Bangkok is a travel destination that is synonymous with shopping. The city of Angels offers a seemingly endless array of shopping options that panders to every shopaholic’s needs. But if you want a holiday that does not revolve around bargaining and credit card swiping, you desire a holiday which gives you the opportunities to discover the colors, character and culture of this wonderfully eclectic city, here are our recommendations of
7 Non-shopping Things to Do in Bangkok
1. Take a boat ride on the Chao Phraya river
Being a largely agrarian society, the Chao Phraya river is the ‘source of life’ for the Thais. Here in its modern capital city, Bangkok, the river is teeming with life. You can take a local boat for about 14 – 20 baht and it would bring you to various destinations, sometimes faster and cheaper than the usual public transportation on road. But what is unique is also that with the boat rides, you get to mingle with the locals (kids in school uniforms, housewives who had just finished their grocery shopping etc). Once on the boat, we’re all pretty much ‘stuck’ together at least for the next 15 to 20 minutes. Along the river, you will come across river side temples, luxurious hotels and local homes. It’s a great way to just sit back, relax , enjoy the views and sea breeze.
One of our recent trips to Bangkok coincided with the annual Loy Kratong Festival – one of the major festivities in Thailand that gives homage to the river. Even at the banks of the river, we were drawn to the exquisite flower float offerings which the locals offered to the river. Our boat docked at Asiatique, an upmarket festival marketplace and we followed the throng of locals to the festival site and participated in their Loy Kratong festival by buying a small float and releasing it into the Chao Phraya River – our little way of giving thanks and acknowledging the beauty of the Thai culture.
Thereafter, we took some fun carnival rides such as the Skydrive, a unqiue self-driving dual wheel vehicle which was so much fun! We then took in the sights of the entire market by taking the Mekong Ferriswheel which stands at 20 storey high! We had a fantastic birds eye view of Chao Phraya and beyond. We left the place by boat, it got better – large fireworks were shooting up to the skies at both sides of the Chao Phraya to mark the Loy Kratong Festival. This is indeed the river that gives Thailand its pulse and we were glad to have been part of it.
Tip: You will find the boat stops (piers) on a map, or if you have an iPhone you can download the Chao Phraya app.
2. Discover the wonders of the floating markets
Closely related to the river would be their floating markets in Bangkok. Depending on the type of atmosphere you like, you can choose between busy, crowded markets or the ones that have a more relaxed feel. Traditionally farmers and merchants would trade with the public via these intricate canals in their sampans. Today, most of them now sell souvenirs and street food to cater to tourists. Yes, its touristy to some extent but not everywhere in the world would you get an experience cruising through narrow canal ways lined with trees, kampong houses and experience the rustic elements of local life while mingling with the locals and sampling local fare on a boat no less. Best of all, you get to see the smiles on the local’s faces as you interact with them.
Tip: It’s worthwhile to hire a local guide for your floating market tours so you can have a more personalized experience.
3. Dive into SEA LIFE Bangkok (Siam Ocean World)
We discovered this attraction few years ago. Who would have known that 2 levels below Siam Paragon, Bangkok’s premium upmarket shopping mall, is one of South East Asia’s largest aquariums that features over 30,000 unique and exotic sea creatures. The Sea Life Bangkok Ocean World is more than just a series of holes in the wall with sea creatures displays. It offers highly educational experiences for families like taking a glass bottom boat inside the aquarium to get up close with the marine life. Recently, they added a 4D movie experience – Thailand’s first to enhance visitors’ experience.
Having been to Singapore’s own S.E.A Aquariums and other sea-life attractions, I must say that Bangkok’s has something different to offer in terms of variety of marine life and unique educational experiences…and all within a downtown shopping mall to boot!
Tip: You can buy discounted admission tickets of up to 40% off beforehand from websites such as Klook Travel.
4. Take up your dream job at Kidzania
Also in Siam Paragon is another gem of an educational attraction for children and their families – KidZania Bangkok. KidZania is a role-play edutainment centre that has taken the world by storm. Children get to experience high-quality simlation of 40 over occupations at Bangkok’s KidZania, touted as the largest indoor KidZania in the world. From being Fireman to Pilot, from News Broadcaster to Sushi Chef, KidZania’s partnership with prominent industry partners ensures that children are given the most authentic learning experiences possible.
Parents can accompany their kids, take photos and, for some occupations, join in the fun. It provides visitors with tons of wonderful memories. If you only have time for one big Bangkok attraction for family, this should be it!
Tip: Read our blog post on how to maximise your visit to Kidzania Bangkok!
5. Get culturally immersed at ChatuChak Weekend Market
Visiting Bangkok without stepping into ChatuChak Market is akin to coming to Singapore without visiting Orchard Road. Though it is a favourite shopping haunt, ChatuChak is technically a local market and Thailand’s biggest which offers everything from cooked food to tattoo services, fresh produce (including exotic animals’ meat) to souvenirs, local art and crafts to pets and contemporary fashion.
During our recent visit, we decided to leave the children in the care of the hotel’s kids’ club and snuck out for about 3 hours (not enough!) to taste some of its famous local fare which we have been seeing on Instagram. This included the famous Wanton (dumpling) Noodle at Soi 40 in Section 2, the famous JJ Coconut Ice-cream, the Garlic Bread from ‘Hello Garlic’ stall , both at the entrance to Section 2, Duck Soup Kway Teow (Soi 52, Section 4) and the Spanish guy’s Seafood Paella at Soi 17 of Section 8 (yes, Paella in Thailand!). We also cooled ourselves down with some authentic Thai Iced Tea.
We couldn’t leave ChatuChak Market without doing some some light souvenir shopping. We lugged home these colourful tiffin carriers and artistic tees which make for some unique Christmas gifts for folks at home.
A visit to this huge market, which had its humble beginning as a local market back when it opened in the early 1940s, is perhaps as iconic as visiting some of the grand old markets in the world such as the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. The market is roughly the size of 10 soccer fields comprising (about 28 acres) with 27 marked sections with narrow alley ways within. It is hot, cramped but it is the best place to soak in Bangkok’s local culture. A sweaty day out at the ChatuChak market is surprisingly highly educational and cultural immersion at its best.
Tip: Aim to arrive at ChatuChak first thing on a Saturday morning before the crowd and afternoon heat sets in and go with an empty stomach!
6. Go on a thrill ride in a Tuk-Tuk
You can’t miss them. They are everywhere and Bangkok is one of the most unique places on earth where this alternative form of public transport to taxis are endorsed because it is, quite simply, faster than mainstream transportation, with its ability to weave in and out through Bangkok’s infamous traffic. With a Tuk-Tuk, you can be guaranteed you will arrive at your destination, well…on time.
The Tuk-Tuk did us a great favour during our recent Bangkok trip by getting us to our dining appointment on time when the traffic jam was horrendous. Zipping through the busy Bangkok streets with virtually no doors at our side, no air-bags save for a small canopy above us, we gamely relished the experience – the whole family, with our 16 month old in tow. In fact, the kids loved the adrenalin! Regardless of your destination, a thrill ride in the tuk-tuk is reason enough to flag for one and your hotel bell hop would be glad to assist you with it.
Tip: Be sure to negotiate and agree on the fare with your Tuk-Tuk driver before boarding. There are many Tuk-Tuks around so you can easily flag the next one down if the prices are not right.
7. Take a day trip to Ayutthaya and step back in time at the former Thai capital
We are self-confessed UNESCO Heritage site junkies and would like to visit as many of these sites as possible with our children so that we can have a glimpse of the rich history of the cities we visit. I During one of our earlier trips to Bangkok, we booked a day trip to the ancient Siamese capital of Bangkok – Ayutthaya.
I remembered fondly that after a mere 90 minute ride out to Ayuthayya, not only did the landscapes change, we were virtually stepping back in time! Seeing the huge reclining Buddha, the immaculately manicured garden of the Bang-Pa In Summer Palace and the Grand Floating Pavillion with its intricate architecture and some of the surrounding sights, all part of the day trip, gave us an unforgettable experience as we revisit the history of the Land of Smiles and her people. The vast majority of Ayutthaya’s treasures were stolen, burned or melted down in ages past. Those that survive are on display at the Chao Sam Phraya National Museum.
Tip: Ayutthaya is accessible by road, train and boats. A boat ride to Ayutthaya on the Chao Phraya kills two birds with one stone!
Bonus: Spoil Yourself Silly
Bangkok is a haven of luxury hotels, and this has to be one of the perfect places to absolutely spoil yourself a little in a fancy hotel (thanks to our favorable currency exchange rates). Among the hotels we have stayed, we highly recommend Hotel InterContinental and The Siam Kempinski for their outstanding service, prime location, beautifully landscaped compounds and luxuriously furnished rooms.
Tip: You can book your flights and hotels to Bangkok via Traveloka website for cheaper rates. We like Traveloka as it displays final price upfront, so what we see is what we pay, no hidden charges. There is also a Traveloka app, downloadable via Google Play Store or App Store which makes searching and booking convenient on the go!
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. – Mark Twain
Discover Bangkok with us in this short video:
Disclaimer: This post is brought to you by Traveloka. Unfortunately, much to our dismay, one of our SD cards containing our Bangkok holiday photos was corrupted and we had to use images from other sources to supplement this article. All travel experiences remain authentically ours.