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Bangkok

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Bangkok

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Bangkok is a huge city with several district articles containing sightseeing, restaurant, nightlife and accommodation listings — have a look at each of them.
Grand Palace

Bangkok (Thai: กรุงเทพฯ Krung Thep) [24] 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.

Districts

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.

Map of Central Bangkok
Map of Bangkok
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.
Sukhumvit
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.
Silom
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.
Rattanakosin
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.
Dusit
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.
Thonburi
The quieter west bank of the Chao Phraya River, with Wat Arun and many small canals to explore.
Phahonyothin
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.
Ratchadaphisek
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).
Ramkhamhaeng
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.

Around Bangkok are the provinces of Pathum Thani to the north, Nonthaburi to the northwest, Chachoengsao to the east, Samut Sakhon to the southwest, and Samut Prakan to the southeast.

Understand

The concrete jungle of central Bangkok

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 everywhere. 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.

History

Bangkok originally was a small village on the banks of the Chao Phraya river, until a new capital was founded on the west bank (present-day Thonburi) after the fall of Ayutthaya. In 1782, King Rama I built a palace on the east bank (now Rattanakosin) and renamed the city as Krung Thep, as it is now known to Thais and which in English is translated to 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 has long since ceased to exist, but for some reason foreigners never caught on to the change.

Modern-day Bangkok is predominantly Thai-Chinese and they make up the majority of the population, but the city is also a second home to millions of upcountry "Thai-Thai" folk who come to make a living. The city is also home to a remarkable array of expats from all over the world, with districts inhabited by Chinese, Indians, Japanese, Koreans, Arabs and many more.

Addresses and navigation

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/Avenue", while the side streets branching off from them are called soi (ซอย). Sois are numbered, with even numbers on one side and odd ones on the other. Thus, an address like "25 Soi Sukhumvit 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. Soi 3 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.

Bangkok

To make things a little more complex, some large sois like Soi Ekamai (Sukhumvit Soi 63) and Soi Ari (Phahonyothin Soi 7) have their own sois. In these cases an address like "Soi Ari 3" means "the 3rd soi off Soi Ari", and you may even spot addresses like "68/2 Soi Ekamai 4, Sukhumvit 63 Road", meaning "2nd house beside house 68, 4th soi off Ekamai, 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 the Victory Monument may be spelled Phahon Yothin or Pahon Yothin or Phahonyothin or Phaholyothin depending on which street sign or map you consult. It's all the same in Thai, of course, only the romanisation 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 Ploenchit just before you cross Thanon Witthayu (aka Wireless) going towards the river. Keep going just a few more streets and it becomes Thanon Phra Ram Neung (or Rama I) after you pass Thanon Ratchadamri. But if you were to turn right onto Ratchadamri, in just a few blocks you'll find yourself on Thanon Ratchaprarop (past Petchaburi, 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 Ploenchit where it runs though the Ploenchit 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 its 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 Thonglor?" 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 Banglamphu or Sanam Luang or Rattana. And wander you should.

Get in

Most major roads, trains and planes in Thailand lead to Bangkok.

By plane

Bangkok has two airports operating. Allow at least three hours to connect between them.

Suvarnabhumi Airport

Suvarnabhumi Airport: where Thai culture meets tax-free shopping
A spartan gate lounge

Located 30km (19 miles) to the east of Bangkok, space-age Suvarnabhumi Airport (สุวรรณภูมิ), pronounced "soo-wanna-poom", (IATA: BKK) (ICAO: VTBS) [25] 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 (see below). 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.

Transportation

Limousine taxis (which charge by distance, e.g. around 800 baht to central Sukhumvit) can be reserved at the limousine hire counter on the 2nd floor (just outside Arrivals), and aggressive touts will try to entice you on board. If you allow yourself to be waylaid by one of the taxi touts they might quote you more than double the fare that an ordinary metered taxi would charge (900 baht instead of 400, for example). You'd be silly even acknowledging their existence - walk straight past them.

A better option are the ordinary metered taxis available on the 1st 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), and 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 250-400 baht (plus possible expressway tolls of 45 and 25 baht) and take 40-60 minutes depending on traffic/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.

Top-level egress to queueless taxis

If you don't want to pay the extra 50 baht or wait in line for the taxis, there's one more option. Take the escalators/lift/stairs to the top level until you can't go up any more levels (departure level). Walk outside. You will see a scene like that pictured on the right. Walk across the first road and you will likely see people being dropped off by taxis. You may also see touts trying to get you into their taxi. More often than not, these touts are "ghost taxis" who want to charge you a fixed rate (always a rip-off) without using a meter. Ask them if they have a meter (in Thai, มีมีเต้อร์ไหม or "mee mee-TER mai?"). If they persistently ask you where you're going rather than answering whether or not they have a meter, they are surely a ghost taxi. Don't use them. Ignore them & simply hail the next taxi with the red light inside the windshield indicating they're available. The touts will be waiting for you, but the metered taxis will be dropping people off very regularly; you're just catching them before they head to the 50-baht queue downstairs. (Technically, they're not supposed to pick you up, but enforcement is very lax.)

There is also a stop outside the 1st floor exit for Airport Express buses, which charge a flat 150 baht and operate hourly from 7 AM until midnight, covering four routes, each taking about 60 to 90 minutes: To get there, walk to the extreme end of the ground floor to your left. There is a desk selling the tickets just before the exit door.

To take a public bus or minivan, you must first take a free shuttle bus ride from the outside 2nd floor to the Bus Terminal a few Km distant. Alternatively, go to the ground floor and walk to the extreme right of the terminal. Exit the last door, and continue about 100 metres 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. {Public Transport Centre). The BMTA public bus lines are:

  • 549: Suvarnabhumi-Bangkapi
  • 550: Suvarnabhumi-Happy Land
  • 551: Suvarnabhumi-Victory Monument (BTS)
  • 552: Suvarnabhumi-On Nut (BTS)-Klong Toei
  • 552A: Suvarnabhumi-Sam Rong
  • 553: Suvarnabhumi-Samut Phrakan
  • 554: Suvarnabhumi-Don Muang Airport
  • 555: Suvarnabhumi-Rangsit (Expressway)
  • 556: Suvarnabhumi-Southern Bus Terminal (Expressway)
  • 559: Suvarnabhumi-Rangsit (Outer Ring Road)

To give an example, the fare between Suvarnabhumi and On Nut BTS station on the 552 is 32 baht, and the journey (On Nut to the airport) takes about 40 minutes in mid-afternoon traffic. There are also privately-owned BMTA minivans to many parts of Bangkok, such as Don Muang Airport, Bang Kapi, Rangsit, Samut Prakarn, etc. They charge in flat rate 50 baht and go directly to the destination, so they are faster than the public buses, which stop frequently along the way.

These services take about 1 hour to 2 hours depending on Bangkok traffic and frequency is usually every 20 mins during daytime and night time ranges from 20 mins to 1 hour depending on route. Long-distance 1st class bus services connect Suvarnabhumi directly with Chachoengsao, Nong Khai, Pattaya, Rayong, and Trat.

The Suvarnabhumi Airport Rail Link [26] offers a 20-minute high-speed train service to central Bangkok, with Makkasan station connecting to MRT Phetchaburi and Phaya Thai connecting to BTS. Free trial runs started on June 1st, but run only Mon-Fri 6-10 AM and 4-9 PM, stopping at every station except Makkasan. Full service is scheduled to start on August 23, 2010 with the commuter city line service (15 baht for the first year), and the express service (100 baht).

Accommodation near the airport

At present, there are only a few hotels located near Suvarnabhumi Airport, though with huge construction projects planned for the area this will change over the next few years. 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 either try their luck in the prayer rooms (although, technically, sleeping is not permitted there, according to signage. The Muslim prayer room should only be used by, of course, Muslims), or one of the benches on the bottom floor of the terminal (which seems to be a popular choice with tourists and locals).

Note: All other accommodation in Bangkok is listed in the relevant district articles. If you want an overnight stay within 20 minutes of the airport, you might want to find a hotel in Ramkhamhaeng. The Tourist Authority of Thailand and other hotel and tourist agencies have counters on the arrivals floor of the main terminal. These agencies offer hotel reservation services. Check for special promotions and also whether the hotel offers 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), 20 km north of downtown, was Bangkok's main airport until 2006. The airport currently handles Nok Air[27] and One-Two-GO [28] 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 also your only option after 11 PM. The same booth plus slip system as at Suvarnabhumi is used here. If the line at the taxi stand is long or you need a more spacious car, you may want to book a (so-called) limousine 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 the train station. Tickets to Hualamphong station 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 Bangkok are the airport's side of the road, so don't cross the highway!). Here are useful buses:

  • 504: This yellow air-conditioned bus will take you to CentralWorld (a large department store formerly known as the World Trade Center), as well as Lumpini Park and Silom Road, from where you can have access to the Skytrain as well as many other buses
  • 29: There are both yellow air-conditioned and red un-air-conditioned buses. These bus will take you directly to Hualamphong and pass by many places, such as Victory Monument and Siam Square. It is also a good route to transfer to BTS or MRT, as it passes MRT's Chatuchak and BTS's Mo Chit Stations.
  • 59: Air-con (orange) or non-air-con (red) bus will take you to Sanam Luang. But this route is quite time-consuming.

NB! Some of these buses don't go through the route. They are called "additional bus" (or รถเสริม rot serm in Thai). Usually these kind of buses will have red sign, which is the final destination is written on, in front of them. Be careful and check before take the bus. You may try to ask people at the bus stop or conductor on the bus.

By bus

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.

By train

The three main stations in Bangkok are:

Hualamphong Train Station

View of the ticket counters at Hualampong 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 [29] (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: [30]

  • 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. [31]

Wong Wien Yai Train Station

Wong Wien Yai station serves only the rustic Mahachai/Maeklong commuter line [32], 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).

By ship

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).

Get around

Bangkok Transportation Map

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.

By car

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.

By skytrain

The Bangkok Skytrain [33] (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.

For more information, contact the Bangkok Mass Transit System at Tel: 0 2617 7340, 0 2617 6000 or visit [34]

By metro

Bangkok Metro [35] (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.

For more information call 0 2624 5200 or visit [36] for further information.

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.

By boat

Chao Phraya Express Boat Map
Chao Phraya Express Boat Lines

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 [37], 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.

A canal boat running at high speed with a helmeted satchel-wielding ticket collector navigating along the slippery outer ledge.

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!

Typical "long tail" river taxi

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.

By bus

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 [38], 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.

By taxi

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 (meter na khrap/kha (male/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 meter cab. 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, 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 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.

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; most local passengers will round up or leave any coin change as tip.

By motorbike

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 (or in Thai, 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; negotiate before you ride.

Travel Warning WARNING: Motorcycle accidents are brutally common, and many (tourists and Thai alike) consider transportation of this sort to be inherently hazardous. Motorcycle taxis in Bangkok should generally be avoided except as a last resort.

For the adrenaline junkie, a wild motosai ride can provide a fantastic rush. Imagine weaving through rows of stopped vehicles at 50km/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.

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 not one. When riding, keep a firm grasp on the seat handle and watch out for your knees.

By tuk-tuk

Tuk-tuks on the prowl

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.

In case you actually want to get somewhere, and you're an all-male party, be careful with the tuk-tuk drivers, they will usually just ignore your destination and start driving you to some brothel ("beautiful girls"). Insist continually and forcefully on going only to your destination.

There's also 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 and resemble a tiny truck / ute / lorry, and they run on petrol instead of LP. The maids and locals tend to use them to return home from 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.

By bicycle

Recreational Bangkok Biking

Go cycling! It may sound crazy, but it certainly is not. 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 when cycling.

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.

  • Andre Breuer - Recreational Bangkok Biking, Soi 71, Rama III Road, Yannawa, Office: 02 - 285 3955 of : 02 - 285 3867 Mr. Andre's GSM: 0 81 - 1705906 (, fax: 02 - 2853431), [1]. 1000 Baht.
  • Bangkok Tours By Sightseeing Group Company Limited, 67/190 Soi Ekachai 10/1, Ekachai Rd., Bangkhuntein, Jomthong, Bangkok, Thailand 10150, Office: +66 2817 7745 or: +66 2817 7745 K.Tae: 0 89112 7071 (), [2]. 950 Bath.
  • Co van Kessel Bangkok tours, Office: 02 - 322 9481 or: 02 - 752 6818 - 9 Mr. Co's mobile: 0 87 - 824 1931 Miss Nong's mobile: 0 87 - 054 9878 (), [3]. Half-day tours from 950 baht. 950 Bath.
  • SpiceRoads, Office: 02 - 712 5305 or: 089 895 5680 (, fax: 02 712 5305), [4]. 09:00-18:00. One-day and multi-day cycling trips in and around Bangkok. from 1,000 THB.
  • Thailand Green Ride, Office: 02 - 888 9637 or: 081 3183561 (, fax: 02 888 9693), [5]. 09:00-17:00. Half-day, one-day and home stay overnight cycling trips in green Bangkok countryside.

See

Peoplespotting
More than any other place in Thailand, Bangkok offers wonderful opportunities for just sitting and watching people go by. Here's a partial checklist:

  • University student — Many of Thailand's universities continue to enforce a uniform, and what a uniform it is: for girls, it's a sheer white blouse with a short black skirt, and the little shiny logo button on the blouse tells the cognoscenti which particular university she is attending. Boys wear a white dress shirt and black trousers.
  • Office lady — Sharply clad in infinite variations of solid pastel shades, this human houseplant mans customer service desks and pours tea in offices across the capital.
  • Bargirl — Mostly short and dark-skinned farm girls from the provinces, a bargirl can be spotted a mile away thanks to her pink hotpants and the kilo of gold around her neck. Often found in happy financial symbiosis with the sexpat.
  • Sexpat — Fifty-plus, bald, beer belly, stained shirt, lovestruck expression and a hairy arm wrapped around a girl too young to be his daughter. He's found what he's looking for.
  • Ladyboy (kathoey) — Either tall, large-handed, wears too much makeup, possesses an Adam's apple and has large breasts... or has accomplished the art of camouflage so well that you just filed her/him as an office lady or bargirl.
  • Expat — A farang walking about purposefully in dress shirt and long trousers, seemingly oblivious to the fact that it's 35°C outside. For extra credit, try to distinguish between the scruffier English teacher type and the jet-setting expense package type. Or try classifying them by the old joke about the three types of expat — missionaries, mercenaries and misfits.
  • Yuppie — Like every other big city, Bangkok boasts a coterie of young professional types who are hip, well-educated and relatively affluent. Similar to the Expat, they usually sport business attire and are likely to be hurried -- except they probably know a shortcut, and they aren't sweating so profusely.
  • Khao San Road vagabonds — Braided hair, bead necklace, sarongs, shorts and floppy pants, either on their way to or just back from the beaches. Dazed and bewildered when torn apart from the familiar surroundings of Khao San Road.


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.


Itineraries

  • One day in Bangkok — if you have just one day to spare and want to catch a feel for the city.

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

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.

Elephant riding

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 Park[39] in Chiang Mai are an ethical alternative for elephant tourism.

Cultural performances

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.

Wellness

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 [40] at the Dusit Thani and the eponymous operations at Banyan Tree [41] and the legendary Oriental [42] — 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.

Entertainment

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 (ราชกรีฑาสโมสร) [43], 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) [44] and APEX (in Siam Square) [45] 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

All of Thailand's major festivals are celebrated in Bangkok, see Thailand#Holidays for the full scoop.

  • 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.

Learn

Meditating Thai Buddhas

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.

Buy

Racks of clothing at Siam Square

Bangkok is full of shopping malls and street markets of all types, especially in the Sukhumvit area; see the section for details. Prices can be cheap by Western standards, especially for locally produced items such as clothes, although bargaining is expected and required. Dump a teenager in Siam Center, Siam Square, Siam Paragon, MBK or The Emporium with a few thousand baht and they'll stay occupied for the rest of the week! Most malls tend to have excellent food courts.

Animal Souvenirs: 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.

Weekend Market: A major attraction on weekends is the gigantic Chatuchak Weekend Market (a.k.a. JJ Market), in northern Bangkok but easily accessible by Skytrain and Metro. Take the metro and get off Kamphaeng Phet station which opens right into the market. Takes around an hour on the bus from Khao San Road area. If you're staying in Pratunam, metered fare should not go beyond 100 baht. Has 20,000 stalls selling everything from counterfeit goods, animals, art, furniture and probably anything else you can think of. Definitely worth a visit for the sheer size of it. There are food stalls everywhere. Forego the cutesy cafes for the humbler stalls. Flavored iced and fried wontons will provide fuel for the whole day. Closes at around 6PM. Keep a close eye on your valuables.

Night Market: Hugely popular with tourists & locals alike is the open air Suan Lum Night Bazaar. This is a large and colourful market offering bargains on everything from clothes, bags, crockery to organic foods. A smaller, cooler and cleaner version of Chatuchak - same wares sold for 20% more. There is a large food court with a live band every night. Beer seems to be the official beverage of this place - lots of beer gardens here. Covered in more detail in the Silom section.

Patpong Night Market: Between the strip clubs and bars along Patpong Road is the Patpong night market. This market is designed for tourists and is not frequented by locals. These markets are home to a variety of counterfeit merchandise including watches, clothes, bags, and cosmetics as well as Thai tourist products such as model tuk-tuks and kick-boxing shorts. The prices at this market are exorbitant and anyone brave enough to buy anything here should bargain extensively. Most items available at Patpong Night Market are available for less than half the price at other locations in Bangkok.

What to buy

  • Books: Japanese chain Kinokuniya [46] has a large outlet in Siam Paragon (Level 3 South) and one in Emporium, both with a very large selection of books in English (the Paragon branch also has a limited selection of books in German and French). The Asia Books [47] chain has several outlets all over Bangkok (see their web site); they have a good selection of books on Asia as well as books on architecture, interior design and decoration. Lastly if you want to trade books, or buy second hand books, especially travel guides, there is Elite Books [48] located between Sukhumvit soi 33 and 35 (opposite The Emporium) that does this for quite a reasonable price and is quite popular with local expats. German and Japanese language books are available as well.
  • Clothing: off-the-shelf: Thailand is a major clothing manufacturer and locally produced unbranded clothing is very cheap. Siam Center, Siam Square, MBK, Platinum mall and Chatuchak weekend market are a few places to visit for this. Branded clothing made in Thailand (eg. Levi's jeans) can also be good buys. For women, the lingerie salons in the department stores are must-sees. Wacoal is locally produced and are half the price in Bangkok.
  • Clothing: tailored: Bangkok is well-known for its plethora of tailors and high-quality fabric available locally. The vast majority of tailor shops are actually just sales fronts for a few large operations that do the actual work, so don't fret too much about which one to pick; however, do avoid any tailor recommended by taxis/tuktuks or that has to resort to touts, as you'll have to pay their commission. Avoid super-cheap packages or anything done in 24 hours, as the quality will suffer accordingly. It will help considerably if you know fabrics and what style you want (bring along a sample or at least a picture), and can spare the time for at least three sessions for a suit (measurement, fitting and final adjustment). Tailors can be found all over town, but Sukhumvit Road has the heaviest concentration. As far as recommendations go, Crown Tailors in or on Sukhumvit Road Soi 8 seems to get alot of fine hits. It would be a good place to get a suit done.
  • Electronics: Pantip Plaza (New Phetchaburi Road) and Fortune Center (Ratchadaphisek) are the places to go for branded laptops to cheap VOIP phones and pirated DVDs. A must for any computer & electronics buff. See also: Electronics and entertainment shopping in Thailand. Be warned though, electronics are NOT necessarily cheaper in Thailand then they are back home. Also always get international warranty as you would want your electronics to be able to be fixed back home as well!
  • Medicine: Bangkok's pharmacies (drugstores) tend to offer a very wide range of (wholly legal and legitimate) medicines and herbal remedies at a fraction of Western prices, including many drugs that would require a doctor's prescription in other countries (especially antibiotics). Thai pharmacists tend to be exceptionally helpful, and most speak excellent English. There are small, independent pharmacists on almost every corner, and you'll find bigger (and more expensive) chains on the major streets and in shopping centers. Boots is probably the most ubiquitous chain; they're also a reliable source for traveler's toiletries, and they always have an English speaking chemist/pharmacist on duty. Dispensaries in hospitals tend to charge more for medications. Condoms and sexual health products are also available at Boots, Watsons, and most local pharmacies and 7/11's too.

Where to buy

Shopping in Bangkok is not limited to one or two major streets. There are many areas throughout Bangkok affording ample choices and easy access. Every district of Bangkok has its fair share of options, from small street markets to enormous shopping malls.

  • A good point of entry is Siam Square in Sukhumvit, home to Central, Gaysorn Plaza, Isetan, Zen, Erawan Bangkok, Peninsula Plaza, all of which together make the largest shopping promenade in Bangkok. It is the place for top department stores and luxury shopping malls.
  • Silom is the main artery of Bangkok's commercial heart and, in addition to housing dozens of specialist shops and boutiques representing all the major buys, this area also boasts many branches of well-known retailers, tailors and several shopping plazas, Silom Complex, Montien Plaza and the Oriental Plaza being the most famous. Street stalls also abound, most notably at Patpong's famous night market (though be careful for fakes). Other notable shopping opportunities include gems and jewellery stores as Mahesak Road is a gem trading centre.
  • Rattanakosin is the best district for buying religious paraphernalia, be it amulets, monk bowls or human-sized Buddha statues. Other markets include a nightly flea market around Sanam Luang, a pot plant market and the Bo-be Market (ตลาดโบ๊เบ๊), one of the city's most renowned ready-to-wear clothing centres, both wholesale and retail.
  • Khao San Road and its vicinity is a popular shopping district, for locals and tourists alike. The whole area could be considered a lively market, especially interesting for books, clothes, shoes and tailoring shops. You might want to visit the Banglamphu Market, especially if you're looking cheap knock-offs of everything.
  • Yaowarat and Pahurat, centered around Yaowarat Road and Sampheng Lane, offers a profusion of gold shops as well as several nearby traditional shopping places such as Ban Mo Jewellery Street, Phahurat Textile Market, the Old Siam Plaza and River City. Street markets are abound all over the district, be it for toys, electronics or antiques. Pak Khlong Talat is an interesting wholesale market for all kinds of cut flowers and vegetables. This market is particularly interesting in early morning (as then the new flowers from upcountry arrive) and after 8PM (as it is beautifully illuminated and the night market opens).
  • Thonburi is one of the least developed areas of Bangkok, and the place to experience what the city used to be like. Its canal system has been largely untouched and the district is home to many floating markets. The best of them is the Taling Chan Floating Market, which feels at least somewhat authentic. It blends of a rural market and the canal side way of life.
  • Phahonyothin is the home of Chatuchak Weekend Market (ตลาดนัดจตุจักร), one of the largest markets in Southeast Asia. The market is only open on Saturday and Sunday, when shoppers can buy just about everything from clothing to potted plants and everything in between — a paradise for browsers and bargain-hunters alike. The market also offers items of furniture and home decor. It is also where professional and amateur art-lovers and artists meet. Close to Sukhumvit, but still considered part of Phahonyothin, is Pratunam Market, one of Bangkok's biggest centres for ready-to-wear clothing, while the area around Bangkok's tallest building (Baiyoke Tower II) is one of the city's renowned garment centres.

Eat

Insects - ready for a snack?

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.
  • All the Thai restaurant chains covered in the main Thailand article.
  • 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.

Dinner cruises

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. There are many competing operators, most of depart from the River City Pier next to Si Phraya Pier of the Chao Phraya Express Boat. Major ones include:

  • Chao Phraya Princess, +66-2-860-3700, [6]. Large operator with four modern air-conditioned boats seating up to 250 people. Departure from River City. 1300 baht.
  • Loy Nava, +66-2-437-4932, [7]. 70-seater rice barges. Departure from Si Phraya Pier (near Sheraton), free pickup from most hotels. 1400 baht.
  • Maeyanang, +66-2-659-9000, [8]. Catered and operated by the Oriental Hotel, the Maeyanang is a custom-built ornately carved teakwood boat seating only 32 people, small enough to venture off the river down the subsidiary klongs. Departure from Oriental pier. 2000 baht.
  • Manohra, +66-2-476-0021, [9]. Restored Thai rice barges seating 40 people. Departure from Marriott Resort, pick-up from BTS Saphan Taksin available. 1350 baht.
  • Wan Fah, +66-2-222-8679, [10]. 7PM-9PM daily. 2-hour dinner cruises including a set meal of farang-friendly Thai food and seafood, live music and Thai classical dancing. Departs from River City. 1000 baht.
  • Yok Yor Marina, +66-2-863-0565, [11]. Operated by the famous seafood restaurant, this is a much more local (and cheaper) option than the tourist cruises: pay a 160 baht "boat fee" and then order off the menu at normal restaurant prices. Departure at 8 PM from Yok Yor Marina on the Thonburi side of the river, free shuttle service from BTS Saphan Taksin.

Drink

The Dome (Sirocco), Silom

Bangkok's nightlife is infamously wild, but it's not quite what it used to be: due to recent social order campaigns, there have been quite a lot of crack-downs on opening hours, nudity, drug use etc. Nearly all restaurants, bars and clubs are now forced to close before 1 AM, although a few are allowed to stay open till 2 AM. (Informal sidewalk bars do stay open all night, particularly in lower Sukhumvit.) You must carry your passport for ID checks and police occasionally raid bars and discos, subjecting all customers to drug tests, though these mostly occur at places that cater for hi-society Thais.

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 bar/restaurants of Vertigo and Sirocco are particularly impressive. Similar bars to the ones at Patpong can be found in the lower Sukhumvit area, at Nana Entertainment Plaza (soi 4) and Soi Cowboy (soi 23), while a large number of more trendy and more expensive bars and nightclubs can be found in the higher sois as well, eg. Thong Lor (soi 55), Bed Supperclub, Q Bar, or Met bar. Hippie hangout Khao San Road is also slowly gentrifying and a score of young trendy Thai teenagers have also made their mark there. Most of the younger Thais though, still prefer to congregate around Ratchadaphisek.

Smoking is forbidden in all restaurants, bars and nightclubs, whether air-conditioned or non-air-conditioned.

Elephant Begging: A depressingly common sight on the congested streets of Bangkok during night hours is the lumbering elephant and its mahout (trainer), touting to tourists out drinking 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.

Go-go and beer bars

Behaving while misbehavin'
Some simple rules of etiquette to follow in a go-go bar:

  • A drink in your hand is required at all times. Most places charge around 100-150 baht for most drinks.
  • Lady drinks cost a little more and earn you the privilege of chatting with the lady/gent of your choice for a while.
  • Taking a dancer out of his/her place of employment before closing time will cost you a bar fine of around 600 baht. This is the bar's share, the rest is up to you two.
  • No photos inside. If you're lucky, you'll merely have your camera confiscated, but you also stand a fair chance of getting beaten up for your trouble.
  • Look, but don't touch (unless invited to). Getting too frisky will get you kicked out.
  • Bring along your passport. Police raids are not uncommon and you're off to the police staton for the night if you can't produce one on demand.


The go-go bar is an institution of Bangkok's "naughty nightlife". In a typical go-go, several dozen dancers in bikinis (or less) crowd the stage, shuffling back and forth to loud music and trying to catch the eye of punters in the audience. Some (but not all) also put on shows where girls perform on stage, but these are generally tamer than you'd expect — nudity, for example, is technically forbidden. In a beer bar, there are no stages and the girls are wearing street clothes.

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 are around Patpong, Nana Entertainment Plaza and Soi Cowboy.

See also the Stay safe|Prostitution section.

Gay nightlife

Thais are generally accepting of homosexuality and Bangkok has a very active gay nightlife scene, concentrated in Silom Sois 2 & 4 and a short strip of gay go-gos bars off nearby Th Surawong. Most of these bars, however, are aimed at gay men and the lesbian scene is much more low-key. 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). Bangkok's two two full-time lesbian bars are Zeta and Shela, with Lesla also open 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.

Sleep

This guide uses the following price ranges for a standard double room:
Budget Under 1000 baht
Mid-range 1000 baht to 2500 baht
Splurge Over 2500 baht
Individual listings can be found in Bangkok's district articles
File:Oldbangkokinn.jpg
Boutique options such as the Old Bangkok Inn are now ubiquitous in Thailand's main cities

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 by Silom and Thonburi is home to The Oriental and The Peninsula respectively, often ranked among the best in the world (and priced to match); and Sukhumvit Road has hotels (and hostels) for all budgets. When choosing your digs, pay careful attention to Skytrain and Metro access; a well-placed station will make your stay in Bangkok much more comfortable.

Boutique hotels have mushroomed in Bangkok during the past few years, they usually provide less number of rooms (usually 10 or less) and a more personalized service. With most types of accommodations, a majority of boutique hotels can be found in the Silom and Sukhumvit areas. Again, the latest trend for the boutique hostel is emerging in the Silom area since 2008.

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, and a rare few will even refuse guests. This is obviously aimed at controlling local sex workers, which is why hotel security will usually also 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. Most of cheap hotels and guesthouses are either free of this charge or, sometimes in the Khao San Road road, do not allow Thai guests at all. Look for the signs, or, if in doubt, ask the staff before check-in.


Contact

Internet cafes abound in Bangkok, see the district pages for listings. You'll generally be looking at rates of around 0,5-1 baht/minute (30-60 baht/hour) in the tourist-laden districts like Khao San road, 20-30 baht/hour in the city center (the top floors of MBK, for example), and 10-15 baht/hour if you would venture into residential areas (the speed is generally still high). An increasing number of cafes and pubs, including the ubiquitous Coffee World [49] chain, offer free Wifi to their customers. TrueMove offers both free (registration required, both session and overall time is limited) and paid Wi-fi access, their network [50] is accessible in many malls, etc., and occasionally can be available even in you room from a nearby hot-spot - just look for 'truewifi' network, you can register right there. Some guesthouses now also provide complimentary Wi-fi access in the rooms - just ask, you'll encourage those who do not have to provide it also.

For the best options of calling abroad, as well as accessing Internet via GPRS/EDGE, see general Thailand article.

Stay safe

Useful number

  • Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT): 1672, 0 2250 5500
  • Tourist Police: 1155
  • Bangkok Tourist Bureau: +66-2225 7612-4
  • Thai Airways: 1566 (flight schedules), +66-2280 0060, +66-2628 2000 (reservation)
  • Suvarnabhumi Airport: +66-2723 0000
  • Bangkok Railway Station: 1690, +66-2220 4334
  • Eastern Bus Terminal: +66-2391 2504, +66-2391 6846
  • Southern Bus Terminal: +66-2894 6122
  • Northern/ Northeastern Bus Terminal (Mo Chit 2): +66-2936 2852 -66
  • BMTA Public Bus: 184
  • Telephone Number Inquiry: 113


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.

Scams

What to do if you fall for the gem scam
As long as you're still in Thailand, it's not too late. Contact the Tourist Authority of Thailand (02-6941222) or the Tourist Police (1155) immediately, file a police report, and return to the store to claim a refund — they must, by law, return 80%. If your gems have been mailed, contact the Bangkok Mail Center at 02-2150966 ext. 195 immediately and ask them to track your package: they'll find it if you act fast, and know the name, address and date it was mailed.


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.

Fights

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!

Prostitution

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).

The novel The Butterfly Trap (ISBN 1904502377) gives a realistic first-person account of Bangkok's nightlife industry.

Water

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.

Food

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.

Cope

Publications

  • Bangkok Post, [51]. One of the better English-language newspapers of the country, but also includes sections on travel, leisure, entertainment, life and classifieds in Bangkok.
  • BK Magazine, [52]. Bangkok's premier city living magazine; a guide to the city's restaurants, nightlife, travel, arts and more. New additions release weekly and are distributed in selected venues.

Medical tourism

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 [53], 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.

Embassies

  • As-flag.png Australian Embassy, 37 South Sathorn Road, +66 2-344-6300, [12].
  • Cb-flag.png Cambodian Embassy, No. 185 Rajddamri Rd, Lumpini, Patumwan, +66 2-254-6630 (), [13].
  • Ca-flag.png Canadian Embassy, 15th Floor, Abdulrahim Place, 990 Rama 4 Rd Bangrak, +66 2-636-0540 (), [14].
  • Ch-flag.png China PR Embassy, 57 Ratchadapisek Rd, Dindang, +66-2-245-7030-45, or +66 2-247-2122-3 (fax: +66 2-246-8247, or +66 2-247-2214, or +66 2-248-8085).
  • Da-flag.png Danish Embassy, 10, Sathorn Soi 1, (Soi Attakarn Prasit), South Sathorn Road, +66 2-343-1100 (), [15].
  • Fi-flag.png Finland's Embassy, Amarin Tower, 16th floor, 500 Ploenchit Road, Bangkok 10330, +66-2-250 8801 (, fax: +66-2-250 8802), [16]. Mon-Fri 8.00-11.00.
  • In-flag.png India Embassy, 46 Prasarnmitr, Sukhumvit Soi 23, 662 2580300-5 (, fax: 662 2584627, 2621740), [17].
  • Ei-flag.png Ireland Consulate, 11th Flr, United Flour Mill Bldg, 205 Rajawong Rd, +66 2-223-0876, or +66 2-226-0680 (fax: +66 2-224-5551).
  • Is-flag.png Israel Embassy, 25th Flr, Ocean Tower, 11 Sukhumvit Soi 19, +66 2-260-4854-9.
  • Ku-flag.png Kuwait Embassy, 92/48 Sathorn Thani Building ll, 17th Floor, North Sathorn Road, 2354222-3, 2342948 (fax: 2376779), [18].
  • La-flag.png Laos PDR Embassy, 502/502/1-3 Soi Sahakarnpramoon, Pracha Uthit Road, Wangthonglang, +66 2-539-6667 (, fax: +66 2-539-6668), [19].
  • My-flag.png Malaysia Embassy, 35 South Sathorn Rd, Yannawa, +66 2-286-1390, or +66 2-287-3979-80 (fax: +66 2-213-2126).
  • Bm-flag.png Myanmar Embassy, 132 North Sathorn Rd, Bangrak, +66 2-236-6899, or +66 2-234-4789, or +66 2-233-2237 (fax: +66 2-236-6898).
    • Office of the Military, Naval and Air Attache of Myanmar, 116 North Sothorn Rd, Bangrak.
  • Nl-flag.png Netherlands Embassy, 15 Soi Tonson, Ploenchit Road, +66 02 3095200 or for emergencies +66 081 9201329 (fax: +66 02 3095205).
  • Nz-flag.png New Zealand Embassy, 93 Wireless Rd, +66 2-254-3856, or +66 2-253-5363, or +66 2-253-0429 (fax: +66 2-254-9488, +66 2-253-9045).
  • Ro-flag.png Romanian Embassy, 20/1 Soi Rajakhru, Phaholyothin Soi 5, Phaholyothin Rd, +66 2-617-1551 (fax: +66 2-617-1113).
  • Ru-flag.png Russian Embassy, 78 Sap Road, Surawongse, Bangrak, +66 2-234-9824, 2-268-1169 (, fax: +66 2-237-8488), [20].
  • Sn-flag.png Singapore Embassy, 129 South Sathorn Rd, Yannawa, +66 2-286-2111, or +66 2-213-1261, or +66 2-287-5115 (fax: +66 2-287-2578).
  • Sp-flag.png Spanish Embassy, Lake Rajada Ofiice Complex. Floor 23, Suite 98-99. 193 Rajadapisek Road, Klongtoey, +66 2 661 8284; +66 2 661 8285 (fax: +66 2 661 9220).
  • Uk-flag.png U.K. Embassy, 1031 Wireless Rd, +66 2-305-8333 (), [21].
  • Us-flag.png U.S. Embassy, 95 Wireless Rd, +66 2-205-4049 (), [22].
  • Vm-flag.png Vietnamese Embassy, 83/1 Wireless Rd, Pathumwan, +66 2-251-7202, or +66 2-251-5835 (, fax: +66 2-251-7201, or +66 2-251-7203), [23].

Immigration

The Immigration Office has moved from central Soi Suan Plu to far-away Chaeng Wattana Soi 7 Building B near Don Muang Airport. Government center tel. number 1175. Services for Burmese, Cambodian and Lao citizens remain at Suan Plu. Spacious government building with ground floor cafe', restaurants and copy vendors. Visas, re-entry permits and all other services available for visitors. Best to take the Skytrain to Mo Chit then a taxi to the government center. Long-stay visitors and residents can do their 90-day notification at the BOI One-Stop Service Center in the Chamchari Center (18th floor) next to the Sam Yan metro station (Exit 2).

Get out

Central Plains

If you want to get out of the city for a while, there are plenty of day trip options from Bangkok.

  • Amphawa — authentic floating market popular with locals, much more interesting than you might expect
  • Ayutthaya — ancient capital showcasing its many ruins, 1.5 hours away by bus or train
  • Bang Pa-In — magnificent Royal Palace makes for a pleasant day trip
  • Damnoen Saduak — a floating market on tourist steroids, perfect for pictures though
  • Hua Hin — Beach resort town popular with Thais and Scandinavians, 3 hours by taxi or 45 minutes by airplane
  • Kanchanaburi — some good national parks and the infamous Burma Death Railway
  • Ko Kret — rustic little pottery island to the north of Bangkok, a pleasant day trip out of the concrete jungle
  • Nakhon Pathom — Thailand's oldest city and site of the world's largest stupa
  • Samut Prakan — the Ancient City open air museum and the crocodile farm

Further destinations

Bangkok is also an excellent hub for onward travel into other regions of Thailand.

  • Chiang Mai — the gateway to the North and the heart of Lanna culture
  • Ko Chang — relatively unspoiled tropical island; direct bus (from Ekamai or Mor Chit) + ferry (from Laem Ngop) takes about 5 hours
  • Ko Samet — the closest Thai beach island; direct bus (from Ekamai) + ferry (from Ban Phe) takes about 4 hours
  • Krabi Province — Southern beach, rock-climbing and water sports mecca, includes Ao Nang, Rai Leh, Ko Phi Phi and Ko Lanta
  • Nakhon Ratchasima (Khorat) — main city in the Isaan region
  • Pattaya — seaside resort and naughty nightlife 2-2.5 hours away by bus, an hour or so more by train
  • Phuket — the original Thai paradise island now very developed but still with some beautiful beaches remaining
  • Khao Yai National Park — stunning mountainous scenery and some of Thailand's fledgling vineyards. 3.5 hours away by bus
  • Sukhothai — the ruins of the ancient Sukhothai Kingdom
  • Surat Thani — home of the Srivijaya Empire, gateway to Ko Samui, Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Tao


Routes through Bangkok
END  W noframe E  Si RachaAranyaprathet&#13;
Nakhon RatchasimaAyutthaya  N noframe S  END&#13;
Chiang MaiRangsit  N noframe S  END&#13;
END  N noframe S  Nakhon PathomSungai Kolok


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