Electric and chaotic, Bangkok is teeming with a dizzying variety of sights and activities. But what should you do if you're in the city only for a short time? Here are our suggestions for quintessential Bangkok experiences that can all be done in one day.
Visit a Temple
The Grand Palace and Wat Po are the major temples on every Bangkok to-do list. But with overwhelming crowds throughout the day, they are victims of their own notoriety. You can still experience Bangkok's magnificent temples on a tight schedule by going a bit off the beaten path. Wat Suthat, a stunning temple in the Old City, is home to a bronze Buddha more than 25 feet tall. The main hall is impressively decorated in floor-to-ceiling murals that date from 1850 and depict the Jakata Tales, stories of the previous lives of Buddha. More than 150 smaller but just as spectacular Buddha statues decorate the cloisters surrounding the complex. When you’re ready to depart, don’t forget to admire the giant swing right in front of the temple.
Go on a Canal tour
Bangkok is known as the Venice of the East, thanks to its winding network of canals. Known as klongs, these waterways used to be the main means of transportation in Bangkok and are still a back alley to local life. It's not unusual to see modest shacks next to modern townhouses as you cruise along the waterways. There are also temples, restaurants, and other sites that are accessible if you're looking to stretch your legs and explore. Wat Khuha Sawan, a temple just off Klong Bangkok Yai, is also a Buddhist monastery and offers a more intimate temple experience. Private tours are your best bet to visit the klongs; some hotels offer these tours as well.
Try Some Street Food
Bangkok is synonymous with street food, and for good reason. Everywhere you turn, there's a food stall hawking all sorts of mouthwatering dishes. From pad thai, som tam, and mango sticky rice, to more adventurous fare like balut (fertilized duck eggs) and durian, Bangkok has no shortage of options to sample. If you're shopping on Khao San Road, you might as well stop to grab a bite, as this street is just as noteworthy for its street food. Although vibrant at any time of day, Khao San Road really comes alive once the sun goes down, and that includes a multiplying bevy of food options. Venture over to Chinatown for appetizing delicacies that go beyond Thai cuisine. But don't limit yourself to these two locations; a turn down any street corner or bustling alleyway will yield busy food stalls offering satisfying culinary rewards.
Enjoy a Puppet Show
The ancient art of Thai puppetry is still an active tradition in Bangkok. Elaborately carved puppets are each manipulated by several puppeteers on the same stage. The puppets act out traditional folk tales, resulting in delightfully emotive storytelling that transcends any language barrier. Avoid the touristy theaters and check out a more unique experience at Baan Silapin Artist's House. This artist's collective space sits on Klong Bangkok Yai, in an open-air canal house with rustic wooden decor that, although renovated, is more than 200 years old.
For the rest of the best things to do in Bangkok, like how to have a memorable (and not regrettable) tuk tuk ride, visit Fodor's.