I’m not going to lie, Bangkok can be intimidating. The sprawling Thai capital is home to over 10 million people and covers over 1,500 square kilometers. The city’s traffic jams are notorious. But if you can look beyond the crowds and the heat, you will find one of the most exciting destinations in Asia. I’ve been twice and the city continues to captivate me with its glittering temples and delicious food. 4 days in Bangkok is enough time to see all the major attractions, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself reluctant to leave. The friendly people and unique culture have a way of enchanting even the most reluctant traveler.
This Itinerary for 4 Days in Bangkok includes:
- Wat Phra Kaew, Grand Palace, and Wat Pho
- Jim Thompson House and the Golden Mount
- Wat Arun and the National Museum
- Ayutthaya Day Trip
- Plus restaurant recommendations and alternative things to do
Wat Phra Kaew and the Grand Palace
There is no better introduction to Bangkok than Wat Phra Kaew, or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. It is located within the grounds of the ceremonial Thai Royal Palace and is considered the most important Buddhist temple in the country. Wat Phra Kaew dates to the 18th century and holds the Emerald Buddha, Thailand’s most sacred image of the Buddha. The temple’s exterior is embellished with colorful glass mosaics, mother-of-pearl inlays, and an astonishing amount of gold leaf. Inside, the rich burgundy walls are painted with important scenes from the Buddha’s life. Give yourself plenty of time to wander around the Grand Palace complex, which is dotted with gilded shrines, stupas, and statues of mythological creatures.
Temple of the Reclining Buddha, otherwise known as Wat Pho, is a short walk away. This temple is one of the oldest in Bangkok and predates the Grand Palace by nearly 100 years. It is home to a reclining Buddha statue that is so large it almost doesn’t fit in one photo. The image, resplendent in gold and mother of pearl, represents the Buddha’s final achievement of nirvana and is popular with Buddhist faithful. The grounds of Wat Pho include dozens of picturesque chedi and a cloister holding over 400 golden Buddha statues.
Afternoon by the Pool
As ever, when traveling in Southeast Asia, I recommend taking time to recuperate from the heat by your hotel swimming pool. I stayed at the Eastin Grand Hotel Sathorn on my most recent trip to Bangkok and thoroughly enjoyed its rooftop infinity pool and generous buffet breakfast. (I took advantage of both daily, filling up so much at breakfast that I was able to skip lunch.) The hotel is conveniently located near most of the restaurants in this post and adjacent to a BTS station, making it an ideal base for sightseeing.
Another wonderful place to stay in Bangkok is Ariyasom Villa. This boutique hotel feels like a private oasis despite its location near busy Sukhumvit Road, and the onsite vegetarian restaurant is a great option for evenings when you’re too tired to venture back out.
Dinner at Blue Elephant
One of the best restaurants in Bangkok is Blue Elephant, which has been dishing up authentic Royal Thai cuisine since 2002. The restaurant is housed in an elegant historical home and has a well-regarded cooking school on the top floor. Blue Elephant is best known for its curries, so of course I had to try several. The Massaman lamb curry was the clear winner, and I regret not buying a packet of the chef’s signature Massaman paste to enjoy at home. This restaurant is next door to the Eastin Grand Hotel.
Jim Thompson House
Jim Thompson was a prosperous silk merchant and American spy who disappeared without a trace in 1967. He left behind a home filled with antiques collected on his travels around Asia. His heir donated the estate to the city of Bangkok, and thus the Jim Thompson House museum was born. Guides lead visitors on tours through the wooden mansion which is crammed with furnishings and artworks. There are additional galleries inside the former servants’ quarters and lush gardens dotted with fish ponds and sculptures. Don’t miss the gift shop if you want to buy something made from the renowned Jim Thompson-branded silk. Thai women give demonstrations of traditional silk-making techniques outside the shop.
Bonus Tip: I stumbled upon one of the best versions of mango sticky rice in the lobby cafe of the Krit Thai Residence hotel. You can find it one block south of Jim Thompson House.
Chill Out at a Shopping Mall
You might wonder why you’d go all the way to Bangkok just to visit a shopping mall, but once you feel that blessed air conditioning you’ll understand. Siam Paragon is a great place to chill out for an hour or two. It boasts one of the best movie theaters in Bangkok and has a fabulous boutique full of traditional Thai goods perfect for souvenirs. Central World is close by and, as one of the largest shopping centers in Asia, offers something for just about everyone. I particularly enjoy its Japanese wing.
The Golden Mount
Wat Saket is a small Buddhist temple perched atop an artificial hill known as the Golden Mount. A steep staircase (300 steps) encircles the hill, and rewards climbers with incredible views of the city. It is supposed to be especially magical at sunset. The best way to get there is by tuk tuk.
Dinner at Krua Apsorn
For a restaurant that has a Bib Gourmand rating in the Michelin Guide and is popular with the Thai royal family, Krua Apsorn is surprisingly low key. The house specialties are fluffy crab omelettes, a stir-fry with crab meat and yellow chili peppers, and a green curry with fish balls. There is also an array of vegetarian dishes for the non-seafood eaters. Krua Apsorn has multiple branches across Bangkok, including one within walking distance of the Golden Mount.
Take a River Ferry
The Chao Praya River is to Bangkok what the Grand Canal is to Venice. It flows directly through the city and is a major transportation hub. Commuter ferries are an affordable and fun way to reach riverside attractions. It’s also a responsible way to help ease Bangkok’s traffic problems. The city once had a network of smaller canals, but many of these were paved over to make way for cars. The resulting roads are long and narrow and prone to traffic congestion. To ride the ferry, take the BTS train to Saphan Taksin station and walk to Sathon Pier. For a more informative ride, level up to the Tourist boats. These are more expensive, of course. This site provides an in-depth guide to all different kinds of boats and the colored flags used to identify them.
Known as the Temple of the Dawn, Wat Arun sits majestically along the banks of the Chao Phraya River. The temple dates to the 17th century and originally held the Emerald Buddha before it was moved to its current home in Wat Phra Kaew. Wat Arun is known for its distinctive Khmer-style spires, which were added in the 19th century. Seashells and shards of porcelain dishes adorn the spires, creating beautiful designs that gleam in the morning sun. This is my favorite temple in Bangkok.
Bangkok National Museum
The National Museum of Thailand has its main branch in Bangkok and is a must-visit for lovers of Southeast Asian art. It holds the country’s largest collection of historical Thai artifacts and Buddha images, many rescued from the ruins of Sukhothai and Ayutthaya. The museum also includes treasures from the Royal household, including gilded thrones and ceremonial chariots.
Dinner at Thanying
Friends who had lived in Bangkok claimed Thanying Royal Thai Restaurant was their favorite restaurant and now it’s one of mine as well. The recipes here are said to be passed down from the kitchens of Sukhothai Palace and the owner is the son of a princess. Must-try dishes include sweet corn fritters and a red curry with roasted duck, eggplant, and pineapple.
Ayutthaya Day Trip
Ayutthaya was the capital of Thailand from the 15th century until it was sacked by the Burmese army in 1767. At its peak, Ayutthaya was one of the largest and most cosmopolitan cities in the world. While the Burmese sadly burned much of the city to the ground, enough remains to give you a glimpse of its lost splendor. The magnificent temple ruins are located about 80 kilometers from Bangkok and absolutely worth seeking out. You’ll especially want to go if you are keen to see the famous “Buddha head in a tree.”
There are several different ways to reach Ayutthaya, ranging from trains to guided group tours. My party of four determined that the most cost effective and, let’s be honest, comfortable, means of transport was to hire a car and driver through our hotel.
Dinner at Ban Chiang
Another restaurant that came highly recommended is Ban Chiang. Its cozy dining room and traditional recipes evoke the feeling of being at Grandma’s house. The deep-fried shrimp toasts and banana fritters with coconut ice cream were especially comforting.
Alternative Things to Do in Bangkok
Perhaps you’ve allotted an extra day to visit Ayutthaya or want to skip the shopping malls. Here are some more things to do during your 4 days in Bangkok:
Wat Suthat serves as the headquarters for Brahman priests who perform special royal rituals. The temple dates to the 19th century and houses one of the largest surviving Buddha images from Sukhothai. A pavilion lined with Buddha images surrounds the length of the temple. Mosquito nets and blankets are available for those looking for rest or meditation. Out front stands a giant swing made from teak. It resembles a Japanese torii gate but was actually part of a discontinued Brahman ceremony.
Chinatown and Little India
Bangkok is home to one of the largest Chinatowns in the world. The bustling neighborhood began as a trading port and has turned into a mecca for Chinese street food. A short walk away you’ll find Bangkok’s Little India. Phahurat Market makes for a lively stroll and is the go-to spot for traditional Indian textiles.
Have Clothes Made by a Tailor
Bangkok tailors are world famous for their superior suits. There are many tailor shops along Sukhumvit Road, though it can be difficult to weed out the high quality ones from all the tourist touts. Two Bangkok tailors, Raja’s Fashions and Moonriver by VJ, came highly recommended by friends. My partner had several dress shirts made at Raja’s and was very pleased with the result. If you do plan to have clothes made in Bangkok, give yourself plenty of time for additional fittings.
Visit a Floating Market
If you happen to be in Bangkok over a weekend, a trip to a floating market is a must. Since I haven’t been to a floating market myself, check out this great guide by Migrationology. I’ll be scheduling my next trip to Bangkok accordingly.
For more Bangkok restaurant recommendations, click here.
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