Difference between revisions of "Bangkok"
Revision as of 03:13, 10 November 2010
Bangkok (Thai: กรุงเทพฯ Krung Thep)  is the capital of Thailand and with a population of over 11 million, by far its largest city. Its high-rise buildings, heavy traffic congestion, intense heat and naughty nightlife do not immediately give you a warm welcome — but don't let your first impression mislead you. It is one of Asia's most cosmopolitan cities with magnificent temples and palaces, authentic canals, busy markets and a vibrant nightlife that has something for everyone.
For years, it was only a small trading post at the banks of the Chao Phraya river, until King Rama I, the first monarch of the present Chakri dynasty, turned it into the capital of Siam in 1782, after the burning of Ayutthaya by Burmese invaders. Since then, Bangkok has turned into a national treasure house and functions as Thailand's spiritual, cultural, political, commercial, educational and diplomatic center.
Bangkok is a huge and modern city humming with nightlife and fervor. Administratively, it is split up into 50 khet (เขต districts), which are further split into 154 khwaeng (แขวง subdistricts), 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.
Just under 14 degrees north of the Equator, Bangkok is a tropical metropolis that is also one of the most traveller-friendly cities in Asia. A furious assault on the senses, visitors are immediately confronted by the heat, the pollution and the irrepressible smile that accompanies many Thais. Despite the sensationalized international news reports and first impressions, the city is surprisingly safe (except from some petty crimes) and more organized than it initially appears, and full of hidden gems waiting to be discovered. The high relative humidity and warm temperature favour the growth of tropical plants — you'll find exotic orchids and delicious fruit everywhere. Bougainvillea and frangipani bloom practically all over the city. Thai cuisine is justifiably famous, varied, and affordable. Bangkok for many represents the quintessential Asian capital. Saffron-robed monks, garish neon signs, graceful Thai architecture, spicy dishes, colourful markets, traffic jams, and the tropical climate come together in a happy coincidence. It is difficult to leave with lukewarm impressions of the city.
"Bangcok" originally was a small village on the west bank of the Chao Phraya river. After the fall of Ayutthaya in the late 18th century, King Taksin the Great turned that village into Siam's new capital and renamed it Thonburi. In 1782, King Rama I moved the capital to the eastern bank of the river at Rattanakosin; originally the site of a Chinese community, who were moved outside of the new city walls to Yaowarat. King Rama I named the city Krung Thep, as it is now known to Thais and which in English is translates as the "City of Angels".
The full name "Krung thep mahanakhon amorn ratanakosin mahintharayutthaya mahadilok popnoparat ratchathani burirom udomratchanivetmahasathan amornpiman avatarnsathit sakkathattiyavisnukarmprasit" (กรุงเทพมหานคร อมรรัตนโกสินทร์ มหินทรายุธยามหาดิลกภพ นพรัตน์ราชธานี บุรีรมย์อุดมราชนิเวศน์มหาสถาน อมรพิมานอวตารสถิต สักกะทัตติยะวิษณุกรรมประสิทธิ์) is listed as the world's longest location name by the Guinness Book of Records; an English rendering goes like this: "The city of angels, the great city, the residence of the Emerald Buddha, the impregnable city of Ayutthaya of God Indra, the grand capital of the world endowed with nine precious gems, the happy city, abounding in an enormous Royal Palace that resembles the heavenly abode where reigns the reincarnated god, a city given by Indra and built by Vishnukarn". The original village of Bangcok has long since ceased to exist, but foreigners never caught on to the change.
Life was taking place on the water; ordinary people lived on bamboo-rafts along the the river, while floating vendors roamed the water to sell fruit and vegetables. The only stone structures built on land were temples and palaces. In the 19th-century, Western powers incorporated much of Southeast Asia into their colonial empires. King Rama IV and V felt that the only way to keep Siam independent was to modernize the country along European lines. Traditional canals were filled up and turned into roads. King Rama V moved the residence of the King to Dusit and laid out that district's grand boulevards along European lines.
Bangkok really started to develop since World War II. The economic center shifted from the orderly planned city of Rattanakosin in eastward direction, leaving Bangkok without an obvious center. Bangkok established itself as the driving power behind Thailand's new role as newly industrializing country from the 1980s onwards. Rapid economic growth has attracted migration from the countryside, with millions of Thais moving here from Isaan to make a living.
This rapid expansion turned Bangkok into one of the most cosmopolitan and happening cities of Asia; but also ensued numerous problems. A wide gap has emerged between those who profit from economic activity, and those who came to the city from the countryside in search of work. Bangkok's seemingly never-ending traffic jams continue as the new Skytrain and metro systems are too expensive for the working class. Getting a break from the fumes in a park would be a good idea, if it wasn't for Bangkok having the lowest amount of green space among all capitals in the world.
Addresses in Bangkok use the Thai addressing system, which may be a little confusing to the uninitiated. Large roads such as Silom or Sukhumvit are thanon (ถนน), often abbreviated Th or glossed "Road", while the side streets branching off from them are called soi (ซอย). Sois are numbered, with even numbers on one side and odd numbers on the other side. Thus, an address like "25 Sukhumvit Soi 3" means house/building number 25 on the 3rd soi of Sukhumvit Road. While the soi numbers on each side will always advance upward, the numbers often do not advance evenly between sides — for example, Soi 55 could be across from soi 36. Many well-known sois have an additional name, which can be used instead of the number. Sukhumvit Soi 4 is also known as "Soi Nana", so the address above might thus also be expressed as "25 Soi Nana". The extension /x is used for new streets created between existing streets, as seen in Sukhumvit's soi pattern 7, 7/1, 7/2, 9, 11. Note that some short alleys are called trok (ตรอก) instead of soi.
To make things a little more complex, some large sois like Soi Ekkamai (Sukhumvit Soi 63) and Soi Ari (Phahonyothin Soi 7) have their own sois. In these cases, an address like "Ari Soi 3" means "the 3rd soi off Soi Ari", and you may even spot addresses like "68/2 Ekkamai Soi 4, Sukhumvit 63 Road", meaning "2nd house beside house 68, 4th soi off Ekkamai, the 63rd soi of Sukhumvit". In many sois, the house numbers are not simply increasing, but may spread around.
To further bewilder the tourist who doesn't read Thai, the renderings of Thai street names in the Latin alphabet are not consistent. The road running towards the (former) airport from Victory Monument may be spelled Phahonyothin or Phahon Yothin or Pahon Yothin or Phaholyothin depending on which street sign or map you consult. It's all the same in Thai, of course, only the romanization varies.
And if that's not confusing enough, most of the larger streets tend to change names altogether every few kilometers. Sukhumvit is called Sukhumvit on one side of the tollway (roughly east), but it becomes Phloen Chit just before you cross Witthayu Road (aka Wireless Road) going towards the river. Keep going just a few more streets and it becomes Rama I Road (or Phra Ram Neung Road) after you pass Ratchadamri Road. But if you were to turn right onto Ratchadamri, in just a few blocks you'll find yourself on Ratchaprarop Road (past Phetchaburi, aka New Phetburi, which is called Phitsanulok closer to the river). Got it?
Fortunately, there's logic to these name changes: most of them are neighborhoods. It wouldn't make sense to call the road Sukhumvit if it's no longer running through the Sukhumvit area, would it? Thus, Sukhumvit becomes Phloen Chit where it runs though the Phloen Chit area. It's when you're able to grasp the city in terms of its neighborhoods that it both becomes more navigable and more charming. Likewise, Pratunam and Chatuchak are much more than just markets; they're boroughs, each with their own distinct character.
Related to this last point, compass directions are not widely used by Thais to navigate in Bangkok. That's probably because they aren't very useful; the city's Darwinistic layout, the changing street names, the winding river, and the lack of obvious landmarks all conspire to confuse your internal compass. Thus, asking for directions in terms of "Is that west from here?" will probably earn you little more than a confused look from a local. You're better off to familiarize yourself with the neighborhoods and navigate to and from them. "How do I get to Thong Lo?" will get you there faster than asking for directions to Sukhumvit Soi 55.
One exception: the Chao Phraya River is the landmark in Bangkok, and many directional references can be made as "toward the river" or "away from the river". If you aren't too close, that is: since the river winds around the most popular tourist areas, river references tend to be most helpful when you're wandering farther afield than Khao San Road, Sanam Luang or Rattanakosin. And wander you should.
According to the World Meteorological Organization, Bangkok is the world's hottest city. Located just 14 degrees north of the Equator, Bangkok is hot and sunny at any time of the year with temperatures around or over 30°C (86°F).
The most pleasant time to visit is the cool season that lasts from November till February. It is both the coolest and driest period — the Emerald Buddha statue in Wat Phra Kaew even wears a scarf during this period! Don't think that would be necessary though — daytime temperatures still hover around 30°C (86°F), but it does cool down into the lower twenties as it gets dark (lower 70's in Fahrenheit). March and April represent the hot season, and hot it is — 35°C (95°F) on average, but don't be surprised to see temperatures rising into the 40's°C (around 100°F+). This is the worst season to visit Bangkok, so plan in a lot of air-conditioned shopping mall visits and get a hotel with swimming pool. Then there's the wet season that runs from May till October. Expect massive downpours resulting in floods all over the city, and spells of thunder at times. It's not all bad though — the afternoon showers are actually a pleasant way to cool down from the heat, and while they may last all day, usually they don't last longer than an hour. Extreme rainfall happens in September and October, so these months are best avoided.
Whatever season you're visiting, don't take the weather lightly — temple-tramping in the middle of the soaring afternoon sun can be a challenge, so come well-prepared. Dress lightly for the weather, but keep in mind that some palaces and temples (notably the Grand Palace) have a strict dress code. Also be sure, and this cannot be said enough, drink enough fluids! You don't have a reason not to, as 7-Elevens and other convenience stores are abundant in Bangkok and they sell cooled beverages for as little as 10 baht. Locals get their water from "reverse osmosis" purified water machines that fill up a bottle for less than 3 baht.
Foreign films were popular in Thailand from the get-go, but in the 1920's a local film industry started to emerge in Bangkok. The most critically acclaimed Thai movies were produced in the "three waves" of the Bangkokian film industry, the 1930's, the 1950's and the late 1990's/2000's, although movies made before World War II have unfortunately been lost. Predominant genres are action, historical epics, romance and gay/transgender movies, almost always intertwined with elements of comedy. The following are staged (at least partly) in Bangkok:
Bangkok is served by two airports: Suvarnabhumi Airport  and Don Muang Airport . Suvarnabhumi Airport is used by all airlines in Thailand, except for the domestic airlines Nok Air and One-Two-Go, which still use the old Don Muang Airport. Both these airports are about 30 kilometers (19 miles) from the city center, so be prepared for a long ride to get into the city. Also allow at least three hours to connect between them, as they are far off from each other and there is heavy congestion on the roads.
Located 30 kilometers (19 miles) to the east of Bangkok, space-age Suvarnabhumi Airport (สุวรรณภูมิ, pronounced "soo-wanna-poom") (IATA: BKK) (ICAO: VTBS) started operations in September 2006 and is now Bangkok's main airport and the busiest airport in Southeast Asia. It is used for almost all international and domestic flights to Bangkok. There is only one terminal building, which covers both domestic and international flights, but it is huge (by some measures the world's largest), so allow time for getting around.
Suvarnabhumi offers all facilities you would expect from a major international airport. There's a transit hotel, ATMs, money exchange, restaurants, tax-free shops, an observation lounge and even a "redemption booth", very reassuring for karmically challenged passengers. There are about 50 dining venues spread over the terminal building. The one that sounds most interesting probably is "Panda Ready To Eat", but the cheapest place for a meal is Magic Food Point on level 1, near gate 8. The most comfortable and relaxing of the airport's restaurants and cafes is the Sky Lounge on the sixth 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. There are a few stores in the check-in area, including a convenience store and a post office; however, the real shopping experience awaits travelers on the other side of immigration in the departure area, where the number of shops and duty free outlets leaves you wondering whether you are in an airport or a mall. There is not much to see at the observation deck on the seventh floor, since the steel structure of the roof blocks most of the view.
There are plenty of ways to get into the city from Suvarnabhumi Airport. Most people opt for public taxis to direct them to their destination, but backpackers headed to Khao San Road can opt for the cheaper Airport Express bus. The new Rail Link to the city is also a good option if you're heading somewhere central and not carrying too much luggage. It's also a way of avoiding Bangkok's horrendous rush hour traffic, particularly when it rains.
So-called Limousine taxis (which charge by distance, e.g. around 800 baht to Sukhumvit) can be reserved at the limousine hire counter on the second floor (just outside Arrivals), and aggressive touts will try to entice you on board. If you allow yourself to be waylaid by one of these taxi touts, they might quote you more than double the fare than an ordinary metered taxi would charge (900 baht instead of 400, for example). You'd be silly even acknowledging their existence — ignore and walk straight past them.
A better option are the ordinary metered taxis available on the first floor (Level 1, one floor below Arrivals). Follow the "public taxi" signs that lead to the outside of the airport premises, queue up and state your destination at the desk (English is understood). You'll get a two-part slip with your destination written in Thai on it. The small part is for your driver, the large part is for you. This ticket is for complaints and is how the system is enforced: hold on to it to help avoid arguments later. There is a 50-baht surcharge on top of the meter (not per passenger!), meaning that trips to the city will cost 250 to 400 baht (plus possible expressway tolls of 45 and 25 baht). The ride takes about 40 to 60 minutes depending on traffic and location. No other surcharges apply, not even for going back to the airport. If there is a huge taxi queue, consider taking a limousine, or the free shuttle bus to the Public Transport Centre, which has more taxis. Go straight to the "official taxi stand" and wait there.
Located on the basement level of the passenger terminal, the Suvarnabhumi Airport Rail Link  offers a high-speed train service to downtown Bangkok. Two different services are operated. The non-stop Express Line brings you directly to Makkasan station in 15 minutes for 100 baht, rising to 150 baht in 2011. Makkasan station is technically at walking distance of the Phetchaburi metro station, but the link bridge is still under construction and it's quite a hike (300+ meters) at the moment. The City Line stops at all stations, and after Makkasan continues to Ratchaprarop and Phaya Thai. The ride to Phaya Thai takes about 30 minutes and until Jan 1st 2011 costs 15 baht, after which a graduated fare depending on distance travelled will be introduced. If you are heading to Sukhumvit there is a decent connection to the BTS Skytrain at Phaya Thai, although tickets are not integrated so you will have to join two new queues, one to get change and the other to use the inadequate number of ticket machines. You can also get taxis from Phaya Thai to the Khao San Road area (around 70 baht). The system operates from 6AM till midnight (not 24 hours as originally planned) with both express and city line trains departing every 15 minutes. Do note that the City Line commuter service is not designed for passengers with large suitcases and is heavily utilized by local Bangkokians.
There is a stop outside the first floor exit for the Airport Express bus. To get there, walk to the far end of the ground floor to your left. There is a desk selling the tickets just before the exit door. It costs a flat 150 baht and operates hourly from 7AM until midnight. Four routes are covered, each taking about 60 to 90 minutes:
To take a public bus or minibus, you must first take the free shuttle bus ride from outside the second floor to the bus terminal that is a few kilometers away. Go to the ground floor and walk to the far right of the terminal. Exit the last door, and continue about 100 meters to the right, where you will see the sign for the "ordinary bus". These free shuttle buses are white in colour, and will make a few other stops on the way to the terminal. The BMTA public bus lines are:
These services take about one to two hours depending on traffic; frequency is usually every 20 minutes during daytime. At nighttime, it ranges from 20 minutes to 1 hour depending on the route. To give an example, the fare between Suvarnabhumi Airport and On Nut on the 552 is 32 baht, and the journey takes about 40 minutes in mid-afternoon traffic. There are also privately-owned BMTA minibuses to many parts of Greater Bangkok, such as Don Muang Airport, Bang Kapi, Rangsit and Samut Prakan. They charge a flat rate of 50 baht and go directly to the destination, so they are faster than public buses that stop frequently along the way.
Accommodation near the airport
There are plenty of hotels near Suvarnabhumi Airport, and huge construction projects are planned for the future. Day room facilities for transit passengers are now available at the Miracle Grand Louis Tavern on floor 4, concourse G (tel. +66-2-134-6565-6, 2000 baht per 4-hour block, no reservations accepted). Cheapskate travellers looking for a free quiet place to doze undisturbed at night can use one of the benches on the bottom floor of the terminal (which seem to be a popular choice with tourists and locals).
All other accommodation in Bangkok is listed in the relevant district articles. If you want an overnight stay within 20 minutes of the airport, try to find a hotel in the Ramkhamhaeng district. The Tourist Authority of Thailand and other hotel and tourist agencies have counters on the arrivals floor of the main terminal. You can make reservations at plenty of hotels here. Check for special promotions and also whether the hotel offers an airport pick-up and drop-off service — especially useful for late night arrivals and early morning departures.
Don Muang Airport
Don Muang Airport (IATA: DMK) (ICAO: VTBD) (or Don Mueang), about 30 kilometers north of downtown, was Bangkok's main airport until 2006. The airport currently handles Nok Air  and One-Two-GO  domestic flights, but the former international terminal is now limited to charters and general aviation.
The public taxi stand is on the sidewalk outside the arrivals area (don't be fooled by all the taxi service booths in the main hall), and is probably your best bet for getting into town — it's your only option after 11PM. The same booth and slip system as at Suvarnabhumi Airport is used here. If the queue at the taxi stand is long or you need a more spacious car, you may want to book a (so-called) limousine taxi from the desks in the terminal. This will get you a slightly nicer car at about twice the price (500-600 baht). Ignore any touts outside and do not get into any car with white license plates, as these are not licensed to carry passengers.
Across a covered overpass from the airport is Don Muang Train Station. Tickets to Hualamphong Train Station in central Bangkok cost 5 baht at the ticket booth. While taking the train is the cheapest way to get from the airport to Bangkok, it is not for the faint-of-heart: schedules are erratic, the run-down passenger cars often have beggars roaming through them, and are relatively empty late at night.
There are also a number of public transport buses going by the airport, just follow the signs out toward the train station. Buses towards central Bangkok are at the airport's side of the road, so don't cross the highway! These are useful bus lines:
Keep in mind that some of these buses don't complete the route. They are called "additional bus" (Thai: รถเสริม rot serm). These kind of buses have a red sign in front of them with the final destination written on it (in Thai script of course). Check this before taking the bus. You can ask the locals at the bus stop or a conductor on the bus.
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.
Bangkok's three official long haul bus terminals each serve a different direction. They are purposefully located in off-central locations, so the long-haul buses avoid the heavy traffic congestion in the center of the city.
Northern Bus Terminal
The Northern Bus Terminal, also known as Mo Chit, is the largest, busiest, and most modern terminal. The upper floor serves the Isaan region in the northeast of Thailand; the ground floor serves Northern Thailand, and shares some destinations with Ekkamai (including Pattaya, Rayong, Chanthaburi and Trat).
The bus terminal is fair hike from the Skytrain or metro 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-conditioning will cost you about 45 baht (assuming little traffic). You can also take bus 77 and pay the 7-baht flat fare on board. If you have a considerable amount of luggage, the easiest, if not necessarily fastest, option is to take a taxi directly to or from the bus terminal.
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 third floor. Ask the information desk on the first 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-conditioned food courts at both ends of the main terminal building, plus KFC, Dunkin' Donuts and lots of 7-Eleven outlets.
Eastern Bus Terminal
The Eastern Bus Terminal, also known as Ekkamai, is a relatively compact terminal right next to Ekkamai BTS station in Sukhumvit. Ekkamai serves destinations in Eastern Thailand, including Pattaya, Rayong, Ban Phe, Chanthaburi and Trat.
Southern Bus Terminal
The Southern Bus Terminal, also known as Sai Tai Taling Chan (สายใต้ตลิ่งชัน, tel. +66-2894 6122), serves all destinations west and south of Bangkok from its somewhat inconvenient location on the Thonburi side of the river. In December 2007, the terminal moved to a new, even more remote location, at Phutthamonthon Soi 1 in Bang Ramat, Taling Chan district, 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 Pha Ngan, 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 the ripoff operators at Khao San Road, 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 Southern Bus Terminal (Sai Tai Mai). The new one is located in the same direction, but is 4.5 km further from the center. If you're going there in the evening, especially during workdays, be prepared to fight a serious traffic jam — getting there can take 30 minutes or a full hour from the city center. As always in Bangkok, only use a metered taxi. A ride from Khao San Road should end up around 120 baht in favorable traffic conditions. Ignore touts — unlike what they might say, there really is no "faster" way when all the roads are congested.
The terminal can be reached with air-conditioned bus 515; from Suvarnabhumi Airport, bus 556 goes directly to the terminal.
From the BTS station at Victory Monument, the terminal can be reached with pale orange air-conditioned bus 515 (16 baht). When approached by an onboard bus attendant ticketer, just say "Sai Tai Taling Chan". After quite a ride, the large bus terminal will be on the left side about 9 km after crossing the river (you won't miss it and probably will be told as well). Getting there by bus actually does not take much more time than taxi (it's almost same in the likely case of a traffic jam), but the ride is much cheaper, especially if alone. There are also white minibuses (30 baht) from various points around Bangkok, eg. from Hua Mark, Bang Kapi in Ramkhamhaeng (near the Rajamangala National Stadium). There are inexpensive shuttle buses and slightly more expensive (but quicker loading and a bit faster) mini-buses to and from the Northern Bus Terminal as well.
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)
Hualamphong Train Station
Hualamphong Train Station is Bangkok's main station, located between the Old City and downtown Bangkok. It is the western terminus of the Bangkok MRT line. It is a huge and surprisingly nice station built during the reign of King Rama VI. It spared bombing in World War II at the request of the Thai resistance movement. Only listen to the people at the information desk — anyone else walking around offering to help you "find" a hotel or taxi is just a tout, even if they are wearing official-looking badges. Likewise, the second floor shops offering "Tourist Information" are just agents in disguise.
Tickets for trains leaving the same or the next day can be bought on the counters under the big screens. 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 ; the price is the same, however, the quota reserved for e-booking is limited, and there are only first and second class air-conditioned sleeper 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; 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. 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 at Bang Sue Train Station 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 doubtlessly improve as more and more long-distance departures are switched to here from Hualamphong Train Station to ease congestion.
Thonburi Train Station
The Thonburi Train Station, also known as the Bangkok Noi Station, this one is on the west side of the river in Thonburi. It is the terminus for twice-daily trains to Kanchanaburi (via Nakhon Pathom). 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 and turned into a museum, but it's only 800 meters away from the new station.
There are two daily third class trains:
And in the other direction:
Note that the weekend-only second class air-conditioned "tourist" trains to Kanchanaburi and Nam Tok depart from Hualamphong Train Station.
Wong Wien Yai Train Station
Wong Wien Yai Train Station only serves the rustic Mae Klong commuter line to the fishing village of Maha Chai. Trains run roughly hourly and the trip takes about one hour. The ride is of little interest if you want to get there fast, but is an experience for rail fans and an attraction in itself, with a nice view on the countryside's orchards, vegetable plantations and coconut groves. Maha Chai is a nice seafood destination, and if you feel like it, you can cross the Tha Chin river by ferry and continue by rail to Samut Songkhram. The railway station is about 800 meters 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 dock at either of Laem Chabang Port or Khlong Toey Port.
Large ships must use Laem Chabang Port, 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 for a trip to Bangkok — a whopping 2600 baht to charter a taxi (4 passengers), or about 5000 baht to charter a minibus (usually 11 passenger seats). Slightly lower prices can be found by walking out to the main road, about 4000 baht for a minibus, but even these rates are still 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 Bangkok's Eastern Bus Terminal (Ekkamai); less frequent direct services run to the Northern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit). A first class air-conditioned bus (blue and white) to either will take 90 minutes or less; the fare is around 100 baht. A quick way to get into downtown is to board an Ekkamai-bound bus and then disembark early at On Nut, where you can hop onto the Skytrain. The bus will always pause here if a passenger requests it.
Southbound buses en route to Pattaya can be boarded at the traffic lights on Sukhumvit Road in Laem Chabang. These are extremely frequent (at least 10 per hour), and charge less than 50 baht.
Modest-sized ships may dock further upriver at Khlong Toey Port, much closer to Bangkok's 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. Reaching major hotels and other points of interest is much cheaper than from Laem Chabang, but can vary according to the passenger's negotiating skills. The facility is not close to the MRT stop of Khlong Toei, the best way to get there is by metered taxi.
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 the city's rivers and canals.
By public transit
The BTS Skytrain (รถไฟฟ้าบีทีเอส rot fai fa BTS, pronounced bee-tee-et)  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 Siam Square. There are two lines: the light green Sukhumvit Line travels along Sukhumvit Road, Siam Square and then follows Phahonyothin Road up north, where it terminates near at Mo Chit (N8), near the Chatuchak Weekend Market. The dark green Silom Line starts in Thonburi, passes the Express Boat pier near Saphan Taksin (S6), goes through the Silom area and ends at National Stadium (W1), right next to MBK Center. Both lines come together at Siam (CEN), where you can interchange between them. Unfortunately, there is no station near Khao San Road, but you can take the Express Boat from nearby Phra Athit pier to Sathon (Taksin) pier, where you can switch onto the Skytrain.
You must have 5 or 10 baht coins to purchase Skytrain tickets from vending machines, 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 (or going to make several visits during the 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 per day) or a multiple ride pass of 20 trips or more to any zone (15 trips cost 345 baht, 25 trips cost 550 baht; plus a 30 baht refundable deposit for a rechargeable card that is 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.
The MRT (รถไฟฟ้ามหานคร rot fai tai din, pronounced em-ar-tee)  finally opened in July 2004. For now there is only one line, the Blue Line that connects the central Hualamphong Train Station (1) to the northern Bang Sue Train Station (18), running through Silom, Sukhumvit, Ratchadaphisek and area around Chatuchak Weekend Market in Phahonyothin. There are interchanges to the Skytrain at Si Lom (3), Sukhumvit (7) and Chatuchak Park (15) stations.
Tourists do not use the metro as much as the Skytrain, but there are some useful stops. The terminus at Hua Lamphong (1) provides a good access to Yaowarat. If you're going to the Chatuchak Weekend Market, don't get out at Chatuchak Park, but go one stop further to Kamphaeng Phet (16) as it drops you right inside the market.
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 is electronic: simply wave it by the scanner to enter; deposit it in a slot by the exit gate leave.
Note that bag-checks take place at the entrance of each station. It is usually nothing more than a quick peek inside, unless you are looking particularly suspicious.
Airport Rail Link
Finally opened in August 2010, Bangkok's newest public transportation system is the Airport Rail Link (รถไฟฟ้าเชื่อมท่าอากาศยานสุวรรณภูมิ) . The Express Line is only useful for getting into the city, as it starts at the airport, skips all stations and brings you directly to Makkasan (City Air Terminal). This ride takes about 15 minutes and costs 150 baht. Trains run every 30 minutes from 6AM till midnight. From Makkasan, you can continue your way by metro at Phetchaburi MRT station, but it is quite a hike as the pedestrian bridge is still in construction.
If you want to use it to get around the city, take the City Line as it is cheaper and it stops at all stations. Many Thais in Eastern Bangkok use it to commute to the city center. It starts at Suvarnabhumi Airport and terminates at Phaya Thai, with some interesting stops in between (such as Ramkhamhaeng and Ratchaprarop for Pratunam). The full ride takes about 30 minutes and sets you back 40 baht. At Phaya Thai, you can transfer onto the Skytrain and continue your way.
Chao Phraya Express Boat
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 north to Nonthaburi (N30), with stops at most of Rattanakosin's major attractions including the Grand Palace (at Tha Chang) and Wat Pho (at Tha Tien). The closest pier to Khao San Road is Phra Arthit. Enter the express boat at the numerous piers and pay for the trip at ticket collector, who will approach you bearing a long metal cylinder. At some bigger piers you can buy the ticket before boarding. When the metal cylinder lady approaches you, just show her the ticket you bought on the pier.
The different boat lines are indicated by the colors of the flags at the top of the boat. These flags can be confusing; don't think the yellow King's flag corresponds to the yellow line flag! There is also a basic "no flag" line that goes along all the piers, but it only runs during rush hour and is fairly slow. It is better to take the faster yellow and orange flag lines, but you have to be sure where you're going as they don't stop everywhere. The yellow line is the fastest, but is best avoided as it skips many popular attractions (including Khao San Road, the Grand Palace and Wat Pho). The orange line is your best bet, as it covers the major tourist areas and is fairly quick too.
In addition to the workaday express boat, there is also a blue flagged 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 to cruise up and down the most important tourist sights. They only operate once per 30 minutes and stop running by 3PM.
The signposting of the piers is quite clear, with numbered piers and English route maps. Sathorn (Taksin) pier has been dubbed "Central" station, as it offers an quick interchange to Saphan Taksin BTS station. The boats run every 5 to 20 minutes from sunrise to sunset (roughly from 6AM till 7PM), so ignore any river taxi touts who try to convince you otherwise.
Many piers are also served by cross-river ferries. These are particularly useful for reaching Wat Arun or the many piers at the Thonburi side of the river. Cross-river ferries run around every 10 minutes and only cost 3 baht — pay at the kiosk on the pier and then walk through the turnstile.
Saen Saep Express Boat
The Saen Saep Express Boat serves the long Saen Saeb canal, one of the remaining canals (khlong) that used to flow through Bangkok. Mostly used by locals to commute to work, the service is cheap and you get to see the 'backside' of the neighborhoods, so to speak. Also, It is immune to Bangkok's notorious traffic jams.
They are comparatively safe — just watch your step when boarding and disembarking as they don't stop at the pier for long and do not let the dirty 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 piers now even have (tiny) signs in English, with the exception of The Mall Bangkapi pier, and it's not obvious that you're at the mall from the canal boat!
The canal runs parallel to Petchaburi Road, and provides the easiest access from the Golden Mount in Rattanakosin (and nearby Khao San Road to Siam Square and Pratunam. This line is aptly called the Golden Mount Line and runs from Phan Fa Lilat pier to Pratu Nam pier in downtown. If you want to continue your journey beyond Pratu Nam, passengers have to change boats there. The NIDA Line starts at Pratu Nam and heads east to Sukhumvit and Ramkhamhaeng. Hold on to your ticket.
Finally, for trips outside 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 per hour, but with some 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.
Metered 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 downtown 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 on the front window, if lit, 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 (meter na khrap if you're male and meter na kha if you're female); if the driver refuses to use the meter after a couple of attempts, simply exit the taxi.
In some cases, late at night and especially near major tourist districts like Khao San or Patpong, you will need to walk a block away to catch a honest driver. The effort can save you as much as 150 baht. This is often also the case for taxis that park all day in front of your hotel. There are only two reasons that they are there: to take you places where they can get their commissions (jewelry stores, tailors, massage parlors, etc.) and to overcharge you by not using the meter.
Your best bet is to walk to the road and catch an unoccupied metered taxi in motion (easier than it sounds, as Bangkok traffic tends to crawl the majority of the time, and one car out of four is a taxi). Avoid parked taxis altogether, and if a taxi driver refuses to turn the meter on, simply close the door and find one who will. Keep in mind that it is illegal for them to have unmetered fares. Be smart and give your money to honest drivers, not touts. The only reason that they get away with this so frequently is that foreign tourists let them.
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 guest houses will happily write out addresses in Thai for you. While most drivers will recognize the names of tourist hot spots, even if grossly mispronounced, but it is often difficult to properly pronounce addresses in Thai. If your mobile phone works in Thailand, it is sometimes useful to call 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.
If you are pinching pennies or fussy about your means of transportation, you may wish to avoid getting into one of the (very common) yellow-green taxis. They are owner-operated and of highly variable quality and occasionally have rigged meters. All other colors belong to large taxi companies, which usually enforce their standards better.
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.
When getting out, try to have small bills (100 baht or less) or expect problems with change. Tips are not necessary, but are certainly welcome if you're happy about the service; most local passengers will round up or leave any coin change as tip.
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 percent 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 gas 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 gas coupons. Also, with Bangkok's densely congested traffic it is sure to waste hours of your time, if not the whole day.
In case you actually want to get somewhere, and you're an all-male party, be careful with the tuk-tuk drivers. They sometimes will just ignore your destination and start driving you to some brothel ("beautiful girls"). Insist continually and forcefully on going only to your destination; or take a metered taxi instead.
A songthaew is a less-heralded, less-colourful and less-touristy version of the tuk-tuk that usually serves the back sois in residential neighborhoods. They usually have four wheels instead of three, two benches instead of one, run on gasoline instead of LPG and resemble a tiny truck. The maids and locals tend to use them to return home from the market with loads of groceries, or for quick trips if they're available. Negotiate before you get in, but don't expect to go much beyond the edge of that particular neighborhood.
When traffic slows to a crawl and there are no mass-transit alternatives for your destination, by far the fastest mode of transport is a motorbike taxi (มอเตอร์ไซค์รับจ้าง motosai lapjang). No, those guys in the pink smocks aren't biker gangs; they're motosai cabbies. They typically wear colorful fluorescent yellow-orange vests and wait for passengers at busy places. Prices are negotiable before you ride.
For the adrenaline junkie, a wild motosai ride can provide a fantastic rush. Imagine weaving through rows of stopped vehicles at 50 km/h with mere centimetres to spare on each side, dodging pedestrians, other motorbikes, tuk-tuks, stray dogs and the occasional elephant while the driver blithely ignores all traffic laws and even some laws of physics. Now do the same while facing backwards on the bike and balancing a large television on your lap, and then you can qualify as a local — though you might die in the process. Imagine your loved ones arranging to ship your dead body home from Bangkok because you took a dangerous risk you were warned not to. Motorcycle accidents are brutally common, and transportation of this sort is inherently hazardous. Be aware of the risk before using motorcycle taxis. Many tourists and Thai alike recommend avoiding them except as a last resort. Under no circumstances ride without a helmet.
The overwhelming majority of motorcycle taxis do not travel long distances, but simply shuttle up and down long sois (side-streets) not serviced by other transport for a fixed 5-20 baht fare. These are marginally less dangerous, especially if you happen to travel with the flow on a one-way street.
The law requires that both driver and passenger must wear a helmet. It is the driver's responsibility to provide you with one, so if you are stopped by police, any fine is also the driver's responsibility. This is worth bearing in mind when you hire a motorbike or moped. Make sure that if there are two of you, the hirer provides two helmets instead of one. When riding, keep a firm grasp on the seat handle and watch out for your knees.
Local buses, operated by the Bangkok Mass Transit Authority (องค์การขนส่งมวลชนกรุงเทพ) , or just BMTA (ขสมก), are the cheapest but also the most challenging way of getting around. There is a bewildering plethora of routes, usually marked only in Thai. Even Thais have a hard time with these, but at least they can call the 184 Bus Route Hotline, which is in Thai only. Bus stops 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 website. It has up-to-date if slightly incomplete listings of bus routes in English, but no maps. You can also ask your guest house about which buses to take if you're going to a particular destination. As a printed reference, the 50 baht spent on the Bus Routes and Map by Bangkok Guides is a good investment if you're going to travel by bus more than once.
The hierarchy of Bangkok's buses from cheapest to best can be ranked as follows:
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 can be 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.
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.
Nearby is Wat Pho, home to the world's largest reclining Buddha image and a famed massage school. Take the ferry across the Chao Phraya river to Thonburi for the outstanding Wat Arun. The main structure is about 60 to 88 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 beautifully decorated with colorful broken Chinese porcelain pieces. Heading back to Rattanakosin, there are many other major temples you could visit, including the Golden Mount, Wat Suthat and Wat Ratchanadda.
Don't throw away the entry ticket of the Grand Palace, as it gives free entry to the Dusit Palace in Dusit. It is situated in a leafy, European-style area built by King Rama V to escape the heat of the Grand Palace. Its 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 if you want. There are many other museums in Bangkok showing traditional Thai-style residences. Most visitors take a tour through Jim Thompson's House, the CIA-operative's mansion assembled by combining six traditional Thai-style houses, conveniently located near Siam Square. Ban Kamthieng in Sukhumvit, M.R. Kukrit's Heritage Home in Silom and the Suan Pakkad Palace in Phahonyothin could also make for a nice experience. Rattanakosin has many museums about history and culture, including the National Museum about Thai history and archaeological remains, 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. Siam Square has the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre which has temporary art exhibitions throughout year.
Lumphini Park in Silom is the largest park in central Bangkok, and a good way to escape the fumes. Backpackers around Khao San Road can head for Santichaiprakarn Park, a small but fun park along the Chao Phraya river with a breezy atmosphere, usually with locals juggling or practicing tricks. It is built around the Phra Sumen Fort with a nice view on the modern Rama VII cable-stayed 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. Poor living conditions of the animals and inadequate veterinary care 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. Another nice family attraction is Siam Ocean World in Siam Square. It has a steep price tag, but you get the largest aquarium in Southeast Asia for it.
Go cycling! It may sound crazy, as cycling is deadly dangerous on the main roads, but it certainly is not if you know where to go. Away from the main roads there is a vast system of small streets and alleys. Cyclists are treated as pedestrians, so you can use your bicycle to explore parks, temple complexes, markets and the more quiet residential areas of eastern Bangkok. In more crowded places you can cycle on the sidewalk. Exploring the town by bicycle has all the advantages of going by foot, combined with a much greater action radius and a cooling breeze.
If you want to experience Bangkok hideaways and countryside, leisurely cycling through green paddy fields, colorful orchid farms, peaceful lotus fields and touched by the charm of Thai way of country life at personal level, bicycle is a great way to do it. There are a handful of specialist operators that offer daily or regular departures to the so-called "Bangkok jungle" (Bang Kachao), a semi-island across the river from Bangkok with few cars or buildings, or through the backstreets of Chinatown. It sounds strange but a cycle tour in Bangkok really is the best way to discover the city up close.
Another great way to see the Chao Phraya river and the original canals of the city is by canal tour. Most of these special boat trips start at the eastern bank of the Chao Phraya and head through the backwaters of Thonburi, taking in Wat Arun, the Royal Barges National Museum and a floating market. More information about these canal tours can be found in the Thonburi article. At 1000 baht or more, they are quite expensive though; a cheaper and also fun activity is to take the public express boat along the Chao Phraya river. You can get off anywhere between Thewet and Sathon (Taksin) piers as there are many things to see in all those neighborhoods. You can even go all the way north to Nonthaburi in the morning, enjoy the afternoon in this laid-back traditional urban town and take the boat back around rush hour.
Muay Thai, informally known as Thai Boxing, is both a sport and a means of self-defense. Contestants are allowed to use almost any part of the body: feet, elbows, legs, knees, and shoulders. There are two venues in Bangkok to see this type of sport in action, Lumpinee Boxing Stadium in Silom and Ratchadamnoen Stadium in Rattanakosin. Sessions can take the whole evening, and the more interesting fights tend to happen in the end, so it's not that bad if you come slightly too late. The playing of traditional music during the bouts is enjoyable as well. A downer is the steep 1000 to 2000 baht entry fee for foreigners, while Thais chip in for 100 baht or less.
There are many cultural performances in Bangkok that shows traditional Thai culture and dance. Siam Niramit in Ratchadaphisek is a truly spectacular performance where more than 150 performers depict the history of each region of Thailand.
Of a completely different order are Bangkok's famous transvestite shows. These cabarets generally take about two hours, and besides singing, dancing, glamour and costumes, usually it also has some comedy thrown in. The most famous show is Calypso Cabaret in Ratchathewi that has two sessions every evening at the Asia Hotel. Always book these shows a couple of days in advance.
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 luxury hotels in Bangkok have a spa that at least offers a traditional Thai massage. Prices are exorbitant, but they offer some of the best treatments in Bangkok. Particularly well-regarded spas at exceptionally high rates are given at the splurge hotels in Silom. Independent spas offer much the same experience, but offer much more competitive rates. Figure around 1000 baht 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. Particularly Khao San Road and Sukhumvit have plenty of these popular palces. It is fairly easy to distinguish legitimate massage shops from more dubious places (where massaging is only a front for prostitution); 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 girls in evening dresses wearing too much make-up and saying "hello handsome" to every passing male.
Bangkok is a great place to go to the movies. Compared to the West, the cost of a ticket is a complete bargain at around 120 baht. Most cinemas have world-class standards and show the latest Hollywood and Thai releases. Watching Thai movies is a fun night out, as pretty much all of them have English subtitles. They are up to par with the latest technological innovations in the film industry, so expect to wear 3D glasses for some of the latest Hollywood releases, or visit the IMAX Theater in Siam Paragon.
For other means of entertainment, Ratchadaphisek is a newly created entertainment paradise. Its bowling centers are of a superb standard with some of them resembling the inside of a nightclub. Dance while you play in style. Private karaoke lounges are usually connected to these bowling centers and are available at major hotels. There's even an ice skating rink and a top-class go-go kart track. As Ratchadaphisek is mostly aimed at the locals, you might want to go to similar venues in Siam Square or Sukhumvit.
All of Thailand's major festivals are celebrated in Bangkok.
Thai cuisine is a favorite of many, and plenty of 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 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 the Thai language well enough, 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 Phahurat.
Just take a few steps out of your hotel and Bangkok feels like a huge street market. Sukhumvit has the usual souvenirs, t-shirts, pirated DVDs and other tacky tourist junk. Browsing Khao San Road's roadside stalls is particularly good for clothes and accessories, many of them for a bargain. While many of these stalls still cater to the traditional hippie crowd, they have been slowly gentrifying to appeal a broader audience. The nearby Banglamphu Market sells cheap knock-offs of everything, just like the night markets in Silom and Rattanakosin.
In the weekends, the Chatuchak Weekend Market in Phahonyothin is a must as its 8000 stalls together form the largest market in Southeast Asia. Shoppers can buy just about everything from clothing to potted plants and everything in between — it is a paradise for browsers and bargain-hunters alike. A weekday alternative is Pratunam, one of the city's renowned garment markets. Clothes shopping here goes on wholesale, and you're even cheaper off if you buy in bulk. Men will probably have a better time at Pantip Plaza, selling computer-related stuff from branded laptops to pirated DVDs.
Yaowarat and Phahurat give a more authentic experience, although many stores sell the cheap teen accessories found elsewhere too. Just sitting at a plastic chair and watching daily commerce evolve is a fun activity in itself. Phahurat is the best destination for fabrics, available in all colors and sizes. Pak Khlong Talat is a surprisingly fun wholesale market for all kinds of cut flowers and vegetables. If you're a morning person, visit it around 3AM, when new flowers from upcountry arrive and the marketplace is beautifully illuminated.
Thonburi, being one of the least developed areas of Bangkok, is the best place to experience what the city used to be like. A must is the weekends-only Taling Chan Floating Market, which feels at least somewhat authentic as it blends a rural market with the canal side way of life. The Ladies Market is an undiscovered gem with strictly local prices. At the other side of the river, Rattanakosin has everything a good Buddhist would need, be it amulets, monk bowls or human-sized Buddha statues.
For antiques, Silom is the place to go, as most potential buyers stay there in expensive hotels. River City in Yaowarat is the largest antique mall of the city, and priced to match. Gold and gems are popular buys, but be extremely wary as many tourists buy worthless pieces of cut glass believing it to be valuable gems. Never let a tuk-tuk driver convince you into a gem store, as more often than not, you're being ripped off. The same rule goes for tailoring shops; you can get a custom-made suit for amazingly cheap prices compared to the West, but you have to know where to go, as many tailors provide bad quality. Avoid tailoring shops in obvious tourist areas, as they are likely to rip you off, and ask fellow travelers for advice.
Browsing second hand English-language books can best be done on Khao San Road. For new releases, there are plenty of chain stores in shopping plazas, including Asia Books, B2S, Bookazine and Kinokuniya. There's a particularly wide array of books on Asian culture and history; some have a good selection of foreign newspapers and magazines as well.
Sukhumvit by far has the best restaurants of Bangkok, though prices tend to be high. Practically every cuisine in the world is represented here, be it French, Lebanese, Mexican, Vietnamese, or fusion combining many of these together in a quirky, but delicious mix. Bangkok's Italian town is Soi Ton Son near Siam Square. Of course, for those on a budget, street stalls abound with simple Thai dishes at around 30 baht. There are especially plenty of budget restaurants in Khao San Road.
There are plenty of vegetarian restaurants in the more tourist-friendly parts of town (especially in hippie district Khao San Road). Vegetarian dishes are also readily available on the menus of regular restaurants. On request, even typical street restaurants will easily cook a vegetarian equivalent of a popular Thai dish 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. To avoid it, say "mai ao naam man hoi". Be aware that all street noodle vendors use animal broth for noodle soup.
Don't miss out on a cold ice cream in hot Bangkok. Dairy Queen and Swensen's has booths in many malls and shopping centres. Their ice creams are tasty, cheap and safe for westerners to eat.
While not particularly high class, street food is among the most delicious food and can be found all over Bangkok — wherever you're staying, you rarely have to walk more than 100 meters for a cart of street restaurant. Many of street vendors sell satay (สะเต๊ะ) with hot sauce for 5 to 10 baht a piece.
One of Thailand's national dishes you can try is pad thai (ผัดไทย), stir-fried rice noodles with eggs, fish sauce, tamarind juice and red chilli pepper. It can be prepared for you on one of the ubiquitous carts, or in a street restaurant for about 50 baht. You can order it with chicken (kai) or shrimps (kung). Another one of Thailand's national dishes you should try is tom yam kung (ต้มยำกุ้ง), a sour soup with prawns, lemongrass and galangal — beware, as it is very spicy! If you like sweets, try to find a kanom roti (โรตี) street vendor. The crepe-like dessert is filled with sweetened condensed milk, lots of sugar, and can also have bananas inside. Also fun to watch them being made.
Khao San Road is known for its carts selling 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. Break off the legs from grasshoppers and crickets or they will get stuck in your throat.
Thai dishes can roughly be categorized into central, northern, northeastern and southern cuisine. What's so great about Bangkok is that all these cuisines are present. Isaan food (from the northeast of Thailand) is a backpacker favorite; generally street restaurants serve on plenty of small plates that can be shared. Som tam (ส้มตำ) is a salad made from shredded and pounded raw papaya — again, it is spicy, but oh so delicious. If you want to dine the Isaan way, also order some khao niew (sticky rice), kai yang (grilled chicken) and moo yang (grilled pork). Isaan food is very spicy; say mai pet or pet nit noy to tone it down. Southern Thai cuisine is also worth it; many of them have congregated around Wang Lang in Thonburi. At least try the massaman curry (แกงมัสมั่น), it's delicious.
The place to go to for Chinese food is Yaowarat. It has a range of street stalls and cheap restaurants selling expensive delicacies at affordable prices — such as shark fin soup and bird's nest. Soi Phadung Dao is the best street for huge seafood restaurants. Try 1 kg of huge barbecued prawns for about 300 baht. Phahurat, Bangkok's Little India, has some decent Indian restaurants.
Dinner cruises on the Chao Phraya river are a touristy (but fun) way of spotting floodlit temples while chowing down on seafood and watching Thai cultural performances. Most operate buffet-style and the quality of the food is so-so, but there's lots of it and it's not too spicy. Note that drinks and tips are usually not included in the listed prices below. Always make a reservation before heading out to the pier. There are many competing operators, most of them depart from River City pier next to the Si Phraya Express Boat pier. Major ones include:
One of Bangkok's main party districts is Silom, home not only to perhaps the world's most famous go-go bar strip Patpong, but plenty of more legitimate establishments catering to all tastes. For a drink with a view, the open-air rooftop bars of Vertigo and Sirocco are particularly impressive. A large number of superhip and more expensive bars and nightclubs can be found in the higher sois of Sukhumvit, including Bed Supperclub, Q Bar, and Narcissus, as well as the hip area of Thong Lo (Soi 55).
Hippie hangout Khao San Road is also slowly gentrifying and a score of young trendy Thai teenagers have also made their mark there. Going out in Khao San Road is mostly casual, sitting at a sidewalk bar watching people pass by, but some nightclubs have opened here as well. Most of the younger Thais prefer to congregate around Ratchadaphisek.
Smoking is forbidden in all restaurants, bars and nightclubs, whether air-conditioned or non-air-conditioned. Remarkably for Thailand, this rule is strictly enforced.
Go-go and beer bars
If this sounds like a thinly veiled veneer for prostitution, it is. Although some point to the large number of American GIs during the Vietnam War as the point of origin of the Thai sex trade, others have claimed that current Thai attitudes towards sexuality have deeper roots in Thai history. Both go-go and beer bars are squarely aimed at the foreign tourists and it's fairly safe to assume that most if not all Thais in them are on the take. That said, it's perfectly OK to check out these shows without actually partaking, and there are more and more curious couples and even the occasional tour group attending. The main areas is around Patpong, but similar bars to the ones at Patpong can be found in Sukhumvit, at Nana Entertainment Plaza (Soi 4) and Soi Cowboy (Soi 23). Before heading to these places, be sure to read the Stay safe section for some additional advice.
Thais are generally accepting of homosexuality and Bangkok has a very active gay nightlife scene, concentrated in Silom's Soi 2, Soi 4 and a short strip of gay go-go bars off nearby Surawong Road. The most popular gay bars are Balcony and Telephone Bar at Silom Soi 4, and for the disco crowd DJ Station and its late-night neighbour G.O.D., which are located at Silom Soi 2 (packed every night beginning around 11PM). Most of these bars, however, are aimed at gay men and the lesbian scene is much more low-key. Since the opening of full-time lesbian bars Zeta and E-Fun the last years, a small lesbian community is starting to emerge along Royal City Avenue. Lesla (near Phahonyothin) is a lesbian bar that is opened on Saturday nights only. Bring along your passport for entrance age checking (they do not allow people under 20 years old).
In a league of their own are Bangkok's numerous transsexuals (kathoey), both pre- and post-operative, popularly known as ladyboys. A part of Thai popular culture for ages, Kathoey face increasing prejudice as Thailand imports rigid Western gender concepts. Many male Westerners obsess about the risks of "mistaking" a ladyboy for a "real" woman, in the fear that being attracted to them would make of them homosexuals. Tired clichés about "tall, large-handed, large breasted transsexuals with garish makeup" are belied by the fact that most kathoeys strive to blend in with the general population. However, legal change of gender is not possible in Thailand, which means they find it difficult to access many "respectable" jobs. Some work in the famed transvestite cabarets and there are some dedicated kathoey bars as well.
Note that some Thai regulars in the gay nightlife scene skirt the fine line between partying and prostitution, and the Western visitor, being considered richer, is expected to pay any food and drink expenses and perhaps provide some "taxi money" in the morning. It's usually wise to ask a boy you pick up in a bar or club if he is after money, as it's not uncommon for them to start demanding money after sex.
Bangkok has a vast range of accommodation, including some of the best hotels in the world — and some of the worst dives too. Broadly speaking, Khao San Road is backpacker city; the riverside of Silom and Thonburi is home to The Oriental and The Peninsula respectively, often ranked among the best in the world (and priced to match). Most of the city's moderate and expensive hotels can be found in Siam Square, Sukhumvit and Silom, though they also have their share of budget options.
When choosing your digs, think of the amount of luxury you want to pay for — air-conditioning can be advised, as temperatures don't drop below 20 degrees Celsius at night. Also pay careful attention to Skytrain, metro and express boat access, as a well-placed station or pier could make your stay in Bangkok much more comfortable. In general, accommodation in Bangkok is cheap though. It's possible to have a decent double room with hot shower and air-conditioning for about 500 baht per night. If you want more luxury, expect to pay around 1500 baht for a double room in downtown. Even staying at one of Bangkok's top hotels only sets you back around 5000 baht — the price of a standard double room in Europe.
One Bangkok hotel phenomenon of note is the guest fee of around 500 baht added to your bill if you bring along a newly found friend for the night. Some hotels even refuse Thai guests altogether, this is especially common in Khao San Road. These rules are obviously aimed at controlling local sex workers, which is why hotel security will usually hold onto your guest's ID card for the duration of the visit, but some hotels will also apply it to Western visitors — or, more embarrassingly, try to apply it to your Thai partner. Look for the signs, or, if in doubt, ask the staff before check-in.
Internet cafes abound in Bangkok. You'll generally be looking at rates of around 30-60 baht per hour in tourist-laden districts like Khao San Road, 20-30 baht per hour in downtown (the top floors of MBK for example), and 10-15 baht per hour if you would venture into residential areas (where the speed generally is still high).
An increasing number of cafes and pubs, including the ubiquitous Coffee World chain, offer free Wi-Fi to their customers. TrueMove offers both free and paid Wi-Fi access. If you want to get online for free, you must register first, and both session and overall time is limited. Their network is accessible in many malls, including Siam Square, and sometimes can be available from your room if you stay in a nearby hot-spot — just look for the 'truewifi' network, you can register right there. Most hotels and guest houses provide Wi-Fi access inside the rooms — but inquire before booking.
The area code for Bangkok is 02. You only need to dial the 0 if you're calling from within Thailand. Pay phones are not commonplace, as most Thais have a mobile phone. If you want to avoid high roaming costs, you can buy a local SIM card for 50 baht at Suvarnabhumi Airport (or other mobile phone stores throughout the city). The 50 baht is not just for the SIM card, but is immediately your first pre-paid amount. Topping it up is easy; just walk into a 7-Eleven convenience store and pick an amount you want to add. Making international calls is also cheaper this way.
Bangkok's red mailboxes are found all over the city. There are also plenty of Thailand Post  offices around for sending mail and packages. In tourist areas, there are post offices at Ratchadamnoen Klang Road (near Khao San Road) and at Sukhumvit Road (between Soi 4 and 6).
If you're staying in Bangkok for a longer time, you might want to make use of poste restante; that way, other people can send you mail using a post office's address. Post offices keep the letters for two months. Letters sent via poste restante must have the receiver's name on it, and if you want to pick them up near Khao San Road, must be addressed to c/o Poste Restante, Banglamphu Post Office, 81 Ratchadamnoen Klang Road, Bangkok, 10200. If you want to pick up your mail in the Sukhumvit area, make sure mail is addressed to c/o Poste Restante, Nana Post Office, Sukhumvit Road, Bangkok, 10112.
Given its size, Bangkok is surprisingly safe, with violent crimes like mugging and robbery unusual. However, Bangkok does have more than its fair share of scams, and many individuals in the tourist business do not hesitate to overcharge unwary 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. Never get in a tuk-tuk if someone else is trying to get you into one. Most Bangkok locals do not approach foreigners without an ulterior motive.
Be highly skeptical when an English-speaking Thai at a popular tourist attraction approaches you out of the blue, telling that your intended destination is currently closed 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 a tuk-tuk ride to some alternate sights to see until the sight re-opens. At paid admission sites, verify the operating hours at the ticket window.
If you entered one of these tuk-tuks, touts often will drop you off at a certain place, such as a genuine Buddhist temple. Here you will find a man that claims to be an official, and he guides you in a certain direction. There you will find another "official" who also claims that a certain attraction is closed. This way, a tourist hears the same statement by multiple people, and is more eager to believe that his or her intended destination indeed is closed. Never get involved with these scammers or believe any of their statements.
When getting a taxi, it is a good idea to hail a moving taxi from the main road, or to walk a short distance out of a major tourist area 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. Most of the untrustworthy drivers are the ones standing still in tourist areas. Another important rule of thumb is to 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.
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.
Also beware of private bus companies offering direct trips from Bangkok to other cities with "VIP" buses. There are a lot of scams performed by these private bus companies. The so-called direct VIP trips may end up changing three or four uncomfortable minibuses to the destination, and the 10-11 hour trip may well turn into 17-18 hours. Instead, 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 as well.
Bangkok is known for its go-go bars and the prostitution that comes along with it. 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).
The age of consent in Thailand 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 2534 or earlier if they were over the age of 18 on January 1, 2010 (in the Thai calendar, CE 2010 is the year 2553). 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 these freelancers. HIV and 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.
While walking in go-go bar areas is generally safe, you have to be cautious 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.
Do not get into fights with 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 they normally have very limited English skills; always contact the Tourist Police when in trouble). 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 apologize, and get the heck out of there. In Thailand, discretion is definitely the better part of valour!
Elephants are a large part of Thailand's tourist business, and the smuggling and mistreatment of elephants for tourist attractions is 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. It is advised to only take an elephant ride at animal friendly organizations.
A depressingly common sight on the congested streets of Bangkok is elephant begging. During night hours, mahouts (trainers) with lumbering elephants approach tourists to feed the creatures bananas or take a photo with them for a fee. The elephants are brought to the city to beg in this way because they are out of work, and are mistreated and visibly distressed under the conditions of the city. Please avoid supporting this cruelty by rejecting the mahouts as they offer you bananas to feed the elephants. This is especially common in Silom and Sukhumvit.
Due to its location, lax laws, and resources, many illegal animal products come through Bangkok. Rare and endangered species are often sold at markets for pets (especially at Chatuchak), and many other animal products are sold as luxury items. Avoid buying rare pets, leather, ivory, talons, dried sea creatures (starfish, etc.), fur, feathers, teeth, wool, and other products, as they are most likely the result of illegal poaching, and contributes greatly to animal endangerment and abuse.
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 with 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 had been seized by protesters. Always follow the independent press for the newest political developments, stay away from demonstrations and avoid wearing yellow or red clothing.
Food and water
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.
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 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.
Bangkok's hospitals offer generally high quality services at a fraction of the cost of a Western hospital. Probably the best-regarded (and most expensive) is Bumrungrad Hospital in Sukhumvit, which (for example) charges 60,000 baht for an all-inclusive breast implant package. Bangkok is also well-known as a center for sexual reassignment surgery for people wishing to change their physical sex, although this falls out of the scope of a casual vacation. Hospitals can be found all over the city, but the ones particularly interesting for medical tourism can be found in Sukhumvit, Silom, Phahonyothin and Ratchadaphisek.
Those same districts have proper dental clinics with English-speaking dentists and staff. The largest of them is the Bangkok International Dental Center with branches in Ratchadaphisek and Siam Square. There are also plenty of teeth whitening, implant and orthodontic centers over town.
The Immigration Bureau has moved from central Soi Suan Plu to far-away Government Building B in Chaeng Wattana Soi 7 (+66-2-141-9889, , M-F 8:30AM-noon, 1PM-4:30PM). The center is in the far north of Bangkok near the old Don Muang Airport. It is a spacious building with a ground floor cafe, restaurants and copy vendors. Visas, re-entry permits and many other immigration services are available. It is best to take the Skytrain to Mo Chit station and then hail a taxi to the government center. Services for Burmese, Cambodian and Lao citizens remain at Soi Suan Plu.
If you want to get out of the city for a while, there are plenty of day trip options from Bangkok.
Bangkok is also an excellent hub for onward travel into other regions of Thailand.