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How to Explore Bangkok Like a Local

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Intrepid traveler and AFAR Ambassador Rachel Rudwall reports back from her solo trip to Thailand.

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Bangkok is a city of well-balanced contrasts. It’s loud and rushed—teeming with more than 8 million inhabitants—yet also respectful and elegant. Given its vast size, it can be daunting to know where to begin. While visiting solo in August, I looked beyond the typical checklist to try to immerse myself in Thai culture. Along the way, I felt uplifted and connected to locals and discovered that Thailand inhales and exhales kindness. Here are four standout experiences that will help you get the local perspective in Bangkok as well.


Locals are quick to recommend a morning at Amita Thai Cooking Class held in a private canalside home. It begins with an exhilarating speedboat transfer along the Chao Phraya River, which buzzes with activity (waterways have long been critical to transport and commerce in Thailand). Instructor Tam Piyawadi Jantrupon welcomes you with lemongrass tea and a private garden tour, showing off the complex that has been in her family for three generations. She goes on to teach the preparation of four classic Thai recipes: sour papaya salad, savory satay, spicy curry, and sweet mango sticky rice.


Set out for the temples of Thonburi, on the west bank of the Chao Praya River. Begin at Wat Khun Chan, known for its Burmese-style Buddha, Hindu religious icons, and a black demon figure named Rahu. You might follow the lead of worshippers and buy a black rose as a dedication to Rahu, believed to ward off bad luck and sorcery.

From there, cross the Klong Dan canal to reach Wat Absorn Sawan, a community temple revered for its library built on stilts. It’s a testament to the monks’ practice of protecting Buddhist texts by housing them above water—and away from earth-bound insects.

Finish your afternoon stroll at Wat Pak Nam, a large temple complex accommodating approximately 200 monks. The temple gets packed with people, yet you’re likely to be the only out-of-towner. Peek into the various religious shrines, then take your shoes off to ascend to the top of the stupa and marvel at its Wizard-of-Oz-esque artistry.


Ask around for a dinnertime market in Bangkok, and chances are you’ll hear: Chinatown! That reply initially surprised me, but it turns out the neighborhood serves up inspired takes on Thai cooking as well as a vast selection of Chinese dishes. Crowds throng Thanon Yaowarat, the main artery, and it’s worth ducking into whichever alleyway looks most appealing to you. The awaiting food stalls and diminutive shops peddle everything from noodles to dried insects to religious icons.

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Take a page from the book of Thai youth, and plot a dinner course through the maze. You might begin with pork satay in traditional peanut dipping sauce, or branch out and try khanom buang—a rice flour “crepe” filled with sweet egg yolk threads atop coconut cream or with salty meat and scallions. Continue with pad thai cooked in a steaming wok, a spicy heap of Yum Mama noodles, or a bowl of guay jub, a peppered soup that ostensibly contains every edible part of a pig. End the day on a sweet note with a cup of lod chong, a local favorite that combines rice and mung bean flour noodles (dyed green by pandan leaves) swimming in coconut cream and sugar syrup.

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