Bangkok is an eclectic city. In the historic districts, you’ll find ancient temples, Chinese shophouses, and traditional markets, while the newer areas have modern shopping malls, art museums, and swanky restaurants serving inventive menus. The sprawling city can be intimidating for first-time visitors but is walkable and easy to navigate using public transportation. If you only have one day in Bangkok, it is best to focus on Rattanakosin Island, the historic district, home to the two most famous sites — The Grand Palace and Wat Pho. Follow this guide to see the best traditional markets, ancient temples, and riverside restaurants in the old city.
Start the day with an early-morning climb of Wat Saket
Spend the morning at Wat Saket, a grand Buddhist temple perched on a hill at the eastern edge of Rattanakosin Island. Savvy travelers arrive at 8 AM when the temple opens to beat the heat and the crowds and shoot photos in the soft morning light. Climb the stairs to the golden stupa and take in the panoramic views of the downtown skyscrapers to the east and gilded temples to the west. Afterward, descend the hill and walk ten minutes to the Giant Swing, the iconic 60-foot tall red tower that used to be part of religious ceremonies. The shops in the area sell religious paraphernalia and massive Buddha statues so large they must be displayed on the sidewalk, making it a fascinating place for a morning stroll.
Grab some breakfast from the Trok Mor Morning Market
After passing the Giant Swing, enter the Trok Mor Morning Market, a bustling pedestrian street where locals flock each morning to go shopping and give alms to monks. Throughout the market, you’ll see vendors frying up banana pancakes and fried rice, and stirring enormous vats of stew and curry. Most of the food stalls are informal and have no menu, so find a shop busy with locals and dive in. Two local specialties to look out for are congee, a soup of boiled rice and fish, and kanom krok, coconut pancakes made in circular pans.
Tour the Grand Palace and watch a mask dance performance
A fifteen-minute walk from the market, along canals and through neighborhoods of wooden shophouses, leads to the Grand Palace, Bangkok’s number-one tourist attraction. Enter to see the ornate Temple of the Emerald Buddha and marvel at the magnificent architecture of the former royal residence. After Thailand became a constitutional monarchy in 1932, the government buildings in the royal palace closed and the royal family moved. Entrance to the Grand Palace includes a free ticket to one of the five daily performances of the Thai mask dance at the Sala Chalermkrung Royal Theatre. Make the most of your one day in Bangkok and hop on a free shuttle bus to the theater to experience an art form that has been recognized by UNESCO as Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Take a scenic lunch break At the Yodpiman River Walk
After the show, hire a tuk-tuk for the short drive to the Yodpiman River Walk, a riverside shopping complex with several cafes and restaurants. Have lunch at the stylish Mango Tree on the River with its extensive vegetarian and Thai curry menu. The restaurant has views of the Chao Phraya River and Thonburi skyline, and is a pleasant place to escape the midday heat with a coffee or beer.
Stroll through the Flower Market and visit the giant Buddha at Wat Pho
After lunch, take a walk through the Pak Khlong Flower Market. The colorful market is full of stalls with vendors making bouquets and floral arrangements and abuzz with workers pushing baskets of fruit and flowers. A short walk from the Flower Market leads to Wat Pho, Bangkok’s most picturesque temple. Enter the prayer hall on the north side of the complex and stand in awe of the 150 foot long reclining Buddha. There are 400 more golden statues and mosaic-covered stupas in the complex so don’t forget to wander through the grounds.
At this point, temple fatigue has no doubt set in, so take a break at the Wat Pho Massage School located within the temple grounds. For a Thai massage, you’ll change into loose-fitting clothes, and the masseuse will walk on your back, and pull, stretch, knead, and prod your body. You’ll leave feeling relaxed yet energized — and ready for a drink.
Eat dinner with a view of Wat Arun
Directly behind Wat Pho are a clutch of riverside restaurants and bars with panoramic views of the Chao Phraya River and Wat Arun, a beautiful temple centered around a 17-story stupa. The sun sets behind the temple each evening, and after dark, the illuminated stupa reflects in the water, creating one of Bangkok’s most photogenic scenes. To end your one day in Bangkok, get a table at Above Riva and enjoy the Thai-fusion menu with items such as fettuccine tom yum goong and green curry duck confit. Alternatively, eat at the adjacent Eagle Nest with its rooftop bar and stunning views. Eagle Nest is famous for its extensive cocktail menu, but also serves a delicious chicken satay and Thai-style spaghetti.