No matter where on this spectrum you fall, I urge you: Give Bangkok a fair chance. If you can, spend three full exploring Bangkok before you pass judgment.
Being that Bangkok is a sprawling, traffic-plagued megalopolis of more than 10 million, this might seem like a daunting task. Thankfully, my three-day Bangkok itinerary makes getting to know Thailand’s “City of Angels” a matter of following some simple directions.
Day 1: Urban Explorations
Bangkok is one of Asia’s most modern cities, so a great way dispel negative misconceptions you might have about the city is to explore the most cosmopolitan parts of the city.
Sukhumvit Road is one of the main residential areas of Bangkok for foreigners, but it’s by no means boring. After having breakfast in your hotel, take the Bangkok SkyTrain to “Nana” station, and walk south along the diagonal boulevard. Marvel at the spectacle of traffic, commerce and color the lines that main Thanon Sukhumvit, or weave in and out of the dozens of sois that extend northward and southward from it. Enjoy a cha yaen Thai iced tea with milk, my favorite Thai libation.
Take the SkyTrain to “Siam” station and visit any of the nearby shopping malls (popular choices include Siam Paragon, CentralWorld) for a nice-ish lunch and, if you please, to gawk at the sheer scale of the constructions. Take the SkyTrain one stop to “National Stadium” for cheap electronics and clothing shopping at MBK center, then end the afternoon with a tour of the nearby Jim Thompson House, which pays homage to an American expat who resurrected the Thai silk industry.
As night falls, take the SkyTrain to “Sala Daeng” station, which is the beginning of hectic Silom Road. Silom Road is famous for bars, food stalls and, of course, sex tourism. It’s also home to the Patpong Night Market, a long expanse of pop-up tents that house fake designer goods, go-go bars and some pretty interesting characters. Stop in to an establishment for a drink (or a peep!), or simply return to your hotel for a good night’s sleep.
Day 2: A River Runs Through It
In spite of all the shit it gets, Bangkok is one of the most culturally-rich cities not only in Southeast Asia, but the world. Today focuses on appreciating Bangkok’s heritage, on both banks of the Chao Phraya River.
Once you finish your breakfast, take the SkyTrain to “Saphan Taskin” station, then transfer to a “Chao Phraya Express” boat. Disembark at Memorial Bridge station, and walk across the memorial bridge into Thonburi, or the east bank of the river. Explore temples like stark-white Wat Prayun and tourist-free Wat Kalayanamitr, a Chinese burial shrine and the Santa Cruz church, built by Portuguese missionaries in the 17th century. Take a “river taxi” across the Chao Phraya to Pak Klong pier.
You’re now in Rattanakoskin, Bangkok’s old city. Here, the world is literally your oyster. Should you go the super-tourist route and explore the Grand Palace and nearby “City Pillar”? See Thailand’s largest reclining Buddha at Wat Po? Go back to Bangkok’s Golden Age at Wat Suthat and its accompanying “Giant Swing”? No matter what you get up to in Rattanakosin, it is in this part of Bangkok that the city’s rich heritage most shines through.
Evening: Chao Phraya River Cruise
Head back to any river pier and inquire about a Chao Phraya river cruise. At some piers, large group cruises or available while at others, you’ll need to bargain a good rate for a small boat tour for your individual party. Watch the sunset from the water, then head back to shore and find a place for dinner — I personally recommend Supatra River House. Travel back to your hotel as late at night as possible to avoid Bangkok’s notorious traffic jams.
Day 3: Chaos, Relaxation and Pampering
Me placing this day as “Day 3″ assumes your third day will be a weekend. If it isn’t, feel free to move this to Day 1 or Day 2. Whatever you do, do not omit it — this day may well be your favorite in Bangkok!
Morning: Chatuchak Weekend Market
Take the Bangkok SkyTrain to Mo Chit station and follow the signs toward the Chatuchak Weekend Market. How much time you spend here is up to you — it’s massive enough to spend the whole day, but overwhelming enough that you might not last until lunch. There’s something for everyone here, from street food and beverage, live plants and animals and plenty of fake designer goods.
Afternoon: Massage at Devarana Spa
Escape from the Weekend Market and hop the SkyTrain back into the city center, specifically back to Sala Daeng station in Silom. Take the exit market “Dusit Thani Hotel” and ask the concierge to direct you to Devarana Spa, whose name derives from the Sanskrit word for “heaven.” Devarana’s heavenly offerings aren’t cheap (by Thai standards anyway), but are well worth the expense, even on a backpacker’s budget. Call 02-6363596 in advance to set an appointment.
Evening: Drinks at Bar 494 in the Grand Hyatt Erawan
Congratulations: You’ve survived three days in Bangkok! Continue pampering yourself by taking the SkyTrain to Ratchadamri Station, then entering into the swanky Grand Hyatt Erawan Hotel. Go downstairs to “Bar 494″ between 6-10 p.m. to enjoy happy hour. Although Bar 494, like Devarana Spa, is expensive by Thai standards, you can enjoy a tapas plate for just 100 baht, while glasses of award-winning wine start around the same price.
Now, that wasn’t so bad, was it?