Bangkok is an amazing city with tons of things to do, most of which are found dispersed over a rather large geographical area. Given that, the options when visiting Bangkok are really two: either packing the essentials in two/three days or staying there one month and every day get to discover a bit of the city. For most travelers going to Thailand, the first option would be the obvious choice. Stay more than two days in Bangkok would eat time from visiting other interesting places in the country and chances are you actually came to Thailand because of the beaches, and not because of the shopping malls.
After living in Bangkok for a while, I believe that the best strategy for a short visit is to spend one day visiting the temples and another day visiting the markets, parks, and rooftops, and combine both days with some of the exciting local nightlife.
Our favorite hotel in Bangkok for 2017 is the Shangri-la. For a city that unfortunately lives giving its back to the river, this hotel is well located near the city center. Make sure you enjoy the amazing sunset views of beautiful Cho Phraya river from its rooms or the lounge. The always handy BTS system nearby is also a plus.
The wonderful river views from the rooms are something you would not get staying at Sukhumvit, and that is something we value. Also to take into considerations is the feeling of tranquility, being near the city center but not in the middle of the city rush.
Guests of Shangri-la hotel in Bangkok have praised the service provided by the staff. All these, together with a great price tag make Shangri-la the best value for price in the city.
But if the price is not an issue for you, you might want to try the Mandarin Oriental, located in the same area as the Shangri-la. Being one step more luxurious than the Shangri-la, this hotel has a higher price tag, roughly the double than the Shangri-la.
For those who prefer to stay at the center of the action, the Okura Prestige is the best choice. This boutique hotel is right on Sukhumvit road and beside the BTS system. It offers great views of the city from the swimming pool and, wonderful breakfast and a luxurious Japanese style.
Finally, with a more traditional style, the Ariyasomvilla hotel. The Ariyasomvilla offers its colonial design, tranquility and a beautiful garden as an oasis in the city center.
If at some point you need to move from A to B and do not have BTS or MRT stations nearby, I recommend to use Uber. Needless to say, like in most countries (especially the developing ones), getting a taxi would need an unbearable amount of waiting, hassle, been cheated, and finally arguing and/or paying more money than the real cost of the service. Here is my advice: use Uber.
If you already know Uber you just need to know that in Bangkok works with the same account you use in your home country and that the service is great, efficient and safe. If you do not use Uber yet, download it to your phone, you will never regret it. You can pay by card or cash. In more than a year using Uber, I never had any problem. As a matter of protecting yourself against bad drivers, do not accept any driver with a lower rate than 4.7/5. You can see this piece of information in the driver’s profile.
Day 1. Temple run.
On day one after landing in Bangkok pack all your energies and head to the Grand Palace area for visiting some of the most beautiful temples in Bangkok. From a logistic point of view, going to this area in the morning and spending the day visiting the surrounding temples would be a sound decision. There are several of the most famous and beautiful temples on both sides of the river. Seeing all of them will require a good share of the day, so wear comfortable shoes and bring sunscreen. Like in the song, I very much recommend you to wear sunscreen.
Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew
For the early birds, the ideal would be to visit the Grand Palace first. This place is a favorite destination and after a certain hour, it can get really busy. It is somehow annoying that they charge foreigners with 500 THB, but you might think the palace is still worthy of your visit. Wat Phra Kaew, or the temple of the Emerald Buddha, is next to the palace, so it should be the first temple you visit here.
A few dozen meters from the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew sits Wat Pho, or the temple of the reclining Buddha. It should rather be called “a” temple of “a” reclining Buddha since there are more temples with reclining Buddha, but this is the most famous one. All the temples require you to buy a ticket for the visit, on the range of the 50 THB for foreigners, and 15 THB for locals and Wat Pho is not an exception to this rule.
After visiting one Grand Palace and two temples I would be so hungry that I would like to eat a cow. Although cows are not so easily available in this part of town, there are some convenient restaurants around. Right in front of Wat Pho you will see some, so it would be a good idea to stop and grab something before proceeding to the next visits.
On the other side of the river, there are two remarkable temples, one very famous, and the other one not so much popular. Take a public boat for 3 THB and cross to the other side of the river. The boat can be found beside a small park in front of the Grand Palace and not far from Wat Pho. It is easy to find. With this boat, you will reach Wat Arun, a temple with some nice gardens around. The main structure is covered with scaffolds since 2015 and it seems the works are taking some time to be finished.
From Wat Arun, you can reach to Wat Kalayanamit by boat or by land. This temple is not so famous, therefore most of the people you will see here are locals praying and doing their rituals, and only few tourists reach here. This temple has a beautiful and huge sitting Buddha inside. For having not so many people taking pictures around, for being conveniently located, and for this beautiful huge sitting Buddha, this is my personal favorite temple to visit, sit, and relax.
At some point one gets full of temples but empty of energies and needs to eat again. Nearby Sala Rattanakosin (near Wat Pho) restaurant provides good food with awesome views. If you want to impress somebody (or impress yourself), make sure that you call the restaurant in the morning to make a table reservation for dinner. Ask for the tables outside, the ones closer to the river. Sala Rattanakosin sits just across Wat Arun, and it has awesome views of this temple. At sunset time you can go to the restaurant´s rooftop and be delighted by the sunset views over the river. After your sunset cocktails, you can go down to your reserved table and enjoy dinner. I am sure you will like this place.
Kao San road
Done with the temples for the day, if you want to go for some party or few drinks after dinner, why not try Kao San Road tonight. You can go by boat from the same pier you took to go to Wat Arun, or by Uber from your hotel. Kao San Road is the prototypical place to be for tourists in shorts and flip-flops who want to get cheap drinks and have a lot of fun. While it is not my favorite place for going out, it definitely deserves some attention if you are in a big group with friends and want some uncomplicated (no dress code) fun. At Kao San Road there is some good clubbing too, not everything is drinking outdoors. The best place for dancing is called The Club, and in a good night has some of the best EDM and house music Bangkok can offer.
- If you have extra days to spend in Bangkok and its surroundings, you may want to check Sattahip, Koh Samae San and Koh Kham.
Day 2. Markets, parks, and rooftops.
The second day a break from the temples is advised or you will end up hating them like happened to me in Japan when I saw all the temples on the way to Kyoto. By the time I arrived to Kyoto, I had a temples-induced headache already.
Chatuchak market is a huge open-air dry market with different areas displaying a variety of products: furniture, clothes, accessories, souvenirs, and used books, among other things. On Sundays it can get very busy, with hundreds of locals and foreigners heading there for shopping. Take the BTS or the MRT in the morning and head to Mo Chit station. Unless you are allergic to public transportation I strongly recommend taking either of them instead of the car, since Chatuchak market is an area with a lot of traffic.
For lunch time you can either eat at the market in one of the few restaurants or take the BTS and go to Siam station –actually, the next destination for the day- and have lunch at Siam Paragon mall food court. The food court is on the basement level. This is one of my favorite food courts in Bangkok malls. Food courts can be found in most malls and offer many Thai food options at a good price. The quality, however, differs a lot from one mall to another. In my opinion, Siam Paragon has the best food court balancing quality and price. The system is very easy: you exchange your money for a prepaid card at one of the cashier counters and then you use this one to pay at the food shops; once you have finished eating return the card to the cashier and you will get back any remaining credit that was on it.
Siam Paragon is one of the most popular malls in Bangkok. It is a high-end mall with a big department store and many brand shops. It is conveniently located at the Siam BTS station, and it is by itself the core of an extensive area in Bangkok with many other malls (Siam Center, Siam Discovery, Siam Square, MBK…). One day, surely not too long from now, one will be able to cross all Bangkok without leaving the malls. Siam Paragon is, therefore, good for shopping (the biggest/best bookstore for English language books is also there), for lunch, or for practice some sociological research.
When you are done with malls and shopping take again the BTS at Siam and go to Sala Daeng station. At Sala Daeng, find the way to Lumpini Park on the exit signals. This one of my favorite parks in Bangkok since there are no many big parks like this near the city center.Many locals like to go there for jogging, for joining one of the Zumba classes offered for free, or for free concerts during the summer time. It has some public fitness areas, ponds and boats you can rent, and some wonderful sunset views if you find the right spot.
At sunset time, you can take a quick taxi or Uber ride (or even walk) to the Bayan Tree hotel if you fancy rooftops. One of my favorite rooftops can be found at this hotel and is called Moon bar. Bayan tree´s rooftop bar offers great 360 views where you can see all of Bangkok, including Lumpini Park, the Cho Phraya River, far away areas of the city…
However, Moon Bar also has an expensive drinks menu. Be aware that the starting price will be some 350 THB for a coffee, and that you will be requested to wear pants and shoes to be allowed inside if you are a man (talk about gender equality in rooftops). The venue is posh ma non troppo, one can go there in jeans and will be alright as long as he wears shoes or sneakers. For an emergency, the staff from Moon bar will give shoes for you to borrow if you came in flip-flops or sandals. This rooftop is definitely less crowded than famous Lebua, which became too popular “thanks” to The Hangover 2 movie. Since Moon bar is less touristy, I like it much more.
The space on this rooftop, however, is small, and you might get “WinZip-ed” or “Winrar-ed” very quickly, so be sure to go no later than 5:30 pm (opening time). Or plan B…
…take back the BTS or Uber and go to Marriot hotel a hundred meters from BTS Thong lo. Bigger, less crowded, more reasonably priced and yet with 360 views, Octave rooftop bar has become more and more popular for tourists and foreigners, but of a different crowd type –aka nicer- than those you would find at Lebua. They also open doors at 5:30 pm and they allow people for sunset in shorts and flip-flops, which makes a lot of sense when the temperature is average of 32C in Bangkok. Octurave usually gets crowded by 8-9pm.
Ratchada train night market
For the last night in Bangkok, go to the Thailand Cultural Center MRT station and get into the nearby night market. This market is a truly Bangkok experience: shopping, food, live music and hundreds of locals. Between 7pm and 10pm is the best time to go there.
Sukhumvit (soi 11)
After a good dinner, is time to check Soi 11 on Sukhumvit road. This alley (soi) is a perennial favorite for expats living in Bangkok. It has some restaurants –although not many worth mentioning- and many clubs, some of them open until 5 am. The more popular place to go is Oskar, a rather snobbish bar with some “beautiful people” and wannabes around. They have good music and good drinks and while is not the best place for dinner or conversation people keep going there and making it a city´s favorite. People-watching and the music would be my reason to drop by. The place gets busy by 10pm-12pm.
After Oskar, just cross the road and check Levels, a very popular club that offers live music at the beginning of the night and then changes the band for a DJ. Levels also has a terrace with a different kind of music, which is nice for a break or a smoke. Around 2 am, the crowd at Levels starts walking to nearby Climax disco, found in the basement of the Ambassador hotel, or to Sugar (a hip hop music venue).
There are many options to party after 2 am in Bangkok, but these two have the advantage that they will not need getting a cab. However, notice that some of the clubs you can go at that time will pay for your taxi ride so you don´t have to pay anything at all to the driver. One of these, a popular one, is Mixx club, which is located at the basement level of the Intercontinental hotel, in the Central World area.
Bangkok nightlife offers a lot more than most of the cities I have been before, and the clubs mentioned above represent only a few fraction, although the more popular for tourists as I have seen over time. The list of clubs can be unending: RCA, Demo, Funky villa, Mustache…
These were a lot of things to do in t
P.S.: Since you are in Bangkok, you might want to explore nearby Sattahip, Koh Samae San and Koh Kham.