Bangkok is the capital of Thailand and by far its largest city with an estimated population of over 11 million. Bangkok is one of Asia’s most cosmopolitan cities. Created as the Thai capital in 1782 by the first monarch of the present Chakri dynasty, Bangkok is a national treasure house and Thailand’s spiritual, cultural, political, commercial, educational and diplomatic centre. Bangkok is a huge and modern city humming with nightlife and fervour. Administratively, it is split up into 50 khet (districts), which are further split into 154 khwaeng (แขวง), but these are more often used in official business and for addresses. Visitors will find the conceptual division below of the main areas more useful for getting around.
- Siam Square
The area around Siam Square, including Ratchaprasong Intersection and Ploen Chit is Bangkok’s modern commercial core, full of glitzy malls and hotels. The Skytrain intersection at Siam Square is the closest thing Bangkok has to a centre.
The long Sukhumvit Road is Bangkok’s nightlife district filled with quality hotels, restaurants and clubs. Part of its nightlife represents Bangkok’s naughty image, particularly Soi Cowboy and Nana Plaza.
To the south of Sukhumvit, the area around Silom Road and Sathorn Road is Thailand’s sober financial center by day, but Bangkok’s primary party district by night when quarters like the infamous Patpong come alive.
Between the river and Sukhumvit lies the densely packed “Old Bangkok”, home to Bangkok’s best-known sights, such as the Grand Palace and Wat Pho.
- Khao San Road
On the northern part of Rattanakosin, Bangkok’s backpacker mecca Khao San Road and the surrounding district of Banglamphu have everything the budget traveler is looking for.
- Yaowarat and Pahurat
Along Yaowarat Road you will find Bangkok’s Chinatown, while Pahurat Road is the home of the sizable Indian community. This multicultural district is filled with a Sikh Temple (Sri Guru Singh Sabha) and markets selling food, gold, fabrics, and Bollywood movies.
This leafy, European-style area is the political center of Thailand, home to numerous political institutions and the monarchy. Its breezy palaces, lush gardens and broad avenues give the district its distinct character.
The quieter west bank of the Chao Phraya River, with Wat Arun and many small canals to explore.
The area around Phahonyothin Road and Viphavadi Rangsit Road is best known for Pratunam, Chatuchak Weekend Market and Baiyoke Tower II. The sois around Ari offer some excellent nightlife.
The district north of Sukhumvit centered around Ratchadaphisek Road (part of which is called Asoke). The sois of “Ratchada” are popular nightlife spots with the locals, as is the area around Royal City Avenue (RCA).
Along Ramkhamhaeng Road lies a vast residential area with big shopping malls and amusement parks (like Safari World). Each neighborhood has its own distinct character, the most important ones being Bang Kapi and Min Buri.
There are many leading European and Asian airlines offering Cheap flights to Bangkok from major UK Airports, including Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester etc. Bangkok has two airports operating. Allow at least three hours to connect between them.
Suvarnabhumi Airport, pronounced “soo-wanna-poom”, (IATA: BKK) started operations in September 2006 and is now Bangkok’s main airport as well as the busiest airport in Southeast Asia. It’s used by all airlines in Thailand except domestic Nok Air and One-Two-Go, which still use the old Don Muang. There is only one terminal building, which covers both domestic and international flights, but it’s huge (by some measures the world’s largest) so allow time for getting around.
Suvarnabhumi offers all facilities expected of a major international airport (transit hotel, ATMs, money exchange), plus a “Redemption Booth”, very reassuring for karmically challenged passengers. The most interesting sounding restaurant is probably “Panda Ready To Eat”, but don’t be misled by the name. The cheapest place to eat is the Magic food court on Level 1, near Gate 8, while perhaps the most comfortable and relaxing of the airport’s restaurants and cafes is the Sky Lounge on the 6th floor. Here you can have your latte while sitting in plush leather sofas and enjoying a panoramic view over the runways – prices are also tolerable with coffee around 70 baht a cup. The observation lounge on 7th is not much to see since the steel structure of the roof blocks most of the airport view. There are a few stores in the check-in area including a convenience store and a post office; however, the real shopping experience awaits travellers on the other side of immigration in the departure lounge area, where the number of shops and duty free outlets leaves you wondering if you are in an airport or a mall.
Don Muang Airport (IATA: DMK), 20 km north of downtown, was Bangkok’s main airport until 2006. The airport currently handles Nok Airand One-Two-GO domestic flights, but the former international terminal is now limited to charters and general aviation.
Bangkok’s three official long haul bus terminals are:
Eastern Bus Terminal
The Eastern Bus Terminal, also known as Ekamai, this relatively compact terminal is located right next to Ekamai BTS station on Sukhumvit (E7). Ekamai serves Eastern Thailand destinations, including Pattaya, Rayong, Ban Phe, Chanthaburi and Trat.
Northern Bus Terminal
The Northern & Northeastern Bus Terminal, also known as Moh Chit (or Mor Chit or Morchit), this is the largest, busiest, and most modern terminal. The upper floor serves the North-East (Isaan); the ground floor serves the North, as well as sharing some destinations with Ekamai (including Pattaya, Rayong, Chanthaburi and Trat). It’s a 30-baht moto hop (or a lengthy hike across Chatuchak Park) from BTS Moh Chit/Metro Chatuchak stations (N8/18), or take the 77 bus and pay the 7-baht flat fare on board.
Many visitors also arrive (or leave) via the massive Moh Chit Northern Bus Terminal (sathanii Mo Chit), also known as Mo Chit Mai (“new Mo Chit”) or simply Mo Chit as the old version has ceased to exist. This is the largest terminal in Bangkok and buses to all points throughout central, northern and northeastern Thailand, including Ayutthaya, Chiang Mai, all of Isaan and Aranyaprathet (for Cambodia) leave from here.
Buying tickets here is reasonably easy; find a window with your destination written on it (in friendly Roman letters), pay the fare in big numbers on the same window, and you’ll get a ticket on the next available departure. Note that blue writing means 1st class, red means 2nd class (avoid on longer trips), and tickets for northeastern destinations are sold from the 3rd floor. Ask the information desk on the 1st floor if you need help, or any of the BKS staff, easily identifiable thanks to their natty white shirts with gold buttons. Now just find the departure stall and you’re on your way. If you have time to kill, there are two fairly decent air-con food courts at both ends of the main terminal building, plus KFC, Dunkin’ Donuts and lots of 7-Eleven outlets.
The bus terminal is fair hike from the Skytrain or subway stations across Chatuchak Park. Motorbike taxis do the trip for a fixed 30 baht fare (bargaining is pointless), while tuk-tuks charge what they feel like – just remember that a real taxi with air-con and all will cost you about 45 baht (assuming little traffic). If you have a considerable amount of luggage the easiest, if not necessarily fastest, option is to take a taxi directly to/from the bus terminal.
Southern Bus Terminal
The Southern Bus Terminal, also known as Sai Tai Taling Chan, this terminal serves all points west and south from its somewhat inconvenient location on the “wrong” side of the river. Note that in December 2007, the terminal moved to a new, even more remote location, at Phutthamonthon Soi 1 in the Taling Chan district.
The Southern Bus Terminal (Sai Tai Taling Chan สายใต้ตลิ่งชัน, tel. +66-2894 6122) is now located on Phutthamonthon Soi 1 in Bang Ramat, Taling Chan, northern Thonburi. Long-distance buses leave from here to destinations throughout western Thailand (including Nakhon Pathom and Kanchanaburi) and southern Thailand (including Krabi, Phuket, Surat Thani, Ko Samui, Ko Phangan, Hat Yai, and many others). The new terminal is a fairly pleasant airport-like structure with air-conditioning, electronic departure monitors (in English), a few bank offices and a KFC. Unlike Khao San Road’s ripoff operators, all buses from here are public, well-regulated, cheap and reasonably safe, just buy your tickets at the numbered desk with your destination posted in it (almost always in English).
Getting to the terminal is a bit of headache, as public transport is limited. The easiest option is to take a taxi, but be sure the taxi knows where to go, or you may end up at the old “new” Southern Terminal (Sai Tai Mai), which only stopped operating in late 2008. The new one is located in the same direction, but 4.5 km further from the center (10 km from Khao San road area, about 15 km from Siam square or Silom, more if from Sukhumvit). If you’re going there in the evening, especially during workdays, be prepared to a serious traffic jam – more than half or even full hour is not impossible. As always in Bangkok, use taxi meter only, which, from Khao San area, should end up around 120 baht in favorable traffic conditions and up. Ignore touts – the waiting time in taxi-meter is only 1 baht/minute, and there are really no “faster” way once all the roads out of the city are congested.
The terminal is reachable on buses 515 and 549 and from Suvarnabhumi Airport with bus 556. From Victory Monument (Victory Monument BTS station), take the pale orange air-con bus 515 (16 baht). When approached by an onboard bus attendant ticketer, just tell them “Sai Tai Taling Chan”. The bus does not turn left or right all the way, the large bus terminal will be on the left side (you won’t miss it and probably will be told as well) about 9 km after crossing the river. This way actually does not take much more time than taxi (it’s almost same in the likely case of a traffic jam), but you’ll end up much cheaper, especially if alone. There are also white “Metro” minibuses (30 baht) from various points around Bangkok, eg. Ramkhamhaeng road in Bang Kapi, Huamark, near the Rajamangala National Stadium. There are inexpensive shuttle buses and slightly more expensive (but quicker loading and a bit faster) minibuses from/to Mo Chit northern bus terminal also.
Another option, especially in traffic peak time,is to take the Underground train to the ultimate destination of Bang Sue. This puts you on the outskirts of the city, closer to the Bus Terminal. Outside, there are any number of taxis, and the fare will be about B200 as of May 2010. Ask for the “konsong tai” (ขนส่ง ใต้)
When arriving in Bangkok…
- Late at night, the easiest way from Northern or Southern terminal to your final destination will be by metered-taxi.
- By tourist bus you may find yourself delivered to their favorite hotel or guest-house, otherwise you’ll probably be dropped off in the vicinity of one of the long haul terminals, or if it’s a service catering primarily for backpackers, somewhere near Khao San Road.
When buying tickets for buses out of Bangkok, it’s best to skip travel agents and their private buses, and get the tickets for public buses directly at the public terminals. These buses are cheaper, safer, faster and more comfortable and won’t scam you onto a clapped-out minibus halfway along the way or to a bedbug-infested hotel at the end.
The three main stations in Bangkok are:
Hualamphong Train Station
The main station and the terminus of the Bangkok Metro line. Located right in the middle of downtown Bangkok, it is a huge and surprisingly nice station, built during the reign of King Rama VI and spared bombing in World War II at the request of the Free Thai underground. The station has a good tourist office. Only listen to the people at the Info desk – anyone walking around offering to help you “find” a hotel or taxi is just a tout, even if they are wearing very official looking badges. Likewise, the second floor shops offering “Tourist Information” are just agents in disguise.
Tickets for trains leaving the same or next day can be bought on the counters under the red/orange/green screens (see photo). The Advance Booking Office is located to the right of the platforms as you walk towards them and is quite well organized. You can select your seat/berth from a plan of the train, and payments by credit card are accepted. Also, finally you can book an e-ticket (tip: do not use special characters in the registration form if it does not work); the price is the same, however, the quota reserved for e-booking is limited, and there are only 1st and 2nd aircon sleeper class tickets available.
The taxi pick up and drop off point is to the left of the platforms as you walk towards them, and is generally chaotic at busy periods with scant regard for any queue. The left luggage facility is at the opposite end of the concourse, on the far right as you walk away from the platforms.
Travel agencies may try to sell you a private “VIP bus” ticket if there is no place in first and second class trains, claiming to offer a direct trip to the destination with a VIP bus faster than the train. Although the trip starts with a VIP bus, it ends up with a “surprise” transfer to a minibus and extremely long journeys. Just refuse the offered private bus ticket and buy public bus tickets from the main bus terminals if you cannot find a ticket for the train.
For those considering taking a train to Phuket take note; There are NO direct trains to Phuket. If taking the train is a must do, you will need to book a ticket to Surat Thani, then secure bus transit. One other important note; the last bus to Phuket from Surat Thani is in the mid-afternoon. In order to make the last bus for Phuket you will need to take a night train.
Bang Sue Train Station
If coming from the north or north-east, connecting to the Metro here can shave the last half-hour off your train trip. This is not a very good place to board trains though, as there is practically no information or signage in English. However, this situation will doubtless improve as more and more long-distance departures are switched to here from Hualamphong.
Thonburi Train Station
Also known as Bangkok Noi Station, this station is on the west side of the river in Thonburi. It is the terminus for twice-daily trains to Kanchanaburi (via Nakhon Pathom), River Kwai Bridge and Nam Tok. Just to keep things confusing, the previous Thonburi Station right next to the river (accessible by the Chao Phraya Express Boat pier Railway Station) is now mothballed, but it’s only 800 meters away from the new Thonburi station.
There are two daily 3rd class trains:
- Depart Thonburi 07:45, arrive Nam Tok 12:20, return 13:00, terminate Thonburi at 17:36
- Depart Nam Tok 05:25, arrive Thonburi 10:05, return 13:50, terminate Nam Tok at 18:20
Note that the weekend-only 2nd class air-con Kanchanaburi/Nam Tok “tourist” trains depart from Hualamphong.
Wong Wien Yai Train Station
Wong Wien Yai station serves only the rustic Mahachai/Maeklong commuter line, an experience for rail fans but of little interest to most visitors. Trains run roughly hourly. The railway station is about 800m from the Skytrain station of the same name; to transfer, take a metered taxi for 35-50 baht, or walk (using a map).
Cruise ships visiting Bangkok arrive can dock at either of two ports.
Large ships must use Laem Chabang, about 90 minutes south-east of Bangkok and about 30 minutes north of Pattaya.
– A taxi service desk is available on the wharf, but charges extortionate prices – a whopping 2600 baht to charter a taxi (4 passengers), or about 5000 baht to charter a minibus (usually 11 passenger seats), for a trip into Bangkok. Slightly lower prices can be found by walking out to the main road (about 4000 baht for a minibus), however even these rates are almost double the typical rate in the opposite direction. Better deals may be possible for round trips (even if returning the following day).
– Frequent first and second class bus services directly connect Laem Chabang with Ekamai (Bangkok’s Eastern Bus Terminal, on Sukhumvit); less frequent direct services run to Moh Chit (Bangkok’s Northern Bus Terminal). A first class air-con bus (blue and white) to either will usually take 90 minutes or less; the fare is around 100 baht. A good way to make the most of a quick visit is to board an Ekamai bus and then disembark early at the On Nut Skytrain Station on Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok (the bus will always pause here provided a passenger requests it); in the opposite direction, use the Ekamai Skytrain Station and board the bus at the terminus. To get to or return from the Chatuchak Weekend Market, use the Moh Chit bus instead.
– Buses en route to Pattaya (southbound) can be boarded at the traffic lights on Sukhumvit Road in Laem Chabang, are extremely frequent (at least 10 per hour), and charge less than 50 baht.
Modest sized ships may dock farther up-river at Khlong Thoey, much closer to the city center. A modest terminal provides processing for passengers (who may receive Thai customs and immigration processing on-board), as well as offering “managers” who arrange tours and taxis. Costs to reach major hotels and points of interest are much lower than for Laem Chabang, but can vary according to passenger negotiating skills. The facility is fairly close to but beyond practical walking distance to MRT and SkyTrain stations (see “Get around” below).
Bangkok is infamous for its congestion, but these days there are ways around it: hop on the Skytrain (BTS) and metro in the city center, or use boats to navigate rivers and canals.
Bangkok is notorious for its massive traffic jams, and rightly so. In addition, traffic is chaotic and motorcyclists seemingly suicidal. Therefore, most tourists consider driving in Bangkok a nightmare, and it is highly recommended that you stick to public transport and not try to drive yourself around.
The Bangkok Skytrain (BTS, pronounced bee-tee-et in Thai but also rót fai fáa or just skytrain) deserves a visit simply for the Disneyland space-ageness of it. Built in a desperate effort to ease Bangkok’s insane traffic and pollution, the Skytrain covers most of downtown and is especially convenient for visiting the Siam Square area. There are two lines: the light green Sukhumvit line which travels along Sukhumvit road and then goes up Phayonyothin to northern Bangkok, where it terminates near the Chatuchak Weekend Market (N8), and the red Silom line, which travels from the Silom area, interchanges with the Sukhumvit line at Siam Square (C) and ends at National Stadium, right next to MBK. There isn’t, unfortunately, a station near Banglampu District (aka the Khao San Road area), but the river ferry connects between Tha Banglampu and Tha Sathorn, served by Saphan Taksin (S6) on the Silom line from the morning till around 6-7PM.
You must have 5 or 10 baht coins to purchase Skytrain tickets from the vending machines near the entrance, so hold on to them. Fares range from 15 to 40 baht depending upon how many zones you are traveling. Consult the map (in English) near each ticket machine. If you do not have coins, queue for change from the staff at the booth. If you are in town for several days (and/or going to make several visits during next 30 days), weigh your options and consider a rechargeable stored-value card (from 100 baht, with a 30-baht refundable deposit and a 30 baht non-refundable card cost), a “ride all you like” tourist pass (from 120 baht/day) or a multiple ride pass of 20 trips or more to any zone (20 trips cost 440 baht, plus 30 baht refundable deposit for a rechargeable card valid for 5 years). They will certainly save you time, scrambling for coins, and maybe even money. Check for information with the English speaking staff.
Four stations are fully accessible to wheelchair users, plus one station, On Nut, is accessible only on the arrival side. The other fully accessible stations are Asok/Sukhumvit, Siam, Chong Nonsi and Mo Chit. To proceed to concourse level in these stations, you can use the lift – press the call button and an attendant will come and get you. At On Nut stations on the departures side, the attendant will help you also to get to platform level through the escalator since the elevator can be used only to get to intercourse level. Siam Station is also accessible independently through the linked Siam Paragon department store.
Bangkok Metro (MRT, pronunced em-ar-tee in Thai but also rót fai tai din) finally opened in July 2004. The Blue Line connects the central Hualamphong railway station (1) to the northern Bang Sue station (18), with interchanges to the Skytrain at Silom/Sala Daeng (3/S2), Sukhumvit/Asok (7/E4) and Chatuchak/Mo Chit (15/N8). You can also transfer to north/northeast-bound SRT trains at the northern terminus Bang Sue. The metro is much less used by tourists than the Sky Train but can be very useful. The terminus at Hualamphong station provides good access to Chinatown and many of the main tourist sites. The Silom station is about 200 meters away from the “Patpong” market and nightlife area.
Metro tickets are not interchangeable with Skytrain tickets. Rides start from 15 baht and are based on distance; pre-paid cards of up to 1000 baht are also available. For single ride fares, a round plastic token is used. It’s electronic: simply wave it by the scanner to enter; deposit it in a slot by the exit gate leave.
The metro stop for the Chatuchak Weekend Market is not Chatuchak Park but one stop farther at Kamphaeng Phet (16). The latter drops you right inside the market.
All metro stations are fully accessible to wheelchair users. If the elevator has been put out of service, just ask the security staff present at every station and an attendant will come and get you to help you to deal with all the process of buying tickets and get to the train platform level. Note that at present bag-checks take place at the entrance to each station, although it is usually nothing more than a quick peek inside unless you are looking particularly suspicious.
A ride on the Chao Phraya River should be high on any tourist’s agenda. The cheapest and most popular option is the Chao Phraya Express Boat, basically an aquatic bus plying up and down the river. The basic service (13 baht) plies from Wat Rajsingkorn (S4) all the way to Nonthaburi (N30), with stops at most of Rattanakosin’s major attractions including the Grand Palace, the Temple of Dawn, etc. Board at piers with a sign showing the route and pay the ticket collector who will approach you bearing a long metal cylinder.At some bigger pier (like Nonthaburi), you can buy ticket at pier, and just show ticket to collector on board.
In addition to the basic service, there are express services flagged with yellow or orange flags, which stop only at major piers and should be avoided unless you’re sure where you’re going because, otherwise, you could end up a long way farther along the river than you planned.
The signposting of the piers is quite clear, with numbered piers and English route maps, and the Central station offers easy interchange to the BTS Saphan Taksin station. The boats run every 5 to 20 minutes from sunrise (6 AM) to sunset (7 PM) every day, so ignore any river taxi touts who try to tell you otherwise.
Most piers are also served by cross-river ferries which are particularly useful for reaching Wat Arun or Thonburi. They run every few minutes and cost 2-3 baht – pay at the kiosk on the pier and then walk through the turnstile.
In addition to the workaday express boat, there is also a Tourist Boat which stops at a different subset of piers, offers commentary in English and charges a flat 150 baht for a day pass. Single ride tickets are 25 baht. The boats are slightly more comfortable and may be worth considering if you want only to cruise up and down, but they operate only every 30 minutes and stop running by 3 PM.
Canal boats also serve Khlong Saen Saeb, one of Bangkok’s many canals (khlong). They’re cheap and immune to Bangkok’s notorious traffic jams, but mostly used by locals who use these water taxis to commute to work and school and shopping, so you get to see the ‘backside’ of the neighborhoods, so to speak. They’re also comparatively safe–just watch your step when boarding and disembarking (they don’t stop at the pier for long) and do not let the water get into your eyes.
To prevent splashes, the boats are equipped with little curtains that you can raise by pulling on a string, but they have to be lowered at every stop so people can clamber on board. Pay the fare (14-22 baht) to the fearless helmet-wearing ticket collectors who clamber around on the outside of the boat, ducking at bridges, as it barrels down the canal. The canal runs parallel to Petchaburi Road, and provides the easiest access from the city center to the Golden Mount. There’s a boarding pier across from the Central World Plaza under the bridge where Ratchadamri crosses the khlong near Petchburi, and piers now even have (tiny) signs in English. Be aware that for journeys going beyond Pratunam, passengers have to change boats at Pratunam. Hold on to your ticket.
The only station missing a sign in English is the stop at The Mall in Bangkapi, and it’s not obvious that it’s a mall from the canal boat!
Finally, for trips outside the set routes, you can hire a long-tail river taxi at any major pier. These are fairly expensive and will attempt to charge as much as 500 baht/h, but with haggling, they may be suitable for small groups. To circumvent the mafia-like touts who attempt to get a large cut for every ride, agree for the price of the shortest possible ride (30 min), then negotiate directly with the captain when on board.
Local buses, mostly operated by the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority (BMTA), are the cheapest but also the most challenging way of getting around, as there is a bewildering plethora of routes, usually marked only in Thai. If you can speak Thai you can call 184 Bus Route Hotline. Bus stops usually list only the bus numbers that stop there and nothing more. They are also subject to Bangkok’s notorious traffic, often terribly crowded, and many are not air-conditioned. If you want to get somewhere quickly and are not prepared to get lost, the buses should be avoided (remember that taxis are cheaper than most local buses in the west). However, they make for a good adventure if you’re not in a rush and you don’t mind being the centre of attention.
But for the intrepid, and those staying in Khao San Road where buses are the only practical means of public transport, the best online resource for decrypting bus routes is the official BMTA homepage, which has up-to-date if slightly incomplete listings of bus routes in English but no maps. You can also ask your guesthouse about buses to where you are going. If you’re going between Khao San Road and downtown, bus number 2 (red and cream) is probably your best option. As a printed reference, the Bus Routes & Map guide (50 baht) by Bangkok Guides is another option.
The hierarchy of Bangkok’s buses from cheapest to best can be ranked as follows:
- Small green bus, 6.50 baht flat fare. Cramped, no air-con, no fan, famously suicidal drivers, usually not advisable for more than short hops. Run by private operators, they can be significantly faster than the BMTA-run buses.
- Red bus, 7 baht flat fare. More spacious and fan-cooled (in theory). Unlike other buses, some of these run through the night (1.50 baht surcharge). These buses are BMTA run.
- White/blue bus, 8 baht flat fare. Exactly the same as the red buses, but cost one baht more. These buses are owned by private entities operated in conjunction with BMTA.
- Blue/Yellow and Cream/Blue air-con, 11 baht for the first 8 kilometers, up to 18 baht max. These buses are quite comfy. The blue/yellow striped buses are privately owned while the Blue/Cream buses are BMTA owned.
- Orange air-con (Euro II), 13 baht for the first few kilometers, up to 22 baht max. These are all BMTA-run, newer, and more comfortable.
- Pink/white micro-buses – not quite so common away from the city centre – these are air-conditioned, modern and only allow seated passengers (making them harder to use at rush hour as many won’t stop for you). Flat fare is 25 baht which is paid into a fare-collection machine located next to the driver – exact fare only.
Buses stop only when needed, so wave them down (arm out, palm down) when you see one barreling your way. Pay the roaming collector after you board and keep the ticket as there are occasional spot-checks. Press the signal buzzer (usually near the door) when you want to get off.
Two further pitfalls are that buses of the same number may run slightly different routes depending on the color, and there are also express services (mostly indicated by yellow signs) that skip some stops and may take the expressway (2 baht extra).
Airport buses allow luggage (backpacks and suitcases), but regular buses do not. Enforcement of this rule varies.
Taxis are a quick and comfortable way to get around town, at least if the traffic is flowing your way, but be warned that Bangkok taxi drivers are notorious for finding ways to run up the fare; insist that the meter is used, and if the driver claims that your destination is closed, that he doesn’t know where it is, or if he tries to take you elsewhere just get out of the taxi. All taxis are now metered and air-conditioned: the hailing fee is 35 baht and most trips within Bangkok cost less than 100 baht. There are no surcharges (except from the airport), even at night; don’t believe drivers who try to tell you otherwise. A red sign, if lit, on the front window means that the taxi is available.
When the meter is switched on you will see a red ’35’ somewhere on the dashboard or between the driver and you. Be sure to check for this at the start of the ride, as many drivers will “forget” to start the meter in order to overcharge you at the end of your trip. Most will start the meter when asked politely to do so if the driver refuses to use the meter after a couple of attempts, simply exit the taxi.
Be sure to either know the correct pronunciation of your destination, or have it written in Thai, as taxi drivers in Bangkok are notoriously bad at reading maps, and most drivers speak limited English. Most hotels and guesthouses will happily write out addresses in Thai for you. While most drivers will recognize the names of tourist hot spots, even if grossly mispronounced, it is often difficult to properly pronounce addresses in Thai, a tonal language. If your mobile phone works in Thailand, it is sometimes useful to phone your hotel and ask the staff to speak to your driver in Thai. In addition, try to get your hotel’s business card to show the taxi driver in case you get lost.
On some routes, the driver will ask if he should use the Tollway–this will usually save a lot of time. You have to pay the cost at the toll booth (not in advance and not at the end of the journey). Watch how much the driver really pays, as many try to keep the change.
Finally, what would Bangkok be without the much-loathed, much-loved ‘tuk-tuks? You’ll know them when you hear them, and you’ll hate them when you smell them — these three-wheeled contraptions blaze around Bangkok leaving a black cloud of smog in their wake. For anything more than a 5-10 minute jaunt or just the experience, they really are not worth the price — and, if you let them get away with it, the price will usually be 4 or 5 times what it should be anyway (which, for Thais, is around 30% less than the equivalent metered taxi fare). On the other hand, you can sometimes ride for free if you agree to visit touristy clothing or jewelry shops (which give the tuk-tuk driver petrol coupons and commissions for bringing customers). The shops’ salesmen are pushy, but you are free to leave after five to ten minutes of browsing. Visitors should beware though, sometimes one stop can turn in to three, and your tuk-tuk driver may not be interested in taking you where you need to go once he has his petrol coupons. Also, with Bangkok’s densely congested traffic it is sure to spend hours of your time.
Places to See
Most of Bangkok’s sights are concentrated in on the island of Rattanakosin, often known as the “Old City”. Out of Bangkok’s hundreds of temples, the Grand Palace, Wat Pho and Wat Arun usually make up the top 3. The Grand Palace has an immense size and expect to spend at least a full morning or afternoon there. Within the palace grounds is Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand. Unlike other temples, it is not one building, nor are there are living spaces for monks. Instead, it is a collection of highly decorated holy buildings and monuments.
Nearby is Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha), home to the world’s largest reclining Buddha image and a famed massage school. Cross the Chao Phraya river for the outstanding Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn). The main structure is about 70 meters high and it is surrounded by four smaller prangs. It is one of Thailand’s most picturesque temples, and it is engraved on the inner part of all ten baht coins. If you climb it, and look closely, you will see that it is actually beautifully decorated with colorful Chinese porcelain pieces. Other major temples include the Golden Mount, Wat Suthat and Wat Rajnadda.
Bangkok is a good place to see traditional Thai-style residences. Most people take a tour through Jim Thompson’s House, the CIA-operative’s mansion assembled by combining six traditional Thai-style houses. Ban Kamthieng, M.R. Kukrit’s Heritage Home and the Suan Pakkad Palace could also make for a nice experience. Another interesting museum is the Dusit Palace, situated in a leafy, European-style area built by king Chulalongkorn to escape the heat of the Grand Palace. It’s main structure is the Vimanmek Mansion, the largest golden teakwood house in the world, but you could spend your whole day in the museums here. Other museums include the National Museum about Thai history and archaeology, as well as the Museum of Siam and the King Prajadhipok Museum. Bangkok has a small, but vocal, art community, and you might want to visit the National Gallery, The Queen’s Gallery, or one of its numerous smaller galleries. Bangkok Art and Culture Centre has temporary art exhibitions throughout year.
Lumpini Park is the largest park in central Bangkok, and a nice way to escape the fumes. Backpackers around Khao San Road tend to head for Santichaiprakarn Park, a small, but worthy, park along the Chao Phraya river. It has a breezy atmosphere, a fort and a nice view on the modern Rama VII bridge. Zoos and animal farms are some of the most popular tourist attractions in Bangkok, but before visiting, please be aware that animal welfare in Thailand is not strictly regulated. The poor living conditions of the Dusit Zoo and Safari World as well as the inadequate veterinary care at these locations are examples of the sad mistreatment of the animal population. You can’t go wrong at the Queen Saovabha Snake Farm, as the staff takes good care of their snakes and they have a job of informing the public about their risks. Siam Ocean World also makes for a nice family attraction. It is the largest aquarium in Southeast Asia.
Things to Do
Taking a bicycle tour of Bangkok is highly recommended. There are a handful of specialist operators that offer daily or regular departures to the Bangkok Jungle, an area across the river from downtown Bangkok where there are few cars or buildings, or through the backstreets of China Town. It sounds strange but a cycle tour in Bangkok really is the best way to discover the city up close. Sightseeing Along the Chao Phraya River is another great way to see the city, There are special boat trips designed for foreign tourists along the Chao Phraya River to take in sites such as the Grand Palace. They are quite pointless though, as the public passenger ferry does exactly the same trip. In fact, they are even better as they go all the way up to Nonthaburi Town. For a good trip take a public passenger ferry from near the Saphan Taksin BTS skytrain station and go up to Nonthaburi Town, enjoy the afternoon in this pleasant laid back traditional urban town and take the boat back.
Thai Boxing or Muay Thai is both a sport and means of self defence. Contestants are allowed to use almost any part of their body: feet, elbows, legs, knees, and shoulders, are all weapons. The playing of traditional music during bouts makes for even greater excitement. There are two venues in Bangkok for this type of sport: Lumpinee Boxing Stadium in Silom and Ratchadamnoen Stadium in Rattanakosin.
Elephants are a large part of Thailand’s tourist trade, and the smuggling and mistreatment of elephants for tourist attractions is quite a widespread practice. Be aware that elephants are often separated from their mothers at a young age to be cruelly trained under captivity for the rest of their lives. Organizations such as The Elephant Nature Parkin Chiang Mai are an ethical alternative for elephant tourism.
Puppet Theatre, Theatrical perfomances, Thai Dance etc., Listings have been lifted to the Do section of districts, this section could use a write up if you a familiar enough with the subject to provide a general overview.
Spas, traditionally, were towns where public baths, hospitals or hotels were built on top of mineral springs so that people could come and make use of the healing properties found in the water and its mud for medical purposes. These days, a spa doesn’t have to be a town built on natural thermal springs. It can be a place anywhere that anyone can go to, to relax in tranquil surroundings with a variety of treatment administered to recontour and rejuvenate the body and mind. All self-respecting hotels in Bangkok will have a spa operating on premises offering at least traditional massage services. These tend to charge a premium but also offer some the best treatments in town. Particularly well-regarded spas include Deverana at the Dusit Thani and the eponymous operations at Banyan Tree and the legendary Oriental — the last of these being probably the most expensive in town, offering (among other things) a 6-hour Oriental Romance package for two costing a whopping US$535. Independent spas offer much the same experience but are a little more competitive due to the lack of a captive customer base. Figure on 1000 baht and up per hour for most treatments.
The ubiquitous little massage shops found on every street corner in town, offer the best value for money but the smallest range of services, with offerings usually limited to massage only. It is fairly easy to distinguish legitimate massage shops from more dubious places: the real deal will charge 250-400 baht for a typical two-hour massage and will often have a row of beefy farmers’ daughters in white coats working on customers’ feet in public view, while the other kind has wispy things in evening dresses and too much makeup yelling “Hello handsome” at every passing male.
Horse Races are held on Sunday from 12.30PM-6.00PM at two alternate turf clubs, The Royal Turf Club of Thailand (ราชตฤณมัยสมาคม), on Phitsanulok Road or the Royal Bangkok Sports Club, on Henri Dunant Road.
Bangkok is a great place to go to the movies. If you are coming from the West, the cost of a cinema ticket is a complete bargain, around B120. Most of the cinemas are of the highest world-class standards and show all the latest releases. Major Cineplex and SFX are some of the largest chain cinemas. They are also up to par with technological innovations in the movie industry – expect to wear 3D glasses for some of the Hollywood releases, or visit an an IMAX Theater on Rangsit Roador the IMAX theater at Siam Paragon. For non-mainstream cinema, House RCA (in RCA) and APEX (in Siam Square) offer many films with English subtitle. Just like the capital’s cinemas, bowling centers are of a superb standard with some of them resembling the inside of a discotheque. Dance while you play style. Top class private karaoke lounges can be found at some of the bowling centers and major hotels.
Events in Bangkok
All of Thailand’s major festivals are celebrated in Bangkok,
- Chinese New Year Festival. The obvious place to go is Bangkok’s Chinatown, Yaowarat, where the main road is closed to cars and many stores and food stands crowd the road, with grandiose and colourful Chinese lion and dragon processions.
- Bangkok Songkran Festival. The traditional Thai New Year is an occasion for merriment all over the city, but most notably at Sanam Luang, near the Grand Palace, where the revered Phra Phuttha Sihing image is displayed and bathed by devotees. In the Wisutkasat area, a Miss Songkran beauty contest is held and accompanied by merry-making and entertainment. Khao San Road degenerates into a war zone as farangs and locals duke it out with super soakers.
- Royal Ploughing Ceremony, May An ancient Brahman ritual, conducted at Sanam Luang, is what farmers believe is able to forecast the abundance of the next rice crop. The event is a result of a series of ceremonies that are conducted by Phraya Raek Na, portrayed by a high-ranking official who wears colourful traditional costumes. This ceremony was re-introduced in 1960 by H.M. King Bhumibol Adulyadej and is considered the official commencement of the rice-growing season, as well as the rainy season. Nowadays, the ceremony is conducted by the Crown Prince.
- Trooping of the Colours, December. Their majesties the King and Queen preside over this impressive annual event, held in the Royal Plaza near the equestrian statue of King Chulalongkorn. Dressed in colourful uniforms, amid much pomp and ceremony, members of the elite Royal Guards swear allegiance to the King and march past members of the Royal Family.
- HM The King’s Birthday Celebrations December 5. Ratchadamri Road and the Grand Palace are elaborately decorated and illuminated, and in the evening hundreds of thousands line the route from Sanam Luang to Chitlada Palace to get a glimpse of the King when he is slowly chauffeur-driven past.
Thai cuisine is a favorite of many, and many cooking schools provide half-day classes that provide a nice break from the day-to-day sightseeing monotony. Silom and Khao San Road particularly have some of the better Thai cooking schools.
Meditation, the essence of ‘pure’ Buddhism, can be practiced at any temple in Thailand. In Bangkok however, there are also two well-known centers that cater specifically to foreigners wishing to learn and practice. The International Buddhist Meditation Centre inside Wat Mahathat in Rattanakosin provides free meditation classes three times a day. If you can speak and understand Thai language well, you may wish to go on your own retreat at a quiet temple on the outskirts of Bangkok. To pay for your stay it is appreciated that you assist the resident monks on their morning alms rounds.
The Wat Pho temple in Rattanakosin offers well-regarded Thai massage courses. While aimed squarely at tourists, this is not necessarily a bad thing, as they’re used to conducting classes in English. An alternative is the Union of Thai Traditional Medicine Society in Yaowarat and Pahurat.
Things to Eat
Bangkok not only has plenty of Thai restaurants, but a wide-selection of world-class international cuisine too. Prices are generally high by Thai standards, but cheap by international standards; a good meal is unlikely to cost more than 300 baht, although there are a few restaurants (primarily in hotels) where you can easily spend 10 times this. Of course, for those on a budget street stalls abound with noodle & meals at around 30 baht. Try:
- Phad Thai and curry at shops everywhere.
- Tom Yum Goong, you must try one of Thailand’s most famous soups.
- Street vendors selling satay with hot sauce (for 5-10 baht a piece).
- Finding a kanom roti street vendor is a must if you like sweets. The crepe-like dessert is filled with sweetened condensed milk, lots of sugar, and can also have bananas inside. Also fascinating to watch them being made.
- Bugs – yes, insects. They are deep fried, nutritious and quite tasty with the soy sauce that is sprayed on them. Types available: scorpions, water beetles, grasshoppers, crickets, bamboo larvae, mealworms, and some more seasonal specialties. Note: break off the legs from grasshoppers and crickets or they will get stuck in your throat.
- Northeastern Thai (Issan) food. Som Tom is a spicy papaya salad that’s a staple for Issan people: som tom thai includes tiny prawns and peanuts, som tom issan has pa rah (fermented fish) and mud crab. Eat either with khao niew (sticky rice). Gai yang (grilled chicken) and moo yang (grilled pork) is also popular. Laab gai/moo is minced chicken or pork eaten with sticky rice. Issan food can be very spicy so for less spice say mai pet or pet nit noy.
- Southern Thai-style cafe tung or coffee strained through fabric with sweet cream added.
- Ya dong, a libation of herbs and alcohol. Look for stands with large glass jars and Christmas lights. Beware it can be very potent.
- Yaowarat has a range of street stalls and cheap restaurants selling food (try 1kg of huge barbecued prawns or tom yam with prawns for 300 baht) to the discerning local population.
- Restaurants featuring cuisine from all over the world on Sukhumvit Road and Khao San Road.
Vegetarian/Vegan In the more tourist-friendly parts of town (MBK, Khao San Road, Siam Paragon, Siam Square etc.), there are a few vegetarian restaurants or food court stalls, and vegetarian options are readily available on menus and in shops. Typical street restaurants will also easily cook a vegetarian equivalent of popular Thai dishes for you. Ask for “jay” food to leave the meat out of the dish. For example, “khao pad” is fried rice and “khao pad jay” is vegetarian fried rice. For vegans, the most common animal product used would be oyster sauce, and to avoid it, say “Mai Ou Naam Mon Hoi”. Be aware that all street noodle vendors use animal broth for the noodle soup.
Delivery Don’t fancy going out in the heat and traffic to eat? Many chain restaurants offer delivery throughout Bangkok and most hotels keep flyers from different restaurants; it’s best to have hotel staff place the order for you.
- American KFC, McDonald’s and Subway.
- Asian Chester’s Grill, Hot Pot, MK, Oishi, and S&P.
- Italian Narai Pizzeria, Pizza Company, Pizza Hut and Scuzzi’s.
Restaurants in tourist areas often offer delivery service for a nominal charge. A small tip (around 20 baht or so) to the delivery person is always appreciated but not at all required.
Given its size and poverty level Bangkok is surprisingly safe, with violent crimes like mugging and robbery unusual. However, Bangkok does have more than its fair share of touting and scams, and quite a few individuals in the tourist business think nothing of overcharging visitors.
As a rule of thumb, it is wise to decline all offers made by someone who appears to be a friendly local giving a hapless tourist some local advice. Most Bangkok locals do not approach foreigners without an ulterior motive.
In 2008, political unrest hit the headlines, with the yellow-shirted People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) closing down both of Bangkok’s airports for a week and several people killed in political violence. After the new prime minister was elected, things were more or less back to normal for a while, but the situation remained unstable. In 2010, new political unrest surfaced with red-shirted protesters from the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) occupying much of downtown Bangkok. These protests turned violent when government troops tried to take back parts of central Bangkok that has been seized by protesters. Always follow the independent press for the newest political developments and avoid wearing yellow or red clothing.
Beware of tuk-tuk drivers offering all-day tours for prices as low as 10 baht. You may indeed be taken on a full-day tour, but you will end up only visiting one gem and souvenir shop after another. The driver gets a commission if you buy something–and petrol coupons even if you don’t. Unless the idea of travelling by tuk-tuk appeals to you, it’s almost always cheaper (if you’re foreign) more comfortable and less hassle to take a metered taxi.
- Insist on the meter for taxis, and agree on a price in advance for tuk-tuks. If they refuse, or quote silly prices, just walk out and get a different one as they’re rarely in short supply. The Thai phrase to ask a driver to use the meter is mee-TOE, khap if you’re male and mee-TOE, kha if you’re female.
- Hail a moving taxi on a main road, and\or walk a short distance out of a major tourist area (such as Kao San Road\Banglamphu or Nana) before looking for one. This is no guarantee of honesty, but greatly increases your chances of finding an honest driver, of which there are plenty in Bangkok even if it sometimes seems that every driver is on the make.
- Be highly skeptical of anyone telling you that your intended destination is currently closed (including skytrain and metro stations) or offering discount admissions. Temples are almost always free (the main exceptions are Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Pho) and open just about every day of the year. Anyone telling you otherwise, even if they have an official-looking identification card, is most likely out to scam you, especially if they suggest some alternate sights to see until the sight re-opens. At paid admission sites, verify the operating hours at the ticket window.
- Also be wary of taxi drivers informing you that the destination is closed or there is a huge traffic jam, as more often then not, they are not telling the truth. Another scam by taxi drivers is similar to the situation above, except they drop you off at a certain place where a man, who claims to be an official, states that tickets are a certain direction and, in fact, there is another “official” who claims that the attraction is closed. If that happens, just follow the above pointer.
- There is no such thing as Lucky Buddha or Lucky Buddha Day! Touts are out to trick you into getting a tuk-tuk to visit several souvenir shops or a gem scam shop.
- At popular tourist sites, if an English-speaking Thai approaches you out of the blue and strikes up a conversation, be wary as they are almost certainly selling something. If they ask you if it’s your first time in Thailand, it’s probably best to answer ‘no’ and immediately walk away.
- In the go-go bar zones, beware of touts who try to drag you into the upstairs bars with offers of ping-pong shows and 100-baht beer. The beer may well be 100 baht, but the “show” you’ll be treated to will be 1000 baht or more. The rule of thumb is that if you can’t see inside from street level, the establishment is best avoided.
- Beware of private bus companies offering direct trips from Bangkok to other cities with VIP buses. There are a lot of scams performed by some private bus companies. The so-called direct VIP trips may end up changing three or four uncomfortable minibuses to the destination, the 10-11 hour trip may well be 17-18 hours. Try to book public BKS buses from the main bus terminals. It’s worth the extra shoe-leather, as there have been reports of robberies on private buses.
- Beware of tuk-tuk or taxi drivers who approach you speaking good English or with an “I <3 farang” sign, especially those who mention or take you to a tailor shop (or any kind of business). They are paid by inferior tailor shops to bring tourists there to be subjected to high pressure sales techniques. If at any point your transportation brings you somewhere you didn’t intend or plan to go, walk away immediately, ignore any entreaties to the contrary, and find another taxi or tuk-tuk.
Do not get into fights with the locals. Thais are peace loving people but when it’s a Thai versus a foreigner, it is never a fair fight. You’ll wind up having to fight 10 to 20 others who were not initially involved, or the police will be called and will not do anything to assist you (especially the Metropolitan Police, as opposed to the Tourist Police, as they normally have very limited English skills). Thais are also notorious for fighting with weaponry (guns, knives, broken bottles, metal rods), or employing Muay Thai techniques. These are usually produced from their concealed locations, with foreigners getting seriously injured or worse. Just avoid all confrontations. If you do get involved in a situation it is better to apologise, and get the heck out of there. In Thailand, discretion is definitely the better part of valour!
The age of consent is 15 but a higher minimum age of 18 applies in the case of prostitutes. Penalties for sex with minors are harsh. All adult Thais must carry an identity card, which will state that they were born in 2533 or earlier if they were over the age of 18 on January 1st 2009 (in the Thai calendar, CE 2009 is the year 2552). Many hotels retain the ID cards of prostitutes for the duration of their visit. Whilst most prostitutes are employed by bars or similar businesses, some are “freelancers”. Petty theft and other problems are more common with “freelancers”.
HIV/AIDS awareness is better than it used to be but infection statistics among entertainment industry workers remain high; “freelancers” are the highest risk group. Almost all girls insist on using condoms. Technically, some aspects of prostitution are illegal (eg. soliciting, pimping), however enforcement is liberal and brothels are commonplace. It’s not illegal to pay for sex or to pay a “barfine” (a fee the bar collects if you want to take an employee away).
Tap water in Bangkok is said to be safe when it comes out the plant, but unfortunately the plumbing along the way often is not, so it’s wise to avoid drinking the stuff, even in hotels. Any water served to you in good restaurants etc will at least be boiled, but it’s better to order sealed bottles instead, which are available everywhere at low prices.
Take care with ice, which may be made with tap water of questionable potability as above. Some residents claim that ice with round holes is made by commercial ice makers who purify their water; others state that it is wise not to rely on that claim.
As elsewhere in Thailand, be careful with what you eat. Outside of major tourist hotels and resorts, stay away from raw leafy vegetables, egg-based dressings like mayonnaise, unpackaged ice cream and minced meat as hot weather tends to make food go bad faster. In short, stick to boiled, baked, fried, or peeled goods.