How to spend a perfect long weekend in Bangkok
Charming yet chaotic, hectic and holistic, Thailand's capital offers a clash of contrasting experiences that make it mesmerising. In a city that caters for all travel delights, deciding how to spend a perfect long weekend in Bangkok can be overwhelming. From the classic to the contemporary, we are here to guide you.
Discover old Bangkok and its illustrious regal history
Settled in 1782 after the sacking of former capital, Ayuthaya, Bangkok has grown to be one of the most populous and popular travel destinations in Southeast Asia. So it would be remiss to not take in the Grand Palace and old town, Ko Rattanakosin.
The palace has been the official residence of the kings of Siam since their inception in the 18th century and the striking Chakri Mahaprasat (Grand Palace Hall), inspired by European and Thai architecture, showcases this recent regal history. Within its vast grounds bordered by white walls, Borombhiman Hall and Amarindra Hall are two other highlights. As the complex is Bangkok’s number one tourist attraction, early risers will be rewarded if arriving by its 8.30am opening time.
Come lunchtime, the surrounding streets are lined with street food stalls peddling simple, often spicy Thai dishes, including, of course, pad thai (an essential eat). If you prefer a seated affair, head to Err, which serves traditional Thai with a twist within a refurbished shop house on a quiet soi (backstreet).
Post lunch, cross the road to Wat Pho in search of the Reclining Buddha. This impressive 46m-long gold statue within the temple’s eight hectares of ornate grounds, make this complex a must-do on any Bangkok traveller’s itinerary. The site houses the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand, plus is the headquarters for the teaching and preservation of traditional Thai medicine. Here you can indulge in a traditional Thai massage in one of two air-conditioned salas (parlours) – part of the renowned massage school in-situ since 1955.
Next zip from Zen to the heady streets around the budget traveller haven of Khao San Road. A pilgrimage for backpackers for decades, it continues to be a beacon for the good (street food), the bad (behaved), and the ugly (tacky souvenirs). Yet don’t be deterred. Tuck into some dinner, then follow this self-walking pub-crawl tour that guides you to key locations to explore (/drink) in this central neighbourhood come nightfall.
Explore Bangkok’s Chinese origins via its markets and drinking dens
Start your morning at Chatuchak Weekend Market the largest of its kind in Thailand with an estimated 15,000 stalls clambering for your baht. From fragrant herbs to fashionable – and cheap –attire, there is something for every shopper at bargain prices. The village-sized lot (14 hectares) is configured into sections from plants to pets, fashion to food, creating a maze like market to get lost in. Beyond goods, there is an array of food stalls whipping up traditional Asian dishes from satay sticks to wok fried noodles, while cheap Chang beer can be found from bar stalls scattered throughout the market's makeshift lanes.
Next, head to Chinatown to continue the organised chaos. Start on Yaowarat Road, the neighbourhood’s main strip; it's where you’ll find gleaming gold shops sharing the sidewalk with food stalls that keep serving a constant stream of hungry customers until the twilight hours.
Largely untouched by Bangkok’s current explosion of gleaming new developments, Chinatown offers classic Asian charm and is a go-to to for dim sum at institutions like Hua Seng Hong, who have been steaming their handmade creations for over 60 years. Take a swift history lesson at Yaowarat Chinatown Heritage Center within Wat Traimit temple complex, which recounts the wave of immigration to Bangkok in the 19th and early 20th centuries through multimedia displays. Once thoroughly enlightened, head to the temple’s top room where the Golden Buddha – a 3m-tall, 5.5-tonne, solid-gold statue sculpted in Sukhothai style – resides.
Finish your day hanging around hip Soi Nana, where a number of speakeasy-styled bars have recently shaken up an otherwise quiet street. Take refuge in the red light warmth of Ba Hao, a 70s inspired drinking den housed in a reclaimed corner shop with expertly concocted cocktails such as 'Opium' – a take on the classic Negroni laced with Chinese Ginseng and herb liquor. A few doors down, Teens of Thailand serves only gin-based concoctions from its tiny bar within a living room-style set up.
Unleash Bangkok’s silky past plus shop-til-you-drop in fashionable Siam
With an illustrious past on par with a Bond film, Jim Thompson lived a life made for celluloid. A silk trader and CIA operative, Thompson made his fortune exporting Thailand finest textiles, and mysteriously disappeared in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia in 1967.
At his former home – a collection of traditional teak houses on stilts – rooms remain as their former master styled them, and are viewed via multilingual guided tours. Its gift shop offers silk items to take home for a more refined souvenir. Having had a good nose, snake across the soi (side street) to YELO House, a warehouse-styled showroom nesting café, store, modern gallery, and music space under one roof.
A self-proclaimed ‘multi-function space for creative people’ it’s a secluded stop between Siam sites and showcases current, contemporary Bangkok. Take a pew by the window at café, Thirsty You, for a light bite, or if a little famished, grab a table upstairs at Hungry Me, an all day dining restaurant.
Post lunch, it is shopping time in Siam. Thailand is renowned as a destination to flex the plastic and its glitzy malls in Siam cater to every sized credit limit, whether it's the cheap stalls at MBK Centre, luxe labels at Paragon or left field designs at Siam Discovery.
Save any remaining baht for a final cocktail at sunset from a rooftop. Go all out Hangover style at Sky Bar on the 64th floor of Lebua, its view majestic over the Chao Phraya River. Or if you prefer to go even higher, Thailand’s current tallest building, King Power Mahanakhon, opened its awe-inspiring SkyWalk in late 2018, 314m above Bangkok’s busy streets. A two-tiered observation tower houses the city’s highest rooftop bar and a 63-square-metre glass tray floor with panoramic 360-degree views. The Peak on the 78th floor, with its cushioned tiered seating, is ideal come dusk to toast to your perfect weekend in Asia’s 'City of Angels'.