5 Days In Bangkok: Our Budget-Friendly Itinerary
Hey guys! I took off on a mini-vacay to Bangkok, Thailand last month, and while I was able to share some fun travel moments on the 'Gram, I wanted to put together a more in-depth travel itinerary for anyone that might be interested. I definitely scoured the web for tips and blog posts prior to take-off--a few of my fave Bangkok guides being this one and this food-focused one--so figured I'd also add my (very brief!) recap to the internet archives.
Okay, so here's the scoop. I had never been to Thailand, let alone Bangkok, and I'd heard from a few friends who'd been before that you can get through most Bangkok must-sees in three days...any longer, and you might risk boredom. Well, I have to respectfully disagree. Yes, it's easy to wrap up your temple and palace sightseeing in a day (unless you are like REALLY into temples--I was done after two, but YMMV), and yes, the place is crawling with tourists, but as someone who loves to shop and eat and walk around and people watch (give me a busy market over a beach any day!), Bangkok was an ideal destination. It was also incredibly cheap, which always helps matters, so my hubby and I were able to do so much on a relatively tight budget. That said, all those 100-baht dresses DO add up, but I still did half the damage on my wallet than I might have done elsewhere. With all that said, here are the details:
Flight And Hotel Details:
We booked a flight and hotel package via Gate 1 Travel. The package was part of a sale that I spotted in a Travelzoo email newsletter, which included round-trip airfare on Air China (with a stopover in Beijing), airport-to-hotel shuttle and six nights, five days at the Novotel Bangkok Fenix Silom and daily breakfast for what ended up being $687 per person. (Travelzoo is my go-to for travel deals--I highly recommend subscribing to their Top 20 newsletter, especially if you're on the lookout for affordable options!) Overall, I was super impressed with Gate 1--despite our arrival flight being over an hour and a half late, a Gate 1 employee was at the Bangkok airport to greet us and guide us to our shuttle, and on departure, prior to leaving the hotel at 3am, Gate 1 and Novotel made sure we had a breakfast box and fresh fruit to help tide us over on the way to the airport. As someone who gets hangry easily, this was much appreciated!
Having wifi made it incredibly easy to get around Bangkok, so I highly recommend shelling out for a prepaid SIM card if you have an unlocked phone. We each opted for a 7-day SIM card for 299 baht, or just under $9 (there are also longer options). The SIM cards are available at the airport after baggage claim and at some 7-11 convenience stores, and all you need is your passport to purchase one. Just be sure to keep your existing SIM card somewhere safe so you don't lose it!
Other than one obligatory tuk-tuk ride, we used Grab and Uber to get around the city. While Grab was more affordable than Uber (and didn't require credit card info), both apps were significantly cheaper than the local taxis, since we were clearly foreigners and most taxi drivers refused to turn on their meters for us. The apps also saved us the awkwardness of having to haggle, and the GPS mapping made it less likely for there to be any miscommunications regarding our destinations. We also took the MRT subway system while there, and it was super cheap and very easy to navigate, and it's probably your best bet during rush hour.
Our flight got in super late and we didn't make it to our hotel room until 4am, so we spent our first day sleeping in and being pretty jet-lagged. We decided to ease into things with a traditional Thai massage (550 baht, or $15.30 for two hours) at Healthland, a big massage chain with locations all over Bangkok. The Sathorn-based location we visited was seriously massive, with a soothing spa-like atmosphere, and our masseuses were super nice. But just FYI, a traditional Thai massage is pretty much the opposite of soothing--my masseuse was totally merciless, relentlessly kneading and pounding every knot in my body, so I spent most of the two hours trying not to cry, haha. That said, it's definitely an effective massage method, since my shoulders, neck and back felt 100x better during the remainder of the trip!
We spent the rest of the afternoon/early evening just wandering around the Silom area until we got hungry, then hopped in a tuk tuk and headed to Thip Samai, generally regarded as one of the top pad thai spots in Bangkok. There was a bit of line when we got there, but it moved quickly, and while waiting, we were totally entertained by the Thip Samai cooks, who do their thing in kitchen set up right on the front sidewalk. If you go, make sure to try their pad thai wrapped in an egg, and don't forget to order the fresh squeezed OJ, which I think I enjoyed even more than the noodles.
After Thip Samai, we wandered a little further down the street to a food stall called Tee Yen Ta 4, and my hubby and I ordered a spicy noodle dish to share, chrysanthemum tea and some mango and sticky rice, all for a couple of bucks. So good! Our stomachs full, we headed home.
Feeling super refreshed, we woke up bright and early and started our sightseeing. Our first stop was The Grand Palace. Despite getting there shortly after it opened, the place was absolutely MOBBED by tourists, but the palace was so beautiful that the crowds and heat didn't sway us from staying a lot longer than anticipated.
From there, we headed to the Buddhist temple Wat Pho, which is walking distance from the Palace. We checked out the famous (and huge!) Reclining Buddha, but I was equally impressed by the overall temple complex, which had lots of gorgeous stupas and some amazing architecture. Just as at the Palace, we spent much more time here than I thought we would. Too many good photo ops to miss!
After Wat Pho, we headed over to the pier and took a ferry across the Chao Praya River to Wat Arun, aka Temple of Dawn. (Taking the ferry was ridiculously easy and cheap, and this blog post was a big help in figuring out where/how to catch it.) Unfortunately, much of Wat Arun was under construction when we were there, so there was a lot of scaffolding, but since we were exhausted and the heat was starting to take a toll, we were happy to keep our visit a short one. One quick note regarding temples: Make sure you're dressed conservatively--most temples require you to have your legs and shoulders covered. I wore a maxi skirt and quarter-sleeve top just to play it safe. You also have to remove your shoes at times, so make sure to wear shoes that slip on/off easily!
We spent the remainder of our afternoon relaxing at our hotel pool, and then walked over to Somtum Der to satisfy my craving for papaya salad. We ordered it at a regular spice level, and I consider myself able to handle some pretty solid heat, but man, it was SPICY. (You've been warned.) It was crazy delicious, though, so I powered through the spiciness and ate it all anyways!
We woke up early again and headed to the Chatuchak Weekend Market. We made the mistake of taking a cab there, since it was a little far from our hotel, and ended up snarled in some crazy bumper-to-bumper traffic. (We made sure to take the train on the way back!) Now, I've been to my fair share of markets and malls in Asia, but nothing mentally prepared me for the amazing awesomeness that was Chatuchak. I've never been to a market this big, with this much variety--within the first ten minutes we had already purchased freeze dried durian, a set of string lights and an iced coffee. We also ended up with vintage denim jackets, bags, tons of trendy clothing, personalized passport holders and sunglasses, all purchased at crazy low prices. And even if you aren't a big shopper, I still recommend Chatuchak, so long as you're got a tolerance for both intense heat and crowds. It's got some great people watching (tons of locals and tourists alike!), and the street food is ridiculously amazing. We were obsessed with the coconut ice cream and watermelon smoothies, and also feasted on lots of noodles and seafood. There was also a man selling the most delicious fish balls of all time, and I would give an arm and a leg to get a bag of them delivered to me in NYC right now.
After Chatuchak we were pretty spent, so we lounged around the pool for a bit before heading to Tealicious for dinner. We had Massaman curry, green curry and some amazing pineapple fried rice, and even though this ended up being the most expensive meal of our trip, it still only came out to $25.
Another day, another market. This time we took a cab further outside the city to the Khlong Lat Mayom floating market, which we decided to go to after reading this droolworthy blog post. To be honest, I only spotted a couple of actual boat hawkers at this market, so it was less a real "floating market" and more like a regular land market surrounded by canals. Regardless, this was definitely THE market for foodies, and we ended up having the best time trying all different kinds of delicious things. The salt-crusted grilled fish--which ended up being my favorite meal of our trip--is a must-have.
While at Khlong Lat Mayom, we opted to take the 100-baht boat tour around the canals, which, despite being a total tourist trap, was actually really fun and totally worth the fare. Our 1-hour boat ride featured a couple of stops, including one at a Buddhist temple and another at an orchid farm, but the most interesting part was just seeing all the residential homes that lined the canals and people just going about their everyday business.
After getting back from the market, we relaxed a bit and made the last minute decision to get tickets to a Muay Thai event at Rajadamnern Stadium (tickets were super easy to buy online). We purchased "Second Class" tickets for around 1,500 baht, or $42, each, making this our most expensive activity of our trip, but it ended up being a pretty fascinating experience, even if you--like me--are not the biggest Muay Thai enthusiast. We also noticed that most of the tourists at the event opted for the pricier "Ring Side" seats, but honestly, the Second Class seats also had a great view--the ring was directly eye-level--and we had an even better view of an adjacent section packed with serious (and very vocal!) gamblers, who were sometimes more entertaining to watch than the fighters.
We spent our last morning and early afternoon in Bangkok at the Sompong Thai Cooking School, which was definitely a highlight of our trip. I've always loved Thai food, but I'm not very talented in the kitchen and the idea of making authentic Thai dishes on my own always seemed daunting. But thanks to Sompong, I actually came home to NYC and was confident enough to make my own curry paste from scratch! Our class was pretty long and hands-on (we were at the school from 9:30am-2pm!), but the Sompong instructors made everything super enjoyable and simple, and the time flew by. The class included a trip to a local grocery market, a thorough segment on Thai ingredients and spices and plenty of opportunities to chop, mix and stir up delicious dishes like chicken curry, cashew chicken and Thai fruit salad. (The instructors were also kind enough to snap Instagram photos on everyone's phones!) After cooking, we got to eat what we made and, despite my beginner level status, everything tasted AMAZING. Best of all, the class was only 1000 baht, or $28, which I thought was a total bargain for such a fun experience. So if you have around 5 hours to spare in Bangkok and love to cook and/or eat, I can't recommend the Sompong Thai School enough!
After our cooking class, we headed straight to Platinum Fashion Mall, which I had been dying to go to. Platinum was completely insane, and I couldn't believe how many little clothing stalls were crammed into the huge complex, and how many great deals there were. Entire stalls full of dresses for 100 baht ($2.80)?!? YES PLEASE. I kind of had a bit of a shopping blackout while I was here, so my memory is a little hazy, but I do remember being tempted to buy a whole second suitcase just so I could buy more stuff. That said, there are a few caveats to Platinum Mall, so I wouldn't recommend it for everyone. A) The styles of clothing here are definitely on the trendier and more youthful end of the spectrum, so if you're looking for timeless, quality investment pieces, this probably isn't the mall for you. B) Absurdly, most things sold here are "one-size", meaning that if you aren't a size XS or S, it will be difficult. Some pants and jeans are available from XS through L or XL sizes, but I--a size 6 in the U.S.--was pushing my luck with the XLs. As you can imagine, this is tough and maybe also not so great for one's self image! And C) You typically cannot try things on before buying them. I did end up finding a nice woman at one stall who let me take some jeans into a nearby restroom to try them on (the restrooms do have "changing room" areas), but this was not the norm. Of course, the prices are so low that even if you're uncertain about fit, it's likely worth the small risk. Despite those caveats, I had the best time at Platinum, and if you're someone who loves hunting for gems at Forever 21, H&M or your local thrift store, this is the Bangkok mall for you.
After we closed out Platinum, we walked around the Pratunam shopping area and perused the night market vendors that had popped up outside. We kept on walking until we found a little Tom Yum food stall, which we noticed was doing brisk business with the locals. We decided to give it a try, and I'm so glad we did, because our Tom Yum seafood noodle soups were ridiculously cheap and delicious and nearly sold out after we ordered. We grabbed some Chang beers which, paired with our spicy soups, made for a perfect last bite in Bangkok.