The bright lights of Bangkok are a major draw for visitors to Thailand keen to experience the vibrancy and colorful culture of authentic Asia. More people visit Bangkok than any other city in the world annually, and it’s not difficult to see why; ornate temples, floating markets, pristine beaches and exotic flavors are just a clutch of the Thai capital’s attractions, and nowhere else compares for a true taste of what Thailand has to offer.
This bustling city of contrasts started out as trading post in the 15th century, expanding over the next 200 years to become the thriving center of Siam, now known as Thailand. This growth continued at a rapid pace from the 1960s onwards, fueled by investment and commerce; Bangkok is a major player in the world of business as a result.
Whether you’re visiting Thailand on vacation or volunteering abroad, Bangkok should be top of your list of places to visit - even if you just spend a day in the capital, it’s well worth the experience. There’s so much to see and do that you’d need weeks to take everything in but if you’re making a brief visit to the city there are some must-visit sights you won’t want to miss. You can explore the city on foot or by taxi but for an experience like no other why not take a tuk-tuk tour of Bangkok? Similar to a rickshaw with the addition of a motor, a tuk-tuk is a vehicle on three wheels, with open sides and seating for a few occupants.
You can hire a tuk-tuk for private use in Thailand but to really enjoy seeing the sights of Bangkok book a guided tour with an experienced guide who already knows Bangkok like the back of their hand. Travel during the day or at night (or both!) for a slightly different experience of all the city’s main attractions.
Points to note when you book a tuk-tuk tour of Bangkok
Before booking your tuk-tuk tour in Thailand, it’s a good idea to do a bit of research into prices and the quality of the tour, so spend some time online reading reviews or chat with friends or connections who have been to Bangkok and ask for recommendations… you can also ask your volunteer coordinators. Sites like TripAdvisor are useful for a getting a clear idea of what to expect from the tuk-tuk tour you choose, providing you with honest reviews and details about group size, the level of English spoken by the tour guide and the overall quality of the service in general.
Some tuk-tuk tour companies offer hotel pickups but others don’t; you’ll need to establish where you’ll meet your guide if they won’t be collecting you from the hotel. Many have a designated meeting point listed on their website if you’re making arrangements in advance. Set aside a few hours for your tour unless you’ve been told the exact duration.
Another consideration is whether you want to take a private tour of Thailand’s capital or are happy to join a larger group, which will comprise several tuk-tuks full of passengers. Joining a group tour can work out cheaper than a private alternative and you’ll also have the opportunity to meet other visitors to Thailand in the process.
Some tuk-tuk tours include drinks and snacks, so you might want to check before booking whether you’ll receive these extras or need to pay for them during the journey. If you know when you’ll be visiting Bangkok, you can book your tour ahead of time to avoid queuing or avoid a poor-quality experience from disreputable providers.
Now we’ve covered the basic points to remember, it’s time to take a look at what you’ll see when you explore Bangkok; some of the points of interest will often feature on both daytime and night-time tours of the city.
A tuk-tuk tour of Bangkok by day
The exact tour you receive will depend on the guide company you book with and the route they take. The below itinerary contains a sample of some of the main attractions in Bangkok, included in most daytime tuk-tuk tours.
The temple of Wat Po, renamed Wat Phra Chetuphon in the 1800s, is an important landmark in Bangkok, being the spiritual center of Buddhism in Thailand. The temple is famous for the enormous reclining Buddha statue it houses; measuring 46 m long and 15 m high, the statue is gold-plated and inset with mother of pearl. The site was where Thailand’s first university was erected and there is still a school inside the temple that teaches traditional Thai medicine and massage. Disembark here for a while and your guide will tell you more about the temple’s history.
As you travel, you’ll pass the Amulet Market, where stallholders sell religious amulets and charms, known as krueang rang in Thai. There are all kinds of Buddhist trinkets, talismans and other items like tiger teeth, which have been blessed by monks. In Thailand, monks are believed to have mystical powers bestowed upon them through their spirituality; amulets blessed by monks are thought to bring good luck to their owners.
Your next stop may well be Phahurat Market in Bangkok’s little India district, where the largest Sikh community in Bangkok resides. Here you’ll find a wide variety of Indian fabrics, clothes, accessories and ornaments, as well as an array of food stalls and restaurants all with a distinctively Indian flavor. Just behind the marketplace is the largest Sikh temple in Thailand, the beautiful Gurdwara.
Woeng Nakhon Kasem
Next, head on to Woeng Nakorn Kasem, or the ‘thieves market’, located in the Klong Thom quarter of Bangkok. The second-hand goods market was once a haven for stolen luxury items but is now properly regulated. There are all sorts of antiques to admire, including old pieces of porcelain, musical instruments and tools, so browse for a bargain but remember to keep your wits about you.
Located at the foot of the Golden Mount, Wat Saket is an ancient temple dating back to the Ayutthaya era from 1351 to 1767. The temple itself was originally used for cremation ceremonies and is an important pilgrimage site for Buddhists, who climb the 300 surrounding steps to enter the temple and worship. Inside Wat Saket is a relic of Buddha, a library and an ordination hall. From the top of the Golden Mount you’ll be treated to panoramic views of the historic Rattankosin Island, so keep your camera handy!
Phra Sumeru Fortress
Situated beside the Chao Phraya River, the imposing Phra Sumeru Fortress stands guarding the city by the water’s edge. Built in the 1800s, Phra Sumeru Fortress is the largest fort to have been erected by King Rama I, established to defend the city from invasion from its strategic position along the river. The hexagonally-shaped fortress features an observation tower, which affords amazing views of the surrounding parkland.
A tuk-tuk tour of Bangkok by night
Bangkok is an exciting city to explore by night, with the dark sky lit up by the bright lights all over this bustling metropolis. Many evening tuk-tuk tours include a night-time meal or snack in the price, and you’ll stop off at a variety of eateries for titbits along the route if you choose a food tour of the city. Most night tours of Bangkok stop by the following sites:
Klong San Market
Established on the site of a former train station, Klong San Market has everything in one place, from talismans and clothes to handbags and delicious street food. Popular with locals but little-known among tourists, Klong San Market is the ideal place to experience Thai life away from the crowds of visitors. Make sure you sample the flavorful Thai cuisine here, especially the national dish pad Thai – a tempting combination of stir-fried rice noodles, vegetables, soy protein, egg and peanuts.
Back aboard the tuk-tuk, make your way to Wat Prayoon, an awe-inspiring white temple built during Rama III’s reign in the early 19th century. The beautiful building, which received a UNESCO Cultural Heritage Conservation Award of Excellence in 2014, is lit up by lights at night, which cast eerie shadows over the many shrines, spirit houses and grottos around the temple. The shrines are situated on a mound protruding from a pool of water, where you’ll see several species of turtles if you look closely. It’s possible to feed the creatures with fruit sold at a stall on the grounds.
The Giant Swing
Sao Ching Cha, or The Giant Swing, is a tall red structure that was originally a key part of Brahmin festivities in honor of the Hindu god Shiva’s visit to Earth. Individuals would swing on the structure and try to grab hold of a bag filled with gold suspended in the air on the end of a bamboo rod. Swingers would reach heights of up to 25 m and eventually use of the swing was outlawed by King Rama VII as a result of fatalities. The original swing was found to be decaying some years ago and replaced in 2007 with a frame made from teak logs. The swing is situated directly in front of Wat Suthat Thep Wararam, a temple dating back to 1807.
The Flower Market
Your next stop will be the Flower Market, or Pak Khlong Talat in Thai. En route, your guide may point out Memorial Bridge – a large bridge opened in 1932 to commemorate the foundation of Bangkok. Moments later you’ll arrive at the market; this riot of color comprises flowers of all kinds, many of which are brought in from other provinces. The market is open 24 hours a day but is busiest just before dawn, when lorries full of fresh flowers arrive. Pick up a traditional phuang malai – a type of Thai flower garland thought to bring good luck. There are six different types of garland, including those fashioned into animal shapes, braided malais and orchid malais, which are made only from orchids. The market also sells fresh produce like fruit and spices and its wares supply many of the surrounding hotels and restaurants.
The last stop on your night-time tuk-tuk tour could well be Chinatown, which you’ll recognise as you approach by the large Chinese-style arch at the main entrance to the area. Chinese merchants settled here in the 1780s and Chinatown is still home to a large Chinese community with its own culture and traditions. Something of a foodie’s paradise, Chinatown is the perfect place for sampling some new flavors – the desserts from the street vendors here are especially renowned, so spend a bit of time enjoying a taste of China in Thailand!
Rounding off your tuk-tuk tour in Bangkok
When your tuk-tuk tour is over, you’ll usually make your own way back to your accommodation, although some tour companies will drop you off at your hotel if you’ve made arrangements beforehand. Of course, the night may still be young, and you’ll certainly find plenty to keep you occupied if you decide to explore into the early hours.
Some of Bangkok’s best restaurants can be found in Chinatown, while bars and nightclubs are plentiful throughout the city but especially in the areas of Sukhumvit and Sathorn. If you want to party all night, head to Royal City Avenue, or RCA for short, which is lined with nightclubs. Koh San road is also very famous night spot among the young backpacking budget crowd.
Alternatively, enjoy a cultural show and dinner somewhere like Siam Niramit – a complex containing a theatre, restaurant, miniature Thai village and gift shop. The theatre is home to the world’s highest stage and puts on productions that include real elephants and other animals.
Whether you choose a daytime tuk-tuk tour or decide to explore under the cover of darkness, you’ll see some of Bangkok’s best bits in the space of several hours. For the best experience, look for a reputable tour company recommended by others. There are various different tours to choose from, including temple tuk-tuk tours and alternatives designed to highlight the best places to eat in the city, so don’t make a rushed decision – take your time picking something that suits you for an unforgettable experience when you visit Thailand.