10 cultural things to do in Bangkok
If you’re looking for things to do in Bangkok, keep in mind the city is not all about places you can visit. Try to mix tourist attractions, shopping, culture and local activities into your plan. Here, we have a list of 10 cultural things to do in Bangkok that will make you know and enjoy the city better.
Do-It-Yourself Chao Phraya River Sightseeing Trip
Places to Shop for Thai Souvenirs in Bangkok
1. Eat street food
Bangkok ranges among the best street food cities in the world. You can enjoy delicious and cheap meals all day all night. You can learn a lot about culture and ethnic cultures in Bangkok via street food. You will find Chinese, Muslim, regional Thai dishes, and street snacks. But mainly you will find Issan food. Issan is a local tongue for Northeastern Thailand. Issan food is hot & spicy, sour, sweet, and salty, simply flavorful. The most popular Issan food in Thailand and probably in the world is som tam (spicy green papaya salad).
It might be difficult to catch a street food cart as they roam Bangkok all day, unless you know their regular spots. One place you will surely find street food is a wet market. In fact, wet markets are known as the best places by Thai foodies to find cheap, delicious, and generation-old eateries. Read about the best neighborhoods you can eat street food in Bangkok here.
Vietnamese crepe sold by a street vendor in Talad Phlu Market
Most street vendors specialize in cooking one thing, either a snack or a meal. But you will also find cook-to-order vendors, and khao gaeng vendors. Cook-to-order vendors serve simple and common hot meals, something that doesn’t require an elaborate cooking process. Khao gaeng vendors, translated to rice and curry, serve pre-cooked assortments. Whichever assortments you buy, they are food in plastic bags for you. There are the most common Thai street food you will find:
Pad thai (ผัดไทย) – stir-fried rice noodle with eggs and chopped firm tofu, flavored with tamarind pulp, fish sauce, dried shrimp, garlic or shallots, red chili pepper and palm sugar
Som tam (ส้มตำ) – chili hot green papaya salad. The same vendor will serve sticky rice and grilled meat.
A variety of noodle soups (ก๋วยเตี๋ยว)
Pad see eiw (ผัดซีอิ๊ว) – wide rice noodles stir-fried in dark soy sauce with chicken, pork, or beef as well as either Chinese broccoli or cabbage
Moo yang (หมูย่าง) – grilled pork skewer, usually served with sticky rice and taken as a light meal
2. Ride a bicycle in Bangkok Old City
Octo Cycling Tours
Bangkok Old City (Rattanakosin) is teemed with historical and cultural sites. Though you can explore these sites on a Tuk Tuk, another fun way to visit them is on a bicycle. Bangkok’s road traffic and tropical heat might be intimidating, but exploring the city’s small streets and alleys is possible only either on two wheels or on foot. You will experience everyday streets of Bangkok, where ordinary folks live, plus sightseeing, eating street food. Octo Cycling and Co van Kessel Bangkok are among the best bicycle tour operators in Bangkok. Do check their tours out.
3. Food tours by Tuk Tuk
Food tours by Tuk Tuk combine two of the best things Bangkok can offer: food and Tuk Tuk. Zipping through the traffic of Bangkok on a Tuk Tuk is fun. Most Tuk Tuk food tours in Bangkok will take you to eat Thai food at local restaurants – the places where local diners go to, like street food and whole-in-the-wall restaurants. But don’t underestimate these establishments, it’s them that have Michelin stars! Sightseeing is a part of the tours. Visiting historical sites, you learn about local culture and give yourself breaks from the food.
Pad thai on Best Eats Midnight Food Tour by Tuk Tuk
The original food tour by Tuk Tuk which remains the most popular until today is Best Eats Midnight Food Tour by Tuk Tuk. The tour takes you around Bangkok Old City, stopping at three restaurants, Northeastern Thai food, Pad Thai, and chicken fried noodle. At the chicken fried noodle place, you get to sneak into the kitchen and see woks on fire. On the sightseeing side, there are a colorful night flower market and a famous temple, crowd-free. Both are best seen at night.
Another food tour by Tuk Tuk, less popular yet unique is Offbeat Thonburi & Bangkok’s Riverside Evening Food Tour by Tuk Tuk. This one explores street food scenes at night markets and an indoor floating market in the Thonburi area and along the Cha Phraya river. The same tour operator offers a vegetarian food tour by Tuk Tuk for those who want to try Asian vegetarian dishes in Bangkok Old City.
4. Hang out at Bangkok’s exotic bars
Sing Sing Theater
Bangkok has more than 10,000 bars and pubs. A few attract crowd with exotic themes and eye-catching interiors. In Bangkok’s hipster and upscale neighborhoods, you get everything from live theatre, to Shanghai’s Forbidden Era, gothic fairytale characters, and a boxing ring in a bar. These bars have got a mixed crowd of expats, Thai hipsters, and curious tourists.
Sing Sing Theatre, designed by Ashley Sutton, one of Bangkok’s most sought-after industrial designer, is a bar-cum-club with Chinese umbrellas, lanterns, ornamented screens and wooden balconies. Next to the DJ booth on the main stage, there are cages where mythical characters hang out. The dance floor gives way to dance shows at least once a night.
Crafted by the same designer, The Iron Fairies is a jazz bar with quite a theme – a dark fairytale gold mine. Industrial machinery and metal fairy miniatures scatter around the place. Havana Social, dimly lit and serving classic rum cocktails, is inspired by prohibition bars commonly found in pre-revolution Cuba. If you want a Thai-style Moonshine, medicinal liquor illegal on Thai streets, and DJs spinning Thai Issan tracks, head to Studio Lam.
5. Take a Thai cooking class
Ingredients in a Thai cooking class
If you love Thai food, taking a cooking class is how you can take Thai food and your memory in Thailand home with you. Most Thai cooking classes will take you grocery shopping, usually in a wet market where you will learn a lot about Thai herbs and spices. Some cooking schools have their own vegetable gardens, allowing you to pick up your own ingredients fresh from the source. Remember you don’t have to always learn from a professional chef. Visiting a local’s home and learning to make Thai dishes with your non-professional-chef host can be very fun too. In fact, it’s more intimate and casual this way.
Thai food features lots of ingredients, herbs, and spices, some of which are absent outside of Thailand. So, try to learn the recipes which you can make at home with the ingredients you can find in local stores. With Private Thai Cooking Class and Exquisite Or Tor Kor Market Tour, you’ll learn to make Pad Thai, chicken green curry, and spicy fruit salad whose recipes are simplified, but still yield great original flavors. Prior to the class, you will grocery shop at Or Tor Kor Market, the world’s best 4th wet market according to CNN Travel.
6. Muay Thai training
Bangkok is the Mecca of Muay Thai fans. In Bangkok, you can attend world class stadium fights and train with masters of this martial art. Muay Thai gyms geared towards total beginners, male and females are available throughout the city. If you want to get fit or simply have a taste of Muay Thai practice, you can do that a modern gym. If you want to train with a Muay Thai master, there are a few of that around.
The Rajadamnern Singha Muay Thai Academy runs both officially certified training programs for competition fighters, and sessions for those looking for sociable health and physical fitness. Legend Thai Boxing, a 15-minutes walk from Chong Nonsi BTS and Lumpini MRT stations, is a stylish, spacious and modern gym. Their sessions are tailored for workout enthusiasts.
7. Chao Phraya dinner cruise
Chao Phraya Princess
As the sun goes down, the banks of the Chao Phraya river become illuminated. Brightly lit buildings and historical sites along the river banks make a spectacular view. You can join one of those river cruises going up and down the stream. Most of the cruises last 2 hours, offering a chance to see Wat Arun Temple, the Grand Palace, Wat Pho Temple, and Rama VIII Bridge. Big modern cruises usually serve Thai and international buffets with live bands and DJs onboard. Smaller cruises seat less people. They’re more exclusive and more expensive. They usually serve course meals.
Chao Phraya Princess, Chao Phraya White Orchid Cruise, Grand Pearl are well-established and excellent choices of the bigger modern cruises. On the more exclusive side, Apsara Dinner Cruise by Banyan Tree is an antique wooden Thai boat serving royal Thai cuisine. Supanniga Cruise offers 2 options: Evening Cocktail Cruise and Evening Champagne Cruise (drinks and snacks), and Sunset Dinner Cruise (6-course Thai dinner).
8. Watch a Thai puppet show
The Joe Louis Puppet Theatre
Thai puppetry is an ancient art slowly fading from Thailand’s cultural scene. If you get a chance to see this traditional art, do not miss it. A puppet is usually controlled by 3 people with a rope and pulley system. The shows are put on for festivals, fairs, and special events. Often played is the story of Ramakien, Thailand’s national epic, derived from the Hindu epic Ramayana.
There are only a handful of places you can watch a show in Bangkok. Artist’s House, an art gallery set in a 200-year-old wooden house, has shows at 2 pm daily but Wednesdays. The shows are casually put on on the ground floor. The Joe Louis Puppet Theatre located at Asiatique the Riverfront shopping center is a professional theatre. Apart from traditional Thai puppet shows, the theatre hosts Thai dances and modern puppet shows too.
9. Visit a floating market
Floating markets near Bangkok are usually day trips. But if you don’t have time, there are several floating markets in the suburb of Bangkok too. These floating markets sit on either a river or a canal. Do not expect to see much of roll boats loaded with things for sale or roll boats operating as kitchens. You will find the majority of the vendors on solid ground or on the shore. Thai floating markets are all about food, from hot meals to pre-cooked light meals, snacks, and traditional Thai desserts. You will be able to find cheap knickknacks to take home as souvenirs too.
One of the best floating markets in Bangkok is Bang Nam Pheung. This weekend market is located in the Bang Kachao area, dense with forest and known as the lung of Bangkok. At Ladmayom Floating Market, you can see a few roll boated loaded with food and fruits.
10. Traditional Thai massage
Traditional Thai massage is known to relax and release stress from the muscles. The technique combines acupressure, Indian Ayurvedic principles, and assisted yoga posture corrector. The recipients are compressed, pulled, stretched and rocked. There is no use of oil or lotion. And you remain clothed during a treatment.
Though you can find massage shops everywhere in Bangkok, the most original traditional Thai massage place is at Wat Pho Temple. The Massage Pavilion is located on the temple’s ground. Several shops offer massages done by blind therapists. On top of great services, you get to support visually impaired people. Try Perception Blind Massage, 300 meters from Sala Daeng BTS Station.