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What to Do in Bangkok: Your Ultimate 7-Day Itinerary

Bangkok is a dichotomy of urban and ancient: a doozy of Anthony Bourdain-approved street food, whip-fast tuk-tuks, vibrant night markets, centuries-old temple complexes, and arguably the nicest locals you’ll ever come across. Fresh off a trip to the buzzing metropolis, JS contributor Chelsea Stuart breaks down exactly what to do in Bangkok when you've got a full week at your disposal.

A Brooklyn-based writer and editor, Chelsea's work has appeared in Matador Network, The Huffington Post, the TripAdvisor blog, and more. When not planning her next trip, you'll usually find her drinking way too much iced coffee (always iced—she’s from New England) or bingeing a Netflix original series.

See recent posts by Chelsea Stuart

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Day One: Check In and Relax

Flying into Bangkok is no joke; those coming from the US travel 20+ hours before landing at Suvarnabhumi Airport, and from there, you’ll likely get stuck in at least a little gridlock traffic en-route to your hotel. The city has its fair share of high-rise accommodations, but none are as sleek or ultra-modern as the AVANI Riverside, with its open floor plans, stark white linens, and floor-to-ceiling windows. Relax at the rooftop infinity pool, which possesses one of the most commanding views of metropolitan BKK from the western bank of the Chao Phraya, or go for a traditional Thai massage at the spa to relieve any flight-related muscle kinks. At night, once you’re well-rested, the scene heats up again on the 26th floor as guests and locals pour into Attitude, the hotel’s lounge-style hangout. Or, if you’d like to get a tiny taste of the city rather than custom cocktails, hop on the hotel ferry for a 10-minute cruise to the eastern side of the river, where the Asiatique night market buzzes with aromatic food stalls, live Muay Thai bouts, high-spirited tchotchke vendors, and locals on the hunt for dinner.

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Day Two: See the Essential Monuments

On your first full day in Bangkok, there are some things you just have to see—especially if you’ve never been before. Hail a tuk-tuk and arrange with the driver to make stops at Wat Arun (the Temple of Dawn), the Grand Palace, and Wat Traimit (the Temple of the Golden Buddha); they’re all within 15 minutes of one another. Between the three auspicious sites, you’ll find enough glittering spires, Khmer-style towers, buddha statues, and meticulously manicured courtyards to fill an SD card or blow through your iPhone’s 64GBs of storage.

Finish your night in the Phra Nakhon district, a 10-minute ride north, with egg-wrapped Pad Thai at Anthony Bourdain-approved spot, Thip Samai. But be warned: long before Thip Samai was featured on No Reservations, locals were already lining up around the block in anticipation of fresh Pad Thai Haw Kai Goong—a dish made with rice noodle and prawns. Be prepared to wait at least a half-hour as patron after patron orders their share. As you loop your way from the sidewalk to the restaurant, you’ll see firsthand how the dish is flash-wrapped in egg in a wok over a raging charcoal fire before being served up with sides of palette-cleansing bean sprouts, chili flakes, crushed peanuts, and lime.

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Day Three: Essential Monuments Part 2

The following day, it’s time to finish what you started re: monuments. First up is the Wat Po temple complex, home to 95 intricate porcelain pagodas, nearly 400 buddha images, an array of inscriptions preserving ancient Thai wisdom, and, of course, the Reclining Buddha. Make sure you wear pants or a skirt that extends past your knees and something that covers your shoulders (or bring a scarf) so you can enter the temple, take in the mammoth 151-foot gilded Buddha, and join the procession of visitors dropping coins (for good fortune) in the 108 bronze bowls that line the hallway.

Midday, head an hour north to the Ayutthaya Historical Park. The ancient city was Thailand’s second capital before being burnt to the ground by the Burmese army and abandoned in the 1700s. Today, you’ll find an extensive archaeological site marked by temple and monastery ruins.

If you’re up for round two of Wat Po, head back at night for a completely different experience. The complex is technically open until 11 p.m., but this isn’t common knowledge, so you’ll probably only run into a few in-the-know visitors. Free admission, no crowds, and seeing the temples sparkle under spotlights is quite special.

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Day Four: Food, Food, and More Food

Bangkok lives and breathes by the Chao Phraya river, which bisects the city into east and west and flows more than 225 miles into the Gulf of Thailand. Head to Central Pier (Sathorn Pier) and catch a river taxi; for about 10 to 30 baht (29 to 87 cents), the boat ride can take you to every major attraction along the water including Chinatown, Pak Khlong Talat (the flower market), Little India, all of the temples, and more.

In the afternoon, hop aboard a Bangkok Food Tour. Via tuk-tuk, a tour guide will whiz you around town scoping out Bangkok’s best (read: authentic) eats like Guay Tiew Kua Gai (stir-fried rice noodles with chicken). Tours are themed, so you can take your pick of bar crawls, best midnight eats, Yaowarat Street food (Chinatown), even bizarre food challenges.

Think you’re ready for a little nightlife? Khao San Road, also known as backpacker central, is a favorite among night owls. Neon lights radiate off of street vendors and make-shift sidewalk bartenders who crowd the streets in anticipation of visitors. Whether it’s a club pumping house music, a laid-back dive bar, or an internationally influenced drinking hole, you’ll find it here.

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Day Five: Hit ALL the Markets

Bangkok is arguably unrivaled when it comes to markets. Morning, noon, and night, seven days a week, the city plays host to some of the biggest and the best. Early risers should hit Damnoen Saduak Floating Market first. Yes, it’s gotten a bit touristy over the years, but it’s worth seeing—the market is enormous and explodes with fresh fruits and veggies and photo ops around every corner. Alternatively, the Amphawa Floating Market has held onto its authenticity. But go early—the area is absolutely swamped by midday.

In the afternoon, head about an hour southwest of the city for the Maeklong Railway Market. Like other markets, Maeklong hawks colorful produce, dried seafood, local sweets, and cheap clothes, but unlike others, it sets up shop around a fully-functioning railway. Multiple times a day, an alarm sounds to warn of an oncoming train, but blink and you’ll miss the vendors’ unflustered dash to retract their stall awnings and pull their wares away from the tracks.

At night, it’s time for Pak Khlong Talat, Thailand’s largest wholesale 24/7 flower market, set along Chak Phet Road. Despite how well-known the market has become, it’s rare to find any groups of tourists here, so you won’t need to fight for space as you peruse enormous bouquets of orchids, roses, and marigolds; hand-strung garlands; and ceremonial Buddhist arrangements.

RELATED: 8 Incredible Flea Markets Around the World

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Day Six: Tour Off-the-Beaten-Path Bangkok

If off-the-beaten-path experiences are what you’re after, check out HiveSters for a tour through one of Bangkok’s many hidden neighborhoods. During walk through Chinatown’s Talad Noi, led by a local auntie, you’ll uncover a maze of street-food-filled alleyways and fast-paced motorbikes, old school noodle producers, hole-in-the-wall medicinal shops, intricate shrines, and tight-knit neighbors. Plus, you’ll get to taste-test Chinese delicacies and sip on bagged iced coffee and Thai iced tea all the while.

If you somehow reserve room for dinner, head to Jay Fai, Thip Samai’s neighbor in Phra Nakhon. This restaurant is a one-woman show, where 70-something-year-old Jay Fai stands at the helm of two fire-engulfed woks. Order your meal and walk around the side of the building to catch her cooking at warp speed in a protective beanie and ski goggles. Don’t miss her specialty—pàt kêe mow (drunkard’s noodles) tossed with generous chunks of seafood.

Up for another night out? Sukhumvit Soi 11 attracts an expat-heavy crowd ready to rage until morning. The area is full of buzzy mega-clubs and trendy rooftop bars, but Soho Hospitality’s Havana Social tops our list thanks to its pre-revolution Cuban décor, strong signature cocktails, and rotating DJs spinning Latin and Afro-Cuban beats.

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Day Seven: One Last Adventure

As your jam-packed week comes to a close, you have two options: go the relaxing route with a picnic and people-watching in Lumphini Park, or fit in one last adventure and hit the Chatuchak Weekend Market (which is actually open Wednesday through Sunday). Plopped in the middle of the urban city center, Lumphini is basically Bangkok’s answer to NYC’s Central Park—complete with cycling trails, a man-made lake featuring swan paddle boats, and handfuls of playgrounds. If you need to grab some last-minute gifts, though, Chatuchak is your go-to, and just 25 minutes from the airport. What you’ll find: more than 15,000 stalls hawking goods—antiques, ceramics, clothes, spices—from every corner of Thailand.

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