The first thing I would suggest is that you stay in a hotel on the river. We chose the Royal Orchid Sheraton, but there are at least ten others we could equally have chosen.
The reason to choose a hotel on the river is the fact that the river ferries are by far the quickest way around. The Chao Phraya Express River Taxi Boats run up and down the river, and one of the ferry piers is almost right outside the hotel.
Another thing we liked about the hotel was the gardens and swimming pool so after a hectic day out on the streets of Bangkok it was like an oasis of calm. In fairness I imagine the other five star hotels would be pretty similar. By the way, don’t slum it, anything less than five star isn’t worth taking the risk with.
At the very beginning of our stay we asked the hotel for transport from the airport. It wasn’t costly and saved the hassle of negotiating with a taxi driver.
The best thing we did was to buy the Nancy Chandler all action beautifully hand drawn map of Bangkok. This is by far and away the best thing to have to find your way around. You will be able to buy it in almost any hotel or if you are organised through Amazon before you go.
The second thing is to buy a Luxe Guide to Bangkok, again through Amazon, and it is a no frills, cuts out the irrelevancies, and is written by people with experience on the ground. By all means buy a Lonely Planet guide as well, but you will find yourself using Nancy Chandler all the time.
Many people employ a guide, but honestly if you do some forward planning there is no need. You must sit down and prioritise what you want to see, and there is a lot. Then you need to look at the time available and break it down.
There are must do and must not do things, and the main must not do is to visit the floating market outside Bangkok. It is a rip off, very disappointing, and absolutely crammed with tourists. We organised our own taxi, got there early, paid a fortune for a small narrow boat, and would never do it again. As we left the tour buses that were queuing to get into the car park were unbelievable.
Much better to go to the ferry pier next to your hotel, and hire a boat to take you round the back canals. We did this for an hour, and it was absolutely fascinating to see a glimpse of real Thai riverside life. We only saw a handful of other boats and we felt we had done something completely non touristy.
Another must is to ride on a Tuk Tuk the local three wheeled taxi. They are everywhere, and you will pick one up anywhere, and easily outside your hotel. Please bargain them down, and if as we did use them to take us out to eat we knew fairly quickly what the going rate is for a journey. Bangkok is polluted with car fumes, but a Tuk Tuk ride is a white knuckle ride not to be missed.
You must eat street food, leaving Bangkok without doing that is a crime. We went to Chinatown at night and were dropped off at the corner of Yaowarat and Phadung Dao Boi Texas, you will find it on Nancy Chandler’s map. Boy was it hectic, plastic tables and chairs; no elbow room, noise, fumes, fantastic food, no idea what it was. If you liked what the people next to you were eating, just point and nod!!
Whatever you do, DON’T look under the tables, or watch the dishes being cleaned!! I should add we ate there twice, the food was cheaper than chips, incredibly tasty, and not one upset stomach in our family.
Would I go back, possibly not because there are so many other places to visit, but if we are passing through Bangkok on the way to somewhere else, then definitely for another two or three days.
For local city guide of Bangkok, must visit the website!