48 Hours in Bangkok

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Bangkok is not an easy beast to tame. The city is sprawling and dirty and smoldering hot. Most backpackers don’t make it past Khao San Road, while sexpats and mid-range tourists clog Sukhumvit between Nana and Asok BTS. Luxury visitors tend to stick to the high-end hotels on the riverfront, enjoying views of the city from above without the filth and chaos of the streets. Part of me doesn’t blame them. This place is overwhelming as hell. It took me a good year before I felt like I had it even remotely figured out. Lucky for you, I’ve done the groundwork over the past two years and have devised a fool-proof plan to make the most out of 48 hours in Bangkok.

friday

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4pm – Arrive at The Yard Bangkok and chill out on the lawn with an ice-cold Singha after a long day of travel. Swap stories with other travelers as the heat slowly fades and pick up a few tips from the awesome local hosts.

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6pm - When hunger starts to creep up, head to Ari BTS station and make your way to Thong Lo (Exit 4) for some of the best street food in Bangkok. Sukhumvit Soi 38 is a famous stretch serving up signature dishes like som tam (papaya salad), tom kha gai (chicken coconut soup) and khao niew ma muang (mango sticky rice) in a typical Thai setting (think colorful plastic stools, metal tables and tiny pink napkins).

Unfortunately the vendors are getting kicked out at the end of January 2016 to make way for a new luxury condo (as if that’s what this city needs…), so if you want to experience it, you’ll have to go now!

For alternate food options, the Ari area has loads of great street food and tasty Thai restaurants. My go-tos are Lay Lao, Somtum Bangkok and the Isaan-style street stall at the entrance of Ari Soi 1 and the alley leading to Ari Soi 2. If budget isn’t an issue, you can also go straight to Thong Lor and check out the raved over Soul Food Mahanakorn or Patara Thailand.

8pm – To get an idea of just how big Bangkok truly is, you’ve got to see it from above. Octave is a tried-and-true favorite that offers sweeping views of the city from Floors 45-49 of the Bangkok Marriott Hotel Sukhumvit. The cocktails are a bit pricey (about 300 THB), so we usually just go for one, but the view is definitely worth it!

9pm – If you’re feeling adventurous (and it’s not too painfully humid), take the 20-minute stroll down Sukhumvit Soi 55 to the heart of Thong Lo and feel the pulse of the buzzing area. A short taxi or motorbike ride to Thong Lo Soi 15 will get you there quicker.

Stop off for a drink at The Iron Fairies or Bad Motel, or make a little cocktail crawl out of it and stop off at each for unique and delicious libations.

11:30pm – Don’t miss the last BTS train back to Ari so you can get a good night’s sleep before a jam-packed day of exploring.

If you live on the edge and want to stay out, Demo and Funky Villa are fun clubs in the area.

saturday

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9am – Start the day early with breakfast at the hostel and street snacks on your way to the temples. There’s nothing more delicious than fresh and ripe Thai papaya in the morning! Walk to Ari BTS and buy a ticket to Saphan Taksin (42 THB). You’ll have to transfer at Siam and take the Silom Line in the direction of Bang Wa. At Saphan Taksin, take Exit 2 to the Chao Phraya River and buy a one-way ticket (40 THB) for the Chao Phraya Tourist Boat.

You’ll have a leisurely ride down the river and the opportunity to stop off anywhere that sounds interesting. I highly recommend doing Wat Pho (Exit 8) and the Grand Palace (Exit 9). Wat Arun is nice too, but you can get great photos from the boat and might save yourself from temple burnout if you skip this one.

It’s best to start with the Grand Palace (500 THB entrance fee) as it closes earlier than the rest, and continue on with a quick 15-minute walk back to Wat Pho (100 THB entrance fee) to see the big reclining Buddha.

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12pm – Temple-hopping is sure to work up your appetite, so head to Tha Tien pier and get back on the boat to Chinatown (Exit 5) for a delicious dim sum lunch. Wander down Yarowat Road and through the neighborhood’s twisting, traffic-filled streets to take in all of the competing sights and smells. It’s a totally different world from the glitz and glam of Thong Lor and the city’s expat-heavy areas. Don’t miss snapping a few photos of gorgeous Wat Traimit and the striking Chinese gates.

From there, you can take the tourist boat to your next stop – Khao San Road – but what would a trip to Thailand be without at least one tuk-tuk ride? Just don’t pay more than 50 THB per person.

2pm – Khao San by day isn’t the crazy spectacle it is at night, but unless you really want to go for hard partying, I think it’s just as fun to visit during the day. Peruse the market stalls, have a cheeky afternoon beer to cool down and just do a bit of people watching. The surrounding area is steeped in history and you’ll get a feel for what Bangkok used to be like before high-rises and SkyTrain stops took over.

4pm – By now, you might be ready for a little siesta and shower back at The Yard. The quickest way back is via taxi, which will undoubtedly pass by stunning Dusit Palace Park. Your entrance ticket from the Grand Palace will also grant you entry here, so stop off if you feel so inclined.

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7pm – When you’ve had a chance to get cleaned up, head back to the BTS ~ this time taking it the two stops north to Mo Chit. Walking a half circle around gorgeous Chatuchak Park, you’ll find yourself at JJ Green night market, a hipster hangout with quirky bars, vintage shopping and an abundance of street food stalls.

Ari definitely has nicer dinner options, so if you’re looking for something sit-down, stop there before going to the market.

10pm –JJ Green is a perfect place to pregame before a night out with cheap beer towers and live music to get you in the mood. Bangkok comes alive at night, so make sure to save some energy to check out the scene.

From the line of clubs at Royal City Avenue (RCA) to infamous Sukhumvit Soi 11 and the red-light districts of Soi Cowboy and Patpong to the gay clubs of Silom, there is always something happening to keep you partying into the wee hours of the morning. Stay tuned for my full nightlife guide, but until then check out One Place Bangkok or BK Magazine to decide where the night will take you.

sunday

10am – Depending how late you stay out (I’ve been known to crawl home around 5am from time to time), you’ll need to sleep in a bit. Totally understandable! And if you’re anything like me, you’ll likely be craving a big breakfast to soak up all of the fun of last night. I’m all about Thai food, but sometimes you need Western flavors, especially when your stomach is already turning. Head to Pladib on Ari Samphan Soi 7 for a big breakfast and unlimited water to get you back in shape.

12pm - Bangkok is best to visit on the weekend so you can peruse the famous Chatuchak Weekend Market (also spelled Jatujak). Lines and lines of stalls carry everything from modern Thai art to traditional handicrafts and cheap and touristy bits and bobs. I’ve been here at least a dozen times and still get lost within the maze. Be sure to stop off for a midday massage break at one of the shops inside the market. At only 200 THB ($6) a pop, it’s hard to resist getting multiple massages while you’re in Thailand!

A plethora of street food snacks, restaurants and bars are also spread throughout the market so you’ll never go hungry. Viva 8 is popular among tourists and expats for it’s delicious paella and lively vibe.

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If facing the heat of an outdoor market sounds like hell after your night out (totally been there), opt for some indoor shopping at Terminal 21 (Asok BTS) or the cluster of malls in Siam Square (Siam BTS). You can find plenty of massage places in both areas, so you won’t have to skimp on that if you do choose to indulge in air-conditioned shopping instead.

4pm – At this point, your 48 hours are already up and you’ll probably be off to the beaches of the South or fresh mountain air in the North, hopefully feeling like you’ve covered great Bangkok ground thanks to this guide!

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