Three nights in Bangkok: part of a two week trip to Penang, Bangkok, Luang Prabang, Chiang Mai and Krabi
In January 2019 I took a trip through Malaysia, Thailand and Laos, spending 2.5 weeks in total. I’m covering each part of the trip separately; you can read about Luang Prabang and Penang by following the links, with Chiang Mai still to come.
These posts are by no means definitive guides to the locations, especially Bangkok, which is huge and ever changing, but collectively it is a reasonable itinerary for a first trip around South East Asia see a mix of bustling city, beautiful beaches and magnificent temples.
My full itinerary
2 nights in Kuala Lumpur -> ~Penang
2 nights in Penang -> Bangkok
3 nights in Bangkok -> Luang Prabang
2 nights in Luang Prabang -> Chiang Mai
4 nights in Chiang Mai -> Krabi
3 nights in Krabi -> Kuala Lumpur for return flight to the UK
My base was Kuala Lumpur; you can read my review of my British Airways flight from London Heathrow here. KL easily connects to a number of these locations, which can give you some flexibility with itinerary but if you want to include Luang Prabang without travelling overland within Laos then your only options are Bangkok and Chiang Mai, which means those destinations need to be connected somewhere in your itinerary.
Flights in between are pretty quick, cheap and easy, with Air Asia connecting most of the destinations. It’s also really easy to insert destinations in Vietnam and Cambodia into your trip as there are good connections from Bangkok and you can fly into Luang Prabang from both Siem Reap and Hanoi (follow the links for my posts on those destinations).
This was a deliberately slow itinerary for me, and it would be possible to pack in a lot more than I actually did. I’ve added a few extra things to this itinerary, which I’d probably see if I went back. I’ve indicated how long I think each day would take so you can see how much free time it would give you to add on more.
3 nights in Bangkok
Before this trip I’d once spent around 22 hours in Bangkok on the way back from Siem Reap, making one sweaty and rather terrifying trip out to see Wat Suthat. I don’t think I actually really ate the whole time I was there, having one lunchtime McDonalds and I’m not sure anything else. I left absolutely hating Bangkok so I was both excited and apprehensive to return, determined to find something redeeming.
Honestly, I’m still not a big fan of Bangkok. It’s hot, humid, loud, dirty and the traffic is just appalling, which makes getting around really tricky because you’re either pouring sweat on the street (and the place is pretty vast anyway) or sitting in a car for an hour plus. BUT I would never tell anyone not to go there because it’s still worth gritting your teeth through for amazing sightseeing and food.
Given the traffic situation, I recommend that you stay nearest to the things you want to see which will cut down on travel time. I hadn’t seen most of the major temples, including the Grand Palace so opted to stay by the river, within walking distance. We stayed at Riva Surya, which I’d recommend in that area. It wasn’t the fanciest place, but they had a lovely little pool overlooking the river, spacious clean room, helpful staff and it was walking distance to both the Khao Son road and the Grand Palace.
Start early before it gets hot ALWAYS. You’ll still get hot and tired but I find Bangkok just gets progressively more oppressive as the day goes on, so it pays to get some of your sightseeing underway while it’s (relatively) cool.
Wat Phra Kaew & Grand Palace
The Grand Palace has been home to the Kings of Siam since 1782. The complex is vast, like a whole city on its own so it deserves at least a couple of hours of your time and you can probably spend your whole morning there if it appeals. It’s open daily 8:30am – 3:30pm and entry is 500 Baht for foreigners.
I won’t list all of the buildings in the complex because it would be a blog post all of its own, but the main draws are Wat Phra Kaew (The Temple of the Emerald Buddha) which houses the most important Buddha image in Thailand, the Emerald Buddha, which is believed to have been carved in the 15th century. The statue has three different ‘costumes’ made of gold and jewels which are changed according to the season.
Also of notes is the highly decorated Buddhist library, built in 1789, which is inside the same complex as Wat Phra Kaew. You should also look out for the six pairs of demon guardians dotted around the site, which all guard the Emerald Buddha. Each one is a different character from the Rammakian story (one of Thailand’s national epics, derived from the Hindu Ramayana).
After the Grand Palace, take a wander through the side streets and walk through the amulet market (allegedly the world’s biggest!). The sheer number of amulets for sale (and the amount worn by stallholders and patrons alike) is astounding. Open daily 7am – 5pm.
Wind your way down to Wat Pho, the Temple of the Reclining Buddha to see the 46m long reclining Buddha statue. Wat Pho is one of the six most important temples in Thailand and houses the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand. There’s a lot to see here too, but it’s not nearly as large as the Grand Palace, but allow at least an hour or even 2. Open daily 8:30am – 6:30pm, 1000 Baht.
From Wat Pho it’s a short trip across the river to the beautiful Wat Arun, which is decorated all over in ornate white porcelain tiles. You can climb part way up the temple for views over the river and Grand Palace opposite. The temple is especially beautiful in the morning with the tiles reflecting the sunrise, so it may be worth a very early morning visit if your timetable allows.
Dinner at Krua Apsorn
Krua Apsorn is a great value restaurant with a canteen feel. It’s famous for its crab omelette but has an extensive menu and everything we tried there was good. I had my first ‘real’ tom yum soup here and it was great. They also do a great pad thai.
The Khaosan Road is like a Thai, slightly more civilised Magaluf strip. It’s lined with bars and restaurants and packed with street vendors selling both sweet and savoury treats. There are some livelier bars and clubs too and it’s known as a bit of a party centre for backpackers but you’ll find all sorts on Khaosan Road; it’s definitely a mandatory Bangkok pilgrimage.
I don’t think it’s well known that parts of Bangkok are filled with canals. If you take a trip across the river to Thonburi you can tour the canals and the stilt houses that line them and visit a number of floating markets.
Khlong Lat Mayom Floating Market
This floating market is open 7am – 5pm on Saturdays and Sundays. You can reach the market by taxi from the Grand Palace area in around 20 minutes. The largest part of the market is built on solid ground, but there is a floating element and you can buy fresh noodle dishes to eat right off the boat.
This giant swing was first built in 1784 and used as part of an annual ‘swing ceremony’ until 1935 when such ceremonies stopped after a number of fatalities. Now it’s a big red swing frame in the middle of a square on a busy street.
This impressively large temple also holds the highest grade of royal temple. The temple contains a huge 8m tall bronze cast in the 14th century. Open daily 8:30am – 9pm.
Wat Traimat contains a 3m tall solid gold Buddha stature, which is its main draw. It was previously covered in plaster and was discovered to be gold when damaged during moving some 60 years ago. The temple itself is much smaller than many others in Bangkok. Open daily 8am – 5pm, 100 Baht.
Eathai foodcourt – Central Embassy
We were recommended this foodcourt by a friend who frequently visits Bangkok. I thought it wouldn’t be authentic as it’s in a fancy building complex and has a really sanitised feel about it. But it’s a real draw for local office workers in the area and the food was great. I had a great pad thai here as well as my first ever mango sticky rice (where have you been all my life?)
Jim Thompson House Museum
I’ve never visited the Jim Thompson House but got a good view of it when crawling slowly by in a taxi in Bangkok’s nightmare traffic. It belonged to an American silk entrepreneur and artist, who gave the house its name. The ‘house’ is actually made up of 6 traditional Thai houses, some over 200 years old, which were brought to Bangkok from Ayuttaya and other areas outside Bangkok. It contains its previous owner’s art collection. Open daily 11am – 7pm with compulsory tours every 20 minutes. 200 Baht entry.
Dinner at Bo.Lan
If you stay near the Grand Palace and most of the temples then Bo.Lan is a bit of a trek across the city (especially in Bangkok’s traffic – you’re legitimately looking at an hour’s trip and it’s no quicker by train) but we wanted to try it after seeing it featured on Chef’s Table. We had an amazing experience at this restaurant, which unfortunately will not reopen post the pandemic. But don’t worry, the team behind the restaurant are consolidating their ventures so something will reopen, keep an eye out on their website.
80km north of Bankgok lies Ayutthaya, which was the capital of the Kingdom of Siam from the mid-fourteenth to mid-eighteenth century before being razed by the Burmese. It is now an archaeological park, which is an easy day trip from Bangkok. Many places will offer guided tours with hotel pick up from Bangkok, or you can head out on your own catching a leisurely train that takes up to 2 hours. There are trains roughly every half an hour through the day and the journey costs 15 Baht (about 50p). Once there you can tour the city by bike, boat or tuk tuk. The sight is relatively spread out so I wouldn’t advise trying to cover it on foot. Sadly I didn’t make it to Ayutthaya on my trip but it’s firmly on my list for a return visit.
Dinner at Jay Fai
Raan Jay Fai is a street stall in Bangkok selling wok-fried foods – it achieved a Michelin star in 2018 (the first street stall to receive a star), driving a huge surge in business. I’ve never visited but it’d be high on my lists of things to do on a return visit. Closed Sundays.