The Thai capital has a lot to offer but can be rather daunting at first, what with its chaotic traffic and hectic pace. Visitors who remain calm and curious will experience the exoticism of the East without too much discomfort, though.
Tack this short itinerary onto the beginning -- or the end -- of any trip to Thailand. You can also split it up: Spend time touring the city sites at the start of the journey and then use a day at the end to fill your suitcase with gorgeous handicrafts, silk fashions, or souvenirs.
Day 1: Bangkok's Riverside Sites
Start your tour of Bangkok at Central Pier, next to Saphan Taksin BTS, where you can hop on a fast river taxi or the more comfortable wide-berth Chao Phraya Tourist Boat.
Heading north along the S-curve of the river, you can hop off to visit many of the city's historical sites. The first stop should be Tha Tien, for Wat Po and the Giant Reclining Buddha. From there, it's a short walk to the Grand Palace and the famed Wat Phra Kaew, the temple of the celebrated Emerald Buddha.
Take a lunch break to rest your legs and eyes; then you can carry on upstream to visit the National Museum, where you can easily spend a couple of hours delving into this proud nation's past. After visiting the museum, for a different type of sightseeing, wander north to Banglampoo and nose around Khao San Road, the vibrant backpacker strip. You can return to Central Pier by boat from Tha Phra Arthit before 6pm, or settle down for dinner at Hemlock and take a cab to your hotel later.
This is a lot to see in a day -- but it does cover the city's unmissable sights and avoids traffic delays by using river transport. If you enjoy traveling on the river, you may want to end the day by taking a dinner cruise, on which you can see the city by night.
Day 2: Bangkok Shopping & Eating
Start your second day in Bangkok at Jim Thompson's House, home of the American who rejuvenated the Thai silk industry. It's right in the city center (near the National Stadium BTS).
The shimmering silks on display in the shop at Jim Thompson's should put you in the mood for a full frontal attack on the city's shops: About a 10-minute walk away from Jim Thompson's House is Mah Boon Krong (MBK), a giant mall catering to Thai teenagers and bargain hunters alike. Adjacent to the Siam BTS is Siam Paragon, a center filled with superluxury boutiques. If you still haven't found that special something, continue on to the funky, trendy clothing stores found in the maze of lanes in Siam Square.
Have lunch at Crystal Jade, in Siam Paragon, and then drop off your shopping bags at the hotel before indulging yourself in a spa treatment. All top-end hotels in Bangkok have excellent spas, but if yours doesn't have one, head for Healthland, on Sathorn Road.
You should be feeling light as a feather after this, but you'll feel even lighter when you ride up to the 54th floor of the State Tower, on Silom Road, to knock back a sundowner at the Sky Bar while drinking in the city views in every direction.
For dinner, if you want a sense of occasion, head around the corner to Le Normandie or any of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel's fine dining restaurants. If you'd rather keep it simple and inexpensive, drop by Harmonique, a few steps farther, in a lane off Charoen Krung Road.
Both these dining options are just a few blocks away from the city's most famed streets for go-go bars -- Patpong 1 and 2. Take a stroll around the bustling night market, and if you're curious, check out the bars (stick to downstairs bars, as those upstairs bring grief) and buy the girls a drink. When you've had enough, hop in a cab back to the hotel.
Day 3: Day Trip from Bangkok
To get a broader sense of the country, take a day trip out of town on your third day in Bangkok. Options include a visit to the Ancient City, which has reproductions of the nation's best-known buildings; a wonderful boat and bus trip to the former capital of Ayutthaya; a train ride to Kanchanaburi, home of the "Death Railway"; or a trip to Khao Yai National Park, which offers welcome greenery.