Many tourists overlook the fact that this remarkable city offers a great deal in culture and activities that few bother to spend more than a day or two passing through. If you would rather get to the islands and mountains, here’s what we suggest you can do in just one day.
Probably the most visited attraction in Thailand’s capital is the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha). This complex was the official home of the Thai monarchy until the 20th Century and offers spectacular examples of a range of architectural styles including authentic Thai and Italian Renaissance. It’s a feast for the camera and includes Thailand’s most treasured religious icon: the Emerald Buddha. (Duration: 90 minutes).
Wat Arun, with its fabulous location on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River, is visited by many tourists for its striking 79m-high pagoda and includes Chinese statues and intricate puzzle-like ceramic detail. At sunset, the ‘Temple of Dawn’ is one of the most beautiful sights in the city; best viewed from a boat as you cross the river from the Grand Palace and Wat Pho. The latter is another must-see temple in the area, with its famous giant reclining Buddha and multiple spires. All three are within easy reach of one another. (Duration: 90 minutes).
The National Museum, the largest in Thailand, is home to extensive displays of artefacts which span the history of Thailand. The museum provides insight into Thai culture and the significant role Buddhism has played in its development. English language tours are available on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and are well worth the extra baht for the knowledge divulged.
With only a day to see everything you might only manage a stroll through one of the wings, but it does contain one of Asia’s best selections of fine art and Buddhist relics dating back to the earliest civilisations of the region. (Duration: one to two hours). It’s also near the Grand Palace, saving you taxi time.
Claiming to be the largest golden teak mansion in the world, the Vimanmek Palace was once home to King Rama V. Today, it is one of Bangkok’s top tourist attractions. The spectacular design of the building combined with the beautifully kept gardens and daily traditional performances make it a gem among Bangkok’s places to see.
Nearby is the Abhisek Dusit Throne Hall – a neo-renaissance building closed to the public but worth photographing. It is here, too, that you experience the leafy suburbs and broad, low rise avenues of ‘royal and administrative Bangkok. (Duration: up to two hours). It’s also within easy reach of the Grand Palace.
American architect and war veteran Jim Thompson is widely credited as having played a significant role in the development and worldwide promotion of Thailand’s silk industry. His home – which today is a museum, Jim Thompson’s House – is open to the public, providing visitors with a look at traditional Thai architecture. It combines buildings from around the country, which were dismantled and brought to the capital to create this impressive complex. (Duration: 45 minutes).
Bangkok is the shopping hub for the region. There are no end of markets, shopping centres and pedestrian shopping streets. If you have time on your one-day stop in Bangkok, the jam-packed lanes of Chinatown offer shopping enthusiasts a vast range of products, from jewellery and clothes to curious antique collections. Chatuchak Weekend Market is by far Bangkok’s largest and most bustling market. Only open on Saturdays and Sundays, it is well worth a visit for some serious bargains in everything from traditional Thai crafts to retro, vintage clothing.
Also across town, in the historical old part of town, is Khao San Road – the bohemian hotspot that is packed with backpacker guesthouses, bars, restaurants and street stalls. It is one of the most entertaining areas in all of Bangkok, with endless streams of characters from across the world providing some interesting people-watching opportunities.
Bangkok’s notorious nightlife is found at Patpong on Silom Road; the original go-go area of the city and now a tourist attraction for both punters and the merely curious. Sukhumvit Road is the other popular evening area for tourists because most hotels are situated here, along with another two ‘girlie’ areas, as well as loads of respectable bars, decent restaurants and pavement night shopping. (Duration: one to two hours).
From street stalls to fine dining, Bangkok has it all in the way of food. Across the city eateries serve delicacies from the four main regions of the country, all offering distinct and varying tantalising flavours. If you are not ready to delve into the serious flavour that is Thai cuisine, then the city can offer foods from around the world, whatever your preference.
Traffic is always a problem and the above itinerary is designed to avoid cross-town journeys if you follow it in order. It will be a long day, and a good idea is to do the ‘culture sites’ of Rattanakosin, have a relaxing massage followed by dinner at Khao San Road, and then tackle the night attractions – if you have the energy.