We haven’t spent a lot of time in Bangkok but have transited through there to reach points in northern and southern Thailand. Definitely a fun city. Yvonne, of Hello Wander World, recently went and here are her practical travel tips.
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Must See Must Do: floating markets, massages, nightlife, eat delicious local food, breathtaking temples, night markets
The Thai currency is the Baht.
Bring $100 US bills for exchanging – crisp, unmarked, with as little fold as possible. They won’t accept bills with any writing, rips, or damages. You can do this at any kiosk window along the street. The lower the bill ($50, $20, $10…), the worse the exchange rate. ATMs usually incur a small fee and don’t have as good exchange rates, but there are plenty. Credit cards aren’t widely accepted, so don’t rely on them on your trip.
Where to Stay
For the backpacker party hostel, go to Khao San Road, where they have bass-dueling bars situated right across from each other and hostels that cost as little as $2/night.
For the posh, stay on Sukhumvit Road, where a lot of clubs and restaurants are located. You can find hotels with views, infinity pools, and great free breakfast for less than $100/night.
AirBnbs are also a great option, if you want a more local feel to your stay away from the main strip.
How to Get Around
When you first arrive, you have to make the decision of taking the Airport Rail Link City train or taking a taxi. The main city is about 30 minute from BKK (with light traffic). If you decide to take a taxi, don’t take the first offer that approaches you. Go to the main taxi stand and find a taxi that has a meter – insist on having the meter running, which will ensure the price is fair. The train will be cheaper, but there’ll be transfers and more to coordinate. With this in mind, consider exchanging or withdrawing a little bit of local currency at the airport to pay for your transportation into the city.
The MRT (aka train) is an easy way to get around the city. They only accept coins for fare, so if you need coins, there are machines. You exchange the coins for a ticket and then go through a quick bag check, then enter the terminal.
If you need a taxi, have your hotel or hostel arrange them for you, so you don’t have to worry about the language barrier or getting ripped off. (Editor’s Note: Uber and Grab is in Bangkok. Grab is a bit cheaper. Uber can take a bit longer to get to you.)
Take the Chao Phraya River Ferry to the different temples.
A very unique way to get around is by riding the tuk tuks – a metal box attached to a motorized tricycle, just hang on! I’ve seen 6 people squeezed into one of these little bikes before. Tell the driver the area you want to go and decide on a price before you get on.
Although most people that work in anything related to tourism can speak a little English, it isn’t the predominant language, so it’s always considerate to learn simple greetings in the local language. All the locals will greet you in Thai, so you’ll get the hang of it in no time.
Hello in Thai: differentiated by whether you are a man or woman
- Men say ‘sawatdee khap’
- Women say ‘sawatdee kha’
Thank you in Thai: also differentiated
- Men say ‘khop khun khap’
- Woman say ‘khop khun kha’
Greet people with a slight bow and a smile. Thai people are very polite, so keeping these manners in mind will make both your time and their time more pleasant.
You can get a large plate of pad thai for $4 or less. Note the spice level you can tolerate. Although restaurants will usually tone down the spice level for Westerners, Thai food can be incredibly spicy, so it never hurts to ask about spice level.
For the adventurous, hit up a cart of bugs or a tray of scorpions… I did and it was quite the experience. You can find scorpions on Khao San Road and other assorted bugs at any night market. If you’re looking for more conventional food, fresh fruit, especially mango is unlike anything you can get here in the States – I still have dreams about the soft, velvety mangos we had.
Since Bangkok is hot and humid, remember to stay hydrated, but DON’T drink the tap water. Get bottled water for your day trips and at restaurants. There are lots of convenience stores where you can get large bottles for a very cheap price.
How to Shop
Haggle, haggle, haggle – shoot for ½ to ⅓ of the price they originally tell you. Be prepared to walk away if a seller isn’t giving you a fair price – more than half of the time, you’ll see the exact same thing at another stall 2 steps down. Also, avoid buying souvenirs on the first day you’re there. It’s very likely you’ll overspend because you don’t realize just how cheap (and abundant) the products can be. Great souvenirs: elephant pants, bowls and figurines made from coconuts, tapestries, and handmade goods.
Bangkok offers a colorful nightlife. There are fancy rooftop bars with expansive views of the city, where you can enjoy a cocktail; and there are dive bars, where you can throw back a few fresh beers with some backpackers. Alcohol prices are comparable to prices in big cities in the US. Stay out on the streets of Khao San Road past dark and you’ll see some things you never expected to ever see. (Reference: Ping Pong shows…)
Don’t raise your voice or use angry language…they may not know too much English, but they know the bad words. Raising your voice is considered very rude.
In a temple, always take your shoes off, wear pants, and cover your shoulders. Do NOT buy souvenirs with Buddha depicted on it – this is considered offensive to the culture and these are only printed for the entertainment of Westerners.
Don’t go wandering down random alleyways at night, especially as a solo female. Don’t get a massage from just any place labeled massage; read reviews and check the surroundings, otherwise you may get more than you are expecting. In crowded areas, there can be pickpockets, so keep your valuables close and unexposed. As a tourist, you will not be harmed, but you will stand out and be approached by many, sometimes aggressive, sales people. Just remain polite and calm, and things will go swimmingly.
Best Times to Visit:
Remember, Thailand is a HOT place with temperatures no less than 80 degrees… ever. Peak season is between November and March with milder temperatures. From May to October, the crowds thin out and hotel prices drop, but temperature and humidity rise. Keep this information in mind when choosing the best time for you to go.
Some festivals that take place in Bangkok:
- Chinese New Year – changes yearly: Mid-January to end of February
- Songkran Festival (Thai New Year and city-wide water fight) – mid-April
- Vegetarian Festival – October
- Loy Krathong (floating candle celebration) – November
Bangkok was one of the liveliest cities I’ve ever been to. The people I met, both locals and fellow wanderers, were all so welcoming and warm. It’s a must-go for anyone hoping to be blown away by the exhilarating beauty of this city.
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