Golden temples. Technicolour tuk-tuks. Shiny skyscrapers. Ten-storey video screens. Fire-breathing woks on street corners. Few cities make the head spin quite like Bangkok. And with Thai Airways offering dozens of daily flights direct to The Big Mango from top cities around the world, it has never been easier – or more pleasant – to reach. Settle in with authentic Thai meals and the famed warmth of Thai hospitality on every flight, and land in Bangkok well-rested and ready to explore its many wonders. (Find out more about flying with Thai Airways here.)

While the Thai capital offers enough extraordinary experiences to keep visitors busy for weeks, a determined traveller can just about tick off the main attractions in 24 hours. If you’re on a short stop, here’s how to do it.

6am: Rolling On The River

One of the most pleasant ways to start the day in Bangkok is with a leisurely long-tail boat ride around the atmospheric Thonburi klongs (canals). Located on the western side of the Chao Phraya River, the former Thai capital is a maze of charming waterways lined with wonky stilted houses, gilded temples, golden Buddhas, jasmine-bloom gardens and floating shops selling snacks and knick-knacks. Private and shared boats are available for hire at Sathorn Pier, or ask your hotel concierge to arrange a sailing in advance.

7am: Admire The Temple Of Dawn

Ask your long-tail driver to make a stop at Wat Arun. Otherwise known as the Temple of Dawn, the gorgeous compound is made up of numerous gardens, statues, shrines and wondrous Khmer stupas, surprisingly clad in Chinese porcelain plates and saucers. Its flowing forms are best seen glinting in the golden morning light.

8am: Visit The Grand Palace And Wat Po

With their bejewelled walls and twirly technicolour stupas, the Grand Palace and adjoining Wat Po Temple are two of Thailand’s most revered attractions – and rightly so. Both are filled with incredible architecture, with every inch seemingly adorned in jewel-toned tiles, glinting gold leaf, intricate hand-carvings and beautiful artworks. A private guide can provide illumination into the Buddhist symbols and meanings.

Get ahead of the inevitable crowds by arriving at Wat Po for opening at 8am; follow with the Palace, heading straight for the main draw: the ancient Emerald Buddha. Dressing appropriately – male and female shoulders and knees covered – will save you time queueing for rental garments.

Our Tip: Watch out for scammers: people wearing official-looking uniforms often stand outside Wat Po and the Grand Palace claiming the compounds are closed. The con-men then offer to take unsuspecting tourists to another temple, for a fee. Just ignore them.

11am: Stop And Smell The Roses

Within strolling distance of the Grand Palace and Wat Po temple, Pak Khlong Talat flower market whole-sales beautiful blooms by the bucketload – lotus, lilies, lotus, chrysanthemum, gerbera, roses and rare Thai tulips. Vendors also sell beautiful Buddhist arrangements called wai phra, set on gold-leaf plinths with a candle and three incense sticks at their centre.

12pm: Recharge With A Thai Massage

Also within walking distance, Chetawan Traditional Medicine and Massage School is affiliated with Wat Po Temple and offers the gold standard of Thai massage – this is where five-star hotel therapists are trained. Creaky neck, stiff shoulder, knotty calf? Chetawan’s expert therapists will sort it out. Massages are performed on the floor in a communal room while wearing pyjamas, and cost approximately USD12 for one hour.

1pm: Waterfront Lunch

This part of town is home to a number of brilliant riverside restaurants. Drop into the immaculately designed Rongros – think artfully aged chinoiserie walls, antique furniture, animal-print fabrics and crystal chandeliers – for memorable dishes such as tom kha banana blossom and chicken and coconut soup, chargrilled Isaan-style rib-eye with fiery dips, and garlic prawns as big as your fist. Or try The Never Ending Summer restaurant, housed inside an airy former godown, which has a Thai menu of lesser-known regional recipes such as cold watermelon with fish flakes and grilled river prawns with neem plant.

3pm: Tuk-Tuks And Thai Silks

Hail one of the capital’s multi-coloured three-wheeled tuk-tuks for a white-knuckle, wind-in-your-hair ride to the Jim Thompson House Museum. Honouring the eponymous American spy, who is credited for bringing Thai silks to the Western world after learning the craft from Bang Krua weavers in the 1940s (before disappearing under mysterious circumstances), the museum is spread across numerous buildings and gardens, including the secret agent’s former home – an antique Thai mansion decorated with tasteful art and sculpture.

Our Tip: Bangkok taxi drivers are notoriously shady, often tricking and massively overcharging tourists. Take the sting out of the game by downloading the free Grab taxi app (South East Asia’s Uber) and book fixed price rides online instead.

5pm: Siam Square Shopping

The riverside feels positively calm compared to Bangkok’s downtown Siam district, covering Siam Square, Silom and Sukhumvit. This neighbourhood is heaving with gigantic fancy malls, such as Siam Paragon, EmQuartier and CentralWorld, as well as massive indoor markets. Visit MBK for gadgets, knock-off designer goods and cannabis stands, and the Platinum Mall for 10 storeys of cut-price clothes, shoes and accessories.

Our Tip: Thailand is the first country in Asia to decriminalise cannabis, and dispensaries have sprouted up across every corner of the country. Tourists are permitted to buy cannabis but should note that smoking in public places is illegal and can lead to a THB25,000 (USD700) fine.

7pm: Food Tour Of Chinatown

Blending dragon-clad buildings with retro street signs, gold merchants, garish temples, noisy markets and some of the best eating in Asia, Yaowarat, as it’s known locally, has everything you could want on a street food tour. Work your way through its riotous streets on a culinary excursion with Take Me Tour feasting on puffy oyster omelettes, zingy crab noodles, grilled pork neck and yellow chicken curries along the way. Save space for the city’s best mango sticky rice.

9pm: Drink In The Views

Bangkok excels when it comes to rooftop bars. Among the city’s best vertiginous drinking venues are Bar.Yard., wrapped around the 40th floor of the Kimpton Maa-Lai; Cru Champagne Bar, an eagle’s nest on the 55th floor of the CentralWorld building; Flute, a Perrier-Jouët Lounge perched 64 storeys up the Lebua State Tower; and the spectacular 78th-floor Sky Beach at The Standard Hotel, set atop Mahanakhon Tower, the tallest building in Thailand. Guests of The Standard are given complimentary priority access; otherwise, entry and seating arrangements are on a first-come first-served basis, and you’ll need to buy a ticket at the downstairs office first – it pays to get there early.

[Photo: Sky Beach at The Standard Hotel]

11pm: Find Me In The Club

If you feel like the night is still young, pull on your dancing shoes and head to Silom Soi 4. This neon-lit alleyway is the epicentre of Bangkok’s gay scene, where gold-clad Beyoncés and diamond-encrusted Chers stroll among outdoor tables between performances. People of all persuasions are welcome, and everyone tends to roll around to the dance clubs on Soi 2 later in the evening.

Late: Hit The Hay

Bangkok never sleeps, but you should probably get some rest. If you’re feeling flush, it’s got to be Bangkok’s riverside grande dame, the Mandarin Oriental, where breakfast is served on the banks of the Chao Phraya and an ornately carved teak boat shuttles guests across the water for hours-long rituals at the spa. If fashion-forward and fabulous is more your style, try the aforementioned The Standard Bangkok, which has a buzzing location in Silom, with yellow candy-stripe parasols by the rooftop pool and a slew of memorable restaurants and bars.

[Photo: The Standard Hotel]

Before You Go: Read, Watch And Listen

Check out non-fiction book Very Bangkok by Philip Cornwel-Smith, the author behind the best-selling tome Very Thai. This vivid read is an entertaining deep-dive into Bangkok’s bodacious though often bewildering character through maps, illustrations, landmarks, listings, photography, pop culture and intricacies of the Thai language. On the film front, Bangkok Traffic Love Story (2009) is an engaging romantic comedy that takes place against a backdrop of Bangkok’s unmistakable urban landscape, transport systems and festivals. Currently available on Netflix. And, finally, Episode 36 of Chris Sowa’s Sex With Strangers podcast takes listeners behind the (stained) velvet curtain of Thailand’s sex tourism industry. Spoiler: the situation is a lot more complex than you might think.

The Best time To Visit

The best time to visit Bangkok is during the cool season from November to February. April, May and June remain sunny but are hellishly hot – book a hotel with a swimming pool. The monsoon rains fall from late June until October and often cause flooding.

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