The Hypothetically Perfect Day in Bangkok
You might be scratching your head at my title. Why the “hypothetically perfect”? It’s because Bangkok has a way of screwing up even the best planned day.
A well-intentioned tourist might have a full day itinerary planned out. But between the unrelenting heat and humidity, the crowds you’ll encounter at the tourist hotspots, the touts and scammers, the traffic and time spent getting around, and the pollution and noise, plans oftentimes get ditched mid-afternoon. People go back to their hotel room, take a shower, burn their clothes and spend the rest of the day by the pool or hotel bar (I’ve been to Bangkok 6 times now. I’ve had days where I’ve done exactly the above). Bangkok is not the easiest place to visit. But it can be one of the most exciting and stimulating cities in the world if you do it right.
So how to get the best out of Bangkok?
I reached out to a couple of travel bloggers who live in Bangkok for this post and asked them for their thoughts on the “perfect day” in Bangkok.
I received two completely different itineraries.
Ric from Global Gaz
Ric’s itinerary is for someone who’s never been to Bangkok and has 1 day to see all the best that the city has to offer. It includes the top tourist highlights, great food, and some unique Bangkok experiences. It’s a comfortable, up-market itinerary.
[I had my own itinerary that I wanted to include in this post but it was so similar to Ric’s that I’m not including it. Instead I’ll just add a few notes to his recommendations].
– wake up
– eat some mango and sticky rice (almost anywhere).
– get a massage (almost anywhere. You’ll pay about 300 Baht for 60 minutes).
– Lunch: go for the incredible buffet at the Sofitel Sukhumvit. Note: Take the BTS (ie. Skytrain) and get off at Nana. It’s scenic, comfortable, and the best way to get around the city. Get the Eatigo app and you can get this meal for 550 Baht/person.
– Visit the grandest temple in Thailand: Wat Phra Kaew (known simply as the “Grand Palace”). You can easily spend 2-3 hours here. Note: To get here after your buffet lunch you’ll have to take the Skytrain to Saphan Taksin and from there take a river ferry down the river to Tha Chang (pier No 9). The river ferry is another must-do experience.
– Go to the river and watch sunset fall behind Wat Arun. The Deck at Arun Residence is a good place for drinks while looking at the views over the river.
– Dinner: go to Thip Samai for the best Pad thai in Bangkok (and it’ll only cost you 60 Baht). Note: It’s about 2km from the river – if you haven’t taken a Tuk Tuk yet this is a great opportunity to do so.
– Backtrack to the river and visit Wat Pho which is lit up beautifully at night.
– Take a Grab (they’ve just bought out Uber in SE Asia) and go to the Lebua Hotel for some of the best rooftop views of Bangkok. I only have one drink here since the prices are so expensive, but I look at it as a cover charge for the amazing view. Hangover 2 was filmed here.
See Ric’s post featuring Bangkok at Night.
Dave from Dave’s Travel Corner
Dave’s itinerary is authentic, eclectic, and is a hybrid of both off-the-beaten-path and luxury experiences. It’s for people who’ve previously been to Bangkok and know their way around. I’ve been to Bangkok 6 times and haven’t heard of some of the things listed below. I’m going to follow this itinerary on my next visit.
– enjoy breakfast Thai style: street food, sweating next to a tiny canal near Victory Monument at Boat Noodle Alley. Some shops open at 9am, the best ones open at 10am. Often 5+ bowls is what you need to order to fill up. The bowls are tiny!
– find a calm space in the urban chaos, one of my favorites is the private estate: Prasart Museum & Gardens.
– visit one temple. A few of my favorites of the 70 or so I’ve visited to date in town, often focusing on the lesser visited temples are: Wat Khun Chan (Jan) Waramattaya, Wat Mangkon Kamalawat Temple, Wat Paknam Phasi Charoen, Wat Saket, Wat Prayurawongsawas Waraviharn, Wat Ratchanatdaram Worawihan (Loha Prasat)
– If for some reason you have extra time before a pre-dinner cruise, visit one of numerous Thai massage places and relax with a foot massage before your big evening starts.
– pre-dinner cruise. Check out Supinigga Cruise, leaves from Asiatique.
– Dinner – Eat Me, one of the top 10 meals I’ve ever had in my life. The restaurant is 20 years old.
– the night is young. Visit an eclectic bar with a dungeon like feel: Iron Fairies.
.– still have energy? Check out a rooftop bar with 360 degree views of the city skyline, I like the Attitude Bar (at the Avani Riverside) or, if more convenient, check out the Cielo Skybar & Restaurant and order a Passionfruit Caipirinha.
I’d like to thank Ric and Dave for their excellent contributions to this post
Related: Songkran in Pattaya. And on actually enjoying Thailand’s “Sex Capital”
Bangkok is a huge city and where to stay is important because the biggest issue most people encounter is getting around.
After 6 visits – and staying in many different parts of the city – my conclusion is that a short term stay in Bangkok should be: a) close to the river, b) close to a BTS station. That’s because the most reliable means of transport are the Skytrain and the ferries along the river. It’s also where most of Bangkok’s highlights are. Based on the above, I now try to book a hotel close to a BTS station and within 3-4 stops of Saphan Taksin (the main ferry pier).
A few favorites of ours:
The Ibis Riverside Hotel (where we stayed on this visit)
Le Siam Hotel (used to be known as the Swiss Lodge Hotel when we were there a few years ago)
But there are many other hotels within the area I’ve indicated. My strongest recommendation is that you pay close attention to the location of a hotel before booking it (and avoid the Khao San Road area).
Another very strong recommendation I have: Get the Grab app for your phone. Taxis are notorious in Bangkok for not turning on their meter and screwing over tourists with extravagant fixed fares. Bangkok taxi drivers are (generally) a bunch of thugs. Instead book your transport with Grab, which is just like Uber (I still prefer Uber but they’re no longer in SE Asia).
This Tour will take you to the highlights of Ric’s itinerary (Grand Palace, Wat Pho, Wat Arun). These are the highlights of Bangkok and an organized tour will save you a lot of sweat. But there are lots of interesting tours you can take in Bangkok and they won’t cost you much.
Flying in/Getting around
Bangkok’s airport is Suvarnabhumi Airport (airport code: BKK), located 32km from the city center. We book plane, train, bus and taxi using 12Go Asia. Note: It’s also the best website for internal flights (Thailand has a good network of budget airlines).
What are your favorite (or worst) places or experiences in Bangkok?
Related: Bbqboy’s Ultimate Guide to the Best of Thailand (for adults)
Related: The Best of Ayutthaya in a Day
Related: Songkran in Pattaya. And on actually enjoying Thailand’s “Sex Capital”
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I’m enjoying your Thailand posts and seriously thinking about Bangkok as a starting point when I return to Southeast Asia – hopefully in a few months. I’m thinking Dave’s itinerary is more my speed and a gentler way to experience a city which looks like it could be overwhelming. Thanks for all the tips and, when I start planning my trip, I’ll be reaching out!
Ric’s itinerary is for the 1st time visitor and covers all the major “Must see” things. It’s what I would have recommended as well.
Dave’s is really original and I love it. Next time I’m in Bangkok I want to do it to the letter!
Ayutthaya Day Tour from Bangkok
Good articles. Keep it up. Thanks admin for sharing such a good information.
How are you guys going with the food? Do you eat too much with all the temptations?
Always love Thai food Tom! We could eat it all the time 🙂
Staying near Skytrain is a big plus or river for views. KSR is pretty bad backpacker ghetto. For a good night out – Saxophone Pub, Ratchada Soi 4 (Thai nightclub area), Siam Niramit dinner and show or a night at muay thai stadium.
I think Khao San Rd a lot better than it used to be – but it still attracts the backpacker bunch and isn’t really close to anything. I just don’t find it a very convenient location.
Ok, great tips – Lissette loves Jazz so it’s a place we would check out for sure. Thanks Tom.
This is an exceptional list which I will definitely save to reread when planning my trip to Bangkok. You’ve done an awesome job, Frank! I would love to have a ride in the river ferry when being there. The views are breathtaking!
Thanks Lydia. When you take the ferry, try to take the orange flag boats “The River Express”. They cost 15 bahts and do the same route as the Blue flag boats which charge 50 Baht (I think called the Tourist Express..)
I am planning to be back in Bangkok in January and will definitely check out some of the above suggestions. I have been to few of the places on the first itinerary. My husband and I stayed at the Riva Surya and loved being there by the river. Great post Frank and thank you for introducing these bloggers 🙂
January is a good time Gilda. We’ve been here Mar-May and it’s the hottest time of year.
I’ve been to Bangkok twice now… and wish I had your list then! so many food places included too. We fell for the ‘closed temple’ scam from a Tuk Tuk driver but had a great trip around the city with him anyway… refusing to go into the ‘suggested’ shops. Ended the day with a cranky driver…they really shouldn’t keep doing those scams!
Good for you Jane for turning the scam back on him! That’s kind of funny.
Wow, both Ric and Dave have amazing itineraries. I see Bangkok in my future ?
Thank you Paula 🙂
We stayed in one of the hotels along the river and were able to do most of these things right at the hotel. Great rooftop bar, great pool, amazing food and close to the to the temples vis river cruise. Took-tuks can be dangerous yeah..but their speed with the traffic is super slow. You should try the ones in Nigeria..that’s where the ones considered too bad for Thailand end up.. 🙂
We’ve ridden in a lot of Tuk Tuks, fortunately nothing has every happened. But there’s always the potential and they’re flimsy compared to most things on the road.
Didn’t know they had Tuk Tuks in Nigeria.
One of the interesting things are the DIFFERENT types of Tuk Tuks all over Thailand. In Sukhothai we road in some where the passengers are in the front (driver in the back), in Prachuap Khiri Khan was almost like a sidecar, in Nong Khai it looks like a souped up motorcycle. I’m sure there are many more variations.
The only thing I would recommend to never DO is take a tuk tuk anywhere! It’s dangerous (those machines are poorly maintained), it’s HOT and dirty and if you think the taxi drivers are shady and sketchy (BTW those would be the guys you ask for drugs if that’s your thing)
I’m a lower Suk kinda party guy. I like hanging out with friends in Thong Lo/ Ekkamai, going to RCA, Narz, Soi 11, etc…
My favorite central BKK hotel is Column Tower on Suk soi 16. 2 minute walk to Terminal 21, MRT and BTS, Soi Cowboy! Lots of great places to eat and drink all along Sukhumvit between Asoke and Ekkamai. My #2 favorite area to stay and play is Soi Rang Nam (BTS Victory Monument) lots of outstanding REAL Essarn Thai restaurants, fun little hole in the wall bars, the only Jaz club I know of in BKK “Saxophone” very fun place to take wife/gf/friends with great food and top-notch musicians!
Good tips Ron. For the places to stay I only meant for a tourist staying a few days – I know the Bangkok guys would agree with you about the lower Suk area for long stays (I know it’s where they live and prices/nightlife options better).
Tuk Tuks totally agree. But has to be done ONCE if coming to Thailand.
Ha! You’re a Soi Cowboy guy. Never been, but we/I have enjoyed Nana previously 🙂
Thanks for your other tips. Sound like you’ve spent a lot of time in Bangkok? Do you (or have you) lived here long term?
in my prior career as a PICU Nurse, I was always limited to about 30-45 days in BKK. I considered working as an RN in Thailand but aside from the HUGE language issues, the money was literally 1/5th what I was making as a contractor RN in California. But what I did do for about 10 years was work 2 or 3 thirteen week contracts per year stateside and between contracts, I would stay in BKK for a month or so. In a way being limited to about a month also saved my health, when I was in BKK it was party time every night and usually by the 2nd week I had to get out of town and hit an Island to recover from my holiday!
I know the Plaza very well! I have a very well to do oil industry friend that used to be a part owner of a gogo bar in the plaza. Talk about living like a rock star, I would go visit my mate at his bar we would do a full crawl of Nana! Hanging out with a popular bar owner from the Plaza was like going to Christmas dinner at all your best friends homes no matter what bar you went to! Needless to say I have too many friends from Nana 🙂
Nowadays I do mostly freelancing and day trading so I could potentially live anywhere and I’ve considered moving semi-perm to BKK? It would be pretty hard for me to exercise the discipline to not go out and play every night but the biggest hindrance for me is the oppressive HEAT of South East Asia. I’m ok with October to about February, but past March??? Plus I live in Orange County California, I surf, snowboard, and love the mountains, so it’s a tough sell to move anywhere else! But BKK is a close 2nd favorite (Tokyo #1) and I know my way around pretty good 🙂
That must have been fun Ron! I can imagine. Would have made Hugh Hefner jealous.
I agree with you on the heat. I personally could not live in Bangkok, even if I was single and horny. It’s our biggest issue with SEA. Sounds like you have a good life in California! I think you’re in one of the most ideal climates in the world…and you’re a ‘short’ flight from Bangkok whenever you get the urge.
Tokyo? Really? I’m surprised.
LAX to BKK (via either HKG or TPE) is at best 17 hours! There’s nothing ‘short’ about that flight, ever. Even the return is 12+ hours min.
Tokyo, OMG! It’s like Vegas on steroids (IMHO) I LOVE EVERYTHING about TOKYO! It’s expensive as hell but for one stop shopping for life experiences where else on Earth can you check ALL those boxes? In a lot of ways Japan is very similar to California, we both have the stunning coastlines, mountains with excellent snow, pristine forests. I’m not a Desert guy so nothing missed there! Japanese art and architectural style is my favorite (Parisian a close 2nd) and everything about Japanese woman is amazing to me 🙂
Aside from the Japanese position on controlled substances (party drugs like MDMA and coke) I can’t think a better holiday/travel destination? But then again I’m kinda weird so for what it’s worth 🙂
I just meant as a comparison. From the east coast North America it always meant a 6 hour flight to the West coast before even crossing the Pacific. Door to door meant travelling 30+ hours..Now we do it from Europe (about 12 hours) and we still complain 🙂
I find interesting your reasons for liking Japan. We don’t feel the same way but I understand all your reasons. I like that we can all love different places and all have our reasons for our favorites. If we all loved the exact same places the world would be a boring place.
BTW – people talk about Thai women. They just can’t compare to the Japanese. We as well were surprised by their overall beauty and style.
Thanks for another great comment Ron.
Great finally meeting you guys in BKK. And thanks for including me with Dave in highlighting BKK!
Thanks Ric for helping me on this post. Nothing better than input from people who actually live in a place!
I’ve been to Bangkok many times too. For sure, there are some nice spots that may worth a return visit.
May consider returning for a weekend trip there.
Thanks Wendy. We had an incredibly hectic trip through Thailand and Malaysia but saw a lot of diversity including Bangkok which is always exciting. Hope the post gave you some unique ideas 🙂
Actually, I am quite tired of the Bangkok scene already though I would love to visit some nice pubs, if they still exist.
By the way, I need to get one of my front tooth fixed first before I set off for another adventure.
Anyway, thanks Frank for sharing your thought and experience.