Thailand is known as “The Land of Smiles,” but with travel delays and stressed-out travelers, you probably won’t catch many grins at the airport. To experience the real smiley side of this Southeast Asian nation, spend your Bangkok layover outside of the terminal. Thanks to the royal courts and quirky museums on the other side, what’s not to smile about?
From tarmac to downtown
When you’ve booked flights to Bangkok, there’s a chance you could land at Don Mueang (DMK), but it’s more likely you’ll wind up at Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK). Just 25 miles east of downtown Bangkok, BKK places you just on the outskirts of all the excitement. The high-speed train—Airport Rail Link—provides the quickest way of arriving in downtown. You can rent a car in Bangkok or hop on a public bus, but you will have to battle the city’s traffic. To get to the bus station, catch the free shuttle from the airport’s second floor and ride it over to the Public Transportation Center.
A layover in Bangkok
If you don’t mind rubbing elbows with the masses, join the crowds at the Grand Palace, one of the city’s most popular tourist destinations. Built in 1782, the complex was home to the monarch until 1925. While royalty no longer resides at the palace, it remains a prominent place for ceremonies and events. Stroll around the Outer Court, which housed the government departments, and then take a peek at the throne halls in the Central Court. Save the best for last and visit the Emerald Buddha, a jade statue draped in gold. Note, because this is a highly sacred destination, show respect by dressing modestly and covering up bare skin.
Viewfinder Tip: For quick transportation, ride the Skytrain or underground rail system, which service shopping and entertainment districts.
Continue your cultural journey at Wat Saket, also called Golden Mount. To reach the top of the 190-foot temple, scale the 318 steps that wrap around the chedi. At the summit, look for Rattanakosin Island in the distance, and inquire about the temple’s history as a burial site. If you’re visiting during November, you might catch the temple festival during Loy Krathong, when the landmark is decked out in lanterns and transformed into fair grounds. Golden Mount is a scared pilgrimage that attracts worshippers from near and far, particularly during the temple fair.
What has six tusks, four legs, and three trunks? The three-headed elephant structure, Erawan Museum, of course. Modeled after the Hindu mythological creature, this trippy tower stands 95 feet over the city and houses museum exhibits inside. Each level represents the Hindu concept of the universe, beginning with the underworld on the first floor, Mount Meru on the second, and Tavatimsa Heaven on the third in the elephant’s belly. If you have enough time to embark on day trips from Bangkok, head to this mystical attraction in nearby Samut Prakan.
With just twenty-four hours in the capital, you’re only scratching the surface of this enthralling destination. If you’re fighting off the urge to dig a little deeper into “The City of Angels,” go on, put off your connecting flight, and stay awhile in one of the Bangkok hotels.
How would you spend 24 hours in Bangkok?