Three Days in Bangkok – tranquil temples, amazing street food and vibrant nightlife
With all the major international flights coming in and out of this bustling city, Bangkok makes for a great jumping off point. We spent two nights here at start of the trip and one night at the end, including New Years Eve.
Bangkok’s Top Attractions
I had been to Bangkok before but it was Adam’s first visit. Therefore, we had to visit a mix of cultural sites while still fitting in all the amazing food, shopping and nightlife.
The Grand Palace
While the Grand Palace is not my favourite, it’s hard to come to Bangkok and not visit this site. The Grand Palace was a former residence for King Rama I to King Rama V of the Rattanakosin Kingdom. Today, the place is used for hosting royal ceremonies and welcoming the king’s guests. The site is divided into two main areas, the royal residence and the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. While the Thai people believe this Buddha figurine is very auspicious, it’s certainly not the highlight of this complex. Personally I enjoyed walking the outer walls. These are covered with 178 murals painted during the reign of Rama and are unbelievably detailed.
My favourite site is just down the road from the Grand Palace, Wat Pho. It’s famous for the city’s largest reclining Buddha which almost too big for its shelter. A common ritual is to donate coins in series of metal bowls placed in a long row behind the statue, creating a constant chime sound throughout the complex.
A Canal Tour
Rather than visit more temples, we decided to take a 3-hour tour on the Chao Praya River and surrounding canals.
Bangkok developed a series of canals starting in the late 18th century. King Rama I wanted to live on an island and the canal around the Grand Palace was developed. Later more canals were dug for irrigation, drainage, trade and transportation.
We hired a private long tail boat and sailed past Wat Arun, the temple of Dawn and The Grand Palace.
We then proceeded into the canal system. The canals are separated by locks so you have to queue to get in and out. Once you enter the canals you are in a different world. While so close to the big skyscrapers and the hustle and bustle of the city center, the canal streets were peaceful. Tiny teak houses on stilts and shabby constructions stand next to small, ornate temples. There were people hanging laundry to dry, fisherman on small boats and lots of fauna. Adam even saw a giant monitor lizard lying next to the water! The canal we went down also housed the new giant Buddha statue.
We ended our canal trip near the BTS Sky train, Bangkok’s metro. So we took the train to another set of attractions, the malls.
Shopping in Bangkok
Bangkok’s shopping scene has an interesting combination of high-end boutiques, local goods and designer knock offs. We visited two of the malls and walked through a number of the street markets.
Siam Paragon is filled with high end products. There is an aquarium and a huge food court as well. The food court takes up the full floor and is filled with restaurants and stalls making it the perfect place for a quick lunch. MBK is the opposite and feels more like the indoor version of the street market, filled with local goods, electronics and a ton of fake designer handbags.
It’s virtually impossible to get around Bangkok without seeing some of the markets. There are day time markets, night markets, floating markets and even a train market which literally has a train running through it several times a day! We opted out of the market visits that were a journey out of town, but certainly wandered through the day and night markets in Bangkok itself. They are lively and filled with everything under the sun – food stalls, fresh juices, clothes, trinkets, fake designer products, weed and more.
Bangkok is a city that doesn’t sleep, especially on the weekends. From massage shops and go-go bars to live music venues and rooftops, there’s no shortage of entertainment in Bangkok.
We had arrived in Bangkok on the first night at 1am (Sunday night), and Sukhumvit 11 was buzzing. It was so energetic that we found our second wind, dropped off our luggage and went out (despite traveling for 20+ hours). We wandered the streets taking in all the activity – it’s filled with everything from street carts whipping up delicious Thai food to classy rooftops, raging nightclubs and laid back sports bars. On the first night, we just went to a chill outdoor restaurant for some local thai food, but we certainly spent more time on Sukhumvit 11 checking out the scene on other nights.
Also, there’s Nana Plaza, the heart of the city’s red-light district, just a ten minute walk away if you want to check out a different type of scene.
Khao San Road
Khao San Road is the famous backpacking district and is a street filled with wild parties. The streets and alleys are lit up with neon signs and music pours out into the street. Because Khao San Road only covers a few blocks, the action spills over into neighboring Rambuttri and Phra Athit Road, which are a bit more manageable with more chill bars and restaurants.
We visited this area twice and really enjoyed Brick Bar, a local live music venue hidden on Khao San Road. They brought in Thai bands regularly making for a more local crowd.
There are also several rooftops in Bangkok and we managed to make it to three. We visited the Lebua Hotel, Octave and Eagle’s Nest. LeBua has great views, but at $50/drink, it’s a bit steep and in our case, it was dead (it was Monday night). Octave on the other hand was buzzing when we visited (5pm on Jan 1st) and the drinks were far more reasonable (think $20/drink). Eagle’s nest is a shorter rooftop but has an amazing view of Wat Arun. There are certainly plenty of others though.
New Year’s Eve in Bangkok
We spent NYE in Bangkok and had hoped to grab dinner and then chill on the hotel’s rooftop, Octave. As it turns out, tickets for the rooftop that evening were $350-500 per person, for what seemed like a lame party! So we decided to skip it and wander the streets. We started our evening with a low key dinner at Siam Paragon before making our way to Khao San Road. Khao San road itself was too crazy – you literally couldn’t walk on the street as it was filled with so many vendors and street carts, and people just standing there. The music was blazing that even with ear plugs, it was too loud. That said, we went back to Brick Bar which had a great local music scene, experienced some of the surrounding streets, celebrating the countdown in the thick of it, and ultimately had a great time.
Bangkok is a fabulous city and there are so many different sides to it. With three days, we managed to fit in quite a good amount and with more time, there are lots of things to do outside the city center as well.