Passing through Bangkok? Even if it's not the primary destination on your trip to Thailand, you won't regret getting out there and seeing as much of this chameleon-like city as you can. Bangkok local Brian Spencer has some prime itineraries to make the most of your time there, be it 24, 48 or 72 hours. These trips include plenty of downtime, but if you're the ambitious sort, you'll still have the opportunity to hit many of the city's highlights.
One day in Bangkok
Ease into your day with a cup of coffee (and a swim in your hotel pool if you've got one), then find your way to Jim Thompson House. Thompson was an American entrepreneur who, amongst many things, played a key role in the Thai silk industry's resurgence in the '50s and '60s. His beautiful Thai-style dwelling is located between the National Stadium and Ratchathewi BTS stations: take a short guided tour of the house and grounds (100 baht), soak up the leafy-green ambiance, and browse the high-quality silk shop.
Siam Paragon is just a short walk away. Though often billed as a high-end shopping destination, Paragon is also one of Bangkok's best (air-conditioned) food meccas. Take your time wandering the first-floor food court and the adjoining stalls and restaurants - there's no shortage of choice. After you've eaten your fill, browse the bountiful Gourmet Food Market and pick up some snacks or culinary souvenirs, then shop the department stores upstairs.
Exit from the second floor and stroll along the Skywalk westwards until you see the busy Erawan Shrine on the corner of Ratchadamri and Rama 1. After checking out the shrine (and dancers), walk down Ratchadamri until you hit Bangkok's most-popular green space, Lumphini Park. Try to time your arrival between 4:30 – 5:30pm, when it's cooler and the locals are out en masse (the resident monitor lizards, however, may have already retired for the day). Linger here for sunset.
Freshen up at your hotel if you're staying in the area, but if not take a taxi from Lumphini to Central World Plaza for dinner. The sixth and seventh floors are packed with fantastic restaurants: Kuu (Japanese bistro), Kum Poon (Isaan Thai), and Heiroku (affordable sushi) are all standouts. Finish the day with cocktails and sweeping views of the city from the 55th floor at Red Sky, situated on top of the connected Centara Grand Hotel. Long pants are required for men; jeans are fine.
2 days in Bangkok
Today you're going temple-hopping in Old Town. Take the BTS to Saphan Taksin station, then hop on the Express Boat upriver to Tha Tien pier, where you can transfer to the ferry across the river and explore iconic Wat Arun, or proceed directly to Bangkok's most popular tourist sites: The Grand Palace and Wat Pho, home to the 46m-long reclining Buddha.
This will take at least a few hours: if you're still game for more temples afterwards, take a short taxi ride to peaceful Wat Shutat. If not, head straight to May Kaidee for lunch - whether you're vegetarian or not, you'll leave raving about the spectacularly flavourful Thai dishes.
Spend the rest of the afternoon resting up, then taxi out to raucous Tawandaeng German Brewery, just outside the city center. Delicious Thai food, home-brewed beers and an unforgettable stage show make this a night to remember. Get there between 7:30 and 8pm and ask for a table in front of the stage (or call ahead to make reservations).
If you have 3 days in Bangkok
If your third day falls on the weekend, wake up early and beat the crowds (and heat) at the labyrinthine Chatuchak Market, a small city of stalls packed with everything imaginable. It's only open on Saturdays and Sundays, though, so if it's a weekday, seek out the frenetic Sampeng Lane Market instead. It snakes its way through Chinatown, with stalls galore and mouth-watering food appearing around every bend.
Drop your shopping bags back at the hotel, then take a taxi to Thanon Convent (or the BTS to Sala Daeng station) and splurge on a heavenly two-hour oil massage at Ruen Nuad, located in a romantic wooden house just off the main road. It'll only cost around $35US (but don't forget to tip your masseuse).
Wrap up your day with a trip to Cabbages & Condoms. Yes it's popular with tourists but its enchanting garden setting, kitschy décor and surprisingly sophisticated cuisine will win you over; plus all proceeds benefit sex education and HIV prevention initiatives. After dinner in the twinkle-lit courtyard, it's time to chill out even further with one of our five picks for where to drink with the locals.