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24-hours in Bangkok: The first-time visitor's guide

  • Published 06 June 2018

If you’re heading to Thailand, at least 24-hours in Bangkok is somewhat mandatory. Why? Because it is unlike anywhere else in the world. A feast for all the senses, with just one step outside of your hotel you’ll instantly smell the exotic spices of delicious Thai food, hear a low hum of friendly locals bartering with tourists and see a flurry of colour as tuk tuks, motorcycles and a hubbub of multicultural visitors attempt to navigate the narrow maze that Bangkok call roads. It’s madness, it’s chaos, but somehow, it’s exciting, fun and an experience you’ll never forget. 

With so much choice, it’s easy to become overwhelmed in this city of contradictions which is why we’ve compiled an insider’s guide for the first-time visitor that includes tips on how to avoid common scams, what to wear to The Grand Palace and how to hail a taxi like a local. So, buckle up, as you’re in for an action-packed city adventure. 

Warning: This tour will leave you craving a day at the beach but trust us, it can’t be missed!
 

8am: Tuck Tuck into a hearty breakfast

To make the most of Bangkok it’s best to set off early to avoid being out in the midday sun. Of course, no day-long adventure can begin without a fulfilling breakfast and in Bangkok, you’ll soon realise that food is a vital cog in the city’s makeup. Most hotels offer a continental and traditional Thai breakfast menu but if you’d prefer to throw yourself straight into the action we recommend visiting The Coffee Club for Eggs Benedict with Bangkok Hollandaise Sauce. A Thai twist on the classic early morning dish, this version includes a spicy Hollandaise Sauce that infuses red chilli and is served alongside crispy shallots and coriander. The all-day breakfast and brunch café originated in Australia and now has eight outlets across Thailand’s capital. Other breakfast goodies include loaded croissants, a typical British ‘fry up’, a range of pancake dishes and a menu of eye-opening coffees. 

9.00am: Satisfy your inner culture vulture

To counteract your inevitable evening of sin, days in Bangkok are all about Thai culture. The simplest way to soak it all in is by purchasing a blue flag (tourist) Express River Taxi ticket from Sathorn Central Pier which is on top of Saphan Taksin BTS Station (just five short stops from Siam) that will see you cruise along the Chao Phraya River. With multiple stops at the key tourist hotspots, we recommend you head to The Grand Palace first and work your way back to Central. The Grand Palace operates a strict dress code so be sure that you’re appropriately made up before attempting entry. Ladies, fashion should be modest with your shoulders and knees covered. A light jumpsuit or maxi dress with capped sleeves is optimal attire. Also note, clothing that is considered too tight, even if it is full length, may also see you turned away so forget leggings and skinny jeans unless you’re wearing a tunic-style top that covers your bottom. Gents, shorts are not permitted so be sure to wear full-length trousers. If you are dressed ‘inappropriately’ there are plenty of outlets that line the outer walls of The Grand Palace where you can easily buy a new outfit for a bargain price. 

When inside The Grand Palace, signs are scarce and audio guides are unheard of so it’s tricky to understand what all the ornate frescoes and green-faced gods represent. To gain the most out of your visit it’s useful to hire a private guide. Reasonably priced, it’s recommended that you hire a guide who is already inside the Palace rather than one from outside the landmark who has fake-credentials and sky-high fees. With your handy guide answering all your questions, you’ll probably spend at least 90-minutes to two-hours here taking pictures of the intricate gold details and Emerald Buddha. One of Bangkok’s more visited attractions, there will be crowds and large tour groups here but take it all in your stride and remember that not everyone has the same consideration as us Brits when it comes to queuing. 

To counteract your inevitable evening of sin, days in Bangkok are all about Thai culture. The simplest way to soak it all in is by purchasing a blue flag (tourist) Express River Taxi ticket from Sathorn Central Pier which is on top of Saphan Taksin BTS Station (just five short stops from Siam) that will see you cruise along the Chao Phraya River. With multiple stops at the key tourist hotspots, we recommend you head to The Grand Palace first and work your way back to Central. The Grand Palace operates a strict dress code so be sure that you’re appropriately made up before attempting entry. Ladies, fashion should be modest with your shoulders and knees covered. A light jumpsuit or maxi dress with capped sleeves is optimal attire. Also note, clothing that is considered too tight, even if it is full length, may also see you turned away so forget leggings and skinny jeans unless you’re wearing a tunic-style top that covers your bottom. Gents, shorts are not permitted so be sure to wear full-length trousers. If you are dressed ‘inappropriately’ there are plenty of outlets that line the outer walls of The Grand Palace where you can easily buy a new outfit for a bargain price. 

When inside The Grand Palace, signs are scarce and audio guides are unheard of so it’s tricky to understand what all the ornate frescoes and green-faced gods represent. To gain the most out of your visit it’s useful to hire a private guide. Reasonably priced, it’s recommended that you hire a guide who is already inside the Palace rather than one from outside the landmark who has fake-credentials and sky-high fees. With your handy guide answering all your questions, you’ll probably spend at least 90-minutes to two-hours here taking pictures of the intricate gold details and Emerald Buddha. One of Bangkok’s more visited attractions, there will be crowds and large tour groups here but take it all in your stride and remember that not everyone has the same consideration as us Brits when it comes to queuing. 

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Next on the agenda is Wat Pho, which is more commonly called The Temple Of The Reclining Buddha. Getting here is easy, you can either head back to the pier and jump back on the Blue Flag River Taxi or enjoy a leisurely walk or tuk tuk ride south from The Grand Palace. Known as the birthplace of traditional Thai Massage, and home to a school of Thai medicine, here the main attraction has to be the chapel that houses the 46-metre long, 15-metre high golden reclining Buddha. Constructed in 1832, this is one of the largest Buddha statues in the whole of Thailand. Around the statue are 108 bronze bowls which represent the 108 auspicious characters of Buddha. Visitors often place coins in these bowls to bring good fortune, and to also contribute to the upkeep of the Wat, so be sure to bring your baht coppers.

11am: Kick back at Wat Pho

Next on the agenda is Wat Pho, which is more commonly called The Temple Of The Reclining Buddha. Getting here is easy, you can either head back to the pier and jump back on the Blue Flag River Taxi or enjoy a leisurely walk or tuk tuk ride south from The Grand Palace. Known as the birthplace of traditional Thai Massage, and home to a school of Thai medicine, here the main attraction has to be the chapel that houses the 46-metre long, 15-metre high golden reclining Buddha. Constructed in 1832, this is one of the largest Buddha statues in the whole of Thailand. Around the statue are 108 bronze bowls which represent the 108 auspicious characters of Buddha. Visitors often place coins in these bowls to bring good fortune, and to also contribute to the upkeep of the Wat, so be sure to bring your baht coppers.

11.30am: Cross the river for more

After temple number two, you may be in need for a little break from Buddhist relics. If so, continue south for approximately 10-minutes to Pak Klong Talad, Bangkok’s biggest flower market. Colourful blossoms and flora-related items are in full bloom here, and the scent is simply delightful. If you want to see the market in all its glory, midnight or pre-dawn (between 3.00am and 4.00am) are the best times to visit, however with just 24-hours, a midday visit will have to do. It’s at this point that we also recommend you enjoy a pomegranate juice or coconut water as the heat will definitely be taking its toll on your hydration levels by now. Once you’ve had your fill of florals, head towards the pier to catch the boat across the river to Wat Arun.

Standing majestically on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River, Wat Arun is easily one of the most breath-taking temples in Bangkok. Location aside, it’s unusual architecture allows it to stand out from the rest. Comprising colourful spires which are intricately decorated with tiny pieces of glass and Chinese porcelain it has become a symbol of Bangkok’s religious scene and makes for a picture-perfect postcard time and time again. You’ll probably spend at least an hour here during which you simply have to climb the central prang which offers unbeatable views of the winding river, Grand Palace and Wat Pho.
 

After temple number two, you may be in need for a little break from Buddhist relics. If so, continue south for approximately 10-minutes to Pak Klong Talad, Bangkok’s biggest flower market. Colourful blossoms and flora-related items are in full bloom here, and the scent is simply delightful. If you want to see the market in all its glory, midnight or pre-dawn (between 3.00am and 4.00am) are the best times to visit, however with just 24-hours, a midday visit will have to do. It’s at this point that we also recommend you enjoy a pomegranate juice or coconut water as the heat will definitely be taking its toll on your hydration levels by now. Once you’ve had your fill of florals, head towards the pier to catch the boat across the river to Wat Arun.

Standing majestically on the west bank of the Chao Phraya River, Wat Arun is easily one of the most breath-taking temples in Bangkok. Location aside, it’s unusual architecture allows it to stand out from the rest. Comprising colourful spires which are intricately decorated with tiny pieces of glass and Chinese porcelain it has become a symbol of Bangkok’s religious scene and makes for a picture-perfect postcard time and time again. You’ll probably spend at least an hour here during which you simply have to climb the central prang which offers unbeatable views of the winding river, Grand Palace and Wat Pho.
 

1pm: Replenish your energy

Ring-a-ding-ding, is that the lunch bell we hear? Any meal in Bangkok is bursting with both flavour and choice so you can feel safe in the knowledge that wherever you choose to eat you’re bound to have a fantastic culinary experience. Perhaps you’d prefer to eat somewhere nearby your hotel, but if you’re totally at a loss as to where to go we highly recommend getting the Skytrain to Siam Square where you’ll be spoilt by a multitude of eateries serving culinary delights from around the world. An abundance of food options pepper the streets serving global favourites and sandwiches through to sweet pastries and classic Thai feasts. Here you’ll find chain classics such as The Hard Rock Café however if you’re here for traditional foods we highly recommend trendy Som Tam Nua. Expect queues but trust us, the chicken wings and Som Tum is truly worth the wait. Once you’ve had your fill you can either shop ‘til you drop in Siam Square or if the jet lag is setting in, head to your hotel for a little siesta… you’re going to want to be wide awake for Bangkok’s nightlife scene.

5.30pm: And so it begins…

As the sun starts to set, Bangkok truly comes to life and boy does this city know how to live. Here, the party can be as tame or as crazy as you want so we’ve crafted a well-rounded evening that’s suitable for a range of adults. To cram as much in as possible, it’s wise to head out early. 

To start, we highly recommend a visit to Khao San Road that boasts an infectious atmosphere unlike anywhere else in the world. This backpacker district is a tourist hub that’s spilling at the seams with great bars, street stalls cooking taste-tingling cuisine and market stalls overflowing with souvenirs and clothing. Here the dress-code is flip-flop casual so leave your Louboutins in your suitcase and wear your most comfortable sandals. 

After dinner and drinks here, it’s time to head to Patpong Night Market. Part of Bangkok’s adult scene, here you’ll find plenty of Go-Go Bars, the infamous ‘ping pong’ shows and a foray of stalls selling anything from handbags to belts. A great spot to people watch, after a while here we recommend heading to Sukhumvit Soi 11 for an evening of cocktails and rooftop views. A few of our favourite bars here include Nest Rooftop Lounge, an eighth-floor open-air terrace that offers comfy daybeds, excellent music and good food. Alternatively, for a more exclusive evening head to Havana Social, a 1940’s Cuban cocktail bar that has a prohibition theme and speakeasy vibe at its centre. This secret venue is located opposite Fraser Suites and has no signage outside, instead you need to call the venue ahead of your visit on (+66) 087 066 7711 for a code which you dial in the telephone box outside. Get the code correct and a door will swing open to unveil a path to rum and salsa. 
However, our favourite bar on Soi 11 has to be Above Eleven located atop Fraser Suites Sukhumvit. This rooftop bar offers stunning views across the whole city, excellent fusion cuisine and a menu of creative cocktails. It’s one of the hottest places in the whole of Bangkok.

Image Credit: HavanaSocialbbk Facebook Page

As the sun starts to set, Bangkok truly comes to life and boy does this city know how to live. Here, the party can be as tame or as crazy as you want so we’ve crafted a well-rounded evening that’s suitable for a range of adults. To cram as much in as possible, it’s wise to head out early. 

To start, we highly recommend a visit to Khao San Road that boasts an infectious atmosphere unlike anywhere else in the world. This backpacker district is a tourist hub that’s spilling at the seams with great bars, street stalls cooking taste-tingling cuisine and market stalls overflowing with souvenirs and clothing. Here the dress-code is flip-flop casual so leave your Louboutins in your suitcase and wear your most comfortable sandals. 

After dinner and drinks here, it’s time to head to Patpong Night Market. Part of Bangkok’s adult scene, here you’ll find plenty of Go-Go Bars, the infamous ‘ping pong’ shows and a foray of stalls selling anything from handbags to belts. A great spot to people watch, after a while here we recommend heading to Sukhumvit Soi 11 for an evening of cocktails and rooftop views. A few of our favourite bars here include Nest Rooftop Lounge, an eighth-floor open-air terrace that offers comfy daybeds, excellent music and good food. Alternatively, for a more exclusive evening head to Havana Social, a 1940’s Cuban cocktail bar that has a prohibition theme and speakeasy vibe at its centre. This secret venue is located opposite Fraser Suites and has no signage outside, instead you need to call the venue ahead of your visit on (+66) 087 066 7711 for a code which you dial in the telephone box outside. Get the code correct and a door will swing open to unveil a path to rum and salsa. 
However, our favourite bar on Soi 11 has to be Above Eleven located atop Fraser Suites Sukhumvit. This rooftop bar offers stunning views across the whole city, excellent fusion cuisine and a menu of creative cocktails. It’s one of the hottest places in the whole of Bangkok.


If the backpacker side to Bangkok doesn’t appeal there are plenty of high-end dining establishments and luxe-rooftop bars in the city. One of the most popular is Sky Bar at Lebua. Made famous after appearing in Hangover 2, this rooftop bar offers the best views of Bangkok’s city and river. 63-floors above Bangkok’s twinkling city lights, expect the bar to be crowded but the mixologists to be excellent. 

For a slightly quieter scene, try Vertigo and Moon Bar at Banyan Tree Bangkok. An al fresco dining experience, this grill and bar showcases the city’s glittering landscape alongside cooked-to-perfection steaks, the freshest seafood and cocktails that will make you say mmm. Alternatively, if you’d prefer an evening of Thai delicacies, head to the 52nd floor for dinner at Saffron and thank us later. A smart-casual dress code is in force here so dress to impress and leave flip flops, short sleeve shirts and shorts in your hotel room.

Alternatively, if you’d prefer to be wined and dined…

If the backpacker side to Bangkok doesn’t appeal there are plenty of high-end dining establishments and luxe-rooftop bars in the city. One of the most popular is Sky Bar at Lebua. Made famous after appearing in Hangover 2, this rooftop bar offers the best views of Bangkok’s city and river. 63-floors above Bangkok’s twinkling city lights, expect the bar to be crowded but the mixologists to be excellent. 

For a slightly quieter scene, try Vertigo and Moon Bar at Banyan Tree Bangkok. An al fresco dining experience, this grill and bar showcases the city’s glittering landscape alongside cooked-to-perfection steaks, the freshest seafood and cocktails that will make you say mmm. Alternatively, if you’d prefer an evening of Thai delicacies, head to the 52nd floor for dinner at Saffron and thank us later. A smart-casual dress code is in force here so dress to impress and leave flip flops, short sleeve shirts and shorts in your hotel room.

Top tips on how to blend in like a local

•    Always make sure your taxi driver turns on his meter when you get into his cab.
•    Wear flat shoes and those that are easy to slip on and off when walking around during the day – in some shops you may be required to take them off before entering.
•    Ignore ‘officials’ who tell you that certain temples are closed and that they can take you to a different religious site. The temples are almost always open and this is a very common, and convincing, scam.
•    Unsure on Bangkok’s tuk tuk and motorcycle taxi way of life? Or perhaps you’re all out of cash after a few too many drinks in Khao San Road. No fear, simply order an Uber. Use your normal app, log in your required destination, and a car will be with you within minutes.

Has all this talk of Bangkok got you dreaming of a Thai getaway? Click here to view our range of hotels, special offers and itineraries or alternatively call one of our personal travel managers today to discuss a bespoke tour.

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