On first impression upon arriving in Thailand, Bangkok can be quite a culture shock. It’s huge, loud and a big contrast to rural Thailand. However, once you’ve spent a couple of hours in the city, you’ll start to see why this thriving, culture rich metropolis is the beating heart of South East Asia; the city that most backpackers and holiday travellers begin their journey in.
Due to the busy environment and so many other places to visit in Thailand, many visitors opt for 3-4 days in the city before moving on. We believe this is the perfect time to get a good experience of Bangkok, although there’s plenty to do in the city if you wanted to stay longer. View our recommended 3-day itinerary below to make the most out of your short stay!
Day 1 – Morning:
Temples – Thailand is thriving with impressive Buddhist temples and Bangkok has some of the best to see. What better way to start your stay in the city than a tour of the finest temples? As there’s so many, you could be visiting new temples every day during your stay; so, we’ve selected 3 of our favourites. Remember to dress in black or white and cover up your body as a requirement to gain entry.
Temple of the Wat Pho and the Reclining Buddha – This temple has a collection of Buddha statues and golden shrines, most notably, a huge golden Buddha lying down on its side. This active temple welcomes both tourists and religious locals and is looked after by Buddhist monks. One detail we remember in particular was the enchanting sound the mini donation bowls made as you dropped coins inside.
The Grand Palace – Right next to Wat Pho is the Grand Palace. The palace is one of the most popular attractions in Bangkok and is on the top of the sightseeing list for most visitors. It was actually created to look distinctly like Buckingham Palace! The palace is used for royal ceremonies and is one of the iconic places associated with Thailand and the royal family. Spend a few hours wondering the impressive golden hallways amongst towering Buddhist statues. The palace is well worth visiting and is centrally located in the old quarter of the city. Remember to dress in black or white and cover up your body as a requirement to gain entry into the palace.
Temple of the Emerald Buddha – The temple of the Emerald Buddha is also in the same square, just north of the palace. In addition to the tall golden peaks and intricate shrines you’ll see at many temples, the main attraction here is the green buddha figurine with gold clothing, placed in a yoga position. Contrary to its name, the statue is actually made from Jade!
Temple of Dawn (Wat Arun) – The iconic Temple of Dawn is the famous structure overlooking the river that is featured in a lot of Thailand cityscape pictures. Jump on the river boat outside the Grand Palace to cross the river for only 3 Baht. Once you arrive on the other side, take a guided tour of the temple for a look into the rich history behind the building, which was envisioned by King Taksin in 1768. Entry to Wat Arun is 100 Baht per person.
Chinatown – Pop across to Chinatown for lunch. It’s a short taxi ride from the Grand Palace area and has plenty of street food stalls and restaurants to choose from; both Chinese and Thai. We’d recommend going for a traditional Peking Duck or other Chinese dish. Bangkok has a huge Chinese population, bringing with it them the authentic tastes of China. Chinatown is also a nice place to walk around. It has detailed Chinese architecture and small gift shops to browse.
Wat Trai Mit (Temple of the Golden Buddha) – Without overloading your day with temple exploration, the last stop on our temple agenda is the Golden Buddha temple is only a short walk away from Chinatown. The allure to this temple is the large and shiny golden buddha statue, an ancient creation from the Sukothai period. It weighs a massive 5.5 tons and sits on its own altar.
Spa/relaxation – Having had a busy day of sightseeing, we’re sure you want to head back to the hotel to relax before dinner and enjoy a cold drink by the pool. Alternatively, if you’d prefer to wind down like the locals, pop into one of the many street spa’s and enjoy a foot massage and ridiculously low prices of £3-4 (100 Baht). You’ll find them on almost every busy street. Many temples also offer a massage for this price, especially by the riverside. There’s something magical about getting a massage in a temple that overlooks the river.
Ratchada Night Market – You’ll see a lot of advertisement for Patpong Night Market throughout Bangkok but in our opinion Ratchada is so much better. Patpong is touristy and has a distinct shady feel about it whilst Rachada is cheap, has some great food stalls and is the place to go for replica designer clothes and accessories (if that’s what you’re looking for).
Rachada Night Market is slightly out of central Bangkok but you can get there easily via the metro or a taxi. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, MBK Mall on day three of our itinerary is your second chance to grab a bargain. If you’re staying near the Chaophraya River, Asia-tique is another good night market option, offering street food, fashion and accessories at decent prices.
Day 2 – Morning:
River cruise – Start your morning bright and early with a river cruise down the Chaophraya River, the ancient river which runs through central Bangkok, originating from the historic old town of Ayutthaya. There are a number of cruises available on the river, from basic crossing ferries to get to different areas of the city to luxury dinner cruises at sunset. Being such a beautiful river, we’d recommend a morning cruise to see the impressive views as the sun rises.
We’d recommend taking a cruise that starts in Ayutthaya with an hour or two of sightseeing and ends in a slow boat ride down the river where you can enjoy lunch and see all of the main bridges and monuments of Bangkok.
Ayutthaya is worth a visit in itself and many people make it a must-see when in Bangkok. It’s located just over an hour away by road from the city centre and is the original capital city of the Siam kingdom. Being in Bangkok for only 3 days, a combination cruise and Ayutthaya trip is the best way to see both cities. You’ll find a wide range of ancient ruins and temples to explore before boarding the boat and seeing them from the river side.
There are a number of Chaophraya cruise operators, but we recommend Thai River Cruise for their wide range of organised tours, particularly the Ayutthaya itinerary. You can book on their website or on arrival in Bangkok. You can also find many vendors on the riverside by where the boats set off and barter for a better price.
Lumphini Park – Being such a vast metropolis, you wouldn’t think there’s a sprawling nature park in the centre of the city. Lumphini Park has a number of nature walking trails, a huge artificial lake where you can rent a boat and quiet, shaded areas where you can relax and read a book. Pick up lunch from one of the street food stalls outside of the park and enjoy a Pad Thai by the lake.
Khao San – Khao San Road is a melting pot of backpackers, locals and tourists. It is often the first destination for travellers arriving in Bangkok and has a distinct personality. This long road and the surrounding streets are buzzing with street vendors, outdoor restaurants, bars and hostels/hotels. Arrive early to wander the streets and market stalls in daylight and stay for dinner and evening drinks, sitting outside and soaking in the atmosphere. You can also get a foot massage with your cocktail!
Thai Boxing – Thai Boxing or Muay Thai, is the legendary martial art of Thailand and a national treasure of a sport. It’s practiced throughout the country and has also been a big hit in the west, becoming a common fighting style in Mixed Martial Arts and the UFC. See an authentic Thai boxing match at Rajadamnern Stadium. The stadium is a short taxi ride from Khao San Road and offers the most authentic experience, although you will find smaller boxing venues across Bangkok.
Day 3 – Morning:
Floating market – A floating market is another must-see for many visitors to Thailand and the small rivers and estuaries around Bangkok have some of the best markets on offer. Floating markets are boats floating on a river selling fresh food, souvenirs, clothing and more. You ride along the river in a chauffeured longtail boat and buy items at your leisure whilst enjoying this unique atmosphere. Many of the local vendors spend their life on the river selling hand crafted goods.
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market is one of the largest near Bangkok and is well worth the visit, however it is around 100km from the city centre and involves getting up very early for the drive. Tour operators will hire a long tail boat to take you around the market. If you’d prefer something closer to the city centre but smaller, check out Talin Chan market. Although the experience can be really cool, the markets can be quite touristy. Be wary of getting ripped off and remember to negotiate with prices.
Jim Thompson House – Depending on what market you visit, you may get back mid-morning. If you do have time to fit in another site in the morning, head over to the Jim Thompson House on the edge of Sukhumvit. This museum houses the art and architecture collection of Jim Thompson in a beautiful, traditional red house. Explore the rooms of this charming venue and take a walk throughout the tropical gardens at your leisure. They also have a delicious lunch on offer. See for yourself just how highly rated the museum is.
Sukhumvit – You’ve seen the more traditional old quarter of the city and now it’s time to see the ultra-futuristic and modern Sukumvit. You may actually be staying here – it’s full of boutique and luxury chain hotels. Take the speedy metro service to this trendy area and spend your afternoon shopping, checking out the cool buildings and stopping off at the market stalls for snacks and gifts.
Shopping malls – Being your last day in Bangkok would be the perfect time to go shopping. Siam Paragon, Terminal 21 and Central World are giant shopping malls, much bigger than those we’ve seen in the UK. Mega-plex malls are a big thing in Asia and we love it! Spend a few hours wondering the many shops, that have both Asian and western brands. The malls also have entertainment venues such as arcades, cinemas and frequent seasonal events. All three malls are within walking distance of each other. If you’re looking for cheap designer fashion and Thai apparel, MBK is the best option. It’s located just across the road from Siam Paragon and Central World.
Dinner – Being an upmarket area of the city, you’ll find a number of top restaurants, both in hotels, malls and along hidden alleyways. Being your last night, enjoy a meal in style! These restaurants are still relatively in-expensive and offer a nicer environment to the traditional street food scene. We recommend eating at Above Eleven, a cool rooftop restaurant with a modern décor and stunning views of the city at night. See all of the top Sukhumvit restaurants here. There’s a lot of great places to choose from.
Lebua State Tower – Visiting the State Tower was one of our favourite moments in Thailand. We arrived at the tower, took the elevator to the top floor and were greeted by the open air and trendy Sky Bar. Enjoy cocktails whilst overlooking Bangkok in the country’s tallest building. It’s expensive but definitely worth checking out for your last night in the city. Just try not to recreate a night similar to The Hangover II!
Our itinerary may seem quite action packed but there’s definitely room for relaxation and enjoying time back at the hotel, which we always recommend doing to re-energise. Take advantage of local spa’s and cafes to rest your legs but be sure to see as much as you can of this giant, unique city.
Feel free to substitute and customise our itinerary to suit you!
Other top attractions to see if you’re visiting for longer:
- The Golden Mount (Wat Saket)
- Chatuchak Flower Market
- Attahuya day trip
- Museum of Contemporary Art
- Wat Benchamabophit (The Marble Temple)
- Clubbing/bars of Sukhumvit
- Siam Niramit cultural dinner show
Bangkok visitor tips:
- Bangkok is huge in size and has a lot of traffic! Book your hotel as close to the centre as possible and plan your sightseeing so you’re visiting attractions close to each other and aren’t backtracking. Feel free to customise our itinerary based on your hotel location.
- Beat the busy traffic of the city by getting around using the BTS Skytrain metro network. It’s quick, very cheap and easy to use once you get a handle of the multiple lines. There’s a reason why it’s currently the number 2 attraction on Tripadvisor according to users.
- Tuk Tuk’s look fun and are a quick and easy way to travel around the city but you have to be very careful with sketchy drivers. Many drivers charge a minimal price but end up taking you to suit shops, travel agents, etc, where you’ll get ripped off. Avoid Tuk Tuk’s if you can or be wary when choosing a driver.
- If you like modern and luxury hotels, Sukhumvit is the place to be, whilst the old quarter near the river offers more traditional Thai luxury. Both places are ideally located for Bangkok’s main attractions. If you’re a backpacker travelling on the cheap, we’d recommend staying near Khao San Road.