Seven Stress-busting Activities in Bangkok


Bangkok’s flower market—C.Helbig

Bangkok is an awesome city, but it’s also hot, noisy, smelly, chaotic and traffic-choked. Exploring Bangkok on a quick visit and trying to fit in all its spectacular attractions feels like you’ve been put through the spin cycle (a very hot and humid one). Fellow blogger, Planet Bell, said it best: It’s an assault on the senses. I urge you to read his hilarious and oh so accurate description of the craziness that is Bangkok. It’s where I got my inspiration for this post. There’s plenty of information out there on Bangkok’s must-sees. This post is about my very subjective tips on how to survive the must-sees—activities that calm the senses and evaporate the sweat (sort of). Some may surprise you. And, most of them are cheap or free.


Cruising the Chao Phraya—just stay on the boat!

One afternoon, exhausted and hot, Mike and I jumped onto an orange line Chao Phraya boat and stayed on it until close to the end of the route. We lounged on an empty pier for 15 minutes before boarding another boat to take us back (I think we got to stop 24 of 30). The 21 km Chao Phraya Express Boat Route is a great way to visit many of Bangkok’s best attractions, but it can also be a relaxing sit-and-do-nothing break. The piers and boats at the main stations are packed, but as soon as you get past the central hub things quieten down drastically. “Cruising” the Chao Phraya is dirt cheap, there’s a cool(ish) breeze and you float past gorgeous hotels, glistening temples, impressive bridges, charming riverside homes, and peaceful communities. You may even nod off for a bit.


Sunset drinks with a view

Bangkok’s high rise rooftop bars are big tourist attractions.  We were tempted to go to the glitzy Sky Bar, where parts of The Hangover II were filmed. Our guest house owner urged us to avoid the busy scene and the hefty prices. He recommended the deck on top of the 3-story Arun Residence. It was a great suggestion—an unobstructed riverside view to Wat Arun, which looked stunning despite the scaffolding. The view in the other direction was just as good with the late day sun illuminating the gold and jewel tones of Wat Phra Kaew and the grounds of the royal palace. What a peaceful few hours!


Visual feast at the flower market


Beautiful flower displays around the Bangkok Flower Market—C.Helbig

Bangkok’s Pak Khlong Market is the city’s largest depot for wholesale flowers. It’s open 24 hours and it’s busiest late at night and very early in the morning—the time to go if  you want to see it in full action (chaos, we were told). We visited after our sunset drinks when things were still relatively quiet—perfect for us. Despite feeling overrun by jet lag, the massive displays of gorgeous orchids, lilies and marigolds was a real treat for our senses and a lovely way to end a day in Bangkok.


Bike and eat night tour

Biking in downtown Bangkok? You’re thinking she’s got to be nuts. How could this possible be stress-busting? I was surprised too. Our tour with Grasshopper Adventures was one of best things we did in Bangkok, and definitely the most fun. We rode through quiet back roads and alleyways (like the one in the bottom right photo). I didn’t think this existed in Bangkok. It was just Mike and me with our local guide Tammy and her hubby Ian; it felt like hanging out with old friends. We learned about life in Bangkok while eating all kinds of delicious street food. We sampled Thai, Indian and Chinese specialties at four different places. And, with Chinese New Year just days away, vendors were  plying us with festive treats. This is the only activity of the bunch that wasn’t cheap, but it was totally worth the money.


Thai foot massage


Foot massage place on Khao San Rd. They are found all over—C. Helbig

During our last few days in Bangkok I was hit by a horrible cold. I was determined it wouldn’t ruin our plans and we set off to the Chatuchak Weekend Market, the mother of all markets—a sprawling labyrinth of stiflingly hot, narrow passages with 15,000 stalls and God knows how many thousands of visitors. A bad plan!  I had fond memories of the market from a visit in 1991, but it has exploded. Within an hour of getting there, my nose erupted in a torrent of blood. It finally subsided with the help of a giant wad of napkins and ice graciously supplied by a nearby food stall. I couldn’t handle more market but needed to relax before tackling the skytrain. We popped into the closest foot massage place (there are lots). It had a door and air conditioning, comfy chairs and tranquil music—a small sanctuary inside the crazy market (I didn’t have it in me to take photos; the one above is a far less intimate place we walked by on another day).  It was the first of many inexpensive foot massages we had in SE Asia.


Visiting the less popular temples


Wat Rutchanatdaram—C.Helbig

Of course you need to visit Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Pho and Wat Arun. They’re magnificent but can leave you cranky and exhausted from jostling with the masses. After visiting the Golden Mount and Wat Saket (another big draw) we wandered aimlessly and came upon Wat Rutchanatdaram (Loha Prasat). There was no entrance fee and the grounds were deserted. With room to breath and explore peacefully, this was a really special temple experience. There are more like this in Bangkok if you get just slightly off the beaten path.


The funny sign that got us through


Sign outside Wat Suthat—C.Helbig

It was the nearing the end of another good but exhausting day. Did we have one more temple in us? We debated at the courtyard entrance of Wat Suthat. This sign caught my eye. It’s priceless. I love the part about reading the instructions but not to believe them. Wat Suthat turned out to be a nice visit but I’ll always associate it with the crazy sign that gave us the laugh we needed and the push to enter.

Chances are Bangkok will overwhelm you. This isn’t all bad. Slow down and give my Bangkok stress-busting activities a try. Maybe you can share some of your own? Enjoy this fabulously frenzied city!


Khao San Road—love it or hate it!—C.Helbig

Categories: Places, Thailand | Tags: , , , , , | 25 Comments

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25 thoughts on “Seven Stress-busting Activities in Bangkok

  1. Great tips. Exciting that you have experienced Bangkok as a ghost town. I can hardly imagine what else one sees and hears about it. In general, I believe, but that would not be quite my world. beaming would be awesome – just walk around for two hours and see how it feels😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love this! I’m living in Bangkok now and have found some very rejuvenating, peaceful places in the midst of the craziness as well. A lot of writing about Bangkok focuses on the hectic pace of life, it’s refreshing to read your piece about the other side of things.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much for your kind comments Rachel. They mean a lot to me, especially coming from someone who lives in Bangkok. Having traveled to many big cities that are described as hectic or chaotic, I try to keep an open mind and whenever possible build in some extra time for the visit. Most often I really enjoy my stays. Bangkok is awesome. You are lucky to be getting a full immersion. Cheers, Caroline


  3. Hi Caroline, Thanks for the tips for when one day I finally get to Bangkok. I’ve been to Phu Ket a million years ago but we just sat on the tarmac in Bangkok to let passengers disembark and take on more fuel. Love the sign and will be sure to check our the boat, the sunset drinks on that rooftop and the flower market nearby. Jeff’s post is hilarious. Louise

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Louise. I hope you get to see Bangkok sometime. It’s not exactly a relaxing destination but super interesting. Jeff is a great writer and photographer. I love his blog. Cheers, Caroline

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Exploring Bangkok by boat is something I should do next time I come — I did take the boat on two of my three visits to the city, but they were only around the main sights. Too bad you had nose bleeding when you were at the market. I just returned from Seoul which was very ‘cold’ — 4°C to be precise. I thought my nose would bleed because the wind made the air feel even colder. But for sure you wouldn’t consider that temperature to be particularly cold, would you? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I seem to be prone to nose bleeds after long flights and then a cold on top of it, just wasn’t a good situation. I imagine going from 35 degrees in Jakarta to -4 is just as tough as for us the other way around! Cheers, Caroline


  5. Wonderful suggestions Sue. it sounds like you got a really good taste of Bangkok. The bike tour sounds great, and I do wish we’d thought to stay on the boat to the end and back. Don and I both had a laugh about read the instructions and don’t believe it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Alison, that impromptu ride along the river was just what we needed to reenergize and the bike trip was an unexpected surprise in downtown Bangkok. Mike and I still laugh when we look at the photo of that sign. Cheers, Caroline

      Liked by 1 person

  6. All great suggestions (especially the foot massage) and I absolutely love the sign! We took photos of some really crazy translations and instructions in Tibet and use a few of them to this day when we are joking around. (Our favorite – about a snack food: “Good taste, of course you cannot bear to stop, hence the name ‘Does not lose hand”!).

    Remember when I said I was making a file for all the great travel tips I get from my favorite bloggers? Well, this one just got filed!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hey Lexi, I’m honored that this post made your tips file!
      Your Tibet sign is hilarious. I love collecting these fun, crazy translations. Some of the best signs are found in public bathrooms (I have still to figure out what a few of them are meant to relay!)
      Thinking of you and your post as we head to El Chalten tomorrow. Fingers crossed for good weather. Cheers, Caroline

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Thai foot massage!! Sounds like a must after all the walking and biking.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. So lovely to read about Bangkok, I’ve been many times and it is the most impressive city I’ve seen yet.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are lucky that you’ve been multiple times Myra. I think it’s one of those cities that you appreciate more and more with each successive visit.


  9. Alicia Perry

    Thanks for this Caroline! I just forwarded your post to Solange—they spent a lot of time in southern Thailand en route to Vietnam (where they are now), but will be in/around Bangkok in three-four weeks time. Great timing! Cheers, Alicia


    Liked by 1 person

    • How exciting for Solange! I have such vivid memories of being there as a young backpacker. It’s both overwhelming and amazing and about as different from W Van than you can get! It’s probably good that she’s been travelling for a while as Bangkok won’t feel quite as crazy. Nice hearing from you. cheers,Caroline


  10. Brian Foster

    It really is such a fascinating place; nowhere else quite like it. There is a tendency to do it all but your suggestions are great for chilling out and taking it in in a more relaxed pace. It’s literally been decades since we’ve been there. Time to stop in again when in SE Asia. Foot massages are great. Had a partial one in Turkey last week. The Chinese ones with the fish nibbling on your feet are also cool.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes time for you to do a return visit. While it’s still a crazy place it has changed a ton since my first visit in 91. I’ve never tried the fish nibbling foot massage. I’m so ticklish I’d probably have a hard time!


  11. Mike Hohmann

    Thanks for another great post, Caroline.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Thanks Peta. You’re right, Bangkok is like no other place and totally fascinating. The Artist’s House was on our list but we didn’t get to it. We found that we couldn’t do as much as we had anticipated in a day and had to slow things down. Thanks for the link. Will have to return! Mike is not a massage guy, but he really enjoyed his foot massages (I couldn’t convince him to go for a Thai Massage). Isn’t that temple sign great? It requires a few reads. Cheers, Caroline


  13. So much fun to read this post about Bangkok. Before we visited there for the first time I was sure I would not like it.. but contrary to expectations, I loved it! Yes it gets overwhelming, as well as all the other things you mention… but it is also such a fascinating place, like no other!

    The flower market looks and sounds wonderful. We will have to try to get there next time around. The foot massages…! ahh, now you are talking!! We had one almost EVERY day. Cheap and plentiful. Just fabulous. Such a highlight. Did you try the Thai massage?

    One place we went to that was a wonderful break from all the chaos was the Artist House. A great find “far from the madding crowd ” 🙂

    That temple sign!!?! I reread it a few times to try to make sense of it. Hilarious!



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