Bangkok. A city that truly never sleeps. Tuk tuks roam the roads and colourful neon lights on every corner. Having visited Bangkok a whooping 16 times with each stay 2-3 days in length, I’ve learnt my way around Bangkok pretty well. And I absolutely adore Bangkok. Thai people are so lovely, the shopping is fantastic (and cheap!), and the food is so delicious. Recently a friend asked me what to do on a 10 hour stopover in Bangkok. “Should I even leave the airport?”. My answer was an overwhelmingly loud “YES”. It is absolutely possible to visit the city, and make it back to the airport in time for your next flight. So here is my guide to a quick stopover in Bangkok!
I wouldn’t recommend leaving the airport unless you have more than 6 hours between flights. When you pull it apart, it’ll take about 1 hr to clear immigration, 1.5 hours travel time (to and from the airport) and 2 hours before your next flight. With more than 6 hours any of the below itineraries are possible. So what things can you do when you have more than 6 hours between flights in Bangkok? Lots of things! Here are my 3 suggested routes.
FIRST OF ALL, THE TRAFFIC
Bangkok is the only city in the world that I have ever missed a flight from. I also had other 2 very near misses. The reason why I missed my flight was because of traffic. Bangkok’s traffic is incredibly dense, that can leave you stuck in a traffic jam forever! Google maps might say the journey is just 20 minutes, but this is simply not the case. My recommendation is to double whatever Google maps says, or allow 45 minutes to 1 hour as a rule of thumb.
If it turns out there isn’t much traffic, you’ll be there early. However, it’s more than likely that there will be a traffic jam, which always seem to exist. I honestly think peak hour is every hour. It can take a long time to get around. I’ve fallen asleep in taxi’s countless times, and have woken up still not anywhere near my hotel. My number one piece of advice, use public transport by taking the BTS Skytrain or the MRT Subway as much as possible, and walk!
GETTING TO THE CITY
When you land in Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport take the Airport Rail Link downtown. After you have cleared immigration and baggage area, go to the lowest level. You’ll find a few ATMs and currency exchange along the way if you need to get some Thai Baht. I recommend having cash as most places mentioned below simply don’t have credit card facilities. Go down the ramp and buy a train ticket from the vending machine, ฿45 Baht one way ($2 AUD). They have storage facilities to leave a bag behind for a small fee. Head down the escalators, and you’ll be downtown in just 35 minutes. Trains depart every 15 minutes.
A taxi will take longer as you’ll likely hit a traffic jam once you get off the highway, and are usually around ฿400 Baht ($15 AUD). The Airport Link train is really the way to go from Suvarnabhumi Airport.
If you have arrived at Bangkok Don Mueang Airport, you’ll need to take a taxi. Unfortunately there are no public transport options. Allow for 1 hour to downtown.
So without further ado, these are my suggested things to do during a quick stopover in Bangkok.
ROUTE 1: SHOP-SAGE
Take the Airport Link to Ratchaprarop Station (the second last station), and head south down Ratchaprarop Rd. To know which way is south, look for the skyscraper with the gold dome ontop – that’s the way you want to walk.
STOP 1: MASSAGE
Massages are a must in Thailand, and this is my favourite cheap massage parlour in Bangkok. If I’m staying in the Pratunam area, you can guarantee I’ll swing by here. There is no funny business here, no pestering, just great cheap massages in an air conditioned building.
This massage parlour is called Maithai and is found on the overpass of Ratchaprarop Rd, near Indra Square. The building on the outside has baby pink and white diamond pattern cladding. You can only enter the massage parlour from the top of the overpass, so head up the stairs and you’ll find the entrance on the left side of the road. The parlour has a foot massage area upon entry.
At the back, there is a staircase to a whole level of private massage beds. Very relaxing. A tip of about 20% is always appreciated. Depending on how much time you have, I recommend getting a 1 hour Thai massage, and a 1 hour foot massage. The cost will be ฿400 Baht plus tip (about ฿150 Baht).
I literally can’t think of anything better to do on a stopover in Bangkok. Whether you’ve had a rough flight or just you want to relax after some shopping, have a massage. Or, stop by on your way back to the airport. Just leave enough time 😉
Maithai is open daily from 10am to 10pm.
STOP 2: PRATUNAM MARKET
If you want a true market experience, Pratunam Market is a good start. Head here for fashion with cheap prices. Pratunam market isn’t huge, but has the very essence that is replicated throughout most markets. You’ll find all your typical fashion items like t-shirts, skirts, dresses, and even formal dresses or suits! You can even find some fantastic costumes in the section closer to Petchaburi Road.
Prepare for the heat, this market is out with the elements underneath a hot roof. There are fans lining the market ‘streets’. Expect to have vendor upon vendor saying “Madam, I give you discount”. To me, this is probably the most iconic saying in Thailand and, secretly… I love it.
If you want to just have a look, be wary of engaging in any bargaining or ask how much it is. The people here are quite friendly, but keep in mind that you might be the only tourist that stumbles across their stall for the day. It can be somewhat frustrating for them if you suddenly don’t want to buy. Be friendly and say “just looking”.
If you do want to buy something from the market, never accept the first price they give you. It will always be extremely inflated. Bargaining is so much fun and is definitely a game. My bargaining tip for Thailand is to offer half of the starting price. By no means will they ever accept it, and this gives you enough room to work your way up to meet at a decent mutual price. They love bargaining, so don’t feel bad. It’s how it’s done in South East Asia.
STOP 3: PLATINUM FASHION MALL
This is my favourite mall in Bangkok as the size is not too overwhelming. The concept of this mall is market. Market means one thing. Bargaining. Have fun with the concept. Owners are more than happy to offer you a discount on their goods, especially if you are buying multiple things.
The levels of the mall are themed in each category of goods. For example, a whole level of shoes, handbags, hair accessories, and clothing.
In the past, I’ve managed to find some awesome hair accessories, handbags and even shoes. The price you pay is the quality you should expect. Handbags generally have flimsy lining, but what can you expect for ฿400 Baht ($15AUD)? All in a good days work for cheap fast fashion.
If you want to buy shoes and your shoe size is 38 or larger, you may struggle. Most stores typically cater just for the Thai people who have tiny feet! Sometimes you can find 39, 40, but larger is almost impossible at markets. If you want to buy shoes, you’ll need to head to a proper department store, not a market.
And when hunger strikes, head up to Level 6 where you’ll find the best Banana and Nutella crepes in Bangkok. The batter is light and crispy, and is made freshly to order. Hit the stand up near the escalator.
The food hall uses a pre-loaded coupon card system. Just find the little kiosk to get some money loaded on. And don’t worry, if you put too much on your card. You can get it all refunded at the end if you have money left over. Or if you are feeling like sushi, Fuji Restaurant does an incredible “Caterpillar roll” with avocado. Simply delicious.
Open daily from 9am to 8pm.
STOP 4: CENTRALWORLD
CentralWorld is the sixth largest shopping mall in the world. It’s focus is on trendy fashion targeted at youth.
You’ll find all your typical international brands like Zara, Uniqlo, the 3rd largest H&M in the world, Topshop, MNG, CK Jeans, Guess, Charles and Keith and so many more that this list would become ridiculous.
The biggest draw card to Central World is Zen, a department store that spans over 7 levels. You can find anything in this store! They have a fantastic sports section, which I somehow always end up spending an unbelievably long amount of time in. I’ve also never left empty handed.
You can easily spend hours here just walking around. I always enjoy coming here when I’ve had enough of the markets and don’t want to be hassled anymore. And don’t worry, your credit card is welcome here.
You’ll find plenty of restaurants from Level 5 and up, a Food Hall, a cinema complex and even an adjoining hotel, Centara Grand (which is absolutely worth it if you ever need a hotel in Bangkok 😉 )
Open daily from 10am to 10pm.
GETTING BACK TO THE AIRPORT
Don’t be mistaken of thinking that you’ll take a taxi faster than you’ll walk. Trust me, the traffic on Ratchaprarop Rd is dense. The photo below is taken on the overpass just outside CentralWorld. Believing this traffic jam was short term was my downfall that one fateful day. I missed my flight. The walk back to Ratchaprarop Station from CentralWorld should take about 20 minutes.
Keep in mind that the train departs for the airport every 15 minutes, and takes 35 minutes.
ROUTE 2: SHOPPING
Take the airport train to the last station, Phaya Thai and switch to the elevated rail BTS at Phaya Thai. Take the BTS two stations to Siam.
This route should be based around when you want to eat. If you have just eaten or don’t feel like eating soon, follow the suggested order. However, if you are hungry after your flight, switch MBK and Siam Paragon.
STOP 1: MBK
Once you get off the train, enter into the Skywalk and head towards MBK. The Skywalk is open from 6:00am to midnight (it’s free don’t worry). A lot of people use this path to get around the Siam area. Usually it isn’t too crowded, and is far more comfortable than walking at ground level. Plus you won’t have to deal with cars and tuk tuks hounding you. The Skywalk will direct you into Siam Discovery and Siam Centre as the way to walk to MBK. Just walk through these malls, you can stop by on your way back. Eventually, you’ll come outside again, above an intersection. Follow the signs into MBK.
MBK is a market based shopping mall. There are thousands of stalls inside. Bargaining is strongly encouraged. You can even buy furniture here (who would have thought!). My favourite area is Level 6 which has tonnes of souvenirs and cultural Thai items. Think items like incense, candles, plates, lamps and even lotions just to name a few. You can buy all the pashmina and silk scarves to your hearts desire here.
MBK also has dedicated areas for electronics, fashion, bags, shoes. You can get a mix of quality here. I bought a fantastic leather bag here years ago that to this day is still in fantastic condition. Just take care by some of the escalators. On one of the floors there is a dried food vendor next to the escalator selling dried fish, and the smell is quite potent. Move quickly!
STOP 2 & 3: SIAM CENTRE + SIAM DISCOVERY
The Siam Centre and Siam Discovery are much smaller malls. To be honest, I prefer to shop at Central World as all the brands I like are there, and stop at Siam Paragon for the food. So, I usually use these malls purely as an air conditioned walkway between MBK and Siam Paragon.
STOP 4: SIAM PARAGON
Featuring a seriously elaborate food hall taking up most of the ground level and a huge aquarium, Siam Paragon is where I come to eat when shopping. This is a high end mall, targeted towards splurging international visitors and the wealthy Thai.
When hunger strikes and you’re feeling a sweet tooth, there is a Haagen Dasz Cafe that does delicious ice cream desserts. Or if you want a proper meal, you can dine at one of the many restaurants or in the dining hall with plenty of choice to choose from. No need to worry about food hygiene here, everything is top notch.
For the fashionista within, you’ll find many luxury fashion labels like Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Prada and Versace on the ground floor in prime position. On the first floor, you’ll find more standard international labels like Zara, MNG, Gap, H&M and Massimo. You’ll also find many luxury lifestyle brands like Bang & Olufsen, Bose and even a Maserati showroom. You can pay by credit card in Siam Paragon.
STOP 5: CENTRALWORLD
If by some miracle you haven’t had enough yet and still have time to kill, exit Siam Paragon back onto the Skywalk, and walk to CentralWorld. Don’t be mistaken and take a tuk tuk, you’ll walk there twice as fast.
For more details about CentralWorld, see above in Route 1.
ROUTE 3: I WANT TO SEE SOMETHING
Now if you don’t want to go shopping and want to visit a temple, there is plenty to see directly in Bangkok.
Take the airport train to Phaya Thai, and then take a taxi to the Grand Palace. The taxi journey should take about 40 minutes and will cost around ฿150-200 Baht one way.
STOP 1: THE GRAND PALACE
Having visited some of the world’s most spectacular castles and temples, the Grand Palace in Bangkok is most definitely high on my recommendations list. The Thai have taken great care in preserving the beauty of the Palace. It is absolutely, jaw droppingly gorgeous.
As the Grand Palace is considered a place of worship, appropriate clothing is required. Shoulders and knees and must be covered. They say that you should cover your ankles too, however on my visit flip flops were fine. My advice is to wear something long and light. For girls, a maxi dress with short sleeves, and for guys, light Capri pants and a t-shirt.
If you don’t wear appropriate clothing, you will be asked to rent a wide scarf that you wrap around and make a skirt, to cover your knees, and/or a shirt to cover your shoulders from the office inside the Grand Palace complex for ฿200 Baht per person. When you return the clothing, you’ll be refunded, so it’s essentially free.
A word to the wise; the shirts are very basic short sleeve shirt that are massive and not very attractive. I strongly urge you to wear a t shirt and not rely on this option. However, when it comes to covering your knees, renting a scarf is quite a decent option. You see, it gets very hot in Bangkok. You will be outside the entire time with little to no reprieve from the heat. There are a few shady areas, but these are all still outside. Therefore, if you wear shorts, having the Scarf wrapped around ontop isn’t so bad as you still have some circulation to work with. You can also fan the material when you get hot.
The Palace covers a huge area that is contained in 4 tall walls. Inside you’ll find an elaborate temple cladded in golden embellishments, stunning blue sapphires and hundreds of statues of Buddha. The doorways are crafted to the finest detail, set upon walls that literally are covered in traditional patterns, filled with stones and details that just need to be seen to be believed. Gold, gold and more gold, it truly is incredible to see.
As with any popular tourist attraction, be prepared for it to be busy and crawling with tourists. If you get there first thing in the morning as it opens, it won’t be as crowded or quite as hot.
Take your time exploring all the beautiful buildings within the grounds. There are many beautiful gates and entry ways that just scream take a photo of me. My favourite photo moment is by the giant guardian statues.
Make sure you buy a water bottle before you go in. You’ll be amazed how much you can drink when it’s so hot. You can’t buy any within the Grand Palace, so bring enough in with you. Overall, I would allow 2hours to explore the elaborate grounds.
Entry fee is ฿500 baht per person. The office only accepts cash. Make sure you have enough.
Open daily from 8:30am to 3:30pm.
STOP 2: WAT PHO (RECLINING BUDDHA)
Once you’ve finished your visit to the Grand Palace, exit and walk to the right. A few hundred metres down, basically across the road from the Palace is the golden reclining Buddha of Wat Pho.
Again, you’ll be asked to dress appropriately here. If you aren’t, they have bright green dressing gowns to lend you. Embrace it!
It is one of the largest and oldest temples in Bangkok. On the grounds are divided into residential area for monks and on the other side is a chapel. Inside, you will find the Reclining Buddha, which represents the entry of Buddha into Nirvana and the end of all reincarnations.
The golden Buddha is 15m high and 46m long. It’s quite the impressive monument, take some time to look at the carvings and symbols that make up the 108 panels that piece it all together.
On the left side of the temple you’ll find 108 bronze bowls representing the 108 characters of Buddha. Feel free to drop in some coins into the bowls. It could bring you good luck and also helps maintain the grounds. I would allow about 30minutes for your stay here.
Open daily from 8:30am to 6:30pm.
Entry fee ฿100 Baht
GETTING BACK TO THE AIRPORT
When you are done, make sure you allocate at least 45 minutes to get back to Phaya Thai station, if not more. The last thing you want to do is be stressed that you’ll miss your connecting flight.
Keep in mind that the train departs for the airport every 15 minutes, and takes 35 minutes.