Best Things to Do in December in Bangkok

Bangkok's Best Holiday Attractions; From Festivals to Cruises to Day Trips

Thailand is a Buddhist country and does not officially celebrate Christmas. However, as one of Asia's top shopping destinations, Bangkok has put holiday gift buying firmly on the map, not to mention that the Thais love a good party, so there are plenty of things happening during Xmas and New Years. At the top of the list for Christmas is the New Year's Eve countdown party in the Bangkok equivalent of Times Square. CentralWorld Shopping Mall hosts a large event, where giant beer gardens get set up out in the large plaza out front, popular during the winter months here as it is the "cool" season, meaning one might be able to sit outside without sweating too much! Live bands play, there is plenty of food and drink, and then a midnight countdown ceremony rings in the New Year. Also popular with the holiday crowds are the Christmas lights that get put up nearby in front of the All Season's Place, Grand Hyatt Erawan, and all around the Rajaprasong intersection along Rajadamri Road, where hotels have their own Xmas trees and other festive displays lit and decorated for the holidays. With the opening of the swanky ICON Siam mall across the river, there's now a reason to cross over in December, for the Xmas tree lights and other presentations that take place at Bangkok's greatest mall. Other in town shopping options include the artsy Sansiri Winter Fest Market, as well as going on a Chao Phraya River cruise to see Bangkok at its most romantic. Supanniga Cruise runs an intimate boat with superb dining. Also on the Chao Phraya is Asiatique, a retro shopping, eating, and entertainment space all in one, and a great place to watch the New Year's fireworks. It's not only Xmas that happens at this time of year either. Loy Krathong is Thailand's most traditional festival, well worth catching if you are here towards latter November. If it is still too hot outside for your holiday liking, go play in the fake snow at Snow Town at the Dream World amusement park. Finally, the cool winter season here is also the best time to be making day trips. The Saraburi sunflowers are all in bloom at this time, and there's an epic bird migration taking place at Khao Sam Roi Yod National Park, both of which can be easily accessed from Bangkok. If you do get the winter blues, just remember that a white sand beach or tropical island is just down the road! 


Outside the city

If Thai tropics make your winter holiday feel less like home, try heading out to Dream World, especially its Snow Town, which has arctic sleds and fake snow to ride along. From water rides to snow activities to roller coasters, this small amusement park packs a pretty stellar list of attractions, and families can easily spend half a day here. There are bumper cars, a haunted mansion to explore, a Super Splash wave boat ride, the Snow Town with the temperature never rising above -8C, Tornado and Hurricane rides for those who can handle extreme spinning and tossing, a roller coaster, and even a monorail to get around the park. There are also animal shows and street artist performances on the weekends, and it's a good mix of both very active and more subdued activities. There are several food pavilions and stations in case you get hungry, plus a KFC, and even a free shuttle service available. Entrance costs 250 baht for adults, and 200 baht for kids.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: For some alternative holiday fun, check out Snow Town in Dream World, about as far from tropical Bangkok as you can get.

Dave's expert tip: Bus 538 from Victory Monument goes here, or else it will be a 3-400 baht taxi ride.

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Central World gets very festive during the Christmas and New Year season, and is worth visiting even if you aren't a shopper. The front area of the mega shopping mall is famed for hosting the New Year's countdown party, with live bands performing, and this entire area usually sets up with outdoor beer gardens for several months, as this is Bangkok's "cool" season, when temperatures are slightly less than hot and sticky, and locals love sitting outside. Each beer garden has its own theme, different live acts, and there is also plenty of good food. This is the nearest thing Bangkok has to a "downtown" and the local equivalent of Times Square during the holidays.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: For Bangkok's biggest New Year's countdown, Central World is the one and only.

Dave's expert tip: The easiest way to get here is to take the Skytrain to Chidlom Station, and walk the Skywalk right over to Central World.

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Sansiri's T77 Community is touted as the future of a better Bangkok, a nice residential community where a series of condominium projects combine green space, retail areas, proximity to transport and schools, and a safe enclosed haven. They get to show it off and share it with the public during what has become an annual event, now in its fourth year. The Sansiri Winter Market really is a holiday style market, a big open air event during the coolest time of year, where a huge display of local arts and crafts combines with loads of local food trucks, artisan vendors, and a fun vibe suitable for the whole family. Where else in Bangkok can you find homemade mulled wine and craft beer alongside taco and burger trucks along with a family play area, and hundreds of local arts and crafts booths. It's one of these events that is easy to spend hours at, with a ton of great food, drink, and innovative items to check out. It's also laid out in a comfortable environment, a departure from the usual overcrowded and steaming hot night markets around Bangkok.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: For a real Bangkok winter market, Sansiri Winter Fest is best.

Dave's expert tip: The best way to get here is to take the BTS Skytrain to On Nut, and walk back to Sukhumvit Soi 77, then up 77 about 500 meters to the entrance on your left. Sansiri also runs a free shuttle from the station during the height of the market, but the crowds can be fierce enough that it is actually easier to just walk over.

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Outside the city
Saraburi Sunflowers
Photo courtesy of Dave Stamboulis

December and the western visitors holiday season coincides with the blooming of the sunflowers up in nearby Saraburi, and they are well worth a visit. The sunflower fields of Saraburi are just a short hop away from the capital, yet are a miles away escape, with the huge sunflower fields coming into their own in December and January, and beckoning flower lovers, photographers, and those looking for a fantastic local good time. Saraburi may be a small and rather nondescript neighbor to Bangkok but it has been put on the tourist map in the last years due to its amazing sunflower fields which blossom between November and January, and have become a huge tourist draw for Bangkok weekenders looking for an escape to nature. The large sunflower fields, which are privately owned, have been opened up to tourism on a mass scale, as Bangkok residents spend hours immersed in them, taking photos, having picnics, and just feeling utterly romantic. Small farmer style markets have sprung up at most of the sites, offering products like sunflower seeds and oil, natural juices, and other locally grown products. Going hand in hand with the sunflower fields are adjoining bee farms, which offer fresh jars of honey as well.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: For a colorful city escape during the winter holidays, Saraburi Sunflowers are a great getaway.

Dave's expert tip: The best way to visit is via train, and the Thailand State Railways offers a special sunflower train that makes a tourist trip every weekend and public holiday during the blooming season. The train leaves Hualampong Station around 630 a.m. and heads up to one of the fields with a nice mountain backdrop. The train stops there long enough for tourists to get out and take photos and wander around the fields and souvenir shops, and then continues on to the pretty Pasak Jolasid Dam, where it runs out onto the rail track that crosses the dam, stopping out in the middle for people to take pictures of the train, which is parked on a sweeping curve, surrounded by water, and quite picturesque. For more trip information contact the State Railway of Thailand, 02 2256964

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In December and January, the bird migration is on in full force, along with the fact that it is Thailand's cool season, making it the best time to enjoy camping, so why not spend the holidays making a quick jaunt down to Sam Roi Yod National Park. Khao Sam Roi Yod is one of the better day trips a family can make from Bangkok. The National Park has something for everyone, from some nice beaches to excellent hiking, sea views, and a magical royal throne located inside of a mountainside cave. Additionally, the park is home to hundreds of migratory birds which call in here during the winter season. Besides the quiet beaches, the excellent hiking and views, and the over 300 species of birds, many of them migrating from Siberia and Europe, the most astounding sight here is the Phraya Nakhorn Cave and its eerie royal thronel pavilion with a four gabled roof sitting in the middle of it, Getting to the cave involves a 20 minute climb up over a mountain, from where one descends into a huge cavern. In the early morning, light filters in from the openings and creates a dramatic and surreal effect on the surroundings.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: For Bangkok's nearest multi-purpose national parks, Khao Sam Roi Yod offers something for everyone.

Dave's expert tip: It's best to have your own transport to get here, although you can arrange a taxi or motorbike from Pranburi town.

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While Bangkok doesn't celebrate Christmas in the religious sense or as a national holiday, it does pay homage to all the thousands of western tourists coming here in the winter and tries to provide some holiday cheer for those who might get homesick, minus the snow of course. Christmas trees and lights have started to appear at most of the major hotels and shopping plazas around the city, but the ones set out along Rajadamri Road near the Central World Shopping center and Rajaprasong Intersection are really outstanding. There are huge trees lit up out in front of the Peninsula Plaza, St. Regis, Central World, and Grand Hyatt Erawan, with a really outstanding array of holiday lights, complete with Santa Claus and Snowman, and the kids will probably remark that it looks exactly like back home. Of course after taking in all the lights, you can wander over to the Central World beer gardens to join all the cool season festivities taking place there.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: For Bangkok's best Christmas lights display, you can't outshine the Xmas lights along Rajadamri.

Dave's expert tip: The best way to get here is to take the Skytrain to the Chidlom Station, walk the Rajaprasong Skywalk past the Amarin Plaza to the Grand Hyatt, and then descend from the Skywalk and head down Rajadamri on the left hand side.

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The Chao Phraya River is a top spot to be during the holiday season. Hotels run special Xmas and New Year's dinners, and sitting riverside is one of Bangkok's most romantic holiday options. Even better is taking a cruise, and while many of the tour operators on the river overcrowd their boats and offer sub-standard buffets, you can get the best of all worlds by heading out for an evening on the intimate Supanniga Cruise boat. Run by Thanaruek Laorauvirodge, who operates Supanniga Eating Room, a charming Thai eatery with traditional recipes (that now boasts two branches), along with the renowned Isan cuisine restaurant Somtum Der,) the dinner cruise picks up with the same knockout cuisine that has made the restaurants so famous, serving up fresh giant prawns, along with the Supanniga staple, moo chamuang, a thick pork stew made with flavourful chamuang leaves, a specialty of Trat on the Eastern seaboard. You can choose a sunset cruise with cocktails or champagne served with savouries, which lasts an hour, or go for the six course meal and champagne dinner set, which goes for two hours. The combination of cuisine, locale, and presentation make this one of Bangkok's most holiday attractions and dining experiences.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: For Bangkok's best river cruise, you can't beat Supanniga Cruise and its fine food and service.

Dave's expert tip: Cocktail cruises start at 4:45pm, while dinner cruises start at 6:15. Give yourself enough time to get to the River City pier if coming to the latter, as there can be rush hour traffic. It's best to take the ferry from Saphan Taksin to access River City.

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Bangkok's latest and fanciest mall ICON Siam has jumped on the Christmas bandwagon as well, trying to one-up the other top malls for the best lighting and holiday presentations, and they've of course succeeded. The swank mall helps illuminate the city each December with a long line of Thai-style Christmas trees that stretch out along the Chao Phraya River, whose design is inspired by a lotus to represent the worship of the river, and the "bai-sri" banana leaf cone which symbolises the gesture of presenting a new-year's gift to all visitors. There is also live music and the river park in front of the mall is ablaze with colors and rotating attractive light shows. In addition to the bright lights, you can also take in all of the best of the inside of ICON Siam, which features a seven-story Takashimaya Japanese department store, two luxury condominium towers, an endless array of restaurants and eateries, fitness clubs, and even an indoor floating market, paying homage to the traditional Thai way of commerce. Thailand's first Apple store can be found here, and if you tire of shopping, you can even get a dose of culture at the National Heritage Gallery museum which is also housed inside the complex! There is also a 3,000 seat cinema and concert hall, and pretty much round the clock light and fountain show outside!

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: For the ultimate light show and holiday festivities, ICON Siam spares no effort to brighten up Bangkok.

Dave's expert tip: To get here, take the BTS skytrain across the river to the Krung Thonburi station, from where there is a free shuttle bus, or else take the free shuttle across the river from the Sathorn pier (reached after taking exit 2 from the Saphan Taksin BTS skytrain stop)

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Loy Krathong happens to fall within the holiday calendar of the high season for western visitors arrivals in Thailand, usually happening the last week of November (it depends on the Thai lunar calendar), and while it isn't timed at all for this, it remains one of Thailand's biggest festivals, its most traditional, and an experience that shouldn't be missed by anyone visiting the kingdom. "Krathongs" are floating boats made out of lotus leaves, or even bread, in which lit candles are placed and the "rafts" floated out onto any open bodies of water to be found around town. The main festivities take place along the Chao Phraya River, with hotels and restaurants offering intimate and romantic dinner packages, complete with krathongs for floating, but even canals and city parks with lakes get plenty of action and aren't quite as crowded. It's one of the biggest festivals of the year, and both pays homage to the goddess of water as well as the floating krathongs symbolising letting go of all of one's negative emotions, thoughts, and deeds.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: For true Thai tradition, experiencing Loy Krathong is a must for any visitor.

Dave's expert tip: Be prepared for massive crowds at the Chao Phraya River. It is probably worth going for one of the hotel or restaurant dinners or parties, so as to be able to have a seat.

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Asiatique The Riverfront
Photo courtesy of Mystique Arom

Set along the Chao Phraya River, Asiatique should be on every traveller's visit list during the holiday season, as it's vibrant and full of revellers. It's a dining, shopping, and attraction hangout all in one, and a great New Year's spot for watching fireworks and counting things down. Boasting 50,000 square meters and 1500 shops, with parking area for over 2000 cars, everything is spacious at Asiatique. The market is housed in ten giant warehouses, each one having their own set of shops, restaurants, and bars. The warehouses are divided by districts such as the Waterfront, Factory, and Town Square, all easily navigable with large lit up maps that are conveniently placed in front of each warehouse.The theme throughout the market is retro and industrial, with plenty of giant sculptures of nuts, bolts, and gears hanging above and below. Narrow passageways run through each warehouse, with old trams, rickshaw statues, and fountains surrounded by park benches making for scenery other than boutique shops and eateries.

Aesthetics aside, not only will you find great bars, restaurants, and boutique shops at Asiatique, you'll also find Bangkok's biggest ferris wheel, a cabaret show, and a muay thai boxing show amongst the various forms of entertainment. You could spend hours here with all the attractions and shopping, so make an evening of it.

Recommended for Things to Do in December because: For great riverviews, rides, entertainment, chic spots to eat and drink in, shopping and more, Asiatique is a great holiday spot.

Dave's expert tip: get here by taking the BTS Skytrain to Saphan Taksin and then the free shuttle boat from the Saphan Taksin ferry pier to Asiatique. The last boat back is at 11pm.

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Meet Dave Stamboulis

Dave Stamboulis is a travel writer/photographer based in Bangkok. Born in Athens, Greece and growing up in the U.S., Dave first discovered Bangkok while on a 45,000-kilometer bicycle trip and...  More About Dave