Bangkok, Thailand: Tips & Travel Guide
“The City of Angels”, capital of ‘The Land of Smiles”; renowned for its bustling nightlife, scrumptious street food, tourist traps, and scammers. Coming to Bangkok, we didn’t know what to expect. We wanted to taste real Thai dishes, learn the culture and language, and do the occasional tourist thing. If you google “Things to do in Bangkok”, you will see tons of links and itineraries for visiting temples, the floating market, shopping, and many more things to do. Sounds great, right? During our 3-day visit, the city certainly has both good moments and bad ones. I will explain the highlights during our the days visit in Bangkok.
Arriving at Bangkok Airport
There are two airports in Bangkok: Don Mueang and Suvarnabhumi. Suvarnabhumi is the newer airport, typically the International airport for flights out of the US. As for Don Mueang, it is the older airport that offers domestic flights, such as Phuket (Terminal 2). You are more likely to arrive at Suvarnabhumi, if your flight is international. Getting from the airport to your hotel can be a daunting task if you do not speak any Thai. You have a few options here: Take either a taxi, the airport train link or Uber. We recommend taking the airport train link, if possible. By taxi, you must wait in line to be assigned a ticket number, where you taxi will be waiting for you.
Be Your Own Compass: No GPS in Bangkok Taxis
Here’s a tip: Make sure you print out all maps of your hotel and of all locations you are planning to visit, beforehand. Taxi drivers in Bangkok do not use GPS, nor do they know the exact your location of the destination. Having these maps will come in handy (make sure to have them in Thai, as well). I wish we would have known that before I wrote this post…Our taxi driver supposedly did not know the location of our hotel and was unable to read the hotel address in English. Luckily, an airport employee guided our driver onto the right path, or so we thought.
Pump up the Jam: Bangkok Traffic
Bangkok is the most congested city in the world, next to Los Angeles. The traffic there is unbearable! Stuck in traffic for almost 2 hours. I was a bit skeptical: either the driver was going in the right direction, or he was purposely taking the long route to increase the meter cost. Finally, I decided to turn on my google GPS, and I am guessing the driver heard it and decided to get back on track after that. We finally arrived at our hotel and the total cost for the taxi was roughly 350 Baht. The driver requested another 100 baht for his fee and I had to pay for all the tolls. A total of 450 baht and some change for the tolls, roughly around $13 USD. At that point, I thought It was still rather pretty cheap for a taxi compared to the states. Ah…the oldest trick in the book: Take the scenic route, but this time, purposely steer into an outrageously long traffic jam and milk your passengers for every additional penny. In retrospect, I wished that, before the trip, I would have watched this Bangkok Taxi Tip Guide video.
Here is a quick video I captured on my iPhone
Getting Around in Bangkok
At this point, it was pretty late. We couldn’t visit any daytime markets, so we decided to experience nightlife at Khao San Road (ถนนข้าวสาร), a party playground for tourists and backpackers. The only way to get to Khao San Road from our hotel is by MRT Subway to Hua Lamphong (สถานีหัวลำโพง) and take a TukTuk or taxi to Khao San Road. Sounds like a plan. Entering the MRT subway is easy. All of the subway and Skytrain attendants speak fluently in English. Simply tell the attendant at which stop you plan on exiting, and he/she will tell you how much for a token. A black train token that resembles something from a board game.
Hua Lamphong: The Heart of Bangkok
Hua Lamphong is the center of Bangkok and the connection to both the temples and Chinatown. A tuk-tuk driver will be waiting at the station. Before you hop on a tuk-tuk, make sure you negotiate the price beforehand. We ended up paying 300 baht ($8.73 USD) from Hua Lamphong to Khao San. Felt like we got ripped off. Nevertheless, we paid the driver and did not want to escalate any further.
Tuk-tuk drivers and taxi cabs in Bangkok are sketchy! I wouldn’t recommend riding a tuk-tuk unless it is your last resort. Short tuk-tuk rides should be no more than 50 baht ($1.46 USD).
– Avoid catching a tuk-tuk: All the drivers seem to have an ulterior motive.
– Taxicab drivers will often say they don’t have change. Make sure you have the exact amount.
– Always flag down a moving taxi instead of a one parked waiting for tourist.
– Make sure you have a Thai-language business card for the location that you want to go and that the meter always starts at 35 baht.
– Do not hop in a taxicab, if the driver claims the meter is broken or have a towel on top of the meter.
– If the driver speaks perfect English, that’s a warning sign.
There are so many beautiful historical Buddhist temples in Bangkok, it is hard to keep up. A few major ones are Wat Pho; Temple of the Reclining Buddha (วัดโพธิ์) and Wat Arun; The Temple of Dawn (วัดอรุณราชวรารามราชวรมหาวิหาร), which is near the Grand Palace (พระบรมมหาราชวัง). Grand Palace is a major tourist attraction. It has 150 years of history as the King’s residence, also the Temple of the Emerald Buddha (พระแก้วมรกต). Before entering the gates of the Grand Palace, there’s a strict dress code: no shorts and short sleeves, no tank tops, no open-toed shoes. Also, you must present your passport at the entrance.
The Grand Palace
Price: 500 Baht ($13.37 USD)
Hours: Monday – Sunday from 8:30 am to 3:30 pm.
Here is the Grand Palace entrance, a very busy area with full of tourist, also where you will present your passport to the guard before admittance if you pass the clothing regulations.
Make sure you put on some sunscreen before heading outside, since the weather in Bangkok is extremely hot. The best way to cool off is a with a refreshing Mango Sundae over Green Sticky Rice from Baskin-Robbins by The Grand Palace. So good!
Perfect English is a Perfectly Red Flag in Bangkok
As soon as we arrived at the Grand Palace area, a man approached us, speaking nearly perfect English (Scam Artist #2) He immediately asked us where we were headed and stated that he works at the Grand Palace. He claimed that it is closed in the morning because today is Thai New Year (supposedly). The monks have to pray, so the Grand Palace will reopen only at 4:00 pm. Afterwards, he showed us a tour map of attractions we should visit instead.
Do You Feel Lucky.. or Punked?
Conveniently, a tuk-tuk tour driver assisted the man stating “today only, we could have a tuk-tuk temple tour for only 40 Baht ($1.16 USD) in honor of a national holiday”. Also, today is supposedly our lucky day to see the lucky Buddha, standing Buddha, Buddha this Buddha that. At that time we thought, hey why not? We were planning to do those things anyway, so $1.16 for a guided all-day tour is a steal. We decided to get in the tuk-tuk with our friendly companion and off we go to the Buddha temples. In retrospect, we should have done some research.
Smiling, Blinking People Pulling Scams
Our first stop, to see the this lucky Buddha. Another man came out of a gated building, stating he works for the temple, let’s call him ‘Scam Artist #4. “It’s a holy day”, he said. “Monks are praying”, he said. This man was incessantly blinking with his eyes. Blinking is considered extremely offensive in Thai culture, so– go figure. We should have known that they had something up his sleeves. Now let’s see this lucky Buddha of yours.
As we stare at this lucky Buddha, it doesn’t seem that impressive; perhaps he had bought it at the night market. Nevertheless, we didn’t think much of it and continued on to the next destination.
Our trusty tour guide, Chalong (aka Scam Artist #3) continues to navigate us to more random temples for photo taking. Each temple we stayed about 5-10 minutes at the most.
The Bangkok Tourists’ New Clothes?
Chalong decided to take us to a tailor who makes custom suits with 40% off because ONLY TODAY is a Thai national holiday. We were greeted by this gentleman (Scam Artist#1). He was nothing but smiles, offering us drinks and reassuring us that he can custom-make a one-of-a-kind suit at a discount rate. After the fitting, he convinced us to make an expensive purchase of 3 custom suits, shirts, pants, a winter coat and a dress. He also stated that he will drop it off at our hotel free of cost before we leave to Phuket tomorrow.
Tour Guide, Tailor, Scammer, Fool
The very next day, instead of waiting for him to drop off our clothes at our hotel, we went back to his shop. The look on his face was priceless. He was shocked that we show up at this store. This guy had a totally different demeanor from the day before, acting like he didn’t know us. He asked, agitated, us why we came to the store when he told us that the outfits would arrive at our hotel, later that night. We explained that we were in a hurry and insisted on waiting, with plenty of time to kill, so to speak, and finally received our clothes. As soon as we left the tailor shop, I did some research and indeed we fell for the Bangkok Tailor Scam.
Basically, all the suits are not custom made. They are all pre-made with cheap materials. They got us good! A well-plotted scam! They should all bring their acting skills to Hollywood.
The Crown Jewel of Bangkok Pranks
The tuk-tuk tour continued…For some reason, our good old driver Chalong took us to the Gem Gallery International. He stated that he gets a voucher for free gasoline for taking us there (the gasoline kickback). Sure, why not. That’s the least we could do after he graciously took several hours to drive us around. He seemed like a genuine, karma-driven guy, at the time. We stepped into the Gem Gallery and were greeted by free soft drinks and a pushy salesman that followed us around throughout the entire time we browsed the merchandise. Luckily, we opted out of buying any gems, fortuitously evading the Bangkok Gem Scam.
Chalong looked unmistakably dejected that we chose to forgo splurging on the precious gems (fake as fake can be, no doubt!). He proceeded to drop us off at the last stop, The Long Boat tour.
A Floating Fish… Puddle
The tour was said to include the following: an hour tour, the floating market, the lost city, fish farm for the price of 2000 Baht per person. A total of 4000 Baht ($116 USD). Thought that was pricey but thought an excursion this amazing would be worth it.
Reeled in, but Not Hooked!
Of course, the whole venture was a complete rip-off: Our group saw neither a fish farm nor a floating market (unless it is this boat guy selling fake Buddha merchandise), and the ride only lasted 30 minutes. I guess we were another victim of The Long Boat Tour Scam.
600 or 700 Baht (Roughy $17-$20 USD)
Get ’em, Karma!
The tuk-tuk driver Chalong took us all the places on his agenda, besides the temple we wanted to go initially, which was Wat Pho. At the end of the predicament, scammers and tuk-tuk drivers get their commission and kickback for every place they take you, even if you end up buying nothing. Hope these people can sleep at night from scamming tourist for a living. What a day! After all the duping, we decided to avoid further tourist traps at all costs. Time for some authentic Thai Food…
Can’t Stop the Hawkers
Bangkok has the best street food in the world, without a doubt. Street food is the heart and soul of Bangkok, as well as an indelible part of Thai culture. The government continues to rain on street hawkers’ parade by planning to ban street vending by the end of this year, which is awful and absurd. Not sure if it will actually happen. No way is the government going to ban all street food in Bangkok, but I am glad we got to taste some of the amazing street food that the Thai capital has to offer. Khao San Road (ถนนข้าวสาร) is a particularly festive area, known for loud music, roasted insects on skewers or anything on a stick.
Khao San Road is a top tourist attraction because of the street food and party nightlife. Bars and delicious street food at every corner. It is also the home of backpackers, given that hostels are located within walking distance.
It’s the Asian version of New Orleans Bourbon Street, minus the cheap booze and food.
Scorpions: It’s What’s for Dinner.
Not sure what’s with all the big fuss with eating insects. They are a good source of protein and taste like chicken. 🙂 A wide selection of scorpions, grasshoppers, worms, crickets, and spiders is available to your liking if you are brave enough to try it.
If you do not purchase any insects, these street vendors will charge you 10 baht (.28 USD) just to take a photo. They will even turn off the lamps to make sure your photos will come out dark and blurry. I caught them snoozing…hehehe.
I’m sure the locals do not eat Pad Thai (ผัดไทย), but it a famous and popular Thai dish with a vast range of different ingredients and noodle options.
The customer can choose what type of noodle will be used in the dish, from ramen, thin and thick rice noodles, and egg noodles. Street Pad Thai prices usually range from 40-50 baht ($1.16 – $1.45 USD) depending on the vendor.
This particular Pad Thai is nothing special. I believe there are better ones in Chinatown , but the Boat Noodles are something special. Street food + Chang Beer = Happiness! 🙂
Boat Noodle Soup
The Boat noodle (guay dtiaao reuua; ก๋วยเตี๋ยวเรือ) is a very famous and is a very popular street food dish, especially in Victoria Monument (อนุสาวรีย์ชัยสมรภูมิ). This particular Boat Noodle Soup contains chicken and is packed with tons of amazing flavors. The aromatic flavors of the herbs and spices in the broth and the combination of saltiness, sweetness, sourness, spiciness, and bitterness works perfectly in a harmonious bowl of soup.
A Close Cousin of Pho (Vietnam) and Khao Piak (Laos)
Top it off with a bunch of fresh vegetables and herbs of your choice: Thai basil, bean sprouts, cabbage, bitter melon, and morning glory tips. Option toppings (not in the photo): fish sauce, dry chilies flakes, vinegar, sugar, and peanuts.
This is the man, who makes the Best Boat Noodle Soups at Khao San Road, in my opinion! He’s always smiling when he prepares one of is amazing soups!
Price: 50 baht ($1.46 USD)
If Khao San Road is not your scene, you wouldn’t have any difficulties in finding delicious Thai Street Food elsewhere. You cannot cross the road without finding a street vendor or two on every corner.
Jumbo Shrimp? Giant Prawns!
Tom Yum Goong (ต้มยำกุ้ง) is a spicy soup that contains shrimp, galangal root, lime leaves, lemongrass, chilis, and mushrooms, to name just a few ingredients. The prawn is the star of this dish, hence the name. (“Goong” translates as “prawn.”) A super hot spicy punch from the chilies, sourness from the lime leaves and earthiness from the galangal root and lemongrass become a delicious symphony of tastes. Just look at how red this soup is…and it’s absolutely stunning!
Big pawns with the head still intact, which gives enhancing the shrimp flavor of the Tom Yum Goong.
The Tom Yum Goong is a side dish and not meant to be eaten alone. We also ordered Thai Fried Rice and Jumbo Tiger Pawns (goong goo laa dam; กุ้งกุลาดำ).
The Jumbo Tiger Prawns are grilled to a reddish color and charred to perfection. Their meat is so juicy and tender. Dip it into the spicy sauce and you’re good to go!
The Thai Fried Rice (Khao phat; ข้าวผัด) is another well-known street dish. Similar to Chinese fried rice with eggs, onions, tomato, chives, salt and a hint of fish sauce.
Here is the entire spread. Probably the best meal we ate during our stay in Bangkok.
Price: 150 baht ( $4.37 USD). Say what!?!
After all that food, let’s walk it off with a little shopping. Bangkok is not just a place with amazing food and temples, it is also a great place to browse and buy. There are many options for Shopping such as the Central World Mall, Terminal 21, and Siam Pargaon are just a few. A few other options are outdoor markets, such as the Ratchada Train Market and Chatuchak Weekend Market.
Chatuchak Weekend Market (ตลาดจตุจักร) is one of the largest markets in Bangkok. This sprawling, vibrant market is where you can find handmade goods, antiques, clothing, street food, and many more.
Location: MRT stop – Kamphaeng Phet 2 Exit 2 or BTS stop – Mo Chit Station
Hours: 7:00 am – 6:00 pm from Saturday – Sunday
Get lost in the inner section of the market. You’ll find various shops with perfect souvenirs for yourself, family and friends.
All of the merchandise is inexpensive, but you can also negotiate the prices as well, in order to get even more bang for your buck.
We found a shop with Thai Tea leaves at 80 baht ($2.32 USD)! I’ll take 2 please! Winner! Winner chicken dinner! 🙂
Speaking of Thai Tea, for 20 baht (.58 USD), you can get a cup freshly made on the streets.
And it comes in this handy cup baggie. Alev is a happy camper! 🙂
After the Chatuchak Weekend Market, head down to the Rachada Train Night Market (ตลาดนัดรถไฟ รัชดา). A hip scene with tons of really decent knock-off products. Similar to a flee market with a night bazaar feel to it.
Relax and enjoy a free live performance, while sipping on a Leo or Chang beer. (Tip: If you need to use the restroom, it’s around 2 baht.)
And of course, more street food….
After all the places we have visited, Bangkok, Thailand left a special mark on me; I definitely want to return there soon. This leg of our journey had been both sweet and sour, so to speak. I can see why there’s a movie called Bangkok Dangerous (เพชรฆาตเงียบ อันตราย). Although there are many bad apples in the bunch, there are also quite a few good ones. The good ones are genuine, pious, honest, hardworking Thai people, helping their city live up to the moniker ‘City of Angles’, or Krung Thep (กรุงเทพฯ). A place with historic Buddhist temples, vibrant nightlife, and the world’s best street food makes Bangkok a must visit on your bucket list! We had our taste of the good and bad parts of Bangkok, but it comes with the territory if you are a foreigner– especially a tourist– a tourist in any new country. You just have to learn from your travel mistakes, the next time around. I can see why there are many expats and returnees in this city. It will definitely leave an impression on you, hopefully, a good one.