The best places to see in Bangkok Thailand
Hop-on Hop-off buses aren’t normally our kind of thing. In every major city where they exist, we’ve always researched them, checking out the locations that they visit or pass by, and then do it all on foot, We’ve always been happy to create our own journey, travelling at our own pace, careful not to miss anything in the hidden back streets.
In Bangkok, where the searing daytime heat can make walking for hours on end quite oppressive, a hop-on-hop-off bus seemed like a good idea. The Siam Hop is a bright orange new addition to the inner cityscape of Bangkok and offers the most comprehensive routes that criss-cross the city. With four routes covering heritage sights, entertainment, the inner city and the shopping district, there is something for everyone. In a city that could seem overpowering and definitely overwhelming to a first time visitor, the Siam Hop allows for an easy transition and a chance to see all the major tourist destinations.
Starting the tour on foot
The bustling heart of Chinatown was right next door to our hotel the Shanghai Mansion Bangkok, and since it is on the Heritage route, we thought it was a good place to start. No need to catch a bus either, as Chinatown is best explored on foot. This is when I realised the real value of the hop-on-hop-off bus. The ability to get on and off where and when you like is a bonus, but being able to take your time to explore, not worried by bus timetables is just fantastic.
Yaowarat Street, the main street in Chinatown is as vibrant as it is busy. At night, this street really comes alive, but during the day it’s no shrinking violet either. Street vendors line the footpaths, selling pork on sticks and cutting up that ever so stinky durian. I can smell it a mile away. Fresh fruit and vegetables, some which look quite unfamiliar are a reason to stop and look. Everything is so textural here. There’s no way that the streets of Bangkok could ever be written off as bland and dull.
By the time we’ve walked 200 metres, we are sweating. The humidity here is stifling and yet, as we enter the inner sanctum of the laneways of Chinatown, generations of the same family are cooking in their small space, hot steam billowing all around them. The heat of the kitchen adds to the furnace and the awnings overhead trap the heat even further. We push on, stopping to check out the street food or to try and identify what is cooking in a pot. Everything happens on the street here.
There are several hidden gems in Chinatown that you’d miss if you didn’t know what to look for.
Ban Kao Lao Reung
In the precinct bounded by Charoen Chai and Plubplachai Rd, you’ll find the Ban Kao Lao Reung, an old house that has been converted to a museum. Tucked in amongst the stalls selling joss papers (part of an ancient spirit offering ritual), this wooden house was once occupied by Chinese Opera performers, many of whom worked at the Shanghai Mansion hotel where I stayed.
Wat Mangkon Kamalawat Temple
Accessed by a laneway off Charoen Krung Road, the Wat Mangkon Kamalawat Temple is the largest Chinese Buddhist temple in Bangkok. It is also the most important. The temple gets particularly busy during New Year and other festivals. There are also many other shrines located nearby. We were very lucky at the time of our visit to see some of the resident monks chanting.
Boarding the Siam Hop: Hop-on-Hop-off bus Bangkok
After hours in the heat, we thought it was time to go and check out the Siam Hop bus. The air conditioning was such a welcome relief so we were happy to sit back for a while and listen to the audio guides announce where we were travelling to and what we could expect to see.
From up high, we could see all the colour of the streets, providing a different perspective to being in it. As we passed Bangkok’s Flower Market, we made a decision to stay on the bus, but we could just as easily have jumped off. Passengers can get on or off at any of the official Siam Hop bus stops.
The four routes of the Siam Hop
Each route on the Siam Hop trail has 10 to 15 stops. With a fleet of buses on the roads, it means that a bus will come by approximately every 30 minutes. However, a quick caveat is needed. Bangkok has significant traffic issues, so allow some float for arrival times. This is why the Siam Hop app becomes an important part of your arsenal.
From incredible temples on the Chao Phraya River to palaces and ancient forts, the city is awash with important places to see. First-time visitors to Bangkok especially would find this route very useful.
- The largest flower market in Thailand
- Museum of Siam
- Grand Palace – Home of Kings of Siam
- Giant Swing – an impressive religious structure near Wat Suthat
- Wat Ratchanadda – the Royal Temple
- Wat Benjamabophit – one of Bangkok’s most beautiful temples
There’s plenty of entertainment to be had in Bangkok, known for its lively nightlife, great shopping, bars and markets. More modern restaurants and cafes are starting to appear and rooftop bars are the place to be.
This route focuses on several of the key shopping complexes and markets. Bangkok is also home to some of the largest shopping centres in the world.
- CentralWorld – an enormous shopping centre known for selling everything. If you can’t find what you are looking for here, it’s probably not available.
- Pratunam Market – the largest fashion market.
- Ratchada – new area for night time entertainment.
- Or Tor Kor market – one of the best fresh food markets in the world.
- Chatuchak Market is also along this route.
Thailand is such a haven for shopping that having a dedicated route taking in all the major shopping attractions makes perfect sense.
- CentralWorld – a must see if you are visiting Thailand for the first time.
- Central Embassy – a luxury shopping centre.
- MBK – this shopping centre has everything from fashion to jewellery and electronics.
- Emporium – designer brands.
- Wireless Road – home to many five-star hotels in Bangkok and high-end shopping.
This is the heart and soul of Bangkok.
- Silom – Bangkok’s commercial district
- Asiatique – a fabulous open-air shopping and food area on the Chao Phraya River.
- Charoen Krung – the first paved road in Bangkok was established here.
Using the Siam Hop app
The first thing we did was to download the app which kept us on track throughout the day. The app uses GPS so passengers are able to track where they are along the route. It also means that the arrival and departure times of the next bus can be tracked, avoiding time wasted waiting for buses. As it uses GPS, access to phone data is not necessary for it to work.
The tracking also allows passengers to easily find the bus stops. It’s hard to miss them anyway when you are in range. The sign is in their trademark bright orange and there will be members of the Siam Hop team nearby, also with bright orange shirts. There is always a guide on board the bus for any questions or issues passengers may have.
The ticket is only activated the first time you get onto a bus and is valid for a full 24 hours. Unlike other activities such as this, it is not restricted to “within a day”. So, if you activate your ticket for the first time at 10.27am, it will expire at 10.27am the next day, not at midnight on the day of activation. This is a key benefit and difference to other providers.
How much does the Siam Hop cost?
For under $AUD40 for an adult day pass there is enormous value in using this service. You can ride for a full 24 hours and jump on and off whenever you please. Another great feature is that the tickets give you access to any of the four routes. ie you do not buy a ticket for the Heritage route or the Shopping route. As the routes are often interconnected, or closeby you can mix and match your experience however you like. This to me is the greatest incentive of them all to use the Siam Hop.
If you want to spend a bit more time exploring the locations along the way, a two-day pass is a good idea. Or, if you are planning on really making the most of your time in Bangkok, there is also a three-day pass, meaning you can explore totally at your leisure.
For accurate pricing and further information on the four routes refer to the Siam Hop website.
What is included in the cost of the hop-on-hop-off bus in Bangkok?
- The app, simply named Siam Hop, can be downloaded for free from the app store.
- An audio guide on board (earphones provided on the bus) in English, Mandarin, Korean, Japanese, Spanish, Thai, Russian and Bahasa
- Free wifi on the bus
- USB ports to charge smartphones. ( a great idea!)
The hop-on-hop-off bus in Bangkok is perfect for people of all ages. It’s also great for travellers with some mobility issues that might just need a break from walking around. Sometimes, it’s just a welcome relief to jump on and get out of the heat! As a first time visitor to Bangkok, I would also recommend this as a must-do. For me, despite not having set foot on a hop-on-hop-off bus before, I loved it and would definitely consider doing it again.