How to Enjoy a Whirlwind Week in Bangkok, Thailand
Bangkok is the travel equivalent of Marmite. You either love it (and get cravings for your next fix) or you don’t. And therefore book a flight in (and then directly out) as fast as you can.
As a city lover (and dare I say it, connoisseur) it probably won’t surprise you that I fall into the camp of the former. I absolutely adore Bangkok - for its chaos, eccentricity, flash and grit. I honestly can’t get enough of the place. I returned a few times during my travels through Southeast Asia and every single time I left yearning for more. More exploration of its off-the-beaten-path neighbourhoods, a desire to better understand its complexity and the urge to probe more of its underbelly.
I like Bangkok so much that a first-visit which began with only three nights rapidly turned into two weeks. I would have stayed even longer had I not already booked a flight to Borneo. But such limited time only encouraged me to breathe in every bit of Bangkok that much more.
So today, on my corner of the interwebs, I bring you my very best Bangkok travel tips so that you too can soak in every inch of this oddly beguiling city in just one week.
1. Enter a storybook at Wat Arun: This was hands down my favourite wat in Bangkok. In all of Thailand even. For the uninitiated, wats are Buddhist (or Hindu) temples found all across Thailand, Cambodia and Laos. They’re places of worship for locals with stunning architectural features. And Wat Arun is no exception. This architectural wonder, with its porcelain tiles and cascading steps, is truly breathtaking. When you wander the grounds you feel like you’ve stepped into a storybook. Unfortunately, so much so that you’ll also find yourself sharing it with swarms of Instagrammers. So get there early for the small chance of having the place to yourself. Observe its sheer beauty but also its zen, which I seem to absorb every time I’m in the presence of a wat.
2. Take a boat ride with the locals across Bangkok’s Chao Phraya river: Bangkok would be nothing without the majesty of the Chao Phraya, which pulses through the heart of the city. This river, still a major transportation artery for Bangkok, is not to be skipped. But don’t be conned by the hawkers selling overpriced private boat tours. Instead, take public transport from one bank to another for just a few baht. Get to the front of the queue for a chance to grab a seat with a view. Then soak in the scenery as you join the locals on their daily commute.
3. Go on the Grand Palace tour: This is rite of passage for any Bangkok visitor; don’t miss it. We geeked out and picked up an audio guide to guide us through. Though admittedly it wasn’t very good so save your baht and stick to your Lonely Planet. Bangkok’s Grand Palace is still the official royal residence so some bits are closed off, but there’s still plenty to see. This is also where the famous Emerald Green Buddha is housed. Just prepare yourself for the crowds (and possibly queues) if you want to see him first-hand.
Not to mention that with the city’s heat and humidity, a Grand Palace tour can knock it out of you quickly. So make sure you wear the right respectful attire that’s also light-weight for you. I was refused entry because my leggings were too tight and I had to buy a sarong and throw it on overtop. I barely managed with so many layers in the sweltering heat.
4. See the Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho: This is another gem of a wat. The architectural details quite literally sparkle and you’ll have the chance to get up close and personal with the Reclining Buddha himself, a massive statue that barely fits within the confines of the temple. You have to walk across the temple’s lengthy corridor to see him fully. And seriously - he’s a beaut!
Wat Pho also houses the largest collection of buddha statues in the world and is the home of traditional Thai massage and therapy. And despite only being a short walk away, it’s much less popular than the Grand Palace, so it’s great to visit if you want a little respite from the crowds.
5. Tap into your inner child at the Unicorn Cafe: Bangkok would be nothing without its quirkiness. In fact, this particular quality is probably what charmed me most. The city’s sheer (and shameless) eccentricity filters into everything from its fashion to its nightlife to its food. And into the small minutiae of city life; things as simple as street signs and selfie sticks. The city is home to a Hello Kitty Cafe and, yup, that’s right, a Unicorn Cafe too. I’d seen this crop up on my Instagram a few times before arriving and I knew I had to pop in. I dragged my (patient) younger brother along and enjoyed a fantastic evening dressed in a unicorn onesie, surrounded by fluffy unicorns and eating unicorn burgers, waffles and ice cream. Though, admittedly these were terrible. But you’re not there for the food. You’re there for your childhood dream of hanging out with My Little Ponies to come true.
6. Grab a local dinner at Rot Fai Market: This night market, also known as Ratchada Night Market, is a feast for hungry eyes. We stopped here to line our stomachs ahead of a Bangkok pub crawl (more on this below) and I can assure you that we thoroughly filled our bellies. The market is massive, so arrive hungry and sample as much local fare as you can handle. I got my hands on sushi, a seafood curry, traditional Thai fried chicken (and one seriously spicy chilli sauce) and some pineapple sticks for dessert. I lost my bro for a bit as our excitement got the best of us. But luckily we managed to reconvene in time to sample each other’s delicious market discoveries.
7. Party hard on a Bangkok pub crawl: If you feel like speed networking through the city’s nightlife, why not sign up for a Bangkok pub crawl? It’s a good way to hit up a mix of bars in a single evening - and also a fantastic way to meet fellow travellers. We booked onto a tour that started at a motorcycle bar before heading to Sukhumvit where we partied into the wee hours of the morning. Most of the bars weren’t really my cup of tea, but that’s exactly why I loved the tour. It was a taste of Bangkok nightlife I would have never seen otherwise.
8. Enjoy some chic cocktails at Eat Me: Now this chic and modern bar, on the other hand, is totally up my street. With beautiful teak wood interiors, that phenomenal service you come to expect from Thailand (we became besties with our Laotian waiter) and some uber-creative Thai cocktails, you’ll want to treat yo’ self here. I tried the brilliant Kaeng-Tai-Pla, an interesting blend of mezcal (which I’ve been obsessed with since my time in Mexico), shallots, lemongrass and kaffir limes. Settle in and try a few interesting blends before painting the town red.
9. Do a spot of shopping at Chatuchak Weekend Market: This market is bloody brilliant. You can find anything and everything. And at rock-bottom prices you could only dream of. We had a blast wandering about and chatting to the owners of so many cool fashion and design shops, learning everything we could about their local trade. Sure, backpackers on a budget (and with limited luggage room) can’t really shop but just go for the experience. Get lost in the rows and rows of stalls, spend your Sunday like a local and find one thing you love to take home as the perfect souvenir.
10. People watch and party on Khao San Road: Ah yes, that Bangkok street of backpacker and The Beach fame. This wild and wonderful strip is really a sight to see. Or, depending on your tastes, a sight for sore eyes. But whatever you make of it, it’s certainly worth a peek. It’s the utter definition of a tourist trap, where you’ll be blinded by flashing neon lights, lured into sleazy bars for 2-4-1 drinks and encouraged to sample crunchy critters by relentless food hawkers. We spent one evening here and truly went in, sharing a massive beer tower, dancing to Pitbull circa 2008 and tipsily savouring our first ever scorpions.
11. Spend a chilled afternoon (or many) on Soi Rambuttri: This charming - if dilapidated - little road was just around the corner from one of our hotels so we spent many afternoons here. With Khao San Road becoming ever-so-slightly more upmarket and certainly more crowded, backpackers looking for cheaper living have spilled onto this quieter street. As a result, plenty of dive bars, street food stalls and shops have cropped up all along this road. There’s everything from the ubiquitous 7-11 to local jewellery designers to what became my favourite foodie spot in Bangkok, Madame Musur. The food is from Northern Thailand and it comes punchy and seriously fresh. This is also the perfect place to zen out and take a breather from the Bangkok chaos. Lounge on the countless cushions and really savour your Chang.
12. Watch the sunset on Bangkok’s rooftops: Whatever you do, make sure you see Bangkok from the sky. The city’s renowned for its rooftop bars and rooftop pools, so try and hit one of these up if you can. We opted for a one night splurge at the Marriott in Surawongse and spent at afternoon soaking in the sun and the views from their infinity pool. But you can also visit some of the city’s popular rooftop bars for a side of sunset with your cocktails.
13. Go to a live gig at Apoteka: Bangkok has a vibrant art and music scene too, so try and catch a local band live if you can. Apoteka is a reputable music venue that draws a crowd every night. We met up with some new traveller friends for an brilliant evening of blues and beers to make the most of one of our last nights in town.
14. Take a day trip to Ayutthaya and step back in time: This beautiful ancient city is a few hours from Bangkok, but if you have a day to spare it’s certainly worth the effort of getting there. A UNESCO Heritage Site, Ayutthaya was the second capital of Siam, founded in 1350. Once a centre of diplomacy that connected East and West, it garnered high-profile visitors from all over the globe. Here you can also see the famous buddha head that fell between the roots of a Bayan tree - a rather impressive site. Ayutthaya is expansive so prepare to give up a full morning or afternoon to see it well. You’ll certainly want the time to explore all of the stunning red-brick architecture and its many renowned temples.
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