Best of Bangkok
You’d need a month to see every important sight, sample all the great food, and explore each of Bangkok’s neighborhoods, and a year to really get to know the city. But you can get a good sense of the capital and hit the highlights in just five days—while also getting into some less-touristed neighborhoods to experience life in Bangkok.
For most of this itinerary you can get around by using the river ferry system; otherwise you can take a taxi. If possible, arrange your schedule so you can visit the National Museum on a Wednesday or Thursday, when docent-led tours in English are offered in the morning; and, if you like shopping, keep a Saturday or Sunday free to visit the Chatuchak Weekend Market.
Have a quick breakfast in your hotel, then head straight to Central pier. Grab a ferry on the Chao Phraya headed north and get off at Chang pier. Wander the surrounding streets for a bit before entering the Grand Palace compound. Take your time looking at the different buildings and spend some quiet time at Wat Phra Kaew, home to the Emerald Buddha.
For lunch, hop into an air-conditioned taxi and head over to Nakhon Chai Si Road in Dusit for a meal in one of the local restaurants that line the road. After lunch, you might want to try an iced coffee or iced tea from one of the many street vendors.
Once you’re refreshed, hail a taxi or a tuk tuk to the Vimanmek Teak Mansion (your ticket to the Grand Palace will give you free admission). After taking the mandatory tour, spend some time walking the grounds and poke your head into the Royal Elephant Museum for a few minutes. Afterwards, go back to your hotel to rest before getting ready for dinner.
For dinner at one of the restaurants along the riverside, make your way to the river and take the ferry; the view of the buildings and temples at sunset is lovely. A great choice for dinner is The Deck at the Arun Residence, with a view of Wat Arun.
If you don’t feel like calling it a night just yet, head over to Tuk-Su-Ra in the Old City to see where all the cool Thai kids are hanging out. If you still haven’t had your fill after that, walk over to the Khao San Road neighborhood to have another drink, listen to some live music, and witness the spectacle of Thailand’s infamous backpacker ghetto.
Start by taking a ferry to Chang pier. When you get off the boat, head to The National Museum. If it’s Wednesday or Thursday, get there before 9:30 so you can take the free English-language tour. After a couple of hours at the museum, make your way to Wat Pho, either on foot or by tuk tuk. After spending some time meditating with the giant reclining Buddha, walk over to the Tha Tien pier and take a cross-river ferry to Wat Arun.
Depending on the time and your appetite, have lunch before or after visiting the temple—the streets surrounding the temple are full of food vendors. After you’ve finished touring Wat Arun and eaten lunch, either head back to your hotel to relax for a couple of hours or stop into one of Bangkok’s many excellent spas or massage parlors for an invigorating Thai massage.
In the late afternoon, take the Skytrain to Siam Square for a little shopping. If you can bear another museum, head over to the Jim Thompson House and Museum, one stop away at National Stadium.
Start the day by touring either the Khao San Road area, one of Asia’s most famous backpacker neighborhoods, or some of the Old City’s other temples, including Wat Saket and Wat Sutat. Once the wats have closed up and the sun starts to set, head for Phayap pier (make sure to set out before the boats stop running, around 7 p.m.).
When you get off the boat, head straight down the street to the large intersection, where you’ll enter Si Yan, one of the best food neighborhoods in the city. Wander around and select your dinner from the dozens of vendors selling everything from tom yam kung (spicy, aromatic soup with shrimp) to namtok mu (seasoned, grilled pork salad).
Take the river ferry to Surawong pier in Chinatown. When you get off the boat, look for one of the vendors selling jok, a rice porridge traditionally eaten for breakfast. (Make sure to get a side order of crispy crullers to go with it.) After you’ve had your fill, head out along Surawong Road and enter the large Sampeng Lane Covered Market. Wind your way slowly through the tunnel-like market selling everything from hair clips and pocketbooks to steamed buns and produce.
When you emerge back into the sunshine, board another ferry and head for Wat Mahathat. You won’t be spending much time inside the temple; instead wander around the Amulet Market. Walk toward Thammasat University for a quick cha yen (iced tea) at one of the many small cafés in the area.
In the evening, take a taxi to the Khlong Toei Port and wind your way toward the pier, where you’ll buy a ticket to cross the river—on a small longtail boat—to Bang Krabue, a small neighborhood on stilts, elevated above the Chao Phraya. Walk through to the street and grab a taxi for one of the river restaurants in Phra Pradaeng. Cross the river back to Khlong Toei under moonlight.
If it’s a Saturday or Sunday, take the Skytrain to Mo Chit or subway to Kamphaeng Phet to reach Chatuchak Weekend Market. Grab breakfast on the go from one of the many vendors selling everything from fruit shakes to waffles, then spend a couple of hours wandering around one of the largest outdoor markets in the world. After that, head to the Bangkokian Museum in Silom to see what life was like in the middle of the 20th century.
For your final night in Bangkok, head to Sky Bar at Sirocco at the top of State Tower, where you can enjoy a cocktail with a stunning view of the city.
© Suzanne Nam from Moon Bangkok, 5th Edition