Jul 17, 2023 4:45:59 AM | Travel Bangkok

Bangkok is a short stop, or layover for most people. It's worth staying longer if you have time. Here is what you will want to know before you visit.

What you need to know about Bangkok.

Want to skip to the good stuff? Click the links below πŸ‘‡πŸ‘‡πŸ‘‡

wat pho temple bangkokβœ… Top tips for first-timers
🏨 Where to stay in Bangkok?
πŸ–¨οΈ Print this before your flight
πŸš— Getting Around
πŸ“Google Maps pins
πŸ›οΈ Shopping
πŸ›οΈ Chatachuk Weekend Market
πŸ“ Koh Kret

| One of the first questions I often get: "What should I do in Bangkok, I only have a day?"

"Start by extending your trip another 24-48 hours." 

Here is what you want to know as you extend your stay: 

IMG_33991. The traffic in Bangkok is terrible

Pick a hotel location that will limit the amount of time you need to spend in a car. My suggestion would be to stay off the Sukhumvit Line. This will make it possible to take public transit from the airport to your hotel and easy to get around. You also don't need to spend large sums of money to be located in a really nice area.

Here are some properties for >$100/ night I would stay in again:  

  • Aloft Bangkok Sukhumvit 11
    A hip hotel right in the middle of the action and located off the MRT & BTS. The crowd can be a bit loud at night. This property has a rooftop pool with skyline views and a small night market outside every night. 
    Verdict: Perfect for younger travelers who want a hip location
  • Hotel Indigo Bangkok Wireless Road
    Located right across from the US embassy, this hotel is quiet at night, but ideally situated. A 5-minute walk takes you to the BTS but at night the street is empty. The rooftop pool has a DJ on weekend nights, but isn't too crowded during the days.
    Verdict: Stay in the heart of the action albeit on a quiet street
  • Staybridge Suites Bangkok Thonglor
  • Staybridge Suites Thonglor
    Thonglor is relatively far down the BTS line, but incredibly quiet and secure. It's not uncommon to see a Ferrari or other high-end cars heading home at the end of the day. This property has washer/dryer units in all of the rooms, a 20th-floor infinity pool, and free breakfast. They also have a free shuttle that takes you to the BTS whenever you need it.
    Verdict: Perfect for families and those who sweat a lot. 

2. Don't rent a car to drive in Bangkok

Instead of driving, download Grab* (Uber does not work in Thailand). This will allow you to use a credit card instead of fumbling around in the back of a dark taxi for cash. Grab also delivers $3 pad thai at 2am, or you can take a ride on a scooter across town. 
*my referral link. We both get some credit, tbh I don't know how much. 
Many Grab drivers offer private transfer or daily rate services. If you were impressed with your driver's service/vehicle ask if they have a card.

3. Pack clothes to layer for the heat

Temples and cultural sites will require covered knees and shoulders. The heat is pressing. Men should pack a pair of capris. For women, a super light cover or shawl-type cover is useful. In both cases, you can also choose to purchase souvenir elephant pants or cool scarves locally. 
If you buy locally, prices are often unmarked. To avoid overpaying here are common reference points (1USDβ‰ˆ35THB) 
Elephant Pants: 100-200THB
Shawls/Scarves: 90-150THB

When looking at clothing quality, stick to typical guidelines: 

  • Look at the seam quantity and quality. Is it single-seamed, double, triple? How are the ends cuffed? How are buttons attached?
  • Fabric quality, is it thick, thin? Does it feel rough when it shouldn't? Does the fabric look consistent?
  • Check the zipper. Zipper quality is usually indicative of overall quality. 

4. Mobile Reception

Don't skip mobile access in Bangkok. Within a day there will be a scenario where you will be walking in the heat and wish you could call a rideshare. If you would like to have cell service before you land, you can purchase an e-sim through AIS from your home country. You can also use Airalo to purchase a 1 week or 15 day unlimited plan for $10/$20 respectively. 

For those that want to wait until they are in the country to buy a sim, see my tip below. 
**My link will give you a $3 credit. 

5. Hotel status still matters in Bangkok

If you don't travel often, look at your credit cards, airline programs, etc. You may have a status match to a hotel chain that can get you a slight upgrade, welcome gift, or small amenity during your stay. US credit cards such as the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless and IHG Select card will give you a boost towards getting status, 0 foreign transaction fees, and 1 free night per year as a perk.

| Want to drink beers & talk about credit card status? 

Ok, that's everything I think I can pre-arm you with. Once you've booked your trip, print the next section. You'll thank me when your brain isn't working after the crazy long-haul flight. I'm excited about your trip!

Print this cheat-sheet before your flight 

  1. Head to the baggage claim once you've had your fingerprints scanned, photo taken, and passport stamped.
  2. Thailand is still very much a cash society. You will want some stat. Luckily there are ATMs in the baggage claim area. You've printed this sheet out so hit that 10,000 baht option knowing that's about $285USD/€260EUR
  3. If needed, purchase a sim card. I usually opt to go for a TrueMove H 30 day unlimited plan which will set you back 999THB (about $30USD). You will need to let them scan your passport to purchase a sim and they only accept cash. 
  4. Grab your bag and walk out the door. Signs will guide you to the exit. If you've arranged a transfer, you will see people holding signs. Otherwise ignore anyone offering a ride and start heading downstairs. 

Getting to the city

My suggestion would be to take a taxi for around $20USD because you will probably be tired and jet-lagged. If you're on a budget, the train, then bus are your best options:

  1. Bus line S1 will take you directly to Khao San Road for 60THB in 60-90 minutes. 
  2. The Airport Train also heads to Khao San for β‰ˆ45THB in about 40 minutes. Overall expect to spend that + BTS or taxi fare when you transfer. The train is located on the bottom floor. 
  3. taxi stand at bangkok bkk airportTaxis typically run β‰ˆ800THB ($20ish USD). To take one, follow the signs to the ground level outside. They will direct you to a set of kiosks (see photo on right). Wait in line, then punch the button requesting a taxi. The machine will give you a receipt with a parking spot listed where you can find your taxi.
    Some taxis will ask you to agree to a set rate. A suggestion of 800THB freeway (tolls) included is fair for both parties. Expect to spend the better part of an hour getting to your hotel at this point due to the traffic. 

Ok, I'm in Bangkok. What's so cool?

A good place to start is shopping & eating!!!

I'll start with my favorite post-long-haul activity. It involves air-conditioning, minimal sweating, lots of food, and walking. 

Grab a shower, then jump on the BTS (The Bangkok Skytrain) and head to the Siam stop. To pay for the train simply purchase a ticket from one of the machines. You can also buy a single journey fare, or a "Rabbit Card" at the manned kiosk in any station if you plan to stay a few days and use the BTS frequently.

Be aware that the ticket machines usually only accept coins. If you decide to purchase a transit card, you will need your passport to complete the purchase as well as cash to pay for the transaction. One way tickets are issued in the form of a card. You tap in to get on the train, then feed the card into the slot to exit (it will not return the card, this is normal). 

Once you've made it to the Siam stop you should follow the signs to the "Siam Discovery" exit. A >10 minute walk will take you to MBK, the OG Bangkok Megamall. MBK was the largest mall in Thailand when it was completed in the 1980s. It's 8 stories tall, a full city block in length, and has over 2000 shops. 

earth_serviceAs you step inside MBK, prepare to be greeted by a plethora of new sites, smells, and sounds. Each floor has a theme, although there exceptions. My first stop is usually to floor 4 where you can find used electronics and phone repairs. Do your research and get your broken phone screen replaced while you browse around.

Here is what you should know before shopping in Bangkok

  • Western brands such as Nike, Levis, etc. will usually be cheaper in the United States. Unless you've lost your luggage and plan on expensing your purchases, I'd skip the stores you will see at home. 
  • The exception to the rule above is outlet stores. They are similar to those in the US. If you can find the color/size you would like, you will pay 30-50% of retail price. Super Sports is my favorite outlet at MBK. 
  • It should seem obvious, but places selling Ray-Bans for $10, or World Cup Signature Jerseys for $7 are selling knock-offs. Don't expect to score a pair of Airpods on the street for $20.
  • You will need some cash. See my note above about Thailand still being a large cash society. Food stalls and kiosks in general may or may not take card. Most storefronts however will, you just may need to pay an additional 3% processing fee. 
  • Be prepared to negotiate over price in some of the kiosks at MBK and some, but not all of the other shopping malls. If in doubt ask if that is their best price. Stores with prices and chain stores will not haggle so do not even try to negotiate the price of a pair of shoes at an Adidas store. 
  • Purchasing food is different than the US: most food stalls do not accept cash or credit card. Instead you will need to exchange cash for a card you can use to pay for food. At the end of your meal simply return to the cashier for a refund of any unused credit. Most food courts will only accept cash for the food cards. 

If you're hungry you can find food on the ground floor as well as floors 5 and 6. I personally save eating for Siam Paragon or centralwOrld, but the food is cheap so why not have extra meals?

Once you've grown tired of MBK it's easy to keep walking with minimal interruption to your air-conditioned status. Siam Discovery is diagonally opposite MBK, you can use the skywalk to cross traffic on the 2nd floor. 

If you still have energy, keep on

Siam Discovery, Siam Center, & Siam Paragon

Siam Discovery is connected to Siam Center & Siam Paragon in that order. The Siam malls are filled with many western shops (Nike, Adidas, etc.). Other than different food options and currency you might not know you were in Bangkok. This is where I would head if your luggage is lost. Every shop here will accept credit card, provide you with a valid receipt for compensation, and provide warranty.

Siam Paragon has the nicest food options, but it can get extremely crowded. If you get hungry I would walk across the street to centralwOrld:  


toys r us centralworldcentralwOrld might be my favorite mall in Bangkok. This is mainly because of the food. Head right up to the top floor. In order to purchase food at the stalls, you need to load a card with some money as I mentioned above. You will see a cashier symbol directing you in the right way.

200-300THB is more than enough for a meal. If you're a heavy drinker double that to spend at the bar. You can take the card back at the end of your meal in order to recoup your 20THB deposit and any remaining change. 

pork belly and duck soup michelin bib gourmandI would personally head towards the "duck soup" stall which is directly to the left of the cashier on the mall side. It's one of the stalls with a Michelin Bib Gourmand sticker (the other has an amazing crabmeat omelet so if you end up at the wrong one no biggie). IMO ordering the soup with duck & pork belly is where it's at. 

PS. For those Millenials out there, there is a Toys R Us in centralwOrld!


If it's Saturday or Sunday, visit the Chatachuk Weekend Market

Screenshot 2023-07-17 at 3-38-00 PM-2Similar to the most popular shopping malls, Chatachuk is located just off the BTS. Take the train north to Mo Chit stop. From there you can follow the path (and the people) to the weekend market. As described, it's open on Saturdays and Sundays. Here you'll find clothes, food, and knick-knacks. 

Chatachuk will have far fewer tourists than any of the markets a tour agent will try to sell you on. It's also closer to Bangkok than the typical "floating market" tourist traps you may have read about. Add in that it will only cost you a couple dollars to take the BTS and I'd ask why you're paying that travel agent? 

Most of the stalls at Chatachuk will be willing to negotiate on price. If you look like a foreigner or a tourist you may not get the best offer the first time you ask how much something costs. Note: If you are considering buying multiples, hold that card in your back pocket. Once you are ready to make a purchase use this as leverage to negotiate the best price. 

If you walk quickly, it takes about 90 minutes to see absolutely everything. I'd suggest going at a leisurely pace while having a delicious coconut ice cream with sticky rice. 

Spend a morning at the temples 

DSC_0835If you're a glutton for punishment and hate shopping malls, I'd skip straight to seeing some of the best temples. Note that I wrote "a morning at the temples." I would strongly suggest that you head to the temples early in the morning to beat the heat of the afternoon. 

It's not worth taking public transit for this trip. Instead book a Grab to take you directly to Pho Wat. This entrance is usually the least crowded, you will need 200THB per person in cash for the entrance fee. It takes at least an hour to properly see the temple including standing in line to see the reclining Buddha. 

khao san road pad thaiOnce you are ready to leave, use this exit. I guarantee that you will feel stupidly hot and possibly hungry. At this point I'd walk over to Pad Thai Kratong Tong. There is no air conditioning, but there is shade. Enjoy a quick meal before pondering your next move.

From here you can easily go to either: 

  1. Wat Arun or 
  2. The Grand Palace 

If you decide to head to the Grand Palace next, it's pretty easy to walk. You can also negotiate with a Tuk-Tuk to take you if it's hot. If you are headed to Wat Arun the instructions are a slightly more involved:

DSC_0912To head to Wat Arun, walk from Pad Thai Kratong Tong to the ferry station. You'll need a few coins for the crossing and that's... about it. Similar to Wat Arun, it will take you 1-2 hours to see the entire complex. The Grand Palace is a bit larger. If you choose to visit all 3 sites in 1 go, it will likely take a full day. 

Once you are done... head to Khao San Road

DSC_0804No trip to Bangkok is complete without a visit to Khao San Road. If you hit the temples in the morning and it's getting dark, you're in luck and close. For everyone else, it's a journey that's worth taking a rideshare as no public transit stations are super close. Khao San Road has a bit of everything. 

I can't suggest an itinerary or anything here. What I would suggest is taking a bit of cash, some patience, and your camera. 

Need something different? Explore Koh Kret!

DSC_2568Check out Koh Kret if you're staying in Bangkok for more than a few days or simply want to do something else the masses aren't.

Getting to Koh Kret will almost certainly require a driver. To get there, I would simply order a Grab. Once you've arrived at the dropoff point, walk to the ferry pier and get on the first boat. The ferry is free to cross, but you have to pay 3THB to enter the island once you arrive. 

Visiting Koh Kret is best done from a bicycle or electric scooter. You can rent one for a couple of hours or a full day immediately after you pay the entrance fee. The island is a big loop. Part of the road surrounding it is a literal market that you will need to ride through. Be careful here and remember that you traditionally drive on the left side so oncoming traffic will pass you on your right. 

Note, taking a taxi back may be your only option. If you saved a grab driver's information you can ask them if they can do both a pickup and dropoff. 

Mike Lee

Written By: Mike Lee