Welcome to this carefully tailored itinerary packed full of Thai culture, suitable for any style of traveler visiting Bangkok for a couple of days! I love having a deep cultural experience and I’m not about trying to see a hundred things in one day just to see them. So, the itineraries I make are more oriented toward slow travel.
If you’re not a slow traveler, you can totally take what I’ve suggested here and cram it into a quicker-paced itinerary of your own liking. I have a curated list of the best things to do in Bangkok that might help you in that case. But if you love slow traveling for culture and history purposes, too, this itinerary would be perfect for you!
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Are you ready to visit Thailand?
As of October 2022, neither a COVID test nor proof of vaccination is required to enter Thailand. Check HERE to see whether or not you’ll need a visa.
If you’re like me and are uncomfortable being in a country without knowing any words, check out my guide to the best 25 phrases to know before you go.
Dressing up for the day
Every temple has a pretty consistent dress code, but Wat Phra Kaew is well-known to be the strictest of them all. You can check out my FREE E-Book for a complete dress code that applies to ALL the temples. You can never go wrong with it!
Getting from the Sky Train to Wat Arun (8:00-8:30 am)
There are 2 separate train systems in Bangkok, the Sky Train (BTS) and the subway (MRT). Get a prepaid transport card that works for both systems HERE.
First, you want to get on the Silom sky train line to the BTS “Saphan Taksin (S6)” station right by the Chaopraya river. If you take a look at the map below, you will see that it’s linked to a pier called “Sathorn Pier.”
Any station on the map that has a branch with the letter “M” is a connection to the subway.
From Saphan Taksin station, you’ll want to take the stairs down Exit 2 and walk straight for a couple of minutes. Then you will find the Sathorn Pier.
At the pier ticketing booth, buy a one-way ticket for the ORANGE FLAG Chaopraya Express. The ticket is 15 Baht (45 US cents) for the ride regardless of the destination pier. You will want to get off at the “Tha Tien” pier (Labeled N8). The boat takes off every 10-15 minutes and the ride should take about 15-20 minutes. See the map below for reference.
Once you get off at Tha Tien, buy a ferry ticket for 4 baht (12 US cents) to cross the river to the Thonburi side. This should take 3-5 minutes tops. Getting off, you should be right in front of our first destination.
Wat Arun (8:30am-10:00am)
Also known in English as the Temple of Dawn, this temple got its name from the Thonburi King when he first moved the previous capital city to Thonburi and first saw its beauty at dawn. He initially it “Wat Jaeng” which means the temple of dawn in a simple spoken language, while Arun is a poetic Thai word for dawn.
Wat Arun is the oldest standing temple in the Bangkok Metropolitan area, built sometime before 1656. It also served as the royal chapel to the Kingdom of Thonburi, Thailand’s previous capital city (1767-1782). Therefore the previous house to the sacred Emerald Buddha that is residing in Wat Phra Kaew today.
The best time to see Wat Arun is either early morning or late afternoon. Being here at 8:30, you should see the main stupa beautifully lit by the morning sunlight hitting its front side.
Main Highlights at Wat Arun
- The massive main stupa which you can climb the stairs halfway up and walk around. Unfortunately, there is no interior. But you will get some beautiful skyline views of the Bangkok side of the river from up there.
- The Ordination Hall, the house of the magnificent Niramitr Buddha statue
Practical Information for Wat Arun
- Hours: Open daily 8:30 am-5:30 pm (If any local approaches to tell you otherwise, do not believe them. They are scammers trying to take you on a tour.)
- Entry Fee: 50 Baht/person (1.5 USD)
- Address: 158 Thanon Wang Doem, Wat Arun, Bangkok Yai, Bangkok 10600
Pad Thai for Brunch (10:30-11:15 am)
Street food and hole-in-the-wall local restaurants are such an integral part of the Thai culture, I simply can’t leave this one out. So, here we go!
From the main stupa area facing away from the river, walk along the tiny street that leads towards the back exit of the temple onto Thanon Wang Doem. (Thanon means street in Thai. So this is technically Wang Doem Street.)
Once you’re on the street, turn right without crossing the street and walk straight until you’re at the intersection of Wang Doem Street and Wang Doem 8 Alley. Cross Wang Doem 8, and on your right, you’ll find a local open-air restaurant called “Ple Pad Thai.” See the picture below for what it looks like!
This local choice is an absolute must when visiting Wat Arun. If you think your neighborhood Pad Thai was good, wait until you try this one. Don’t miss out on their famous Seafood Pad Thai, substituting the usual chicken with shrimp, squid, and tofu. Ah, and make sure to give it a splash of lime!
Practical Information for the restaurant
- Closed on weekends**
- Address: 160 Soi Wang Doem 8, Bangkok Yai, Bangkok 10600
Getting from Thonburi to Wat Phra Kaew (11:30 am-12:00 pm)
After enjoying your Pad Thai, walk back along the Wang Doem 8 Alley which will lead you right back to the Wat Arun Pier.
Grab yourself another 4-Baht ferry ticket back to Tha Tien (3-5 minutes ride). At Tha Tien, buy another ORANGE FLAG Chaopraya Express to get to “Tha Chang Pier,” continuing in the same direction you came this morning to the next station (N9). This should take another 5-7 minutes.
From Tha Chang Pier (N9), walk straight through the alleyway of street markets until you meet the vast city street of Old Town Bangkok (Phra Nakhon). Continue straight down the street along the opposite side of the humongous palace wall. Trust me, it is very noticeable.
The visitor entrance to the palace is called “Wiset Chai Si Gate.” It will be the second gate coming up on your right-hand side as you skirt along the palace wall. There should be a couple of guards in Khaki uniforms by the entrance. Just a side note: They tend to be very sweet and polite. I was very impressed with their work ethic!
Depending on the palace’s COVID protocols when you visit, the guards may ask you to continue walking to the COVID scanning station to receive a green sticker before entering. If this happens, the tourist lines are very clear and you should be able to follow anyone easily.
Wat Phra Kaew (12:15-2:15 pm)
The only temple in the city that doesn’t house any monks, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha serves as the current capital’s royal chapel. Monks are invited in only when religious ceremonies are held for the royal family.
It is also the strictest of all temples in terms of dress code. Please refer to my FREE E-Book for the complete guide on how to dress for Wat Phra Kaew.
If you are going when tourism is back in full swing, you may want to get your tickets in advance here to avoid having to wait in line for too long. The price comes with a guided walking tour as well, so you’ll get extra insights into the temple as well. Otherwise, a ticket costs 500 Baht (15 USD) for foreigners.
Once you’ve entered the visitor gate, you’ll be directed along the path until you get to the ticketing booth for the temple. There are restrooms to your right here. Please use it before entering the temple as there are none inside.
Main Highlights at Wat Phra Kaew
- The Ordination Hall and the Emerald Buddha
- This is the only place in the temple where photography is NOT permitted.
- The emerald buddha is the most sacred object in Thai culture. It is believed to influence the fortune and prosperity of the country. Only the current king is allowed to touch it.
- The Buddha statue has always resided in the royal chapel pertaining to the current capital city. It used to be in Wat Arun over 200 years ago!
- If a hat is worn, it will need to come off inside the Ordination Hall
- The golden stupa (Phra Maha Rattana Chedi)
- The Library (Phra Mondop)
- Entry is not permitted, but the exterior is stunning
When you’re ready to exit the temple, you will be led through a different path than the one you came in. On your way out, you will pass the Chakri Maha Prasat Royal Residence, which served the previous kings of Thailand up until 1910.
After the Old Royal Residence, you will see a magnificent white building in a courtyard of white stones. This is the Dusit Maha Prasat Royal Audience Chamber, considered a masterpiece of Thai architecture.
Practical Information for Wat Phra Kaew
- Hours: Open daily 8:30 am-3:30 pm
- Entry Fee: 500 Baht/person (15 USD)
- Address: Na Phra Lan Road, Phra Borom Maha Ratchawang, Phra Nakhon, Bangkok 10200
Coffee Break (2:15-2:30 pm)
… Or a heat break, whichever you wish to call it!
After the Audience Chamber, you’ll be forced to turn right and come face to face with a coffee shop (Yay!) called Doi Kham. Their iced coffee is GOOD. And will probably be what you need after a pretty intense day mostly in the sun.
Between the coffee shop and the palace grounds exit, you’ll come across another restroom in an alleyway to your right. I recommend splashing your face with quite a bit of water to freshen up.
Getting to Wat Pho (2:30-2:45 pm)
You have 2 choices here after exiting the palace back to the main street.
If you choose to walk a block over to Wat Pho, you can turn right and skirt along the east wall until you reach the entrance. This will take approximately 15-20 minutes. See the map below for reference. (It’s slightly closer to take the left turn, but going right, you’ll have a fantastic view of the Old Town governmental buildings as you walk over.
Tuk-tuks are always waiting at the exit of the palace as well. If you’d like to hop on one for experience, make absolutely sure they know you’re only going ONE BLOCK over, and get them to quote you the price BEFORE you get on. It shouldn’t be over 100 Baht (3 USD).
Wat Pho (2:45-4:30 pm)
Famous for the giant reclining Buddha, Wat Pho itself is also the biggest temple complex in the Bangkok Metropolitan area. Dubbed “The first public university of Thailand,” it is the birthplace of the UNESCO-listed Thai massage, another gem of Thai culture.
The entry fee is 200 Baht (6 USD), with a bottle of water included. Check out a directory map of the temple close to the entrance for where to go. Everything is labeled in both Thai and English.
Main Highlights at Wat Pho
From the entrance, you can head straight into the ordination hall in the middle of the grounds, enveloped by mini stupas and barriers. Inside the hall is the Buddha statue sitting on the gold base that holds King Rama I’s ashes. (The first king of the Chakri dynasty, which has ruled the current Kingdom of Thailand)
After the Ordination Hall, head on over to the Temple of the Reclining Buddha. Clothed in gold and measuring 46 meters long and 15 meters high, the statue is almost too big to fit into the sanctuary.
Notice the engravings on the Buddha’s feet. These are the 108 auspicious symbols of the Buddha, representing perfection, prosperity, greatness, health, etc.
Lined behind the reclining Buddha are 108 monk bowls where people would drop one coin into each, a practice believed to bring good luck. You can buy 108 coins with 20 Baht (75 cents) to get yourself a share of the good luck before leaving the sanctuary as well.
If you’re willing to spend extra time (or make time) for another cultural experience, you can get a traditional Thai massage session inside the temple grounds! Additional fees apply.
Practical Information for Wat Pho
- Hours: Open daily 8:30 am-6:30 pm
- Entry Fee: 200 Baht/person (6 USD), complimentary bottle of water
- Address: 2 Sanam Chai Rd, Phra Borom Maha Ratchawang, Phra Nakhon, Bangkok 10200
Happy Hour & Dinner (4:30 onwards)
Exiting Wat Pho by the same gate you entered, turn right, and head down the alleyway until you hit the main street. Cross the street and continue to the right for about 300 feet and go down an alleyway to your left. Your last destination of the day will be at the end of that alley.
Sala Rattanakosin is a small, low-key boutique hotel nestled in an unsuspecting corner, but the decorations inside are next-level class. This is part of this itinerary that I’m most proud of… it gives you the two best versions of Wat Arun. Here comes the sunset part!
If you get here before the Eatery opens at 5:30 pm, head on up to the 4th floor and enjoy a cocktail with a view of the river at the sky bar.
For dinner, you have the option to either sit on the first-floor terrace to be right by the river or sit on the second floor by the full-length glass window. The second floor gives a good view as well, but you’re a bit more removed than the terrace.
Make sure to stay until 6, because guess what… after the sunset, the main Prang of Wat Arun LIGHTS UP!
And that concludes the day around Old Town Bangkok, your daily dose of Thai culture. I hope you’re able to integrate it into your plans. But if you don’t have enough time in the city to dedicate a full day to this, you have the option to book a walking tour as well. This way, you will get a chance to see all 3 temples at a much faster pace.
If your budget allows and you’d like to stay around the temples area, you can book a room at Sala Rattanakosin here. The price ranges from 182-559 USD per night. Daily breakfast is included.