Bangkok is an exotic, friendly, and beautiful city in southern Thailand. It is the capital of Thailand, it has over eight million people and it is the cultural center of the country. It’s a place of outrageous nightlife and beautiful temples, of delicious food and sweltering heat, of crowded streets and massive markets. There is no lack of things to see and do in the city, but there are also many travel tips to keep in mind while travelling through Bangkok as well.
Thai is the main language spoken in Bangkok, but due to the booming tourist industry, many people speak English (learn a few Thai phrases, though- the effort will be appreciated).
The unit of currency is the Baht (THB), often misspelled “Bath” on the street. One US dollar is about 31 Baht. Prices are very inexpensive in Thailand making Thailand a major hotspot for Western tourists. You don’t have to tip for services or at restaurants like in many other countries, but it is certainly appreciated.
There are a few cultural taboos and laws that you should take seriously while travelling anywhere in Thailand:
When visiting a Buddhist temple, dress conservatively and remove your shoes upon entering. Do not take photographs if anyone is meditating or during ritual, without prior permission.
Touching another person’s head (even a child’s head) is a religious affront and should not be done. Touching another person’s foot is consider an impure act and should not be avoided. Pointing to something with your foot is also not done.
Females should never touch a Theravada monk, but monks often touch lay men, and even females if the lay female is very ill.
Never engage in public displays of affection.
The King of Thailand is held in reverence by the Thais. The King is legally “inviolable” and it is a legal offense to say or do anything that could in any way be interpreted as “disrespectful.” This is a serious matter. A violation may get you arrested and placed in prison. This is no joke.
Food and Water
Food and water safety is another major issue here. Don’t drink the tap water in your hotel or in restaurants, and never use ice cubes. Drink only bottled water. Don’t eat street food that might spoil in the heat. Although Thai cuisine is delicious and there are street vendors nearly everywhere, you don’t want to spend your time in Bangkok sick from this food.
The traffic in Bangkok is overwhelming- it’s extremely congested, and even crossing the street is dangerous! Due to the large population, there are many options for transportation: the Metro, the SkyTrain, the boat network, the buses, taxis, and tuk-tuks.
Although the three-wheeled, motorized tuk-tuks aren’t the most cost-effective way of getting around the city (agree on a price before getting in-sometimes you can go for very cheap!), they are such a huge part of Bangkok that it’s worth just riding in one at least once!
Sex for Sale
Bangkok has a flourishing and over-active sex trade industry, both straight and gay. Many female and male prostitutes are HIV positive. A certain percentage of visitors come to Thailand to satisfy their sexual desires and fantasies. So, be aware that especially male visitors to Thailand will be propositioned rather aggressively as you land at the airport, and in the red districts in Bangkok. Just be firm in saying “no”, and guys, try not to look interested or the sales pitches will become more aggressive and demanding.
Temples and Palaces
Bangkok is known for its abundance of temples and palaces. These include:
The Grand Palace is perhaps the most spectacular. This massive residence of the King is made up of many buildings-each more beautiful than the next. It can take hours to explore, and it’s definitely worth the 400 Baht (about $13 US) admission fee.
The Temple of the Emerald Buddha, Wat Phra Kaew, is a national monument and a must-see here-it was one of the most memorable sights from my time in Bangkok. You must dress very conservatively in order to enter, so plan ahead.
The Temple of the Reclining Buddha, Wat Pho, located near to the Grand Palace, is another temple that’s extremely memorable. It’s home to beautiful gardens, sculptures, and a golden statue of Buddha that’s over 150 feet long. Entrance is cheap (20 Baht, about 60 US cents), and located here is a famous Thai massage school that can get you an hour-long massage for just 200 Baht (about $6.50)!
The Temple of Dawn, Wat Arun, is another incredible temple to see. It is located on the Chao Phraya River and it is known for its high colorful spires and Ordinance Hall. For just 50 Baht ($1.60 US), this attraction provides beautiful views of the river and gives great insight into Buddhism.
Bangkok has an impressive number of markets, and they are the perfect places to buy Thai clothing, food, and crafts. You can find some pretty amazing prices, but be prepared to haggle- you can almost always bargain for a cheaper price! But don’t be afraid to walk away if you think you’re getting ripped off.
Be careful of personal belongings in the markets. There are lurking pickpockets.
If you’re in the city on a weekend, go to the Chatuchak Weekend Market, which has thousands of stalls that offer everything you could possibly imagine. Although it’s crowded (try going in the morning before it gets too hot), it’s worth a trip to just experience something so large in size and so rich in Thai culture.
Another really interesting market is the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market. Vendors are all in small boats and they primarily sell fruits and vegetables. You have the option of standing on land or renting a small boat as well. Although this is rather touristy, there aren’t many other places in the world that have floating markets!
If you prefer somewhere less crowded, Bangkok has many museums that are interesting and attractive. There are two that I particularly recommend:
The National Museum is a stunning building with a huge collection of Thai art and architecture.
The Jim Thompson House is a rather large compound that houses art, antiques, and an interesting blend of both Thai and European interior design.
If you’re looking for some really unique nightlife, there are two spots in Bangkok that will leave a very lasting impression.
Soi Cowboy is the city’s very tourist-heavy sex district- it’s a street full of fluorescent lights and go-go bars.
Khao San Road, meanwhile, was the coolest place I went to in Bangkok. While there are plenty of clubs and cheap bars (mobile bars are really popular here too), there are also Thai restaurants, Western fast-food chains, cafes, street vendors and performers, and people from all over the world having fun and enjoying the city. It’s a place where Thailand meets the West, and this blend of so many cultures makes Khao San Road an interesting place.