Getting Around In Bangkok
This huge metropolis is ripe with exploration opportunities! There are seemingly endless alleyways, streets, and paths to wander -- each one teeming with the beauty of Thailand. The best way to truly see the city is by foot, and I urge you to skip the taxi, but the wonderful thing about Bangkok is that the commuting options are as plentiful as the destinations. So how you choose to get there is all up to you.
Where to Stay
In a city as large as Bangkok, it can take a very long time to get around town. So it's important to stay both central to your desired destinations and within walking distance of a BTS or MRT station.
I'd suggest saving your must-see locations as favourites in Google Maps. This will lay them all out for you and give you a good idea about what areas you should consider setting up camp.
Fortunately, many of Bangkok's bustling neighbourhoods fit the bill as central, transit-friendly places to stay. All you need to do is determine which of these neighbourhoods suit your interests.
Notable Neighbourhoods in Bangkok
If you want to live the tourist life or stay somewhere that feels a little closer to “home,” this is likely what you’re looking for. This is otherwise known as the Old City, so you’ll find all the famous temples and statues, as well as the infamous Khao San Road. Things in this area have developed to favour tourists so don’t expect to find a lot of authentic experiences or meals. But if you want to meet fellow travellers over a beer and Pad Thai, you’re in luck.
For those of you that want a blast from the past, this area (also known as Chinatown) has remained relatively untouched by modern developments and provides a beautiful view into the old days of modern Thailand. Old fashioned marquee signs and aged foundations line the streets of Yaowarat Rd and the surrounding area. During the day, you can wander the alleys and small shops but it’s the evening on Yaowarat that you don’t want to miss! The streets come alive after 6pm between Mangkon Rd and Song Sawat Rd, when the restaurants take over the sidewalks with their makeshift tables and chairs, tuk tuks and taxis fill the streets, and people of all shapes, sizes, and backgrounds come to take their photos and dine on delectable seafood and desserts. But make sure you arrive hungry because there isn’t much else to do but eat and observe.
If you’re the type to seek out up and coming bar scenes and dress a little nicer, Thonglor is your place. The area is under huge development with high end condos and restaurants popping up frequently so there is an ever-growing sense of upscale life in the area. There is also a large Japanese ex-pat community here so you’ve got a good chance of finding superb Japanese cuisine out this way.
Additionally, there are a handful of places for the kids: Dinosaur Planet, Planetarium, Funarium, and most intriguing in my opinion: Snow Town (a snow-themed indoor park)… and many more.
When you walk along Sukhumvit Road, it kind of feels like you’re in a movie on loop. It runs directly below the BTS Skytrain so every few blocks you’ll pass a sprawling transit stop overhead. And so with each stop, you begin another set of uneven sidewalks, restaurants, and shops. But I honestly love it, but perhaps just due to nostalgia. This was the first neighbourhood that I ever dipped my feet into, on my first Thailand trip so everything feels just a little bit more comfortable and familiar to me. It’s incredibly easy to find your way around in, too.
But you’ve got pretty much anything you need along this road and the adjacent alleys and streets. Seriously anything — from seedy red light district kind of stuff to uber-high-end shopping centres, and everything in between — it just depends which station you’d like to stop at.
Hint: Chit Lom Station for never-ending shopping opportunities, Nana Station for seedy stuff, Thong Lo for condos and bars, Asok for smaller scale shopping but also access to the MRT links. And more!
This isn’t much of a sight-seeing destination but it does hold some value. As the main business district, Si Lom (often auto-corrected to “Hi Mom”) has produced some great quick-eat options for the lunchtime crowd. At night, it does expand into more of a market so if your needs are less food and more trinkets and clothes, I’d suggest a night time visit.
Alternatively, Si Lom offers some specific destinations. Southwest of the main area you’ll find Asiatique and some high-end rooftop bars, as well as charming river ferry rides to the west.
Victory Monument and Chatuchak (local transit hub, street food, markets)
Here we’ve got a giant transit hub for local commuters. But if you’ve caught a theme here, wherever the people are, food and other vendors will follow. Aside from the vast variety of shops, malls, and restaurants, there’s a distinctly Thai experience in this area: Boat Noodle Alley.
This experience, hidden humbly beneath the sky train tracks, is not for everyone. Nestled tightly along a murky river, you’ll have access to, as you could imagine, all the boat noodles you could ever desire. It’s no high end dining but it’s one you can’t miss.
In addition, if you head north of Victory Monument, you’ve got the world famous Chatuchak Market, the Or Tor Kor market, a jump off point for Don Muang, a bit of a hipster-bar area, and a glorious smorgasbord of street food all over the place.
What to Eat & Where to Find it
Thailand is one of the greatest food havens in the world -- but it's not for the dishes you'd think! While you're here, it's essential that you get to know some of the real dishes that got Thai cuisine on the radar. You won't find any Pad Thai or green curry on this list!
Hit the streets on foot and take a chance on a random nameless restaurant -- and there are plenty of them; but it's in these places that you'll find the real taste of Thailand. In the meantime, we've listed a few of our favourite places that we've stumbled upon and subsequently fallen in love with.
Other than eating, what else is there to do?
Sure, you could spend all day and night just seeking out delicious food but in fact, there are plenty of other things to do in Bangkok that will help you burn off some extra calories... so that maybe you can squeeze in just one more dish.
everything from history to hipster-y
One of the most intriguing qualities of Bangkok is found in observing the dynamic juxtaposition between third-world charm and first-world luxury. History and poverty intermingle with upscale shopping centres and valet parking.
It doesn't matter what inspired you to travel here: history, food, adventure... whatever it may be, Bangkok will take good care of you. But in a style unlike anywhere you've been before!
Get soaked at the world's biggest water fight!
If you're in Bangkok in April, do not miss out on the Songkran Festival! The Thai New Year is celebrated with a splash.
ASIATIQUE: THE riverFRONT
Don't miss out on a lovely evening of food, drink, romance, shopping, boats, and rides at this beautiful riverside marketplace!
Mind the curbs!
While it’s unquestionably simple to fall in love with Bangkok, there are still a few things you need to know about travelling to Bangkok that, if you’re not prepared, could turn your fantasy food trip into a sweaty concern.
Dress appropriately for the hot and humid weather
Depending on where you’re coming from, the weather in Thailand could take some time to acclimate to. Even just walking to the 7-Eleven down the street could you have drenched in sweat. You know your body better than anyone — dress appropriately to your needs.
Plan your outfits ahead of time, whether that means covering yourself up more or less. Remember that loose-fitting clothing is always better for air circulation and drying off, even compared to more revealing tight clothing. Additionally, cotton items will always create and hold more moisture so it would be a smart move to avoid this material if you sweat a lot.
Just think of the hottest and heaviest days of summer wherever you’re coming from and it will likely be similar to that.
Plan Your Days in Chunks With Afternoon Rest Periods
The afternoon hours are the hottest ones of the day so try to plan your days around them. If you break up your days into smaller portions, you can ensure that the afternoons are spent either somewhere air-conditioned like a mall or back at your hotel in the pool.
When in doubt, just do as the locals do! They say that Thailand comes alive when the sun goes down, and they aren’t kidding. During the day you won’t see many people on the streets unless they need to be, and for that reason, there really isn’t a whole lot to do at that time of day. This country really makes it easy to embrace a sleep in late, stay up late kinda lifestyle.
Grab an early lunch, head back to the hotel to relax and snack, then make your way out again around 5pm when the street vendors begin to set up shop, and the bars/restaurants start beckoning you in.
7-ELEVEN IS YOUR NEW BEST FRIEND.
It’s best you get acquainted early in your trip. You can find these stores literally everywhere… sometimes within 20 feet of each other. They seriously put the ‘convenience’ back in convenience store.
And they sell pretty much all the essential items you could ever need. Drinks (alcoholic and otherwise), snacks (spicy, sweet, crispy, sour, cold, hot… you name it), toiletries, pet food, lunch foods —you get the idea!
But best of all? They’ve got the air-conditioning cranked up so when you’re out walking the streets and need a break from the heat, just pop your head into a 7-Eleven and hang out for a few minutes.
Also, since it’s recommended that you avoid drinking tap water, you can opt instead for the bottles at 7-Eleven: nearly 2 litres for as little as 40 cents!
Beware of Scams
Yes, the rumours are true: there are crooked folks out there who want to make a fool of you and you, the "naive tourist".
But you're wiser than that! Avoiding scams is a simple art. Honestly, here's the two golden rules:
- Trust your instincts. If it sounds too good to be true, it most certainly is.
- Be aware of your surroundings and try your best to blend in (ie, don't flaunt the fact that you're a fresh tourist). Bonus points if you can avoid spending too much time in the main tourist areas -- that's mainly where these guys do their dirty business.
Most of the usual Thailand scams can be avoided by doing your research. Just google a few examples and you'll start to see a trend of naivety amongst those that have been scammed.
But you can find these crooks no matter where you go in the world. Don't let it hold you back! For the record, we've been to Thailand three times now and have yet to be caught in such a situation.
EAT AND DRINK IN SMALLER PORTIONS ALL DAY LONG.
As you’ve surely heard by now, Bangkok is basically the food capitol of the world. The biggest mistake you can make here is to waste all your stomach space on just three meals per day! Instead try to eat smaller portions throughout the day.
There’s two reasons for this. First of all, it’s really easy to forget to eat when you’re exploring a city or have a tight itinerary on vacation. This causes all kinds of trouble overtime including dehydration, fatigue, and hunger striking at inopportune moments. The other reason is so you can enjoy a greater variety of foods rather than limiting yourself to just a couple of large meals.
Anytime you see something that interests you, just grab it! Between restaurant stops, you can pick up a skewer here, a bubble tea there, etc. This will keep your body, and that metabolism, moving.
Additionally, if you really want to eat as much food as possible, the best way is to share meals. Order as a group and sample from each other, or if you’re real committed, share single dishes and restaurant hop. You’ll never get stuck filling up on just one dish — rather, a full spectrum of flavours and diverse dishes.
GET YOUR CLOTHES WASHED RATHER THAN OVERPACKING.
With all this heat, you don’t want to be lugging around more baggage than you absolutely need to. It’s absolutely possible to get by with just a carry on backpack.
Plenty of AirBNBs come equipped with washing machines or there are lots of options throughout the city to launder your clothes for next to nothing. By doing so, you’ve cut your packing needs in half and you’ll have fresh clothing all the time.
There’s nothing worse than packing away your sweaty, stinky clothes and keeping them there for two weeks until you get home to wash them. Imagine getting home and just putting your clothes in your closet. No post-vacation laundry!
THE HEIGHT OF THE CURBS IN BANGKOK ARE RIDICULOUS.
If that last point didn’t convince you to backpack it, then this certainly should. The first time we came to Bangkok, Linda and I brought three roller-style luggage bags. What we didn’t know was that the sidewalks and curbs are not friendly to this type of bag.
As we traversed across town with our excess baggage, sweating in the heat, we had to lift our maxed out 55kg bags anywhere from 9-15 inches every time we crossed an intersection or driveway. But then in between those curbs the sidewalks are uneven, full of holes, or just wide enough for one person to squeeze by sideways.
It is not the kind of terrain on which you want to be dragging around a bunch of heavy luggage. Not only that, but I find the more luggage you give yourself, the more you tend to overpack “since you have the space”. Challenge yourself to reduce your packing needs down to a single backpack — I bet you’ll never go back to bulky luggage again.
YOU’RE GOING TO WITNESS A LOT OF POVERTY AND STRAY ANIMALS.
While Thailand has seen plenty of incredibly progressive development, they’ve still got a long way to go. It won’t take long before you cross paths with this realization during your time in Bangkok.
But it's a unique place because it's all extremes here. You'll see severe poverty sitting right next to a 9-floor luxury mall with all the technology you could ever imagine. You'll see rats, bugs, dogs, and cats casually roaming the same streets you'll find Michelin rated restaurants.
You're going to come across some difficult things to see and you should be prepared. The most important thing you can do is be respectful: don’t ignore it or pretend it doesn’t exist, and if you have the means to help, do what you can. Beyond that is up to you but I encourage you to do your research to find out how you can give back, if that’s something you’re interested in.
HAGGLE RESPECTFULLY AND ONLY WHERE APPROPRIATE.
The only time negotiating is really appropriate is at the markets or with taxis/tuk tuks. Pretty much everywhere else, you’ll pay the posted price.
When it comes to tuk tuks, be ruthless! Particularly with foreigners, these drivers will jack up their initial offer as high as possible so it’s up to you to bring that number back down. With taxis, don’t open that door until they agree to use the meter, even if they try to set a fixed price (it’s usually grossly inflated).
But at the markets, be respectful. Don’t forget that in most cases, knocking off a few baht from the total price means more to them than it does to you. Have fun and play the game — the prices are set higher for a reason — but don’t be disrespectful.
RESTAURANT TIPS AND TAXES.
When you dine in at restaurants, you will usually find a 7% VAT (tax) and a service charge of 10% included at the bottom of your bill. But sometimes they won’t mention this so it’s important to check your bill before paying to determine whether or not you need to add an additional tip.
If it’s not included, it’s customary to leave the 10%. This only applies to dining in. Elsewhere, it’s your call.
WIFI ISN’T EASY TO FIND.
Aside from the airport and select higher end shopping centres, free WIFI is a rare luxury. Either you’ll need to do thorough research before you leave your hotel or you’ll need some data for your phone.
Tourist SIM cards solve this problem. Before you leave, make sure your phone is unlocked so you can purchase a Thai SIM card at the airport or at a shopping mall. The two main phone carriers are AIS and True (I found the latter to have better coverage and faster internet).
299 baht gets you between 3-5 GB of data over 7-8 days. I found True offered a better deal at Suvarnabhumi Airport (5gb plus some call time for 8 days) versus what AIS offered at the mall (3gb with no call time over 7 days).
Did we miss anything? Do you have any additional questions? We'd love to hear from you and help in any way we can.