With glittering temples, spectacular food, and some of the most unique shopping in the world, it’s no surprise that Bangkok is consistently ranked as one of the top cities to visit by travel experts around the globe. While you could spend a lifetime in this exotic metropolis and still not see it all, even just a day is enough to get to know the city.
Start the day with a ride through Bangkok’s busy streets as you take in the aromas of khanom krok (sweet coconut pancakes) and pathongko (fried Thai doughnuts) being made at the many cafes along the river. Sample some of these fresh morning treats, then head out to some of the most popular attractions in town.
Towering skyscrapers dwarf small, traditional wooden houses along the Chao Phraya River, and gleaming temples punctuate the cityscape. The first stop on any first-time visitor’s itinerary should be The Grand Palace, the largest and most-visited building complex in the city. Once the official residence of the kings of Siam, the palace complex is a grand collection of impressive buildings and temples. One of them, Wat Phra Kaew, is home to a small but highly revered Buddha statue that was carved from emerald in the 14th century. Its robes are changed each season by HM The King of Thailand himself, marking an important ritual in the Buddhist calendar.
Take a short trip just up the river from The Grand Palace to see two other architectural wonders of Bangkok: Wat Prayoon, and Wat Pho. Wat Prayoon has a unique pagoda shape that you can climb for some spectacular views of the temple grounds and surrounding city. Take a walk through the complex and you’ll also come across a tranquil pond where you can feed the resident turtles (considered sacred animals in Buddhism) and admire the small spirit house shrines that dot the pond’s shores. Wat Pho is known as The Temple of the Reclining Buddha, and it’s pretty clear why. Inside, you’ll be dwarfed by an incredible statue of Buddha that’s one of the largest in Thailand at 50 feet tall and 150 feet long. Every surface is intricately decorated, and the statue is surrounded by brass bowls that you can drop coins into for good luck (while also helping monks maintain the temple).
The Thai are famous for their massages, which can be quite the experience. Strong masseurs bend, pound, and twist their clients like putty, sometimes even using their feet and body weight to work out tense back muscles. While it may sound brutal, you’re guaranteed to walk away feeling light as a feather with any muscular knots and bodily aches pounded into oblivion. For a gentler experience, opt for a reflexology foot massage, an equally effective antidote to walking the city streets all day. Massage parlors are cheap and plentiful throughout Bangkok, but some of the best masseurs can actually be found at Wat Pho temple. It happens to be home to the oldest international massage school in the world and offers a vast menu of relaxing (or intense) professional massages.
Shopping could be considered the official sport of Bangkok–there are enormous markets of all types throughout the city. However, Bangkok is most famous for its night markets that begin to open at around 5:00 pm and continue to be a fun and busy place to eat, be entertained, and shop until the early hours of the morning. Asiatique, located on the east bank of the river, is one of the most popular and accessible night markets in the city. With over 1,500 boutiques and 40 restaurants, you can easily spend an entire evening here shopping for souvenirs and eating to your heart’s content. If people-watching isn’t enough entertainment, there are also live shows every evening including traditional Thai puppet theater and Muay Thai performances.
No stranger to nightlife, Bangkok really comes alive as soon as the sun sets and daytime heat dissipates. Besides the night markets, there are seemingly millions of bars lining the main streets in every neighborhood. For an upscale evening, head to the trendy neighborhoods of Thong Lor or Ekkamai, where you’ll find the city’s newest, hippest nightlife and the crowd that comes with it. Indulge in a few cocktails and enjoy a parade of globetrotters in search of a great night out. But be warned: Bangkok knows how to have fun, so be ready for a late night.