7 Things You Need to Know Before Traveling to Bangkok
Bangkok, otherwise known as the City of Angels, is the capital and by far the largest city in Thailand. It is a huge, bustling city on the delta of the Chao Phraya River. More than ten million people live in the city and its surrounds – almost one-sixth of the population of the entire country.
Unlike most cities, Bangkok does not have a specific central business area. Instead, several busy shopping and commercial areas lie in close proximity to each other. The area around Siam Station is one, and it is well connected to nearby Silom, Ratchathewi, and Asok. In these areas, you will find some of the busiest shopping malls in the world.
Lumpini Park at the start of Silom Road is considered the most central green space and it is here that you can see the locals practicing their tai chi exercises in the early mornings.
Thailand is a constitutional monarchy which is proud of the fact that it has never been invaded, and unlike its neighbors, never colonialized by Europeans. The Royal family is held in such high regard that it is a criminal offence punishable by a prison sentence to insult any of them.
In October 2016 the long-standing King Bhumibol Adulyadej passed away after reigning for seventy years and the country is officially still in mourning. His portrait can be seen throughout Bangkok.
How Do I Travel to Bangkok?
Bangkok is served by two International airports which are amongst the most widely utilized in Asia. Don Mueang is the older of the two but the busiest is Suvarnabhumi Airport which opened in 2006.
Bangkok traffic is invariably heavy and a taxi from either airport will take at least 45 minutes to the Downtown areas. Long distance buses are cheap and serve the city from other areas of Thailand. There is also a long established and efficient national rail network.
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Getting Around Bangkok
Bangkok has some of the most congested roads in the world. And even with recently improved toll freeways, it is impossible to avoid traffic jams. Metered taxis are plentiful and relatively inexpensive, but some drivers are less than honest and will conveniently forget to activate their meters. You should always ask the driver to turn on his meter as a matter of habit.
In addition, there are the famous Bangkok “tuk-tuks”. These are three-wheeled vehicles with motorcycle engines – hence the name. They have no meters and you would be expected to haggle over the price. Inevitably you will pay more than the locals, but they are great fun to ride in.
If you are in a hurry and are prepared to take a risk, most busy street corners will have motorcycle taxis. The drivers wear vests with numbers emblazoned on them and they will negotiate the traffic with some skill, but be prepared for a ‘white knuckle’ experience! Bangkok has a metro system, but by far the best way of crossing the city is to use the BTS Sky Train – an elevated rail system opened in 1999 and much loved by locals. For pure convenience, you should consider staying in a hotel that is near a Sky Train station.
Bangkok has a metro system, but by far the best way of crossing the city is to use the BTS Sky Train – an elevated rail system opened in 1999 and much loved by locals. For pure convenience, you should consider staying in a hotel that is near a Sky Train station.
Language and Currency
Thai is spoken by the locals but many hotel employees and assistants in the larger shopping malls can get by in English. Ask the concierge at your hotel to write destinations in Thai to show to taxi drivers and carry a Bangkok street map to help you negotiate this complex city. The written form of the language is difficult for a non-local to decipher.
The local currency is the Thai baht and notes have the King’s portrait and come in denominations which range from twenty to one thousand. Money exchange booths are prevalent in the tourist area and exchange rates clearly displayed.
The written form of the language is difficult for a non-local to decipher. The local currency is the Thai baht and notes have the King’s portrait and come in denominations which range from twenty to one thousand. Money exchange booths are prevalent in the tourist area and exchange rates clearly displayed.
Bangkok is either hot and wet or hot and dry. At all events, it is hot for most of the year with temperatures usually in the thirties Celsius. The wettest season is between May and October but intense rainfall (often short lasting) can occur throughout the year. Most hotels and shopping malls and restaurants are air conditioned as is the Sky Train.
Places Not To Miss in Bangkok
Thailand has a strong Buddhist tradition and there are numerous temples or wats throughout the city. You will often see saffron-robed Buddhist monks with their begging bowls – some mere boys. You are free to wander in and out of the wats but you should be dressed modestly. The Grand Palace is a ‘must see’ during your visit. This is a large and very elaborate complex of the royal residence, state buildings and ornate temples. You would need half a day to do it justice (take plenty of water).
It is very interesting to take a boat ride along the river. The narrow boats with their long poled outboard motors will chug up and down the river and turn off into the labyrinth of “klongs” or canals. It is fascinating to watch the klong dwellers going about their daily business.
Another interesting stop on your Bangkok excursion could be the notorious Patpong area. This is a mixture of the night market and red light district. You will be openly offered tickets to sex shows of various obscurity as well as ‘ladyboy’ performances. There are several straightforward bars also where you can stop and people watch and enjoy one of the two local favorite beers Singa or Chang.
Bangkok is a shoppers’ paradise. Not only will you find bargains at the malls but there are specialist gemstone merchants and jewelers of all descriptions. The area near Saphan Taksin Sky Train station at the end of the long Silom road is famous for its gemstones. Many of the small shops cater to the small jewelry maker and beads of all shapes and sizes can be purchased at the small shops here. Many run by expatriate Afghanis.
No trip to Bangkok is complete without a trip to the famous Chatuchuk Weekend Market, adjacent to Mo Chit Sky Train station. This is a huge covered market containing more than 8000 stalls in 27 sections. If it is for sale you can buy it here and if it is your inclination, ‘shop until you drop’, this place is for you. Prices are already reasonable, but if you are buying in quantity, of course, some bargaining is expected. Bring lots of water, there is no air conditioning here. You will need also to keep your wits about you for pickpockets or bag snatchers are not uncommon.
For all gals out there, check this Post from my friend Beth revealing what to wear in Bangkok and during Songkran!
When purchasing products in malls look for sign of Tax Refund for Tourists Scheme. This will allow you to reclaim the 7% value-added tax levied on all purchases in the Kingdom of Thailand. The total spending must be 2000 THB or more at a shop within one business day. Meaning that you could make two 1000 THB transactions at the same shop on the same day and have them count towards your refund, but a single 1000 THB transaction followed by another two days later will not qualify. During your entire trip in Thailand, you must have at least 5000 THB of qualifying transactions to get a refund.
Street markets in Bangkok are not only the places where you can find cheap clothes and food. But they are like a social network for residents. Some street markets operate all night long. Visit it to feel the flavor of this authentic place. Still, if you’re a white skinned foreigner the prices would be twice higher than they supposed to be. Bargain over every certain thing!
Food in Bangkok
Finally, a word about food. Thai cuisine is famous worldwide and there is an abundance of choice in Bangkok. Two personal favorites are the unique “Cabbages and Condoms” in the Asok area. This was started as a charity to deal with some of the problems associated with the Aids epidemic which hit the country in the nineties. The restaurant has gone from strength to strength, the food is good and a shop at the entrance sells souvenirs promoting the concept of safe sex.
The other one which is off the beaten track is called “Harmonique”. It is close to the jewelry quarter near Silom Road and the restaurant surroundings are amazing. You dine in the rooms of a rambling colonial type house complete with curios and ornaments. The food is excellent and inexpensive. Try the Panang curry, pineapple rice or pomelo salad and wash it down with an ice cold Singa beer.
Avoid Bangkok if you want peace and quiet but for an exciting few days, you must visit this vibrant city.