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For anyone travelling to Thailand, you’ll probably first fly in to Bangkok. Whether you decide to stay for two days or two weeks before heading off on your travels, knowing the basics will help you out enormously. Landing in this dizzying, exasperating, exciting metropolis can seem overwhelming. But with our practical survival guide you’ll be navigating Bangkok’s streets like a local and feasting on regional specialities in no time!
The weather is hot, humid and the mosquitos will bite. Make sure you pack accordingly, so lots of thin clothes in light colours, and plenty of bug spray - although you can easily pick this up once you arrive in Bangkok. And thanks to Thailand’s tropical monsoon climate, unless you visit during the cool season (November to February), you will get rained on so remember to bring something waterproof! To visit certain attractions like the Grand Palace, shorts are not acceptable so you’ll need at least one pair of long trousers. And for girls, it’s also a good idea to bring a sarong and carry this with you when you’re visiting temples to cover your shoulders with.
Bangkok is huge, and so it goes without saying that all of the attractions you want to visit might not be in the same area. Do some research, and choose a neighbourhood that suits you. Whether you’ve always wanted to experience the backpacking mecca of Khao San Road, or you want to eat as much authentic local street food as possible before you head off on your travels (the Yaowarat district is best for foodies), a little research before you book will go a long way. Check out our guide to the best areas to stay in Bangkok here.
As a general rule of thumb, locals tend to shop in the city’s super malls during the day, and in the outdoor markets at night when it’s (a little) cooler. Spending your trip inside a mall might not sound like your idea of fun, but there are arcades, movie theatres, food markets and even rooftop water parks inside. If you feel like a break from dodging smoke belching tuk tuks and the constant hustle of the outside world, the arctic blasts of air con inside a super mall might be the remedy. Follow the locals and head to the vast outdoor markets after dark, when you can make the most of the atmosphere, be tempted into plate after plate of street food and appreciate the (relatively speaking) cool of the evening.
The first and only rule of shopping in Bangkok is that if you’re not in a shop with price tags and bar codes, you should be bartering. You’ll know you’re getting good if you can whittle away until the price is almost half what was originally asked for! But whilst haggling is the norm, remember that Thai people are known for their kind nature and being softly spoken so having an aggressive attitude won’t get you very far. Start out with “what’s the best price you can offer me?” and go from there. If you’re not happy, walk away and you’ll probably be called right back and offered a better price! And if all else fails, remember the markets in Bangkok are huge so you’re bound to find an identical item at a better price sooner or later.
One of the most exciting things about Bangkok is of course its street food scene. Whether you’re here for a few hours or a few weeks, make sure to eat as much local food as you have room for! Wherever you see a queue of locals in front of a street food stall, get yourself in the same queue and get ready for an explosion of flavour - you might not know what you’re eating but it will probably be delicious, and at the very least an adventure for your tastebuds. And if the locals are eating it, then you know it’s good.
You will more than likely be asked to show your ID at least once during your stay in Bangkok. Whether it’s to get into a club, or the local policeman decides he fancies having a look at it, carrying one with you will avoid all sorts of issues. But instead of clinging on to your passport and constantly worrying that you’ll lose it, make a photocopy and carry this instead.
It’s possible that on your way to the Grand Palace, someone may try to tell you that it’s closed, and offer you a once in a lifetime opportunity to visit another rare attraction, which is conveniently a long tuk tuk ride away. This applies to all major attractions, and the best thing to remember is that no, they are not closed and yes, this is probably a scam. Simply walk away and see for yourself.
Only get in to a taxi after they have turned on the meter, and the driver has understood where you want to get to. If for some reason they refuse to switch on the meter, simply walk away and find another taxi. It’s also good to bear in mind that your driver might not have change, so carry small notes with you if you can. And if all else fails and you somehow find yourself in an area void of any taxis (unlikely but not impossible), use the app GrabTaxi. This app works like Uber although it’s cheaper; simply download, request a ride, share your location and you’re off! When it comes to tuk tuks, make sure the price has been agreed before you jump in and keep in mind they’ll be a lot more expensive than a taxi. For the experience at least once though, they’re worth every penny - just remember to hold on as you’re hurtling through the streets and weaving in and out of oncoming traffic!
If dodging other vehicles as you grip the rails of a tuk tuk isn’t your thing, you can always make the most of the city’s public transport. Bangkok has a reliable and cheap train system made up of the MRT subway and the BTS skytrain. Above or below ground, they’re a great option for getting around although it’s worth noting that you will need to use a taxi to reach some attractions. The skytrain has a fixed cost whilst the subway varies, but you can buy a daily or weekly pass to make things easier. And as if you needed any more persuading, both are air-conditioned, offering a break from the humidity!
You will undoubtedly find yourself in a taxi at least once during your stay in Bangkok, but even once you’ve got over the meter hurdle there is another bridge to cross which may prove trickier. Many people in Bangkok don’t speak English, and communicating the name of your accommodation is not exactly easy through charades. Save yourself the trouble of being stuck unable to get home and ask your accommodation hosts or hotel concierge to write the name and address in Thai on a piece of paper you can carry in your wallet. This will be your magic ticket home; simply show it to your taxi driver and any language related confusion will evaporate.
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