I think of Hemingway’s words when I visit Bangkok, “the story was writing itself and I was having a hard time keeping up with it.” I will never forget my first Tuk Tuk ride, darting in and out of heavy traffic with a sea of scooters piled high with lovers, passengers and even families to and from. A moving symphony of city dwellers, all in sync somehow – happy and busy. All of this with the dramatic skyline, dark against the pastel-painted Thai sunset. Among the frenzy, there are beautiful slow-motion snapshots of the city everywhere you look; street vendors carefully tying devotional floral arrangements by hand in the flower markets, uniformed school children buying snacks on the street, deep bows in the temples and monks floating silently along. Bangkok is like no place I’ve ever been, it is a big city in the “land of a thousand smiles,” and one of the most prosperous places I’ve visited, full of sights, smells and tastes that take your breath away. This guide will help you plan your perfect immersive weekend in Bangkok whether you are simply on a Bangkok stopover or you are travelling beyond Bangkok to other destinations in Thailand.
Getting to Bangkok
- International flights fly directly into Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) in Bangkok which is easy to navigate, and about an hour taxi or shuttle ride into the centre of the city.
- Visitors should have a valid passport with at least 6 months validity, and all visitors should check visa requirements before visiting.
- Mid-November to mid-February is high season for visiting Bangkok when the weather is best which means the flight rates will be premium.
Where to Stay in Bangkok
If “traveling brilliantly” is what you want when you visit Bangkok, the Bangkok Marriott Marquis Queens Park is ideal as this is their mantra. Located in the heart of the city along Sukhumvit Road, this iconic property is surrounded by the city’s most vibrant shopping, business and entertainment districts in Bangkok. With close proximity to Phrom Phong’s BTS Skytrain Station, as well as the EM District shopping malls, staying at this Marriott Marquis property makes it easy to explore all parts of the city.
The grandeur of this five-star hotel can be felt from the moment you pull up to the front doors. My Deluxe City View room was one of 1,360 rooms and suites, and the city view was the perfect backdrop to wake up to each morning, and fall asleep to each night. The spacious room with king-size bed, sitting area, and peek-a-boo bathroom was a nice respite to the pace of the city, and even lobby below.
There are five dining options available at Bangkok Marriott Marquis Queens Park, with plenty of options to tease and satisfy your every craving. Many guests and visitors meet, mingle, sip and taste in the lobby at The Lobby Lounge which is the perfect place to unwind after a long day, sip coffee before heading out or network and share before meetings or conferences. The lobby of this property is always a-buzz. The Pagoda Chinese Restaurant is a five-star restaurant serving classic Cantonese cuisine with a contemporary flair. The Siam Tea Room is located off the lobby and offers many local tea blends and fresh daily pastries along with a full, casual menu. I grabbed a few beautiful tins of Thai tea to take home and give as gifts. The Goji Kitchen + Bar is a feast for the eyes and tummy with lavish buffets for each meal including dishes from around the world. The mango sticky rice station is not to be missed during dinner time here! And, the Soba Factory is a sexy Japanese restaurant serving house-made noodles that locals flock to as well as hotel guests.
In addition to these dining offerings, if a pool cocktail or snack is on your list you can pop up to the 9th floor where you’ll find an urban oasis waiting for you. You will find one of two pools on property with a Bangkok skyline backdrop, sun lounges for soaking up the sunshine and you can sip cool drinks while you relax or take a dip.
The Quan Spa and 24-Hour Fitness Room, also set to the backdrop of the dramatic skyline is the Bangkok Marriott’s answer to blending the traditions of Thailand with modern treatments and therapies along with fitness. A full spa menu is available to enjoy in the spa or in your room.
If feeling like a Princess, or receiving royal treatment is on your list for your next visit to Bangkok book a room at The Athenee Hotel; it is a Luxury Collection Hotel in the heart of Bangkok perfectly situated on the grounds of the former royal residence known as Kandhavas Palace, the residence of Princess Valaya Alongkorn who was the daughter of King Rama V (1853-1910). Every single detail of this luxurious property is inspired by the princess from the slipper “heels” on each nightstand, to the choice of design and décor in each room and even the secret garden area off the main floor dining area and the pastry chef’s creations served daily on property. She is of highest regard to the staff of Athenee and people of Thailand. One morning I watch as a staff member ceremoniously brought an offering to the alter with her statue on it that is located in the open-air rooftop garden on the 4th floor.
The luxe feel of this Thai-Colonial property can be felt from the moment you pull up to the façade and walk into the grand lobby filled with large-scale fresh florals providing great context to the quality and hand craftsmanship of garlands and topiaries and importance of aesthetics in the Thai culture. With marble-tiled floors, a grand staircase and to-scale crystal chandeliers, the space instantly transforms each person who walks into it, into royalty – and this is how you are treated until you depart.
In addition to being a luxurious experience for guests, The Athenee Hotel is also a fully sustainable property with hand-selected, locally sourced amenities like the THANN Rice Grain Soap Bar with Orange and Tangerine Essential Oils that I could not get enough of (it was like a little hand massage each time I washed my hands), and one that gives back with a corporate social responsibility plan and local recipients of various efforts such as feeding the hungry, and donating blood. The Athenee Hotel is the recipient of The International Hotel Awards: “Best Sustainable Hotel in Thailand” for 2017.
The feeling good doesn’t stop there, it happens in every room, with every guest. There are 374 rooms and suites on property, including four 2-bedroom suites that are absolutely incredible. Each careful detail in the décor reflects Princess Valaya Alongkorn from the chosen art to the jasmine flower motifs woven throughout, this hotel is indeed the princess personified and She is welcoming and generous.
The Athenee Spa, located on the 4th floor is a beautiful blending of France and Siam with trademark offerings. Each treatment is personalized to your blood type, with a uniquely Thai protocol called “Immunetra,” which helps to calm your mind and body and also boosts your immune system.
The pool was my very favorite place to be, a completely secluded oasis on the 4th floor high above the busy Bangkok streets, it was a work of art blending modern lines and design with old world culture, all set to the backdrop of the city and complete with a rooftop garden and ample lounging as well as casual dining at The View for tea and a snack or lunch by the pool. The property also offers a fitness centre, a business centre and a Royal Club Lounge.
There are six dining options on property at The Athenee Hotel, each with distinction. The Reflexions is the recipient of the Bangkok Best Dining & Entertainment Award for 2017, with a modern French menu, Silk Road offers Cantonese and Dim Sum, Smooth Curry offers authentic Thai cuisine, Utage offers Japanese and Tatami, and the lobby bar The Glaz Bar is a place where you can sip and snack in-between. The “secret garden,” as the pastry chef calls it hosts The Bakery where you can order Illy Coffee and the most incredibly delicate and delicious Thai-French pastries created with the Princess in mind as if she herself were going to enjoy them.
One of the best places to be for Sunday Brunch in Bangkok is at The Rain Tree Café in The Athenee Hotel, I could not believe the scale, presentation, variety and caliber of cuisine offered. Everything from a Peking Duck carving station to a full oyster bar with accompanying ice-cold Stoli shots and French pastries as well as a Mango Sticky Rice station and soups and dumplings. It is a globally-inspired feast and a full team effort of excellence for sure.
If a resort feel in the middle of the urban jungle of Bangkok is what you are looking for, a stay at Banyan Tree Bangkok, the city’s only 5-star all-suite hotel is in order. One of the tallest hotels in the city, Banyan Tree Bangkok hosts the Moon Bar and Vertical Bar both with incredible views of the city and beyond.
This 64-floor, “vertical resort” is an urban retreat from the lobby to the Moon Bar. I was gifted a beautiful string of jasmine flowers as I arrived, which is a customary Thai welcome, especially at resorts. The motto and theme of the property is “Come Live With Us,” and I truly wanted to. Each suite is beautifully adorned with generous resort-like amenities, plenty of seating, extra space, and all of the comforts of home including the option to personalise your pillow service.
My experience at the hotel’s signature restaurant Saffron, on the 54th floor, was one of the best dining experiences of the year for me and the perfect way to dine during a luxury weekend in Bangkok. The five-course Thai menu was so incredibly innovative and thoughtful, including a rice service that was an education: a choice between four rice dishes that were each delicious, especially the Jasmine rice and the incredible mixed brown rice that could have been a meal on its own.
Because Banyan Tree Bangkok prides itself on being an urban resort, it is no surprise that the spa on property is award-winning. The sparkling crystal “bamboo” aisle welcomes you into a holistic space that offers signature treatments originating from the Royal Thai Palace, and the Tropical Rainmist experience is a unique experience offered at this spa. There is a meditation sphere on property for sitting still and yoga.
What to See and Do in Bangkok
It doesn’t take long to realise that the Chao Phraya River is a major thoroughfare in Bangkok, it is busy, busy water highway for both commercial and recreational purposes. As a result, being on the river in some capacity is a must when you visit this city and the best way to do this is a lunch or dinner cruise or to commute by water taxi.
Cruise the Mighty Chao Phraya River
I enjoyed a beautiful lunch cruise courtesy of Supanniga Cruise while I visited Bangkok a few weeks ago. This 40-seat cruise treated my group to a unique lunch experience which included a 6-course meal of artfully created Thai cuisine. We began with fried Thai Mackerel wrapped with Chaptu leaves, then enjoyed a three-part appetiser including minced pork stir-fry with garlic and peanuts, spicy minced chicken salad served in a crispy cup, and Surat Thani’s crab meat with Thai herbs dressing accompanied with crispy catfish. The soup course followed with Tom Kha Pla Krapong Mapraow-On, a sea bass coconut soup with young coconut meat in it.
This was followed by an abundance of sharing plates that included: stewed, tender pork with Thai herbs and cha muang leaves, crispy leaf fish in a spicy dressing, “Son-In-Law Eggs” which are fried medium-boiled eggs served with three-flavour sauce and friend shallots, jumbo “River” prawn sautéed with Thai sweet and spicy curry and a blend of crabmeat and pork seasoned and steamed inside crab shells. The dessert was one of the most beautiful, and delicious, mango sticky rice dishes I’ve ever had. The final course was a delicate course of traditional Thai sweets of petits fours and tea.
We floated down the river as we enjoyed our meal and sipped accompanying wine and bubbles, entertained by the Joe Louise Puppet Show, a local puppet troupe, and the too-good-to-be-true scenery of Bangkok’s riverside on both sides of our cruise. I highly recommend an opportunity or adventure that gives you a river view of the city, and Bangkok takes this very seriously so there are many options.
Visit Bangkok’s Must-See Temples
Bangkok is a temple city, like much of Thailand, the temples are beloved and no weekend in Bangkok would be complete without a visit to some of the most beautiful temples, or “Wats” in and near the city. Wat Pho and Wat Arun are two popular and incredibly beautiful temples to put on your short list. It is important to know that proper attire and temple etiquette is required to visit these monuments. Shoulders and knees should be covered, and in some cases close-toed shoes are required, it is proper to remove your shoes when entering the temple and to never show the soles of your bare feet while inside.
Wat Pho, also known as the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, or Wat Phra Chetuphon is a must-see for any first-timer to Bangkok. It is the largest temple complex in Bangkok with a golden reclining Buddha that is 46 meters long and covered in gold leaf. There are many temples, pagodas, stupahs, Buddhas and even a Thai Massage school in this complex, along with daily yoga classes in one of the adorned courtyards. You can spend a full day here, easily.
Wat Arun, also known as The Temple of Dawn, is an iconic temple in Bangkok to visit. Whether you’ve seen it reflecting the dawn’s light with a pearly iridescence or sparkling in the sunset light just before it lights up, this temple is indeed a jewel in Bangkok’s velvet purse. This 17th century Buddhist temple has stood the test of time and reigns and just endured another huge renovation in 2017. The colourful porcelain tiles, sea shells, green granite, ceramic and other materials that make up this temple’s appearance blend beautifully and regally into a tribute to Shiva with many deities, gods and other symbols paying tribute to stories and beliefs in the Buddhist faith.
Read our guide to more of the top temples in Bangkok and beyond
Where to Shop in Bangkok
Bangkok is a shopping city. But not the typical kind of shopping; the best shopping in Bangkok is market shopping and the markets in and near Bangkok are world-famous.
Many people write about the flower markets in Bangkok, and for good reason. Most of us cannot consume or purchase all that we find, want and love at the flower markets because they are markets filled with perishables but it is a feast for the eyes and a sign of the prosperity of Thailand and this city. My favourite thing about visiting the flower market is watching local artisans hand-tie and craft the beloved temple flowers and other varieties that are sent around the world. The care and value of flowers in the Thai culture is a beautiful thing to witness. The abundance of these flowers is staggering; piles of orchids in every colour, bunches of peonies that smell so good you could eat them, more chrysanthemums than you could ever count, and each one gets loving care and a happy home. The street food and fruits and vegetables at the flower market are worth your attention too, you can sample delicacies not found anywhere else in the world while shopping in the fragrant aisles, but watch your toes because it is a busy, busy place with many bikes, carts and wheeled baskets zipping in and out with piles of goodness for delivery.
Chatuchak Weekend Market
The Chatuchak Weekend Market is a serious market for real shoppers, covering 27 acres this market has more than 15,000 booths selling everything you could ever imagine and things you couldn’t ever imagine. 200,000 visitors visit this market each day, the market is only open on Saturday and Sunday and most of the vendors are locals selling goods from local factories. I was amazed at the fashion, variety and abundance at this market and completely overwhelmed in a good way with sensory overload – it was a great place to do holiday shopping and I found many new treasures at a bargain price which is why the locals love this market, and tourists do too.
Amphawa Floating Market
Probably one of the most famous markets and coveted Thai experiences when visiting Bangkok is the Amphawa Floating Market just over an hour outside of Bangkok. Thanks to Instagram, this market is well-captured, and I loved learning that it is indeed just as you see in the pretty pictures: a unique Thai experience which feels like you are going back in time. The wooden boats, river shops, local houses, vendors and merchants and even the women who cook Pad Thai aboard their floating kitchens are all part of this authentic experience. The best way to experience this market is to get into a long-boat taxi or hired boat and drift among the market traffic by water, floating up to shops and past coconut ice cream, fresh river prawns on a skewer, and even local fashion – it is a shopper’s delight and a truly incredible cultural experience.
How to Stay Active in Bangkok
Bike Ride to Bang Kra Jao
One of the most beautiful active things you can do near Bangkok is explore the “Green Lung” of Bangkok by bike. The island of Bang Kra Jao is an inner city oasis of Bangkok and untouched by city developers hence its nickname the Green Lung.
I took an incredibly beautiful bike ride with Let’s Go Biking Thailand half a day with two guides that are local to the area and very knowledgeable, it was the absolute perfect way to see this island and be active. By easily managed mountain bike we made our way through the local streets, along the river and canals and even along the “Emerald Way” where the local, and famous, Bangnampueng market welcome visitors each weekend.
We found ourselves riding through the 100-acre Sri Nakhon Kuenkhan Park, a giant oasis of ancient trees, lakes and shade pavilions and arched bridges that looked like Thai’s version of a Monet painting. It was breathtaking, and an incredibly welcome juxtaposition from the bustle of Bangkok’s urban landscape. Our guides brought us to the edge of one of the lakes before we left the park and handed us fish food to feed the fish who were waiting and have come to count on the visitors in the park for their daily meals. The splashing and jumping and gobbling was fun to watch.
We ended our bike tour with lunch at a local restaurant where I feasted on the most delicious vegetarian kaffir lime and lemongrass soup I’ve ever tasted along with many, many other traditional and local Thai dishes.
Learn Muay Thai at Krudam Gym
Muay Thai is a must do while you are in Bangkok and Krudam Gym is the perfect spot for a private lesson with the owner Dam Srichan or one of his teachers, all competitive Muay Thai athletes. I had no idea what an incredible workout this boxing sport is and it was an absolute luxury to have a professional all to myself for this lesson, it is the quintessential Thai experience and I highly recommend you try it.
Pat Bailey is a certified Bhakti Yoga Teacher, published poet, writer and entrepreneur with a passion for exploring the globe. Pat is also the founder of The Hell Yes Life, where she has created her own branding academy helping to elevate brands and students through authentic and intuitive coaching.