Bangkok. A sprawling city of modern skyscrapers, ancient temples, criss-crossing highways, and swanky shopping malls. A city where the word “chaotic” does not even begin to describe it. A city that is basically the heartbeat of Thailand; the center of Southeast Asia.
Even though I know people who name Bangkok as one of their favorite cities in the world, I purposefully didn't plan to spend a whole lot of time there. After being overwhelmed by the amount of people in Hong Kong and the amount of motorbikes in Hanoi, I was perfectly happy to limit my time in Bangkok to just 2 nights — essentially leaving me with just a little more than 24 hours in the Thai capital.
So what does one do with 24 hours in Bangkok?
Well here are my suggestions for a weekend visit:
The Grand Palace, located in the heart of Bangkok along the Chao Phraya River, is one of the city's top tourist attractions — and for good reason. The complex is also home to Wat Phra Kaew, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, which remains one of the most sacred temples in all of Thailand.
You can walk to the Palace from the Khaosan Road area or take a river taxi from elsewhere in the city, and then easily spend a couple hours exploring the grounds and temple.
Travel tip: Go EARLY, and don't listen to anyone (tuk-tuk driver or otherwise) who tries to tell you that the Palace is closed. The Grand Palace is open 7 days a week, nearly 365 days a year. Gates open at 8:30 a.m., and I would advise arriving right around then to avoid both the crowds and the worst heat of the day.
You'll have to pay an admission fee of 500 baht (a little less than $16 USD) if you're not Thai, and you will need to ensure that your shoulders and knees are decidedly covered.
From the Grand Palace, it's an easy and quick trip to either Wat Pho or Wat Arun. I chose to visit Wat Pho since it was just on the other side of the Grand Palace — and because I wanted to see the temple's famous 150-foot Reclining Buddha.
This is the oldest and largest temple complex in Bangkok, and also the reported birthplace of Thai massage. It costs just 100 baht ($3 USD) to enter, which includes a free bottle of water.
Travel tip: Don't just pop in to see the Reclining Buddha, though; spend some time exploring the rest of the massive temple complex, too. You'll find a huge collection of gilded buddhas, detailed stupas, and some beautiful spaces to just stroll and relax.
CHATUCHAK WEEKEND MARKET
After you wrap up at Wat Pho, either hail a tuk-tuk/cab, or hop on a ferry that will take you back to a SkyTrain stop. From there, take the train (or a taxi, if you prefer) to Mo Chit for the Chatuchak Weekend Market.
The Chatuchak Weekend Market is one of the largest and most diverse markets in Bangkok. On the weekends, more than 15,000 stalls sell everything from artwork to old books to designer clothing, and the market is reported to get more than 200,000 visitors per day. It's a place where you could EASILY spend an entire afternoon, whether you're shopping for gifts and souvenirs or an entirely new wardrobe.
Travel tip: Plan to grab your lunch here, as there are plenty of affordable food stalls. And, of course, don't be afraid to haggle for anything you buy! While the market is just as popular with locals as with tourists, that doesn't mean that you can't try to get a better price than what is first quoted to you.
Also, be sure to ask where to find the section of the market reserved for young, up-and-coming designers. You can find some really unique things for sale here (assuming you are small enough to fit into “Asian sizes”).
I'm not into the drinking or the drugs or the ping-pong shows (or worse) that this area is known for, but I still wanted to see the infamous Khaosan Road for myself at night. It turned out that I was staying just a block away, so it was easy to pop over after returning from the market.
The road was exactly what you would expect — full of street vendors and lined with bars blaring Western music and advertising drink specials. To be honest, it wasn't nearly as over-the-top as I expected it to be, and I was largely unimpressed.
GO TO A MOVIE
If Party Central isn't your thing, consider grabbing dinner and a movie at one of Bangkok's many luxury movie theaters. Just about every major shopping mall in the city has a swanky movie theater inside it, and a few offer buffet dinner-and-movie specials for just a little over $20 USD (which includes dinner, a recliner-like seat, and free drinks/popcorn throughout the English-language movie).
There sadly wasn't anything playing that I wanted to see at the theater I popped my head into, but this is something I will definitely be doing if I ever find myself back in Bangkok!
So there you have it. A jam-packed 24 hours in Bangkok. There are still plenty of things I would add to my “next time” list in Bangkok — like going to Wat Arun and spending a morning at the floating markets — but I think this was a great introduction to the city.
What are some of YOUR favorite things to do in Bangkok?