A temple in Bangkok

Get up with the sun for the best views. (Photo: Getty Images)


Where to Go and What to Eat in Bangkok

While Bangkok is the most visited city in the world, it’s also quite possibly the most misunderstood. First-timers may think they know what to expect from Thailand’s kaleidoscopic capital based on scenes from flicks like “The Beach” and “The Hangover Part II.” But narrowing your opinion of Bangkok, affectionately nicknamed “The Big Mango,” to a depiction on the silver screen is a disservice to one of the most bedazzling — and delicious — cities on the planet.

As the jumping-off point for many first-time visitors to Southeast Asia, Bangkok can at times be overwhelming to navigate. But by focusing your visit on specific areas, you can easily explore a great deal of Bangkok’s enchanting sights, smells, and flavors — even if you only have a few days to spare.

As always, check for travel restrictions and closures before planning your trip.

Friday: A Lay of the Land

A reclining Buddha
Don’t forget to stop and appreciate the details. (Photo: Getty Images)

Your first meal is waiting for you at Akart Day, a coffee and breakfast joint in the Sathorn neighborhood. House in a 90-year-old building, enjoy the Super Star (eggs benedict, toasted ham and cheese, sausage, bacon, avocado, and mushrooms) with some coffee — make sure and top the latter with candle-smoked coconut milk.

Once you’re fueled for the day, head to your next destination: the gilded spires of Wat Pho, a short tuk-tuk hop towards the river. While Bangkok is home to hundreds of temples (or wats, in Thai), this glittering jumble of mirrored mosaics, mother-of-pearl inlays and golden Buddhas remains one of the city’s most impressive. Afterward, wander around the ancient murals of the Grand Palace, another postcard sight.

After a bit of spiritual enlightenment, head south to the Rajadamnern Stadium complex, home to one of Thailand’s most famous exports (besides its incredible food), muay thai. Before you head inside to see the action, stop by neighboring Likhit Gai Yang and taste their legendary roasted chicken. One bite, and you’ll know why this is a popular spot for local fighters and was one of Anthony Bourdain’s favorite stops in the area.

Once the sun’s gone down, end your day near where you started with a long stroll down Silom Road. Every night, vendors park their carts along this busy street and dish out every variety of delicious and cheap street food imaginable. Snack on skewered squid and pad Thai as you go and peer into pop-up markets and down mysterious alleys where you’ll find bars such as Vesper and rooftop spot Yào for a nightcap.

Saturday: Old Town Strolls

A temple at sunrise
Spend some time experiencing the city’s many temples. (Photo: Getty Images)

Start your day with breakfast at On Lok Yun, a timeworn local institution that’s barely changed since it opened in the 1930s. Must-orders are the charcoal-grilled toast with sweet coconut custard and the Thai iced tea with a thumb-thick layer of condensed milk. From here, walk north to Phra Nakhon, one of Bangkok’s oldest districts studded with royal forts and temples, which can best be viewed from the hilltop Wat Saket temple.

As lunchtime approaches, backtrack south towards Bangkok’s massive Chinatown, one of the world’s oldest and buzziest. Wander through the neighborhood’s seemingly endless alleyways and make sure to grab a char siu bao (steamed pork buns) or a grease-blobbed paper bag of pa tong go crullers from any of the streetside vendors throughout the area.

Snake farther south to Talad Noi, a compact warren of alleys where you can stop by next-gen arrivals such as Warehouse 30, which is set inside a WWII-era warehouse complex, to paw through quirky homewares and art from homegrown artists and designers. Across the street, gallery ATT 19 hosts frequent exhibitions by Thai talent, while further north at the riverside, Baan Rim Naam is a perfect spot for sundowners and pre-dinner bites.

As day turns into night, hop in a tuk-tuk to Soi Nana, a cluster of bars on the fringe of Chinatown. Make Tep Bar your first stop: This contemporary cocktail bar serves some of the most innovative foods and drinks in town. Sip a Sung Tong — a sour, rum-based cocktail topped with pickled local fruits. Order dishes like Goong Chae Numpla, sashimi from white shrimp that’s marinated in fish sauce; or Khao Neaw Moo, sticky rice topped with sweet, sun-dried pork.

From here, Soi Nana delivers a choose-your-own-adventure with no dull options: pick Teens of Thailand for innovative gin-based drinks, Black King Bar for craft pizzas, or Shuushuu for dangerously easy drinkable umeshu (Japanese plum liqueurs).

Sunday: Arts and Crafts

A garden house in Bangkok
Head out on a garden stroll. (Photo: Getty Images)

Kick off the day with breakfast at MoMo Cafe, a popular spot inside the Courtyard by Marriott Bangkok that offers up classic Thai and western options for diners. After breakfast, lace up your walking shoes.

Since you’ve seen some of Bangkok’s oldest corners, take a look around its modern side — but not before you’ve visited the canal-side Jim Thompson House Museum before the crowds arrive. This palm-fringed villa with teakwood floors and pointy roofs once belonged to American silk magnate Jim Thompson, and is a beautifully preserved piece of Thai architectural history.

From here, follow the khlong (canal) to YELO House, a warehouse-turned-hipster-hub with coffee shops and designer boutiques.

After some caffeine and window shopping, walk south down Phaya Thai Road, where the swirling white building of the Bangkok Art & Culture Centre is hard to miss. Bangkok’s answer to The Guggenheim, this contemporary art museum often hosts thought-provoking exhibitions by established and upcoming Thai talent.

Siam’s shopping Valhalla begins across the street with a line-up of world-class shopping malls connected to each other via air-conditioned footbridges. You’ll find global labels at Siam Paragon, while Thai design finds a platform at the Nendo-designed Siam Discovery. Every mall features a sprawling food court, making them an excellent spot for a cheap and filling lunch.

After dark, hop in a taxi to Thong Lor for a bar crawl around some of Bangkok’s best drinking dens, such as Find The Locker Room and Rabbit Hole.