A First-Timer's Guide To Bangkok

By Jessica Russo


As soon as you arrive in Bangkok, it's easy to see why it's one of the most sought-after cities for travelers. This exciting cultural hub is a buzzing bubble of colorful streets filled with sizzling street food and towering temples.

Bangkok can be so lively, however, that its fast-paced vibe can feel a bit overwhelming, or even intimidating. Most people who feel this way, however, fail to plan ahead. As long as you land prepared, we promise that your trip will be a happy one. After all, Bangkok is the capital of the "Land of Smiles." Follow this helpful guide to take on Bangkok like a pro.


Practical info:

Currency:

Thai Baht

Religion:

95% Buddist 5% Muslim

Best Time to Visit:

While Bangkok is always bustling, the months between November and February are ideal for visiting. March is when Bangkok becomes uncomfortably hot, and September and October make up monsoon season.

Language:

Thai, however, English is taught in schools and many people in Bangkok speak some English.


Quick Tips

Write down your destinations in Thai for taxi drivers

While many people in the Bangkok tourism industry speak English, taxi drivers generally do not. Instead of entering a panic of explaining and hand gesturing, simply have your hotel name and address written down or typed in Thai. Simply search the internet for a translation and print out a couple of copies. Keep this on you at all times, so in the unlikely event you get lost, you can always show locals where you're supposed to be.

Explore beyond Khao San Road

Yes, this stretch of shops, food, and entertainment is fun, but is it a good taste of authentic Thai culture? Ehh. Khao San Road is made for backpackers and tourists. Seek out more authentic markets and street food vendors if you're looking for a real Thai experience.

Don't expect Western breakfast

Believe it or not, lots of people don't think of breakfast as eggs, toast, and bacon. While some hotels will offers eggs for breakfast, you'll probably be offered porridge, soup, or some sort of rice dish. Sure, you might crave a Western breakfast, but we promise, the bacon will still be there when you arrive back home. Traveling is all about trying new things!

Don't fall for scams

Even though Bangkok can seem chaotic and overwhelming, it is statistically a safe city. Like any large city, however, pickpockets and scammers do roam about. Just be extra vigilant when visiting crowded areas and tourist hubs. In addition, do not even acknowledge someone if they try to sell or "give" you anything.

Specifically for Bangkok, some scammers will prey on English speakers and say, "I need help with my English." They might ask you to help them write a letter or call someone. Although it may feel wrong to turn down someone asking for help, this situation is a known scam to get you alone or to distract you. Better safe than sorry.


Clothing Dos and Don'ts

DO bring long pants and skirts that fall below the knee.

DO NOT wear sandals, flip flops, or shorts/short skirts into a temple or sacred area.

DO bring lightweight longsleeve shirts.

DO bring comfortable walking shoes (preferably slip-on for ease entering and exiting temples).

DO NOT walk around with a large open purse.

DO carry a small, zippered, slash-proof or locked purse.

DO NOT pack clothing with religious, political, or potentially offensive themes.


What to Eat

  • Pad Thai... duh.
  • "Tom Yum" - Spicy Shrimp Soup
  • "Gaeng Daeng" - Red Curry
  • "Gai pad med mamuang" - Chicken with cashew nut
  • "Khao Niaow Ma Muang" - Mango Sticky Rice
  • "Som Tum" - Spicy Green Papaya Salad
  • "Tom Kha Kai" - Chicken in Coconut Soup
  • "Pad Krapow Moo Saap" - Fried Basil and Pork

Make sure to sip some Thai Iced Tea, too!


Where to Eat

Street Food:

Restaurants:


Must-See Sites

The Grand Palace, Temple of the Emerald Buddha, & Wat Pho

Once the official residence of the Kings of Siam (1782 to 1925), this impressive palace complex is drenched in history. Within this labyrinth of culture and beauty, you'll also find the Temple of the Emerlad Buddha and Wat Pho. When visiting the site, all three temples are usually included in the same entrance ticket. Dating back to the 14th century, these ornate buildings boast striking colors, awe-inspiring architecture, and shiny gold exteriors. Heh-lo Instagram.

Wat Arun

Don't worry about memorizing this temple's formal name, Wat Arun Ratchawararam Ratchawaramahawihan. Wat Arun will do; after all, that's what locals call it, too. This Buddhist temple is a stunning spectacle, as it sits perfectly on the sparkling bank of the Chao Phraya River. Located in Bangkok Yai district of Bangkok, Wat Arun's name was derived from the Hindu god "Aruna," who was personified as the warmth of the rising sun.

Chao Phraya River & Waterways

Also known as the "River of Kings," the sparkling Chao Phraya weaves through the city and offers fresh seafood, transportation, and beautiful views. The smaller canals that extend from the river make Bangkok feel like the Venice of Asia! Find some solace in busy Bangkok with a peaceful stroll along the water. In addition, many restaurants face the Chao Phraya or its canals, talk about a sunset.

Chinatown (Yaowarat)

One piece of advice: go hungry. This foodie haven is overflowing with sizzling street-side cuisine. Lined with Chinese temples, market stalls, and gold shops, Bangkok's China town is a vibrant hub of energetic culture. We recommend to visit in the afternoon, so you can experience the shops during the day... and the nightlife when the sun goes down.

Khao San Road

This laid-back strip of restaurants, shops, bars, and tattoo parlors is a heaven for backpackers. In fact, in his best selling book, The Beach, Alex Garland describes Khao San Road as "the center of the backpacking universe." Feel the city's buzzing energy as you walk through vibrant neon signs and street performers! While we recommend to check out Khao San Road for a night or two, it's important to venture beyond. Although it's entertaining and fun, it's also frequented by and geared towards tourists. Check out other street food areas (listed above) for a more authentic Thai experience.


Getting Around

Skytrain (BTS)

These trains are cheap, clean, and easy to use. Connecting all major shopping districts, business areas, and historic hotspots, the Skytrain is super convenient. Since most of the tracks are elevated, you may also catch some cool views of the city during transit!

Taxis

Taxis are plentiful and cheap, but ugh, the traffic. Think of taxis as a last resort. Do yourself - and your patience - a favor by using public transportation.

Tuk-Tuk

To be honest, they're not the most comfortable method of transport, but you should still try to catch a ride at least once. It'll be a fun memory, and a story to tell when you get home. When hopping in a tuk-tuk, you're putting experience before practicality. When in Bangkok!

Chao Phraya River Express Boat

Traveling around by express boat is fun, quick, and cheap. Making all stops at major historic sites, the Chao Phraya River Express Boats are the perfect way to get from Point A to Point B, while also seeing the city from a unique perspective. Zipping around by boat is also a great break from the bustle of the streets!


Day trips

Damnoen Saduak Floating Market

1 hour 20 minutes by car

Although this floating market has become a little touristy, it's still worth a trip. Watch as local vendors sell handicrafts, produce, food, and souvenirs out of floating wooden boats! Purchase unique goods and feel immersed in the culture of Thailand. This destination is only reachable by car of public buses from Bangkok Southern Bus Terminal.

Ayutthaya

1 hour 5 minutes by car or 2 hours 5 minutes by train

Once the capital of the Kingdom of Siam in 1350, the ruins of Ayutthaya are now a UNESO World Heritage Site of ancient archaeology. Explore centuries-old palaces, Buddhist temples, monasteries, and statues. Your best (and cheapest) bet is to get there by train. The trip from Bangkok to Ayutthaya can take anywhere from 2-3 hours, depending on the class of ticket you purchase.

Erawan National Park

2 hours 44 minutes by car

Northwest of Bangkok near the Myanmar border, this stunning oasis of natural wonder includes caves, rock paintings, waterfalls, and wildlife. Most famous for its 7-tiered turquoise Erawan Waterfalls, this national park is crossed by trails home to deer and elephants! Explore lush greenery and keep your eyes peeled for magic ahead. While this enchanted forest is only reachable by car, there are several day tours to Erawan that leave from Bangkok. Search the web and get booking!

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