Most people traveling through Bangkok stay for 1-3 days. Many people don’t even stay that long and just skip over Bangkok all together (though we have no idea why and think this is a huge mistake!). Those that do spend a little time here tend to follow a similar itinerary. In our opinion, Bangkok is one of the best and most interesting cities in the world and one that should not be missed. We definitely agree that whenever visiting any city, you should check out the most touristy and popular sights and activities (they’re popular for a reason, right?) but Bangkok has a ton to offer, so we’ve tried to include a little bit of everything in our itinerary. If you only have one day and night here, we’d say spend the day exploring Siam and then head to Khaosan Road and Chinatown in the afternoon/evening. Hopefully though, you will give yourself a bit more time to explore one of our favorite cities in the world. If you like to get a little bit off the tourist track/beaten path, check out our post with other Bangkok activities HERE. With two or three days in Bangkok, however, we recommend the following.
Day 1: Bangkok Temple Tour/Khaosan Rd/Chinatown
You can’t visit Bangkok and not take a day to see the famous temples that this city is known for. Don’t forget that you must cover your shoulders and knees and you also need to wear closed-toe shoes. Get an early start (around 9am) and take a taxi to The Grand Palace, the massive temple complex that houses the Emerald Buddha (the buddha actually reminds me a little of the Mona Lisa. Very famous, but when you see it in person, a bit disappointing. The temple complex, on the other hand, is pretty spectacular). The entry fee is 500 baht. Make sure you buy your tickets from the ticket booth inside the complex. Sometimes, people outside will try to scam you by telling you that the temple is closed but they can get you in the back entrance, but for a hefty fee of course.
After an hour or two at the Grand Palace, start the walk to Wat Pho (the reclining Buddha). This is my favorite of the three wats. On your way, you will pass a big food market, so if you’re hungry, you can stop for a big plate of Pad Thai (or pretty much whatever else you’re in the mood for). You should also grab a coffee shake/frappe whenever you see one. They’re pretty much our savoir on a hot day. And, don’t worry about drinking/eating the ice. It’s always fine, you won’t get sick from it, we promise (just don’t drink tap water).
The entrance fee for Wat Pho is 100 baht and your ticket comes with a free bottle of water. This temple should take you around an hour to get through. Make sure to check out the famous massage school housed inside the grounds (but there’s a massage scheduled for later, so maybe don’t stop for one just yet).
From Wat Pho, walk to the Chao Phraya River and take a short boat ride across to the other side (4 baht each way) to Wat Arun. This wat will only set you back 50 baht. They occasionally do construction on Wat Arun, so be sure to check the internet beforehand. Be ready to climb lots of stairs for a great view of the city from the top of Wat Arun. Once you’re done exploring, you can head back across the river and take a local boat North up the Chao Phraya river and get off near Khaosan Road (just ask the person collecting money what stop it is). From there, it’s about a 10-15 minute walk to Khaosan Road.
Khaosan Road is our favorite street in Bangkok and maybe even the world. It is also one of the most international streets in the world (meaning that at any given time, there are more different nationalities on this street than probably any other in the world). Spend some time walking up and down the street to shop at all of the touristy stalls, stop for 200 baht buckets of whisky/vodka and RedBull/Coke (or 2, or 3, or 4) at one of the many outdoor restaurants/bars, treat yourself to a 30-minute massage for 120 baht ($4) (our personal favorite spot and the biggest shop in town is Charlie’s), and if you’re really adventurous, you can even grab a scorpion as a snack (they’re surprisingly pretty good). This is a great street to go out for the night/party on, so if that’s on your agenda, grab dinner (there’s a great food street a couple of streets over or you can just grab a pad Thai from one of the many vendors on KSR) and then get a few more buckets to start your night.
If a couple of hours on this bustling street is enough for you, hop in a tuk tuk to Chinatown’s Yarowat Road (should be around 100 baht), another very famous street. Seeing Chinatown at night is definitely a must-do, and you’ll have your pick of tons and tons of great food options. You can eat in a restaurant, but instead, we recommend trying the street food. There’s tons of it and we promise it’s safe. Whether you decide to eat in a restaurant or on the street, we recommend trying a whole Peking duck. They’re amazing.
If after dinner, you still have some energy left, you can head to Bangkok’s famous club area, RCA (Royal City Avenue). You’ll pay about 300 baht for entrance (but they’ll give you tickets to exchange inside for a couple of drinks – or if there’s 4 of you, you can exchange them for a table and bottle for 1200 baht ). This area doesn’t really get crowded until around 11, but once it does, it has some of the best clubs in the city. Route 66 is the most popular/famous.
Day 2: The Famous Malls of Siam/Sukhumvit Tour
Before moving to Bangkok, we heard a few people talking about the amazing malls here. Honestly, we thought they were crazy. Neither of us had ever been mall people and we couldn’t understand why anyone would want to spend any part of their vacation hanging out in a shopping mall. And then, we arrived in Thailand and we understood.
Bangkok has some of the biggest and fanciest malls that we’ve ever seen. They have everything from designer shopping to great food (surprisingly, a lot of which is the same price as the food on the street), huge movie theaters, and most importantly, aircon blasting all the time. The best thing about the malls though is the fact that right across the street, you can find the same clothes, food, and even movie theaters for a fraction of the price. The Siam malls are the best example of the big contradiction that is Bangkok. You can get the fanciest of the fancy, and also the exact opposite, all depending on what you’re looking for.
Start Day Two by exploring Siam. Start out at Central World, the biggest of all the malls. Make sure you check it out from the outside to get an idea of just how massive this place is. Next, head to Siam Paragon, the fanciest (and our favorite) of the malls. They have designer clothing, luxury cars, 4D movies (we had never heard of them either), and more. And, an amazing food court, which is where we recommend you head for lunch. Make sure you check out all of the options before deciding on one.
After spending some time in Siam Paragon, you can walk through Siam Center (the mall that connects Siam Paragon to Siam Discovery – what is known as the “teenager’s mall). There’s a restaurant in Siam Center (Mr. Jones Orphanage) that serves every kind of cake and milkshake that you could possibly imagine. And, at any given time, there are people lined up around the corner to try it. I doubt you’ll need a snack after your lunch at Siam Paragon, but it’s still worth checking out. In our opinion, you can skip Siam Discovery. We have no idea why it’s called the Teenager’s mall, but in any case, this is our least favorite of all of them.
Last, head to MBK, which feels more like a big market than a mall. Head to the 5th floor (I think) to see the biggest and cheapest selection of electronics that you’ve ever seen. Everything here is either used or a knock off, so if you’re in the market for some kind of tablet/cell phone, etc., you will be in heaven.
For your second night in Bangkok, we’re going to take you on a tour of Sukhumvit. Depending on what you’re in the mood for, you can head to just some or all of these areas. And, depending on what you want to eat for the night, if you want to go out, etc. you can switch around the order of them. All of the streets I’m mentioning are streets off of the main Sukhumvit Road. Soi Arab/Soi 4 are the closest streets to Siam and as you head up to Soi 55 (Tonglor), you get further from the city. It’s only a couple miles between the two though, so you can definitely walk it, or just take the train that runs up/down Sukhumvit Road, or probably easiest, just hop in a cab or tuk tuk.
Soi Arab/Soi 4 (BTS NANA): Soi Arab (aka Soi 3) is a big street filled with tons of Mediterranean restaurants. And, the best part is at night, they all put tables outside and you can see tons of people relaxing, drinking, and smoking shishas/hookahs. Right across the street is Soi 4, which is a street filled with sport’s bars, Western food, and most importantly the famous Thai Go-Go bars with girls (or lady boys) lined up along the street welcoming you in for a show.
Soi 11 (BTS NANA): This is an awesome street to go for a drink or even to go out for the night. There are some rooftop bars toward the end of the street and some cheaper happy hour bars closer to Sukhumvit Road, including a famous bar called Cheap Charlie’s. It opens at around 8 or 9pm and is known to be a good pre-gaming bar. It has no walls or roof, just a bar and tables. As you head further down the street, you’ll find some food trucks, local Thai food, clubs and nice Western restaurants, so there’s a lot of options depending on where you want your night to take you.
Soi Cowboy (BTS ASOKE): A few blocks up Sukhumvit Road is Soi Cowboy (off of Asoke Road). This is maybe the most famous go-go bar street in Bangkok. When the sun goes down, the street lights come on and the girls (and lady boys) come out welcoming you in for a show. Ping Pong shows (sex shows) are a little harder to find here, but ask around and you will. This is a very fun place to check out. There are lots of happy hour deals for cheap drinks as well.
Soi 55/Tonglor (BTS THONG LOR): The last stop on the Sukhumvit tour is Soi 55, which is known to as Bangkok’s Golden Mile for restaurants. It is one street filled with tons of trendy, fancy, Western restaurants, similar to those that you would find in Chicago or New York. You can take a cab here right before the river on Soi 55 and then make your way back toward Sukhumvit Road if you want to check them all out. The latest hot spot at the time of writing (April 2016) is The Commons, a big market for fancy/trendy restaurants. In the bottom level there are about 10 restaurants who have stands and are selling everything from pizza to BBQ to Mexican to sandwiches to cheese platters to fancy pastries and more. The best part is that you can order from as many different stands as you want and sit anywhere you want. If you want to get a taste of the fancier side of Bangkok (or are in the mood for a good Western meal) this is a great spot (though food is only served until around 9pm). If you want something more local, closer to Sukhumvit Road there’s also a little hole in the wall Pad Thai restaurant that claims to have the 5th best pad thai in the world (though we’re not quite sure where the claim comes from)! The Thonglor area also has some great clubs (DEMO and Funky Villa off Thonglor soi 10).
If you cross Sukhumvit Road, you will find yourself at Soi 38. This is the remains of what used to be one of the most famous streets for street food. There are still some great Thai food options there, though it’s only a fraction of what it used to be.
Day 3: Chatuchak Weekend Market (if you’re in Bangkok on the weekend)/Silom
If you happen to be in Bangkok on the weekend, you should definitely check out the Chatuchak weekend market. It’s the biggest market in Asia (or maybe in the world). Take the BTS (Sukhumvit line) all the way to Mo Chit, which is the last stop. Plan to leave at around 9am and arrive at 10ish. You will want to get there early because the afternoon is always very crowded and very hot.
The JJ Market (this is the nickname) is huge and you can pretty much find anything and everything there that you could possibly imagine from clothes to DVDs to home goods to pets and more. Dave and I always like to make our way all the way around the perimeter before tackling the rows and rows of shops on the inside (that will make more sense once you get there).
All the way in the back is the food area. You can either grab lunch from one of the many food stalls, or have a sit-down meal right in the middle of the stalls. All of the “restaurants” are pretty similar and all good. After lunch, spend a few more hours exploring. We usually leave by around 2 or 3pm. On your way out of the market, there is a really nice park on the way back to the BTS. Definitely check it out and spend a few minutes relaxing after your crazy shopping morning. Or, if you still want a little more shopping or eating, check our Or Tor Kor market, about a 5 minute walk from Chatuchak. They sell mostly produce, but there’s also a great area to try tons of Thai dishes for lunch. The food here is a little more authentic than what is at the weekend market.
After JJ, you’ll probably want to spend a few hours relaxing at your hotel. If you have one more night in Bangkok, head to Silom for the evening. Start your night at the Sirrocco hotel’s Sky Bar. It is the tallest open-air restaurant in the world and also where one of the scenes was filmed for The Hangover II. Cocktails are expensive (around $20 per drink), but it’s worth it for the spectacular view (you can share a cocktail if you want). Remember, this is one of the only places in Bangkok with a dress code. No shorts or sandals for men and no flip flops for women.
After Sky Bar, if you’re not all shopped out, you can check out the famous Patpong night market, right down the street. It’s a bit seedy, but they sell tons of touristy items and it’s fun to check out. Otherwise, you can head to dinner at one of the many restaurants along Silom Road. If you want to get really fancy, you can check out Nahm (though I imagine you’ll need a reservation beforehand), which is right in the area. It’s the only Michelin starred restaurant in Thailand, and we’ve heard it’s amazing, though we have yet to try it.
There are also some great Western restaurants and lots of clubs in the Silom area, so depending on what you’re in the mood for, you can plan your night accordingly.
Foods We Love (the links are all pictures):
- Som Tam (Papaya Salad): A spicy salad made from unripe shredded papaya served with tomatoes, green beans, peanuts, and sometimes dried shrimp.
- Pad See Ew: Flat/fat noodles stir fried with soy sauce, broccoli, egg, and meat – we like chicken.
- Panang Curry: A mild red curry with peanuts mashed into it. We like it with beef and will usually order it with a white rice.
- Morning Glory: We think this is some kind of spinach or broccoli or maybe a mix of both. All we really know is that it’s amazing and comes either in a sauce or fried. Both are great. The Thai name for it is Pak Boon.
- Yom Plah Dough Fu: Again, this dish is a little hard to describe, but it’s little pieces of fried catfish. It doesn’t taste or look like fish at all, but trust us, it is amazing. It comes with this great sauce that you pour on top and usually is served over julianned cucumbers and with onions on the side.
- Grilled Pork Neck (called Kor Moo Yang in Thai): Grilled pieces of sliced pork neck, usually served over rice. Sometimes a little fatty though, so watch out for that.
- Tom Yum Kung: A very spicy seafood soup. We love this and order it all the time, usually with shrimp.
- Jim Joom: A soup that serves 2 or more. It comes in a clay pot and they bring out uncooked veggies and your choice of meat or seafood (or both). You cook the veggies and meat/seafood in the broth.
- Sukiyaki: Very thin glass noodles that can either be served dry or with broth (we prefer the broth version. It’s not spicy at all and is cooked with veggies and either meat or seafood.
- Khao Soi: The only place we’ve been able to find this soup is in Chiang Mai, but it’s been one of our favorite dishes we’ve had in Thailand. It’s a peanut-y curry noodle soup served with your choice of meat. It is amazing, but good luck finding it anywhere other than CM. If you do, please tell us where!
- Whole Grilled Fish: You will see these all over the place. They are huge fish being roasted/grilled on big BBQs. They are served whole and seasoned with salt covering the skin. There are usually cooked with a bundle of lemongrass and other herbs inside of them to add to the flavor.
- Sausage Salad: This is something we get occasionally. It’s light and usually pretty spicy. Comes with veggies and lots of different types of sausages.
- Larb: Minced pork cooked with Thai basil and onions. It’s usually served with rice. It’s not something that we get often, but it’s nice to try.