If you are travelling to Bangkok for the first time I’m guessing you have already listened to enough tips, warnings and advice to write a book on the subject. Depending on who you talk to, Bangkok is portrayed as anything from a poverty stricken danger zone to a playground for dirty old men. Don’t listen to these, frankly, hysterical opinions.
Here at Bangkok.com we have several lifetimes’ worth of knowledge about what it’s like to be a foreigner in Bangkok so we have compiled the information we most wish we knew the first time the plane touched down at Suvarnabhumi Airport (or the old Don Muang Airport for people of a certain age). Don’t rely on chatter in the immigration queue for your information; you can get it all right here!
1) Use the official taxi queue at the Airport
First thing first, you have landed at the Bangkok airport and felt the first hot rush of Bangkok air. You collect your bags and head out to catch a taxi into town, but don’t go with the friendly touts with their big smiles because they will charge you three or four times more than the official ‘meter’ price. Go to the Ground Floor and join the fast moving Official Taxi Queue. You tell the lady where you would like to go, she writes it down in Thai, explains to the taxi driver and away you go. There is a 50 baht surcharge added to the price but it is well worth it for a quick and convenient taxi to your hotel. In Thailand all taxis should use a meter.
2) Try to use public transport (especially during rush hour)
It is somewhat counter-intuitive but the fastest way around Bangkok is by public transport, and this is especially true from 7:00 to 09:00 and between 17:00 and 19:00 when the roads of Bangkok become a quagmire of cars, buses, tuk tuks and motorbikes. Instead, make use of Bangkok’s skytrain, subway and, often overlooked, boat networks. This is vital when trying to cut across town to the temples and palaces of the Old City from the tourist centres of Sukhumvit and Silom.
3) Carry Small Change and Bills
Carrying a pocket full of coins and 20 baht notes might be a little inconvenient but it will help you out considerably when paying for transport or food at local restaurants, as many taxi drivers and food vendors won’t be able to break a 1,000 baht note and running around trying to find a 7-11 isn’t much fun in the midday sun, even less so in a tropical storm!
4) Prices Vary
Something that takes some getting used to for first time visitors – there are many products you will find all over Bangkok, but at vastly different prices. There are several reasons for this but the most prevalent one is that traders are trying to take advantage of tourists’ ignorance about the true cost of things in the Kingdom. A good rule of thumb dictates that the higher the proportion of tourists, the higher the cost of things for sale. Remember that at markets such as Chatuchak, Pratunam and Asiatique, many items don’t have a price tag and haggling for a discount is common – perhaps even expected. It is also a surprise to find different prices quoted at different stalls within the same market! I found a pair of muay Thai shorts for half the price I was originally quoted at a neighbouring stall in MBK Shopping Mall.
5) Appropriate Clothing for Temples
When the sun is out many of us want to get a bit of a tan, but it’s important to remember that in Thailand Buddhism is still a very central part of life and so, when visiting temples, shoulders and anything above the knee should be covered up. Save the strapless bikini top for the beach! This is especially good advice for when visiting The Grand Palace, as you may be forced to rent a pair of baggy pyjamas and a 70s style floral shawl if your attire is deemed ‘inappropriate’.
6) Pack Light and Leave Space for Shopping
Whether you like exploring the packed alleyways of Chatuchak Market, finding the next up and coming designer in Siam Square or picking up the latest top-end fashion from Siam Paragon Shopping Mall, Bangkok has got you covered. It is undoubtable that shopping is one of the highlights to many people’s Bangkok experience so resist the temptation to pack your suitcase to the brim, and instead buy the majority of your holiday clothes when you arrive. The markets and malls of Bangkok are rightly considered some of the best in the world with prices often cheaper than back in your home country, and tourists can enjoy even further discounts with discount cards and VAT refunds!
7) 8:00 and 18:00 National Anthem
One of the most curious sights for first time visitors to Bangkok happens every day at 08:00 and again at 18:00 when the Thai National Anthem is played in train stations, markets and civil buildings throughout the country. Thai people will all stop what they are doing and stand silently in respect, but on the beat of the last drum will all continue on with their busy lives. As a tourist it is polite to also stop if you happen to be walking and you hear a song being blared through a loudspeaker and thousands of people standing to attention.
Bangkok is generally a safe city where a lot is done to protect tourists and ensure they go home happy to tell their friends what a great place it is. However, there are also some unscrupulous characters preying on tourists with some scam or trick. Some of them are obvious; others less so. Fear not, as long as you know what to expect, you can steer clear of an unfortunate episode.
9) Be Careful with Street Food and Eat at Busy Restaurants
Street food in Bangkok is unparalleled in its range and taste. In this foodies paradise you can find woks and pots sizzling and bubbling with all manner of delicacies 24 hours a day. The issue for tourists unaccustomed to Bangkok street food is, ‘Can I eat this without getting the dreaded Bangkok belly?’ The overwhelming answer to this question is yes, but you should take some precautions. The most important one being try to eat at busy restaurants, especially when the restaurant is full of local people. Don’t worry about the language barrier just get in there and start pointing! Another important one if you are buying barbequed meat skewers: be sure to keep them sizzling for a little longer than normal so you can be positive they’re cooked through thoroughly. Ice is also ok to drink here in Thailand, something that not everyone knows.
Travelling with young Children
10) Buggies, Prams and Pushchairs are Useless on Bangkok Streets.
Travelling with young children requires planning on the scale of a military invasion so to make things a little easier, here’s some advice to help out the families. Bangkok is an excellent place to bring children because Thai people are infatuated with small children but also revere them. Anything they can do to help a mother and her child they absolutely will, and this makes travelling a lot easier. You will also find that Thai women can’t resist a little pinch of the cheeks or even a quick cuddle. However, it’s important to remember that pushchairs and prams are mostly useless on the bumpy and potholed pavements of Bangkok. The only time pushchairs are of any use is inside airports and shopping malls. Instead, think about buying a baby sling that wraps around your back and keeps baby snuggled into your chest.