Bustling, boisterous Bangkok. Packed with cultural icons, floating markets, and delectable eats, the unruly Thai capital is a sprawling anomaly. From the smell of incense inside temples dripping with gold, to the sound of tuk tuks zooming down Sukhumvit, your senses will be singing in this city that’s anything but boring.
If you’ve got three days to spare, here are the places to be and sights to see in this fascinating Southeast Asian spectacle. Though the itinerary barely scratches the surface on all that Bangkok has to offer, it’s an excellent starter pack for any Thailand first-timer.
Before you go! Brush up on your basic Thai with the following phrases:
Hello! / Goodbye! – สวัสดี ครับ/ค่ะ (male: sa-wah-dee-krab / female: sa-wah-dee-ka)
Thank you! – ขอบคุณ ครับ/ค่ะ (male: khob-kun-krab / female: khob-kun-ka)
Kick off your 72-hour fling with a visit to the Grand Palace. This iconic destination has been the Thai royal family’s residence since the 18th century, and evokes an intrigue and allure that’ll have your camera buzzing and your heart aflutter.
The place is as grand as its name implies, so indulge in all that it has to offer by allowing yourself the majority of the morning to explore. Remember that it’s a sacred space; as such, it’s imperative to wear proper temple attire (i.e. your shoulders and knees must be covered. Elephant pants are sold all over the city for ~150 baht, so stock up on a couple of pairs prior to your visit.)
Sign up for a guided tour and wander amongst the complex of buildings, taking in the history of Thailand atop stunning murals, and gazing with awe at the palaces hand-covered in gold leaf. Pose for a picture or four beside colorful Yakshas, before clicking the camera off to venture into the Temple of the Emerald Buddha for an experience at once powerful and serene.
Once you’ve had your fill of exploring the Palace, hit the pavement for lunch. If there’s anything the city will never have a shortage of, it’s incredible food. Bangkok is hot and humid basically year-round, so cool off with a mango smoothie and indulge in local delicacies at a street market (pad see ew, anyone?).
After lunch, hop onto your own private teak boat for Pandan Canal Boat Tours‘ 1PM afternoon adventure. This incredible excursion will have you coasting through the past, getting a glimpse of ancient Thai customs from atop the mighty Chao Praya River as you experience Bangkok like never before.
Following your afternoon on the water, head back towards the Grand Palace, and keep an eye out for massive monitor lizards as you roam the streets (they like to explore Bangkok, too!).
Jetsetter-in-Training tip: Hailing a taxi somewhere? Make sure to always ask your driver to turn on the meter. Knowing that you’re a tourist, many will quote a flat fare to you, which will almost always be a scam.
At dinnertime, grab a table on the patio of Eat Sight Story. This eclectic eatery boasts views directly across the Chao Praya onto stunning Wat Arun, also known as the Temple of Dawn. Chow down on traditional Thai fare as you gaze at rice-barges-turned-dinner-cruisers gliding past, the river banks echoing with the sounds of laughter and glowing with the reflection of fairy lights.
End your day with a wild night out in the fabled Khao San Road, a mischievous blend of neon lights, fried scorpions, 80-baht beer, dance floors, and – of course – those infamous buckets (don’t ask, just order.)
Kick off the debauchery at Lucky’s, and take advantage of Thailand’s lax open container laws (i.e. there are none) by bar-hopping down the street, befriending backpackers from around the globe as you do so. It’ll be a night to remember (although you probably won’t.)
Though it may sound crazy, nurse your hangover by returning to Khao San Road. The party playground is wildly different during the day, and definitely something to experience.
Stock up on elephant pants, tacky “Same Same but Different” shirts, and lovely handmade scarves at the dozens of market stalls lining the street, and don’t be afraid to test your bartering skills. The road is as touristy as it comes, but it sure is fun.
Venture on foot over to the Giant Swing for an excellent photo op. Along the way, duck into a 7/11 for any last-minute travel necessities (they have one on practically every block in Southeast Asia), and, if you’re feeling courageous, sample some of the bizarre offerings at street food vendors (cow tongue, anyone? Fried rat?).
That afternoon, hail a cab over to the Blue Elephant Cooking School & Restaurant for a 1 PM afternoon class. Test your skills in the kitchen and learn how to bring a taste of Thailand back home with you!
Afterwards, head up the street to the Banyan Tree Hotel for a visit to the mesmerizing rooftop Vertigo & Moon Bar. Sip drinks 61 stories into the sky, and gaze across breathtaking Bangkok as it sprawls before you. You’ll marvel at the way the river cuts through the city, and find yourself intrigued by the strange and impressive architecture of nearby skyscrapers. Splurge on a meal at Vertigo or simply stick with cocktails at Moon Bar and prepare for the good kind of chills at sunset.
Jetsetter-in-Training tip: Be prepared for crowds, and don’t be surprised at the price tags attached to the menu. Though the rooftop rendezvous is a must-do, it quite blatantly caters to Westerners.
Once the sun sets and the city starts to glitter, the night is yours for the taking. Check out the clubbing scene on RCA or get another fix of glitzy rooftop views at lebua‘s glam Sky Bar, famous for its cameo in The Hangover Part II. Or perhaps witness for yourself the raucous scene and go-go bars over at Soi Cowboy. However you choose to spend your night, the endless opportunities across Bangkok will have you living large.
Devote your final day in town to soaking up the fancy finds and suave sights of Sukhumvit. Along with housing one of the longest boulevards in the world (the aptly named Sukhumvit Road), this exclusive district is filled with five-star hotels, ritzy apartments, and swanky restaurants – juxtaposed with the hand-laid cement and unstable infrastructure of nearby slums. The contrast may shock you but, alas, it’s part of what makes Bangkok so damn interesting.
You could get to Sukhumvit via the Skytrain, Bangkok’s mass transit system, but I suggest arriving via tuk tuk. There’s something about hopping into the back of one of these little mototaxis, taking off toward your destination, and finding your heart stolen from your chest that’s simply irresistible.
You’ll see Bangkok completely differently than you would in the back of a taxi or inside a train car. Your fingers will cling to the edge of your seat as you whiz through town, crossing bridges and zipping through traffic while your hair misbehaves in the wind. It’ll be wild and heart-stopping and silly and wonderful. More than that, it’ll be freeing.
And it just might be a moment you won’t ever want to stop.
Once in Sukhumvit, pay a visit to the enchanting Terminal 21, a nine-story shopping mall themed like a 21st-century air terminal. Pick up a new pair of kicks in Tokyo (Level 1), snag a leather jacket in London (Level 2), browse for bags in Istanbul (Level 3), and polish off the visit with a snack in San Francisco (Level 5) – who knew you could shop your way through so many cities?
Next, escape the urban vibes in Lumphini Park, a gorgeous expanse of 100+ acres of greenery to get away from it all. Stroll through the trees, unleash your inner child on one of the playgrounds, and paddleboat your cares away on Lumphini Lake (40 baht for 30 minutes).
Reward yourself for a three-day adventure well-spent with one of Thailand’s most famous exports – a massage. Pay a visit to Asia Herb Association and indulge yourself in a traditional Thai body massage (500 baht for 60 minutes – which, FYI, equates to $15). Prepare to be twisted like a pretzel in one of the best massages you’ll ever receive.
Jetsetter-in-Training tip: There are a lot of, ah, seedier massage parlors located all around Bangkok (sex tourism is, sadly, still predominant in Thailand). If you want to ensure you’re visiting ethical establishments, inquire at your hotel’s concierge desk for trusted recommendations, and try to avoid any parlor that just LOOKS off. Ones that advertise added extras or boast suggestive names are typically red flags.
Finish off the day with one last mouth-watering meal of spring rolls, shrimp fried rice, and pad thai at the Sukhumvit Street Market. And, if you’re feeling extra, round out your tour of Bangkok’s rooftop venues at Octave Bar, located atop the Bangkok Marriott Hotel Sukhumvit. Its 360-degree views will have you gazing with fondness across a city of chaos, contrasts, culture, and cuisine that you just may already miss – whether you knew it or not.
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Feeling inspired? Share your favorite Bangkok memories (or even just your Bangkok dreams!) in the comments below – and be sure to follow Jetsetter-in-Training on Instagram for further inspo!