Bangkok, the capital of Thailand is a huge city popular for its opulence, ornate shrines and exciting street life. It is one of Asia's most cosmopolitan cities with grand palaces and temples, busy markets and a vibrant urban nightlife.
Boasting high-rise buildings, ultra-modern shopping malls, ancient sights, colorful markets and exotic restaurants, touristy Bangkok is worth a visit at least once in a lifetime.
A few years ago, we missed a connecting flight at BKK airport. With nearly 24 hours in Bangkok to kill, we decided to see the most important highlights. This is where our tour guide took us:
Where to stay in Bangkok
Bangkok is relatively cheap for a capital city, so if you've always wanted to stay in a classy boutique hotel, now's your chance. You might even splurge on fine dining and private tours around the city.
If you happen to be on a budget, you can lodge in an affordable mid-range hotel or guesthouse.
Either way, if you want to immerse yourself in local culture, do what the locals do. They dine on street food, eat at hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and get around the city with tuk tuks, public transport or taxis.
ⓘ TIP: The Chao Phraya River is one of the best areas to stay in Bangkok. Backpackers prefer Khao San Road.
Best places to visit in Bangkok
A few iconic sights belong on every Bangkok one day itinerary. Your trip to this beautiful part of the world would not be complete otherwise.
The Grand Palace is located in the old part of the city, and is Bangkok’s most popular landmark. As its name implies, the Grand Palace is a spectacular building.
Built in 1782, this awe-inspiring architecture has been the residence of the Thai King and the Royal court for the past 150 years. It acts as the administrative seat of government, housing the Thai state departments, the war ministry, and the mint. It's also occasionally used to host important ceremonies, like the late King's recent funeral, as well as to accommodate visiting heads of state.
This intricately-built structure is a testament to the craftsmanship and creativity of the Thai people. It has continued to draw the attention and respect of visitors from around the world.
ⓘ TIP: Try to go with a tour guide so you don’t miss out on the important details of this awe-inspiring historic complex.
Wat Phra Kaew
Wat Phra Kaew is considered the most sacred Buddhist temple (wat) in Thailand. Located on the grounds of the Grand Palace, It houses a 26-inch-tall statue (66 cm) known as the Emerald Buddha, made of jade and clothed in gold.
According to legend, an Indian sage prophesied that the Emerald Buddha would bring “prosperity and pre-eminence to each country in which it resides.” Thus, it is highly revered and considered as the protector of the country.
No photos of the Buddha are allowed. Tourists are expected to dress modestly when visiting.
Temple of the Reclining Buddha (Wat Pho), is home of the giant reclining Buddha . The statue is 46 meters long and 50 meters high and covered in gold leaf.
As the oldest temple in Bangkok, it is also the largest, taking up an area of almost 20 acres. The rest of the complex is mostly an education center that focuses on traditional medicine and massage therapy. And yes, you can get a Thai massage while you're there.
In Buddhist tradition, the Buddha's reclining position represents his entry into complete spiritual enlightenment. Enlightenment ends all worldly reincarnations.
- The Reclining Buddha is located 700 meters south of The Grand Palace.
- Entry fee: 100 baht
Wat Traimit, also known as the Temple of the Golden Buddha, is home to the largest seated gold Buddha in the world. The exquisite golden statue measures 3.5 meters and weighs 5.5 tons. It was discovered sometime in the 1950s, when East Asiatic Company bought some land near the temple.
One of the terms of sale was removal of a plaster Buddha statue on the site. Due to its weight, the crane dropped the statue. After an overnight rain, some monks passing by the fallen statue noticed dazzling gold shining through the plaster. It was later peeled off to reveal the regal figure in all its glory.
The origin of the statue is still unknown, but it is believed to have been carved during the Sukhothai era, when artisans disguised golden Buddhas from invading armies by wrapping them in plaster and stucco.
- Wat Traimit is located at the end of Chinatown, near Hualampong Railway Station.
Take the Chao Phraya Express Boat across the river to Wat Arun, better known as the Temple of Dawn. Its design is very different from the other temples in Thailand, and it's easily one of the most stunning temples in Bangkok.
The temple is named for the Hindu god Aruna, often personified as the radiations of the rising sun. Fitting, because the temple is made of colorful glazed porcelain tiles that glimmer in the sunlight.
Bangkok food tour
Trying new cuisines is a travel highlight, but nothing can ruin a trip faster than a case of Bangkok Belly. Sure, you can eat in hotel restaurants, but they cater to tourist tastes. Besides, as we found in India, hotel food is no guarantee you won't get sick.
For authentic Thai flavor, consider a food tour. You guide will take you to the best Bangkok has to offer, and you can rest assured the food will be safe to eat. Best of all, they will customize your experience to your food preferences.
ⓘ TIP: Chinatown is a popular foodie haven, but there are tours all over the city. You can get around by bike, on foot, or bicycle Here's the food tour we enjoyed; we traveled by tuk-tuk.
Riding a tuk-tuk
It's not really a sight, but even if you are only in Bangkok for a day, you must experience a tuk-tuk. These three-wheeled vehicles are a super-affordable way to travel short distances around the city. Think rickshaw with a two-stroke engine … that noise is why it's called a tuk-tuk.
Bangkok has congested streets and tuk-tuk drivers know all the little back roads to beat the traffic. On the tuk-tuk, you get the full experience of all the sights, sounds and smells of the city. We take it whenever we can.
Other things to see in Bangkok if you have more time
Bangkok's impressive National Museum is famous for being the biggest museum in Southeast Asia. It was the only museum in Thailand until the mid-1970s, which explains its large collection of exhibits. Thankfully, most of the pieces are labeled in Thai and English.
The National Museum is the home of Thailand’s contemporary and ancient history. A large part of the museum’s structures were erected in 1782 as the palace of Rama I, Prince Wang Na. In 1874, Rama V converted it to a museum and it now has three permanent exhibitions which are spread across several buildings.
Guided tours are offered in English, and visitors get to see ceremonial and religious artifacts, regalia, games weaponry, ceramics, musical instruments and so much more.
Damnoen Saduak (the Floating Market)
Would you like to go shopping on water? If yes, Damnoen Saduak, famously known as the floating market, is where you should be. Located in Ratchaburi, on the outskirts of Bangkok, the market has also been dubbed the ‘Venice of the East.’
You can buy fresh fruits and delicious Thai foods while cruising on a boat, and get to chat with the locals too. For a more touristy experience, go for the ‘Floating Market Cruise Day Trip’. This six-hour treat includes pick up from your hotel, transportation in an air-conditioned bus and an extensive tour, all for a low fee. Some tours also include a visit to a coconut farm, where you can see how sugar is produced for desserts and sweets.
ⓘ TIP: Go beyond the usual sights with this list of 7 unique things to do in Bangkok.
Bangkok Flower Market
Next, we walked over to Bangkok Flower Market, the largest wholesale flower market in all of Thailand. It's open 24 hours and best at night. Tons of energy, but still a nice stroll in the daytime.
Chinatown is super lively at night; the streets are packed with people and delicious street food vendors. We began with a couple dishes at a restaurant and then just popped around and sampled bites off various street vendors.
Lumpini Park is a green haven for visitors, away from the busyness and traffic in the city of Bangkok. It’s an ideal place to spend a quiet afternoon under the shade of a Chinese pagoda, or hang out on one of its many lawns. You could also enjoy a boat ride on the nearby lake. Occupying 58 hectares of land, Lumpini Park was formerly called Sala Daeg field, named after Buddha’s birthplace in Nepal. It was donated by Rama IV in 1925. The park has been used for some anti-government protests that eventually became violent, so do a quick check on the current status before visiting.
Plan your trip
To be honest, one day is not enough for you to experience the supreme beauty of Bangkok. However, if that’s all you have, you’ll definitely get a blast from visiting all the interesting places described above.
Here are some resources to help you plan your own trip:
- Tourism Thailand has many useful resources for planning your Bangkok trip.
- Visas– Find out if you need a Thai visa here.
- Lodging– Research your sleeping options here.
- Transportation– This website calculates how to get around by plane, train, bus, ferry and automobile.
- Tours – The folks at Get Your Guide are the world’s largest online platform for booking tours, attractions and activities. To see a list of all their tours, click here.
- For more sightseeing, you’ll enjoy our Bangkok photo galleries.
- Scroll around Google’s satellite photo map for a good aerial view of the area around the Royal Palace.
When is the best time to visit Bangkok?
The best time to visit Bangkok is either in late December or early January, which is their winter season and considered the peak period for tourists. This is because the city can be too hot at other times of the year. The temperature is also relatively low in November and February.
Here are some related books for further planning.
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