This is an article in the 36 Hours In… series. To find more in the series, head here.
Bangkok, Thailand. That hot, sticky, smelly, chaotic city. You’ll either love it or hate it.
For many travellers, Bangkok is the first stop on a trip around Southeast Asia, and what an introduction to the region it is.
With amazing street food, ornate temples, fascinating markets, and world-class shopping, you won’t be disappointed – and you’ll never run out of things to do!
So without further ado, here’s our itinerary to keep you busy in Bangkok for 36 hours!
Most backpackers stay in and around Khao San Road, in the Banglamphu district. It’s not what you’d call authentic Thailand (at all) but it’s a fun place to hang out and there is heaps of cheap accommodation nearby.
On your first evening, embrace the chaos of Khao San Road. Buy a cheap 30B Pad Thai and a Singha beer and wander the streets. Get a foot massage on the footpath and watch the scores of people pass you by. Buy some cheap singlets and knock-off Ray Bans. You’re in Bangkok!
Note: the Khao San Road area is a pain in the arse to get to from Suvarnabhumi Airport, as it’s not close to any Skytrain stations. The easiest way to get from Suvarnabhumi is to catch the Skytrain to Phaya Thai station, then catch a taxi from there to KSR. From Don Mueang Airport, the easiest way to KSR is by taxi.
Bangkok is a seriously hot and sticky place so you’ll want to make the most of the more comfortable morning temperatures! Head to Rambuttri Road (the street that runs parallel to Khao San Road) where there are plenty of places to find great smoothies and the ubiquitous banana pancakes.
No visit to Bangkok would be complete without a visit to the Grand Palace, which includes Wat Phra Kaew, Thailand’s most sacred temple. The Grand Palace complex opens at 8.30 a.m. and closes at 3.30 p.m. daily, and it’s best enjoyed earlier in the day when there are fewer crowds. The glittering temples are truly spectacular and hours can be spent wandering around the huge complex.
The entry fee is a steep 500B but if there’s one place you pay to enter in Bangkok, this should be the one. Be aware that there are strict clothing rules – no shoulders or knees showing – we made the mistake of not doing research and had to wear awful ugly rented clothes!
After your visit to the Grand Palace, we recommend heading down to Chinatown and the surrounding area. You can catch the express boat service down the Chao Phraya River from near the Grand Palace (Tha Tien pier) to Pak Khlong Talat pier. The cost of the ferry is around 18B and takes about 10 minutes.
If you’re lucky you’ll catch the end of the flower market (Pak Khlong Talat). The best time to visit is at night from around 8 p.m. but there are still some sellers around during the day. Head east and find the street markets around Sampeng Lane, a pedestrian-only street that is full of knick-knacks – handbags, medicines, plastic hair clips, soft toys, and pretty much anything imaginable. You may not find anything worth buying here but it’s fun to have a look around!
There are heaps of other markets to be found in the area and it’s well worth spending a few hours just getting lost! Take your camera – there are plenty of photo opportunities.
Your legs will be getting tired by now, and the markets all close down around 5 p.m. so your best bet is to get some dinner in Chinatown. The seafood in this area is fantastic. We recommend trying a restaurant on Soi Texas, one of the offshoots of Yaowarat Road – we found insanely good seafood tom yum soup and stir-fried vegetables! And it’s pretty damn cheap too, with our meal costing about $10 in total (including beer). Be aware that there is a law stating that street food vendors are not allowed to operate on Mondays.
If you’re in the mood for more drinks, head to a rooftop bar and see Bangkok from above. There are a number around the city, but our favourite is Above 11 in the Sukhumvit district. Above 11 (on top of the Fraser Suites hotel) is modelled on Central Park with fake trees and Astroturf (but it’s not tacky at all). Both the views and the Peruvian-Japanese food are incredible.
You’ve got to experience a ride in a tuk tuk at least once while in Bangkok! Yeah, it’s overpriced, but it’s so much fun!
Head towards the river from Khao San Road and stop at any of the major tourist piers, and you’ll see many colourful longtail boats bobbing around waiting for you to hire them. Negotiate a trip around the khlongs (canals) of Thonburi which will set you back around 400B per hour for the boat (split it between multiple travellers to keep the cost down!).
Seeing life on the waterways is fascinating, and it feels like you’ve stepped back in time and that you’re miles away from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok. See the stilt houses that the canal people have lived in for many generations, and wonder at their lifestyle on water.
To finish off your weekend in Bangkok, get your retail therapy on in the area around Siam Square, Bangkok’s shopping mecca. MBK is worth a look for knock-off t-shirts and underwear, as well as cheap electronics.
Stepping into the fancy malls of Siam Paragon and Central World feels like you’re in the US or Europe, with many of the same stores you would find in those parts of the world.
We hope you’ve enjoyed your time in one of our favourite cities. It’s frenetic but not so hard to find calm oases, and you’ll leave wanting more of that tom yum soup – we promise you!
Take a look at this other great post about Bangkok by our blogging friends Karolina & Patryk!
What are your favourite things to do in Bangkok? Have we covered them all? Leave your comments below!