first time will start in Bangkok because of how easy it is to connect with other people – plus, your budget can go far in the city.
Now you know what Bangkok is known for and what makes it such a unique city. As you can tell, there are things about Bangkok that you won’t find anywhere else.
It’s a city with a unique culture, long-standing traditions, and authentic experiences. Whether you want to sample the street food, meet other backpackers, or get acquainted with the local traditions with a Thai massage, these are undeniable the things that make Bangkok so famous.