When I was booking our flights back from Phuket to Hong Kong, it turned out to be cheaper to go via Bangkok, so rather do the easy thing and simply transfer to the next flight, I decided we should spend 24 hours in this humming, humongous city, famous for traffic far worse than Los Angeles. Bangkok sprawls across 606 square miles, and eight million people call it home.
However, there were a few things I didn’t know, such as the fact the journey from the airport to the city center is at least an hour, so if you too, only have a short time to enjoy Bangkok, these tips may help you make the most of your experience.
1. 24 Hours is Not Long Enough
Bangkok is vast! And getting anywhere takes much longer than you think it will, even if you take the over-ground train or underground train. If you’re anything like me, getting the hang of public transport in a new city takes a few attempts to get it right, especially here when sometimes trains run in both directions on a single track. Yep, it’s confusing. So if you can, spend at least 48 hours here to really get a feel for the city and enjoy what it has to offer.
2. Stay somewhere fancy and then enjoy it
One of the main reasons (in my mind) to visit Bangkok, is to live it large without spending insane amounts of money. Beautiful, high-end hotel chains, like The Peninsula and The Mandarin Oriental, are all here, and if you search the interweb you’ll find some good deals. E.g. we got a room at the Peninsula for just over $200 USD, including their famous breakfast buffet/brunch for two. Elsewhere in the world, a room here would set you back at least twice that, if not more.
The location of these hotels is a little away from the center (a bonus in my mind), but they overlook the Chao Phraya River river which is teeming with life, and there’s a free hotel river boat shuttle to get you to the train station and other nearby locations. It’s incredibly fun to live like royalty for a day or two.
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but we did too much running around (such is my wont) and didn’t get to enjoy all The Peninsula had to offer. True, we had a night swim and a gin and tonic by their lovely pool by the river, and grabbed Sunday brunch, but there was no time to check out the spa and generally live like lounge lizards. We made dinner reservations elsewhere (which was delicious and more on that later), but in retrospect, enjoying one of the hotel’s restaurants would have been a bit more relaxing.
3. Enjoy the view
There are a number of hotels, bars and restaurants which are insanely high up, e.g. the Banyan Tree’s open air(!) rooftop bar and restaurant on the 59th and 60th floors; and even the view from our hotel room on the 27th floor was pretty spectacular. Unlike say New York or Hong Kong, the high-rises are scattered about, so while the skyline might not be as pretty, there is a clear view across the city once you’re up high.
4. Only ride in a tuk tuk if you have a death wish (or like a thrill)
Taxis are super cheap, but seemed to take a while for them to show up at our hotel, so running late for dinner, we hopped in a tuk tuk. Take note, these are mostly there for the tourists (locals take the bus), and therefore they are expensive – so barter with the driver. For instance, a ride to Wat Pho temple cost us 50 Thai Baht in a cab, but cost 230 in a tuk tuk on the return journey – and that only have a serious negotiation.
Second note: tuk tuk drivers take to the road like a maniac with a death wish. And these three-wheelers surely must tip over easily. They overtake in the face of oncoming buses, weave in and around cars as they were a motorcycle and take huge pleasure in hitting speed bumps at high speed. There are no seat belts, barely a hand rail and you are open to the elements and the pollution. But if you are a thrill-seeker, or a teenage boy, this is the best six bucks you can spend!
5. Use Uber to and from the airport, but don’t bother otherwise
As mentioned, the drive from the airport can take up to an hour, depending on traffic, so if you’re not planning on taking the train, summon an Uber (for the same price as a cab – about $15-18 USD) and relax in comfort. However, be warned, it seems perfectly normal for the driver to spend a lot of time looking at his phone while driving. Scary. We tried to use Uber twice to get around Bangkok, but ended up canceling both times because they were taking so long to arrive. Stuck in traffic, I guess.
6. Know where you want to go
With all the traffic on the roads, and the pollution, Bangkok mostly isn’t a city to stroll around. It’s better to get an idea of where you want to go, and plot your route using the train and subway so you can get there quickly and in air conditioning—which is crucial because it is so DARN hot! If you don’t know where to go, as the hotel concierge, or better yet, the doorman, for their tips. I asked our foot masseur for her thoughts. You’ll get to experience things off the main tourist track that way.
7. Allow enough time to get to the airport and around it
I am notorious for being the last person to board a plane, eager to make the most of every minute I have, I’m not a huge fan of sitting around at airports. However, realizing how unpredictable the drive is to the airport we allowed extra time which was good because the security lines are huge and then you also have to go through passport control before you can get to the gate. Allow at least 3 hours from leaving your hotel to flight time (and that may vary depending on where your hotel is located).
8. Include a Sunday in your trip
The main reason for this is that the traffic is a lot lighter on a Sunday and you’ll find it faster and easier to get around the city, or get back out to the airport. It makes the world of difference if you only have a limited time in Bangkok.