48 Hours in Bangkok: A Brief Guide to the Cultural Life of the Megapolis

Varvara Zotova
Rarely do people come to the capital of the Land of Smiles, lazily sprawled on the eastern bank of the Chao Phraya River, for the velvety tan and leisurely relaxation (which, by the way, is a mistake). More often, it's a brief stop on the way to Phuket, China, or Korea, or simply a business destination.

In case you have 48 free hours in your schedule, we've prepared a brief guide to help you explore the cultural side of Bangkok and tune into the signature Thai vibe, also known as "sabai-sabai."

Where to Stay:

For longer trips, it's best to rent apartments in complexes like M SILOM or ASHTON Asoke Rama. For short trips, I recommend the hotel: for a relaxed stay, the fresh Hyatt Regency Bangkok Sukhumvit with its stunning pool. For those who need to fit everything in and schedule 4 meetings in one evening, the ST. Regis in the heart of the shopping district is ideal. Here, within the hotel premises, are 2 excellent restaurants - ZUMA with its unchanged menu and the Swiss IGNIV, awarded a Michelin star.

Getting Around:

Bangkok is a city of 9-point traffic jams, so download the GRAB app in advance, choose a scooter, and fully trust the process: Thais know how to drive according to local rules.
Day 1

Piccolo Viccolo Cafe

Wat Phraya Yang Alley, Khwaeng Thanon Phetchaburi, Ratchathewi, Bangkok 10400

We start the morning in Bangkok with a Vanilla Bean Cloudy Latte at a café with a 50-year history, adorned with vintage wooden décor and surrounded by greenery. It's not easy to find — it's tucked away in a small alley in the Ratchathewi area. Nearby is a small shop of local designers — you can buy summer crochet bags, "kawaii" postcards, and souvenirs. At Piccolo Viccolo, it's comfortable to come and work on your computer — "digital nomads" and always busy entrepreneurs are treated with patience and understanding here.
Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA)

499 Kamphaeng Phet 6 Rd, Lat Yao, Chatuchak

The next stop is MOCA: a classic museum of contemporary art founded by local patron Buncha Bencharongkul. A large five-story building, white halls, streams of sunlight; already at the entrance to the museum, visitors are greeted by sculptures by the famous Thai master Chalood Nimsamer.
Photographer: Anna Etienne
By the way, if the name of the museum made you think of coffee drinks — in the museum café, you will find a great variety of them: Thais cannot imagine life without refreshing drinks and know them inside out: bubble with potato flavor, freshly squeezed juice, iced lattes with various syrups. After an hour-long trip to the museum (it's located almost where the airport is), I highly recommend refreshing yourself at the café and then proceeding to a thorough examination of the collection, which will take an average of 2-3 hours.
The collection consists of approximately 800 works. Most of them are works by contemporary Thai artists: on the first floor, you can find sculptures by local authors; on the second floor, admire the three-meter art object Abacus by Kamol Tassananchalee, drawing inspiration from the spirit and philosophy of Buddhism. On the fifth floor, there are works by authors from all over the world — from Russia, Japan, Norway, and the USA.
ATT 199

19 Charoen Krung 30, Bang Rak, Bangkok 10500

If after visiting MOCA you feel like buying something from local masters' works — it's time to head to the ATT 199 gallery, which is located in the former municipal school building, not far from the Sheraton hotel. For me personally, this is where the charm of Bangkok lies: the most incredible places are scattered throughout the city, hidden in narrow alleys behind monumental gray gates. The task of an experienced tourist is to collect these places like pearls, occasionally checking the map and showing the GRAB driver that you've come "a little off track!".

On the ground floor of the gallery is a permanent exhibition, Japanese ceramics, decor items, and a vintage shop (oh, how they love them!) with collections of bags and ball gowns in full length; upstairs is the exhibition space (which attracts special attention from the public during Bangkok Design Week) and, of course, a cozy café.
Diora Spa Bangkok

1032, 1-5 Rama 4 Road, Krit Building, Thungmahamek, Sathorn, Bangkok 10120

In the evening, I suggest indulging in a real Thai massage at the Diora salon. Here, you'll hardly encounter tourists — Thais come to Diora themselves after a hard day's work, so I recommend booking in advance. Before the procedure begins, you'll be asked to fill out a questionnaire: choose the type of massage you prefer (classic Thai or oil-based), the main areas for working on (neck, back, legs), and the intensity level. Before the procedure, you'll be treated to refreshing drinks, and afterwards — warmed up with hot tea.
Day 2

Wat Pho (Wat Pho)

2 Sanamchai Road, Grand Palace Subdistrict, Pranakorn District

Start the second day early in the morning, around 7 o'clock, and head to Wat Pho — a Buddhist temple in the heart of Bangkok.

Wat Pho is located on Rattanakosin Island near the Grand Palace; it's important to arrive early to avoid crowds of tourists, and clothing should cover shoulders and legs to the knees — nothing daring or provocative. The temple was an early center of public education in the country, it is known as the birthplace of massage (the same one from yesterday!) and traditional Thai medicine. It was also the site of state affairs: in 1782, the founder of the new Chakri royal dynasty, Pra Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke, proclaimed himself King Rama I. Therefore, to this day, it is also the main royal temple in Bangkok.

The main shrine of Wat Pho is the gilded sculpture of the Buddha awaiting nirvana. The figure is impressive in size: it is 46 m long and 15 m high. Buddha is depicted in a state of rest: he lies, resting his head on his right hand, while his left hand is stretched along his body.

According to legend, the demon Rahu, who swallowed the Moon and the Sun and thus caused eclipses, refused to approach the Buddha because of the difference in height. In order to start a conversation with the Buddha, Rahu would have had to bow low, that is, show respect. Then the Buddha increased his size, vividly demonstrating that in the physical world, everything is relative, and then lay down to be on the same level as Rahu.
Ksana Matcha

2nd Floor, One City Centre, Unit R2-02, 548 Phloen Chit Rd, Lumphini, Pathum Wan, Bangkok 10330, Thailand

They say that any wish made next to the Buddha comes true — well, mine came true instantly: after a 2-hour stroll around Wat Pho, thoughts of cool matcha became more and more persistent, and we headed to Ksana Matcha café in the recently built office building One City Center, between BTS Phloen Chit and Chit Lom stations.

The menu is quite simple: it has only 3 types of tea: ceremonial grade matcha (coastal breeze), premium grade matcha (bitter tropical forest), and hojicha. Note that in Asia, matcha is quite strong and concentrated, so I advise not to overdo it. My favorite is Bitter Rainforest matcha with notes of freshly mown grass and bitter chocolate.

The café design is inspired by the American Antelope Canyon, located in the northern part of Arizona. In such an atmosphere, you instantly immerse yourself in a meditative state of a person sitting in his bright cave and peering at the frantic rhythm of the big city through the window.
Jim Thompson House Museum

6 Soi Kasensam 2, Rama 1 Road

The next stop is a true oasis in the heart of the metropolis.

Before visiting, I recommend reading the story of the incredible adventures and mysterious disappearance of Jim Thompson — a spy who unexpectedly revived ancient Thai craftsmanship.

The museum grounds are always bustling and crowded — someone is gathering groups of tourists, someone is having weddings. I recommend taking a walk around the estate to feel like you're in the jungle (not only capitalist, but also real Thai ones), relax by the pond with goldfish, do some shopping by buying a couple of shirts made of natural Thai silk with a recognizable bold ornament, and go up to the top floor of the shop — the café offers a stunning view of the entire area.
Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC)

939 Rama I Rd, Wang Mai, Pathum Wan

If in Dubai we go for a refreshing stroll in the Dubai Mall, then in Bangkok, for a concluding art promenade, I recommend choosing the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre, located in the heart of the shopping district.

On the lower floors, there are small cafes where you can buy coffee beans from Thai farmers, a library, and a souvenir shop; on the upper floors — from the seventh to the ninth — is the main exhibition space — the Main Gallery.

The most interesting events take place in winter; for example, in 2023, the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre was one of the main venues for the Bangkok Biennale of Contemporary Art: carpets by designer Yan Kata and the video phantasmagoria "Turandot 2070" by the Russian art group AES+F were exhibited here.