Two days in Bangkok are just enough to lightly touch the surface of Southeast Asia’s most visited megalopolis. But with some motivation and a few smart choices, you can really rack up the travel memories. Here’s how to spend 48 hours in Bangkok the right way!
Day 1: Morning
7 a.m.: Yes, that seems like an early start. To better enjoy Bangkok’s busiest attractions, you’ll want to arrive early enough to beat the massive tour groups. Forego the Western breakfast at the hotel; you can eat eggs anywhere! Instead, hit the street for some Thai food choices often consumed in the morning. Don’t linger too long. Sightseeing is best in the morning before Bangkok turns up the sun—and the heat. Pack water, a hat, and dress modestly. Many of the places you’ll be visiting today require knees and shoulders to be covered.
7:30 a.m.: After breakfast, make haste to the nearest river pier. River taxi boat is an interesting, inexpensive way to reach the Grand Palace and Wat Pho without dealing with morning traffic. Ideally, you’ll be ready at the entrance of the Grand Palace before they open at 8:30 a.m. To ensure an early enough start, you could opt to eat breakfast somewhere near the entrance.
8 a.m.: Jump off the boat at Tha Chang Pier. You can easily spot the most ornate buildings or just follow the crowd toward the Grand Palace. The Emerald Buddha at Wat Phra Kaew inside the palace grounds is considered the most sacred object in Thailand. Depending on how thoroughly you explore, the palace and Wat Phra Kaew can occupy from several hours to a full day.
11:30 a.m.: Although worth the effort, the Grand Palace is a maddening vortex of tourists, guides, pushy drivers, and scams. You’ll probably run out of patience before seeing everything! Avoid burnout by bailing early for lunch. Go back toward the river, then turn left on Maha Rat Road (the main road). Walk south 10 minutes to Tha Thien Pier and choose one of the simple-but-delicious eateries clustered there. Ama is a good pick for Thai food, but there are many tasty options.
Day 1: Afternoon
12:30 p.m.: When you’re finished with lunch, Wat Pho and the largest collection of Buddha statues in Thailand are literally behind you. You can spend the next couple of hours exploring Bangkok’s most popular temple outside of the Grand Palace. The 150-foot-long reclining Buddha statue inside is spectacular. If Wat Pho is already inundated with tourists as it often is, you could walk 10 minutes north to Wat Mahahat instead. Amulets said to possess protection powers are sold and traded there; it’s a real scene on Sundays.
Wat Arun, located on the opposite bank of the Chao Phraya River, is another ancient temple easily accessible by boat. Both are fascinating and attract fewer tourists than Wat Pho.
If visiting during high season and you don’t feel like pushing through the throngs at Wat Pho and Wat Phra Khaew, there are plenty of other beautiful temples to visit in Bangkok.
3:30 p.m.: You have the option on the way out of Wat Pho to walk through Tha Thien Market before taking the boat. Grab a sweet snack there, but give it a miss if you have trouble with fishy sights and smells—there are many inside.
4 p.m.: After a busy day of sightseeing, you now have two options for escaping the afternoon heat: Go just downriver to see IconSIAM (Bangkok’s newest megamall) or head back for a break at the hotel. Regardless of which you choose, you should grab an inexpensive Thai massage as your reward for navigating the busiest scene in Bangkok.
IconSIAM is the newest luxury development on the river. It’s home to two malls, Bangkok’s tallest building, and an indoor floating market with cultural demonstrations. But most importantly, the air conditioning is super powered!
Day 1: Evening
7 p.m.: If you opt to stroll IconSIAM until dinner, you can try the satellite location of Thipsamai, the first restaurant to receive a Michelin Star for pad thai. Don’t let Thipsamai’s entry into the acclaimed “red book” frighten you—it’s casual, and prices are inexpensive. If malls aren’t your thing, you can clean up and wait to get in at the original Thipsamai location on Maha Chai Road. It opens to an eager crowd at 5 p.m.
8:30 p.m.: With no early wake-up tomorrow, celebrate a successful day by sampling some of Bangkok’s abundant nightlife. From strolling and gawking through red-light districts to dancing and live music—the City of Angels takes hedonism quite seriously.
The nightlife in Silom can test the strongest livers and budgets. Along with the many hotel rooftop bars, Maggie Choos beneath the Fenix Novotel hotel has an underground, speakeasy ambiance.
For something completely different, you can taxi to the Khao San Road area to bar hop and nibble street snacks on the famous backpacker street. Side-by-side venues compete with live music along Soi Rambuttri, the street parallel to Khao San Road. The area is home to the cheapest beer and massages (not the questionable kind) in Bangkok. Whether you imbibe or not, the people-watching is superb. Grab a bonus foot or neck/shoulder massage for less than $6.
Day Two: Morning
9:30 a.m.: Enjoy a leisurely start today. You may need it if you spent too much time on Khao San Road. To close out your two days in Bangkok, you should take advantage of the city’s amazing shopping. But don’t worry: You can balance a day of retail with some interesting cultural options, too.
Weekend Market Option
If visiting Bangkok on a weekend, you’ll want to go directly to the Chatuchak Weekend Market for all your wandering, nibbling, and souvenir needs. The labyrinthine market complex is one of the largest in the world. It’s only open Saturdays and Sundays from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Once you’ve bought silk and wooden elephants for everyone, you can opt for the more luxurious malls that are open later into the evening.
Floating Market Option
Visiting one of the floating markets outside of town is a popular thing to do in Bangkok, however, most are no longer authentic experiences. They’re complete tourist traps. What’s worse, visiting the most famous floating markets requires an early start and 1–2 hours of transportation each way. They’ll really eat into your brief stay in Bangkok.
If you just can’t resist, a compromise could be a self-guided visit to Khlong Lat Mayom or Taling Chan. Both are smaller floating markets located nearer the city.
Day 2: Afternoon
Bangkok’s Chinatown is an exciting assault of sights, smells, food, and shopping. Grab a taxi to Yaowarat Road and begin strolling. You can hone your haggling skills as you walk and shop the busy sidewalk strip.
11:30 p.m.: The real reason to be in Chinatown is to take advantage of some of the best street food in Bangkok. Go crazy! To perk up afterward, grab a coffee at the Yi Sheng coffee shop (or another like it) for an interesting local experience.
1 p.m.: While in Chinatown, make time to go see the Golden Buddha statue at Wat Traimit before the temple closes at 5 p.m.. The most monetarily valuable Buddha statue in the world (5.5 tons of gold valued at $250 million) was discovered by accident after being hidden in plain sight for centuries!
2 p.m.: After visiting the temple, wander and shop some more. If you’re brave enough, opt for a painful-yet-therapeutic Chinese reflexology foot massage.
5 p.m.: If you wish to stay in the Chinatown area, Asiatique is a riverside night bazaar, street market, and entertainment district rolled into one. The massive complex is located on the Chao Phraya River just south of Chinatown. Taxi to Charoen Krun Soi 72. Once there, you have numerous options for dinner ranging from cheap eats to fine dining. The Calypso Cabaret “ladyboy” show there isn’t cheap, but it’s considered one of the most talented and entertaining in town. A traditional puppet show and the giant Ferris wheel are family-friendly options.
If Chinatown doesn’t appeal or you want to stay indoors for the AC, you can spend the afternoon roaming along Sukhumvit Road, claimed to be the longest boulevard in the world. An overwhelming number of opportunities for eating, shopping, and massages await. Make use of the handy BTS Skytrain for moving between points of interest.
11:30 p.m.: Begin your mall excursions at the travel-themed Terminal 21 mall located opposite the Asok BTS station. You’ll find inexpensive fashions by local designers. Even better, Terminal 21 is home to one of the favorite food courts in the city for lunch. This is the place to try food you were afraid to order in a restaurant. Another alternative for souvenirs and lunch is the sprawling MBK Center mall located near the National Stadium BTS station. The 6th floor hosts an indoor market with plenty of cheap gifts and souvenirs.
1 p.m.: Break up your shopping day by touring the Jim Thompson House. It’s only a 5-minute walk north from the National Stadium BTS station. Thompson was a millionaire silk trader who mysteriously disappeared in 1967 after helping the OSS (predecessor to the CIA) during the Vietnam War. Conspiracy theories abound. Before his untimely disappearance, he designed a beautiful property and filled it with art and furniture from all over Southeast Asia. Tours are both educational and enjoyable. The garden alone is worth the diversion.
Get there before the museum closes at 5 p.m.
3 p.m.: Hit the malls again! Siam Paragon is an upscale option in the area. Newly renovated in 2016, Siam Discovery is a beautifully creative mall with futuristic themes. Siam Center, beside the central Siam BTS station, is another popular choice. CentralWorld, accessible via the Chitlom BTS station, is the eleventh largest shopping mall in the world. Cross the street to see Erawan Shrine, a busy sidewalk shrine in the neighborhood where local dance troupes sometimes perform.
Day Two: Evening
5:30 p.m.: One option for closing out a perfect 48 hours in Bangkok is to catch sunset from the Sky Bar atop the Lebua State Tower. You can get there by boat (alight at Sathon Pier and walk or taxi 10 minutes). The nighttime views of Bangkok are stunning. If the Sky Bar feels a little too pretentious (it is, partially due to movie fame), there are alternative rooftop bars atop practically every hotel along the Chao Phraya River. Sunset is usually around 6:30 p.m. in Bangkok. Arrive earlier to secure a table with the best view!
Red Sky atop Centara Grand at the CentralWorld mall is a rooftop bar option near the shopping.
7 p.m.: If you prefer to skip sunset and have dinner nearby, there are plenty of choices. Sushi and sashimi lovers may want to try the all-you-can-eat experience at Oishi Grand located inside Siam Paragon. Be warned: You won’t feel like doing much afterward! For an experience more about quality than quantity, check out the many Japanese options near Sukhumvit Soi 33 and Soi 24.
If you want to stick to Thailand food on your last night, try expanding your Thai-food repertoire beyond pad thai noodles. Many exciting dining possibilities are located in the area.
9 p.m.: Have the stamina for another night out? If so, take the BTS Skytrain to Nana station and walk along Sukhumvit Soi 11. Alternatively, you could taxi to Royal City Avenue, the clubbing and live-music district that rattles Bangkok’s walls until late. Just try not to miss your flight the next day!