TIPS

11 Things You Need to Know Before Travelling to Bangkok

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!

Life saver.

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.

For additional tips on getting around in Bangkok, click here!

Do you have any other tips for travelling in Bangkok, leave them in the comments below!


Getting Around in Bangkok

Bangkok is a huge, bustling city. As a fresh-off-the-plane tourist, it can easily seem like a daunting place to navigate. But if you can look past the chaotic roads and the constantly moving environment surrounding you, you’ll find a simple yet efficient transit system, alongside a handful of solid transportation alternatives to solve your Point A to Point B needs. 

Arrival and Departure from Bangkok

There are two airports in Bangkok: Don Muang and Suvarnabhumi — the latter being the larger,  more popular one. 

Don Muang International (DMK)

While this airport is much smaller in comparison to it’s counterpart, it comes with a lot of history. As one of the oldest international airports in the world, and currently the world’s largest low-cost carrier airport, Don Muang has established itself as a more localized commuter airport, servicing most adjacent countries via smaller discount flight operators like Nok Air. Chances are, if you’re heading to the beaches of Thailand, you’ll be flying through this airport. 

Located just north of the city, it will take anywhere between 30 minutes to an hour from downtown, depending on traffic, and will cost on average about 350 baht plus highway tolls (25b and 40b respectively) via taxi. There are unfortunately no trains that connect to the airport but you can catch a local bus from Mo Chit station on the BTS. But I would suggest taking the taxi.

TIP! Always make sure your taxi driver is using the meter to calculate the cost as some scammers have been known to offer fixed prices that end up costing you twice as much. Additionally, local advice is to produce the cash for the highway tolls up front so the driver knows you know what’s going on and they’ll be less likely to try to pull a fast one on you.

Once inside, this airport is very straight forward and not very large in size.

Suvarnabhumi International (BKK)

This airport, whose name derives from the Sanskrit term for "Land of Gold,” is the 20th busiest airport in the world and you definitely get a sense of this when you arrive. There are humans everywhere and the lines can be exhaustive but much like the city of Bangkok itself, the chaos is managed pretty well. 

Perhaps credit goes to the beautiful Yaksha guardian statues, whose watchful eyes oversee the departures area to chase away any bad spirits. But I find this airport to be a breeze to navigate: directions are well-signed, staff are eager to help, and the layout is simple (and pretty).

The process gets even better when you consider how easy it is to get to and from the airport. Many people seem to suggest taking a taxi to/from the airport but you’d be crazy to use this option when the city has provided a train link that goes directly inside the airport for a tiny price. 

Finding this train is easy. Once through customs, you’ll find yourself amongst a plethora of travellers trying to find a taxi, get SIM cards, or locate their friends and family. You can skip all of this madness and simply make your way to the lowest floor via the elevator. Here you’ll find the clean, quiet, and air conditioned Airport Rail Link. 

For just 42 baht (just over $1.00 US) you can use this train line to get from the airport to Phaya Thai station. From here, you can connect to the BTS train line which will get you pretty much anywhere you need to go for a similar cost. If you’re aiming for downtown, you might also consider Makkasan station for a similar interchange, depending on where you’re headed. 

Your total cost will be somewhere around 60-90 baht ($2-3 US). Compare this cost to the minimum 400 baht taxi ride (with a similar or longer commute time) and you’re starting your adventure off with 5x the savings!

My only other suggestion regarding both Don Muang and Suvarnabhumi would be to give yourself the buffer time to account for potential long lines at check in, security, and customs. I’ve had an equal number of experiences with both quick lines (whole process under an hour) and extremely backed up lines (over 1.5 hours). I’m not sure what factors contribute to it, but there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason for it. 

Important Note! When you arrive, you will be handed a tourist card. It's essentially the usual customs form that you fill out when you enter any country but once you get through customs, you'll be given back a portion of the form to keep. What they don't tell you is that you have to bring this portion back with you when you depart out of the country. Don't lose this piece of paper! Keep it tucked in your passport for safe keeping. 

Speaking of passports, it's Thai law that all tourists keep their passports on their person at all times. We've been stopped by Thai police who checked for this so don't leave it in your hotel (I mean, you really shouldn't do that anyway but just throwing that out there). 

Getting Around Bangkok

Like I said, Bangkok has no shortage of transportation options! Some, like motorcycle taxis, are not for the faint of heart while others are leisurely and safe. But it’s important to know what you’re getting in to with each one and how they can benefit you. 

Taxi

They’re no different than taxis anywhere else in the world except that, as I mentioned earlier, you need to watch out for scams. The more you look and act like a tourist, the more likely this will happen to you. But if you make it a habit to always request the meter be turned on before entering the vehicle, you will avoid most of the taxi scams here. Don’t try to negotiate fixed prices, etc. because you probably won’t win this game unless you’re a seasoned local. 

Otherwise, this is a quick and effective way to get across town. The prices are still incredibly inexpensive, if you’re coming from a western culture, but remember to always consider value. Just because it’s cheaper than you’re used to, doesn’t mean it’s the best option. 

Motorcycle Taxi

If you’re feeling adventurous, you will find these guys hanging out on the side of the street. You will have to negotiate a price before hopping on but with the ability to maneuver in and out of traffic, they will get you where you need to go fast. 

Tuk Tuk

Much like a taxi, but without the meter and best for short trips. You’ll need to do some negotiating with price before getting on board. An average short trip is about 50 baht but they will start high in their initial offers. Prices will increase with more passengers.

These little things are a ton of fun though! Even if you end up paying a little bit more than you should, it's completely worth every baht. Just be careful and do your research on potential scams before you jump in — these rides and infamous for trying to give you more than you bargained for. They aren’t all scammers though and it’s well worth the effort for the joy of riding through town on a noisy, decorated go-kart tricycle.

Riverboat

If you’re travelling to places near the river, one of my favourite ways to get there is by riverboat. For as low as 8 baht, you can hop on these lovely old wooden boats and zoom down the canals, amongst local commuters. If you’re visiting the Khao San Road area from downtown, this is a great way to go.

Public Transit

Outside of walking, this is by far the best option. There are stations everywhere, it is SO inexpensive, it’s clean, AND it’s air-conditioned to give you a break from the heat. Just remember you can’t take any food or drinks through the gates so avoid picking up that tempting bubble tea until you’re on your way out. 

BTS: Bangkok Transit System, typically runs through the heart of the city along major streets.
MRT: Mass Rapid Transit, services the middle of the city in mostly a north-south route.
ARL: Airport Rail Link, connects the main airport with the rest of the city, direct connections to the other two systems.

For more information on how to access and use the trains in Bangkok, read more here!

MRT-BTS-Map-Bangkok.jpg

On Foot

Skip the taxi! There are so many hidden gems and fun little alleyways in Bangkok that you will absolutely miss if you aren’t exploring on foot. Yes, it’s hot. Yes, it will take longer. Yes, you’ll need to eat and drink far more (this is not a concern, for the record). And YES, it is worth every step! I really encourage you to consider walking as much as you possibly can. And if you’re not convinced, keep reading here!

Get Out There and See Bangkok!

You’ll be fine. As you can see, Bangkok has been built into a user-friendly exploration environment and it’s ready for you! If you’re not the best with directions, Google Maps works well offline so you can always cross-reference with that.

Many of the locals either speak English, or have a friend nearby who can. If not, they’re well-versed in language-barrier charades so don’t be afraid to ask questions to find what you need. They don’t call Thailand the Land of Smiles for nothing — the people here are super friendly, accommodating, and respectful. Truly some of the most endearing I have ever encountered.


Why We Love Airports (and Why You Should Too!)

One of my favourite aspects about traveling is discovering the vast differences and similarities among every human. But while each of them may have a different set of opinions on what they like or don’t, the more you converse with them, the more you come to recognize patterns with specific topics. 

Some of these topics are so clear in their divisiveness: olives, cilantro, pineapple on pizza… people either love them or they hate them!

Airports are certainly one of those topics. There is rarely any grey area here. In fact, you’d struggle to find a place more ripe with whiney people than in an airport. 

The long lines; the complacency and blank faces among airport employees; the bewildering navigation to your gate; and UGH… all that walking! Can you really blame them for being grumpy?

Well, yeah! 

Hong Kong Airport

Trust me, I understand there are very strong arguments for hating the often haphazard process of boarding a plane but if you can look past the things that can get overwhelming, the airport can become an enjoyable extension of your trip rather than an necessary evil standing between you and your beachside Pina Colada. 

There is so much to fall in love with at an airport and if you’re not on the ‘love’ side then you’re looking at this all wrong! 

Accept the Challenges

First and foremost, you've got to stop thinking of the airport process as a ridiculous and inconvenient set of confusing steps. Instead, look at it like it’s a game! You’ve got challenges, rules, checkpoints, a budget, and an ultimate objective. 

Your mission begins from the moment you start packing your bags: you must do so within a strict guideline of specific weights, dimensions and allowable items. In order to move to the next level, you must first complete this task! Bonus points: reduce your luggage to a minimum and ditch the checked baggage!

Now challenge yourself to complete your objective in the shortest amount of time possible: figure out the quickest route from your drop off point to your gate and be prepared for all obstacles.

Get to know what each interaction will require at each checkpoint and be prepared. 

Are you able to check in online? Skip the check in desk altogether (since you also decided to forego the extra luggage)!
Does security require you to remove your shoes? Wear slip ons. 
Are your liquids and laptop in an easily accessible area for quick removal and repack at security? These employees are going to love you — maybe even crack a smile or a joke!
Boarding pass and passport ready to be scanned? You’ll be sitting in your seat in no time, with way more time than you’d expected. 

Positive messages in Hong Kong Airport.

Positive messages in Hong Kong Airport.

Might as well grab some snacks! Challenge accepted. 

Healthy smoothie for $4 or a can of pop for the same price? 

Healthy smoothie for $4 or a can of pop for the same price? 

Airport food is crazy expensive and usually unhealthy but if you’re crafty and budget-savvy, you can piece together an affordable, healthy and satisfying meal. Accepting the price of a combo at your usual fast food joint isn’t always the best strategy. Check out the cost of individual items at various eateries throughout the airport and seek out the items that offer the best value.  

Now, when I say seek out the ‘best value’, I don’t necessarily mean find the cheapest thing in the place. You won’t be fooling anyone as you pridefully nibble on your two-bite lettuce wrap. The real challenge is in getting the most bang for your buck. 

For example, maybe that means enjoying that $8 venti Starbucks drink because the 100ml orange juice was $6. Dollar for dollar, you’re getting way more value from that coffee. 

As you travel more frequently, it gets increasingly easier to navigate and prepare yourself for a successful journey through the airport and eventually you’ll be so good at it, others will look to you for direction. 

I dare you to embrace the challenge! 

A Sense of Exploration and Discovery

Now that you’re through the gates, you are officially on vacation. All that hard work you’ve put into planning this trip has paid off and you can finally relax. 

You’ve got an hour or two until your flight begins boarding. So what now? Time to foster your sense of discovery. You’ve got this giant building just begging to be explored and plenty of time to kill. Now it's just you and a carry on so get on your feet and check some things out! 

Hong Kong Airport

I love to explore. Venturing down unfamiliar paths makes me feel like a child in a giant world, even if it leads to a bunch of nothing in the end. So you can imagine the fun I have in an airport. The bigger the airport, the more places there are to discover; the happier I am.

And the best part is that even if you’re not directionally-gifted, there is always someone available that can guide you back if you get lost. 

Jump on the opportunity to find the unfamiliarities in the things that may seem familiar. Channel your inner child.

Orlando Airport

Prime People Watching Opportunities

Not only that, but think about how many strangers are around you. I often forget that once you’re past security, every single person is doing the same thing you are. They’re en route to somewhere else. They’re ready to discover. Some are headed home after completing their journey — some were gone a day, some over a year! 

Each of these strangers has a story to tell. If you strike up a conversation with any of them, you’re bound to discover something new. Where are they coming from or where are they going? 

Even if you’re not eager to chat with someone, there aren’t many places that offer a better opportunity for people watching. Rather than learn their real story, you can use your imagination and make up a story for each one. The businessmen, the moms with kids, the couples, the men in the Hawaiian shirts, the complainers! You could spend an afternoon just observing the way that people move through an airport.

Quit looking at the crowds as an overwhelming hoard of bodies! Consider instead the depth and value in the untold stories that surround you.

Every Airport is Different

Above all else, the coolest thing about airports is that they’re all different. Each country has their own version of what they believe an airport should be. Different architecture, different amenities, different restaurants and shops. 

If you’re the type to write off airports then perhaps you’re racing through to your gate so quickly that you never look around long enough to appreciate the thought and effort that has been put into (most) airports. It’s as if each one is a city in and of itself. 

To truly enjoy your short time in these magnificent buildings, you’ve got to take a leisurely stroll and read the plaques and observe the structures. Take it all in! 

I’ve seen airports with 'wow' factors like ceilings to the heavens; others focused around nature. Some simply have stunningly beautiful decor to inspire you. 

But the best versions show off a little bit of their respective country’s culture and traditions. For example, in Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK), you’re greeted by 12 giant Yaksha guardian statues upon check-in. Not only do they keep you curious while you wait in line, they offer a glimpse into the mythology and history of Thailand. Throughout your journey through BKK, you’ll find a handful of other similar exhibits that will provide you with some additional background information.

Bangkok Airport

In Toronto, there is no shortage of references to Canadian life around the entirety of the airport.
In Vancouver and Hong Kong, it’s all about those mountain views. 
In Iceland, they’ve paired fantastic sculptures with lovely wooden accents. 
In Bangladesh, the aged decor juxtaposed with the clean-cut uniformed officers make for a charming experience. If you can ignore the mosquitos, anyway.
In Chicago… well, okay, some airports are just bogus. No free wifi in one the biggest travel hubs in the USA? Puh-lease!

Orlando Airport going big with the wow factor!

Orlando Airport going big with the wow factor!

Learn to Love Airports.

I’m telling you — once you embrace the airport-love, your trips are going to be so much more fulfilling! Anything you approach with a positive mentality is bound to have positive results. 

In this case, as soon as you go positive, you’ll start to recognize how uncomplicated the process really is. You’ll reminisce about the old days when you were a flustered traveler and wonder why you troubled yourself with such thoughts.

Push yourself to see past the hurdles and learn to get the most out of your airport experience.

 

Now, how about that Pina Colada?