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Aside from the temperature and the local cuisine, pretty much everything about Bangkok is decidedly cool. The bustling Thai hub is one of those vibrant cities that leaves you feeling dizzy and weak in the knees—as though you’ve just finished whirling around inside a kaleidoscope full of colorful food, fragrant garlands of jasmine (Phuang Malai), and rainbow-painted riverboats. In short: it bursts with color.
You could spend weeks uncovering local treasures in the open markets that straddle the alleys and canals, day and night. Alternatively, you could also spend weeks dining at some of the world’s best restaurants, both decades-old hole-in-the-wall joints, and Michelin-starred fine dining establishments. Take a walk down any city street and you’ll probably feel some version of sensory overload, but we promise it’ll be the good kind.
Below, our top picks for the best things to do in Bangkok, even if you just have a single day to explore.
7:30 a.m.: Grab a signature Thai blend coffee at Charoen Krung Coffee Bar. Housed in a centuries-old building, this local haunt is no-frills and chock full of character. Sip your coffee on the third-floor balcony and rest your legs, as you’ll be spending the first half of the day walking around and exploring Bangkok’s street food scene. It’s going to be a two-cup kind of morning!
8:30 a.m.: Take a walking street food and boat tour with Bangkok Food Tours (opt for the Thonburi Food and Canals Adventure, and ask your guide to try a good local red curry, mango sticky rice, and Thai hot coffee). You’ll get to explore Thailand’s old capital, Thon Buri, home to numerous outdoor markets (the kinds that a tourist would likely never find on their own) and many temples. You’ll even get to take a boat ride through the canals and along the Chao Phraya River.
3:00 p.m.: Locals will tell you that a trip to Bangkok isn’t complete without a visit to Wat Arun. Located on the Thon Buri west bank of the Chao Phraya River, the historic site is one of the city’s most beautiful and storied Buddhist temples, made up of colorful spires that sparkle over the water. Known to many as the Temple of the Dawn, Wat Arun is just as beautiful to behold in the evening as it is at sunrise.
6:30 p.m.: With a wine menu and flavorful ingredients sourced almost exclusively from France, dinner at two-Michelin-starred restaurant Le Normandie is the creme de la creme of fine dining experiences in Bangkok. Opt for the eight-course Menu Degustation, through which you’ll taste elevated modern-French dishes from chef Arnaud Dunand Sauthier (think caviar with sea urchin, crabmeat from Brittany, and a cheese selection from the Alps). You’ll leave with eyes twinkling from the outstanding wine pairings and the opulent crystal chandeliers.
8:30 p.m.: Head across the river to the newly-minted mega-mall, IconSiam (you can go by way of Mandarin Oriental boat). We know—a mall after dinner? Sounds odd, but you’ll want to check out the evening floating market called Siam Sook, which is open until 10 pm and has every local product you could ever want (Thai curry spices, jade bracelets, and quick Thai massage, to name a few). You’ll find Sook Siam on the ground floor of IconSiam.
10:30 p.m.: If you’ve got any energy left, settle down at the hotel with a nightcap at Bamboo Bar—opened in 1953—for a killer cocktail and some live jazz (you can check the schedule in advance here). Try the Cashew Down South if you really want to get into the spirit of Southeast Asia.
11:30 p.m.: With a history that traces back to the mid-19th century, the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok (originally “the Oriental”), an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property, is one of the most historic hotels in Southeast Asia. While part of the hotel is currently on the tail-end of an exciting, months-long renovation (the River Wing will be opening in early October), the original Oriental building and a handful of the property’s esteemed restaurants are still open for business. Following a makeover in 2016 that revitalized the historic heart and soul of the Authors’ and Garden Wings, the Chao Phraya suites are the ones to book—opt for one of these spaces and enjoy a split-level suite decorated elegantly with Asian antiques, a luxurious and understated bathroom, and floor-to-ceiling views of the river and Bangkok’s glimmering skyline. Your room even comes with a personal butler.
Pro tip: If you’ve got time, be sure to snap some photos of the iconic Author’s Lounge, a stunning, white-washed tea room with a skylit ceiling, named for the famous authors that have graced the halls of the Mandarin Oriental Bangkok, like Noël Coward and Joseph Conrad. You can even stay in a suite dedicated to a handful of these writers.