Planning to experience the craziness and chaos of Bangkok? Get prepared to hit the ground running with my top tips for Thailand’s capital city on the right foot.
Hello: Sawadee kha if you’re a woman or sawadee krap if you’re a man
Thank you: Kob khun kha or krap
SIM card: We bought a Happy Tourist SIM card from MBK mall for about 500 baht with unlimited data and calls within Thailand
Transport: Taxis are cheap and give you air con, tuk tuks are also cheap but no air con, the BTS (SkyTrain) is super cheap and easy to use. We got BTS Rabbit passes for about 100 baht and then loaded that as we travelled.
Safety: Overall I think Bangkok was really safe. Thai people are incredibly lovely and I had nothing but positive experiences both times I visited. The second time I had three days in Bangkok solo and felt fine the whole time, I wouldn’t suggest walking around alone at night as with anywhere but as long as you take the usual precautions of travelling it’s totally okay.
- Always ask the taxi driver to turn on the meter. He’ll likely offer you 500 baht to the city, but insist on the meter and it should cost between 250 and 400 baht plus the 75 baht motorway toll.
- The airport, like all others, is expensive. If you can wait till you get to the city, try not to buy food, drink or electronics in the airport. The city centre has all this for far cheaper than even duty free.
- Don’t forget there are TWO airports in Bangkok – Suvarnibhumi (the big international one) and Don Muang (used by smaller, local airlines). If you’re flying longhaul you’ll likely be leaving from Suvarnibhumi, but if you’ve got an AirAsia ticket to somewhere nearby you’ll probably be going to DMK. Make sure you know which one you need to get to, and tell the taxi driver the name of the airport plus your airline so you get dropped at the right check-in area.
EATING AND DRINKING
- Bangkok is an absolute haven for foodies (and drinkies!) – from fantastic street food to five star restaurants to funky backpacker bars, you’ll find all that you need in this crazy city. Check out the food courts at malls for some super cheap sustenance when you’re shopping, head to Sukhimvit 38 for local delicacies like pad Thai and pad see ew, or treat yourself with a drink way up high at Sky Bar, made famous by the Hangover II.
- Not into spicy food? Never fear, neither am I and I’ve lasted through two Thailand trips so far. Order local dishes like pad Thai but make sure you ask for ‘non-spicy’ or ‘mai pet’ in Thai. Please note: Don’t ask for mild, because their mild still blows my head off. Non-spicy is the best way to make it clear that you’re not accustomed to multiple chillis in your dinner.
- Of course, you’re probably going to hit Khao San Road for a few tipples, but please be careful. Keep an eye on your drink, stick with people you know and always carry your hotel’s business card or name in your phone – you know, in case you drink a few too many buckets and a tuk tuk driver needs to get you to your accommodation. Yes, that has happened, no, not to me…
- If you’re up for spending a bit more and need a break from rice, rice and more rice, head to Gourmet Market on the ground floor of Siam Paragon mall. It’s a gourmet supermarket (obvs) and has a full on bakery, butchery, cheeserie (I wish that was a thing) as well as fresh fruit and veges. You can even buy your meat there, including Aussie Wagyu steak, and have them cook it for you to eat right then and there. Expect to pay more than the local street side vendors but it’s still cheaper than New Zealand or London.
- MBK is a mall right by Siam Square, with six floors of pretty much anything you could imagine. There are the usual tourist goodies like fake Nikes and Full Moon Party singlets, endless backpacker pants, some really decent fake watches, cute local creations and a delish food court up on the sixth floor. As tourist malls go, this one is my favourite.
- Platinum Mall is probably my favourite in all of Bangkok, there’s just SUCH cute stuff. It’s a wholesale mall so the stuff is more unique than the tourist shopping areas, although it is all Asian sizing (I was L/XL and normally an 8/10 in NZ) so is best for petite peeps. You’ll get better prices when you buy in bulk from one shop, just don’t get lost in the 500+ stalls. If you see something you like, BUY IT – there’s no way you’re going to remember how to get back to Floor 5 Row R Shop 72.
- Chatuchak Weekend Market is an absolute Bangkok bucketlister so I’d be silly to leave it off. To be completely honest I wasn’t the hugest fan but we were dealing with 40+ degree heat so it was probably that more than anything. Expect everything from backpacker pants to penis soap to pomeranian puppies, yes it gets weird.
- Siam Square and the surrounding malls are great when you need quality clothes or travel goodies. Siam Paragon has all the brands you’d expect in a Western mall (helloooo two storey H&M), Siam Center has incredibly funky local and international shops and Central World boasts luxury brands from all over the globe.
THINGS TO DO
Where do I even start?! Bangkok is full to the brim of unique activities, pumping nightlife and cultural adventures you wouldn’t find anywhere else. Here’s a couple of must-dos and must-sees to at least start you off.
- The tourist spots. I’m not a huge fan of the attractions that, well, attract thousands of tourists a day (especially in Thailand humidity) but you can’t really miss the Grand Palace, Reclining Buddha and Floating Markets. Choose one or two places to see each day and go first thing in the morning, that way you’ll miss the major crowds and can be inside a nice air-conditioned mall by the time peak temperatures hit mid-morning. Wat Pho and Wat Arun are fascinating, and the Grand Palace is a phenomenal blend of jewelled-houses, glittering gold temples and resplendent residences, where the Thailand royals started living way back in 1782.
- As if Bangkok wasn’t already insane, Chinatown takes it to the next level. The bustling streets boast endless rows of street food vendors, hundreds of authentic gold shops, Chinese-Buddhist temples and historical landmarks galore. Visit during Chinese New Year for a real treat.
- Hitting the khlongs (canals) of the Chao Phraya River on a longtail boat is a rite of passage for any Bangkok visitor. Once the livelihood of Thai trade and transport, the River of Kings is now mainly used for ferrying locals and tourists around the city. Choose a water-taxi over the usual tuk tuk for a chance to see the riverside temples, markets and houses from a different angle, or opt for a dinner cruise to get a taste of Bangkok’s romantic side – the temples and Buddha statues all lit up are simply stunning.
- Get lost! Bangkok is one of those cities that you can’t visit with just a guidebook or TripAdvisor top 10. My favourite Bangkok moments happened when we were looking for a particular tailor but stumbled across a massage parlour ($5 back massage, yes please!), or when my phone battery died so I had to try figure out how to get back to the hotel speaking to people with minimal English. Stay safe but don’t be afraid to veer off the beaten track – your photos and stories will be well worth it.
That’s my basic overview of Thailand’s chaotic capital! If there’s anything you think I’ve missed please comment below, or keep an eye out for heaps more Bangkok blogs in the coming weeks 🙂