Bangkok Highlights

Below are some suggested itineraries and activities for a short trip to Bangkok. Some are loosely organized by location. (Dan has also listed a whole bunch of other sites and places of interest on this map, should you want more than what is mentioned below.)
Wat Pho/Grand Palace/Wat Arun
  • Take a boat! The express boat is the cheapest (15 THB/person) , most scenic way to get to Wat Pho and the Grand Palace. You can catch it (or the tourist boat, which is slightly more expensive and usually slightly less crowded) at the Saphan Taksin pier (near BTS Saphan Taksin).
  • Go early in the morning. The Grand Palace, in particular, gets seriously hot and crowded as the day goes on.
  • Eat at Err, which is about 5 min from Wat Pho.
  • Get a massage at Wat Pho.
  • Visit the flower market. This could be combined with the above, as it is also along the river, though it is best visited in the early hours of the morning. (Important note: The flower market’s days are numbered due to planned development. As of early June 2016, it was still up and running, but it could disappear completely any day.)
  • End the day on Soi Nana. Closer to Chinatown than the Grand Palace, but still nearby, Soi Nana is Bangkok hipster central. You can drink fancy cocktails at Tep Bar, have gin at Teens of Thailand, eat tapas, and go to a gallery.
Jim Thompson/Bangkok Art and Culture Center/MBK/Siam Paragon
  • The Jim Thompson house is super touristy, but great if you want to see beautiful Thai architecture and/or buy some silk scarves or bags. Just a short walk from there is the Baan Krua Nua silk-weaving community, the reason Jim Thompson moved to that neighborhood in the first place.
  • The Bangkok Arts and Culture Center (which is about a five minute walk from Jim Thompson) is also interesting–it’s a mall/museum (only in Thailand!) with some cute design-y Thai shops.
  • Also nearby the BACC are MBK (crazy mall with cheap anything/everything) and Siam Paragon (my favorite fancy mall, with an amazing–really!– food court with all kinds of great Thai street food and a grocery store with a huge selection of Thai curry pastes/durian products/spices to take home with you). There is also an aquarium (Ocean World) in the basement, and a nice cinema on the top floor.
  • (Malls in Bangkok are surprisingly fun/nice, and the air conditioning alone can make a visit worth it if you have been out pounding the streets. I also like EmQuartier, but it’s a bit further away from the city center.)
Lumphini Park
  • Lumphini Park has paddle boats, monitor lizards, and, if you get there in the early hours of the morning, hundreds of retirees doing aerobics.
  • Eat at Soi Polo Fried Chicken. Just a few minutes walk from Lumphini, Polo has some of the best fried chicken, sticky rice, and som tam in the city.
  • Chatuchak Market: It only runs on the weekends, and is a bit away from the city center, but it is definitely worth it. You can get everything from embroidered bags to mango-shaped soaps and scarves and beautiful handmade furniture. Go in the morning before it gets hot and crowded (most stalls are open by 10am), and have lunch across the street at Or Tor Kor when you are done.
  • Asiatique is a night market just a few minutes from our apartment, and is kind of Chatuchak-lite. There are lots of underwhelming tourist trinkets, but also some cute shops run by small Thai designers and a surprising number of ukuleles. There is also a gigantic Ferris wheel with nice views of the city. I wouldn’t recommend taking the free boat from Saphan Taksin, as the line can be quite long. A taxi or tuk tuk from Saphan Taksin will only cost a few dollars and take a few minutes, or you can brave the heat and walk for 15 minutes.
  • Sampeng Market is lots of fun if you like fabric and stickers and narrow passageways. It’s best to go on a weekday if possible.
  • There are a number of Jim Thompson stores all over the city, if you want to buy high-end silk scarves, bags, or fabric. If you have any interest in buying fabric, the outlet could be worth a visit, as it has three floors of cotton and silk fabric.
  • The slightly abandoned-feeling River City mall, not far from the Mandarin Oriental, has a good men’s tailor called Elegancia (not the cheapest, but high quality) and a custom shoe/leather store (Siam Leather Goods), in case you are dying for a pair of crocodile loafers. There are also floors and floors of stores with Thai antiques, porcelain, and one shop selling lovely (if pricy) old posters and memorabilia.
  • I’ve also had good experiences with women’s clothes at Cotton House tailors near the Mandarin Oriental. If you provide your own material, a dress will run about $80 USD, slightly more if you use their material.
  • If you have a bit more time, and are here on a weekend, I recommend a trip to Bang Krachao (also known as the Green Lung). It has miles and miles of concrete paths for bike riding, a pleasant market, a cute boutique hotel, and lots of greenery.
  • The Nightingale-Olympic, Bangkok’s first department store, is a strange, delightful, piece of Bangkok’s history, frozen in ember. If you have always wanted to buy curiously overpriced musical instruments and sporting goods that have been sitting in the same dusty case since 1960, look no further!
  • Chili Paste Tours: Run by the friend of a friend of a friend, they offer a variety of customizable food tours and cooking classes
  • Midnight Tuk Tuk Food Tour: Just what it sounds like–racing around Bangkok on a tuk tuk sampling lots of different street food. They also offer neighborhood food tours, including one for Bang Rak, which is right by our apartment
  • Silom Thai Cooking School:  A nice cooking course, including a market visit to learn about ingredients
  • Dinner Cruise on the Chao Praya: This one, run by the Banyan Tree Hotel, gets good reviews
Massages, etc
  • Inexpensive: Health Land is a chain of no nonsense Thai massage places. Slightly spartan, but cheap and quite good. The closest one is on Sathorn 12.
  • Not-so-inexpensive: Most hotels will have a spa, and I’ve had good experiences at the Shangri-la. I don’t have any real personal recommendations beyond that, but this list is recent and includes some of the top contenders.
Recommended Hotels/Restaurants/Cafes
  • Many malls have excellent Thai food courts. Siam Paragon, mentioned above, is quite good. My other favorite is the Eathai food court at Central Embassy. A fantastic way to sample a wide variety of street food dishes in a comfortable, clean, air-conditioned setting.
  • Street food! Eat as much as you can! Chinatown is renowned for its street food (here’s a guide to some of the best stalls), but most neighborhoods in Bangkok will have several good places. (BK Magazine does regular features on the city’s best street food, which you can find here.) Eating Thai Food is an excellent, comprehensive blog if you really want to dive deep into street food.
  • If you want to get slightly off the beaten track, Never Ending Summer is a cool, hipster-y place for lunch or dinner that focuses on traditional Thai dishes.
  • Just around the corner from Health Land (mentioned in spas/massages above), you can find one of my new favorite mid-range Thai restaurants, Supanniga Eating Room. Stylish, delicious Thai food on a quiet street. Highly recommended.
  • Ma Maison is tucked away between Central Embassy and the Swissotel on the grounds of Nai Lert Park Heritage Home. Excellent Thai food ($$) in a beautiful, park-like setting.
  • Issaya Siamese Club does lovely, modern Thai ($$$) in a beautifully restored Thai house
  • Namsaah Bottling Trust is slightly more relaxed than Issaya ($$), but is similar in style: modern Thai cuisine
  • Other interesting high-end Thai restaurants: Bo.lanNahm, and Gaggan (not Thai, but Michelin-starred)
  • The Mandarin Oriental: beautiful and worth seeing just for the astonishing floral displays in the lobby. I like the tea in the Author’s Lounge and evening drinks by the river.
  • The Siam Hotel also does a nice afternoon tea on the weekends. The boat ride to the hotel from Saphan Taksin takes about 40 minutes and goes by Wat Arun and a number of other lovely sights.
  • The Atlanta Hotel (lovingly described here) is an off-beat, inexpensive choice for those with artistic souls and an interest in stray cats and turtles, slightly dilapidated pools, and/or American food as prepared in the 1950s.
  • On the fluffy side, Bangkok has a number of cat cafes (Dan has reviewed many of them here), at least one rabbit cafe and a fox cafe.

Bangkok with Children

  • The snake farm is always a big hit. Make sure to see the snake handling show (weekdays at 2:30pm; weekends at 11am).
  • The Dusit Zoo is pretty great, and worth every baht of the 50 THB entrance fee. Make sure to feed a hippo while you are there! (I much prefer the Dusit Zoo to the more expensive, harder to get to Safari World.)
  • Nearly every big mall will have a soft play area for children, and some of them are quite nice. Our current favorites include Imaginia at Emporium, Funarium at K Village and Molly Fantasy at Gateway Ekkamai. There is also a Snow Town at Gateway Ekkamai, where you can pretend that snow and ice exist in Bangkok for a few hours. For kids six and up, KidZania at Siam Paragon has some amazing role play stations.
  • Visit a wat! One of our favorites is Wat Prayun, just down the river from Wat Arun. There is a lovely pond filled with turtles. For a few baht, children (and adults) can feed fish balls to the turtles.
  • You might want to skip the Samutprakarn Crocodile Farm. Harriet enjoyed it, but I found it outdated and unkempt.

Getting Around

  • A word of advice: Make sure to have the address of your hotel written in Thai, as taxi drivers will most likely speak limited English, and it can take a while to master saying your hotel’s name and address in a way that can be understood.
  • Wikitravel has a quick guide to understanding Bangkok addresses (scroll down to “addresses and navigation”), which can be confusing to a first-time visitor.
  • Public transit: Safe, relatively cheap, fast, but it doesn’t go everywhere. Here is a system map for the BTS (Sky Train) and another for the MRT (subway).
  • Tuk Tuks: Cute, but often more expensive than a taxi. Set a price before getting in! There are no meters, so you have to bargain. They often won’t want to go long distances.
  • Taxis: Cheap, air-conditioned, but no seat belts. Make sure the driver uses the meter. If he won’t, wait for another taxi. The only place I have seriously had trouble with this is by the Grand Palace/Wat Pho. There, it seems genuinely hard to get a taxi to pick you up and use the meter. You may have to give in and pay a few hundred baht for a ride that should cost much less.
  • Uber/GrabTaxi: Slightly more expensive than standard taxis, but the drivers all have GPS and it can definitely be easier than giving directions to a taxi driver. (You just enter the destination on your phone.)
  • Mr. Boonya: Our favorite taxi driver for hire. He can do airport pick-ups/drop-offs, day trips, or just be your driver for the day. His number (within Thailand) is 089 616 9511.
  • If you have an unlocked smartphone, consider getting a SIM card. Most 7-11s will sell tourist SIM packages, which cost about $10 for a week of unlimited calling and data. That is worth it just for the access to Google Maps.