Thailand’s capital city is a heaving metropolis that is many backpackers first introduction to Thailand and South East Asia. At first glance it can be extremely daunting, the crazy traffic and the pollution, the crowds, the exotic nightlife, the backpacker ghettoes and the raw, unfiltered sensual assault of Thailand, and perhaps this is why so many people have a hard time gelling with the city at first. But if you take the time to look a little deeper and get to know the city, Bangkok will make you fall in love with her.
Bangkok is an amazing city if you take the time to get to know her, and 3 days is not much time at all when you consider the sheer size of the city and the amount of things to do, but is on average the amount of time people spend here before heading off to explore Thailand so take the time to get to know Bangkok with these tips and let me show you just some of the highlights that you can fill these three short days with.
Take a river tour.
Bangkok can be a bit of an assault on the senses to begin with, so you want to take it easy on your first day. To give yourself a nice, easy introduction to Bangkok on and help you get your bearings, take a stroll down the riverbank of the Chao Praya river and catch a ride or two on the river taxis. Always just take a river taxi instead of a tour boat. This way you can get the same picturesque experience of Bangkok’s waterfront as one of the expensive tours at a fraction of the price and is quite a nice way to view some of the main sights.
Chinatown is one of the best places to eat in Bangkok, and if you want a taste of street food culture in South East Asia, this is where to start! There is also a huge market here that you can go and get a load of knock off gear and touristy stuff if you really want to, but it is best explored for the atmosphere and the cheap eats.
Khao San Road.
Khao San Road is the infamous backpacker street of Thailand. An explosion of East and West, it is the perfect decompression chamber to ease the first time visitor into the backpacker lifestyle and the chaos of Thailand. It is here where you will find the guesthouses, hostels, bars, street stalls and entertainment all set up to service backpackers. It does get a lot of stick for being overpriced and over touristy, and it is both of those things without doubt, but if you are a backpacker heading to Thailand then you will end up here at some point. It is best to come here in the evening when things start to open up and get lively. I personally love it here, the food isn’t the best, the market is expensive and you can find better and cheaper accommodation a few streets away, but it is great fun and one of the best places to meet other backpackers and have a great time. Just sit back, get a drink and soak in the atmosphere. Oh, and avoid the ping pong show touts at the end of the street!
The Grand Palace.
Now you have eased yourself into Bangkok and gotten your bearings a little, you can spend your second day seeing a few of the absolute must see sites. You simply can’t visit Bangkok without seeing the Grand Palace (just be careful of the age old ‘it’s closed’ scam). It is quite simply a spectacular must see and arguably one of the cities most famous landmarks. The King doesn’t live there anymore unfortunately, but it is still a stunning example of Thai architecture and is used for ceremonial purposes. Wat Pra Kaew temple is also inside the palace grounds and is another must see site, with the statue of the emerald Buddha held here for ceremonial purposes.
Next to the grand palace and easily explored on foot is the home of the famous reclining Buddha. This huge temple complex is worth taking your time to explore so you can discover for yourself the wealth of sculptures and murals, stupas and manicured gardens. The College of Traditional Medicine is also housed here, and you should really take some time out and indulge in some traditional Thai massage!
Wat Arun is one of the most visually stunning temples in Bangkok, especially if you see it at sunset when it starts to light up! Located very near Wat Pho on the riverfront, you can easily get here after visiting the reclining Buddha and Grand Palace. Just get a river taxi to take you across the river from Tha Thien pier for a few baht. It is well worth climbing the steep central staircase if you are fit enough, it is a long climb in the heat for the unfit but you are rewarded with some amazing views over the city and the winding Chao Praya river.
Remember when visiting any of these temples that as amazing and welcoming as they are for tourists, they are active places of worship too, so dress appropriately and respect the local beliefs.
Jim Thompson’s house.
The former home of an American businessman who lived in Bangkok in the 50s and mysteriously disappeared in Malaysia in the late 60s, this open museum is a snapshot of how Bangkok used to be, and holds a range of Thai and Asian art and structures. It is a peaceful – if slightly strange – introduction to local history and culture, and is a pleasant way to spend an hour or two.
Start early and take a half day tour to Damnoen Saduak, the most popular floating market in Bangkok (there are actually several). Actually located just outside of the city it is easy to get to by bus. The market has become extremely touristy over the past few years, with the traditional produce making way for more and more tourist fare, but it is still an amazing site to see, an amazing photo opportunity and a great way to get a taste of traditional Thai life. Let your taste buds guide you through the array of seafood skewers, fruit and quick meals cooked right off the boat. Just haggle hard if you decide to buy anything!
Get some retail therapy.
One thing Bangkok is famous for – apart from that – is shopping. Thai’s love to shop, and Bangkok’s malls really push the envelope when it comes to giving the ultimate retail and leisure experience, so it would be a shame not to hit up some of the malls while you are here. There are so many to choose from, from the ever popular MBK mall and Paragon to the huge CentralWorld, which has over 500 stores and 15 cinemas to say the least. If you are shopped out, seeing a movie isn’t a bad idea here too, just to compare how bad the cinemas in the UK are in comparison and get a taste of Thai patriotism!
Chatuchak weekend market.
If the malls aren’t enough to quell your need to shop and you are in Bangkok over the weekend, then you really have to visit the Chatuchak weekend market. It is absolutely huge, and probably the best market in Thailand. You can get pretty much anything you like here, from dodgy DVDs and branded copies to tourist tat and genuine brands at great prices, if your haggling skills are any good! There are also plenty of food options for when you get hungry.
There are so many other things to see and do in Bangkok, these are just some of the highlights I would recommend to get a taste of the city on your first trip. Three days really isn’t enough time. So what about you? What are your favourite things to do in Bangkok? Would you add anything to this list?
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