Bangkok is one of the coolest cities I’ve visited. It’s huge, but it feels easily accessible thanks to the BTS/Sky Train (just dont take a taxi anywhere, because the traffic can be a nightmare!). It’s also full of “sois,” which are alleyways that are home to tons of street vendors, especially in the mornings. The food is incredible and super inexpensive compared to NYC, so I took full advantage of eating street food over restaurant food as much as possible. If you’re a banana fan, find a fried banana vendor – I have been craving those little slices of goodness since I got back (which was four years ago).
I mentioned in my main Thailand post that ideally you’d want to spend 2 days in Bangkok. The absolute must-do day is touring the temples (“Wats”) and Grand Palace. You can easily do all three in 5-6 hours, so depending on how aggressive of a traveler you are, you can add some other activities to the morning or afternoon. I’d recommend adding a floating market visit if you just have the one day, too. I’ve included below some information on the temples, including entry times and fees, and what you can expect. I’ve also included a handful of other activities so you can plan your other day(s) according to what would interest you most!
DAY 1: if you only have one full day in Bangkok, here’s what you can’t miss!
- Damnoen Saduak Floating Market: great news about the floating markets is that they’re best early in the morning, so even if you just have one day in Bangkok, you could do this first thing in the morning and then visit the temples as soon as you’re back. There are a few different ones to choose from, but Damnoen Saduak is the most popular (and most recommended), so that’s the one we opted to visit. We had a travel agency across from our hotel, so we hired a driver to pick us up in the morning, wait for us during the tour, and then drive us back. The markets are about an hour outside of Bangkok, so plan to have your driver pick you up between 6-6:30am (you can sleep in the car!), and then you’ll be back on the road by 7:30/8am, and back to Bangkok by 9am. The cost was $25 each for the market visit and hour long canal ride, and the driver was about $10 each more (including wait time and return to Bangkok). It was absolutely worth it for such a unique experience. Make sure you take baht in cash so you can buy food from your longtail, too!
- Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew (the Temple of the Emerald Buddha): the temple is located on the grounds of the Grand Palace, and is considered the most sacred temple in Thailand. The Buddha is absolutely stunning, carved out of a single stone of jade. The complex itself is quite expansive, and the architecture is so beautifully ornate – plan to spend a couple of hours walking around. Hours for both the Palace Grounds and Temple are 8:30-15:30, and the entry fee is 500 baht
- Wat Pho (the Temple of the Reclining Buddha): A walk or quick tuk-tuk ride from the Grand Palace complex is Wat Pho, home to the Reclining Buddha, which is around 150 feet in length! The complex is also home to one of the original Thai Massage schools, so check it out if the line isn’t too long. Hours for the Temple are 8:00-18:30, and the entry fee is 100 baht. If you get a massage, that cost is extra, and rates vary depending upon how long of a massage you get. Without the massage, plan to spend about an hour here
- Wat Arun (the Temple of the Dawn): a quick ferry ride (3 baht) across the river from Wat Pho stands Wat Arun, the only temple you can actually climb! Plan to spend about 30-45 minutes here, admiring the uniqueness of this temple as well as climbing as high as your fears (or lack thereof) will allow. The views from the top are breathtaking! Hours for the Temple are 8:30-17:30, and the entry fee is 100 baht
- Longtail Boat Ride: it’s touristy, I’ll admit, but we really loved the longtail boat ride we did following our visit to Wat Arun. It took about an hour and a half, and it cost about $15 a person. Completely worth it if you ask me, because you get to explore all along the river, places you wouldn’t get to really see otherwise, and it wont take too much of your day! We went late afternoon, so it was timed perfectly that we returned to the pier right around dusk, so we got some beautiful sunset views at the end of our ride. There will be people outside of Wat Arun along the river offering rides – barter barter barter! If you aren’t happy with the price they’re offering, walk away (ideally towards another person offering rides). They’ll give in, just make sure your price was reasonable. I’d aim for $15, so start at $10 and then they’ll meet you in the middle. If you have just the one day and do the floating markets in the AM, you can skip this nighttime one!
OTHER ACTIVITIES IF YOU HAVE MORE DAYS:
- Go to Chatuchak (JJ) Weekend Market: this place is a shopper’s dream, and if you’re in Bangkok on a weekend day and would love to go home with some Thai goodies at the end of your trip, this is a MUST. There are roughly 8,000 stalls in this 35-acre souvenir paradise, and you could easily spend 4-5 (or more!) hours walking around. You can take a tuk-tuk or taxi to the market, but make sure you agree on a cost before you get in!
- Walking tour of Chinatown: there are tons of beautiful temples, including the famed Chinese-Buddhist temple, and markets throughout Chinatown. Spend an hour and a half to tour hours just walking along the various streets and exploring the beautiful temples. Most don’t have entry fees, which is a plus, and a lot of them you can just admire from outside
- Tour the malls: Thailand is knows for it’s massive shopping malls (some of the largest in the world), so check one out if you have time. I’d recommend either Central World or Siam Paragon, conveniently located next to each other. Both are easily accessible off the BTS Sky Train (Chit Lom for Central World or Siam for Siam Paragon) and have tons of restaurant/cafe options if you’re looking to get lunch or dinner while you’re there. If you find yourself in Siam Paragon in the afternoon, go for High Tea (see below for more info)
- Check out a night market: there are smaller night markets all across the city, so spend some time walking around where you’re staying and try to find a street vendor for dinner. I lived on street market Pad Thai, and it only cost about 50-60 baht for an incredible plate of food
- Get allll the massages: seriously, get them all. All the time. Every day. They’re SO inexpensive compared to massages in NYC, so we got at least one a day. There are a ton of little massage shops around the city, especially in the more touristy areas – but don’t worry, being in touristy areas doesn’t mean they’re overpriced. They’re just there because they know the tourists are looking for amazing massages. If you have the time, I’d make an appointment at HealthLand. There are multiple locations (I went to the one in Ekkamai), but a 2 hour massage at a beautiful facility set me back just $20 and was the most relaxing massage I’ve ever had
- Have drinks at one of the famous rooftop bars: Sky Bar rose to fame after it was featured in the second “The Hangover” movie, but it sits on the 63rd floor, overlooking all of Bangkok. Go at sunset for beautiful views – but be prepared to wait a bit. The other rooftop bar worth noting is Vertigo, which sits atop the Banyan Tree Hotel and also boasts some pretty incredible panoramic views of Bangkok. Drinks at both locations are not inexpensive, but you’re there for the view and the experience, so know that going in
As for where to stay, here are some recommendations based upon how much you’re looking to spend!
- [Budget Traveler] Sakul House: rooms start at $40-45/night, so $20-25pp if you’re traveling as a pair. This hotel is a true hotel, not a hostal, and located on Soi Rambuttri, parallel to the famous (or should I say infamous?) Khao San Road. Khao San Road is SUPER touristy (think Cancun and Myrtle Beach during Beach Week), but if you’re young, looking to meet other travelers, and/or looking for tons of fun bars and street food steps from your hotel, this is the area to be!
- [Mid-Range] Banyan Tree: rooms start at $125-150/night, and the hotel is home to the Vertigo Rooftop bar mentioned above! It’s located in a more business-centric area, so much quieter at night than Sakul House above
- [Luxury] St. Regis: rooms start at $225-250/night, so the St. Regis is definitely on the higher end, but you absolutely get what you pay for here. It’s also centrally-located, close to Central World and the Chit Lom BTS stop, so it’s very easy to get around from here
Where to eat in Bangkok? Like I said earlier, eat from street vendors as much as possible – especially the Pad Thai and the fried bananas. The food is delicious, and super affordable! But if you’re looking for more of an official restaurant vibe, here are a few I’d recommend for lunch or dinner:
- High Tea @ TWG Siam Paragon (more of a snack than a meal, but worth a visit)
- Cafe Marmalade @ Siam Paragon
- Vanilla Garden in Ekkamai
- Nara @ Central World
- Gaggan (currently the No. 7 restaurant in the world an No. 1 restaurant in Asia – this will set you back a little more than a typical meal in Bangkok)
- Mae Varee (get the mango sticky rice!)
Get ready to have an amazing adventure in Bangkok – it’s the perfect place to start or end your Thai adventures!
Have any other favorite hotels, restaurants, or activities in Bangkok? Leave a comment and let me know!