Visit Wat Phitchaya Yatikaram Worawihan one of Bangkok’s most striking, yet less frequently visited, temple complexes. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Bangkok is the most visited city in the world and quite possibly the most misunderstood. First-time visitors think they know what to expect from Thailand’s capital city. Scenes from flicks like “The Beach” and “The Hangover Part II” depict the megalopolis of more than eight million as a den of iniquity, as somewhere you go to do things in the shadows. There’s no way of hiding that side of the city, but to label Bangkok, nicknamed “The Big Mango,” in that light is to do a great injustice to one of the most enchanting and delicious cities on the planet.
As the jumping-off point for many first-time visitors to Southeast Asia, Bangkok can at times be tough to navigate and overwhelming. However, by focusing your visit on specific areas, you can explore a great deal of the city in as little as three days. When it comes to fully experiencing Bangkok, it’s impossible to escape the city’s three most alluring traits: the sights, smells and tastes.
Bangkok is home to hundreds of temples (or wats, in Thai). To avoid overdosing on trips to Buddhist shrines, start your first morning here by visiting Sri Maha Mariamman Temple on Silom Road in Bangkok’s CBD, the city’s largest Hindu temple. Its colors and incredibly ornate facade will immediately transport you to another world.
After receiving your daily dose of spiritual enlightenment, head south to the Rajadamnern Stadium complex, home to Thailand’s most famous export (besides its incredible food), the sport of muay thai. Before heading inside to see the action, stop by neighboring Likit Gai Yang to eat their legendary grilled chicken, a favorite of both local fighters and Anthony Bourdain.
Once the sun’s gone down, end your day right where you started by taking a long walk down Silom Road. Every night the long street becomes lined with vendors hawking every variety of delicious and cheap Thai street food imaginable. Snack as you go and peer into pop-up markets and down mysterious alleys as you enjoy every bite.
Start your morning by visiting Wat Phitchaya Yatikaram Worawihan, one of Bangkok’s most stunning, but less frequently visited, temple complexes. Unlike the more famous Wat Pho, this Buddhist temple in the city’s Thonburi section maintains a nearly constant state of tranquility, perfect for a reset before a long day of sightseeing. On your way back across the Chao Phraya River, stop by Princess Mother Memorial Park, a shaded oasis dedicated to the recently deceased king’s mother.
As lunchtime approaches, head east toward Bangkok’s massive Chinatown, one of the world’s oldest and most bustling. Wander through the neighborhood’s seemingly endless alleyways and side streets and make sure to grab a char siu bao (steamed pork buns) or a chicken satay on a stick from any of the corner vendors found throughout Chinatown.
Next, take a break at nearby Tep Bar, a contemporary cocktail bar serving some of the most innovative food and drink in Bangkok. Sip a sung tong, a sour, rum-based cocktail topped with pickled local fruits, and order dishes like Goong Chae Numpla, sashimi white shrimp that’s marinated in fish sauce, or Khao Neaw Moo, sticky rice topped with sweet, sun-dried pork.
As day turns into night, hop in a tuk-tuk and have your driver take you to the haunt of every visiting backpacker, Khao San Road. Filled with bars, restaurants and travelers from every walk of life, Khao San Road is a sight to behold. This seemingly tiny but rowdy street continues to help define what backpacking culture is in Southeast Asia, for better or worse.
Start your last day in Bangkok at one of the city’s host honored sites, Wat Traimit, home to the 10-foot, 5.5-ton Golden Buddha. The lavish icon may seem a bit gaudy for such an important spiritual shrine, but the reverence held by everyone who visits, regardless of faith or creed, ensures that the temple maintains its genuine nature.
Once you’ve made it through the hottest part of the day, head to Maggie Choo’s on Silom Road, a bar previously voted the best in town by Bangkok Magazine. Built in a former bank vault, it’s one of the top places to see and be seen for expats and locals alike.
Next, catch a ride to Gaggan, recently voted the best restaurant in Asia and widely recognized as the most forward-thinking and progressive Indian restaurant in the world. For the most scenic nightcap in the city, end your evening with a drink at Cloud 47 Rooftop and sneak in a photo op that takes in all of Bangkok’s lit-up nighttime skyline.