Bangkok is Thailand’s showcase and there’s more to see than you might imagine. You can see the best bits in one long day, but to appreciate it properly three days is far more sensible. From the grandeur of the Grand Palace, to the heady heights of Sukhumvit Road, there is something for everyone.
Before jetlag sets in, get up early on your first day in Bangkok and head to the Chao Phraya River – early meaning before dawn – for a day of visits to the major temple complexes that grace the river’s banks. Start with a visit to Wat Arun, the Temple of the Dawn, by taking a long-tail boat across the river at sunrise – the best time to see this striking monument. Next, cross back to the East bank to Wat Pho, home of the enormous Reclining Buddha image and also the most well-known traditional massage school in the country. This is a great place to treat yourself to a Thai massage at a price you can’t beat. All three of these major sites are within proximity to each other. The Grand Palace, once the official residence of the monarch, is a splendid example of classic royal Thai architecture and is situated adjacent to Wat Phra Kaew; the temple housing the famous Emerald Buddha image and Thailand’s number one tourist attraction. The palace’s ceremonial halls are furnished with exquisite Thai and European pieces, and the area surrounding the palace and the temple is ornately decorated in traditional Thai style. Most visitors get to marvel at the ornately decorated Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha).
From the Grand Palace, it’s a short tuk tuk ride to Wat Suthat, with its curious Giant Swing, and temple buildings. Adjacent is the Golden Mount, an elevated pagoda built on the ruined rubbled of a previous one, making it the highest point in the historic district – the views from the top are marvellous. If you still have some energy left tuk tuk over to the all teak Vinmanmek Palace in the leafy nearby suburb of Dusit. It’s a regal display of royal living during the Rama V era, and it sits besides one of his European Renaissance fancies – the Abhisek Throne Hall.
Finishing up, you’re not far away from the famous Khao San Road; long a magnet for backpackers and now drawing tourists of all ages and budgets, including young Thais. Your first evening can be well spent at one of the many popular pubs or restaurants here.
On your second day, you might consider taking a tour of a few highlights just outside the city. One such tour will take you to a floating market on the outskirts of Bangkok, where vendors on boats ply their produce and merchandise along canals. Not that long ago, the city had few roads and was known as the ’Venice of the East’ and canals were the main thoroughfares. Your tour will depart early because the markets open before dawn and close by mid-morning.
It should be noted, however, that the floating market is a very popular and touristy option and you might want to opt for a more unique day trip. One well kept secret is the jungle canopy tour offered by Flight of the Gibbon, in the Chompoo Widlife sanctuary, which is a thrilling zipline adventure among giant trees in elevated forests, a couple of hours southeast of Bangkok.
Other daytrip tours for families to get out of Bangkok include visits to elephant and crocodile farms in areas immediately surrounding Bangkok, or the Ancient City, where you can see replicas of all the country’s major temples and monuments in one location. The latter is one of the city’s best kept secrets and a great way to see all of Thailand’s best sites in a single day. It’s a 45-minute drive from the city (avoiding rush hour) and you can occupy hours here.
If you have any energy left, you’ll want to sample some of Bangkok’s famous nightlife. Patpong is the most touristy and famous, but the punters head for Nana Plaza on Sukhumvit Road.
Your last day in the capital is the perfect time to take in more of the city’s sights, most of which can be reached by the Skytrain (the overhead monorail system). A ride on the Skytrain will give you a better perspective of the city than you’ll get from street level, although being on the street is the only way to truly appreciate the unique atmosphere of Bangkok.
Shopping is a highlight of Bangkok and a good first stop is the Sukhumvit Road area, with Chitlom Station a convenient place for having a look around Gaysorn Plaza, if you’re interested in designer boutiques. At Nayara Phand, a government emporium, you’ll find high-quality Thai handicrafts, and at Central World, a giant shopping centre, cinemas and an ice-skating rink. One stop west is Siam Square, where you can browse through a maze of small, trendy shops or shop for designer goods or even a new Ferrari at Siam Paragon, Bangkok’s latest in over-the-top shopping. Siam Paragon also boasts an aquarium and a huge selection of eateries.
Jim Thompson house, a beautiful and interesting museum featuring Thai furnishings, arts and textiles, is accessible from the last station on the west-bound Skytrain route, and only one stop from Siam Square. From Siam Square, you can also head in a southerly direction and take in great views of the Bangkok Turf Club and Lumpini Park along the way. A stop at Silom Station isn’t far from Lumpini Park, and also one of Bangkok’s infamous red-light districts, known as Patpong.
Continuing on the same line, the last stop is Saphan Taksin, where you’ll be close to two of the city’s finest hotels, the Shangri-La and the world-famous Oriental Hotel – and by the piers where you can catch a river taxi to do even more exploring.
Although it’s not directly accessible by train, Chinatown is well worth visiting if you have some time left over. This colourful, high-energy area is loaded with authentic markets and great food. You can get here by river taxi or tuk tuk – three-wheeled taxis that are popular among tourists in Bangkok. Alternatively, an afternoon browsing the exemplary National Museum will satisfy culture buffs.