All Articles The second-timer’s guide to Bangkok

The second-timer’s guide to Bangkok

A Chinese temple, a local market, Michelin-rated street food, and more.

Zinara Rathnayake
By Zinara Rathnayake28 Mar 2023 4 minutes read
People eating street food in the Chinatown neighborhood of Bangkok, Thailand
Chinatown neighborhood of Bangkok, Thailand
Image: Radiokukka/Getty Images

From the buzzy rooftop bars and Michelin-starred restaurants to the street food stalls and grand temples, there’s more to Bangkok than you could possibly see in a single trip. So go again, and bypass the tourist attractions you’ve already seen for a much more local side of the city. Below, we’ve rounded up the best things to do in Bangkok for second-time visitors—from an up-and-coming neighborhood full of artsy bars to a royal palace with far fewer crowds—to help you experience even more of this vibrant capital.

You’ve partied on Khao San Road, now hit the bars in Chinatown’s Soi Nana area

Cocktail at Asia today in Soi Nana, Bangkok, Thailand
Cocktail at Asia today in Soi Nana, Bangkok, Thailand
Image: Pantila D/Tripadvisor

On your first trip to Bangkok, you likely partied the night away with other backpackers at the raucous bars lining Khao San Road. Your second time around, take a more sophisticated approach to Bangkok’s nightlife and check out the cool cocktail bars in Chinatown’s Soi Nana alley.

Once a quiet residential area full of rundown shophouses, Soi Nana has become one of Bangkok’s coolest neighborhoods in recent years thanks to an influx of young mixologists and art-loving entrepreneurs. Head to Tep Bar for local herbal whiskey, and Pijiu for craft beers and jazz piano. Also don’t miss the cocktails at Asia Today, which are made with Thai herbs and 13 types of wild-bee honey.

You’ve experienced the Chatuchak Market, now explore the Wang Lang Market

With more than 15,000 vendors, Chatuchak Market is the largest of its kind in the world—and a must-do for first-time visitors to Bangkok. On your second trip, however, take a ferry down the Chao Phraya River to the Wang Lang Market to see where locals go to shop. Rather than tourists, you’ll find hundreds of vendors packed into the market’s narrow, crowded lanes, selling everything from fried teriyaki pork skewers and green papaya salad to fruit smoothies and sticky rice balls. There are also clothes vendors in the roofed area of the market and river-view restaurants upstairs.

Travelers say: “Coming to the market was the Saturday plan for us and we are so glad that we did! The energy, crowds and shops are just such a blast. …The little shops, the food (OMG the food!) and the massages (my family of four all got 30-minute foot massages for less than $20). The art section is sublime—some wonderful sculpturists have beautiful works for sale, so it’s a must see if nothing else.” —@ShaanS74

You’ve toured Wat Pho and Wat Arun, now check out Chao Pho Suea

Chao Pho Suea in Bangkok, Thailand
Chao Pho Suea in Bangkok, Thailand
Image: PongMoji/Getty Images

Wat Pho (also known as Wat Phra Chetuphon) is one of the most visited Buddhist temples in Bangkok thanks to its 150-foot-long golden statue of a reclining Buddha. Wat Arun, just across the Chao Phraya River, is also quite popular, with its 269-foot-high tower built in the 19th century. But beyond these tourist magnets, Bangkok bustles with hundreds of other religious sites, including Chao Pho Suea (or the Tiger God Shrine) in the city’s old town.

Built during the early 19th century in the Southern Chinese architectural style, the temple houses statues of the Chinese Supreme Being, including the Tiger God, the God of Honesty, the God of Good Fortune, and more. It’s one of the most venerated Chinese shrines in Bangkok, especially during Lunar New Year when the surrounding community comes to worship.

You’ve walked through Bangkok’s Chinatown, now stroll through Little India

A short walk from the street food stalls, eclectic bars, and lively restaurants of Chinatown lies Bangkok’s lesser-known Little India, brimming with spice shops and Sikh temples. Visit this small neighborhood, centered around the Phahurat Market, to check out the seven-story, golden Gurudwara Siri Guru Singh Sabha temple; browse fabric shops and clothing stores like Rashni Collections; and eat at Royal India, which opened in 1960 and serves samosas, Indian curries, and sweets like rasmalai (cottage cheese balls soaked in thickened, sweetened milk).

You’ve witnessed the Grand Palace, now visit King Rama V’s Phaya Thai Palace

Phaya Thai Palace in Bangkok, Thailand
Phaya Thai Palace in Bangkok, Thailand
Image: PongMoji/Getty Images

The former official residence of several Siamese kings, the Grand Palace is on every traveler’s to-do list their first time in Bangkok. An equally fascinating option for your second trip is the Phaya Thai Palace, constructed in 1909 by King Rama V and home to beautiful Romanesque gardens. The only way to see the interiors is to join a daily guided tour, conducted in Thai, at 9:30 a.m. or 1 p.m., but it’s worth getting inside to explore the palace’s mix of Roman, Gothic, and Neo-Classical architectural styles as well as the colorful frescoes that decorate the walls and ceilings.

You’ve feasted at the famous Jay Fai, now eat at Nai Mong Hoi Thod

Skip the crab omelets at Jay Fai this trip and head to Nai Mong Hoi Thod instead. One of the most popular street food stands in Chinatown, the Michelin Bib Gourmand winner serves fried oysters, crispy mussel omelets, crab fried rice, and more, all made with the most fresh seafood. It can get busy here at lunchtime, but Mr. Mong’s expertly prepared, well-priced food is worth the wait.

Travelers say: "Some of the best [fried mussel omelets] in Bangkok, if not the best. …I have not tried the Jay Fai place that gets all the big kudos, but I cannot imagine it being a lot better than Nai Mong Hoi Thod. Michelin rating system is unknown to me, but if it is all they say it is, this place deserves a star." —@JSDRY

You’ve shopped at MBK Center, now drop by the Platinum Fashion Mall

Spanning eight stories and more than 2,000 stores, the MBK Center is the preferred place to shop for just about everything. But the Platinum Fashion Mall is a close second, with its hundreds of shops selling cosmetics, beachwear, party gowns, and more. When you tire of shopping, head to the food court for a steaming bowl of tom yum soup from TomYumKing Signature. If you visit on a Saturday, you’ll even find a nighttime food market in front of the mall selling popular Thai dishes like pad thai and khao niaow ma muang (mango sticky rice).

You’ve gone to Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, now take a long boat tour on the canals of Thonburi

Boats on canal in Thonburi, Bangkok, Thailand
Boats on canal in Thonburi, Bangkok, Thailand
Image: zenaphoto/Getty Images

For a more local experience than you’ll get at Damnoen Saduak, take a long boat tour with Uncle Jeab through the canals, or klongs, of Thonburi, an enchanting residential neighborhood west of the Chao Phraya River. You’ll glide down narrow waterways lined with traditional teak houses and stately homes, stopping off to visit fruit farms, orchid gardens, and Buddhist temples that few tourists ever see. Rather than the frenetic city you experienced on your first visit, you’ll discover a much quieter, more serene side of Bangkok.

Zinara Rathnayake
Zinara Rathnayake is a travel, food and culture writer with bylines in New York Times, BBC, CNN, The Guardian and others. You can read her work here. She shares her travels on Instagram @zin10santafe.