There are lots of companies offering Bangkok day tours, but it’s really easy to plan your own. Here are two day tour plans we’ve found to be really enjoyable. Personally I think you need a week to see Bangkok for the first time, but I do understand that some people don’t have that much time.
The easiest and most convenient way to see Bangkok in a day is to join a small group adventure tour. There are a couple of good ones we know of like the 3-hour Bangkok small group cycle tour (if you like to ride), or the 3-hour small group Bangkok tuk-tuk tour (if you don’t like to ride).
For the purposes of these suggestions, I’m assuming that you are staying centrally in Banglamphu area (Khao San Road, Phra Arthit or close by). But if you’re staying somewhere else, just start out from Central BTS Station.
The one-day shopping tour
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Bo-Be Market – this is the largest clothing market in Bangkok and also has some of the keenest prices you’ll find anywhere in Thailand. This market is not really on the normal tourist trail so the area doesn’t look very much like a tourist strip, but you’ll find Bo-Be Market near Hualamphong Railway Station in downtown Bangkok, about 15 minutes by tuk-tuk or taxi from Khao San Road area. Much of what is sold here is wholesale for others to sell elsewhere. If you arrive early in the morning you’ll find the locals bargaining hard with Indian, Chinese and Thai merchants, often to stock small shops in other areas. There are both indoor and outdoor sections of the market, but the indoor sections are normally only open early in the morning and in the evening, and much of the market shuts down during the heat of the day.
MBK Centre – this is shopper heaven, eight floors containing over 2000 shops including a major department store (with pretty keen prices, by the way) and some great cafes and eateries. Its full title is Mahboonkrong, but everyone knows it as MBK and it’s very popular with both Thais and tourists because there’s so much competition here. You can spend a whole day wandering through MBK, especially if you happen to stray while exploring and find that you’ve crossed over into either the SIam Discovery shopping centre or the Siam Paragon shopping centre, both of which are closely connected to MBK and also great places to shop – although a bit more upmarket. You’ll find MBK Centre on Rama 1 Road in Pathum Wan district. Get there on the BTS Skytrain (get off at National Stadium station and follow the crowds) or catch a taxi if the traffic is not too bad.
Suan Lum Night Bazaar – finish the day at Bangkok’s original open air market, a colorful riot of artworks, crafts, clothing, music, movies, souvenirs and much more, with fabulous open air eateries, bars and beer gardens and handy ATMs to recharge your purse or wallet with cash. It’s handily located opposite Lumphini Park in Pathum Wan, not too far from the MBK Centre and Siam Square, but you might want to get there by jumping back on the BTS Skytrain and getting off at Lumphini Station. Suan Lum is said to be closing down (about two years ago) and moving its stalls to Ratchadaphisek, but it doesn’t seem to be happening in too much of a hurry. It’s a great place to finish your shopping extravaganza. It’s about a 30-40B taxi ride back to Khao San Road if you can find an honest taxi driver – but that can be tricky at the night bazaar. Agree on the fare before the taxi starts moving or you will most likely pay far too much. Insist on using the meter and get out if they won’t.
The one-day culture tour
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Wat Ratchanadda – While not as stunning as some of the sights in Bangkok, I have included this temple because you’re going to walk past it anyway on your way to some of the other sights, and it’s free to get in, so why not take a look (just remember to take your shoes off first). From Khao San Road, walk east along Ratchadamnoen Road, past the Democracy Monument, until you see the big white fort (Mahakan) across the street. Cross over and Wat Ratchanadda is down Chanon Maha Chai St behind the park containing the Royal Pavilion and the King Rama III Memorial. This Burmese style temple was built by King Rama II to honor his nephew. There’s a really nice view from the top of the tower. If you look behind the temple you’ll see Loha Prasat (the iron temple) in the background – this building is like a multi-storey maze and has been put forward as a World Heritage Site with UNESCO. It has a huge open air staircase running up the middle – very impressive.
The Grand Palace – although you really need at least a full day to see the Grand Palace completely, we did it in two hours on our first visit to Bangkok and it was still a pretty satisfying experience. While no longer the home of the royal family, it is a stunning landmark with some of the most awe-inspiring architecture you’re ever likely to see. The grounds of the palace include the royal mint (no free samples) and the Thai ministry of war (some nice old cannons), as well as the Temple of the Emerald Bhudda which dates back to the 14th century and is the centre of many ceremonial occasions in Bangkok. If you have bare legs (e.g. you’re wearing shorts) they’ll make you put on some cotton overpants, but it’s all in a good cause. The palace consists of an outer courtyard (once home to key government departments) and a central court where the king used to conduct state affairs. For more info, see The Grand Palace.
The Chao Phraya River – not a cultural experience as such, but a great way to see a lot of Thai architecture and major monuments in a couple of hours. Jump on the Chao Phraya River Express and go for the full length of the ride, where you’ll get to see more temples than you’re head can hold as well as Bangkok’s first presbyterian church, the naval headquarters, the Royal Palace, the old Customs House, the Royal Boat House (shades of Yul Brynner in The King and I) and much more. It’s as cheap as chips (just pay the ticket collector on board the boat) and a peaceful way to see a lot of Bangkok in a short time. Although there are many boats you can take, try to jump onto the Chao Phraya Tourist Boat (no flags).