Get the Most Out of Bangkok in Just 48 Hours
The Big Mango, Venice of the East, City of Angels; these are just some of the nicknames given to Thailand’s capital Bangkok – and that’s not its official name either! Krung Thep Maha Nakhon, as it’s known by the locals, is the country’s largest city and the nation’s cultural heart. Famous for its ornate temples and vibrant street life, as well as a notoriously seedy underbelly, it attracted a staggering 22 million travellers in 2018, giving it the title of world’s most visited city for the fourth year running. While you could spend lifetimes here and still not discover all the hidden gems, it is possible to do Bangkok justice in just 48 hours and not feel like you missed anything essential.While you could spend lifetimes here and still not discover all the hidden gems, it is possible to do the city justice in just 48 hours and not feel like you missed anything essential. Click To Tweet
48 Hours in Bangkok: Getting Around
Getting around the sprawling metropolis can seem challenging at first, however exploring the city on land, water and in the air (well, sort of – the BTS Skytrain glides unobstructed up to three stories above Bangkok’s suffocating traffic) can not only prove effortless, but also exciting. Both the BTS and MRT train systems are among the world’s best public transport networks. Although often crowded during peak times, they are clean, reliable and extremely affordable, with trips starting at as little as 16 Baht.
While taxis seem convenient, they can be expensive and cabbies are known for scamming tourists. There’s also a high chance of getting stuck in gridlock, especially when covering longer distances. If you need to get around by car, use a ride-hailing app, which, if you’re feeling brave also offers a motorbike option. Just please, make sure you wear a helmet.
Tuk-tuks are an integral part of the Southeast Asia package, and must be experienced at least once. The famous motorised rickshaws offer a fun perspective of the city’s hustle and bustle. Settle on a price first and if you want to book one for the day, do it through your accommodation or a tour company to avoid another infamous Bangkok scam.
As luck would have it most of the attractions listed below can be reached travelling along the majestic Chao Phraya River, which was my favourite way of seeing Bangkok and a highlight of my trip. And while there are many options here too – from river taxi to dinner cruise, the tourist boat takes care of the job perfectly and at 200 Baht for a day ticket is a bargain.
Khao San Road
Described by Alex Garland in The Beach as “the centre of the backpacking universe”, Khao San Road certainly has a reputation to live up to. The famous strip and surrounding streets are packed with souvenir shops, bars, accommodation and massage parlours of varying repute. Once the ”gateway to Southeast Asia”, the area no longer possesses much of its bohemian charm and for the most part (besides the ping-pong shows) isn’t distinguishable from other party streets around the world. While exploring the neighbourhood is a great way to blow off steam and ease into the chaos of Asia’s street life, do not let this be the primary item on your itinerary.
How to get here: Get off the Tourist Boat at the Phra Arthit stop and walk for five minutes to get to Khao San Road.
What to eat: While the street food here is not bad, it isn’t just backpacker joints that make up Khao San, with more upmarket restaurants and hotels popping up over the past few years.
Wat Arun, also known as the Temple of Dawn is a Buddhist shrine which dominates the western bank of the Chao Phraya River. Its distinctive central spire rises over 70 metres into the air and is one of Bangkok’s most recognisable landmarks. This is one of Thailand’s most visited attractions so do expect crowds. These can be beaten, however, by arriving early, or simply exploring the entire complex, as visitors tend to congregate in certain areas, leaving the rest of the site relatively empty.
How to get here: Get off the Tourist Boat at the Wat Arun stop. You can’t miss it!
What to eat: Grab a bag of fresh mango or watermelon from a street vendor.
Wat Pho, or the Temple of the Reclining Buddha is located on the opposite side of the River from Wat Arun. The shrine’s bejewelled spires are an iconic element of Bangkok’s ever-evolving skyline. Once the Royal Family’s personal temple, Wat Pho is one of Bangkok’s oldest places of worship. The main attraction for those visiting is the enormous reclining Buddha, as well as the largest collection of Buddha statues in all of Thailand, scattered throughout its shaded cloisters. If somehow you only visit one temple during your stay here, make it this one.
Located next to Wat Pho, the Royal Palace is said to be an essential part of any visit to Bangkok. Unfortunately at 500 Baht per person, the entry tickets are pricey, most buildings are not open to tourists, and crowds can be overwhelming. Although I got there very early and was one of the first people in the queue, I decided to leave after a 300-strong school group was let into the complex before anyone else. If you do chose to visit make sure you abide by the rigorously enforced dress code. Also, check out the traditional Thai theatre show included in the ticket price!
How to get here: Get off the Tourist Boat at the Tha Maharaj stop and walk for 10 minutes. Alternatively, take a 3 minute ferry from Wat Arun.
What to eat: This is THE touristy area – the food is expensive, portions small and quality questionable, so eat before you get here, or bring a snack.
48 Hours in Bangkok: Chinatown
”I’ve been to a Chinatown before, and it wasn’t anything special”, I hear you say. Clearly you’ve never visited Bangkok’s Yaowarat Road – an area occupied by Thailand’s Chinese diaspora. Lit up by huge neon signs, the neighbourhood really comes alive at night, when food vendors line both sides of its main artery. Arguably the city’s best foodie destination, Bangkok’s Chinatown is a delightful assault on all senses, and can’t be missed, no matter how little time you have in the city.
How to get here: Get off the Tourist Boat at the Ratchawongse stop and walk for 5 minutes to reach Yaowarat Road.
What to eat: You’ll be spoiled for choice! Try anything from delicious satay skewers and crispy Japanese gyoza dumplings, to a variety of deep-fried insects.
Asiatique: this purpose-built Insta spot is the definition of a tourist trap. Although somewhat quirky and a neat backdrop for the social media content you’ll be looking to shoot, this outdoor shopping mall is nowhere near the authentic Thai experience those visiting Bangkok seek. This crossover between a night market and a theme park offers visitors a plethora of quaint boutiques and many dining options. The ”street food” on offer is pretty good, so if you’re after an easy evening of shopping and are happy paying up to three times the price for your barbecued meats or banana roti, by all means check this place out.
How to get here: Get off the Tourist Boat at the Asiatique stop.
What to eat: All of the city’s famous street food can be sampled here at inflated prices.
Chatuchak Weekend Market
The Chatuchak weekend market is believed to be the largest market in Asia, and with over 8000 stalls this could well be true. Whether you’re after some unusual souvenirs or those perfect elephant pants to accompany you on the rest of your holiday, this place has it all. Make sure you haggle and prepare adequate room in your luggage, as this place is a shopper’s paradise.
How to get here: This is the one place on this list not reachable via the river. Take the MRT line and get off at the Kamphaeng Phet station.
What to eat: Try the banana roti or mango sticky rice with ice cream, sold here by street vendors.
48 Hours in Bangkok: Amulet Market
Hidden away in a crisscross of dingy alleyways lies one of Bangkok’s hidden gems, and by far the city’s most unusual shopping destination. Frequented by the city’s residents seeking divine protection, the amulet market remains unspoiled by tourism and offers visitors a truly mystical experience. The prices are fair, vendors mostly friendly, and the selection of lucky charms, amulets and religious statues massive. If you’re after some good luck, and would like to bring a piece of Thailand back home with you, this is your place.
How to get here: Get off the Tourist Boat at the Tha Maharaj. The amulet market is literally around the corner.
What to eat: Grab some fresh spring rolls sold by the side of the road. They might just turn out to be the best you’ll ever try.
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