Bangkok is big, loud, and one of the most exciting cities in the world, with a rich history of culture to explore and fascinating, happy locals to assist you while you visit.
For first-timers, touring Thailand’s biggest city can be an eye-opener. By Western standards, Bangkok can put people off when they first arrive. The traffic is horrendous, political correctness has yet to reach its borders (thankfully), and the sights and smells can be an assault on the senses.
Bangkok is a city of two worlds: for every stretch limo, there will be a family of five balanced precariously on a small motorbike. For every five-star hotel, there is a slum, and for every expensive restaurant there is a vendor selling street meat. This dichotomy is all a part of the Bangkok experience; a trip to Bangkok is what you make of it, as Bangkok is a city where you can have whatever experience you choose.
Bangkok, also known as the “City of Angels” or Krung Thep to the locals, is one of the world’s great cities. With a population of more than 8.1 million people and growing, it is a city that never sleeps. With so much to do, it can be overwhelming for first-time travelers to get the most out of their trip.
With this in mind, here are tips for new visitors to Bangkok:
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Plan Your Time in Bangkok Wisely
From touring the Grand Palace to having a drink at Sky Bar, there is a ton to do in this city. Odds are that you won’t even come close to doing everything you hope to in one trip, so it’s important to manage your time well.
Be realistic about how long things will take; a tour of the Grand Palace can take up more than half the day, so if you were planning on doing six things that day, you will likely be out of luck. Read reviews on sites like this, and build some extra time into each excursion. Traffic alone can be a major stumbling block to any packed schedule, so plan accordingly.
Hire a Guide
Hiring a private guide in Bangkok is inexpensive, and private guides can customize your tours to include whatever you like and leave out the things you don’t. Guides with air conditioned cars can take you on day trips out of Bangkok, allowing you to check out the floating markets at Damnoen Saduak, the ruins at Ayutthaya, or the bridge over the River Kwai.
Private guides also allow you to ask questions when you have one, stop when you need a break, take detours when requested, and they usually provide a unique experience that you will never get from a packaged bus tour.
Barter When Appropriate
There is an expectation when in a market such as Chatuchak, or in any of the touristy areas such as Khao San Road or Sukhumvit, that vendors will barter. Many vendors will start off charging you three times the value of the item at the beginning, so don’t be afraid to bargain with them. If you can’t come to a meeting of the minds on price, don’t be afraid to walk away. It’s quite likely that the silk table runner you were looking at will be available down the road.
One thing to consider is if the vendor comes close to your price and the difference is just a few baht, remember that 300 Thai baht equals less than $10 US or Canadian. So if you’re quibbling over 30 baht, you’re quibbling over less than a dollar. Keep this in mind before you throw a temper tantrum over what you might consider pocket change.
Be Strong With Cabbies and Tuk-Tuk Drivers
If grabbing a cab while in Bangkok, be sure to insist that they use the meter. If they won’t, get out. There are cab drivers who won’t use it and then will insist on you paying an outrageous fare for the trip when you get to your destination. If the cab driver makes up a story about not being able to use the meter at night, or in certain parts of town, they are lying. For trips outside of town, that may be different, but when in Bangkok always insist on drivers using the meter. I found having the hotel establish a rate with the taxi driver worked well.
Everyone on their first trip to Thailand will be tempted to take a tuk-tuk ride. Go for it, it’s a unique experience. Just be sure to negotiate your fare before the tuk-tuk leaves, and don’t be afraid to barter. If the driver senses, he can squeeze extra money out of you, he will. Take a short trip for the novelty of it, otherwise use public transit and cabs. Motorbike taxis are also an option for those who like to live on the edge and watch their life flash before their eyes; before you get on one, be warned it’s a scary experience.
Be Careful With Your Money
Many travelers are surprised at how safe they feel in Bangkok. Even at night, Bangkok feels safer than many major American cities. Despite this, it is critical to be smart when it comes to guarding your money and taking care of yourself.
Pickpockets are not uncommon, especially in some of the big markets and touristy areas. Be smart by not flashing too much money around, and if you are carrying a lot of cash on your trip, leave most of it in the safe at the hotel, just take as much cash as you need for the day when you go out. It’s also a good idea to take a photocopy of your passport and leave the original in the hotel safe. This way you always have identification, but if something happens, you will always have the original back at the hotel.
Keep cash out of sight and on your body; avoid fanny packs, purses and satchels that are easy to grab. If keeping cash in your pocket, use a zippered pocket. Use common sense, and you will be just fine.
In addition to taking care of your money, you need to take care of yourself. Avoid walking down unfamiliar alleys and taking routes you are unfamiliar with. If you get lost, flag a cab.
Always carry the address of the hotel where you are staying, and see if you can get a card with the hotelís name and address written in Thai script, as not all cab drivers speak English.
Bangkok, Thailand’s capital city will dazzle you with its glittering temples, magnificent palaces, fiesta-like markets and a kaleidoscope of tastes. To avoid the traffic and congestion, the best way to navigate Bangkok is to ride the public ferries or water taxis everywhere, to the hotels, temples, food markets and shops.
Take in Bangkok’s Best Sites
While a trip to Bangkok can provide endless options for filling your schedule, there are a few things that are too good to miss.
Wat Phra Kaew
First among these is the city’s most famous landmark, the Grand Palace, an amazing achievement of architecture and shrine to Thailand’s kings. The Grand Palace, especially with a good guide to explain is a stunning complex of buildings. A guide can point out the significance of each building. Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) is something everyone should see at least once in their lives, an extremely popular site.
Also found here are the royal residences and government offices. You will be awed by the beautiful architecture and intricate details of these buildings.
Next on the list are Bangkokís other famous temples, Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn) and Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha). Wat Arun is one of Bangkok’s most famous sites, located on the banks of the beautiful Chao Phraya River. Wat Pho contains a spectacular 150-foot reclining Buddha.
Enjoy a Massage
After a day of sightseeing in Bangkok, melt away your fatigue and rejuvenate with a traditional Thai massage. Getting a Thai massage is a popular choice, although if you’ve never had a Thai massage you should be forewarned that it can be a painful experience. Choose an oil massage if you are looking for relaxation.
Most hotels provide this service, but you can get a much better price elsewhere. The impressive Wat Pho Temple is a good start. The largest and oldest of the temples in Bangkok, it is renowned for the enormous reclining Buddha, and for its Thai Traditional Medical and Massage School. Be forewarned that there will be a lot of yanking, pulling, and kneading, but you will feel so good afterward that you’ll want to come back for more. At 400 Thai Baht (US $12) for a 1 hour full-body massage, youíll definitely want to come back for another session.
Other sites worth checking out are the Chatuchak Market, Muay Thai kickboxing at Lumpini Stadium, and Siam Paragon (mall) for shopping.
No trip to Bangkok is complete without a trip to the Chatuchak Weekend Market. The array of goods offered at this enormous bazaar is pretty amazing, with all kinds of clothing from T-shirts to silk textiles, jewelry, crafts, tools, antiques, food, and even pets! Be prepared to bargain. It doesn’t matter if you don’t speak each other’s language. The universal language is math, and calculators can do all the talking.
To get a glimpse of life in a Thai village, join a tour to visit the Damnoen Saduak floating market. As your long-tail boat ride plies the khlongs or canals, you will pass by traditional homes, farms and locals going about their lives. At the market, things get a litte frenzied with other long-tail boats stopping, shopping and bargaining.
Try New Foods
Be adventurous and savor some of the exotic fruits like mangosteens, rambutans, longans or lychees. They are all delightful as are the Thai mangos. Fried bananas and fried sweet potatoes are yummy too. Do not leave Thailand without sampling the ubiquitous rice noodle dish Pad Thai. You can get it at a food court, a street vendor or a restaurant.
To Get Around Take a Bangkok Tuk Tuk Hop
The first tour we took was a site seeing tour with Tuk Tuk Hop. This one is not a typical tour where they walk you around and tell you all about an area. Instead, this is more of a transportation tour. You sign up to be able to use one of their tuk tuks all day. You pick out where you want to go and they will pick you up and take you there. When you are done seeing a temple, you let them know you are ready to be picked up and tell them which stop you want to go to next.
There are several reasons I enjoyed seeing Bangkok this way. First, I had heard some seriously shady taxi horror stories from other travel writers and I wanted to make sure I didn’t end up with that kind of story.
Second, these Tuk Tuk Hop drivers know their way around brilliantly. Traffic in Bangkok is the worst I have ever seen in any city ever. Having drivers that can cut here and there and shave off time getting around is huge! Since there were five of us we had to take two tuk tuks everywhere we went, but they always managed to stay close together. This made our first day in Bangkok so easy. I regretted not arranging to do it the second day as well.
There’s an amazing bicycling area near Bangkok that offers an entirely different type of Thailand experience. You could probably get yourself out to the biking area, but I recommend taking a tour. I basically recommend always taking a tour in Bangkok, because it’s just so big. Do not do this tour without reading our Bangkok Bicycle Jungle Tour post for tips!
Book a Spice Roads bicycle tour.
Best Breakfast in Bangkok
The Coffee Club
I do not have many recommendations on where to eat because we ate in the markets so much, but we did have a fantastic breakfast at The Coffee Club. They’ve got delicious food and awesome milkshakes.
One of the neatest things about Bangkok is all of the rooftop bars. There are more than 37 rooftop bars found throughout the area. You will probably have fun at any of them, but Above Eleven and Moon Bar are my favorite. Here is an in-depth look at my two favorite rooftop bars in Bangkok, Above Eleven and Moon Bar.
No matter what you spend your time doing you are going to have an experience of a lifetime. Soak up all the fascinating benefits that Bangkok has to offer, there is no other city like it in the world. After the frenetic pace in Bangkok, head down south to Phuket Island for some much-needed R&R. It is a very popular vacation destination for both locals and tourists.
Travel Tips for Thailand
How to greet people in Thailand, how to dress, how to perform on social occasions, as well as information on Visas, currency, business hours, and banks: all covered below.
A Thai will greet you with the traditional closed hands and a slight bow of the head. This is known as the Wai and the position of the hands and the bow of the head are acknowledgments of the importance of the person being greeted. Buddhist monks are usually greeted with a high Wai, i.e. hands as high as the forehead.
The Thai Royal family is regarded with religious reverence and must be respected. The National Anthem is still played in cinemas and everyone must stand for this. DO NOT attempt to leave before this has played.
Do not indulge in public displays of affection.
Dress appropriately when visiting temples, no shorts, tank tops, hot pants, minis or spaghetti straps. Remove shoes before entering a shrine (or even a Thai home).
Buddhist images are sacred: don’t do anything to indicate a lack of respect.
It is regarded as polite to arrive a little early if invited out socially.
Never touch anyone on the head as the head is the most sacred part of a person. Never point your feet at anyone as the feet are the lowest part of the body.
Visas and Currency
Travelers are required to have an onward ticket and a 30-day Visa (usually provided quickly on arrival) on entering Thailand. Extensions of two weeks can usually be provided by going to the Immigration Office with your Passport, two photographs and the extension fee. (There are few Immigration Offices in Thailand and you may have to return to Bangkok).
Currency exchanges are available in all major cities and towns, but may be sparse up-country. The Baht is divided into 100 satangs (but not much used in cities and towns), paper money and coins.
All major CCs are accepted in Thailand in hotels, restaurants and entertainment complexes, but it may be advisable to ask beforehand, as many try to charge a supplement for their use.
Business Hours in Thailand
Most department stores operate between 10.00 – 21.00 hours all week (including Sundays). Government Offices from 08.30 – 16.30 hrs. Monday to Friday.