Bangkok has a special place in my heart and lures me back to visit frequently. As a first-time visitor though, planning an itinerary in Bangkok can be overwhelming. It's a huge city filled with temples, markets, malls, and so much delicious food! After several visits, I've put together an itinerary which includes some of the top sights as well as a few of my favorite restaurants. Plus, I've sprinkled in a few tips for packing and for getting around the city once you've arrived. Let's get started!
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Why Visit Bangkok?
As I mentioned, Bangkok is a special place for me. When I lived in Laos years ago, Bangkok was my big city retreat. It had large air-conditioned malls and public transportation - things I missed living while in Vientiane.
Now that I live in Hong Kong, I already have those things at home. So when I visit Bangkok, it's to enjoy an affordable weekend getaway - relaxing by a pool, soaking in Southeast Asian culture, or hunting for deliciously spicy food.
Because it has so much variety, Bangkok is a great trip choice no matter what you're looking for in a vacation!
Another reason you may find yourself in Bangkok is because it's a hub for flights to other parts of Southeast Asia. You can find cheap flights from Bangkok to beautiful Thai beaches and other cities in Thailand, plus cheap flights to Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, and more!
If you're traveling through Bangkok though, be sure to stop for a couple days and see some of the sights!
Planning a trip in Southeast Asia? Check out my post '6 Beautiful Places to Visit in Laos'!
Arriving in Bangkok
If you're flying into Bangkok, you'll arrive at either Don Mueang International Airport (DMK) or Suvarnabhumi International Airport (BKK). Both are on the outskirts of Bangkok so it will take at least ~45 minutes by cab to reach the center city.
However, Bangkok traffic is awful so it will most likely take longer. I've had good luck arriving in the evening (~21:00-23:00) after rush hour and getting to my hotel fairly quickly.
Although there are some public transportation options from the airports, a taxi should only cost ~400 baht (~US$13) including highway fees. This option saves a lot of hassle and usually is faster unless traffic is really bad. Head for the official taxi queue and wait in line or grab a number (depending on the system). When it's your turn, they'll assign you a metered taxi.
Pro Tip: Make sure you have cash on hand for the taxi fare! It's also a good idea to purchase something small at the airport to break your large bills.
Taxi drivers tend not to carry much change (or say they don't). So, you don't want to rely on them being able to give you change for the 1,000 baht notes that the ATM spits out. Plus, most drivers will ask you to pay the tolls for the highway as you come to them so having small change comes in handy. As of July 2019, there were 2 highway tolls - 50 baht & 70 baht.
If you prefer using a ridesharing app instead of a local taxi, be sure to download the Grab App to your phone. If you're traveling around Southeast Asia - this is the ridesharing app to have!
Where to Stay in Bangkok?
As a huge city, Bangkok has a wide variety of accommodation options ranging from dirt-cheap rooms in hostels to expensive luxury hotel suites.
To find the best hotels and competitive prices in Bangkok (and Asia, more generally), I recommend using Agoda.com. They have a huge selection of hotels and offer incredible sales throughout the year.
Choosing a Place to Stay in Bangkok
In general though, I find that compared to other major cities, Bangkok's hotels at the same price point tend to be higher quality. For example, you can get a room at a 5-star, centrally-located hotel starting at around US$150. Thinking of the outrageous hotel prices in downtown Washington, DC, New York City, or even Hong Kong - that seems like a steal!
As far as choosing a location in the city goes, I tend to stay in places close to good restaurants and bars over staying near the major tourist attractions. Recently I've stayed in Silom, Phloen Chit, and also down on the Chao Phraya. All were excellent neighborhoods with a lot going on.
But the most important thing for me when choosing a hotel is that it's near a BTS Skytrain or Metro station. Since traffic in Bangkok is often so congested, having access to public transportation can save you time and frustration.
Bangkok Hotel Recommendations
Since Bangkok has so many hotels to consider, I'll share a few of the hotels in which I've enjoyed staying to get your started on your search.
Bangkok Day-by-Day Itinerary
This itinerary assumes you arrive at night then have three full days to explore Bangkok. It's a detailed schedule that will get you through many of Bangkok's top sights!
Bangkok Itinerary - Day 1
Wander the Chatuchak Weekend Market
If you're visiting Bangkok on the weekend, this market is a must-visit attraction. Thousands of vendors open their shops to sell everything you could ever want to buy and more! From knickknacks to clothes, beautiful, handcrafted tea sets to knock-off purses, kitchen items to souvenir t-shirts, etc. If you're a big shopper, you could easily lose yourself in Chatuchak Market!
Not just for tourists, locals flock to Chatuchak too for produce and household goods. Get there early to beat the crowds (and the heat!) and wander the narrow paths through the maze of shops. I've visited several times but still find things I "need" when I go - including wooden spoons for my kitchen that I use every time I cook!
Getting there: Take the BTS Skytrain or the Metro to Mo Chit station and follow the crowds!
As you walk around Chatuchak Market, you'll find many tasty looking treats to sample. Grab a fruit shake or a frozen banana topped with chocolate! You can also eat a full meal at any of the restaurants inside the market or out on the street.
If you prefer an air-conditioned restaurant, you may wish to wait until you get to the next stop on the itinerary - the Jim Thompson House. On the museum grounds, you'll find a cafe with sandwiches as well as a restaurant serving tasty Thai dishes. The restaurant is surrounded by the garden so it provides a tranquil respite after a chaotic market morning.
Tour the Jim Thompson House
Beautiful teakwood houses surrounded by a lush garden in the heart of Bangkok, the Jim Thompson House is worthy addition to your itinerary.
Who is Jim Thompson?
James H.W. Thompson was an American businessman who moved to Bangkok and helped revitalize the Thai silk industry in the 1950s and 1960s. He disappeared while on a holiday in Malaysia's Cameron Highlands in 1967, and despite an extensive search, was never found. His unique and lovely house, located on the banks of the Saen Saeb Canal, is now a museum.
In 1958, Thompson designed his house using six individual teakwood houses that he transported from Ayutthaya and Bangkok's Ban Krua community. The houses were pieced together to form a larger structure connected by walkways. As you tour the museum, you'll also be able to view Thompson's art collection which is on display throughout the house.
Touring the museum is by guided tour only and costs 200 baht. You don't need advance reservation, but be prepared to wait for the next available tour in your language.
While you're waiting for the next tour, you can peruse the Jim Thompson Thai Silk Company store on the grounds. You'll find an array of beautiful silk products, including scarves and ties. If you've been shopping at local markets though, be prepared for some sticker shock!
Getting there: Take BTS Skytrain to National Stadium station. Walk down Kasem San 2 Alley for ~300m until you see the sign for Jim Thompson House.
Visit the Erawan Shrine
This Brahman shrine erected in the center of Bangkok's busy shopping district was erected in the 1950s to appease the spirits during construction of the luxury Erawan Hotel. A gold image of the four-faced Brahma God - Than Tao Mahaprom - sits in the center of the shrine and draws in crowds of visitors who wish to pay their respects.
Even if you do not have a chance to visit the shrine, you can see it from the skywalk above Phloen Chit Road which leads from the Phloen Chit BTS station to the Central World shopping mall.
Getting there: Take BTS Skytrain to Chit Lom station. The shrine is located at the intersection of Phloen Chit Road and Ratchadamri Road.
Refresh at Your Hotel
Why is this in the itinerary? It may seem unnecessary to you as you're planning. But I assure you that you'll want to build in time for this each day. Bangkok is HOT and HUMID all year round. After walking around all day, you'll most likely want time to shower and change out of sweaty clothes before heading out for your evening activities and dinner.
Packing Tip: For hot and humid climates like Bangkok, I recommend packing a separate set of day clothes and evening clothes for each day. Alternatively, if you're trying to pack light, bring laundry detergent instead. This way you can hand-wash your sweaty items in your room and re-wear them later on the trip.
Most hotels also offer some sort of laundry service, but it usually costs more than what I'm willing to pay! So I prefer hand-washing and spending that money on cocktails....
Watch the Sunset at Sky Bar
Since it appeared in the movie Hangover II, Sky Bar at Lebua State Tower is one of Bangkok's most famous sky bars. As one of the tallest rooftop bars in Bangkok, the views are phenomenal! On a clear day, it feels like you can see the entire city.
Due to its popularity, Sky Bar gets very crowded, so arrive when it opens to claim your spot. It's also worth noting that while the cocktails are tasty, they're super expensive at ~US$30 each. You'll be paying for the view and the experience in addition to the drink.
Getting there: Take BTS Skytrain to Saphan Taksin station. Walk north on Charoen Krung Road for ~500m.
Dinner - Baan Phadthai
Just around the corner from the Sky Bar is Baan Phadthai - a cozy, open-air restaurant whose specialty is... pad thai! They have several versions, including a vegetarian one.
My favorite was the Phad Thai Moo Yang which came with deliciously tender grilled pork. The pad thai is surprisingly spicy, so be careful how much chili powder you mix in! They also serve Full Moon's Chatri IPA - a local Thai IPA brewed in Phuket - that is delicious!
Getting there: Walk south on Charoen Krung Road back towards the Skytrain for ~250m. Turn left on Charoen Krung 44 Alley (corner has a 7 Eleven). Walk a third of the way down the alley.
Planning a trip to Thailand? Check out my post 'How to Spend 2 Days in Chiang Rai'!
Bangkok Itinerary - Day 2
On the second day of your trip, plan to explore the historic area of Bangkok starting with the Grand Palace. Since you'll visit several temples, it's best to dress more conservatively to be respectful (i.e. no sleeveless shirts, no short shorts).
Pro Tip: Sometimes tuk tuk drivers in the area around the Grand Palace will try to tell you that a temple you wish to visit is closed for the day, but they can take you somewhere else. It's best to go to the temple you wish to visit and investigate this yourself. Often it turns out it was false information and the temple will be open.
Visit the Grand Palace
The Grand Palace complex is one of the must-see sights in Bangkok. Established in 1782, it consists of the palace, several royal and throne halls, government offices, as well as Wat Phra Kaew or Temple of the Emerald Buddha.
With so many beautiful structures to explore, you can easily spend a couple hours here wandering through the complex and taking photographs.
Since it's one of the more popular tourist destinations, arrive early to beat the crowds. Check the dress code for the palace complex and be sure to wear appropriate clothing as the guards are very strict and will not allow you inside if you do not comply.
Getting there: Take the BTS Skytrain to Saphan Taksin. Head to Sathorn Pier on the river to catch the Chao Phraya Express Boat to Tha Chang Pier. Follow the signs to the Grand Palace.
Pro Tip: When you get off the Skytrain at Saphan Taksim, head towards the river to Sathorn Pier. You'll see a couple different piers, go towards the left pier to buy your ticket. You'll notice there's a Tourist Boat. It's more expensive and doesn't run as frequently, so I recommend taking the Chao Phraya Express Boat.
The Chao Phraya Express Boat is a more local option so they don't announce the stops clearly. As long as you follow along on your phone, you can tell when you need to get off. Just head towards the back of the boat when it's nearing your stop so you're ready to disembark when the boat docks. It won't stick around for long!
Quick Bite for Lunch + Coffee
Since you'll be walking around the attractions all day, you'll no doubt want to just grab a quick bite to eat at one of the shops near the Palace and the temples.
I've eaten at several of them and as long as you order one of the Thai dishes like fried rice or pad thai, the food is pretty good! If you're looking for western food, you're probably going to be disappointed.
For all you coffee lovers, it's worth walking about a block out of your way to Elefin Coffee to get some locally-grown, strong Thai coffee. Their cold brew perked me right up and rejuvenated me for the afternoon of sightseeing!
Admire the Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho
After lunch, head south to the Wat Phra Chetupon complex. Inside the complex, you'll find Wat Pho, which is famous for its large Reclining Buddha statue. It's impossible not to be amazed by the Buddha's impressive size! Trying to capture the entire Buddha in one photo is difficult but can be done!
After admiring the Reclining Buddha, wander through some of the other temple halls within the complex and enjoy the peaceful garden.
Getting there: Just south of the Grand Palace, you can walk down one of the roads bordering the palace to reach Wat Pho. If you're feeling too hot to walk, grab a tuk tuk but keep in mind my tip from above! If you're not coming from the Palace, you would take the Chao Phraya Express Boat to Tha Tien Pier and walk from there.
Cross the Chao Phraya to Wat Arun
Since I think many of Bangkok's temples start to look the same after a while, Wat Arun or Temple of Dawn, is a refreshing change. If you're taking a ferry up the river, you'll see its colorful spires towering over the Chao Phraya as you get closer.
Once inside the temple complex, you can climb partway up the central spire but the stairs are very steep. Remember - once you climb up, you have to get back down!
Getting there: Once you're finished at Wat Pho, head towards the river to Tha Tien Pier to catch the shuttle ferry to Wat Arun. It only costs 3 baht and just takes a couple minutes to cross the Chao Phraya.
Check out this Guide to Visiting Temples in Bangkok for more tips and ideas!
Relax and Refresh
Head back to your hotel to relax and refresh for dinner. If your hotel has a pool, take a dip!
Dinner - Issaya Siamese Club
For a upscale dining experience in a 100-year old Thai villa with a beautiful garden, try the Issaya Siamese Club. Voted one of Asia's best restaurants for five years now, it's a delicious experience you don't want to miss.
They offer a couple set tasting menus so you can try a variety of dishes, but also have an a la carte menu.
Getting there: Take the Metro to Khlong Toei station. Walk west on Rama IV Road then turn left onto Chuea Phloeng Road. Walk a couple hundred meters, then turn right onto Soi Si Akson. Total walk is ~650m. Since it's located in a pretty quiet area, taking a taxi is probably easiest.
Stroll through Patpong Night Market
A bustling open-air night market on the streets of Silom with a little bit of sketchiness thrown in, the Patpong Night Market is a great place to shop for cheap souvenirs. You'll have to bargain hard to make sure you get a good price though!
Lined with go-go bars and rowdy tourists, this may not somewhere you'll want to hang out for long. But it's interesting to walk through it, especially if you're staying at a hotel nearby.
Getting there: Take the Metro to Silom station or the BTS Skytrain to Sala Daeng station then walk west on Silom Road. You'll see the market on the right side of the street.
Bangkok Itinerary - Day 3
Climb Wat Saket (Golden Mount)
Wat Saket or the Golden Mount Temple pierces the Bangkok skyline with its gleaming golden stupa. Located inside the stupa is a relic of the Buddha. Though worshippers are welcome all year round, during a week-long festival in November, the temple is sacred pilgrimage site.
Since Bangkok is a flat city and the temple is built on top of a man-made hill, it has some amazing views of the city. In order to see the views, you'll have to climb up ~300 stairs which wrap around the hillside. The stairs are wide and not very steeps so it feels more like climbing a hill than a staircase.
I recommend arriving at the temple as soon as it opens to avoid the crowds and beat the heat.
Getting there: This is one site to which I recommend just taking a taxi or Grab. Though I'm sure there are buses that will get you there, I haven't figured those out yet!
Enjoy visiting temples? Consider visiting historic Luang Prabang in Laos!
Walk to Democracy Monument + Lunch
A few hundred meters from the Golden Mount, you'll find the Democracy Monument. This impressive sculpture at the center of a large traffic circle was built in 1939 to commemorate the 1932 revolution/coup that ended that absolute monarchy and introduced Siam's first constitution.
Over the years, this monument has been the site of several protests - some peaceful, some resulting in clashes with casualties.
As you walk towards the Democracy Monument, check out the food options for lunch. It's a busy area so there are plenty of restaurants and street food shops to grab a quick bite. Once finished lunch, grab a taxi or tuk tuk (or continue walking) towards the Chao Phraya.
Getting there: Walk north on Boripat Road, crossing Phanfa Bridge. After the bridge, veer left to cross Phan Fa Lilat Bridge and continue onto Ratchadamnoen Klang Road until you reach the traffic circle with the Democracy Monument.
Ride a Longboat through the Khlongs
Bangkok was known throughout the 19th century as the "Venice of the East" due to the intricate system of khlongs or canals which were the heart of the city. Though many have been filled in to form roads over the years, Bangkok's waterways are a central part of the city's history and character. Many locals still use boat transportation to get around today.
Head to one of the piers near the Grand Palace and you can hire a canal boat tour on the spot. When we visited Bangkok with my parents last December, we had four people for a longboat and paid ~2500 baht for a ~1.5 hour ride. (No idea if this is a good price or not!)
Our boat driver didn't speak English but tried to point out interesting sights as we rode around the canals. We even saw a couple monitor lizards lounging on the river banks!
There are also several companies that offer canal boat tours which you can book online ahead of your visit. This may be a good option if you prefer to have a guide or are unsure about your bargaining skills!
Getting there: To hire a longboat, head to one of the piers - Sathorn Pier near the Saphan Taksin BTS station or one of the ones near the Grand Palace - Tha Chang Pier or Tha Tien Pier. You'll find lots of people advertising canal tours, so be prepared to start negotiations immediately!
Get a Massage and Relax
No Bangkok itinerary would be complete without getting a Thai massage. After a few days of walking around all the sights, you'll be ready to relax and enjoy a good massage. If you don't want to plan ahead and/or aren't particular about your massage, just pick a random place that looks good and offers the price you want.
For a treat-yourself spa experience, book yourself an appointment at any of the upscale hotel spas. I guarantee it'll still be much cheaper than a spa day in many places, such as the U.S., and so worth it!
Watch the Sunset at Moon Bar
If you love sunsets and rooftop views as much as I do, check out the sunset from Moon Bar at the Banyan Tree Hotel. Located on the 61st floor and with a more relaxed vibe than the Sky Bar at Lebua, it's a good alternative if you want to visit a sky bar that's a little more low key.
Its cocktails are more reasonably priced and the views are still spectacular! The night views are also lovely and it's much cooler once the sun is down.
Getting there: Though it's not super close, you can take the Metro to Lumphini station and walk ~900m down North Sathorn Road to the Banyan Tree Hotel. But it might be better to take a taxi.
Dinner - The Local
The Local serves original and authentic Thai food from recipes handed down for generations. Its charming house setting and delicious food make it a wonderful place to spend your last evening in Bangkok!
Getting there: Take the Metro to Sukhumvit station then walk north on Sukhumvit Soi 21. Turn right on 100 Pi Sayam Samakhom Alley, then left onto Sukhumvit Soi 23. Total walk ~400m.
Need more ideas? Check out my other posts on Thailand!
Start Planning Your Trip to Bangkok!
Now that you've seen this sample Bangkok itinerary - are you ready to start planning your trip? Leave me a comment to let me know what you thought of this itinerary or if you have any questions!