Of all the major tourist hubs in Thailand, Bangkok is an urban front runner. Apart from the sightseeing delights, visitors will often say that the best way to experience Bangkok is by exploring the city-streets on foot, trudging your senses as you walk along.
Tourists are usually conflicted over Bangkok – they either love it or they hate it. It’s a jumble of busy roads, quiet temples, loaded street food carts, dingy bars and shopping at throwaway prices. It’s a buzzing city and there’s always something to do, and that is exactly what appeals to the typical tourist. If it’s on your travel list, as it should be, you can wrap up most of Bangkok’s tourist highlights in about three days. However, a five day trip is a good idea if you want to dig deeper into the cultural fabric of the region.
This edit of a 3 to 5 day itinerary for Bangkok, will help you plan your trip as per your schedule and preferences. Follow the itinerary of the first three days for tourist experiences you shouldn’t miss, and continue with the next two days if you’re going for a longer trip.
Every visitor’s first pit-stop is usually the ornate Grand Palace. Once the home of Siam kings, this architectural masterpiece looks stunning in the morning sunlight. A large temple complex that you have to traverse on foot, the palace is any design and culture enthusiast’s dream. The complex has as many as 100 buildings, but you can only view them from the outside. Nevertheless, it does provide for great Instagram shots.
The one building you can enter, and definitely shouldn’t miss is Wat Phra Kaew. A two-foot tall emerald Buddha is the highlight of this popular temple. You can head here early to pray and that way avoid the crowd, or after a leisurely breakfast to get into holiday mode. It’s ideal to reserve about two hours to cover the palace grounds.
Another historical and spiritual complex next to the Grand Palace is the smaller and less opulent Wat Pho. However, it’s every bit as beautiful. A local charm pervades the grounds that are also peppered with smaller buildings, statues and landscaped areas. Walking around the grounds is quite relaxing, but before you do that, don’t forget to visit the main temple for a look at the massive gold reclining Buddha.
Hop aboard a river ferry to take you across the Chao Phraya River to Wat Arun or the Temple of the Dawn. Unlike other temples designed in Siamese architectural style, this one is in Khmer style and consequently looks quite different from most temples you’ll see in Bangkok. Dotted with numerous statues, the temple has narrow steps that you’ll have to take to get to the top. The city view is absolutely rewarding, especially at sunset.
All the walking around will tire you out, and a relaxing river cruise may just be what your aching feet need. You can take a tour of Chao Phraya River on a boat that will take you up and down this central river. After sunset, the Grand Palace and Wat Arun are lit up and spectacular to look at from afar.
Your first night in Bangkok should end with a drink in your hand at its most popular party district, Khao San Road. No matter the time of day, you’ll find tons of people here, in restaurants, at bars, retail stores, massage parlors and much more. Since it’s a backpacker’s haven, everything here is cheap, from the alcohol to the hostels. The street comes alive at night, with bright lights, street food carts and music spilling out of bars. You can grab a cheap meal, sit down for a drink or dance the night away.
Float your hangover away at a signature Thai floating market in Bangkok. Usually outside the city limits, these markets are primarily canals populated with boats selling wares, food and drink, flowers, hot bites and small collectibles. You can slowly sail across on your own boat and make pit stops to shop. It can get chaotic as the day progresses, so try and get there early.
Afternoon to Evening
Make your way back to the city and into the world of the Chinese settlers in Bangkok’s Chinatown, a small suburb with the hubbub of vendors selling seafood and souvenirs all over. You’ll also find the Chinese going about their business and quiet temples in the middle of busy alleyways.
Morning and Afternoon
Bangkok is known as a shopper’s paradise, and it’s quite easy to dedicate a handful of days just to fill your suitcases with bargain finds. Siam Center is probably its primary shopping hub, and is deemed a world in itself. It has four large buildings, Siam Paragon being the most popular. The mall is huge and you can easily while away an entire day here. Besides stores, there is a massive food court, the Siam Ocean World Aquarium (the largest in Southeast Asia), a wax museum, an ice skating rink and a cinema.
Evening to Night
Attend a dazzling display of Thai arts and culture at the Siam Niramit Cultural Show, one of Bangkok’s most popular theatre shows. Costumed performers put on a dizzying array of acts, dances complemented by visual effects to enthrall the audience. Guests can feast on a lavish Thai buffet dinner after the show.
To get your adrenaline pumping, book a ringside seat at a Muay Thai fight. A Thai military martial art form, Muay Thai is where the locals let loose and cheer on for their favorite fighters. You can feel one with the locals and see them in their true element. It’s an exhilarating sport that mixes culture and history.
If the weekend does feature on your holiday schedule, the Chatuchak Weekend Market is a must-see. Rows of stalls with colorful awnings sell clothing, designer brands, souvenirs, antiques, footwear, home decor and even counterfeit goods. Tourists and locals are known to descend on this outdoor mall by the thousands, filling up the narrow alleys. Street food is a major pull factor as well. Although it can get slightly hot and flustering, you won’t go back empty handed for sure.
Bangkok can get pretty hot in the afternoon, so a visit to Lumpini Park will help cool you down after your shopping spree. The lush central park is awash with shaded areas where you can relax on the grass and take the winding pathways for a stroll. Leave the flurry of urban activity behind for a refreshing few hours in this garden. As the evening approaches, take a pleasant paddle boat ride in the lake to watch the sunset.
Bangkok’s underbelly is replete with sex tourism, cabaret, ladyboy shows, and adult entertainment options. To witness this live, head to Soi Nana or Soi Cowboy, both known predominantly as flashy districts with a seedy side. You can settle down in a go-go bar or catch a ladyboy show or just skim the streets for people watching.
There are many day trips you can take from Bangkok, after you’re done exploring all the highlights of the city.
For History and Culture heist, take a train
Ayutthaya : A historic spot that was once the capital of Thailand is now home to ruins of temples, statues and stupas. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and quite a favorite among history buffs.
Kanchanaburi : Kanchanaburi is perfect for a taste of authentic Thai small town living. There are museums, national parks and temples here, including the famous bridge over the Kwai River.
For Beaches and Parties, take the ferry
Pattaya – Originally a quiet island but now one of Thailand’s most visited shoreline locales, Pattaya is a party hub. For those who prefer to keep things toned down, there are a lot of eateries spread out on the beaches as well.
Koh Samet – It’s a laid back island with a lot of beaches and beachfront activities like bars, spas and restaurants. Relax on the white sand with a drink in hand or try your hand at some water sports.
Things to keep in mind:
- Thailand is a tropical country, so except for a few months of the year, it is quite hot and humid. Rainfall is also common in most places throughout the year. Carry sunscreen lotion, bug spray, a hat and an umbrella.
- Some days of sightseeing can be hectic and involve a lot of walking. Wear comfortable clothing and shoes for long days out.
- Fleecing and scamming tourists is quite common. Be aware of your surroundings, take care of your belongings and ask the locals for help if needed.
- When eating out, eat at places and street stalls that are popular, so you know that the food is hygienic. Also, carry bottled water with you everywhere you go.
- Respect the local traditions, people and way of life. You’ll get the best out of the country if you do.