Thailand’s capital bursts at the seams with energy that beeps and bustles its way through the streets all the way from the glinting metallic skyscrapers of the centre to the tangled power lines and backstreets of the outer districts. Planted around the well-known confines of the backpacker favourite Khao San Road and ultra-modern Siam Square are myriad buzzing markets and magnificent temples that bring life to the city.
Though I’d still recommend visiting the super touristy areas; Khao San Road is quite something, even if it doesn’t come close to showing you the real Bangkok, exploring the lesser-visited areas will allow you to really absorb yourself the city’s true colours. With so many options for temples, markets, and sights to visit, 72 hours might seem like nowhere near enough time, but you’ll be surprised what you can squeeze into three days.
Day One: Wat Arun, Wat Pho, Grand Palace, Reclining Buddha and Good Old Khao San Road
Regardless of where you’re staying, traversing the city is always best done by tuk-tuk. I recommend starting your stay with some temple-hopping, but with so many dotted around it can be hard to choose. Kick off your day with the biggest (and arguably the best) Wat Arun, also known as the Temple of Dawn, which sits majestically next to the Chao Phraya River in all its colourful resplendence. Admire the muralled walls and golden Buddhas, then, if you’re up for a climb, make your way to the top of the central prang for awe-inspiring views over the river and the Grand Palace. The prang is a beauty in itself, decorated with thousands of coloured glass fragments.
From here, head right across to Wat Pho, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. This gigantic wonder really is a sight to behold, but be prepared to queue through the building, since you won’t be the only one wanting to see it. This is the third largest Buddha in Thailand by height, and its feet are adorned with beautiful mother-of-pearl illustrations. Elsewhere in Wat Pho, you’ll find rows of gilded, golden Buddha statues and towering chedis; tall, ornate structures decorated with multi-coloured tiles and pottery.
Next stop, the Grand Palace. This sprawling complex is home to the Thai Government, state department, mint, and was once home to the King himself. But boring old building, this is not. More rainbow-hued chedis, decadent facades, golden stupas and decorative statues lie in wait, but the most popular and revered sight is the Emerald Buddha, one of the most sacred sights in Thailand. Though this small statue is dwarfed by the reclining Buddha you visited earlier, its palpable presence can’t be denied. Once you’ve had your fill here, hop in a tuk-tuk for a quick ride to The Golden Mount. Climb the 344 steps for stunning views across the city, ringing the ceremonial bells as you make your way up. At the top, you’ll find a huge gong, which is both fun and satisfying to hit as a celebration of reaching the temple’s peak.
After a full-on day exploring some of the spiritual goodness Bangkok has to offer, why not make your way to the entirely unspiritual Khao San Road, the tourist hot spot, for some evening drinks and people-watching. If you’re brave and really want to get the full tourist experience, grab some insect snacks from a streetside stall and chow down on ants, crickets and even a scorpion or two.
Day Two: Markets, Thai Food and Rooftop Bars
With an incredible abundance of them available, a trip to Bangkok without some market-trawling wouldn’t be a trip done properly – and everything is on offer here, from clothes to food, handicrafts to artworks. Your first stop can depend on where you’re staying, but the flower market, Pak Khlong, makes for a beautiful morning visit. Its fragrant scents and brightly-coloured offerings should pull you out of your jetlagged morning stupor pretty quickly, especially if you grab a coffee from one of the surrounding cafes on your way in. This place is a photographer’s dream, and even if you don’t end up buying anything you’ll get some insta-worthy snaps, as well as an opportunity to see the locals going about their daily business.
Next, take a wander around the Tha Prachan Amulet Market – this slightly eerie, dark-alleyed place is packed with stall after stall stacked with protective talismans. Each amulet supposedly protects its wearer in a certain way, bringing good luck, good health, happiness or any other hope you could think of. Some of the offerings here are what you might expect; Buddha statues, medallions or sacred flags, while some are entirely unexpected, like real human hair and multi-tailed lizards. Now its time to hop on a ferry and cross the river, heading for Prannok Pier. You’ve probably worked up quite an appetite after all this market-wandering, and Wang Lang Market, on the west side of the river, is certainly a fabulous spot to satiate that appetite.
This place is pretty much solely frequented by locals, and the street food here is second to none if you want an authentic Thai experience. For your starter, grab some fried pork from the Moo Tod Chao Wang stall on the northern edge of the market. This sticky, slightly crispy and deliciously saucy meat will be served to you in a plastic bag, so you can dip your chopsticks in and get right to eating. For your main course, Kway Jab Yuan, or rice noodle soup, should be on the menu – this can come with chicken, spare pork ribs, tofu and a range of toppings. Now, if you have any room left, its dessert time. Pa Tim’s serves Khanom Tan Taek; delicious sweet-filled crepes, with flavours like coconut and meringue, while Luk Chup, colourful bean-like creations made of bean paste, coconut milk and jelly, make a slightly lighter pud. Wash it all down with a milk tea as you watch the goings-on from a spot on the pier, before hopping on a ferry back across the river.
For evening drinks, why not make your way to one of the city’s famous rooftop bars; though beautiful in the day time, there really is something special about seeing Bangkok lit up at night. Sip on a cocktail (or two, or three) in the balmy evening air and appreciate the city, bustle below and all.
Day Three: Suan Pakkad Palace, Lumpini, Bang Krachao and a Cabaret Show
For your final day in Bangkok (presumably before heading off to another endlessly desirable Thai city or island), spend the day appreciating the green spaces, and some of the things that make Bangkok so, undeniably, Bangkok. Start off at the Suan Pakkad Palace, a converted royal residence surrounded by lush tropical greenery and peppered with historical artefacts and fish-filled ponds. Then, wander along to Lumpini, Bangkok’s answer to New York’s Central Park. Take a walk around the tranquil lakes, crossing the bridge to the island in the centre, and admiring the monuments; among them a historic clock tower and a memorial to King Rama VI.
Alternatively, spend your day exploring the hidden jungle paradise of Bang Krachao, a man-made oasis on the Chao Phraya River, just outside of the city. You can cross the river by wooden longtail boat for the modest price of ten Baht, and taking in the ‘island’ is easy too, thanks to the bikes available for hire. You’ll immediately feel as if you’ve left Bangkok behind – tall trees burst through the dense forested areas and marshlands, ponds and lakes will be a common sight as you make your way around. Any stress washes away as you walk or cycle across the panelled walkways, enjoying the scent of tropical flowers. When you’re ready to return to the city, simply head to the pier and grab a boat back across the river.
You’d be missing out if you didn’t see a Cabaret show on your last night in the Thai capital; something Bangkok is famously (and sometimes more infamously), known for. Unlike the well-known Patpong area, where seedy tickets touts might well scam you out of several thousand Baht in exchange half-watching a distasteful ping pong show, Asiatique The Riverfront is nothing if not classy. The show here – Calypso Cabaret – features impressive dancing, singing and acrobatics, with many of the women dressed as famous celebrities; Thai Beyonce, anyone? Be sure to hang around for a while after the show – you’ll find restaurants, ice cream parlours, bars and even a Ferris Wheel to keep you entertained throughout the rest of the evening.
So there you have it: some of the best Bangkok sights, crammed into just three days. There’s so much more to see in this crazy city, much more than you can fit into 72 hours, but it’ll only serve to give you a reason to come back.