Note: Waypoints for GPS available at the bottom of this article
As a strange mix of traveler, tourist, and expat, here’s a conversation I tend to have quite frequently:
Me: Prior to coming here I was living in Bangkok.
Other: Oh…why did you want to live in Bangkok?
Me: It’s a great city with amazing food, people, and lots of things to do. Have you been?
Other: Yes. But I really didn’t like the it. It was kind of… well, gross.
Me: How long were you there? What all did you do?
Other: I was only there for a couple days in between flights, I spent most my time on Khao San Road, visited the Grand Palace, and hung out in Nana.
Bangkok. Thriving metropolis. Urban hub of Southeast Asia. Butt of many jokes.
Spoiler alert: I fell in love with Bangkok and lived there for nearly 2 years. So I’ve developed a habit of defending my second home to the many uninformed and uninspired naysayers, who see the colorful and multifaceted metropolis as nothing more than a street full of sex workers, dismally cheap backpacker accommodation, and an airport or two.
While Bangkok is a major hub for tourists, with tens of millions of people passing through on a yearly basis, the majority only stay for a short while before moving on to the islands or to other Southeast Asian destinations. On top of this, most people I’ve met that have traveled to Bangkok find an online top 10 list of what to do in Bangkok and scratch the most famous two or three off the list before leaving. (And don’t even get me started on “Things to Do” lists on TripAdvisor; those are kept intentionally boring, i.e. lists of buildings, so they can sell packaged tours and activities.)
Of course these sights ultimately end up being the ones that are full of hoards of tourists, watered down and flavorless Thai food, seedy vibes, and pushy hawkers trying to get you to purchase their cheap Chinese wares. Don’t get me wrong, this is true of a great many tourist destinations. The problem with Bangkok is that its tourist infrastructure is so large that it often obscures the truth.
The Perfect Bangkok City Itinerary
I’ve created the following One Day in Bangkok Itinerary for those traveling to Bangkok for a short period or layover to give them a concise picture of some of Bangkok’s quintessential experiences. Some of the items on this list are touristy, while others are more local, or they are secondary tourist attractions that I think are better than the ones most tourists flock to.
I’ve taken many friends through a variant of this itinerary as they’ve passed through Bangkok over the past 2 years and everyone has appreciated the mix of culture, tourist attractions, local vibes, and great food.
How to Use The One Day in Bangkok Itinerary
This One Day in Bangkok Itinerary is a loop around Bangkok that utilizes various transportation options, some of which (Tuk tuk, canal boat) are tourist attractions in themselves. This itinerary is intended to be followed in order, but if you feel comfortable transporting yourself around Bangkok feel free to split this (very busy) itinerary into two days.
Along with this location, direction, and hours (always subject to change) for each site, I’ve compiled way points that can be used with my favorite mapping application for travel, maps.me. Maps.me navigate offline around a city using your own waypoints or information on OpenStreetMap. Go ahead and download it, it’s free!
It’s best to start your day in the late morning at the Terminal 21 food court and mall. This food court opens at 10:00 AM and offers a wide variety of foods to try. This food court doesn’t really serve breakfast because the Thais traditionally eat soup that is a bit less spicy than the rest of the days’ meals. So if you want to spend your day in Thailand, I suggest skipping a western breakfast and eating big at this food court sampling a wide variety of foods. Your tour will begin from here.
So, let’s get started!
10am – 10pm every day
The One Day in Bangkok Itinerary begins in Asok, one of the big centers of Bangkok’s main expat drag, Sukhumvit. Get here via Asok BTS, or Sukhumvit MRT Stations.
Head to Terminal 21, a huge mall with a theme for every floor.
I know what you’re thinking- your itinerary includes a mall? Well, yes. Malls are ubiquitous in urban Thailand and have cemented themselves in the society as the place to go, shop, hang out, and of course, to dine. Terminal 21 happens to be one of the most interesting, and has one of the best food courts in terms of price and variety.
To use the food court, load up a prepaid card with about 200 baht (plenty for 2 people sharing). Use the card to pay at different stalls- you can cash it back in when you’re done.
Once you’re satiated, it’s on to the next stop- a Thai massage! Getting massaged after eating too much is a necessary Bangkok tourist experience, so don’t worry if this feels too indulgent. Just start waddling east down Sukhumvit, the main road.
Tony Thai Massage
11am – 11pm, every day
A somewhat infamous little massage place, down Soi 23 (soi means “street”), that offers probably the cheapest Thai massage ever. Only 100 baht, so be sure to tip! Sometimes good, sometimes not so good, it’s a Bangkok experience. If you’re left wanting more, you can find massages in varying degrees of quality anywhere in the city starting at 2-3 times the price.
Warning: If you are a single male, or group of males with no females, you will get hassled by those kind of massage parlors on your way down Soi 23 to Tony’s. …and on the way back. Don’t worry, this is the only place on our itinerary where this happens. I think 😉
When you leave Terminal 21, take a left on Sukhumvit and keep going until you’ve hit Soi 23. Turn left to walk down Soi 23 and Tony Thai Massage will be about 300 meters on your right.
4:30am – 9:00pm, free
From Tony Thai Massage, walk back towards Terminal 21 and catch the MRT train (blue line) then get off at Lumphini Station Exit 3.
Enjoy a stroll around the lake in this lush and green park inside the big city. Look out for drink and snack vendors along the outer entrances of the park.
Transportation: After enjoying Lumphini park and maybe picking up some ice cream, it’s time to head to Chinatown. The best way to get to Chinatown is by taxi. Just tell the driver that you want to go to Chinatown and he will likely drop you off at a convenient spot.
Warning: In this part of town a cab driver may quote you a high price to go to Chinatown. Politely ask to use the meter. If the cab driver declines, just wait for the next free cab and verify that they’ll use the meter when driving you to your destination.
Chinatown is one of Bangkok’s many market districts and you guessed it, a historical home to the city’s Chinese immigrant population. Lately it’s also somewhat of an up and coming neighborhood, with chic bars and restaurants popping up on the exterior. Just enjoy the lively street side market scene, and look out for sellers peddling buddha amulets (that boarder legality), lots of interesting street snacks, and fresh coconuts. If you’re brave, venture into the cramped side streets for the real shopping frenzy.
Warning: Keep your bags and valuables close, and if you want to buy something, haggle hard.
Chao Phraya River
While walking through China town you’ll eventually want to head to Rachawongse N5 Ferry Pier. This boat will take you up the river to Tha Tien N8. When you get to the pier someone will attempt to sell you a tourist boat ticket for 100 Baht or more, but the goal is to take the local boat which is much less expensive (approximately 10 Baht) and a more local experience. Just politely decline and ask them to point you to the pier with the local boat. You pay once you get on the boat.
The brief ride across the river in a tiny boat is definitely a traditional Bangkok experience. The Chao Phraya is an important fixture of the city that’s more than just a geographical feature. Admire the size and depth of the river as you motor across.
Once you get off the boat you can locate the ferry crossing to visit Wat Arun.
8:30am – 5:30pm, 3.5 baht for crossing, temple entry 100 thb
Glittering Wat Arun sits across the river from the main center of Bangkok. It’s actually best admired from afar, usually at sunset, so have your camera ready as you cross the river. Once you’re there, check out the view of the sprawling city on the other side.
Note: Wat means “temple” in Thai, and all temples have an enforced dress code for modesty. Cover your knees and shoulders, everyone. Same goes for the next 2 attractions on the list.
Wat Arun won’t take long, and once you’re down, hop in the boat and cross back over. Walk from the pier to the next stop.
8am – 6:30pm, 100 thb, price includes a small bottle of water
This huge temple sits inside the Grand Palace, which you’ll notice, is not on the list. We have been to both and find them quite similar. The main difference is that the Grand Palace is a little bigger, has some exhibitions on the royal family, a view of a disappointing piece of European-inspired architecture, and costs 500 baht. You’ll get the gist of what the Palace is like by simply going to Wat Pho, which also has the largest reclining Buddha in the world.
Tuk tuks congregate around these tourists sights, primarily waiting to overcharge and take tourists from place to place. This means that you have to haggle with the tuk tuks to get a decent price when riding them. While locals don’t often use tuk tuks, they are a quintessential part of the tourist experience in Bangkok and now is your opportunity to use one.
After you are done with Wat Pho, leave the compound and start looking for tuk tuks to take you to Wat Saket. Try to haggle them down to below 100 Baht. You may have to move away from the exit of Wat Saket and go back towards the pier, but after a couple of attempts you should be able to find a tuk tuk to take you there. Keep in mind that an equivalent cab ride would cost around 50 Baht.
You’ll soon find that the the tuk tuk drivers aren’t exactly playing fare- you’ll be quoted absurd prices. Haggling this way gets pretty annoying, and this is why we only recommend riding a tuk tuk one time, for the experience.
Wat Saket (Golden Mount)
9:00am – 5:00 pm, 20 thb
This unique temple/attraction is often bypassed by mass tourism. Entry is cheap, there are copious toilets at ground level, a cooling mist garden at the entrance, plenty to see on the way up, and great views at the top. It’s an all-the-bells-and-whistles experience when it comes to Thai temples, so just enjoy it!
Hours: 5:30am – 8:30pm everyday
After soaking in the views and mist at Wat Saket, it’s time to take a Canal Boat, often called a water taxi, and a very traditional form of local transport. Canal networks are found across much of Bangkok, and used to be fundamental to way of life in the city. Though they are used much less in modern times, you can still use some of the main canals to get around.
Pay once you get on the boat. Just tell the death-defying ticket collector where you’re going and they’ll show you a number per person.
You take the canal boat from Phanfa Leelard pier to the Sapan Hua Chang stop. This is one of those situations where it makes sense to keep your phone out and your map loaded to make sure you don’t miss your stop. The boats only stop for brief and hectic periods of time at each station as people hurriedly jump on and off. Look alive!
Warning: The water is not clean. If you’re sitting on the side, hold up the thick plastic sheeting on the outside of the boat to protect yourself from spray.
Once you arrive at the pier and head to the street, it’s about a 1 km walk to the Jim Thompson house. Just follow the map and you’ll find yourself there.
Jim Thompson House
9:00am – 6:00pm, 150 thb
I wouldn’t call this attraction “quintessential” Bangkok, because it’s not authentically Thai, however it’s fairly interesting and the grounds and house are definitely Thai style and beautiful. Your ticket includes a 30 minute-ish guided tour through the house, just wait until the tour in your language starts, usually no more than 15 minutes fro your arrival time.
If you’re feeling good and still have some time before it gets late, then you are indeed a power tourist, and have awarded yourself an additional stop on the One Day in Bangkok Itinerary!
After Jim Thompson, you might want to head to the massive mall complex of Siam. This multi-mall complex features several malls in different styles and for different price points, and of course tons of options for food and drink. Alternatively, if you have additional days and love to shop, you might enjoy spending half a day or so lazily perusing the Siam sprawl.
I personally love the area to the side of Siam Square One for all of its cute shops and restaurants, but Siam Discovery is a cool place to walk through. If you’re craving fancier fare, the first floor of Siam Paragon is full of restaurant choices, but I would avoid the rest of Paragon for the hoards.
Road Fai 2 Night Market
5:00pm – 1:00am (Definitely Open Thursday – Sunday, but I also believe it might be open every day of the week now)
Now it’s time for one of the best parts of any Bangkok itinerary- the night market! Our itinerary takes you to Rod Fai 2, which translates to “Train Market 2.” This market is a fun and hip take on traditional Thai night markets and is popular with the younger Thai crowd for its less traditional food selections, live music, and permanent fixtures of bars and some shops along the outer edge of the market.
Getting from the Jim Thompson House to the Night Market is a simple matter of taking the BTS Skytrain to Asok station and then following the signs to the MRT (Underground Blue line) and taking the MRT to Thailand Cultural Center Station. Make sure to take Exit 3 when you leave the MRT.
The market is not directly on the street, it’s off to the side on an old train yard- hence the name. To get there, head to Esplanade mall, and follow the crowds alongside or behind the mall.
Rod Fai is mostly known for its food and nightlife, so the shopping isn’t as good as what you’ll find at other markets. Peruse the jam-packed aisles picking whatever snacks look good, and be adventurous and try some of the wackier creations on offer. Blow out night!
Warning: I don’t think you’re at risk for theft or cheating here, as the market is not too popular with tourists yet. You’re most at risk of sensory overload from the dizzying blur of choice, crowds, and loud music.
After you’ve tired of the market, it’s time to head home after a long and productive day of sightseeing in Bangkok! You shouldn’t have a problem catching an honest cab outside (remember to ask for the meter and move on if the taxi says no), but if you prefer to take the train, head back to Thailand Cultural Center MRT Station.
Note: All BTS and MRT trains stop at 12:00am.
We’ve often talked about maps.me as being our favorite offline mapping software for finding places and marking waypoints on our travels.
I’ve created three sets of waypoints (GPS markings) for you to be able to load into either maps.me, or your favorite GPS tracker. The benefit of maps.me is that it allows you to download an offline map that you can use prior to experiencing the city, removing the need for internet on your cell phone.
Note: Sometimes phones struggle with downloading these sets directly, so if they won’t work for you through downloading on your phone, I recommend downloading them to a computer, emailing them to yourself, and opening them through the email on your phone. If maps.me is the only application on your phone that can read these points, they will automatically open in the application.
Once you load the waypoints, you can toggle them on and off. Many of the details in this post are also described in the waypoints that you load into maps.me.
So that wraps it up for the itinerary! Try this One Day in Bangkok Itinerary and let us know how it goes! Share with us in the comments 🙂