Cultural Things To Do In Bangkok
It’s easy to get lost in a wild city like Bangkok. With a city of millions of people speaking a foreign language, it’s also easy to miss some of the truly amazing things Bangkok has to offer. There are plenty of tourist traps throughout Thailand’s capital. It can be hard to know if you’re getting ripped off or having a genuine experience.
We’ve sought out some of Bangkok’s most unique cultural experiences that you simply cannot miss. From the Thai’s unique take on a normal street market, to the ancient history of Buddhism, to how to celebrate national holidays like a local - we’ve got you covered.
Sak Yant Tattoo
The art of tattooing is an ancient tradition in Thai culture dating back thousands of years. These intricate and meaningful designs, called Sak Yant, were originally created by grand master monks for protection.
Centuries ago, a long, bamboo stick with a pointed end was used by the Master to ink the other monks in the temple. History even tells the tale of Thai warriors and soldiers visiting the temples to receive a blessed tattoo before battle. The Buddhist monks of the temple performed the ceremony of inking and blessing the tattoo with protection, strength, and invisibility.
Fast forward to present day. These tattoos aren’t just for monks anymore.
The tradition still carries on today, and many Thais have these sacred designs permanently emblazoned on their bodies. Their purpose has remained similar throughout history. The people who receive these tattoos are said to have been blessed with good fortune, protection, or some type of magical power.
If you’re dying for an authentic Thai tattoo and a unique experience, look no further than Wat Bang Phra. Located on the outskirts of Bangkok, it is here you will be tattooed by the master himself, Master Luang Pi Nunn.
Even if you are not a Buddhist, your tattoo will be completed with a traditional Buddhist blessing. The monk tattooing you will be the one deciding which design will be inked on your body – so you’ve really got to trust them!
Once they’ve finished their masterpiece, they will whisper the blessing, and send you on your way. Your new tattoo is deeply connected with Thai culture and there are steps you must take to preserve it.
For the blessing sustain its power, you must adhere to a list of relatively simple, yet curious rules. Follow these and you will forever be in the good graces of Buddhism!
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
Located on the Damnoen Saduak canal about an hour outside Bangkok. This floating market is a site anyone visiting Thailand should see.
Walk on the banks of the canals and buy fresh fruit, drinks, and freshly prepared meals right off one of the dozens of small, wooden boats floating along on the water. Sample a bowl of boat noodles prepared right on the canal banks. There are also plenty of shops (and boats!) to browse for local souvenirs. Feel free to haggle the prices down!
There are also river tours available that will take through the whole market by longtail boat. The authenticity of the experience will hit as you slide past vendors and make your way into the local villages.
You’ll get a glimpse of how locals experience daily life on the river as you cruise past stilted houses over the water and witness the residents bathing on the banks.
The market is open daily 7am – 11am.
Take a day trip from Bangkok to the ancient capital of Thailand. Ayutthaya, founded in 1350, became the trading capital of Asia for countries like China, India, Japan, Portugal, the Netherlands, and France. By 1700 it was the most populated city in the world with one million residents.
In 1767 the Burmese invaded Ayutthaya and nearly all the city was destroyed. The impressive ancient ruins of monasteries and palaces are the only remains of the once-prosperous city. The cultural importance of the city was recognized in 1991 when the city became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The ruins are scattered about and not always a comfortable walking distance from one another. Visitors can tour the ruins by foot, but hiring a bicycle or tuk-tuk for the day is a better bet.
Morning Buddhist Alms
Even if you’re not an early bird, this beautiful and silent ceremony is worth setting the alarm for. At dawn, you can witness the Thai Buddhist ritual that takes place every morning.
It’s called Almsgiving. This is when the monks leave their temple at sunrise to walk the streets and accept offers (also known as “alms) from the local people. The offerings are meant to provide the monks with the food they need to maintain their humble, meditative way of life.
The Marble Temple (in Thai – Wat Benchamabphit) in Bangkok is a super place to experience this. It’s best to arrive before sun-up if you want to participate in the almsgiving. There will be locals with small stalls set up with bags of rice and other offerings you can purchase and give to the monks as they pass by.
Celebrate Loy Krathong
If you’re lucky enough to be in Thailand during this exceptionally cool holiday, you’ll get a glimpse of some real Thai culture at work.
Loy Krathong is a celebration honoring the Goddess of Water and seeking her forgiveness for the growing amount of pollution. Locals demonstrate their gratitude by gathering at any body of water after dark and floating their personalized “krathong” out onto the water.
What is a krathong? It’s a small basket woven from banana leaves and decorated with flowers and candles. Each krathong represents its owner’s wishes and hopes for the future. Sometimes people will also include a piece of their hair or fingernail in attempt to make their wishes come true.
The candle is lit at dark and everyone pushes their krathong onto the water. The hope is your krathong continues out of sight with the candle still lit; this indicates your good fortune.
It’s a beautiful sight to see all the twinkling lights of people’s dream bobbing gently down the river.
This festival takes place in every city in Thailand. However, it’s especially impressive in Bangkok to see the massive amount of people (and krathongs) flood the river banks. The most popular places to gather are Asiatique, Wat Saket, or Phra Athit Pier.
The exact date for the festival changes based on the Thai Lunar calendar. In 2017, the festival will be held on November 4th.
This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of cultural experiences in Bangkok. The Thai culture is beautifully diverse, and drastically different from my own or any I’ve ever encountered. It’s possible to find cultural opportunities around every corner. While in Thailand, keep your eyes and mind open. Bangkok’s superficial layers will slowly start to peel away to reveal the truth about the city’s fascinating culture.