Every few months we find ourselves spending at a full day in Bangkok en route to some other final destination. Let’s be honest – a little of this city goes a long way, so a short but sweet 24 hours in Bangkok is (for us) a great way to squeeze some must-see sights and get our city fix without feeling overwhelmed.
If you, too, find yourself with a day or two to spare in central Bangkok, whether it’s during domestic or international travel, here are our picks of things to do while you’re here. We’ve broken our suggestions down into three sections:
- iconic attractions for first timers
- lesser frequented places for return visitors
- trips on the outskirts of the city (if you have a full, uninterrupted day to spare)
Let’s begin! But first…
Getting to Bangkok
an incredibly popular the #1 visited city in the world. So it’s not surprising that the city has two airports, Don Mueang and the dazzling Suvarnabhumi (pronounced ‘soowunnah-pboom’), to handle such a massive influx of travelers. There are loads of long-distance bus stations (Mo Chit, Sai Thai Mai, and Eakamai) and a train station (Hua Lamphong), to get you there, too.
Most of the time we fly into Bangkok as opposed to taking a train or bus. Airlines we’ve flown with at one time or another include Bangkok Airways, Thai Lion, Air Asia, Nok Air, Thai Smile, and Thai Airways. We’ve taken an overnight bus to Bangkok before and have pondered the idea of taking the sleeper train to Bangkok. Perhaps we’ll do that on our next trip?
|TIP: Check out PackPoint, an app that helps you figure out what you need to pack based on where you’re visiting and for how long you’ll be there. Even if you’re spending one day in Bangkok, it’s worth checking out and applying the tips to your entire trip.|
Staying at a riverside hotel in Bangkok
Figuring out how to get Thailand’s capital is generally straightforward. Unfortunately, choosing a place to stay in Bangkok among the overwhelming number of hotels, resorts, hostels, and guesthouses can be a beast. Luckily, the pressure was off when the Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel & Towers invited us for a short stay.
As it turns out, the Royal Orchid Sheraton was a perfect fit for our brief visit to Bangkok. We appreciated how friendly and service-oriented the staff were, the spectacular city views (especially at night), but just as importantly, its convenient proximity to the city’s most iconic sites.
One thing we immediately put to good use was the hotel’s free water shuttle service to the Sathorn Central Pier and BTS Skytrain (Saphan Taksin stop). This gave us direct access to the network of water taxis going up and down the Chao Phraya River and the BTS Skytrain to the heart of the city, respectively. Using these forms of transportation sure beats using taxis and getting stuck in the city’s traffic when we’re off sightseeing.
If it’s your first visit to Bangkok…
…then it’d be unfair not to mention the iconic, touristy sites in town. Keep in mind that these attractions are open every day even if a seemingly friendly tuk-tuk driver tells you differently!
Royal Grand Palace + Temple of the Emerald Buddha
The Royal Grand Palace is the place to visit during a trip to Thailand. It is absolutely stunning. The Royal Grand Palace is also home to the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (Wat Phra Kaew). Just make sure to get there early to beat the massive crowds.
Grand Palace + Green Buddha Temple Ticket Price and Hours: 500 baht entrance fee, open 9:00am to 3:30pm daily
|TIP: The Royal Grand Palace has a very strict dress code, going far beyond the typical temple request to ‘cover your knees, shoulders, and cleavage’. You’ve been forewarned!|
Another popular site is Wat Pho (pronounced ‘wat po,’ not ‘wat fo’), which is famous for its huge golden reclining Buddha. The statue is incredible (check out the swirls on the underside of its feet) but our favorite part was the chedis in the temple’s surrounding gardens. And although we did not get a Thai massage from the onsite Thai Traditional Medical School, go there. It’s a good excuse to rest your feet for an hour or so.
Wat Pho Ticket Price and Hours: 100 baht entrance fee, open 8:00am to 5:30pm daily
Pronounced ‘wat aroon’, this is another famous temple in Bangkok. Sadly, it has been under construction since 2013 and scaffolding is currently on the main tower, so you can’t climb the tower for a high-up view of the city. However, the grounds are beautiful and we liked watching the longtail boats and tug boats chug up and down the river. Another option to see Wat Arun would be to stand on the opposite riverbank and catch the sunset going behind it.
Wat Arun Ticket Price and Hours: 50 baht entrance fee, open 8:00am to 6:00pm daily
If you’ve visited Bangkok before or prefer something a little less touristy…
…then try out these markets for some independent exploration. These are also free to visit (no entrance fees!) and you can count on being one of few foreigners there:
Chinatown’s Talat Noi and Sampeng Lane
Chinatown is MASSIVE, so it’s a little misleading when guidebooks recommend going there without mentioning a specific area. Otherwise, you waste precious time wandering down streets that may have little going on. We visited Talat Noi and Sampeng Lane in one trip (thanks to this detailed walking tour, which began right outside the Royal Orchid Sheraton’s front doors. Talk about convenient!)
Talat Noi gives you a taste of old Bangkok (pre-skyscrapers) and has machinery parts spilling out of doorways and onto the small streets. Sampeng Lane is fascinating simply because of the sheer volume of STUFF. It’s like Alibaba or Amazon incarnate within the sweltering bowels of Bangkok. You’ll be happy to learn that even though it’s an open-aired market, the shopkeepers blast their AC, which will prevent you from melting completely.
Dare we utter (write?) the words ‘Khao San Road’ on this blog but this infamous street is actually one of the better-known landmarks near Soi Rambuttri. That’s because the two roads run parallel with each other. Soi Rambuttri is lined with small eclectic shops, boutique cafés and restaurants, and plenty of opportunities for foot massages. It’s an all-around charming place to visit.
Bangkok’s two largest and most popular floating markets are nearly 100 kms from the city center. However, the Taling Chan Floating Market is a smaller, lesser known market that doesn’t take long to get to and can be explored in about an hour. We recommend this if you are comfortable exploring Bangkok on your own.
The vendors sell small snacks grilled right on their boats or fresh produce. You can feed the wriggling schools of catfish and carp of the market’s pier, get a foot massage under a shady tree, or even take a short ride up and down the canals in a longtail boat for 100 baht a person.
If you have a full, uninterrupted day…
…as in, you arrived in Bangkok the night before and won’t be leaving until late the next night, then travel somewhere away from the city center. The following day trips are roughly an hour and a half away from Bangkok’s city center.
You can drive yourself there or take a private or group tour. We recommend Your Thai Guide if you want a private tour guide for the day.
Maeklong Railway Market
This is a bustling seafood and produce market about 90 km southwest of Central Bangkok. What makes it unique is a train runs right through the Thai market, passing just inches away from the vendors. It travels from Bangkok to the Maeklong Railway Station three times per day. It’s also possible to ride the train for an entirely different perspective.
Who knew there’s an island in Bangkok? Time has practically stood still on this peaceful, man-made island. Here you’ll find a plethora of Thai treats, old-fashioned Thai homes, and intricate earthenware pottery created by member of the Mon community. You can visit this island any day of the week but it’s most lively on Saturday and Sundays thanks to its weekend market.
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About 85 km north of Bangkok are the ruins of Ayutthaya, the old capital of Siam. Today it’s preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. All that remains are royal towers (which, at first glance, look like Wat Arun), Buddha statues, and the famous Buddha head overgrown by a fig tree.
Good eats in Bangkok
There are plenty of cafés and restaurants a stone’s throw from any of the above mentioned activities. However, here are several places that we particularly enjoyed and think are good for first-time visitors:
If you’re looking for authentic Thai street food, check out the large gathering of vendors pumping out snacks and hot meals at Klongsan Plaza. This was a new market to us and had only learned about it thanks to the 1-Hour Gem pamphlet we picked up from the Royal Orchid Sheraton’s concierge desk. Come to find out, the Klongsan Plaza is a stone’s throw across the river from the hotel.
To get there, we took the express boat from the Si Phraya Pier (this can be seen from the hotel’s breakfast area) and took a one minute ride across the river to the back entrance of the Klongsan Plaza. We walked through vendors selling clothing, accessories, shoes, and handbags before popping out at the food court area (near the main road). Bowls of noodles, stacks of Thai fried chicken, and sweet snacks like mango and sticky rice were available from the dozens of vendors.
Siam Center’s Food Republic
If you’re hesitant about ordering from street vendors, then you can cheat a little and go to a place called Food Republic. This indoor food court can be found on the third floor of the Siam Center Mall in Siam and provides ‘street food’ in a clean, decorative dining area. It has a good selection of easy-to-order items that will please most people; we saw tourists, expats, and locals enjoying meals there. Plus, you don’t have to worry about trying to figure out what the food is (there are English menus) or how/when to pay (pre-loaded card at the food court’s entrance).
After a full day of exploring Bangkok, we headed back to our hotel and enjoyed an upscale Thai dinner at Thara Thong. We got our seafood fix with the Goong See Tong (Fried Jumbo Prawns in Yellow Curry) and loved the Thai-inspired cocktails, namely the Lychee Martini and the Security Check (a pandan-lime-pomelo flavored martini). As an added bonus, several performers came into the dining area midway through our meal and put on three traditional Thai dances for all the guests. We thought this was a special touch and a nice way to end our short stay in Bangkok.
|TIP: For more suggestions on what and where to eat, check out Eating Thai Food and BKK Fatty – they’re the foodie experts in town.|
Make the most out of 24 hours in Bangkok…or any city in the world
There’s definitely an advantage to having a lengthy layover in a city. We’ve explored Seoul, South Korea and Paris, France this way during some (very long) international flights. And mini guides are the way to go, like this video guide below (although this one’s for Hong Kong – maybe we’ll have a layover there next!)
We love short and sweet tips like these whenever we’re traveling to somewhere unfamiliar. Why spend all that time researching when short guides like these are easily available at your fingertips?
What are some of your favorite things to do in Bangkok? If you haven’t visited yet, what are you looking forward to doing?
DISCLOSURE: Some of the above links contain affiliates. If you click them, you are helping support our blog. Thanks – we appreciate it! We were also guests of the Royal Orchid Sheraton Hotel & Towers. Our opinions and thoughts of the hotel, activities, and restaurants during our 24 hours in Bangkok are our own.