If you’re venturing to the “Land of Smiles,” it’s likely that your journey will begin in the bustling metropole of Bangkok. But if you’ve only got five days to spare in Thailand’s capital city, will you be able to see it all, and where should you start?
To really fall in love with the sprawling urban capital, you’ll need more than a few days. This is why Bangkok isn’t often considered a tourist city. Still, five days will give you an authentic taste of the city and is the perfect amount of time to see all the top attractions.
It’s all intermingled in this guide, from the temples and tuk-tuks to the skyscrapers and malls. Switch out days as you wish, but before you jet off to the southern isles or mountainous regions, make sure you explore all Bangkok has to offer.
Day 1: Explore the Markets
So you’ve just arrived in Bangkok, whether your flight landed in the morning or you’ve had the evening to sleep off the jet lag, a great way to get your bearings without too much exertion is touring a few of the markets.
As the main port of entry for Thailand and the most popular city, Bangkok is all about trade, from the high-rise offices full of investment bankers, right down to the street vendors. Markets are a huge part of Thai culture, and the locals love them as much as the tourists. With so much choice in one place and the lowest prices for everyday goods, they’re a great place to snap up a bargain but also a worthwhile experience and a feast for the eyes.
The biggest market is the Chatuchak Weekend Market, which is the largest in Southeast Asia as a whole. With more than 15,000 stalls and 11,505 vendors, there’s no shortage of areas to explore and almost anything imaginable that you can buy from all over Thailand. If you’re in Bangkok on a Saturday or Sunday, Chatuchak is a must-see, and the 27 sections promise a journey through the senses with food, incense, and handicrafts around every turn.
To get to Chatuchak, you can hop on the Skytrain anywhere, which will only cost around $1 return, and either get off at Mo Chit to follow the signs across the park or get out at Kamphaeng Phet, right next to the market.
The Damnoen Saduak Floating Market and the Amphawa Floating Market are also famous for their uniqueness, but they require a day trip as they are located outside the city limits. But if you want to squeeze a few others into the same day as the Chatuchak Weekend Market, check out the smaller Khlong La Mayom and Thalin Chan floating markets or the iconic Maeklong Railway Market as fabulous alternatives.
Your day of traveling will start to set in, so it’s soon time to head back to your hotel. But not before grabbing a bite to eat from one of the market stalls and enjoying it in true Thai style, sat cross-legged on one of the public floor mats.
Day 2: Visit the Temples
You’re probably still recovering from jet lag, but after a short lie-in, there’s no time to waste. Bangkok’s ancient temples are probably the city’s main attractions and draw in thousands of religious tourists. Getting to as many as you can, especially the Grand Palace, before hoards of tourists turn up will maximize your experience.
Before setting off, you’ll also need to think about your outfit. Despite the sweltering heat of the sticky city, you need to be dressed appropriately to enter most temples. For women, this means covering their decolletage, shoulders, arms, and legs, while men need to wear pants that cover the knees and a t-shirt or shirt at all times. You’re also not likely to be let in in flip-flops, but sandals will suffice. Still, many temples provide cover-ups to borrow if you’re not appropriately dressed.
You can find most temples and famous attractions on the river banks in the Ko Ratanakosin area, the ancient royal district. You can take a ferry from near Koh San Road to No. 9 Tha Change and explore the length of the area on foot, but hiring a private riverboat and tour guide will elevate this experience. Whichever transport you choose, book all your tickets in advance as there will be many people waiting on the banks to offer your alternatives. These vendors will often tell you that the site you want is closed, and they’ll steer you to shops to get themselves a commission instead.
The Grand Palace should be at the top of your agenda, and you can’t see Bangkok without visiting its golden walls and emerald Buddha. The architecture is unlike anything you can find in Western culture, and the intricate statues, artwork, and adornments are mind-blowing.
King Rama moved the royal palace from Thonburi to Rattanakosin in 1782, which Chinese settlers had occupied until then. The area to which they were displaced is now known as Bangkok’s Chinatown and features later on in our guide. The new palace complex was adapted by next-generation Chakri kings with Throne Halls, temples, and the same layout as the ancient Northern Ayutthaya capital to bring good luck to Siam.
The entrance fee is 400 baht, or $12, but the complex consists of more than 100 buildings, and exploring the entire grounds will keep you entertained for up to two or three hours. Many rooms are closed to the public, but their exteriors are impressive enough. The highlight is the iconic Wat Phra Kaew temple, where you’ll find the two-foot-tall Emerald Buddha Statue, made from solid Jade and allegedly carved in India as far back as 43BC. The temple walls depict Buddha’s life in mural form, starting with his birth in Nepal and his steps to enlightenment. This temple is one of the world’s most important Buddhist structures outside Nepal and an architectural wonder.
Next, head back across the river to the equally iconic Wat Arun, or Temple of Dawn. The beauty of this palace is most magnificent after dark when it is lit up from all sides, but unfortunately, it closes before nightfall.
The exact age of the temple is unknown, but Wat Arun is thought to have replaced a Khmer-style Hindu Temple in the 1500s and been mainly left in ruins after Ayutthaya fell to Burmese occupation in the late 1700s. King Rama II then renovated Arun in the 1800s, and the main Prang Tower extensions and seven-pronged Trident of Shiva were erected at this time.
The various statues are the highlight of Arun. Keep an eye out for impressive sculptures of the Chinese soldiers and animals that support the Prang tower and the Hindu God Indra statue riding her elephant at the top. The climb is tiring, but the views are worth it. Wat Arun costs just an extra 50 baht to enter, which is around $1.50, and the ferry leaves every 10 to 15 minutes, costing just 3 baht, or 9 cents.
Most of the temples close around 3.30 pm, but if you still have time, check out Wat Pho temple, directly opposite Wat Arun, for the majestic reclining Buddha, or journey down the Thonburi Canal for The Royal Barges Museum or the Old Big Gun Museum to further your lesson in Thai history.
Head home for early evening and consider heading to one of Bangkok’s rooftop bars or even the skyscraping Sky Bar for panoramic views of the city. Enjoy a laidback dinner while you take the weight off your feet before heading home for an early night.
Day 3: Siam Center and Bangkok Art and Culture Centre
After a few days of tradition and culture, it’s time to see the modern side of Bangkok and trust us. There’s a lot to see. Thailand is famous for its shopping malls, and Thais flock from all over the country to visit them. The Skytrain will take you straight to Siam Station or Chit Lom for the Siam Center, but now would be a great time to try out a notorious tuk-tuk venture, Thailand’s native form of transport, for a proper tour of the city.
It’s easy to get scammed when calling down a tuk-tuk in the street, so always agree on a price beforehand and tell the driver that you want to head straight to your destination – no detours to tailors en route. He’ll know what you’re talking about. For the most reliable service, ask your hostel or hotel to call a tuk-tuk for you and barter on the price in the driver’s native tongue.
Sit back, enjoy the ride, and hold on. Tuk-tuks are an authentic part of Thai culture that you need to experience, but one trip in Bangkok might be enough. The bumpy ride will be an adventure, but you’ll see more of the city this way than on any other transport, and all your senses will be ignited.
The Siam Centre consists of four different shopping malls, and you easily spend a whole day perusing all the buildings. It’s also not only boutiques and designer stores found within the air-conditioned walls. There is an ice skating rink, Southeast Asia’s largest aquarium, and the Siam Discovery houses home to Bangkok’s very own Madame Tussauds.
Have lunch at the food hall, where you can find local Thai delicacies and beloved western deserts, before heading across the boardwalk to the Bangkok Art and Culture Center. This contemporary gallery and performance venue hosts several free exhibitions and has an aesthetic multi-layered interior reminiscent of New York’s Guggenheim. Climb to the top to look down upon the impressive architecture, wander an exhibition, and pop into one of the many arts and crafts shops before heading back to your hotel by early evening.
After your most relaxing day yet and finally shaking that jet lag, it’s time to reset before heading to Koh San Road to explore Bangkok’s vibrant nightlife. This iconic party street is not everyone’s thing, but it’s a favorite of backpackers and a bucket-list destination, even if you only walk down the strip.
After navigating all the fried bug delicacies, you can party the night away with bucket loads of Thai alcohol or escape the mayhem and head to the adjacent Rambuttri Alley for dinner. This road is often mistaken for Koh San, but it’s home to several respectable restaurants among the bustling bars to enjoy a festive meal before hitting the hay.
Day 4: Cooking Class and Jim Thompson’s House
There’s no better hangover cure than a homecooked meal, and Tom Yam soup, the sour native dish, is famed for its magic abilities to ease a sore head after a heavy night of drinking. But how about making it yourself? Day 4 might start slowly, but heading to a Thai cooking lesson will be a great way to get a unique taste of the culture.
There are several accredited places around the city to try your hand at some authentic Thai cooking. Check out the Bangkok Cooking Academy for a social atmosphere and expert teaches, or the Silom Thai Cooking school for a traditional open kitchen and rustic atmosphere, where you can dress up in traditional clothing after your lesson. Reap the benefits of your labor and devour whatever you’ve concocted before heading to Jim Thompson’s House for the afternoon.
Jim Thompson was an American entrepreneur, silk trader, and spy who disappeared mysteriously in 1967 while on a business trip to Malaysia. Before vanishing, Thompson lived in Bangkok in a house he built himself in the traditional Thai style, decorated with teak wood and set in lush gardens.
Today, the house is a museum where you can learn all about Thomspon’s enigmatic story with a guided tour for just 100 baht, or $3. There’s also a restaurant if you’ve managed to build up an appetite and a charming gift shop selling authentic silk souvenirs.
Before your final day in Bangkok creeps around, spending the evening at a night market is a must. Totally different from the weekend markets, but equally important to Thai culture, you need to visit at least one-night market while in Thailand, and Bangkok is the perfect place for it. These evening bazaars are so much more than shopping and counterfeit goods. Night markets are a great place to try authentic street food, enjoy a few drinks, and soak up the city’s vibrant atmosphere.
Ratchada Train Market is one of the best with its famous sea of colorful tents that can be seen overhead. Divided into three large zones, you can drink, shop and eat in the true foodie paradise, and even see DJ sets while you enjoy a cocktail from one of the stalls. After you’ve devoured a meter-long rib at Chef Tui Ranger and listened to a live band at Frankfurt Bar, head back to your accommodation for some well-earned rest.
Day 5: Lumphini Park and China Town
Ending your trip with two of Bangkok’s prettiest areas is a no-brainer. Start the day wandering Bangkok’s “Green Lung,” the Lumphini Park, beautifully maintained and perfect for people watching. Cycling, Tai Chi, sunbathing, and meditation are just some of the activities you’ll spot residents enjoying on the grass, and if you’ve got time, sit and reflect in the sunshine yourself or join in on the daily aerobics sessions that are open to the public.
The wildlife is also a spectacle, although there are more stray cats than anything. Still, the fascinating Monitor Lizard is also a resident, and the park is teeming with them. End your visit with a swan-paddle-boat ride across the lake before heading to old China Town and enjoy the quaint, narrow streets and traditional buildings to the smells of oriental cuisine. Grab a seafood lunch before visiting the new Asiatique shopping area. Fusing the modern malls with the traditional markets, Asiatique is lively and perfect for grabbing some last-minute trinkets and enjoying your final evening on the Bangkok riverside.
The center is a few miles down the Chaophraya river from Saphan Taksin ferry station, which you can reach by Sky Train. It used to be an international port for trade, but now it’s best known for its evening entertainment. Catch a traditional puppet show in one of the theatres or the more risque Calypso Cabaret, but book in advance as they usually book up. Asiatique is also a great place to catch an elusive Lady Boy Show, a must-see for your trip to Thailand. And don’t be afraid to join in when they ask.
Finish the night eating and drinking before heading back to your accommodation and closing your Bangkok chapter before continuing with your travels or heading home the following day.
Bangkok 5 Day Itinerary: Conclusion
And that just about sums it up. It’s hard to go wrong with five whole days in Bangkok, and this guide will give you an excellent overview of the city. Five days is plenty of time to see all the main attractions, and then some. You’ll be guaranteed a taste of authentic Thai culture before venturing to the rural north or beachy south of Thailand.
Bangkok is not for everyone, but it’s a treat for the senses and a well-needed culture shock for many westerners starting their Thai adventure. With our Bangkok five-day itinerary, you’ll find that the capital is worth more than the short two or three days that most travelers give it. And if you do it right, the city will reveal itself to you in its own electric way.