Staying in Khao San, Bangkok’s notorious backpacker district, has its ups and downs. The bad news is that taxis and tuktuks in the area refuse to turn their meters on, forcing tourists to pay a flat rate twice the actual fare. I was also attacked by bedbugs, and a drunk tourist banged on my door thinking it was his. The (very) bright side is that Khao San is located in the historical district of Phra Nakhon. Bangkok’s most beautiful temples were walking distance from our grubby street, as were colorful markets and all the street food our bellies could hold.
If I were to return to Bangkok, I’d stay somewhere else, perhaps a hotel nearer to the BTS or MRT lines. But I would definitely spend one day in Phra Nakhon to revisit our favorite spots. Here’s how I’d do it.
8:00 AM – Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn)
Wake up early. It’s worth it. Wat Arun is like a gleaming jewel along the banks of the river, its colorful porcelain tiles reflecting the early morning sunshine. The main tower stands at over 200 feet tall. A narrow, steep staircase lets the brave climb to the top.
Full disclosure: I only got halfway up before the fear of heights (or the fear of missing a step and tumbling down, more like) got to me. I climbed down slowly, knees shaking the whole time.
Before heading back, grab a fresh coconut. The small, brown ones have sweeter juice than the large, green ones. Trust me on this.
How to get there: Tha Tien is the pier across Wat Arun. Tourist rides are available but these are more expensive and have a loud yet hard-to-understand tour guide. Take the regular ferry instead: the quiet, 5-minute ride takes you directly to Wat Arun and costs just 3 Baht. Ferries leave every few minutes and tickets are never a problem. Entrance fee to Wat Arun in 50 Baht.
10:00 AM – Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha)
There’s no way to describe the Reclining Buddha other than breathtaking. The 43-meter-long wonder is covered with gold leaf and takes over the entire hall, jarring in size like a sleeping giant in a dollhouse. Drop coins in one of the bowls to support the monks who maintain the temple, and maybe get some good luck too.
How to get there: Wat Pho is right beside Tha Tien. Entrance fee is 100 Baht per person.
11:00 AM – Lunch at Tha Chang (Chang Pier)
Bangkok is famous for its street food—and for good reason. Tha Chang has an elevated walkway bordered on either side with stalls cooking stir-fried noodles, pad thai, and sticky rice to be served with ripe mangoes. Fresh fruit juices are sold by the bottle: Durian, dragon fruit, mango, pomegranate, you name it.
This is honest food, the kind where price does not determine quality. 100 Baht got me stir-fried rice noodles with shrimp and chicken, passion fruit juice, and a plate of sticky rice with mangoes.
How to get there: From Wat Pho, walk in the direction of the Grand Palace. Keep the Chao Praya river on your left side. When you reach the northern limit of the palace grounds, Tha Chang is on your left.
12:30 PM – Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha)
Everyone goes here, but don’t let your inner hipster tell you that’s a reason to skip this.
Wat Phra Kaew is a sprawling complex decorated with gold leaf and colored glass mosaic art. The Emerald Buddha itself is housed in a hall painted from floor to ceiling—art that’s at least 70 feet high. The downside is that Wat Phra Kaew is swamped with tourists day in, day out. It’s not as serene as
The Grand Palace, meanwhile, is mostly admired for the facade’s Thai-European fusion architecture. You can only enter a weapons museum on the ground floor. Quite macabre but still interesting.
English-speaking guides can be hired but are expensive. We got by perfectly fine by reading up on the buildings’ names and histories before heading out.
How to get there: The only entrance to Grand Palace is the main gate. It is open every day from 8:30 AM to 4:00 PM. Last entrance is at 3:30 PM. Do not listen to scammers who tell you otherwise and say other destinations like the “lucky Buddha” have a discount for the day. Go straight into the complex and only buy tickets from the office. A combo ticket to Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew costs 500 Baht per person.
4:30 PM – Explore Khao San
Khao San is a mess of loud bars and rowdy parties but even if you aren’t into those things—I’m know I’m not—the hole-in-the-wall diners and specialty shops are worth a visit.
One of my favorites is Cafe Pa Tong Go, which serves seafood noodles for 50 Baht and their star product, pa tong go. These deep-fried Thai crullers are traditionally drizzled with pandan-flavored coconut milk, but you can also dunk them in coffee or top them with homemade ice cream for 40 Baht.
Most street stalls at Khao San sell cheap, mass-produced clothes. If you want something different, look for Lofty Bamboo, a World Fair Trade Organization Asia certified member. They sell colorful handicrafts like quilted bags, embroidered tunics and silver jewelry from villages around Thailand.
How to get there: Khao San is a 10-minute walk north from the Grand Palace.
6:00 PM – Santichaiprakarn Park
Santichairprakarn is one of Bangkok’s few riverside parks. There’s a good view of the Rama VIII Bridge, which they light up at night, or you can come a little early and watch the sunset.
Do a quick Google search before your trip because many cultural events are held in Santichaiprakarn Park. We caught Bangkok Jazz Night by the River, a three-day jazz festival in honor of the king and his favorite genre of music. Entrance was free, and we were able to score rice boxes (sausage, dried shrimp, green mango strips, chili, lime) and juice made from edible flowers and coconut (you heard that right) for a cheap and cheerful dinner.
How to get there: Santichaiprakarn Park is a 10-minute walk from Cafe Pa Tong Go.