Bangkok – Love it or hate it (Travel guide)

What could you expect from a city with 8 million people? All kind of opinions, but the truth is that Bangkok doesn’t leave anyone indifferent!

 

bangkok grand palace

 

Bangkok is the capital of Thailand and one of the most influential cities of Southeast Asia and Indochina. The increase in foreign investments in Asia in the eighties and nineties and its following fast growth, along with the lack of regulation and urban planning, have made of Bangkok a chaotic, eventful and full of contrasts (not always desirable) city.

 

bangkok constrasts skyscraper

 

A shinny temple near to some almost torn down houses, residential areas peppered by skyscrapers, a huge park with hundreds of lizards in the middle of the city, improvised street markets next to impressive malls, waterway markets that will bring you back to another age and ramshackle buses driving under the Skytrain’s modern infrastructure.

 

bangkok street bus skytrain
 

bangkok santi chai prakan public park suan santichai prakan

 

But let’s start from the beginning. If you’re thinking about going to Bangkok soon, you’re already in the city or you’re just a curious person that wants to know more about it, I’m going to tell you a little bit of my experience in Bangkok, hoping to give you useful tips and answer some of the questions you may have 😉

 

ARRIVAL IN BANGKOK

Although I’d been to Asia before, Bangkok was my first contact with Southeast Asia. My first reaction after getting out of the airport was… wow! The extremely humid heat felt like a punch in my face and it took me around three days to get used to.

A minivan drove me from Suvarnabhumi International Airport to Khao San Road, the area in which I had the hostel.

Regular buses? Looks pretty ambitious, at least the first day and with the luggage. Later I’ll tell you why. The rest of the areas in which you might stay are better linked with the Skytrain, which goes directly to the airport, so no problem.

For Internet-addicts or those who want to get lost in Bangkok without worrying too much about how to get back to the base camp… no problem! Getting a Thai number and data in the mobile phone is quite cheap. The SIM card costs 100 bahts (2.5€) and 1 GB of data is 200 bahts (5€) per month 😉

 

WHERE TO STAY IN BANGKOK?

This was my first doubt when planning to go to Bangkok.

I focused more on the low budget accommodation. You can see in the picture below where the hostels listed by Hostelworld are.

 

bangkok hostelworld

 

Although widespread all over the city, there are three main areas: Khao San Road, Silom and Nana Square. The first time I was in Bangkok I stayed close to Khao San Road; the second one, to change a little bit, I went to Silom area. There are clear pros and cons of each zone.

 

Khao San Road

This is the street where the first backpacker’s hostels came up several years ago. From that moment on, its popularity has grown and nowadays it’s a remarkable spot in the city for its nightlife, restaurants and tons of travellers staying here because of the affordable prices.

It was a good choice to pick the hostel in this area to visit the main temples of the city and the Grand Palace. It’s possible to reach them on foot, which is a great pleasure in this massive city! 😉

The cons are clear: too much noise if you are close to Khao and badly linked with the newest parts of the city :/

 

Silom

Silom is one of the most remarkable areas of the city. Shopping malls, skyscrapers with nice rooftops, fancy restaurants, parks and thousands of stores pepper this quartier. The sad part is that, in general, this area is more expensive and the pollution coming from the intense traffic may cast a shadow over the stay :/

 

bangkok skyline

 

On the other hand, the best part of staying here was how easy it was to reach the furthest points of the city. There is a Skytrain stop with the same name, from which you can easily arrive at many interesting spots of the city, mainly the new areas.
 

HOW TO GET AROUND BANGKOK?

 

Tuktuk

Here we have one of the most extended mantras among tourists going to Bangkok for the first time: “Getting around by tuktuk is the cheapest way”. Hell no! Actually is the most expensive way taking into account the price per kilometre, plus you will “enjoy” the exhaust gases coming from other cars.

There is one situation in which it is in fact pretty cheap to get around by tuktuk, but think that there must be something else…

 

bangkok tuktuk wat intharawihan

 

The trick is basically that they take you to suit stores, jewelleries and other business whose owners pay tuktuk drivers in fuel bonus for bringing potential customers, and if you do buy something they will pay twice as much.

Some will warn you in the middle of the way and ask you gently to stop for ten minutes, even though you are not buying anything. Others will directly drop you in front of the store and tell you to enter it :/

So… how can you avoid these tuktuks? If you catch them during the day, the price is extremely low (less than 40 bahts, 1€) and they offer you a tour or several stops… you better start suspecting.

 

But in the end you will be scammed…

A typical conversation they’ll use to attract you could be as follows:

Tuktuk driver: Hello my friend! (With a huge smile that makes you return the greeting)

Tourist: Hello!

Tuktuk driver: Where are you from? (The guy keeps smiling, what makes it really difficult to just walk away without answering)

Tourist: Spain 🙂

Tuktuk driver: Uhhh, such a nice country! How long are you gonna stay in Thailand?

Tourist: (He hasn’t tried to sell you anything yet, so you start thinking you got your first true local friend. You keep biting the fly) Around “x” days/weeks/months.

Tuktuk driver: (No matters what you say) Ooohh, so nice! Where are you going after Bangkok? (Bangkok is usually the first stop for tourists going to Thailand, so they assume –correctly– that you’ll go somewhere else).

Tourist: (No attempted sell yet, you officially got a Thai bestie, you would die for him and, of course, rely blindly on him). Well, I’m going to Chiang Mai and then I’ll go to the south for some sunbathing 🙂

Tuktuk driver: Great plan! Chiang Mai is a great city! Have you ALREADY been to the tourist information office? You can book trains and cheap travel packages there! (Obviously you haven’t been there before since it’s a normal travel agency and cheap prices… not at all). If you wish so, I can take you there and on the way we can stop at a temple where no one goes (which is kind of true, it doesn’t appear in all tourist maps). It’s free entrance and there is a 30 metres Buddha! Cheap price for you my friend, 20 bahts (0.5€).

 

bangkok 30 meters Buddha wat intharawihan

 

Tourist: Woww! (Your new best friend is going to make you “save” some money and will show you a “unique” spot) Let’s go, yes! It sounds great! (You totally bit the fly, start thinking how to get rid of a beautiful silk suit).

And yes. The tourist was me :/ But if you have enough time and you feel like buying a suit or some jewels, go ahead! Taking a tuktuk is part of the experience of visiting Bangkok 😉

So… How to get around Bangkok?

 

Bus

Among the rest of the options, the bus is the cheapest way. The oldest ones are even free! You can imagine why though…

 

bangkok free bus

 

The drawback… there are some ghost bus stops… They do exist in Google Maps but then they aren’t where they’re supposed to be, or they are just 300 meters ahead. And yes, I had some small problems with these ghost stops :/

But apart from this, don’t worry and live the adventure of taking buses in Bangkok and see what happens 😉

 

Chao Praya boat

Another way to get around the city is by one of the several boats going along the river that separates Bangkok in two, the Chao Phraya. The ticket price starts from 14 bahts (0.35€) and increases depending on how far you want to go.

It’s a cheap and fast way (no matter how bad the traffic is) and you have a unique perspective of Bangkok! 🙂

 

bangkok chao phraya boat

 

Taxi

The trick is: DON’T NEGOTIATE the price and ask the taxi driver to use the taximeter (green and yellow taxis are ok with it). It looks straightforward but not all of them are willing to do it with tourists :/

The funniest situation was a taxi driver that asked me five times the usual price, his taximeter was covered with an old cloth, and when I asked him to use it, he told me that it wasn’t working and suddenly left 😮

The minimum fare is 35 bahts (0.88€) and after that, the taximeter goes pretty slow. Journeys of 15-20 minutes shouldn’t cost more than 100 baths (2.5€) if the traffic flows easily.

 

Skytrain

This is certainly the most confortable way of getting around the city if there are nearby Skytrain stations. Fast, punctual and with clear explanations of how to get everywhere. A wonder worthy of the most advanced cities!

Prices start from 15 bahts (0.38€) for one stop to 52 bahts (1.3€) depending on the number of stops.

 

WHAT TO DO IN BANGKOK?

And here we come with one of the key questions about Bangkok, what to do once you know where to stay and how to get around the city?

As you can imagine there are tons of options, here are some that I did.

 

VISIT SOME TEMPLES

Ok, this option isn’t the most original ever so I put it the first one. The main temples to visit are Wat Pho (150 bahts entrance ticket, 3.75€) and Wat Arun (50 bahts, 1.25€). For more info about these temples, the colleagues from Into Asia will give you a hand here 😉

Another top spot is the Grand Palace complex (for more info), where you can visit the Royal Palace and the temple Wat Prae Kaeow (500 bahts for the whole complex, 12.5€).

The sad part… being the main spots also means that they are the most expensive and crowded ones :/

Here are other secondary temples that are worth visiting. I had the pleasure to enjoy them with almost no tourists around! 😮

 

Wat Saket (Golden Mount)

A picture is worth a thousand words, so just check the view from the rooftop of this temple.

 

view skyline bangkok from wat saket

 

The entrance is 20 bahts (0.5€) and it opens until 19.00, what makes of this spot a perfect one to enjoy a beautiful sunset 😉

 

Wat Ratchanatdaram and Loha Prasat or Metal Castle

These two spots are next to each other so you can see them at once.

At “Loha Prasat” or “Metal Castle”, you can read the meaning of some Buddhist terms and fill up on this culture. Plus it has some beautiful golden pagodas at the top.

 

nirvana meaning bangkok loha prasat metal castle

 

bangkok pagoda loha prasat metal castle

 

Wat Ratchanatdaram is a quite simple temple but I was lucky to attend the chanting of the monks, which was very special 🙂

 

bangkok wat ratcha natdaram worawihan

 

bangkok monks praying wat ratcha natdaram worawihan

 

Wat Suthat

Keep walking and you’ll be at Wat Suthat. This was the most impressive among the secondary temples I visited. The entrance is 20 bahts (0.5€) and as always, here are some pics 😉

 

bangkok wat suthat

 
bangkok wat suthat buddha
 

Wat Traimit

This one isn’t within walking distance from the others but it’s quite convenient if you are going to the main train station, Hua Lamphong, or you want to wander around Yaowarat Road (more known as Chinatown).

The entrance is 40 bahts (1€) and it closes at 17.00. Inside, you can find the most important golden statue in the world! A 5.5 tons Buddha 😮 Its history is reeeeeally interesting, here the link to Wikipedia with more info.

And of course, some more pic.

 

bangkok wat traimit

 

golden buddha wat traimit bangkok

 

EAT STREET FOOD

With so many temples I guess you’re already starving. Don’t think twice and look for a Street food stall to recharge your batteries. It’s definitely the cheapest way to eat in Bangkok, you’ll find full meals for as little as 30 bahts (0.75€).

You won’t be allowed to say that you’ve been in Thailand until you eat the famous Pad Thai or some variety of the ubiquitous fried rice

But hey! Be open to other cuisines and experiment all type of noodles, soups (yes, they eat them even with 35 degrees outside), salads (Papaya salad is my favourite) and the delicious Tom Yams (another kind of soup very popular in Thailand and nearby countries).

And in case you are a reeeal foodie, here you can find a larger list of food you can’t miss in Thailand, by Matt from Nomadic Matt.

Tip for savers: In Seven Eleven (24-hours supermarkets that flood Asia) you can find noodles for the ridiculous price of 6 bahts a package (0.15€). Hot water, a few minutes and… ready! They have saved my daily budget sooo many times 😉

 

CHILL IN A PARK

After eating something and with the stomach full of delicious food, nothing compares to chilling for a while and breathing some fresh air. Lumpini Park will give you what you need to keep enjoying Bangkok 😉

 

 lumpini park lake bangkok skyline

 

lumpini park bangkok sport

 

One of the times I went there, I saw huge lizards wandering around the park. Some of them were more than 2 meters long! 😮

 

GET LOST IN LOCAL NEIGHBOURHOODS

This is undoubtedly one of my favourite options wherever I go. Just walking through non-touristic neighbourhoods and observing people. That’s when I learn the most about the culture and lifestyle of the locals!

Moreover, it’s in these moments when I’ve seen some of the most curious places and the hugest contrasts. It’s not necessary to go very far, just step out a little bit from the most touristic areas and let your feet walk. Here some pics.

 

bangkok backdoor temple

 

bangkok canal

 

bangkok street of buddhas

 

GO TO THE HIPPODROME

This is probably a plan I would’ve never thought about if it wasn’t for a group of guys I met at the hostel when I arrived. First day in Bangkok, jetlag, suffering the punch of the heat and the plan comes up. I had to try it.

If you look for a purely traditional place, this will be one. We were the only foreigners there and everybody was looking at us wondering what the hell we had lost there.

Watching how intensely they follow the races and a nice view of the skyline of Bangkok, for 20 bahts (0.5€) of the entrance, sounds like a plan 🙂

 

bangkok hippodrome

 

It’s already night and…. No! It’s not time to sleep in this city. Check out these three possible plans to do when the sun goes down.

 

GO TO A ROOFTOP BAR

This is definitely the best way to enjoy a stunning view of the city in a relaxed way. I went a couple of times to Cloud 47. This is the view 😉

 

skyline bangkok view cloud 47 rooftop bar

 

Half litre of beer will cost you 180 bahts (4.5€), which although expensive for Bangkok’s standards, is the cheapest among rooftop bars.

For more options and bigger budgets, the colleagues from Bangkok Attractions have done a great list (link here) that you should check if you are a fan of this type of bars.

 

GO TO A NIGHT MARKET

If the WEEKEND is finally here, you can’t miss going to one of the many night markets of Bangkok.

Chatuchak market is the biggest market of Thailand and one of the biggest in the world. It’s not difficult to get lost wandering around the more than 8.000 stalls that fit in its 140.000 square meters of surface. Clothes, all kind of food, bars and everything you can imagine will be there.

Personally, I found Ratchada market more charming. Considerably smaller and less frequented by tourists since “it’s the biggest of nowhere”. The essence is the same, less burden and if you get lost it won’t be that difficult to find the way out 😉 And by the way! The sushi is delicious there!

 

ENJOY THE NIGHTLIFE

Here comes one of the top things to do in Bangkok! This city never sleeps!

In Khao San Road every single day of the year you’ll find some fellas to grab a beer or the popular “buckets”. Watch out for them! In some places the ice is made from tap water, what might make the next day tougher than expected :/

 

Khao san road Bangkok

 

However, if your idea is to go unnoticed among locals or true expats living in Bangkok, your area might be Thonglor. Here you have a link in which Pong (from Thailand) explains the best plans during day and night in the trendiest area of Bangkok 😉

 And for the naughty ones, there are several red lights districts around the city where you can “enjoy” different eccentricities. Soi Cowboy, Nana Square and Patpong are the most popular ones.

 

OTHER PLANS

In order not to make the article extremely long, I’m going to gather here some other plans to do in Bangkok.

A Thai massage is something you shouldn’t miss either! For 250-400 bahts (6.25-10€) you can enjoy 1 hour of relaxing massage.

Muay Thai, national sport of Thailand, thrills locals and foreigners. Bangkok is the place where the best fighters of the north compete with the best ones of the south. Jaclynn from The occasional traveller explains here her experience watching a Muay Thai fight and some other interesting details.

And to finish these last plans, here is an unorthodox one suitable only for adventurous and extremely curious people (mum, don’t suffer, I didn’t do it). Sabrina from Just one way ticket explains here how she ended up getting to the rooftop of an abandoned skyscraper in the centre of Bangkok. Incredible but true 😮

 

LAST TIPS

We are about to finish the article, but before that, I would like to add a couple more things to keep in mind 😉

First one, Thailand is a parliamentary monarchy and although the King is supposed to be just a representative figure, in practice he holds much more power than, for example, what European monarchs do.

Thai people considered their recently deceased King (he passed away on 13th October 2016) as a father and they admired him at a level difficult to understand for many foreigners.

 

bangkok image queen king thailand

 

This is the reason why, if you go to Bangkok or Thailand in general, you must treat this topic with tooootal respect. The government announced a year of mourning for all Thai people. Such is the dedication that Thailand is running out of black cloth 😮

 

bangkok mourning grand palace

 

And be careful of speaking badly of the King in public! There are penalties of up to fifteen years in prison for that and they are applied to foreigners too.

 

Second one, even though ostentation is widespread in Bangkok, Thailand is a country with many poor people. Tourists are seen like a bunch of bills ready to be taken and therefore, they will try to diddle you to make their lives a little bit better.

Accept that you are going to get scammed; it’s going to happen, no doubt of that. And even when you think that you’ve done a great deal, most probably you will have paid an inflated price :s

One day I bought a t-shirt for 100 bahts (2,5 €) when the starting price was 300 bahts (7.5€). I was extremely satisfied with my purchase until the moment in which some days later, in a local market, I saw the same kind of t-shirts for 20 bahts (0.5€) 😮

I was lucky because they had the price in a piece of paper, so no way to rip me off. But when I asked the price of a shirt without price, they quickly told me that the price was 300 bahts (7.5€).

This philosophy of charging more to foreigners is promoted even from the government (with different prices for Thais and foreigners in museums, temples or national parks) and thus, they see it as a normal thing and they won’t show any sign of remorse.

So the advice is: don’t get offended if you find out that you’ve been charged 4-5 times the price a Thai would pay and try to bargain as much as possible. Don’t take it as something personal and enjoy the bargaining game! 😉

 

And finally… this article gets to the end. Bangkok is an amazing city! If you have the chance to go, and although you will probably find some reason to hate it, focus on the things that will make you love it, enjoy everything it can offer (which is a loooot) and LOVE IT!!

 

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Sergio Molino

Eyyyy! It's Sergio, a twenty-something years old guy, curious, adventurous and innovation, new ideas and, ofc, Ambitious Tracks lover ;) Join our adventure!

3 thoughts on “Bangkok – Love it or hate it (Travel guide)

  • November 19, 2016 at 12:39 pm
    Permalink

    What an extensive and well written travel guide of Bangkok. Glad you enjoyed your first contact with Southeast Asia. I have been in Bangkok for a few days and enjoyed the city and its food. I do however disagree to one of your points, “Accept that you are going to get scammed.”. I have never been scammed during my stay. I think it is because I looked Thai, so no one is interested in trying to scam me hahaha or I dont look rich enough to pay for a high price of things. . And mostly because in SEAsia, I believe there is a notion that “white people” who travels got lots of money, and that they can pay better.
    Just a tip, what I usually do is to get to know locals, they recommend good places and give you tips too. They also tell you if you are paying the right price or too much. Anyway, you still be traveling more and soon you will be an expert in haggling and not being scammed. Enjoy your trip.

    Reply
    • November 19, 2016 at 4:15 pm
      Permalink

      Thanks so much for the feedback Jmaxnow! Well, I thought that too until I saw other prices out of Bangkok :/ But you are right, looking Thai you can probably juggle with sellers and tuktuk drivers much better than what I do hahah 😉 And about the locals I totally agree, I hung out the first days with Thai people and that definitely helped me to figure out how everything worked there. Thanks for the good wishes! 😉

      Reply
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