Bangkok recently became the most visited city in the world for tourism and once you visit you’ll see why. It’s a great introduction not just to Thailand, but South-East Asia in general, with a mix of beautiful temples, unique culture, great street food and the best massages in the world!
So here’s our three day guide to give you a glimpse of one of Asia’s best cities.
Day one is pretty busy, but it’s the best way to shake off the jet lag and get stuck into the city! We recommend making an early start to avoid the crowds at the Grand Palace if you can.
Take a local boat on the river
The best way to start your trip to Bangkok is by hopping on the life blood of the city - the river. There are ferries that run up and down Chao Phraya all day and you’ll be able to get a scenic cruise for a local prices.
From the water you’ll get a great view of some of the major city landmarks, the distinctive temple roofs and colourful stupas are particularly photogenic. The boat is also a good place to see the contrasts of Bangkok: the new and old; the temples and the commercial towers; the richer and poorer areas.
Whilst most travellers stick to the Khao San Road and the polished side of Bangkok, the river offers a more rounded perspective of the city.
Hop off the boat at the Grand Palace Pier (shown on the map below) to see one of Thailand’s true showstoppers.
Cost: 10-15 baht for short journeys off-peak. It can go up to 30 baht in rush hour for a longer trip.
Despite having hundreds of temples to choose from in Bangkok, there’s one which stands above the rest in grandeur and sheer scale. The Grand Palace is huge and you’ll have seen it dominate the skyline from the river.
There are temples, pagodas, stupas and many Buddha statues as well as the Grand Palace itself. The intricate detail on the walls is especially eye catching, it really does have the wow factor.
This area was home to the King, the court and the government until 1925, so it was meant to impress and slightly intimidate anyone who went there. It was a huge change from any other religious buildings we’d ever seen.
As this is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Thailand, entry isn’t cheap (500 Baht / $15 USD) and it can get crowded. We recommend going early to have a little space.
After this, walk down the road to another very impressive temple.
Entrance Price: 500 Baht ($15 USD)
Opening times: 8.30 am - 3.30pm
Wat Pho is very different from the Grand Palace, but will hopefully impress you just as much with one of the biggest Buddhas in Thailand on display.
It’s most well known for the huge reclining buddha, that’s over 15 metres tall and 45 metres long, covered in gold leaf.
Wat Pho is said to be Thailand’s oldest temple complex with more buddha images than any other in the country.
Aside from the huge reclining buddha, it’s an interesting temple complex to walk around with mosaic stupas and gardens that are a quiet oasis from the bustle of the city outside. It’s also a great place to get a massage.
Make sure you avoid the scam about it being closed (tuk-tuk drivers love to say this, it won’t be closed).
Entry Price: 100 Baht ($3 USD)
Opening times: 8am - 6pm
Ride a tuk-tuk
Ok, so in most places in the world a tuk-tuk wouldn’t be a highlight, but the ones in Bangkok are different. Unlike their ramshackle brothers in India (which are more like garden mowers with a metal shell on top), the tuk-tuks in Bangkok are turbo-charged.
It is by far the quickest way to navigate the streets of Bangkok and fun as well! Whilst flying between cars and down laneways, you’ll wonder why the rest of the world doesn’t do tuk-tuks…
Bizarrely, tuk-tuks are the most expensive form of transport in Bangkok, costing double or more the local taxis (which are ridiculously cheap. Even cheaper than the trains!). Haggle hard, but don’t expect to get much of a deal.
Khao San Road
Finish the day at the backpacker’s favourite: Khao San Road. Love it or hate it, it is somewhere you have to see. This is the Bangkok you’ve probably read about, with oddities such as scorpions on sticks for dinner as well as cheap beer, other cheap eats, and loud thumping music. You won’t catch a Thai person who isn’t working here, it’s definitely a farang haunt.
It’s usually the kind of thing we hate, but even if you don’t want to party, Khao San has a buzz to it and you should see it for yourself. It’s hard to take your eyes off it.
If you fancy the buzz but without quite so many touts, bars and tacky shops, then head to Rambuttri. You can check out the nicer pedestrianised area (which is a bit quieter) or the eastern end which has a few street massage places.
If you’re not templed out yet (stick with it, they are beautiful in Bangkok) then hop back on the boat and head over to Wat Arun - the Temple of Dawn.
This is an icon in Thailand and is best seen from the river. The bright white stupa glows in the sunshine and is very different to the other temples and wats in Bangkok.
Make sure you cover your shoulders and legs as otherwise you won’t be allowed in (or you’ll have to buy a sarong from the stall outside).
Entry Price: 50 baht ($1.50 USD)
Opening hours: 8am - 7pm
Visit one of the flagship Mandarin Oriental’s for tea
After Wat Arun in the morning take the boat to Oriental pier for a little mid morning luxury. The Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok is one the two flagship hotels (the other being the original in Hong Kong).
It is a beautiful 5 star hotel, situated on the water and is the perfect place for tea and watching the world go by on the river. Their lounge/cafe is open to anyone, so you won’t have to worry about being a guest to get in.
There are lots of comfy arm chairs outside on the terrace area overlooking the water or you can sit in the air conditioned lounge area.
You deserve a small break from the hectic pace so far!
Sky train to Silom
After the Mandarin Oriental, it’s time to head to Silom, Bangkok’s modern, glitzy side. The best way is to take the sky train and see the city from above.
The trip isn’t too long and you’ll be able to get views of the financial and shopping districts of Bangkok. You can hop on at Saphin Taksin and hop off at Sala Daeng to get to Silom.
Wander around Lumphini Park or if you want to chill a bit more grab a coffee
Head to Lumphini Park for a spot of green oasis in the heart of the city. Centred round a small lake, Lumphini Park is a nice getaway from the traffic and busyness of Bangkok - many locals go running here, but we can’t understand how that’s possible in the immense humidity of Thailand! There’s also lots of free gym equipment and it has a nice community vibe.
Silom is also home to several laneways that hide some really great hip coffee shops (I know, we didn’t expect it either). Whilst Bangkok may be known more for it’s street food, the modern side of the city is having a coffee boom with hundreds of small shops opening up and serving cappucinos, flat whites and any kind of espresso style coffee.
Head for drinks with a view at the Hangover Bar - Lebua
If you’ve seen the film The Hangover then you know what to expect. Epic views over Bangkok from a gorgeous open air rooftop. Drinks don’t come cheap but it’s worthwhile splurge. Doors open at 6pm. Make sure you don’t wear open toe shoes or you won’t be allowed in.
The Lebua does get busy, if crowds aren’t your thing Bangkok has many other sky bars, you can find a few more to try here.
Foot massage on the street
Start day three with our favourite thing to do in Bangkok: street massage! All over the city you’ll find incredibly cheap massage parlours that offer foot massages for as little as 250 Baht for an hour (about $7 USD). They are honestly the best we experienced having spent over a year in Southeast Asia.
We usually head to Rambuttri (the road parallel to Khao San) as you can sit on a comfy seat and people watch at the same time. We’ve never had a bad one in this area and the last time we did it was so good that we struggled not to book another hour!
Get lost in the bustle of Chinatown
After the chilled start to the day, it’s time to inject some energy! Chinatown is how we always imagined Bangkok to be: busy, crowded, rustic, loud and colourful.
It is an area full of really narrow laneways, selling all kinds of random things. Even if you don’t plan on buying anything, having a wander round here is a fun way to spend an hour or so.
Surely you can’t go to Bangkok and not try the street food? The most famous is the legendary Pad Thai, but there are all kinds of other dishes to try throughout the city (most of which we’ve never heard of before visiting!).
You can visit the original creators of Pad Thai, Thipsamai (location on the map below), who still crank out hundreds of portions everyday. We hate to say this but it wasn’t the best we’ve ever tasted, but I think that’s probably down to personal taste as they used loads of the tiny dried shrimps which we found quite strong. Others love it though so it’s worth a try!
Follow it up with some street dessert, Bangkok serves up some really tasty sweet dishes. Our favourite is a banana-chocolate roti which is definitely geared towards western taste (in other parts of Thailand with fewer tourists it was served with condensed milk and an egg rather than banana and chocolate), and the tiny coconut balls are delicious as well.
Take in the sunset at Wat Saket
Ok, we snuck in another temple. But this time it isn’t really about the temple! Wat Saket (the golden mount) is a great place to get views of the city and watch the sunset.
You’ll be able to see the places you’ve already visited including the Grand Palace, Wat Arun, the Chao Phraya River and Khao San Road.
The humidity means that it’s a short but sweaty climb to the top, it’s well worth it though.
If that hasn’t quenched your thirst for temples, then our blog all about our favourite five in Bangkok has a couple more suggestions!
Entry Price: 50 baht ($1.50 USD)
Opening Hours: 9am - 7pm
Where to stay in Bangkok
Budget: Villa Phra Sumen
Want to know a gem of a hotel in Bangkok that isn’t too expensive, quiet and in a great location? Then head to Villa Phra Sumen. It’s only a 5 minute walk away from the Khao San Road, but you won’t have to suffer the non-stop partying and noise.
Make sure you book any room other than the street view one, this way you’re guaranteed a good night sleep. The rooms are huge, the beds are bliss and you’ll overlooked a pretty courtyard. After years of visiting Bangkok, we’re glad to have found a place that ticks all the boxes!
Mid-range: Grand Sukhumvit
We’ve stayed in dozens of hotels in Bangkok over the years and this is our pick.
The city is blessed with some great hotels (there are also plenty of terrible ones), but the Grand Sukhumvit nicely balances quality with a great price and touches of a five star hotel at much cheaper prices.
Located in a great area (Sukhumvit has lots of transport links, shopping malls and places to eat), the Grand Sukhumvit feels like you’re in the heart of the action without having to suffer the road noise. The rooms are huge, beautifully furnished and very stylish with stunning bathrooms. If there’s one place to stay in Bangkok, it’s this one.
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