Find yourself overwhelmed in Bangkok? We’ll help you out!
Visiting Bangkok for the first time can be overwhelming, and planning a trip to this bustling city is a real challenge. Thailand’s capital is a mix of ancient culture, food paradise and shopping heaven, but to get it right is not that simple. After so many emails from readers asking us to help them plan a Bangkok itinerary, we decided to list the best travel tips for your first time in Bangkok: what to do and where to stay.
This is an ultimate travel guide to Bangkok [a long one], with all the top attractions, best places to stay in Bangkok, how to get around, scams to avoid, and local experiences. Bangkok has been our “home” in Southeast Asia for more than a year, and every time we stay there we discover new things to do in Bangkok. But we also love to visit the traditional attractions, places that make Bangkok such an iconic city.
There are tons of things you need to do to organize your first trip to Bangkok. Have you booked your flights to Thailand? Not yet?! You can find the best prices and connections at Skyscanner. Did you organize your travel documents? No!! Before flying check all the documents you must have for an international trip to avoid any problems. Now back to our travel guide to Bangkok, what to do on your first trip to Thailand! We are going to start with things to do in Bangkok, attractions that you can fit in a 4 or 5 days itinerary. So sit back, relax and let’s plan your first trip to Bangkok!
First time in Bangkok: what to do?
First of all, when is the best time to travel to Bangkok? Plan your trip during the dry months, from November to February. From March to June it is the hot, super hot season but if you have the chance to be in Thailand around April go for it! A festival called Songkran (the Thai New Year) happens around the 13th of April and it is an amazing celebration! The rainy months last from July to October which is called monsoon. The monsoon is not so bad, we have been in Bangkok during all seasons and the hardest one was the summer.
Most of the top attractions in Bangkok are temples or religious sites, my advice for your first time in Bangkok is to visit the main temples and the Grand Palace on the same day. The sights are quite close to each other, and as you need to dress respectfully [cover your shoulders and wear long skirts or pants] it makes sense to schedule them on the same day of your Bangkok itinerary. There are hundreds of temples in the city, we will recommend the most famous and most beautiful ones, attractions that you need to visit on your first trip to Thailand.
> Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew
This is the number 1 attraction in Bangkok. To avoid tourist crowds you better wake up early in the morning. The complex is huge, inside the Grand Palace you can visit the famous Wat Phra Kaew and the Emerald Buddha, plus the gardens, the Royal offices, amazing statues and Thai designs.
The Grand Palace is open daily from 8:30AM to 3:30PM, and a quick visit can take more than two hours, so be prepared for long walks. Check the Grand Palace website for prices, location and about the dress code. If you want to make your first visit to Bangkok a learning experience, you can rent an audio guide at the entrance and follow the history behind each temple and building of the Grand Palace.
> Wat Pho and the Reclining Buddha
Wat Pho is right beside the Grand Palace, and it’s one of Bangkok’s main attractions. If you wake up early, you can visit the Grand Palace and the Wat Pho the same morning, it’s a smart way to save time on your first trip to Bangkok.
Wat Pho is another huge complex, with many corridors, stupas, statues and a nice garden. The biggest attraction is the Reclining Buddha, 15 meters tall for 46 meters long, all covered in golden leaf, impressive! The Wat Pho Temple is open every day from 8:00AM to 5:00PM, for more info on how to get there, entrance fee, and about the Thai Massage University that is located inside the temple, check the Wat Pho official website.
> Wat Arun
On your first time in Bangkok you must visit the Wat Arun, also known as the Temple of the Down. You will be mesmerized by the beauty of the temple. On the banks of Chao Praya River, Wat Arun is almost in front of Wat Pho and to get there you need to catch a public ferry that crosses the river. It’s a great experience, especially if you climb the 67 meters high pagoda. The stairs are steep, but the view from the top is simply stunning. The Wat Arun is open daily from 8:30AM to 5:30PM.
If you are tired of walking but still want to admire the beauty of Wat Arun, grab a table at the Sala Rattanakosin Rooftop bar and relax while watching the sunset. The sun sinking behind the temple will be a highlight of your first time in Bangkok!
> A personal recommendation: Wat Ratchanatdaram
It’s not listed as one of the top attractions in Bangkok, but in my opinion it should be. I love the architecture and design of this temple, especially at night-time when it is all lighted up. The temple opens daily from 8:00AM to 5:00PM and it’s free entrance.
> Floating Market, the real one, not the tourist trap!
Boats full of fruits and veggies, people trading on the banks of the canals, the smell of Thai food in the air… This is what you get when visiting a traditional floating market in Bangkok. But not all the floating markets are worth the visit, some of them are real tourist traps. As all the floating markets are outside Bangkok, you will need to go on a tour or use a guide to take you there. The problem is that most of the tours will take you to the most touristic markets, with boats full of tourist groups, souvenirs and selfie sticks.
We have visited some floating markets in Bangkok, and I was kind of disappointed, until my last experience. We choose a tour called A Perfect Floating Market Day with TakeMeTour [click on the tour name to see the details], and we loved it. The name of the tour set some high expectations, but Maitree [our guide] and his family didn’t disappoint us. If you are traveling to Bangkok for the first time, this is the type of experience you need to have, a proper introduction to the Thai culture.
Maitree is an enthusiast for Thai culture and food. We met him at the BTS station and headed together to the Klong Lad Mayom floating market. After a few minutes’ drive we parked on a dirt road, full of people carrying shopping bags, kids playing and enjoying their Sunday.
The smell of food, the color of the fruits, and the sizzling sound coming from the wok pans were amazing. It was a sensorial experience, delicious in every sense, perfect for a first time in Bangkok. The wet market on the canal banks was just the beginning. After tasting some Thai sweets we caught a longtail boat and started a tour through the canals. Our first stop was on a temple, where we witnessed a ceremony and even received a blessing from a monk!
Our guide explained everything about the ritual, how we should behave and what the monk would do. So we took off our shoes, grabbed an offering to the temple, and got down on our knees. A unique moment that made me feel close to the Thai culture, a moment while we didn’t feel like tourists, but actually like locals, surrounded by friends and families.
Then the boat kept navigating through the narrow canals, with twists, turns and some water splashing. Our second stop was in an Orchid Garden and then we headed back to the market. On the way, we passed by boats with monks, people selling food along the canal, and some wooden Thai houses that were truly masterpieces.
Back at the market we bought take away food and headed back to Maitree’s grandma house, a traditional Thai house overlooking one of the many rivers in Bangkok. And there she was, Grandma, 81 years old, wearing a big smile and eyes full of wisdom. I didn’t speak any Thai, she couldn’t speak English, but we got along very fast.
She heated up the wok, and started cooking Pad Thai [one of my favorite Thai dishes], showing me the ingredients, how to maneuver the pan, stir fry the prawns and noodles. She made everything looks so easy and yummy.
Then it was my turn at the wok, and show that a Brazilian girl can also cook Pad Thai. The heat from the fire, the hot pan that I had to hold, the endless stir-frying moves made me sweat. But yes, I cooked a Pad Thai, not as fast as grandma, but delicious. We recorded a video of my cooking skills, check it out! We had a feast: Pad Thai, grilled fish, papaya salad, fish tartar, tropical fruits and Thai sweets. A table full of flavors and laughs, an amazing experience.
So now you know, on your first trip to Bangkok, you must do it right, visit a real floating market, and learn how to cook a Pad Thai. Book a tour that will be worth your money and time, and that will give you memories for a lifetime.
The address for delicious food, interesting shops and a truly Chinese vibe. Chinatown is a different world, especially if you venture yourself beyond Yaowarat Road. Explore the streets and alleys, visit the temples, try street food and desserts. Visit the shops to buy tea, herbs and a lot of strange stuff that you can only find there. Arrive in Chinatown before 5:00PM and visit the Wat Traimit Temple, there you can see the largest gold Buddha in the world, 3 meters wide and 3.91 meters tall. It’s beautiful! Check out this video:
> Jim Thompson House
A travel guide for a first time in Bangkok won’t be complete without a visit to the Jim Thompson House. In the middle of the busiest area of Bangkok, the house/museum is like an oasis, full of green, arts and legends. Go there to admire the silk work and legacy of Jim Thompson, also to discover conspiracy story behind his life in Thailand.
> Lumpini Park
In the heart of Bangkok, Lumpini Park is the green escape for locals and tourists. My suggestion is to go there early in the morning, around 7:00AM, so you can admire the groups doing Tai Chi Chuan with swords, yoga classes for all ages, people exercising in the middle of the garden, and the huge monitor lizards strolling around the park.
> Chao Phraya River
On your first time in Bangkok, you must cruise on the Chao Phraya River. There are plenty of ways to do it: private boat, dinner cruise, or even on a normal public transportation boat. It all depends on how much you want to spend and what kind of experience you want to have.
If you are looking for something more romantic on your first time in Bangkok, go on a private longtail cruise. The best place to catch a boat is at the Sathorn-Taksin Pier [Central Pier], there you will find many boats waiting for tourists. Don’t forget to negotiate the price, the average is 1000 Baht for one hour tour. Or you can hop on the Chao Phraya Express Boat and commute along the river with other tourists and locals. The blue flag boat is the tourist route, and the yellow or orange flag are the regular public transportation.
> Muay Thai, The Thai Boxing
More than a sport, Muay Thai is a tradition in Thailand. If during your first time in Bangkok you want to watch a real Muay Thai fight go to Lumpinee Stadium or Rajadamnern Stadium. Check on their website the dates/time of the fights, and book the ticket online. Please, don’t buy the tickets from any vendor in front of the stadium, only at the ticket booth. There are plenty of scams happening there, you can end up paying twice as much, or getting a fake a VIP ticket.
> Khao San Road
This is one of the most famous addresses in Bangkok. Khao San Road is known for the backpackers’ scene, the bars, cheap drinks and street food. Some people love it, others hate it, that’s why on your first time in Bangkok you must go there and see by yourself. If you want to buy souvenirs this is one of the best places to go in Bangkok. During the day the street is packed with shops selling all types of crafts, clothes, tours, tattoos and much more. At night time, the bars stretch their tables and chairs over the street and Khao San Road turns into a big party. If you like electronic music, techno and deep house [like us], the best bet is the Best Bar.
> Rooftop Bars in Bangkok
Bangkok has fine dining, international cocktails and views to die for. My recommendation for your first time in Bangkok is to go to a rooftop bar at least for one night. Be prepared to spend more than usual and dress nicely.
The best rooftops in Bangkok are Vertigo and the Moon Bar at Banyan Tree Hotel, Sky Bar – Lebua at State Tower [that became famous after the movie Hangover 2], Octave Rooftop Bar at Marriott Hotel, and the traditional ThreeSixty at the Millennium Hilton Bangkok. If you want to have dinner at one of them you must book a table in advance.
There are plenty of rooftop bars in Bangkok that are less famous, less crowded and less picky with the dress code than the ones I mentioned above. I love the Park Society at SO-Sofitel. It has a jaw-dropping view of Lumpini Park and Bangkok skyline, a beautifully decorated place and great cocktails.
We are halfway through our first time guide to Bangkok. Now it’s time to talk about markets and shopping malls, because on your Bangkok itinerary you will be able to shop till you drop!
First time in Bangkok: where to shop?
In Bangkok you can find shopping centers and markets for all tastes and pockets. From vintage clothes and antiques to trendy Asian designers and international brands. Bangkok is a shopping paradise. But before hitting the modern shopping malls, there are two traditional Thai Markets that you need to visit on your first time in Bangkok.
> Chatuchak, the biggest market in Thailand
Chatuchak is one of the biggest weekend markets in the world, a complex that covers a 35-acre area, with more than 8 thousand stalls, and on normal days over 200,000 visitors will be shopping there. A visit to Chatuchak Market is a must on your first time in Bangkok. What to do when you arrive there? Try not to get lost and buy a lot of cool stuff! Clothes, furniture, crafts, food, home wear, they even have a section for plants and a place to sell animals. Chatuchak is insanely huge! It’s open on Saturdays and Sundays, from 9:00AM to 5:00PM, go early in the morning to avoid the crowds and the heat.
> Pak Klong Talad, The Bangkok Flower Market
A universe of colors and scents, the Flower Market in Bangkok is an intense experience, but sadly many travelers that visit Bangkok for the first time don’t go there. The market is open 24 hours, but it gets really busy after midnight. If you don’t want to miss your bedtime, go to the flower market around 7:00PM and you will be able to see the ladies working on the bouquets and garlands.
> Siam Paragon, MBK, EmQuartier and much more…
The best places in Bangkok for shopping are around Sukhumvit Road. There you will find Siam Paragon, Central World, MBK [the electronic paradise], and the super posh EmQuartier. Sukhumvit is also the address for bars and nightclubs, so keep in mind that during your first trip to Bangkok you should spend a couple of hours there.
Asiatique is a complex of restaurants, shops and fun, all in a trendy open-air mall built on the south banks of Chao Phraya River. To get there the best option is to go to Sathorn – Taksin Pier and from there get the free shuttle boat to the mall.
First time in Bangkok: where to stay?
Now that you already know what to do on your first time in Bangkok and places to visit, let’s talk about accommodation, another challenge for your Bangkok itinerary. The city is huge and offers a wide range of hotels, hostels and apartments for rent. How to choose the best place to stay in Bangkok for the first time? Don’t panic, we are here to help and to point out the best areas to stay in Bangkok:
> Silom – Sathorn Area
This is the business area of Bangkok, with good restaurants, shopping malls and close to Lumpini Park. It’s one of the best places to stay in Bangkok for the first time because it’s close to many attractions and it’s connected by the BTS (Skytrain) and MRT (underground metro). With all these facilities and a premium location, hotels in Sathorn tend to be a bit more expensive, but great!
Two of my favorite 5-star hotels in Bangkok are located in Sathorn. No words to describe the impeccable service and classy décor of Oriental Residence Bangkok, we had a romantic stay there and loved it. Another great option is the So Sofitel. With a design that mix French haute couture and Thai heritage, So Sofitel is artistic, fashion and funky. It’s not your regular 5-star hotel, it has a unique twist and one of the best views from Bangkok.
To help you choose the best place for your first trip to Bangkok we put together some good options for mid-range hotels and also some boutique hostels in Sathorn, check them out and book your favorite.
> Pratunam Area
This is the best place to stay in Bangkok for shopping! All the malls and streets stalls are at your doorstep. It’s one of the most touristic areas in Bangkok, and also a place you can find any type of accommodation, from luxurious hotels to budget rooms.
Around Pratunam, we loved Amari Watergate Hotel, it is modern, super comfortable, surrounded by shopping malls, near the BTS line and even closer to the Airport Link train. It’s a perfect option if you want to be in the middle of the action and still have a perfect place to relax. We stayed in the Executive Suite, and enjoyed the happy hour with free drinks and food at the Executive Lounge. Wasn’t enough to convince you? Check out the post we wrote about our experience at the Amari Watergate.
Here is a list we made with more options of hotels in Pratunam area.
> Sukhumvit Area
Sukhumvit is a huge avenue that goes from West to East in Bangkok, but there is a particular area that is famous for shops, restaurants, bars and good hotels. We are talking about the area between the Nana and Phrom Phong BTS stations. There you can find thousands of hotels from luxury to budget, from international brands to local boutique hotels. If you fancy a local hotel with a comfy and modern style, Citrus 11 (book here with Booking.com or Agoda) might be a good option. Novotel (book here with Booking.com or Agoda) also has a superb location at Sukhumvit 20, right off Ekkamai BTS station with stylish rooms. If you are looking for a spacious and fancy stay, S31 Hotel (book here with Booking.com or Agoda) has double floor apartments overlooking the city. We made a list with the best hotels in Sukhumvit area, pick your favorite and book now.
It’s not a common option for travelers visiting Bangkok for the first time, but it can be an incredible experience if you choose the right hotel. Shanghai Mansion Bangkok is a good example of a unique experience in the middle of multicultural Bangkok. Chinatown is also the address for many 3 and 2 stars hotels, you can save up on accommodation and spend on the delicious food you will find around the neighborhood.
> Chao Phraya Riverside
This is the premium address in Bangkok, the banks of Chao Phraya River are filled with top hotels and boutique guesthouses. It’s one of the best areas to stay in Bangkok, and also one of the most expensive. The Peninsula, Shangri-La, The Siam, Mandarin Oriental, Royal Orchid Sheraton, Chatrium and Sala Rattanakosin are just a few of the international hotels lined up on the riverside.
> Khaosan Road
Khao San Road and Rambutree street are known for being the cheapest area to stay in Bangkok. I agree and disagree, I would say that Khaosan road is the best place to stay in Bangkok if you want to be surrounded by bars, street food, close to the historical attractions and experience the backpacker scene. It’s not only about budget, because you can find cheap and good hotels all around Bangkok.
The problem with Khaosan is that not all the hotels are as good as they seem to be on the website. What looks like a cozy & clean room, can be a dirty cubicle, without windows and full of cockroaches. Of course, there are good places in Khaosan, our favorite is A&A Homestay, clean, comfy, good value for money and breakfast included. Need more options of budget places to stay? Check out our suggestions of hotels for your first time in Bangkok, and in Khaosan Road.
Did you know you can rent a house, a chalet, or an apartment in Bangkok via Airbnb? Curious? Sign up here and get a discount on your first booking!
First time in Bangkok: what to do when you arrive?
You’ve made it to Bangkok, arrived at the airport safe and sound, so what now?? The first thing you need to do after passing the immigration is to buy a local SIM Card. Believe me, you will need internet connection to explore Bangkok, to get taxis, check the public transportation and find on Google Maps the nice places I recommended.
Look for a DTAC shop, there you can get the Happy Tourist SIM card, it’s easy, fast and reliable. The staff from the shop can help you with the settings and you are ready to go. Choose between the 7-days plan [300 Baht] or 15-days [700 Baht], both with unlimited internet plus calls. You’ll get great coverage all around Thailand. Did you see my video cooking Pad Thai? It was a Facebook Live video using DTAC 4G signal.
> How to get around Bangkok
Bangkok has two airports. Suvarnabhumi International Airport is the biggest one and from there you can get a train that brings you to the heart of the city where you can connect with other public transportation, or get a taxi to your hotel. Get a map from the airport to your hotel address, it will help you choose the right train connection and even help the taxi driver to find your place. Don’t get a taxi straight from the airport to your hotel, you will get stuck in traffic for ages and that is something we don’t want for your first time in Bangkok.
If you land at Don Muang Airport, you can get a taxi from the terminal to the BTS Station Mo Chit [ask the driver to take the tollway, it will be a 50 bath more expensive, but you will save time]. From the BTS station, you can reach almost everywhere in Bangkok. If your hotel is in the Sukhumvit or Sathorn area you can definitely go by train. If you are staying at Khao San Road, Chinatown or somewhere along the riverside, then a taxi might be the best option. Use the map on your cell phone to find your way.
The BTS, MRT, taxis and tuk-tuks are the transports available in Bangkok, and you can use all of them, just be careful. Taxi drivers tend to not use the taximeter [they ask for outrageous flat rates] and most of the time they don’t have a clue about the address. So download the GrabTaxi App or Uber on your phone, it’s fast, safe and you will save time and energy.
Are you planning to travel in Thailand by bus or train?
Find all the routes, prices and book your tickets here on 12Go Asia.
First time in Bangkok: where to eat? What to eat?
Thai food is delicious but can be a challenge for first-time travelers, especially if you are not used to spicy food. It’s hard to suggest places to eat as we all have different tastes, some of us are vegetarian, others have food allergies [as me]. We never had a problem eating street food in Bangkok, and we loved it. Before ordering have a look around the food stalls, if it looks clean enough, if you see locals eating there and if the food looks good, then give it a try.
Our favorite street foods are: Pad Thai, Som Tam [papaya salad], Massaman Curry, Braised Pork Noodle Soup [the best ones are the food charters in front of the 7-11 shops], Fried Rice, Chicken Satay, Tom Kha Gai Soup, Tom Yum Soup, and for dessert Sticky Rice Mango and Roti. Here is a list explaining all the Thai dishes we mentioned and many more.
Chinatown, old town, Khao San Road and Sukhumvit are the best places to try street food on your first time in Bangkok. If you are vegetarian or vegan, my favorite places are Ethos Restaurant or May Kai Dee, both close to Khao San. Also, don’t forget to try the fruits and juices, it’s safe to buy them from the stalls on the street. For western cuisine, the options are endless too, especially at Sukhumvit, Sathorn and Thonglor areas.
First time in Bangkok: what to do to be safe?
Thailand is a safe country, but as in any other big city, in Bangkok you must look after yourself. So, what to do to be safe during your first trip in Bangkok? Before even arriving in Thailand you must purchase travel insurance to protect yourself and your belongings. We always have good insurance, so when I got really sick and was rushed to the hospital in Thailand, they covered all my expenses.
Don’t forget to buy your Travel Insurance!
Also, don’t be too flashy, keep your money and passport in a safe place. We use a money belt for our passports, big money and bank cards. If you need to exchange money, do it in a bank, it’s safer and they have good rates. Another travel tip for your first time in Bangkok: ask the hotel reception to write in Thai the name, the address and the phone number of your Hotel, so you can show it to a taxi driver or to any local in case of emergency.
First time in Bangkok: how to avoid scams?
If you feel that something is wrong, or if the offer is too good to be true, pay attention! This is the moment your scam alarm should ring! Thai people are really nice and lovely, but if they are trying too hard to convince you about something, it might be a scam. On your first time in Bangkok try to avoid these common scams:
> “Today it’s closed, but I can take you to a better place!”
You stop a taxi or a tuk-tuk, tell the driver you want to go to the Grand Palace, or any other attraction in Bangkok and the driver tells you the place is closed. “It’s closed today my friend, but I can take you to another beautiful temple, and you can go shopping”. Those are the magical words, immediately get out of the car and walk away. This is one of the most common scams in Bangkok, every day dozens of tourists end up going to jewelry shops, tailors and being forced to purchase any kind of products.
> Super cheap tuk-tuk ride
Thailand is a cheap country, so if someone offers you a super cheap tuk-tuk or taxi ride you should run away [again]. The driver will probably take you to a tour operator, a shop or restaurant instead of driving you to the destination you asked for. They do that so they get a commission from the shops and restaurants.
> “I have a friend that can help you, very very cheap!”
Again, be careful! Thai people are genuinely nice and helpful, but too many promises should make you think twice. If you have problems or any doubts about the city, ask at your hotel reception or call the Tourist Police 1155, it’s free from any number.
> “You need to buy pants!”
In front of the Grand Palace and other tourist attractions you will see street stalls selling pants, scarves, sarongs and offering “official” tour guides. They will tell you that to enter the temple you need to wear proper pants and cover your shoulders, and you MUST buy from them, because there is no other option inside the temple. Part of this statement is true, you must dress respectfully to get inside the temples in Bangkok, but the other part is a lie. Inside the temples, you get FREE sarongs and scarves to cover yourself, and at the Grand Palace you need to rent it, around 30 to 50 bath per piece.
> “I can take you to a good and cheap ping pong show”
Every year hundreds of tourists get scammed on the red light district and ping pong shows. There is nothing wrong to enjoy the naughty nightlife of Bangkok, but do it in a safe way. So, it’s your first time in Bangkok, what should you do to see a ping pong show? First: never trust a taxi or tuk-tuk driver that approaches you in the middle of the street offering a good and cheap ping pong show. Scam Alert! He will take you to a dodgy place, and you might get yourself into trouble.
To go to the girls bar, the best option is to get a normal taxi [Grab Taxi works fine] and ask the driver to take you to Soi Cowboy [the most organized red light district in Bangkok], Patpong [the most touristy one], or Nana Plaza [in the heart of Sukhumvit]. Before entering the bar check the entrance fee, the prices and the rules.
Now you know almost everything! How to plan the itinerary for your first time in Bangkok, what to do, attractions, where to stay in Bangkok, safety issues and even how to avoid scams. This is the longest post we wrote on our blog and believe me, we didn’t cover all the things to do in Bangkok. If you are staying more than 5 days and have the energy to explore further, we have one more travel guide for you: unique and cool things to do in Bangkok, like the second step from your first-time guide to Bangkok. If you want to plan your travel budget, we have another post for you: how much you need to travel in Bangkok and in Thailand, check it out.
Still have doubts about how to organize your first trip to Bangkok, what to do and where to stay? Don’t be shy, leave a question in the comments below. And don’t forget to book your hotels and tour through our links, doing that you help us to keep writing great travel guides like this one!
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