Bangkok is like no other city I’ve experienced. The sounds, the smells and the sights were a completely new experience for my senses and I left feeling a range of emotions for such a beautiful city.
Before heading to the Thai capital, we’d heard mixed reviews from friends. Some loved the place, while many hated how busy and overwhelming it was. Fortunately, we agreed with the former. We absolutely loved the business, the loudness and most importantly the culture.
Here’s everything you need to know if you’re heading to Bangkok for the first time…
HOW LONG TO STAY FOR:
We stayed for two nights at the beginning, and one at the end. We found that was plenty of time to see the main things, but some might want to stay longer.
Please don’t bypass the city and head somewhere else. It really is somewhere that should be seen…
PUBLIC TRANSPORT IN BANGKOK:
There’s plenty of different ways to get around the city, and it can be quite overwhelming. So here’s a breakdown of what you need to know:
1. AIRPORT TAXIS
While there are other options when travelling from Bangkok’s airports, we found it very easy to get a taxi from Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang airports.
Ignore the touts in the airport terminals and heading for the public taxi rank. At Suvaranabhumi you’ll get to a machine that’ll give you a ticket, telling you what number taxi at the rank to head to, while at Don Muang you have to queue in a ticketing system before getting to a desk and telling them where you want to go.
Make sure the meter is on and working (it’ll show 35 baht), do not allow them to negotiate a price, or say their meter is broken. On top of your meter fare you’ll also have to pay 50 baht airport surcharge and possibly 75 baht for two tolls – this is normal.
2. SKYTRAIN (BTS)
This mode of public transport is a very convenient way of getting around. It’s cheap to use and staff and even members of the public were always helpful when we needed to purchase our tickets. All train stations are well marked (you’ll always be going above the traffic), and prices are cheap. Services run until midnight.
3. RIVER BOATS
While there’s the Chao Phraya Express tourist boat, we got on the express boat for locals which cost 15 baht each. From our hotel we could get easily to the Grand Palace and Chinatown, but this isn’t for the nervous travellers, so find other means unless you’re confident with no English signs and hoping for the best.
4. Tuk Tuks
Another great way to get around the city is via tuk tuk, a motorised three wheeler that zips through the traffic (but is not immune from the Bangkok rush hour). All prices have to be negotiated, and expect them to try and charge a fortune if they’re collecting you around Khao San Road or any red light district areas. A 6.5km journey was usually 150-200 bhat (around £4-4.50). But be warned sometimes they’ll try and take you to a ‘friend’s shop’ for a cheaper price, but firmly say no, and get out if you need to.
5. SUBWAY (MRT)
Another great way to get around by rail is by the city’s underground system. There are interchange stations (Silmon and Asoke) which allows you to change from subway to skytrain if necessary. Otherwise the map is simple and easy to navigate.
We stayed in two fantastic hotels…
- Baan Wang Lang Riverside: This gorgeous hotel is on the other side of the river compared to a lot of the tourist catered accommodation. But we were so pleased with it. The rooms were comfy, the rooftop bar was lovely, and the hotel itself is settled in a busy and fun local market. The hotel also supplied us with a phone (called a Handy) that allowed us to use internet and phone calls for free out and about. An absolute lifesaver…
- Mövenpick Sukhumvit 15: Our last night was in this lovely hotel in the bustling and popular Sukhumvit area. The food is great (try and visit the free chocolate hour between 4-5pm), and the rooftop pool and bar was an added bonus.
WHAT TO DO:
While there is SO MUCH you can do in Bangkok, here’s the main bits:
- Visit The Grand Palace, which was the home of the Thai King for 150 years. Tip: Get there before the Palace opens at 8.30am, it gives you a better opportunity to look around before the mass tour groups arrive. It’s important to wear long trousers, and have your shoulders covered. And bring plenty of water!
- Ride the Sky Train: This is such an easy way to get around Bangkok, and incredibly easy to use once you get your head around the ticketing system.
- Visit Chatuchak Market: With over 8000 stalls covering 27 acres, this is one of the biggest markets in the world. It’s open every Saturday and Sunday and is a must-do if you find yourself in the city at the weekend.
- Head to the Chao Phraya River: It’s a great way to see an alternative part of the city, whether it’s on a private boat tour or using one of the water taxis.
- Stroll through Lumpini Park: Now, this might be a hard one if you struggle walking in the heat, but Lumpini Park is a really beautiful, green part of the city.
- Zip about in a tuk tuk: But remember to barter, and to firmly refuse if they try to take you to their friend’s shop.
- Embrace the street food: I ate some fab food while in Thailand, but nothing quite beat the incredible food stalls of Bangkok.
WHAT NOT TO DO:
- Khao San Road: While it’s described as the backpacking centre of the universe, I wasn’t that impressed by the street which was primarily full of rowdy Brits and Australians, garish bars and men trying to sell you tickets to ping pong shows. There are plenty of other beautiful parts of the city to explore.
- Do not insult the King. Showing respect to the monarchy is crucial here, in fact it’s actually a crime to defame, insult or threaten them. At the beginning of movies in the cinema you must stand for the national anthem, and at 8am and 6pm in all public places the Thai national anthem is played so you should stop walking and stand silently.
- Ping pong shows: I was really conflicted with the red light district areas of Bangkok. On one hand, I am a believer in supporting sex workers, but at the same time, I was shocked at some of the things I saw. The ‘sexpat’ industry is huge in Bangkok, and one walk down Soi Cowbody saw us come face-to-face with incredibly young looking girls with numbers on their tops, making it easier for clientele to pick them out. And by clientele, we mean a lot of older, leering men. Ping Pong shows are particularly problematic for me, and some human rights organisations have denounced the form of entertainment, arguing that many of the girls have been trafficked in from poorer, neighbouring countries. While it’s understandable to be curious about this sordid part of Bangkok, there are plenty of other exciting things to do in the city at night.
WHAT TO EAT:
Bangkok food is INCREDIBLE, and there’s so much to try. Street food here is some of the best in the world, so don’t be afraid to pull up a plastic chair by a street-side cart and embrace the cuisine.
So where should you head for a bite to eat?
- Chinatown. Undeniably the best place to grab some food, Chinatowns side streets are packed with stalls full of cheap and delicious food (it was around £2.70 for two big bowls of food and two beers). Be brave and don’t eat loads in one place to allow yourself to wander and try different things.
- Shopping centre food courts. Yep, surprisingly these places have great places to eat, and air-conditioning! Terminal 21 and MBK food courts are great options.
- Prachak Pet Jang, Silom. Famous for its Chinese-style roasted duck, this long-standing restaurant is a must-try.
- Chatuchak Market. There’s a whole area dedicated to food in this sprawling market, and it’s cheap, cheerful and delish.
WHERE TO DRINK:
- Teens of Thailand. Ignore the questionable name, this gin bar is a great little find, albeit very expensive compared to other places in the touristy parts of the city. I’m not a beer fan (which is the cheapest thing to drink there), so I relied heavily on drinking a decent G&T while I was there.
- Havana Social. The pre-revolution Cuban decor is great, as are the cocktails. But you’ve got to find it first, thanks to the no signage. Instead look for a mock-retro phone booth down a soi opposite Fraser Suites Hotel.
- Bamboo Bar. The bar at the Mandarin Oriental is sophisticated and cool, but expect the price tag to go with it.
- 342 Bar. The rooftop bar on top of the Baan Wanglang has incredible views of the Grand Palace and Wat Arun. Definitely head here for some sunset views and a good drinks menu.
But most importantly, be brave, be prepared and willing to try new things and most importantly… stay safe.