The Ultimate Bangkok Vacation
Judy & Glenn Tudor
Food & Wine
Many visitors to Bangkok only stay for a couple of days until heading south to the beaches or north to Chiang Mai and/or Chiang Rai. What people are missing is a Bangkok vacation. This vibrant city comes with a vast collection of luxury hotel options, amazing food choices (ranging from street food to Michelin-starred restaurants) and numerous new luxury malls. For culture, the palaces and temples bring a historical perspective from the only Southeast Asian country never to be colonized by any European countries. Last but not least, the Thai people are some of the most authentic and warm individuals who will endear you to return to the Big Mango time and time again.
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Where to stay Bangkok, Thailand
Waldorf Astoria Bangkok
Design-forward Bangkok hotel with a luxury spa, golf course views and an outdoor pool with floating cabanas looking over the city's business district.
$100 hotel / resort credit.
Upgrade & extended check-in/out whenever possible.
Four Seasons Hotel Bangkok at Chao Phraya River
Urban sanctuary in Bangkok's creative district featuring sweeping river views from the outdoor lap and infinity pools, inventive cuisine and green courtyards.
When you book Four Seasons through Fora, you will enjoy exclusive Four Seasons Preferred Partner benefits. Your advisor will be pleased to give you more details.
Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok
Legendary hotel on the banks of the river with a stunning dining room and impressive suites well-known to the Mandarin Oriental name.
$100 hotel / resort credit.
Upgrade & extended check-in/out whenever possible.
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Things to do Bangkok, Thailand
Either do a formal tour of the river (with stops at temples and markets) or just a casual boat ride along the river and canals. It's a wonderful way to see many temples and neighborhoods from the river perspective.
The ICONSIAM is a brand-new shopping mall that opened in December 2020. It is located in a beautiful location along the Chao Phraya river (and can be visited directly by boat if you stay at a hotel on the river). This multi-level mall has all of the luxury branded stores you would expect at a high-end mall and even has a famous Japanese department store – Takashimaya. Insider tip: the food court on the ground floor is themed as a traditional Thai market and is the perfect spot to try "street food" safely and in comfort before venturing out to the actual streets.
Chatuchak Weekend Market
Considered the largest market in Asia, Chatuchak is spread over 35 acres and caters to a wide range of items, from animals to one-of-a-kind household goods to clothing of all kinds. Not to mention the food options! Even if shopping is not your thing, the people-watching and spectacle of the market make it a must-visit. Insider tip: the market is pronounced as “Jat-u-jak”, which is helpful to know when asking for directions or if you are taking a taxi or tuk-tuk.
The Grand Palace is famous as the official home of the king of Thailand for hundreds of years. However, the current king resides elsewhere, so this palatial complex is open to visitors. Located on the Chao Phraya River, this is one of the main tourist attractions in Bangkok because of the grandeur and artistry of the buildings and statues, along with the rich history of ancient kings.
Arguably the most famous temple in Thailand, this temple is on the other side of the river from Wat Pho and the Grand Palace complex. First-time visitors to Thailand need to include this iconic landmark in their sight-seeing, similar to seeing the Eiffel Tower in Paris or the Colosseum in Rome. Insider tip: for amazing sunset and night views, it's worthwhile to stop by the Sala Rattanakosin, directly across the river from Wat Arun. The view from their rooftop bar is unbelievable.
Known for housing the Reclining Buddha statue, which is over 150 feet long, Wat Pho is next to the Grand Palace complex. One of the reasons it is so famous is that Thai massage is said to have been founded by Buddha's physician at the temple. If you happen to visit Thailand during Thai New Year (which is actually in April), there is a huge celebration held at the temple. Insider tip: there is a major Thai massage school on the temple grounds where you can have an hour-long massage for roughly US$12.
Spas in Bangkok
You absolutely cannot visit Thailand and not visit a spa. Spas are ubiquitous in Bangkok and, compared to most of the world, are astonishingly cheap. Thai massage, which is done with your clothes on and is a technique involving mostly stretching, can be as little as US$10 for an hour. Even massages within luxury hotels are very affordable compared to the US. Thai masseuses take their jobs seriously; these will be some of the best massages you have ever had. That's not even an insider's tip, that's just a fact.
This temple is not on most tourist tours and is great to visit for fewer crowds while still seeing an ornate Buddhist temple. The Marble Temple also houses 52 statues of Buddha in his many poses, many of the statues brought here from all over Southeast Asia.
Bangkok City Pillar Shrine
Considered the heart of Bangkok, this shrine is for locals to come and pray for prosperity to the city spirit. This is a good spot to visit if you are interested in seeing a less "touristy" spot and want to observe local customs and traditions.
Bangkok is a shopper's paradise. There are numerous outdoor markets like the Srinakarin Train Night Market (popular night market), Pak Khlong Talat Flower Market (selling flowers and vegetables/fruits) and Jodd Fairs Night Market (which isn't actually a night market and has great food). There are also plenty of air-conditioned (you will see the importance of this when you visit) shopping malls such as Central World, Siam Paragon, MBK Center and Terminal 21 (a cool travel-themed mall where each floor is based upon a city like Paris or Istanbul).
Hua Hin: Approximately a 3-hour drive from Bangkok, this beach resort town is perfect for a one- or two-night stay to enjoy some beach and relaxing time during a Bangkok trip. Some great hotel options include The Standard Hotel (which just opened in December 2021), Anantara Resort or (our personal favorite) the Hyatt Regency Hua Hin. Hyatt Regency is not a luxury brand but this property exceeds its brand reputation.
Ayutthaya: The ruins from the ancient kingdom of Ayutthaya are about 1.5 hours from Bangkok. Ayutthaya was the kingdom before Thailand. For history and culture buffs, there are multiple temples and palaces that are up to 700 years old, some which are still in working condition, having been restored.
Bridge over River Kwai (Kanchanaburi): This bridge is about a 2.5 hour drive from Bangkok and was made famous by the academy award-winning movie "The Bridge Over River Kwai" in 1957. For movie fans and history fans alike, luckily this famed bridge was not blown up in real life like it was in the movie and still stands today.
The Peninsula helicopter transfer: The Peninsula Hotel is the only hotel in Bangkok with a helipad on the roof and is licensed to transport guests. What this means is that, for a more modest fee than most would expect, when you arrive at Suvarnabhumi Airport (Bangkok's main international airport), you and four of your closest friends can catch a helicopter and arrive at The Peninsula Hotel in style. They even have a very plush lounge on the roof, only for VIP guests who arrive and/or depart by helicopter. What a way to arrive in Bangkok and get an aerial tour of the city while skipping the always busy traffic.
RAKxa Wellness & Medical Retreat: Just outside Bangkok, about a 45 minute drive, is the RAKxa Wellness Retreat. Located in the middle of Bang Krachao, a protected jungle area where there are no buildings taller than two stories. RAKxa is an all-inclusive resort that focuses on wellness to improve your physical, mental and emotional health. Set around a lake, there are 60 spacious villas for guests to enjoy a wide range of treatments from various spa therapies, modern and traditional healing and holistic healthy living techniques. For people who want to relax and be surrounded by nature but still have luxurious accommodations, activity options, great dining and a focus on overall wellness, this would be a nice two or three stay during an overall Bangkok trip.
Places to eat & drink Bangkok, Thailand
Le Normandie: A 2-Michelin Star restaurant that offers French cuisine for lunch and dinner. Located in the renowned Mandarin Oriental Hotel with sweeping views of the Chao Phraya River, this restaurant is pricey for Bangkok but is worth every Baht. Insider tip: this restaurant requires men to wear a sports coat or jacket, ask the concierge at your hotel to borrow one if you don't normally pack formal coats.
Nahm: A Michelin-star restaurant, Nahm offers Thai food for lunch and dinner. Located in the COMO Metropolitan Hotel, this restaurant has a rather low-profile and relatively casual atmosphere where going with the prix fixe menu is the way to just be surprised and delighted by their modern take on Thai cuisine. Try the "Angry Beef", a stir-fried wagyu beef dish that was delicious.
Yu Ting Yuan: A Michelin-star restaurant located in the new Four Seasons hotel, this restaurant features an open kitchen serving Chinese (Cantonese) food. Must-haves are the Barbequed Pork with Honey Sauce and Signature Fried Rice.
Thipsamai: This restaurant is located 20 feet away from the world-famous Jay Fai (the only Michelin-star street food vendor). The restaurant is considered the oldest Pad Thai restaurant in Thailand and is committed to making Pad Thai with original recipes and ingredients. No reservations and the lines can be long but it's worth it for this Thai experience. Get in line for Jay Fai for her acclaimed crab omelets if you are still hungry afterward.
Front Room: This relatively unknown restaurant is located in the Waldorf Astoria and offers a Thai menu that is just delicious. The flavors of the dishes were amazing and the entire experience was well worth the visit. If you are looking for traditional Thai food in a fine dining atmosphere with impeccable service, this is the place.
SOOKSIAM: This indoor food court is themed as a "floating market" even with canals and boats. Highlighting food from around Thailand, there are food stalls offering all types of Thai food in a street market atmosphere. Great spot to try Thai foods that you may be a little leery of trying at actual street markets.
Yaowarat Road (Chinatown): Yaowarat Road is the main street running through Chinatown and at night, it transforms into a foodie's paradise. One lane is closed so people can walk since the sidewalks will be filled with food carts and stalls. The stunning variety of food displayed is incredible to see and this street marketplace is popular with locals and tourists alike. Even if you don't come to eat, this is a must-visit to see the wonder of people and food.
Beirut Restaurant: This is a bit of an outlier for this list but this small family-owned chain of Lebanese restaurants has grown from one restaurant to multiple locations since the mid-2000's. The food they serve is delicious Lebanese food (many people just consider it Mediterranean cuisine), it's relatively inexpensive, and good food is good food. If you have a craving for something besides Thai food (and please don't say you've been eating western food this entire time), this place is worthwhile.
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