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.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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!
4. 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.
5. 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!
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. 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).
11. 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:
1. Trust your instincts. If it sounds too good to be true, it most certainly is.
2. 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.