If you are a first time visitor, it is best to do a little research before planning your trip to Bangkok. Prudent preparation can make your travel experience more delightful, and much less stressful. Knowing in advance how to get around, for example, may head off some frustration about where your exact destinations are and what it takes to get there. Having some idea about the sites you wish to see, what your budget is, and planned resting times will ease the stress of travelling in a new place.
When arriving at the airport, remember it is 30 kilometres outside the city. The Airport express will be the best way to travel to the inner city. Another is the City Line. The City Line train stops at each station going into the city and the express train goes straight from the airport into the main city station. Make sure the express train doesn’t overshoot your destination. The City Liner may take a bit longer but might be more accurate for your destination location. Travel time for either train takes anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes. Roundtrip tickets are relatively cheap and return is valid within 2 weeks. There are vending machines from which you can purchase tickets and tokens. The Sky Train is great for getting around the city, but some places will require a taxi if they are off the train path. Make sure you book your hotel close to the train stations for convenience sake.
Purchasing a current map of the city that has main attractions sited will be a must have item to take on your trip. You can more easily plan your routes and types of transportation you will want to take once you get to your hotel. It can also help you to decide which hotels are in the best proximity for the attractions you plan to see. A map of the train routes and schedules will also be helpful.
Taxis can be convenient and quick, but there a couple of steadfast rules you must go by. It is smart to get the hotel doorman to tell the driver where you want to go. Make sure it is clear that you don’t want to go anywhere else and be sure to let them know you do want to use the meter. Refuse the ride if the driver says he does not use the meter. Keep refusing rides until you find a drive who will use the meter. Drivers are notorious for not having change so it is good to have small change and not have to give up large quantities of cash because he has no change. It is wise to agree on a price in advance if you can. Taking a hotel business card with you will clear up any confusion on the return trip.
Tuk Tuks are small motorized three wheeler vehicle that is good for short distances but somewhat dangerous. The drivers are obstinate and can be difficult to deal with. Agree on the price before you get in don’t pay until you get where you are going.
River transport is a wonderful way to get around in Bangkok. Tickets may be bought at the pier or on the boat. Someone will take your money once you board. The boats begin to run about 9:30 in the morning and stop at about 4 in the afternoon. It might be cheaper to pay as you go rather than buy a one day ticket. Each trip is about 30 baht and an all day ticket is 150 baht. One dollar is the equivalent of about 33 baht, so travel on the boats are cheap fare. The ferries and tourist boat services are both owned by Chao Phraya Express Boat Company and there are 4 individual services as well.
Walking in the city is a great way to get around if you are in good shape. In the more dense areas, you can cover quite a bit of shopping and sight seeing. Don’t forget there is a lot of air pollution so if you have breathing problems walking in the city may not be a viable option. This, coupled with the humidity can be a real deal breaker. A medical mask may help and stopping into air-conditioned buildings for a break can bring some relief.
Quick drying fabrics like cotton or cotton/poly blends will be best for moving about in the city. The fast wicking materials are ideal. The humidity can be extremely uncomfortable. Remember that although Bangkok can be a rowdy town, some attractions will not permit entry if your clothing is no modest. It is a good idea to take a sarong in case you need to cover up. In most cases longer shorts for women are acceptable. Roll down the sleeves on all long-sleeved shirts. It is not uncommon for a dress code to be in place in the fancier restaurants and clubs. The Grand Palace and Vinamek explicitly require modest clothing. Some places do not allow open shoes.
Whatever you do, don’t drink the tap water. Make sure that any iced drinks have pure ice in them. Be sure to exercise caution with street vender eateries. Make sure they serve good local business before purchasing food from them.
Look for restaurants that are off the beaten path for authentic Thai food. The touristy restaurants can be over-priced and more of a generic type of food than the real thing. See where the locals are eating and go to the more remote food places in order to get a better quality of food at a better price. Ask a Thai person what some of the listings are on the menu and try to branch out of your comfort zone. Be careful. Some Thai food is extremely spicy and may be too hot for your taste.
If you are going to a place that is difficult to reach, it might be smart to just grab a guided tour to that area. Guides are relatively cheap and tend to be a good investment if you need help getting around.
Anything without a price tag is negotiable. Vendors know their bottom line and they will stop negotiating once they’ve reached their limit. It is best to smile and be pleasant in order to get the price you think is fair.
One of the craftiest scams displayed in the touristy areas is telling the tourist their favourite attraction is closed for the day. Then the scammer offers to take you to the “Lucky Buddha” or some such nonexistent landmark. You can be offered a cheap tuk tuk ride which will take you to out of the way shopping venues that are usually not very appealing. Don’t listen to these scammers even if they have ID badges. They are usually fake.
Be careful not to let anyone catch you up in a conversation if you are approached by a person. Many times the unsuspecting tourist is distracted and can be relieved of his wallet, drawn into scamming games and all kinds of debauchery by these professional scammers.
Most of the time, Thai people don’t like confrontation and are pretty easy going. It is best to maintain patience and a good attitude even if you are frustrated and angry. Body language is extremely important. Shouting, pointing and cursing are not well received and should be avoided at all costs. Also pointing with the feet, touching someone with your feet, or propping feet up on furniture is considered dirty and insulting.
Buddhism is their main religion. Respect for their religion and the Royal Family is an absolute must. Making fun of their idols or anything that represents the Royal Family is unacceptable. There are laws in place to ensure adherence to these values and there are severe punishments for disrespecting these concepts.
Thais don’t expect tourists to know the language. Being able to count and know numbers is especially helpful though, and a few common phrases can be useful as well.