The first thing you’ll notice as you walk the narrow alleys and streets of Bangkok is that it’s buzzing with life. Motorbikes weave through traffic, Thai baht exchanges hands at food stalls, and billboard-sized LED screens flash advertisements in Thai and, sometimes, in English. Visiting Bangkok is an adventure for the senses, which is why you should treat yourself to some not-so-typical experiences when you go there.
Exploring temples is a must when visiting Bangkok, but don’t wear yourself out by making your bucket list one-dimensional. If you only have one day in Bangkok, decide whether you’ll visit the Grand Palace to see where Thai royalty lived, Wat Pho to walk the length of a 150-foot-long reclining Buddha, or Wat Arun for its unique design and riverside location. They’re all located close together, so you can easily start your day by visiting two or three of those sights. Do so as early as possible since Bangkok continues to get hotter and more humid as the day progresses. They all open between 8-8:30 a.m., so not only will you beat the heat, but you’ll also arrive before the crowds. Immerse yourself in the temple experience by taking a deep breath of soothing incense, enjoying the silence as others meditate around you, and observing the detailed gold-and-jewel-studded craftsmanship in and outside of prayer areas. These are all large complexes that will require you to walk around outdoors, so be sure to apply sunblock and always have water on hand.
Next stop: lunch. Take the public water ferry down the Chao Phraya River to the Saphan Taksin stop. Turn left after you exit the dock and you’ll see a sign for Bangrak Bazaar. There’s a food center in the large building just behind the bazaar’s vendors. The stalls inside offer inexpensive but delicious local food options like red curry with shrimp, tom yum soup, oyster omelets, and so much more. Pictures are displayed along with prices, so you know exactly what you’re getting and can compare your options. Afterward, wander through the nearby streets and alleyways to see a different side of the city – small shops and fruit stalls, old architecture, and locals going about their day. Take your time and explore as much as you can by foot. You’ll start to get a good feel for Bangkok if you continue to walk around, though remember that because it’s such a sprawling city, it’ll be impossible to experience all that it has to offer on any one vacation.
It’s likely late afternoon now, and you’ve been on your feet for most of the day. A visit to Bangkok would not be complete without a traditional Thai massage. This method is a mix of acupressure and assisted yoga-like stretches. At times, the masseuse may be putting their full body weight on you, so if the pressure feels too intense, opt for a different modality or a foot reflexology session to pamper your feet a little. It’s best to book ahead of time at a day spa to ensure they can fit you in. Day spas will cost a little more than a massage parlor, but they ensure a higher level of cleanliness and properly trained staff. These are two important factors to consider when determining where you’ll have your massage.
There’s no better way to enjoy your next meal than by learning to cook it yourself. Join any number of nighttime food classes for hands-on training so you can make your own tom kha gai soup, green curry paste, or pad Thai at home. If you’d rather just eat than cook, join a nighttime food tour where a guide will take you to various food stalls and eateries. This will give you the opportunity to try a number of dishes and learn your way around the city’s food options. Whether you choose a class or tour, you’ll be introduced to local cuisine, understand how the Thai culture influences and is influenced by food, and be more confident and adventurous when you order your next meal.
If you’re not quite ready for bed after your last meal, head out to enjoy the city at night. Have a drink at a rooftop bar like Sky Bar at the Lebua Hotel and enjoy the view of Bangkok’s skyline. If you’d like to do a little shopping, walk through a bazaar like the Patpong Night Market or get lost among the myriad shops at Siam Paragon mall before it closes at 10 p.m. A mall may sound like an odd place to spend time at, but as soon as you enter, you’ll understand why this must-visit mall was the most Instagrammed location in 2013.
Keep an eye on the time if you plan to take public transportation like the Skytrain (BTS) or subway (MRT) back to your hotel. Bangkok may still be buzzing, but the trains stop running around midnight each day. Taxis, however, are an inexpensive and reliable way to get back to your hotel (just make sure they turn on their meter so you aren’t overcharged). Uber also operates in Bangkok.
If all these activities seem like too much for one day, feel free to cut some or spread them out over a few days if you have the time to spare. Relax. It’s your vacation to enjoy, and Bangkok is a great location to spend it in.