Edited by Jessica Wright
Bangkok is the sort of wild travel destination that dreams are made of, so much so that tourism has become central to the city with more visitors passing through the city than anywhere else in the world. It has all the ingredients that a travel destination needs; a reputation for excitement that it more than lives up to, a ceaselessly entertaining nightlife, a myriad of cultural and historical sites to explore, cuisine that foodies the world over hanker after, and of course, that unfailing Thai hospitality. There is always something happening here, so when it comes to the question of what to do in Bangkok in 1 day, serious research and expertise might be in order. Having been born and raised in the city I know my way around and love nothing more than to share my vibrant home ground, so to aid you in getting the most out of one day in Bangkok, here’s my Bangkok 1 day itinerary, perfect for a layover on the way to the southern Thai islands or simply an action-packed Bangkok visit!
Start your one day in Bangkok with an early breakfast either at the hotel or at one of the numerous food stalls in city. Mango and sticky rice happens to be a personal favourite, but there are really so many good breakfast options to choose from that you might end up having several courses! Before heading out be sure to take appropriate clothes along for the day, considering the possibility of rain and a morning that will be filled with religious attractions that require knees and shoulders to be covered. Once you’ve had your fill and feel energised and ready for the day, head to a local waterway to grab your means of transport for the morning; a boat! The city is perfectly geared towards tourism, and any decent hotel lobby will be able to point you in the right direction. I think boats are the best way to see Bangkok in a day and a great way to get around, particularly to access the many historical attractions and temples along the river, as well as to view the passing architecture and ancient klongs (canals) that give a feel of old-world Bangkok. The boat-ride alone – be it an express boat, river taxi or tail-boat – is an exciting activity that provides a unique view of the city and the chance to spot the hulking monitor lizards that inhabit the water.
Sightseeing - Wat Arun
Make Wat Arun, known quite appropriately as the Temple of the Dawn and an absolute must for what to do in Bangkok in 1 day, your first stop. Considered widely as one of the most beautiful temples in Thailand, it features a towering spire that reaches over 70 metres high and is intricately patterned with tiny pieces of coloured glass and porcelain that form a delicate mosaic across the entirety of the temple. I recommend taking a walk up to the top of the temple, from where there is a breathtaking view of the river and the city, perfect for photos. With only 24 hours in Bangkok this makes for a quick and impactful visit. A popular attraction for obvious reasons, this temple also happens to be an active religious site, so dress conservatively as a sign of respect. If you are considering a longer stay or – as you inevitably will want to – when you decide to come back for another visit, you might include this in a more extensive itinerary, for example as one of the many things to do in Bangkok in 3 days.
Sightseeing - Wat Pho
Your next stop is Wat Pho (or Wat Phra Chetuphon) where you will see one of the many famous and impressive effigies of Buddha. Known in English as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, Wat Pho houses an enormous reclining Buddha, 46 metres long and covered head to toe in gold leaf. Along with the impressive statue the temple is also famous for its reputation as a leading Thai massage school, which naturally makes it the perfect place to get a Thai massage! Take some time to admire the peaceful form of the reclining Buddha, and perhaps gain yourself a bit of luck by dropping a few charity-bound coins into the symbolic 108 bronze bowls that line the walls – representing the 108 phases that led Buddha to perfection – before you treat yourself to a blissful Thai specialty massage. The coins make a beautiful sound as they come to stillness inside the bronze bowls, and if that doesn’t do enough to relax you the massage that follows most certainly will – just be sure to specify the intensity and pressure you would prefer, as the Thai style of massage can be a bit much for total newbies.
Sightseeing - The Grand Palace
As the last stop on this cultural and historical circuit head to the Grand Palace, another Bangkok must see! Housed behind regal walls of intricate and impressive masonry is a treasure trove of history central to the development of Bangkok, the monarchy and in fact Thailand as it is today. Learning about the Grand Palace is central to learning about the very creation of Bangkok, which is now home to over 14 million people. It all began within these quite ramshackle wooden walls, symbolic of the metamorphosis this bustling metropolis has undergone in the centuries since the 1700s. In this highly revered space, a conservative dress-code is strictly enforced so your preparation of earlier is going to come in handy! Inside the majestic walls you will discover Wat Phra Kaew and the Emerald Buddha, protector of Thailand. Draped in seasonal costumes of exceptional quality, some of which were made by the very hand of King Rama I, this image of Buddha – of all the statues and effigies dotting the country – is considered the most important, landing it a firm spot on the list of things to do in Bangkok in a day.
Finally, it is time to shed those layers and hit the sidewalks! I hope you’re hungry because a delicious lunch in nearby Chinatown is next on the cards. Every major city in the world has a Chinatown of its own, but Bangkok is a formidable rival being as it is the largest in the world! Passing through the ceremonial Chinese gates you’ll know at once that you have arrived, and will be instantly captivated by streets lined to bursting with stalls, stores, and restaurants. A foodie haven the choices of just what to fill up on are endless, with all manner of Chinese food imaginable on offer. If you feel inclined to stick to Thai cuisine you will be more than satisfied because even in Chinatown the choices for authentic, mouthwatering Thai food are plentiful (and at super low prices)! When hunting for a good place to eat follow the nose and your eyes; if a place has a winding queue of locals, you know it is worth a try! Fikeaw is a particularly popular seafood spot, with widely sought-after dishes like stir-fried crab, and a cook that likes to create his dishes with a dash of theatre. After lunch, be sure to indulge in one of the many exotic dessert specialties; grab a chocolate-filled bun on the go, so that you can snack while you browse the enormous variety of goods for sale.
Once you are feeling rather round and satisfied with a full belly you might want to take a little relaxing time out, so it is time for a lazy canal cruise – the longest one in Thailand. Hop onboard a riverboat and make your leisurely way down Saen Seab canal towards Pratunam market. While a 20-minute canal trip seems like the perfect time to catch a quick nap, this one is full of excitement – a little on the dingy, dirty side, but certainly an exhilarating ride no less and with the bonus of being very convenient and cost-effective! Have your credit card at the ready when you hop off, you’re in for a whirlwind shopping experience. Though the glittering Platinum Fashion Mall is the one you are more likely to find in your travel guide, Pratunam market (just a footbridge away, so you can easily access both) is my preference – a wholesale market full of personal hidden gems, catering more to locals and less towards tourists. For similar offbeat travel tips take a look at my list of Bangkok hidden gems for unusual things to do in Bangkok. Whether you are on the hunt for a newly tailored suit or an armful of toys, or simply want the chance to practice your bargaining skills, this is your chance! Spend the remainder of the afternoon shopping and haggling to your heart’s content!
After your shopping spree you might be in need of well-deserved pitstop. Head back to the hotel to deposit your retail-therapy treasures and refresh in preparation for a night out on the town! Once ready and revitalised, pick your preferred mode of transport – sky train or taxi will work perfectly – and make your way to Victory Monument where a world of street food flavour awaits. If you prefer, you can go directly to Victory Monument from Pratunam as it is situated nearby.
As you might already know, Bangkok is one of the world’s best cities for food, particularly the outstanding quality of the street food which is continually in such high demand as to ensure a quick turnover and consistently fresh food! Victory Monument is a Nirvana for street food as it is a central transport hub in the city, with a constant foot traffic. In the surrounding area you can expect to find a banquet of restaurants, street food stalls, and exciting new nibbles. If you head north of the roundabout you will be treated to the sight of a variety of Thai boat noodle restaurants in the famous boat noodle alley.
After a day of bargains in the transport, shopping and dinner department, you might be ready to splash out a bit! Climb your way up to the Sky Bar at Lebua – one of the highest rooftop bars in the world and the location of filming for the memorable bar scene in the famous Hollywood movie The Hangover. Here you will get to splurge on a little fancy mixology – cocktails that are worth the pretty penny you pay for them! To top off the exceptional quality of the drinks and an iconic experience that truly captures the highlife in Bangkok, you will get to enjoy the spectacular views. If you like this, you will undoubtedly enjoy the sky bar at Sukhumvit Road which is described in more detail in this Bangkok nightlife guide, full of amazing things to do in Bangkok at night. For the picture perfect end to your Bangkok 1 day itinerary pay a visit to Vertigo Grill and Moon Bar, which you can access via a lift from the lobby of the Banyan Tree Hotel. Be sure to try the White Kimono cocktail which is absolutely delicious, and don’t forget to indulge in a few selfies to commemorate your exciting Bangkok adventures!
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