14 TRAVEL TIPS WHEN VISITING BANGKOK
By Robert Robinson
Bangkok is a very crowded and bustling city that is modern and has a good public transport system. For a first time visitor, it can be overwhelming because the experience will involve all your senses. If you are new to Thailand then a good amount of planning is necessary so that you have some knowledge and are better prepared to deal with the experience.
You will encounter many people trying to hustle you for something on the street from trying to sell you viagra to bringing you to a suit maker or just begging you for money. Unless you are really interested to buy something (and we recommend you don't) always say no and keep walking. Most beggars are professionals who make their living begging and may pretend to be blind or homeless. Street vendors will try and sell you overpriced and fake or counterfeit goods.
If crossing a street be careful of the road vehicles and never assume drivers will watch out for you. So whenever you need to cross a road look both ways and don't expect anyone to stop for you at a pedestrian crossing, slow down or give way.
Bangkok is a huge city and together with the suburbs makes up 50 districts that are built around streets, canals, and alleys. The name of the alleys are called "Soi" and location addresses can be quite long and include this term. Bangkok is built around a large delta and the main river the Chao Phraya flows past the Rattanakosin royal district which is home to the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew temple. The best way to get around the city is on public transport either a train or airconditioned bus or riverboat.
Currently, there are some 9 million inhabitants in the city region with another 14 million in the surrounding metropolitan regions. Bangkok has enjoyed great economic growth since the 80s and is home to many international companies. Bangkok is the world's top 10 most visited city accounting for more than 20 million annual tourists. It is generally very safe and has low crime rates so unless you engage in something illegal you shouldn't have any problem.
Below are the 14 travel tips when visiting Bangkok.
1. The climate
Bangkok is the hottest city in Asia and the climate is classed as savannah tropical and is governed by the South Asian monsoon system. The monsoon offers Bangkok three seasons officially which are hot, rainy, and cool, although only two distinct seasons are noticeable namely the dry and the rainy season. The hottest month is April when temperatures average 35 degrees Celsius and the coolest month is December with an average of 22 degrees. Nighttime temperatures are around 6-10 degrees celsius cooler compared to the day time temperature. The coolest recorded nighttime temperature was 21 degrees.
The rainy season starts around the beginning of May and ends in October with the wettest month being September. The dry season is caused by the South Asian monsoon and starts from October and continues until April. The provincial and mountain areas in the Northern parts of Thailand experience three seasons and temperatures are generally cooler.
When in Bangkok you will want to keep a small hand towel in your bag to wipe your sweaty brow because the humidity can be quite uncomfortable until you get used to it. There is a lot of air pollution due to the fumes of the motor vehicles that blankets the city and this gives rise to higher temperatures and humidity.
2. Traveling after arriving at the airport
Bangkok has two airports the Don Mueang (DMK) and Suvarnabhumi (BKK) which is the largest and the main international airport. The airport that you will arrive at will usually be BKK if you are flying international but if you are flying in on a domestic or a discount flight you will probably arrive at DMK airport. Both airports are about 30 km distance from the main central business district of Bangkok where most tourists stay.
If you want to use a taxi then ignore the taxi touts asking if you need a taxi to go downtown. They will want to charge you a fixed price that is triple the normal price. Simply go upstairs to the first floor and wait in line for a public taxi there.
The journey by taxi can take anywhere from 40 minutes to two hours depending on the time of the day. If you arrive during rush hour try to avoid getting a taxi and take the train instead because spending two hours in a taxi is not much fun in traffic. The cost of a taxi fare is usually between 300-400 Baht plus the cost of the freeway toll which is currently 70 Baht. If you are picking up a taxi from the airport there is also an airport tax surcharge of 50 Baht. Just make sure the taxi meter is on and that it has been reset or your fare will include the previous travelers' trip.
Alternatively, you can take the airport link train on the city line that costs 45 Baht. This train will get you close to the CBD from where you can catch a taxi or change to a different train line to your final destination. All signage and information are displayed in English as well as Thai. You can purchase your train ticket from a machine or ticket office and it's fairly straight forward.
If you are connecting your flight between the DMK and BKK airports allow at least two hours of travel time between the airports. There are shuttle busses that run between the two airports but no trains.
Going to Pattaya
If your final destination is Pattaya or Jomtien beach there are buses from the airport that leave every hour but not during the night. If you arrive in Bangkok during the day you can go straight to the bus departure. It is not necessary but if you want to be sure you don't miss out especially during the high season book your bus trip here (www.airportpattayabus.com) to be safe.
3. Traveling around Bangkok
Bangkok is a very congested city and traveling by road can often be a nightmare especially when traveling to and from the airport. Rush-hour travel by taxi should be avoided if possible because the roads become parking lots between 7-10 am and 3-7 pm. If you are going to travel by taxi make sure the driver is using the meter and never enter any taxi if he doesn't.
Sometimes the taxi driver at the airport will try to negotiate the fare in advance with excuses such as 'there is too much traffic now' or 'I will take a shorter route' instead of using the meter. They are not allowed to do this and if you agree to a price it will always cost you more than on the meter. If you are taking a taxi from your hotel to somewhere within a 20-minute driving distance and not during rush hour, then taxis are quite inexpensive. A 20-minute journey is around 120 baht and outside of rush hour times, taxis can be useful.
The best and cheapest way to get around is using the train system such as the (MRT) which is the subway train, or the (BTS) which is the overland or "sky train". Its called a sky train because it travels along rails supported by pillars that are above the roadways. The trains in Thailand are modern, comfortable, and fast. When traveling by train be aware that Thailand has cultural norms that should be followed. Therefore be prepared to give up your seat to children, monks, pregnant women, and the elderly.
If you are staying within walking distance to the river and have time on your hands, then traveling by boat is another great way to get around and also the cheapest. However, boats do not run on timetables and you may find yourself waiting for extended periods for one to arrive. If you get seasick easily I don't recommend it because the water can get quite choppy most of the time.
Tuk-tuk is another form of transport and comes in two sizes the long and the short. Tuk-tuk's do not have a meter and all prices are fixed. A trip is more expensive than a taxi and can cost around 300-400 baht around town. Tuk-tuks are more of a novelty and most tourists will try one out if only once when in Thailand.
If you intend to record a video of your travel within the city then the Tuk-tuk is by far the best way for doing this because there are no glass windows to degrade your view. You can record a video from any angle and get a breeze to cool you off while you are at it. However, be sure to agree on the price of the journey before you board or you could get a rude surprise at your destination. Never fall for the 20 baht "see everything" line, because the Tuk-tuk driver will take you to all the places where he will make a commission when you buy something.
The best and cheapest way to get around is a moto-taxi or motorcycle taxi. You can find them everywhere and you can identify them because the driver wears an orange vest. They can pick you up and drop you off anywhere but be prepared for a sobering ride.
If you like peer to peer taxi services like "Uber" or "Grab" they are available but technically they are still illegal. You must download the user app first and you will need to be connected to the internet with your GPS on. Grab is the more popular service which most people seem to use.
The cheapest way by far is walking if you don't need to go far, but it can become tiring due to the heat and humidity. When you are walking you need to be careful of the condition of the pavements and sidewalks because you could twist your ankle or trip over something. There are a lot of manholes, potholes, and height variations in the sidewalk surface all of which you will have to look out for whilst at the same time avoiding getting hit by a motorbike. If you decide to walk make sure you bring a bottle of water with you. Nighttime is the best time to walk anywhere but the temperature is often still in the high 20s.
Avoid using mini-vans if you are going somewhere that is more than two hours away. The drivers of these vans are over-worked and tired and may end up falling asleep at the wheel. They are also very crowded, hot, and uncomfortable.
4. The sim card
Bringing your existing mobile phone service from your own country to Thailand is extremely expensive and probably won't work anyway. Therefore have your phone unlocked before you leave your country at a phone shop. This will enable your phone to accept a local Thai sim card.
When purchasing a sim card you will need to provide your passport or some other ID. In Thailand, there are three popular service providers which are TrueMove, DTAC, and AIS also known as (one-02-call). There are plans for short or long term with internet included.
All these providers offer calls and internet with prices starting from 50 baht for one week to 1700 baht for one month depending on the internet speed you chose. Your plan can be paid in advance or topped up at any 7/11 store, the provider's own stores, a Boonterm kiosk or online if you are computer savvy.
The best time to purchase a sim card is at the airport upon arrival. This is so that you don't have to worry about looking for a store near your hotel and spend that time relaxing instead.
5. The currency
The main currency of Thailand is the Thai baht or written as THB. Thai currency comes in coins and paper just like any other currency. The coins come in denominations of 1,2 5,10, as well as satang coins of 25 and 50 baht. You may get satang coins from a supermarket in your change or from a bank. The notes come in denominations of 20,50,100,500 and 1000 baht.
If you have foreign currency that you need to change into baht you can do this at banks, currency exchanges, the airport or ATMs. Don't buy Thai baht in your own country because you will get a better exchange rate in Thailand. There are no fees or charges in Thailand for exchanging currency with one exception. If you are going to use an ATM do not select "dynamic currency conversion" because the Thai bank will charge you a hefty fee.
Thai ATMs work with Cirrus, Maestro, Mastercard, and Visa plus cards. Check with your own bank before you leave to make sure your card belongs to one of those groups. Your debit card will not work unless you have activated international banking through your home bank. However, using a debit card will attract bank charges of 200 baht per transaction and should only be used in an emergency.
Always keep enough change on you when you are out and about because many businesses like to be paid in small denominations especially taxicab drivers, food vendors, and at wet market stalls.
If you are going to take Thai baht through customs there is a limit of 50,000 for a solo traveler or 100,000 for a family. If you are going to bring foreign currency into Thailand there is basically no limit. However, amounts above $20,000 US dollars must be declared with customs.
6. Currency exchange
The best place to exchange your currency is on arrival at the Suvarnabhumi (BKK) airport but you need to bear in mind that not all the exchange booths give you the same rate. Do not exchange currency within the airport terminals and instead walk towards the BTS train terminal which is down the escalators. There you will find the KTS Exchange booth which has the best exchange rate and as good as any in downtown Bangkok.
7. What to wear
Don't wear fabrics that are going to make you sweat and stay damp. Wear rayon or thin cotton fabrics only and avoid wearing long jeans because it's just too hot and humid. Men should wear shorts and women short dresses or skirts. If you are one of those guys that don't like wearing briefs be aware that this is illegal and can get you arrested.
If you are going to visit any temple or high-end restaurant you will need to wear long trousers if you are male and long skirts if female. If you are female do not wear anything with high heels or heels greater than one inch or you will twist your ankle on the footpaths as mentioned. The best footwear for everyday use in Bangkok is sneakers or sandals. Basically, anything that you don't have to wear socks with.
Wear some type of hat that protects your face from direct sunlight and if you are female you can use an umbrella out in the sun. Sunglasses are also good to protect you from glare but make sure they are fitted with genuine Polaroid lenses.
8. Dirty laundry
You can have your dirty laundry washed either at the hotel you are staying in or a laundromat. Most laundromats have coin-operated washing machines so you can do your own washing while you wait as well or have them do it for you. Most people prefer to leave their laundry and pick it up later or the next day. On average the cost is 50 baht per kilo and that includes washing and drying and your clothes folded. There are laundromats everywhere in Bangkok and some even provide food, coffee, and free WiFi.
In Bangkok the main language is Thai, but all signposts in supermarkets, Malls, roads and train stations are in both English and Thai. A lot of people in Bangkok speak a little English, especially in service sectors like restaurants, hotels, and bars. You will have trouble with street food vendors, tuk-tuk drivers and will have to use hand language.
If you are going to use a taxi write the address down on paper and show it to the driver before you get into the taxi. Taxi drivers do not speak English unless they have lived in the West.
Thailand is a mecca for cheap clothes, souvenirs, and usable items. There are many Malls where you can buy high-end goods such as Siam Discovery, Siam Center, Siam Paragon, Terminal 21, Central World, Platinium fashion Mall, Palladium and many others. The good thing about Malls is that they are airconditioned and have great food courts that offer an amazing variety of food that is not too expensive. There are of course many famous Western food outlets such as Burger King, MacDonalds, Pizzahut and Starbucks that can be found almost everywhere.
For the local Thai population, eating often is a national past time in Thailand and there are plenty of food outlets. The streets, sidewalks, and alleys are full of street vendors and food stalls where you can buy freshly cooked food for pennies. If you like spicy and flavored food then Thai food arguably is the best in Asia.
In Thailand, there sometimes is a local and a Western price when shopping at the markets and in some restaurants. You may also experience price hikes when renting a motorbike, having something repaired and employing a maid. As a tourist expect to be charged more than a local Thai but haggling and bargaining are welcome and everything is negotiable. Prices at the Mall are standard so the price hikes are not as bad as anywhere else.
12. Drinking water
The drinking water in Bangkok is not suitable for human consumption. To avoid any stomach bugs always drink bottled water or water from a distillery. When you are in a restaurant they will always give you complimentary water but this is also town water. Many locals do drink the town water but they have stomachs that are bug resistant.
The best way to travel is with the least number of luggage as possible. I would suggest one large suitcase that has 4 wheels and one small backpack. The large suitcase can be whatever size you need and should contain all your clothes, small appliances, shoes, toiletries, camera, chargers, etc. The small backpack can contain your laptop, wallet, and ID documents. The backpack will go with you in the luggage compartment on the plane whilst the suitcase will be handed in at the check-in counter.
Bring a small backpack will allow you to have both hands free and it is especially useful whenever you are out in the town. You can put your purse or wallet inside the backpack including your mobile, camera, drinking water bottle or even laptop. The large suitcase will, of course, stay in your hotel room.
The size of your suitcase will depend on how many belongings you need to have and how long your trip will last. Don't pack the suitcase full and always leave enough empty space should you buy something and want to bring it back home with you. Remember too that most planes only allow for 30 kg for the check-in luggage and 10 kg for carry-on bags.
The backpack should not be too big so that it becomes uncomfortable to walk around in, but it should not be too small so that your laptop can easily slide into it. Make sure you buy a good quality backpack so that the zips are less likely to break or get stuck and the material is more heavy-duty and longer-lasting. Some backpacks use synthetic material that cannot be slashed with a knife or razor to prevent theft and these are the best.
14. Essential items to bring
1. Three pairs of shorts (men) or three pairs of shorts or skirts.
2. One long trousers such as dress pants or jeans (men) or one long dress (females)
3. Five T-shirts, one shirt with collar (men) similar to women.
4. One pair of shoes, one pair of sandals, or just two pairs of light footwear.
5. Shaving equipment and toiletries such as toilet paper, toothpaste, toothbrush, deodorant.
6. Toothpicks, bandaids, tweezers, scissors, universal power adaptor.
7. One bath towel, 2 face towels.
8. Sunglasses, a water bottle, a hat, a pen, and paper.
Whenever you are out and about having a small backpack will also enable you to always have toilet paper, face towel, and soap with you. The toilets in many places like restaurants, food outlets, public markets, the train station, etc will not always have toilet paper. The reason being is that people steal the toilet paper and Thai people simply prefer to use a bucket and water. It is also a good idea to always carry a pen and a small notebook to write on.