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Bangkok – what a whirlwind. And a total culture shock. We landed in the crazy Thai capital after 25+ hours of travelling, tired, hot and hungry, and boy what an introduction it was. As this was our first trip to Asia, I had mixed feelings on what to expect. But my first impression was one of total awe. This was a place completely unlike anywhere else I’d ever visited. I was in love with the chaos, the sense of adventure and 100% ready to spend the next 36 hours in Bangkok exploring and uncovering the layers of the city.
The next 36 hours in Bangkok were a whirlwind for sure and I’m going to run through what we got up to and how we spent our first full day in Thailand to help you plan your own Bangkok itinerary.
Accommodation in Bangkok
First of all, I just want to give a big shout out to the Pho Place Guesthouse in Chinatown. We stayed at Pho Place for two nights and wouldn’t hesitate to return. Not only was it clean, comfortable and in a great location, we also found the staff to be super friendly and helpful and the rooms exceptionally good value. We paid £20 per night for two people which was a total bargain considering how nice the rooms were!
Chinatown is also a fantastic place to stay if you really want to be in the thick of it. From the moment we arrived to the moment we left, we felt like we didn’t miss out on any of the action. Walking out of our hotel into the chaos of Bangkok was what we had envisaged for this trip, as opposed to swanky 5-star hotels with rooftop pools. But while the city rages outside, what’s great is that Pho Place is set back from the road so you get a good night’s sleep too!
Getting around Bangkok
For the most part, we explored Bangkok on foot as we wanted to take in the sights, wander and get lost. However, with only 36 hours in Bangkok, to save time we did take a boat taxi upriver to get from A to B, which in itself is a great touristy thing to do (I’ll cover more on that below). We also used the bus service, which was exceptionally easy to use and also incredibly cheap (I can’t recall exactly, but I think it cost us 20-30 baht to ride the bus right across the city which equates to less than £1).
Other methods of transport include the BTS Skytrain, Tuk Tuks, Taxis and Grab Taxis (Thailand’s version of Uber).
Things to see in Bangkok
Bangkok is a bustling metropolis with so many different sides to its personality. On one hand you have the crazy Chinatown and infamous backpackers districts, on the other you have modern skyscrapers, rooftop cocktail bars and a swanky business district. So, with only 36 hours in Bangkok, what do you choose and what do you lose? Here’s our round-up of the best things to see when you only have a day to spend in the Thai capital.
Wat Arun, also known as the Temple of Dawn, is a Buddhist temple in the heart of Bangkok, situated on the banks of the Chao Phraya River. All temples in Thailand are beautiful, but Wat Arun stands apart with its unique design and intricately decorated spires.
You can easily spend an hour at Wat Arun, maybe longer if you want to browse the market stalls outside and admire the other surrounding temples on the grounds. We visited around lunchtime and it was quite busy. The temple is supposed to be stunning at sunset but quietest early in the morning and is absolutely gorgeous lit up at night, when it appears to be completely draped in a blanket of gold.
As is the case with all religious sites in Thailand, you should take care to dress appropriately – cover shoulders and thighs. And remove your shoes when walking on the temple itself.
Entrance to the temple is 50 baht.
Wat Pho, famous for its giant 46-metre golden reclining buddha, is a must-see for any visitor to Bangkok. The temple complex is one of the largest in the city and being close to both Wat Arun and The Grand Palace, it would make sense to see these three attractions in one day. While the reclining Buddha looks impressive in photos, you really have to see it in person to appreciate the sheer size and magnitude of this impressive image – the feet alone are 5 metres long and made from exquisite mother of pearl!
As well as being a religious site of importance in Bangkok, Wat Pho also houses a leading Thai massage school, so is a great place to kick back after a hot, dusty day exploring the city to enjoy an expert Thai massage.
As with Wat Arun, be sure to wear appropriate attire – cover shoulders, thighs and cleavage, and remove your shoes on temple grounds.
Admission to the temple complex costs 200 baht. Thai massage is extra.
The Grand Palace
The Grand Palace, as mentioned above, is in close proximity to Wat Pho and Wat Arun. Unfortunately, we didn’t visit The Grand Palace on this visit, as we only had one full day in Bangkok and I’d read that you need at least half a day to really enjoy the palace and make the 500 baht entrance fee worth it.
If you don’t want to venture too far across the city in one day, the temples of Wat Pho and Wat Arun along with The Grand Palace, would definitely keep you busy for a whole day. However, unless you have several days in Bangkok, I’d personally recommend skipping this in favour of exploring other areas of the city.
As mentioned, we stayed in Chinatown at the Pho Place Guesthouse and were thrilled to be right in the centre of the action. Chinatown is bustling and chaotic and feels like the beating heart of Bangkok. Head to Chinatown for great street food, low-priced gold jewellery (if that’s your jam), and great views from the nearby piers across to the Siam district, which is particularly beautiful at night.
We spent an entire evening just sat on the pier outside the River City Shopping Complex, just a 15-minute walk from the Pho Place Guesthouse. With a Chang beer in hand, we watched the boats buzzing up and down the Chao Phraya river and took in the twinkling lights of the skyscrapers and IconSiam shopping centre across the water.
Chao Phraya Boat Trip
There are many tourist boat trips you can take up and down the Chao Phraya River, some hop-on-hop-off budget boat trips which allow you to use the river to get between attractions and districts, and some more premium options, such as a luxury dinner cruise.
Or you could simply use the commuter boats from one of the piers, which cost just a few baht, to get around the city and see the sites, as we did. The Chao Phraya feels like the main artery of the city and it’s well worth experiencing the city from the river.
Khao San Road
The main backpacking road in Bangkok didn’t hold much appeal to me to be honest. I prefer to immerse myself in the local culture rather than party with other tourists in westernised bars. However, as we were in the area (Khao San Road isn’t far from The Grand Palace and Wat Pho), we decided to give it a whirl just for the experience.
While it sounds horrendous, it actually wasn’t as bad as I’d imagined. Although I’ve heard it’s a completely different animal at night! Of course, touristy souvenir shops, bars, restaurants and massage parlours line the street but it’s worth having a wander up the road to see what the backpacking district is all about. We even enjoyed a really good Thai foot massage which was a welcome relief after walking miles around the hot, dusty streets of Bangkok that day!
Wat King Kaew
Something that you may not find on other Bangkok to do lists is Wat King Kaew. We stumbled across this gem completely by accident on our last day in Bangkok. We were staying at the Miracle Suvarnabhumi Airport Hotel and wandered out to explore before our flight home. We’re so glad we did because we ended up stumbling across this incredible authentic local market and temple complex, known as Wat King Kaew.
If you want to experience an authentic market in Thailand, with not a single souvenir in sight, this is the place to go. The people were extremely friendly (as they always are in Thailand) and we had some amazing Thai food for very low prices! A great off-the-beaten-track alternative to the mainstream tourist sights in central Bangkok.
The only caveat is that it’s a fair way outside the city, close to Suvarnabhumi Airport, so would require a taxi or train ride to get here. Totally worth it though if you want to experience the real Thailand.
Visit a rooftop bar
For anyone who has seen The Hangover, you’ll know that Bangkok boasts some awesome rooftop bars. From the Moon Bar at the Banyan Tree Hotel to the famous Sky Bar, the views from the top will leave you speechless.
For our second night in Bangkok, we ventured to ThreeSixty, which perches atop the Millennium Hilton hotel next to the IconSiam shopping centre. We chose this particular bar because it was fairly close to our hotel and the prices were less extortionate than some of the more well-known rooftop bars in Bangkok.
We found ThreeSixty to be extremely reasonable when compared to similar bars we’d been to in other cities around the world. A large cocktail cost us around £10, which is cheaper than you’d pay in a regular bar in London or New York. And while I appreciate that £10 for a drink in Bangkok is on the more expensive side, you’re really paying for the view and the atmosphere!
If you plan to visit rooftop bars in Bangkok, make sure to err on the side of smart when it comes to clothing. The dress code for most is smart casual, with no shorts and no sports shoes allowed, although Jamie only had Nike trainers with him, and we had no problems getting in, so it seems it’s hit and miss.
That about sums up how we spent our 36 hours in Bangkok. It was definitely a whirlwind and it’s fair to say that there’s much, much more to this bustling city than a few temples but if this is your first time in Bangkok, the above itinerary will be enough to keep you busy for a day or two and introduce you to crazy, crazy Bangkok.
Many of the people we spoke to before our trip told us that 1-2 days in Bangkok is enough and by the end of the second day, you’ll want to hot tail it out of there, but we found ourselves on the plane to Krabi wishing we’d had more time to explore and get under the skin of this incredible city.