Since I receive a lot of questions by friends and readers who are comming to Bangkok (oriental city!) concerning tips, tricks or any special advice for first time visitors, I thought I come up with a beginner’s post covering do’s and dont’s, musts and shoulds. It’s all based on personal experience. So if you disagree or want to add some advice, feel free to comment. Otherwise enjoy Bangkok for Beginners.
Touch down – Suvarnabhumi – Bangkok Airport
When touching down in Bangkok you will enter the Land of Smile at the Suvarnabhumi International Airport. The first thing you will see, besides the toilettes, is the visa check counter. One more time to be patient. But after flying for a decent amount of time this should not bother you anymore.
After you passed the visa check you claim your luggage and can exchange money if needed. Then, maybe after checking out some tourist information desks or restaurants, it is time to leave Suvarnabhumi International Airport. There are different ways to do so, my choice would be the sky train to the city. It beats bus & taxi in terms of time and is right now, due to promotions, pretty affordable. And not crowded. Something you won’t find very often in Thailand.
Bangkok City – Hostels – Khao San Road (Kaosan Road)
When you leave the Sky Train you are very likely to meet one of the first very very friendly Thais. Asking you where you are from, what you do, etc….and the offering you a lift in a – all of a sudden approaching – TukTuk. For a very very cheap price of course….even though those guys are very friendly, don’t buy their stories. If you want to find a place to sleep very quickly and do not feel for a bus adventure on your first day, take a cab, tell the driver you only pay for taximeter, and tell him to bring you to Khao San Road. The Backpacker Home.
Khao San Road itself has everything you can imagine. Hostels, food, bars, travel agencies, small shops. And, most of all, a lot of noise and tourists. Day and night! That’s why I prefer to stay in some streets close to Khaosan Road but not Khao San Road itself. Sometimes it’s a little hard to find sleep while there’s �a 24/7 party going on outside your door. But nevertheless, as backpacker, Kaosan Road is a must. Your place to go.
In Kaosan Road and the other roads (my favorite is the place around soi ram buttri and chana songkhram) around there are many hostels. So simply go there, ask for a room, check it out and if you like it, stay. If you don’t like it – no problem. The next hostel is just a hundred feet away. Right now I never had a real bad experience, so there is no ‘no go’ hostel for me so far. The most chilled and stylish hostel so far was the Wild Orchid Villa (but by far the most expensive one – nevertheless still reasonable prices). But also the Baan Sabai or the rooftop garden were pretty decent for a far cheaper price. So please don’t worry about finding a bed. It’s quite easy and almost never a big problem.
Bangkok City – moving around – public transport
Bangkok traffic is crazy! 11.5 million people trying to make their way through this huge melting pot. With a very small subway in terms of reach and only a few sky trains, taxi and busses are the way to go (and TukTuks – as touristic attraction – of course). When using a TukTuk you can have a lot of fun, but be aware of the fact that cheap TukTuk rides never come alone. They do not drive you to the place you wanted, they drive you to some travel agencies or other shops that – once more – try to sell you extremely expensive stuff. And if somebody tells you there are cheap governmental TukTuks, simply give him the finger – in a friendly way of course!
So without the TukTuk trouble it leaves taxi and busses (if possible trains are a good choice too, but they don’t serve all places in Bangkok). When going for a Taxi make sure the driver uses the taximeter. Otherwise you might pay a huge ‘Farang bonus’. Clear this in advance and make sure to have the exact amount of money in your pocket. Many drivers can not or will not give you money back. When your negotiations are done and you enter the taxi: sit back, relax and enjoy the traffic jam around you.
Busses are the cheap way to travel but need a little understanding of the thai language or a nice and trustworthy hostel guide who tells you which bus to take. Anyway: Always take a map with you – just in case. When a bus is approaching and you see your number on it, you have to wave at him in order to stop. Then you hop on the bus, sit down or take a stand and whit for the cashier to come. You pay on the go. So don’t worry about bus tickets. When you have the feeling of being lost, just try to ask somebody. Usually Thai people are very friendly and appreciate your try of using the ‘normal’ public transport.
Bangkok City – people
As already mentioned people in Thailand are usually very friendly and smile a lot! The everyday normal Thai you meet in the bus is mostly a very nice guy (or girl) and fun to talk to (if you understand each other). But in touristic regions, and especially in Bangkok, there are a lot of people trying to make profit of the well known ‘Thais are friendly’ prejudice. They come to you, talk to you for about 10 minutes about everything. Your home, that they have a friend who lives there….and whatever. They talk until they realize that you lost your awareness and then they come up with an idea…and tell you great and reasonable and things and all of a sudden there is a TukTuk approaching – a special cheap one of course – that will bring you to a very special Thai shop where everything is cheap and good….of course….This all will happen very very friendly. So no need to be afraid – just be aware of scam like this. It would be a pitty if you come across one of those duchebags and then blame all Thais for this. The ‘real deal’ people are amazing!
Bangkok City – Sightseeing
So here we go. Sightseeing in Bangkok. What should I say. Take your lonelyplanet or Stephan Loose out of your pocket and check them out. Temples (wats) everywhere! After having spent a lot of time in Thailand and seeing many temples I would recommend three special ones in Bangkok. But all others are – especially for first time visitors – great to see too!
In my opinion you should check out Wat Pho (temple of the reclining Buddha), Wat Saket (the Golden Mount – amazing view all over Bangkok when you’re on the top) and Wat Arun (temple of dawn).
The most important temple in Thailand, What Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), is located within the grounds of the Grand Palace and definitely worth a visit too. If you are in Bangkok, you need to see this!
Besides the amazing temples there are many more sights in Bangkok and it is up to your personal preference what you want to see during your stay. I recommend sights like the Giant Swing, a cruise on the Phraya river, a short hello to Chinatown and a visit to the floating markets to everybody who asks me for advice.
Bangkok City – Food
Bangkok has everything you can imagine. Food from all over the world. From Pizza to Schnitzel, from Snake to Frog. But when you are there for the first time I would suggest to stay with local food. You are in Thailand! Eat like this! Streetfood can be found everywhere and is a decent replacement for expensive restaurants. That’s the real Thaifood! Pad Thai, Pad Ga Pow or similar (you can show with your hands what you’d like to try) meals can be found everywhere. So check out the next market, street kitchen or stand before heading to an expensive restaurant. It will be worth a try!
Bangkok City – Shopping
If you have any doubts whether you can find what you forget at home in Bangkok…yes you can. There is everything. Big malls, supermarkets, special interest shops, 7-eleven. Everything. So don’t worry about anything. If you forget something at home, you can buy it here. And even more. Cheap suits, silk, food, girls and more are famous all over the world and I bet you will find a lot to take home. You even might have to buy a bigger case – but you can find some here too, of course. But besides all the nice stuff, there is a lot of bullshit too. Many fake clothes or technical equipement. So be sure about what you buy and what price you pay.
Bangkok – oriental city
Bangkok is a blast! When I was there for the first time it totally blew me away with it’s enormous size and hectic. I wasn’t even able to enjoy it. After a few visits I can say it has a lot of nice sights and advantages, but it will never be my favorite place to stay. Nevertheless a visit to Bangkok is always worth the time since it is, and will ever be, an overwhelming city.