Hawkers punting laughing gas and freshly-roasted spiders. Towering temples rising from almost every corner you turn. And traffic snarling through sweat-soaked streets. It’s Bangkok, that city immortalized as the epicentre of the Asian backpacker scene; the capital of Thailand and must-visit location for any tourist to the region. But what if you only have 24 hours in Bangkok to spend?
Perhaps you’ve got a layover to another exotic destination in Southeast Asia like Cambodia or Vietnam; or you’re using Bangkok as your jumping-off point for the islands, as you journey from Bangkok to Suratthani. Either way, here’s how we’d suggest you spend your one day in bustling Bangkok.
Try the famous Thai cuisine
It’s considered one of the world’s best styles of cuisine, with seven of the world’s top 50 dishes originating from the Land of Smiles. So, you can’t come to Bangkok, the heartbeat of the Thai food scene, and not eat the many renowned dishes.
Slurp up your spicy Pad Thai noodles, delight your palate with a simmering green curry or sigh over the many-splendoured desserts of mango sticky rice or coconut ice cream.
You’ve got a lot of options in terms of how to experience it all. The more adventurous can just pull up to one of the many street carts dotted across the city, attempting a papaya salad or traditional Thai fried rice.
The more stomach-shy could attempt one of the many markets littered across Bangkok. Famous ones include the Chatuchak Market (which only operates at weekends) or the nearby Or Tor Kor, the ‘Kings’ market which boasts the finest produce in the land, as chosen by the former king himself. There you have to try a massaman curry, gorge yourself on fresh mangosteens and lychees or try the king of fruits: the mighty (but very, very smelly) durian.
Location: 101 Kamphaengphet Road, Bangkok 10900, Thailand
Last, but definitely not least, are the multitude of restaurants, many of which make the illustrious Michelin Guide. Our top pick would be Krua Apsorn, which has a number of branches sprouting in different neighbourhoods, where the signature dish is the crab meat omelette. Think soft, tender crab meat enveloped in a dreamy egg-based cocoon.
Location: 503 Thanon Samsen, Dusit, Dusit District, Bangkok 10300
Go temple hopping
Have you really been to Thailand if you haven’t visited at least ten temples? Well in Bangkok you are spoiled for choice.
Highlights include: Wat Phra Kaew, the ‘Temple of the Emerald Buddha’, a temple conveniently nestled within the Grand Palace grounds, making this a double-header for your visit. Check out the impressive buddha statue which, although only 66 cm tall, is made out of one single jade stone.
Location: Na Phra Lan Rd, Phra Borom Maha Ratchawang, Phra Nakhon, Bangkok 10200
Next up? Wat Pho. The biggest and oldest temple in the city, it’s a slightly quieter temple which boasts a gigantic gold reclining buddha that is well worth the visit as part of your Bangkok itinerary.
Location: 2 Sanam Chai Rd, Phra Borom Maha Ratchawang, Phra Nakhon, Bangkok 10200
If you’re at Wat Pho, you might as well hop on the boat across the glimmering river to Wat Arun aka The Temple of the Dawn. Don’t expect an empty temple here – you’re more likely to fight the crowds – but you’ll get some lovely photos. Plus the boat ride is only 5 minutes and 10 THB (0.30 USD).
Location: 158 Thanon Wang Doem, Wat Arun, Bangkok Yai, Bangkok 10600
Stroll the streets
Yes, it’s hot in Bangkok. Yes, you’ll be sweaty in Bangkok. But do take the time and go pound the streets to really get a feel for the buzzing underbelly that makes this city so fascinating. You can always pop into the many supermarkets to get a free blast of air-conditioning on your way…
For a glimpse into the real pulse of Bangkok, you have to visit the legendary Khao San Road. Immortalized in Leonardo di Caprio’s The Beach film, Khao San Road is a frenetic, frustrating, crazy stretch of road that you have to see once in your lifetime.
You’ll be accosted by sellers trying to palm off custom suits, see many a neon-coloured traveller tank top and undoubtedly notice a few inebriated young backpackers dancing on tables in the middle of the day. But Khao San Road is an experience. Stop off at any of the cafes to watch it go by or, if you’re that way inclined, join in the fun and get one of the cheap cocktails on offer.
If drunken revellers are not your style, you could always get a dose of culture (and more food) by heading to the Chinatown district, Yaowarat.
You’ll find more temples, most of them in the more traditional Chinese style, like the breath-taking Wat Mangkon Kamalawat (Dragon Lotus Temple), or Wat Traimat, which is home to the world’s largest seated buddha.
Plus, if your stomach is still rumbling, you can make a turn at the Sampeng market, to munch some dumplings and take a breather from your traipsing around town.
Last up, you could always spend more time shopping than strolling by trying out one of the many malls in the city. The most famous one being the monstrous MBK Centre, although there are many more shopping malls to see.
Watch the city go to sleep
After a day pounding pavements, it’s worth getting up high – seeing Bangkok from a different angle – at a rooftop bar.
Now there are a number of them to choose from but most people will gravitate towards the Lebua Sky Bar. You might know it from the film, The Hangover Part II, but more than just a stalwart of movie culture, it’s a pretty cool place to see the cityscape below while sipping a martini (or two).
Make your way to the observation deck and rub shoulders with some of Bangkok’s city slickers as you mingle with locals and tourists alike.
Pro tip: The Sky Bar is actually 4-5 different bars within the same building. Do insist on getting taken to the ‘one from the Hangover’ and make sure you decline any offers of champagne on arrival – they are definitely not free!
Location: 1055 Si Lom, Silom, Bang Rak, Bangkok 10500
Looking for a destination near Bangkok? If you’re not sure of your next stop and want to stay within close quarters of the capital, it’s worth looking into going from Bangkok to Pattaya, a city just two hours away that’s pretty famous for raucous parties and extreme sports. If it’s beach life you’re after, Hua Hin is the nearest coastal enclave, which is only 4 hours on the bus from Bangkok.