I recently traveled throughout Southeast Asia and used Bangkok as a starting point. I gave myself two days in the city before continuing onward to Chiang Mai. Two days isn’t a whole lot of time, but I’m also not a big city type of person.
I arrived in Bangkok with pretty low expectations. I had convinced myself it was an incredibly dirty, extremely crowded city with very few things to do that I would actually be interested in. Although, it is crowded, Bangkok is not quite as chaotic (at least during the day) as I had imagined. I actually found it to be quite clean for such a large city and the hotels were surprisingly very eco-friendly. I even found some great day trips to escape from the hustle and bustle.
I ended up having a great time in Bangkok, but I found that two days there was the perfect amount of time for me. Here’s what I would recommend doing with two days in Bangkok:
I started my day bright and early by visiting some the temples in Bangkok. Ideally, you want to go early in the morning for a couple of reasons. Those reasons being the large crowds of tourists and the heat, if you are visiting during the warmer months.
The Grand Palace
I began with The Grand Palace. It is divided into two zones, Wat Phra Kaew, or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and the royal residence. The gates open at 8:30 am, but expect a line of people to form before this. I arrived at opening and was only there for about 45 minutes before it became extremely crowded and impossible to take a photo without someone getting in my shot or backing into me while taking theirs.
Wat Phra Kaew is considered one of the most sacred Buddhist temples in all of Thailand. No one is actually allowed near the Emerald Buddha, but the ornately decorated building and statues surrounding it are absolutely beautiful. There are so many intricate details and I definitely recommend a guide who can point them out and explain the meaning behind them.
The series of buildings that make up the royal residences of The Grand Palace are gorgeous as well and the architecture is stunning. Construction began in 1782 with additional buildings and courtyards being added over the years. The Grand Palace housed the King, his court and the royal government for 150 years.
Wat Pho, or The Temple of the Reclining Buddha, is about a ten minute walk from the Grand Palace. I enjoyed the walk, but you can easily find a Tuk Tuk to take you there. Wat Pho is a large temple complex that houses a giant reclining Buddha that measures 46 meters long and is covered in gold leaf. This temple is a must do. The atmosphere is much more relaxed and enjoyable than that of The Grand Palace. Many people leave after viewing the Buddha, which really is quite impressive, but it is worth spending some time exploring the surrounding grounds as well.
One could probably visit temples for days in Bangkok but since I was on limited time. I chose Wat Arun as my final temple and it did not disappoint. Wat Arun is on the opposite side of the river from Wat Pho and can easily be reached by ferry. The temple has a spire, standing at 70 meters tall, that is beautifully adorned with colorful glass and Chinese porcelain. You can also climb its steep steps and can even see the river from its highest point.
Many of the temples in Thailand can start to look the same after awhile, but I was really happy with my picks for the day. They were all very different from one another and each one amazing in its own way.
After spending the morning exploring the temples, I was hungry and needed some time to relax. At some point during your stay in Bangkok, you should dine riverside. I found the river to be quiet, peaceful and it gave me the opportunity to get away from the busy tourist attractions.
I found that the best form of transportation when going anywhere remotely close to river was water taxi. The water taxis are incredibly cheap and will get you where you need to be much faster than finding a car and navigating through the heavy traffic on the streets. All the major hotels have their own boats that run until about midnight. They drop off/pick up about every 20 minutes from Sathorn Pier. The hotel owned boats are also free of charge.
There are quite a few options when it comes to riverside restaurants, but I chose to treat myself to lunch at the Peninsula Hotel’s River Cafe & Terrace. It was splurge considering Thai prices, but what I’m used to spending on a meal at home in Los Angeles. I had a delicious piece of salmon with asparagus and pumpkin purée. If your looking for traditional Thai food, the River Cafe & Terrace offers it as well.
Visit a Rooftop Pool or Bar
One thing Bangkok does not lack is rooftops. Whether you are looking to grab a drink, take a swim or both, there are plenty of options. I chose to stay at the AVANI Riverside Hotel, mainly because it has one of the best rooftop pools in the city. You can use the water taxis to reach the hotel, which is located about 15 minutes down the river from the main tourist attractions. The infinity pool at the AVANI is located on the 26th floor and offers spectacular views of the river and city. The hotel offers drinks and a limited menu poolside and has a rooftop bar that opens in the evening.
Another great option for drinks is the Sky Bar at Lebua. It opens at 4 pm and is the perfect place to end your day. Its located on the 63rd floor of the hotel and offers some great cocktails. It’s also commonly referred to as the Hangover Bar, after being made famous by the filming of the movie, The Hangover II.
Erawan National Park
So Erawan National Park isn’t exactly in Bangkok, but it can be a day trip from the city. I would definitely set aside a whole day for it. I’m so glad I did. It turned out to be one of my favorite places of my entire trip. The park is located about three hours outside of the city. I left Bangkok extremely early and arrived upon park opening at 8:00 am and ended up spending roughly four hours there. I would plan about ten hours for the entire trip.
Erawan is one of Thailand’s most famous national parks and is known for its beautiful waterfalls. The water is the most perfect bluish-green color. I’ve seen my fair share of waterfalls, having been to places like Victoria Falls and Iceland, but Erawan is definitely in my top three. The color and the amount of water are season dependent though, so inquire before going, as to whether it’s a good time.
The waterfall consists of seven different tiers. The first few tiers are relatively easy to reach, with the last few being somewhat difficult. It gets quite steep and slippery toward the top and there are ropes and ladders to assist you. Don’t get discouraged and give up. There’s a beautiful pool to swim in at the top and it’s 100% worth it. I had it all to myself and it was absolutely amazing. I would take your time in reaching the top and enjoy some swimming along the way as well. Also, don’t be startled by the many fish in the pools, they just want to nibble on your feet.
There’s a few ways of reaching Erawan National Park. It can be reached by bus, which does require one bus change about an hour outside of the park. This will definitely be your cheapest option, but also the most time consuming. Another option would be a tour. Most of the ones I found leaving Bangkok were private and costly. This option would only make sense if you had a group of at least two and didn’t mind arriving a little later in the day, as the ones I found didn’t leave until 8 am. The third option, and the option I chose is private car. Although it’s pricey, it’s still less expensive than a tour and pretty affordable if split among others. The cost was about $140 USD, including wait time.
I was exhausted by the end of the day and upon return to the hotel, I got some dinner and called it a night, so I could wake up for my early flight. If you are looking for some evening fun though, I recommend checking out one of Bangkok’s many speakeasy-type bars, such as Havana Social.