Thailand is a veritable mishmash of cultures, a crossroads where Indian, Khmer, Chinese, European, and Thai histories collide. This becomes most apparent in the architectural whimsy seen in its grandest structures. No trip to Thailand is complete without a visit to the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew, and Wat Po.
Note that strict dress codes apply to visiting these sites, so be sure to wear appropriate attire; remember, shoes must be removed in places of worship, and you won't be allowed into any royal or religious site if you're exposing your shoulders or dressed in skirts/shorts above the knee.
Other Important Wats
Bangkok's many temples are each unique and inspiring. If you can see only a few, pay attention to the star ratings and hit the highlights (Wat Phra Kaew is listed in the preceding section due to its location within the Grand Palace compound). But while the big temples of Bangkok are highly recommended, don't pass up smaller neighborhood temples, where you have a good chance of learning about Buddhism in daily practice. Early morning is a good time to visit temples: the air is cool, monks busy themselves with morning activities, and the complexes are generally less crowded.
Thai people make regular offerings to temples and monasteries as an act of merit-making. Supporting the sangha, or monkhood, brings one closer to Buddhist ideals and increases the likelihood of a better life beyond this one. Many shops near temples sell saffron-colored pails filled with everyday supplies such as toothbrushes, soap, and other common necessities, and Thais bring these and other gifts as offerings to Buddhist mendicants as a way of gaining good graces. If you get up very early, you may even see a morning alms collection by (often barefoot) monks carrying their bowls around the neighborhood.
Small monetary contributions (the amount is up to you) are welcome at any temple, though the better-known temples already charge an admission fee. Devotions at a temple involve bowing three times, placing the forehead on the ground at the foot of the Buddha, and lighting candles and incense and chanting. Tourists are welcome to participate, but they are asked to pay particular attention to proper dress -- take off your shoes and avoid baring your shoulders, thighs, upper arms, or back. If you kneel or sit to pay your respects, take care not to point your feet toward the Buddha images.
Avoiding the Touts
Tourists are harangued going in and out of the major sites around the Grand Palace, and sadly this area is now famous for its scam artists. Avoid unnecessary frustration by not engaging with these characters just as you would at home. Visitors are frequently told that sites are "closed" by "helpful" types, who then suggest alternate destinations. This is the start of the famous "Bangkok shopping tour scam." If you are approached by a stranger, whether it's someone purporting to be a "guide," or a tuk-tuk driver in this area, just say "no thanks" and walk away. If you end up riding a tuk-tuk near these main sites, make sure you've agreed to a price with the driver and insist on "No shopping." If you have any problems, don't hesitate to use the word poleet (police in Thai), or call the Tourist Police at tel. 1155.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.