One night in Bangkok… I hope you can spend more than one night in this bustling South-East Asian metropolis. Bangkok is one of the cities with the most tourists per year – and I think for a reason. Whether you travel on a budget or want to indulge in luxury, if you are a foodie on the hunt for the spiciest food and cuisines from around the world, a history and culture enthusiast, a market shopper – it is definitely a city which never sleeps. Here is my Ultimate Bangkok Travel Guide to help you plan and make the best of your Thailand experience!
Facts about Bangkok
Best Time to Visit
Bangkok knows two seasons: hot and humid and hotter and humid. The hottest time is between April and June. The rainy season is from May until October. The most popular time to visit is from November until March when the temperature is about 30-33 degrees Celsius. During the hot months, it can be really, really hot, sometimes reaching 40 degrees. I recommend packing some scarves or jumpers for inside. The malls and restaurants are notoriously freezing.
A lot of people ask me what is the perfect length for a Bangkok trip. It always depends what you want to see and do. But I think in general, three days is a good time for your first trip. Most people come to Bangkok before they head to some of the beach destinations.
The local language is Thai with its own script. However, in Bangkok it is usually not a problem to get around with English. Most of the street signs are also translated into English script.
Currency, ATMs and Payment Ways
Thailand’s currency is the Thai Baht (THB), with an exchange rate of 40 BHT per 1 EUR / 30 BHT per 1 USD. ATMs are very common in the busy areas – I recommend using the ones by the big local banks such as Siam Commercial Bank, Krungsri Bank or Kasikorn Bank. Credit cards are widely accepted in restaurants and malls. Have some cash with you for smaller places (very often there is a mininum charge of BHT 300-500 for credit cards). Taxis do not have any credit card options.
There are plenty of taxis which can be flagged down at the street. Make sure to ask the taxi driver to turn on the meter. Alternatively, download the Grab mobile app – the local Uber app. Uber does not work in Thailand.
The public transport system involves two trains: the BTS – Skytrain and the MTR (subway). As traffic is notoriously bad in Bangkok, I recommend taking the trains if you can. At rush hour, it can be very busy and you might need to squeeze in and wait for a few trains. I do not recommend the busses for tourists as the system is a bit confusing.
In general, I recommend to avoid the busy times on the trains and on the road in the morning and between 3-7 pm. Being stuck for more than an hour in traffic is nothing uncommon, unfortunately.
Water and Street Food
Do not drink the tap water, only drink bottled water. Also be careful with food from street stands – listen to your body. Very often, our bodies are not used to the way of preparation, hygiene standards or ingredients when we travel to a foreign country, especially with hot climates. I would not say street food is a no go, but be smart.
Thais do not shake hands. When you greet with “Sawasdee kha” or say thank you “Kop khun kha” put your hands together as if you are praying.
When you visit temples and other sights, wear respectful clothing, i.e. cover your knees and shoulders. You will not be allowed to enter without being covered.
In general, you do not tip in Thailand. However, I always check if there is a service charge. If not, I leave a tip (10%). I also leave tips at smaller places even if they have a service charge.
I do not want to repeat the sights which are listed in all guides. Of course, you should visit the Grand Palace, Wat Pho and Wat Arun. I personally really enjoyed the lesser known Wat Benchamabophit – the Marble Temple – and Wat Traimit – the Golden Buddha Temple.
A must-visit is the Jim Thompson House (more details in my post). Today Jim Thompson is a luxury brand for silk and leather products. But it is linked to a mysterious story around its founder. Jim Thompson was said to be a CIA-spy and died under mysterious circumstances in Malaysia. The museum is located in his former home which was built by connecting several local houses.
If you want to get a feeling for what Bangkok looked like before the big skyscrapers and condominiums were built, I recommend a walk in Charoen Krung around Chinatown. There is also a lot of street art to explore (check out my post about Bangkok street art).
If you need a creative break from the sightseeing, check out my post about the chocolate making class at Chocolab at the So Sofitel. (2 North Sathorn Road, Bangrak)
What to Eat…
Most people have heard about Phad Thai and love it. However, there is much more to Thai cuisine than this popular noodle dish. Definitely have minced chicken with Thai basil (Gai Pad Krapow). I also really like the chicken with cashew nuts (Gai Pad Med Ma Muang). Another dish I discovered is Khao Soi (see below): it reminds me of a lighter version of curry and I usually go for the chicken option.
At the food courts, try Kao Man Gai – the Thai take on Hainanese cooked/fried chicken with rice. In the food courts, the arrangement of the food (dead plucked ducks hanging in the windows) look a bit cruel I have to admit. However, this is a dish you have to try while exploring Bangkok.
Of course, there is no trip to Thailand without having Mango with sticky rice as dessert.
Bangkok has one of the biggest restaurant scenes I have experienced. It is very, very hard to pick just a few for this guide. Thai, Italian, Arabic, Indian, French, Mexican, Chinese – I am sure there is an option for any cuisine you can dream of in Bangkok. I promise, I will publish more restaurant guides here with more details!
One of my favourite recommendations for Bangkok first-timers is Baan Khanita. There are several branches across the city, with the one in Sukhumvit Soi 23 as the oldest one. I really like the setting in the Thai house. It can have can of a touristy feel, but the food is very nice and the ambience is a good start for your Thailand trip. (36/1 Sukhumvit Soi 23)
For years, Phad Thai used to be my favourite Thai dish. However, the Khao Soi at You & Mee @ Grand Hyatt is so tasty that I now have a new favourite. (494 Rajdamri Road)
For a romantic dinner or family gathering, Verandah @ Mandarin Oriental is a great place. The terrace by the river is beautiful and offers an amazing view that is not to be missed. I highly recommend the green curry and the burger.
If you like high tea, the Author’s Lounge at the Mandarin Oriental is a must. They have a Western and Thai/Chinese option. Both are really nice. (48 Oriental Avenue)
I will never stop loving mango with sticky rice. A small shop called “Mae Varee Sweet Sticky Rice with Mango” right next to the Thong Lo BTS station is one of the most famous places for mango sticky rice in town. You cannot miss the mangos stacked up inside and outside of the shop.
For Bangkok newbies, I always recommend the boat cruise of the Shangri-La Hotel. This cruise is by far the best one and offers an à la carte menu as well as a buffet. I would recommend the à la carte menu, as we happened to have a big tour group on the boat that besieged the buffet. The food and service, however, were great. And it is a really nice way to see all the major sights by the river at night. (89 Soi Wat Suan Plu Bangkok 10500)
As promised in their slogan “If it swims we have it”, the Seafood Market offers all the seafood you might think of. I came across some ratings online which judged the restaurant as a very touristy place with average quality. I have to disagree: eating at the Seafood Market is a unique experience – from choosing the seafood to eating it. All the dishes were absolutely delicious. It is an enormous restaurant though which might appear as a big tourist attraction. I recommend going there as a group as you can try more dishes. (89 Soi Sukhumvit 24)
For a quick bite, swing by one of the many food courts of Bangkok’s malls. My favourite food court is in the basement of Emquartier in Phrom Pong. The Khao Pad (fried rice) and the Pad Thai there are very tasty. Eating at food courts is an inexpensive yet tasty and authentic option.
Coffee & Cake at…
Check out my blog post about my favourite coffee places in Bangkok’s Thong Lo and Ekkamai areas.
Despite the enormous amount of advertisement after Hangover 2, I have to say that I do not think that Sky Bar at the lebua is “the” rooftop bar in Bangkok. I personally prefer the Octave rooftop bar at the Marriott Hotel near the Thong Lo BTS station. (2 Sukhumvit Road Soi 57)
Vertigo (Moon Bar) also offers a beautiful view and it used to be much quieter than lebua. However, it has been discovered by tour groups and instagram wannabes and prices have increased a bit as a result. Nevertheless, the view is stunning. (21/100 Banyan Tree Hotel, South Sathon Road)
Iron Fairies serves delicious drinks in a truly impressive setting by Australian designer Ashley Sutton. (394 Sukhumvit Soi 55) If you then need even more design sensations, head over to Sing Sing Theater. In this bar/club you can show off your dance moves while enjoying the beautiful setting in a Chinese-themed theater in red and black. (just off Sukhumvit Road, corner of Sukhumvit Soi 45)
Bangkok has a lot to offer when it comes to shopping – from international brands to independent stores. I personally like to shop at the markets – the big Chatuchak weekend market or the Tuesday and Thursday market inside the university campus at the end of Sukhumvit Soi 23.
The above-mentioned Jim Thompson is a great place for high-end Thai souvenirs (scarves and interior decor – especially table mats and cushion covers!). There are several branches across the city (and also at the airport), the biggest selection is at Siam Paragon Mall.
After all the eating, shopping and sightseeing, have a massage at Refresh @24 Spa (43 Soi Sukhumvit 24) or Asia Herb (several branches). I highly recommend the foot massage. (For all those of you who have the same concern as I had before my first foot massage: it does not tickle 😉 ).
Emprivé Cineclub is a movie experience of a different kind. It looks like the traditional European theaters and turns going to the movies into a luxury experience with comfy seats and blankets. (Emporium Mall, 622 Sukhumvit Rd)
There are plenty of hotels for every budget. If you come to Bangkok for the first time or repeatedly for holidays, I would recommend to stay by the river. It is a bit off from Sukhumvit but I think the riverside is much more relaxing. It makes you feel as if you were at a beach resort instead of a mega-city.
I recommend The Peninsula, the Mandarin Oriental or the Shangri-La. The Siam Hotel is one of the latest additions to the hotel scene by the river and I hope I can check it out soon. I will update you when I have, of course!
If you prefer to stay more central, the Grand Hyatt Erawan is a good choice.
More about Bangkok
First published on 7 April 2016, updated on 14 October 2018. All information as of the date of publishing/updating. We cannot accept responsibility for the correctness or completeness of the data, or for ensuring that it is up to date. All recommendations are based on the personal experience of Elisabeth Steiger, no fees were received by the recommended places above.