It’s been more than a decade since I last visited Bangkok– and even back then, I didn’t see or remember much of the city as I was a little kid traveling with a tour group. So on my recent trip to the city, I made it a point to indulge myself as much as I could; I wanted to visit as many places as I could, eat as much food as I could and of course, immerse myself in the Bangkok life as I long as I could.
Bangkok is the capital city of Thailand, and the biggest, busiest and most congested city in the country. It is known for its vibrant nightlife, beautiful temples and bustling markets. And of course, it is also popular as the place people come in search of excitement and to get a little naughty. I had my own little agenda while in Bangkok– time to take on the heat, the traffic and the hectic craziness. Here’s what I did during my awesome 5 days in the city.
Day 1: City Shopping
I arrived in Bangkok in the late morning, so I decided to spend my first day in the city visiting its ever growing shopping and business districts. The best way to slowly ease into the Bangkok heat is by hopping into the many air-conditioned malls as often as you can, which is easy to do with the huge amount of malls around the Siam Square and Sukhumvit area.
I started my shopping mall hopping adventure at the popular MBK Center, or Mahboonkrong. Built in 1985 (I remember shopping here during my first visit to Bangkok all those years ago), it was the biggest mall in Asia at that time. It’s packed and busy, with shoppers crowding its 8 floors of almost 2000 stores. However, my only destination at the MBK Center was the video game shop on the top floor with all the game sets and cartridges you can find from way back when. Remember the Donkey Kong and Mario days?
Siam Square and Surroundings
Taking the covered pedestrian bridge along Rama 1 Road, I braved the hot weather before arriving at the thriving shopping area of Siam Square. Siam Square is a great area to explore; with standalone bookshops, clothing boutiques, cafes and restaurants to browse through or chill in. It is a popular hangout spot for students and office-workers, and the perfect spot to look for lunch. Opposite the road from Siam Square is the huge Siam Center and Siam Paragon Mall.
Just next to Siam Paragon is Central World, another gigantic shopping mall that has a connected hotel and office tower. There was a huge fiesta happening in front of the mall while I was there, so there were bouncy castles and lots of balloons for the kids, and food for the rest of us. I couldn’t resist grabbing some Thai fares to munch on.
Platinum Fashion Mall
Walking towards the back of Central Mall along the Ratchadamri Road, I passed by a row of pop-up food stalls selling more local Thai fares and the salted grilled fish. It was packed with people, so I guess it is pretty popular. I didn’t stop though, as I was headed for more shopping at the 6-storey Platinum Fashion Mall. It’s the best place for ladies to shop for clothes and accessories, most at wholesale prices. I spent the majority of my afternoon having my retail therapy here.
After my shopping spree, I walked back towards the Skytrain and the covered pedestrian walkway along Rama 1 Road, and stopped by the Erawan Shrine. This Hindu shrine dedicated to Phra Phrom, the Thai version of Lord Brahma (God of Creation), is located beside the main road intersection. In August 2015, a bomb went off near the shrine that hurt and killed many people. The shrine was slightly damaged, but has since reopened and prayers resumed. It was crowded during my visit, and in the comforts of the shaded overhead walkway, I watched the worshipers burn joss sticks and lay out flowers.
In the late evening, I took a short Skytrain ride to EmQuartier, Bangkok’s newest mall, opened in 2015 along Sukhumvit Road. The mall is absolutely gorgeous with its unique design; and come night, the projecting images on its facade is quite a sight. Of course, it is a high street fashion and luxury mall.
I ended my day at Sukhumvit Road, one of the busiest commercial streets in Bangkok. Many numbered lanes (known as ‘soi’ in Thai) lead away from the main road, and is home to a range of hotels, entertainment centers, street food vendors and shopping areas. It was pretty daunting walking around certain areas of Sukhumvit at night, with its boisterous crowd, bright lights and loud music; so I made sure I was always amongst lots of people.
Day 2: Markets and Streets
My second day in Bangkok coincided with the weekend (specifically a Sunday), so it was time to hit up the weekend markets in the city. If you’re in Bangkok on a Saturday or Sunday, make sure you adjust your schedule to spent the day roaming around some of the biggest outdoor markets you’ll ever visit.
Or Tor Gor Market
I made my way towards the world-famous Chatuchak Weekend Market (via the BTS Skytrain, stopping at Mo Chit) at 7.30am in the morning. I wanted to drop by the Or Tor Gor Market for breakfast first. This fresh produce market (Bangkok’s best) is an absolute feast for the eyes and the stomach– huge yellow mangoes, colorful fresh fruits, pungent thick durian flesh; and a small food court that serves up huge bowls of curries and meat. I think I had a little too much (spice) for an early morning meal.
Chatuchak Weekend Market
I was at Bangkok’s biggest market at the 9am opening time. Even by then, the Chatuchak Weekend Market was already filled with tourists and locals, ready to explore its myriad of small shops, all cramped together along its narrow alleyways. With 8000 shops divided into 27 sections over an area of 35-acres; and with items ranging from clothing, handicraft, antiques, books, furniture, ceramics, pets and food– it’s probably impossible to see every inch of the market. However, most items can be pretty repetitive, so make your choice and bargain as hard as you can. You can’t say you’ve been to Bangkok if you haven’t experienced Chatuchak and got all sweaty, sore and totally drained.
Oh, and by the way, don’t forget to get your hands on some coconut ice cream and the honey roast pork. You can read about it here:- Mynn’s Top 10: A Food Tour in Bangkok.
Silom Walking Street Sunday Market
After spending most of my day at the Chatuchak Weekend Market, I made a quick stop at my hotel to freshen up before heading out again to the Silom Walking Street Sunday Market. Open only on Sunday from 3pm to about 11pm, the entire stretch of Silom Road becomes a pedestrian walkway filled with product vendors and food stalls. It’s a great place to sample most of Bangkok’s famed street food; and I ate to my heart’s content.
Patpong Night Market
While walking along the Silom Street Market, I made a quick detour into the Patpong Night Market. Open everyday, this is the place to get your counterfeit goods and cheap shopping (don’t forget to bargain)! It is also right smack in the middle of Bangkok’s red light district, so don’t be surprised by the loud music and chaos from the many a-go-go bars in the area.
Lebua State Tower
After a full day of visiting markets and walking streets, I decided to end the night with a bang. What better way to experience the city than from way up high? I made my way to Lebua State Tower’s Sirocco Restaurant and Skybar– which is the highest al-fresco restaurant in the world. A late dinner, cocktail drinks and a view to die for. Read about my fine-dining experience here:- Mynn’s Top 10: A Food Tour in Bangkok.
Day 3: Old City Temples
After pampering myself with the many shopping opportunities in Bangkok, it was time to immerse myself in the beautiful Thai culture. I allocated two full days to explore the many temples in the city (not all, but honestly, more than enough). My plan was to schedule my visit to the more popular temples in the early mornings before the crowd arrive; and boy, was that a great decision.
On the first day of my temple visit, I made my way to the most visited and most significant landmark of Bangkok– the Grand Palace. I arrived at exactly 8.30am when the doors opened. There was hardly anyone in line for tickets, and I nearly had the entire palace to myself to explore (lest for that one early tour group). Built as a royal residence in the late 18th century, it was designed in the exquisite Thai architectural style with its many courts, residential buildings, throne halls, royal offices and the Wat Phra Keow. It is now only used for ceremonial purposes.
Temple of the Emerald Buddha / Wat Phra Keow
Built in the outer court area of the Grand Palace, the Wat Phra Keow is home to Thailand’s most sacred Buddhist statue, the Emerald Buddha. The hall in which this beautiful green jade sculpture sits is decorated with gold ornaments and trimmings, and beautiful religious murals and paintings. I had to follow a short queue of visitors for a quick walkthrough the temple.
I spent almost two hours exploring and admiring (and also photographing) the gorgeously sculpted and designed buildings in the Royal Palace complex; and upon leaving the grounds, I was shocked to see the huge (and I mean, extremely huge) mob of tourists and tour groups waiting in line at the entrance.
Khao San Road
It was late morning by the time I was done at the Grand Palace, so I decided to make my way (in the scorching heat) to Khao San Road for brunch. Khao San Road is the backpacker mecca of Bangkok and usually comes alive at night– in the day it is much more chilled, but there is still a slight buzz about it. Travelers can be seen having a pint at the many al-fresco bars, or standing around a food stall having a bite to eat. I stopped by a back alley for a plate of omelette rice before getting a ฿250 (US$7) foot massage. And then I topped it off with a bottle of Chang Beer at a local bar, while watching the many different sorts of people you can find at Khao San Road pass me by.
Wat Ratchanatda / Loha Prasad
The walk from Khao San Road to Wat Ratchanatda isn’t too far if you can endure the heat, but I decided to cab it. Unlike the Grand Palace, this temple is completely devoid of tourists. I was the only visitor that day, and it really is a pity because the Loha Prasad (the most significant building in Wat Ratchanatda) is quite gorgeous. Despite it being under construction and a little empty on the inside (just a couple of information boards and many meditation spaces), the Loha Prasad is steeped in history and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built with 37 metal spires, it is one of only three metal temples in existence.
The Golden Mount / Wat Saket
Crossing the canal, I made my way towards my third temple of the day. It was mid afternoon then and the sun was merciless. I was sweating buckets by the time I reached the foot of the hill that leads to the Golden Mount, or Wat Saket. It was just a short climb up the low hill (but because of the humid weather, it seemed like a horribly long way up the stairs) to reach the golden chedi on the top. The chedi is 58-metres high, and houses a Buddha sculpture, which can be seen from the building below the chedi. The view from the top is pretty spectacular (and that made the climb rather worth it).
Wat Suthat and the Giant Swing
My final stop (and temple) of the day was at Wat Suthat. The temple is located about a 15-minute walk from Wat Saket. This is another royal temple in Bangkok (built in the 19th century) that is hardly visited by tourists. Because of that, I had a lovely time just strolling around the temple grounds, admiring the rows and rows of golden Buddha statues around its courtyard; and then spending about an hour or so in its main prayer hall, listening to the calming Buddhist chants in the air. The temple’s main attraction is the giant swing outside its walls (used in swing ceremonies back in the day)– there wasn’t a swing on it though, just the bright red wooden pillars.
After my day’s visit of temples, I made my way to Thipsamai Restaurant for an early dinner. It is known for the best pad thai in Bangkok, and only a 10-minute walk from Wat Suthat. You can read about it here:- Mynn’s Top 10: A Food Tour in Bangkok. And then, it was time to call it a (long tiring) day.
Day 4: Riverside Temples
Second day of temple visits; and I saved the extremely popular Wat Pho and Wat Arun for an early morning visit to beat the crazy Bangkok crowds. After a long and tiring day the day before, I wanted to take my fourth day in Bangkok a little easier– only two more main temples to visit!
Like the day before, I took the BTS Skytrain line to the Saphan Taksin stop, next to the pier. From there, it is an easy ฿15 (US$0.4) Chao Phraya Express boat ride to the Tha Tien (N8) pier to reach Wat Pho. The Grand Palace is one more stop at the Tha Chang (N9) pier.
Temple of the Reclining Buddha / Wat Pho
I was at the temple at opening time (I just can’t stand crowds and will do anything to avoid them) when Wat Pho opened its doors at 8am. It is one of the oldest temples in Bangkok, believed to be from the early 18th century. It houses the 46-metres long gold leaf covered giant reclining Buddha, from where it got its name. I also took time to admire the many Buddha statues in the temple complex, as well as the intricately carved stupas and beautifully painted murals.
And if you’re up for a massage, Wat Pho has one of the earliest schools of Thai medicine and traditional Thai massage. I would have loved a stretch, but it was just a little too early in the day for me!
Temple of Dawn / Wat Arun
After exploring the grounds of the expansive Wat Pho, I took the short boat ride across the river to Wat Arun for ฿5 (US$0.15). Wat Arun is a Buddhist temple with depictions of Hindu gods. The porcelain and seashell encrusted pagodas (built in the Khmer style) are a sight to behold from the river– and up close, they sparkle in the light of the sun. I have to say that it is the most stunning (and my favourite) temple in Bangkok.
I had a late lunch at one the many food stalls along the pier, before taking a cab to Bangkok’s vibrant Chinatown along Yaowarat Road. I spent the rest of the easy, chillaxing day just walking along the old Chinese-style shophouses, random temples and market streets. I also made it a point to stop by one of the many bird’s nest restaurants in the area for a bowl of the nutritious delicacy. Come night, Chinatown brightens up with colorful lights and throngs of visitors looking to dine at the many cheap seafood joints along the main street.
Day 5: Day Trip
Final day in Bangkok! After the first four days of malls, markets, and visiting the many cultural sights around Bangkok; I decided to make a half day trip away from the city. There are many options for half day or full day trips– the famed floating markets, Ayuthaya, Kanchanaburi and the Khao Yai National Park can be explored within a day.
I also used the rest of my last day in the city to visit other random sights, get myself yet another relaxing Thai massage, and do some last minute shopping.
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market
I made a half-day trip to the most popular floating market in Thailand; the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. I had a great time zooming along the canal on a long-tailed boat, walking around the busy marketplace, and buying delicious Thai food from the boats. On the way, I also stopped by the Maeklong Railway Market to see the unique seafood market along the train tracks.
You can read about the trip here: The Damnoen Saduak Floating Market in Bangkok.
Jim Thompson’s House
Coming back from the quick trip, I asked the guide to drop me off at Jim Thompson’s House. Jim Thompson is an American businessman who brought Thai silk to the world. He set up base in Bangkok, and during the 1950’s and 60’s, built his home by collecting 6 antique Thai houses. He used them to showcase his vast collection of Southeast Asian art, from Buddha statues to paintings and porcelain. Jim Thompson went missing in 1967, and his complex of houses and art pieces are now a popular Bangkok tourist attraction. Visits inside the houses are by guided tours only– on a first come first serve basis.
After my tour of the museum, I took the BTS Skytrain from National Stadium to Asoke. Time to pamper and spoil myself with a massage session; and a good place to get one is at Healthland. There are branches of this spa center all over Bangkok; and they offer their services at pretty reasonable prices. My 2-hour traditional Thai massage cost me ฿550 (US$15).
Asiatique the Riverfront
It was late evening by the time I finished my massage session, and after a quick stop at my hotel, I decided to head over to Asiatique by the Riverfront. Opened in 2012, this large open-aired mall is located by the banks of the Chao Phraya River and comes to live from 5pm onwards. I took the BTS Skytrain to the Saphan Taksin pier and boarded the free (and very full) ferry shuttle to the mall. The restaurants and shops at Asiatique are housed in old warehouses, which creates a very rustic feel. Most items sold here are similar to those at Chatuchak– but it is in a much more comfortable environment, and therefore, more expensive.
I ended my night (and my trip to Bangkok) with a lovely Thai dinner on the Asiatique boardwalk, overlooking the river.
I had a fantastic 5 days exploring the vibrant and sometimes, chaotic city of Bangkok. Despite the humid and hot weather (that can get a little overwhelming at times), I absolutely loved exploring its breathtaking temples, walking around its huge markets and of course, enjoying the delicious Thai cuisine. Coming back here after more than a decade, I really can’t believe I didn’t return sooner!
So I foresee that I will be seeing Bangkok again… pretty soon.