I’m a massive fan of flying weird and wonderful alternative routes to get a good deal on a flight. If you’re smart and extend your stopovers, a fantastic bonus to this is being able to experience a quick-fire tour of the layover destination.
Bangkok is a world-class city. For many, it’s the start of the classic South East Asia trail, while for others it provides a taste of the unique world of the Far East before they jet off elsewhere. So when a friend gave me tips about a handy flight route to get to Australia from the UK, leaving me with a surprise 48 hours in Bangkok, I was eager to make the most out of my time in the city.
Bangkok’s a big place, and there’s so much to do and see, but this list will give you a comprehensive experience of the wonderful Thai capital for those who only have a short amount of time there.
Dinner In Chinatown
We arrived in Bangkok at 6 am, very jet-lagged, and after having taken a sleeping pill on the plane – which had failed at having the desired effect – I was in some alternate-reality state of delirious. Traveling with a narcoleptic buddy meant that wandering around in a state of over-tiredness wasn’t really an option, so I’m a little embarrassed to admit that neither of us had any qualms about spending most of the first day sleeping.
We did manage to drag our fatigued bodies out into the world for dinner, as another friend had met up with us and suggested we combine our mealtime with a trip to Chinatown.
If you want a real experience of the ambiance of Bangkok, then Chinatown is the place. On the streets, vehicles of every kind dodge and peep at each other, and the sidewalks are so full of pedestrians that spilling out into the street is unavoidable. The roadside woks and teppan grills sizzle as you pass and the clank of expertly trained hands on cooking utensils send noodles, rice, and endless other delicacies into the air and the hands of eager customers.
In terms of street food without novelty, this is the place to be. Every inch of pavement is filled with delicious smelling eateries, without the fried scorpions and grasshoppers laid out for show. We were lucky enough to be guided to a specific spot by our friend, who had eaten there previously, but if you can’t get a recommendation, and want to avoid the notorious Asian food poisoning, try opting for vendors with the most customers – preferably locals!
River Trips & Tuk-Tuk Rides
Sometimes, the best way to get the most out of spending a short time in a city is to transform a ride on public transport into an independent site-seeing tour. In Bangkok, you have two real options for this:
The Chao Phraya River cuts through the center of the city and is an easy way to access most attractions. However, bobbing softly down the stream you can also enjoy a beautiful showcase on the many colors and sides of Bangkok, simply by watching the riverbank float by. There are a few types of boat companies running, and when purchasing tickets, it’s likely they’ll try and steer you towards the express tourist line. However, if you opt for the local boat – which can be identified by its lack of colored flag – you can enjoy a leisurely cruise around the city’s attractions for a heavily reduced price.
The other option is the somewhat more death-defying choice of taking a Tuk-Tuk. This half bike/half car combo has become so loved by tourists that they operate more as a novelty than anything else – meaning they’re over-priced and the drivers are likely to scam you. However, the feeling of whizzing through the tumultuous rat race of the Bangkok roads with nothing more than a flimsy awning around you is an adrenaline filled experience that you have to try at least once.
A word of warning, however: if you chose to get a Tuk-Tuk to a famous attraction and the driver tells you that it’s closed and he knows somewhere better, then chose another vehicle – otherwise you’re going to get hustled.
Choose Your Temple
You can’t visit Bangkok without seeing a temple. Almost any hostel will have a full list of all of the most popular attractions, or they’re clearly marked on any riverboat schedule or route/timetable.
Now, we were still very jet-lagged so, honestly, our choice of temple was based on price and the intrigue of what exactly a Reclining Buddha was. Wat Pho Temple is located just a few streets off the Tha Thien river dock and is a maze of intricately mosaicked pyramids, lined with shining statues. The Reclining Buddha itself was pretty much what it said on the tin: a massive, spectacular, gold likeness of the classic figurehead, lying down.
Drenched from the monsoon rains, we found solace wandering the beautiful complex. Inside each chapel, religious Thais meditated in front of ornately carved figures, blocking out the hustle and bustle of eager tourists. For a taste of this holistic spiritual existence, which so divides our world between East and West, visiting one of these temples is a must. Wat Arun, close by, translates to ‘Temple of the Rising Sun’ and is equally spectacular, or Wat Phra Kaew, located on the grounds of the Great Palace, houses the wondrous ‘Emerald Buddha’ and is another fantastic option.
The Notorious Koh San Road
There isn’t a backpacker in the world that hasn’t heard of Koh San Road. This lively and animated traveler’s hub provides a manic, yet unmissable, experience for those beginning their trail of South East Asia. Because of this, it’s a great base if you aren’t in Bangkok for very long.
As one of the densest hostel areas in the city, the street is alive at all hours. From the markets of the day – stocking traditional harem pants, statues, carvings and other trinkets – to the hectic night-time rush, in which traders of all kinds take to the streets.
Here you can find a range of street food eateries, although they are slightly more questionable in quality. There are also restaurants lining both streets for those who want to opt for a safer option regarding food poisoning. Bars host live music shows, and massage parlors bring their craft to the streets.
There’s even some more X-rated fun on offer for those who it appeals to. Although, after watching fellow hostel members come back, traumatized, from a ping pong show, I would implore you to consider the dark side of this industry before choosing to support it.
Is there anything that I missed out on during my 48 hours in Bangkok? I always love new recommendations, so please leave a comment below with your ideas!
If you enjoyed this article, don’t forget to check out my video of the Bangkok adventure on my YouTube channel.