1. Take a Free Walking Tour
One of the first things I do when I arrive in a new destination is take a free walking tour. You’ll get to see the main sights, learn a little history, and start to get a sense of the culture. Best of all, you’ll have an expert local guide with you who can help answer any questions you have and give you suggestions and recommendations.
Bangkok Walking Tours has a few different tours available every day that provide a solid overview of the city. Just be sure to tip your guide!
2. See the Grand Palace
The Grand Palace was built over the course of three years between 1782-1785 by King Rama I when the capital moved from Thonburi to Bangkok. It’s the official residence of the king, though he doesn’t live there anymore (it’s just used for ceremonies).
The palace was originally constructed from wood as supplies were short. Eventually, after raiding other sights in the region, they were able to find the building materials they needed. Hidden behind high concrete walls, the palace isn’t one large building but rather a collection of wats (temples), chedis (mound-like structures containing Buddhist relics), carvings, statues, and the famous 15th century Emerald Buddha.
Na Phra Lan Road, +66 2 623 5500, royalgrandpalace.th. Open daily from 8:30am-3:30pm. Admission is 500 THB. Be sure to wear clothes that cover your legs and shoulders. You can rent pants or shirts at the palace if you need them.
3. Visit Wat Pho and Wat Arun
Wat Pho, known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, is famous for its massive golden reclining Buddha statue. Built in 1832, the statue is 15 meters tall and 46 meters long. It’s one of the most popular sights in the city.
The temple is the size of a city block and there are tons of reliefs, statues, courtyards, temples, and spires to see. But there is more than just a photo opportunity here. The prestigious Thai Traditional Medical and Massage School is also located on the grounds. When you are done seeing the sights, get in line for a massage (it’s considered the best massage school in the country). Be sure to arrive early in the morning or late in the afternoon, otherwise you’ll have to wait at least 45 minutes for your massage.
Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn) is a gorgeous Buddhist temple on the edge of the Chao Phraya River (it’s just opposite the Grand Palace on the other side of the river). From the top of the main spire, you get sweeping views of the city. The intricately tiled facade reflects the light beautifully during sunrise and sunset. It’s my favorite temple in the city.
Wat Pho: 2 Sanamchai Road, Grand Palace Subdistrict, +66 2 662 3553, watpho.com. Open daily from 8am–6:30pm. Admission is 100 THB. Massages cost around 260 THB for 30 minutes.
Wat Arun: 158 Wang Doem Road, +66 2 891 218. Open daily from 8am–6pm. Admission is 50 THB. Be sure to dress appropriately for both temples. 4. Experience Khao San Road
This is the backpacker capital of the world. Khao San Road (along with Soi Rambuttri) has been the hub of backpackers in Asia since the 80s. While it’s a full-on tourist trap now, with non-stop bars, hawkers, and street stalls, it’s still a fun place to spend some time — even if you’re not staying in the area. Grab a drink, order some banana pancakes, and spend some time meeting other travelers and watching the world go by.
5. Explore Chinatown
This is one of the biggest Chinatowns in the world. It’s home to some delicious restaurants and street food as well as places to shop. But the main draw here is the food. There are tons of vendors selling food you’ve likely never see anywhere else in the city.
If you’re a fan of seafood, be sure to spend some time wandering the narrow streets and sampling everything. If you’re not sure where to eat, just pick a stall that has lots of locals eating there.