Bangkok isn’t everyone’s favourite place to visit, though we’re really not too sure why it seems to have become, for many, the antithesis of a top travel destination in Southeast Asia. We’ve lost count of the number of times we’ve been told Bangkok is a city better passed through or visited for only a brief time and yet, each time we go we’re struck anew with the energy of the city which seems to take on a life of its own. Contrasts abound in a city balancing a remarkable culture, deeply rooted in their own history yet influenced largely by the ever-changing dynamics of the government, the tourism industry and the advancements of the modern world. After our first visit together, we couldn’t help but note these contrasts which greatly influenced our first impressions of Bangkok. For us, the city is a never-ending treasure trove of adventure, a kaleidoscopic of experience changing, with each turn, into something new and incredible. Those who say one day in Bangkok is enough, may not have delved into the depths of the city.
Take One Day in Bangkok to Explore
So what is one to do when visiting such a large and action-packed place? What exactly should top the list of things to see in Bangkok? Our style of travel has always been to roll with the punches, go with the flow, see what happens as we stroll through each new place, but on our second trip to Bangkok as a couple, we decided we wanted to make the most of the short time we had. After an incredible day exploring Phuket by motorbike using the “Perfect Route” we found in our Marco Polo Guide of the island, we realized we had an incredible resource in our possession.
When we cracked open our Marco Polo guide of Bangkok we flipped to find the “Perfect Route” section, as we were impressed by the suggestions we were given for Phuket and wanted to see what insider tips and ideas they had for Bangkok. While flipping however, we stumbled upon their section on walking tours. Our attention was immediately caught – we LOVE walking around while travelling and really delving into the culture and communities.
Deciding our schedule only allowed for one day of some immersive exploration of Bangkok, we pulled out the map that is included with the guide and checked out the walking tour routes that were marked off. While there are three amazing tours detailed, ranging from one hour to three, we chose only one, knowing that the time would inevitably be greatly extended due to our penchant for taking a ridiculous amount of time while sightseeing to wander, take photos and video and just experience.
If you are looking at filling one day in Bangkok, exploring the old farang (foreigner) quarter, the area where the first Europeans in Thailand lived, is an amazing and unique experience of sightseeing in Bangkok. Whether you explore on your own, choose some of our highlights of the tour, or decide to follow the well-guided route in the Marco Polo Guide book yourself, you’ll not be disappointed to find yourself at a few of the best places to visit in Bangkok.
A Walking Tour of Bangkok’s Old Farang Quarter
The focus of the route we chose was an area of Bangkok we had neither visited before nor heard very much about. While many tourists talk about Khao San Road and the tourist-heavy attractions such as the Grand Palace, the old farang quarter, or the area around the Chao Phraya river where the first Europeans lived in Thailand, seems to be frequently overlooked when discussion occurs or recommendations are given.
This area was of large focus for Western foreigners in the country in the 19th century and is where many European nations set up embassies and trading houses. Because of the diversity of countries represented, the colonial architecture is of the European Imperial styles of those various countries and, in a country full of history and historically significant buildings, offers an altogether different glimpse into how the past and present combine in Bangkok. It is a look into the more recent part of Thai history that is quickly passed over on the way to a temple or a Thai massage.
We hadn’t even made our way to the first destination on the walking tour when we decided to make our first spontaneous detour – one of the reasons we prefer self-guided tours such as these. As we walked we noticed a food cart on the side of the road, not an uncommon sight in Thailand, and decided we just couldn’t resist the wonderful smells that were tempting us. Some papaya salad, grilled chicken and rice later, our stomachs were full and we were back on our way.
Luxury Accommodations and Shopping in Bangkok
Our first stop was the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, the first hotel in Thailand and a building with over 140 years of history. Standing along the bank of the Chao Phraya river and still tucked away from the road with its surrounding vegetation, we approached the hotel with a sense of awe. If the walls of this building could talk, the stories it must be able to tell – from sailors and businessman, to tourists and celebrities, the rooms have been a haven from the streets of Bangkok for so many throughout the years. Notable figures such as Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor, Henry Kissinger, and Mick Jagger were among the people said to have stayed at the hotel. It was an amazing start to the tour as it was likely the first stop for many who came along the Chao Phraya river to stop in Bangkok over a century ago.
Nearby, we found OP Place, our next stop. While the exterior looks fairly unremarkable, the interior is one of luxury with many stores brimming with artwork and antiques and a gallery. We made our way through, looking at the beautiful antiques and collectibles and stopping for some refreshments at the cafe.
One tip we would offer is to check the days and hours the stores are open. For instance, while you can enter OP Place itself on Sundays, only a few shops are actually open.
Buildings of Faith & Significance
The next leg of our walking tour of the Old farang quarter of Bangkok took us to a few locations of religious and historical significance for those European travellers to Thailand.
Assumption Cathedral unfortunately was under some construction, and we were unable to enter, but this primary cathedral of Thailand, with almost 200 years of history, is of importance to the Catholic community in Bangkok, both in the 19th century and present day, and it was great to be able to see it.
While we walked to the next stop on the tour, we were able to take in the vibe of the district, observe some of the oldest European buildings in Bangkok and take a walk through a part of Thai history that doesn’t usually come immediately to mind to those who visit.
As we strolled along the streets, listening to the sounds of life in Bangkok and enjoying the warm sun, we continued to pass crumbling and deteriorating century-old buildings, interspersed with those that have been restored and renovated. Some abandoned, some still in use, the buildings of the European quarter of the city were an incredible glimpse into the past. Of those buildings, we passed by the French Embassy, Ambassador’s residence and the old customs house, which was once a gateway into Thailand.
We would suggest making sure you have a fully charged camera, and perhaps an extra battery. If you like photography, strolling the streets of this area will present endless photographic opportunities.
A Unique District in the City
Our final stop on the walking tour has also become one of our favourite areas to visit in Bangkok. We weren’t aware of the Thai-Muslim community in this area or the uniqueness of what was waiting there. We took our time walking the narrow streets and alleys twisted around faded buildings. Curtains blowing in the breeze, the sound of children playing and a whole community of friendly cats welcomed us and followed us as we went (yes, cats included!)
We made our way through looking for the Haroon Mosque but with the smells of meals being prepared wafting through the open windows, we lost ourselves in the interesting complex through which we were walking and found ourselves talking to a few people as we went and stopping to pet some of the cats that had gathered to escort us through.
By the time we made our way back out of the dense residential area, we were left in such a great mood we knew nothing could top the experience. We continued the path of the walking tour from the map but took it at a leisurely pace knowing this was exactly how we wanted to end the amazing day spent discovering this incredible part of Bangkok.
Take Your Time While Exploring Bangkok, If You Can
While the guide gave the suggestion of only 1 hour of exploring, our style of taking photos and videos and generally taking our time had us spending an entire afternoon in the old European Quarter.
If you’re heading to Thailand and are looking to fill one day in Bangkok with some unique exploration and sightseeing, this walking tour really offers a unique glimpse into part of Bangkok’s history. Take our route or the full thing via the guide, with some of their amazing tips and suggestions along the way, it’s really up to you!
If you can, taking time to explore more of what Bangkok has to offer outside of the popular, and much talked about, main attractions will give you a deeper understanding and appreciation for this complex city full of contrasts.